Title: Coming to terms with Coca-Cola culture
Text: Coming to terms with Coca-Cola culture
Christopher Cornford, Dean of the Royal College of Art, added a new note of optimism and common sense to the recent discussions about British decadence, and what the New York Times described es London's "relentless frivolity" He was speaking at the fourth annual conference of the Society of industrial Artists end Designers, held lest month at Chipping Campden. The conference was concerned with design education in schools, and will be reported more fully in next month's issue. Cornford's particular theme, however, centred around the current attitudes of young designers and the Significance of the revolution in outlook which characterises their work
"We all know," he said, "that we are living in a period of tremendous, radical and accelerating change, and that the general revolution is inevitably reflected by upheavals in our culture in every imaginable meaning of that word. I think it is of the first importance for us to adjust in the right way to these upheavals, and especially so if we have any kind of dealings with our responsibility towards young people.
"My own attitude (which I naturally think is the right one) to change and upheaval is to welcome them wholeheartedly. This is not because I am so naive as to suppose that change will neceesari Iy be for the better The point is that at long last every situation has became open ended and full of possibilities, though admittedly they are bad as well as good,frightening as well as promising. But I grew up in what was perhaps one of the most torpid and dismal decades in this country's history, the nineteen-thirties. I won't waste words saying lust how awful it was and why: I will simply say that by contrast the nineteen-sixties seem to me bursting with vitality and initiative.
"La Vie Commence Demain was the title of a film produced in the'flfties. This is Demain, and sure enough life has commenced. It is as though the British people are showing what they can do if they are not, at 20 year intervals, laid out in rows by hundreds of thousands in military graves From another aspect, what is happening is that the ordinary people, the masses, thanks to a much wider distribution of wealth, education end opportunity than has ever existed before, are wrenching from the grasp of the traditional ruling castes both the centres of power and the apparatus of culture They are in fact creating their own culture, apart from, and at least to begin with in understandable opposition to, the old. Hence, in the sphere of painting and sculpture, the passionate interest among the young in Dada and anti-art and in Futurism both old and new. Hence the canonisation of Kurt Schwitters and the almost universal deliberate cultivation of 'bad taste'- hence, in a word, what David Sylvester, I believe, has called Coca-Cola culture, as opposed to wine culture'
"It is a tremendous onrush, symbolically foreshadowed by such archetypes as the storming of the Winter Palace in Leningrad or the gamekeeper'se conquest of the lady of the manor in D. H. Lawrence's novel. Along with the pop music star, the archetype or hero-figure most significant to the new generation is the astronaut who recurs so persistently in the paintings and graphics of present-day art students. Why does he appear so often, what does he stand for ? Surely for the limitlessness of the imagined future, for the great take-off into every kind of utterly unknown possibility which the technological revolution proposes to the second half of our century.
"Members of my generation can make three generic types of mistaken response to this new situation. They can adopt a purely negative attitude of incomprehension and hostility, perhaps not untempered with envy. Or thev can ignore or underestimate what is happening, write it off as a passing aberration before we settle down to the old ways again. Or they can go fully to the other extreme and abase themselves before all that is new flubbering along out of breath but determined not to be less with it than the most vacuous of the professional avant -garde.
" The disastrous drawback common to all these attitudes is that, whenever they are adopted, the older generation is likely to lose touch with the young: the two groups can no longer link hands because they are either opposed to each other or in mutual competition. I feel therefore that we should sympathise with whatever we genuinely can in the new range of manifestations, but at the same time bring to bear on them just as much discrimination as we should use about anything else. Certainly we should reject nothing through prejudice any more than we should accept anything merely because it has the right flavour for the current half -decade.
"For my part I rejoice in the spectacle of art and design students being with it. I often greatly admire the things they create, and always the way they dress. But I would like to do what I can to ensure that besides being with it they are also ahead of it and behind it and all round it. By temperament and conditioning I prefer wine to Coca-Cola, Proust to Jack Karouac, Mondriaan to Roy Lichtenstein and Vivaldi to the Rolling Stones. But this very fact confers on me and my like-minded contemporaries useful role, provided that communications can be maintained, of trustees for a great many things which the new generation may either now or later wish to avail itself of. After all, as the wisest of my friends recently said to me, 'The true end of revolt is to claim your inheritance'."