Storytelling, one of art’s oldest gifts, is always hurrying to catch up with migrations of consciousness, large and small. The narrative tradition shakes, stumbles, and then pulls itself together and prepares to assimilate another round of ruptures and revolutions, more internal decay. The anti-novel, the anti-narrative (which offer new story lines for new times) rub shoulders with many older forms. Character and scenery, conflict and resolution: the reliable antique furnishings of narrative art can, in one way or another, usually be renewed.

Painting, which had from Giotto to Delacroix a great storytelling tradition, spent much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries losing the sense of how to tell a tale. This collapsing narrative tradition mirrored a new phase of European experience; the anti-stories of Klee and Kandinsky, of Giacometti and Balthus, replaced older, seemingly more...


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