Past Events

British Artists and Generational Identity

Call for Papers

  • 28 February to 27 March 2020
  • Deadline 9:00 am

An International Conference at the Paul Mellon Centre, London
19 June 2020

Today, generational thinking has become a familiar part of cultural discourse. Journalism and fiction have spawned such terms as Generation X, Gen Z and Generation Rent; cognate terms such as ‘baby boomers’ and ‘millennials’ trip easily off the tongue. This way of conceptualising social and cultural identity and interaction has, of course, a long history, and scholarship in the humanities has periodically focused on what are perceived as distinctive generations. This is indicated by the titles of such notable studies as Samuel Hynes’s The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s, of 1976, and Michael White’s Generation Dada: The Berlin Avant-Garde and the First World War, of 2013. That the latter publication is an art-historical text is telling; for, as Martin Myrone has recently noted, generational thinking has ‘had a particularly strong hold in the field of art history, or at least among those art histories written in the thrall of a sense of modernity which took shape in the nineteenth century.’

This conference is intended to test out the possibilities and pitfalls of looking at the history of British art — of all periods, not just the modern and contemporary — through a generational lens. It is designed to investigate the ways in which we define and delimit generations, and to ask what kinds of canons, disciplines, institutions and politics are served by a generational notion of art history. What kinds of insight, if any, does this kind of approach afford to the art historian or critic?

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers that look afresh at the relationship between artistic development and generational identity, and that investigate the application of generational thinking to the longer histories of British art.

These might take the form of papers that:

  • offer historically informed investigations of artistic cohorts or of broader demographics of practitioners, from different periods, who might be considered representative of particular generations
  • provide theoretically informed discussions of generational identity in the visual arts
  • discuss the impact of shared forms of artistic education, training or professional institutionalisation on particular cohorts of practitioners
  • examine the spatial, temporal, material and technological conditions that might frame a generational demographic
  • offer comparative studies of different artistic ‘generations’
  • analyse examples of inter-generational exchange and conflict in the artistic field
  • experiment with notions of transgenerational art history
  • explore the relative merits of ‘generational thinking’ in discussing modern and more historic categories of British art, or that present an argument opposing this approach altogether

How to submit

To propose a paper, please email an abstract of 300 words or fewer and a 50-word biography in a single Word document to Ella Fleming at [email protected] by 9.00am on 27 March 2020.

Image listing credit: Painting Students in the Mural Room, c.1936. Margery Dennis Hall collection, Royal College of Art.