Blake, Morris, and the British New Left

The Journal of William Morris Studies has published “William Blake, William Morris and the British New Left” in its most recent issue (vol. 23, no. 4). In the annals of English art and literature, William Blake and William Morris stand in sharp relief as figures of promethean energy: poets, artists, engravers, and utopian visionaries. In the 1950s they became vital resources for the British New Left as it confronted the twin specters of western capitalism and eastern communism. New Leftists, having broken ranks with Stalinist orthodoxy, turned to Blake and Morris for fresh models of cultural and political engagement. They served as standard bearers for the concept of ‘socialist humanism,’ put by forward by activist historian E.P. Thompson in the pages of the New Reasoner  as a post-1956 vision of Marxism that drew on Marx’s early philosophical writings on alienationa nd estrangement. For Thompson – whose long career was bookended by studies of Morris and Blake, respectively – both figures proved a necessary complement to Marx by expressing what he called “the great aspirations at the source of the Romantic Revolt.” Their work provided a brief, tantalizing glimpse of what a romantic poetic married to radical politics might conjure – not just a culture of critique, but a visionary “city of art” (Blake’s Jerusalem and Morris’s Nowhere) to which all citizens would contribute as co-creators and collaborators. 

“Pear-Shaped Kings and Orange Presidents: Recognizing Protest Art”

May 20, 2020 | “Pear-Shaped Kings and Orange Presidents: Recognizing Protest Art” 

Artists’ engagement with political and social protest movements is a diverse, vibrant and historically significant topic. This session will reflect specifically on how modern artists – mostly in Europe and the United States – have produced memorable works, in a wide variety of media, to draw attention to injustices and press for change. By initiating the discussion with important examples from the history of art, Derrick Cartwright, PhD, associate professor and director of University Galleries and John Murphy, PhD, Hoehn Curatorial Fellow for Prints and art history lecturer, hope to inspire critical thinking and further conversation about the continued role of artists in protests today.

Charles White: Conference Papers

Presented two conference papers on Charles White in February: 

“‘Meet Mr. and Mrs. Charles White: An Interesting and Talented Combination’”. Paper for panel Rise Up: Power, Protest and Representation in Black Visual and Material Culture, 1835 to Present, College Art Association Annual Conference, Chicago, IL (Feb. 12). 

“Charles White: Art and Reality in the USSR”. Paper for panel African-Americans and
Stalinism: The Visual Culture of Soviet 
Anti-Racism, American Association of Teachers
of Slavic and East European Languages (ATSEEL), San Diego, CA (Feb. 7)

Charles White: The Gordon Gift to the University of Texas

This catalog celebrates Charles White’s remarkable career and legacy and the generous gift of artworks to The University of Texas from Susan G. and Edmund W. Gordon, lifelong friends of White and his wife, Frances. Edited by Veronica Roberts, with essays by Esther Adler, Carter E. Foster, Edmund T. Gordon, Edmund W. Gordon, Rudolph H. Green, Ashley James, John P. Murphy, Jared Quinton, Veronica Roberts, Cherise Smith, and Phillip A. Townsend. 

Heaven on Earth

Joined a faculty panel discussion on the topic of “Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory” sponsored by USD’s Humanities Center. I talked about T.J. Clark’s recent book, Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come

Woodstock: Art and the 1960s Counterculture

On August 4th I gave a talk in Woodstock, NY, at the Kleinert / James Center for the Arts about the town’s intertwined histories of art and the counterculture. The program was generously co-sponsored by the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, the Historical Society of Woodstock, Maverick Concerts, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, and the Woodstock Artists Association. Here was the description of the talk: 

Woodstock: the word is shorthand for the 1960s counterculture. Artists as well as writers and musicians contributed to Woodstock’s reputation as a bohemian enclave. As early as 1952 experimental composer John Cage debuted his (in)famous 4’33” — four-and-half minutes of silence. Inspired by Cage, avant-garde artist Allan Kaprow staged a 1962 “Happening” in the forests outside Woodstock for which sculptor Eva Hesse made her first three-dimensional piece. Gerd Stern, an intermedia pioneer and founder of the experimental art collective USCO, moved to Woodstock in 1964. In the late 1960s New York School painter Philip Guston moved to Maverick Road to reinvent his practice. This lecture will explore Woodstock as a ferment of art, experimentation, and creativity in the 1960s, a period in which artists as much as writers and musicians contributed to a growing counterculture opposed to mainstream values.

© John P. Murphy
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