This conference will be the second part of two conferences, the first to be held at King’s College, London in 2007 convened by Gordon McMullan and Sam Smiles. The aim is to bring together scholars in the fields of art, music, literature, film and architecture to debate the subject of ‘late style’ and attempt to work through the mythology to find a shared critical language and some basic premises for future work.
What do we mean when we speak of the 'late style' of a given writer, artist or composer? And what exactly, then, do we mean when we speak of 'Beethoven's late style', 'Shakespeare's late plays' or 'Titian's late work'? In speaking of an artist's 'late phase', are we imagining a rejuvenated period of serene, abstract creativity late in life? Or a phase of difficult, resistant work, a raging against the light's dying? Do we attribute the change in style and attitude we think we see in late work to old age or to the proximity of death at any age? And how do we negotiate those creative artists, from Hardy to Picasso, who have deliberately, self-consciously carved out a late style, often in the process suppressing works that do not comfortably fit the testamentary trajectory that is sought?
Furthermore, how might we debate the apparently inevitable canonicity of late work - the fact that late styles are generally only attributed to canonical artists in the western tradition, the overwhelming majority of them white males? Can the boundaries of lateness, in other words, be extended and reshaped? If late style is a phenomenon of old age, can it be found in uncanonical work? Is the concept of late style a specifically western construct or can it be used to consider late-life creativity in non-western cultures? What of women artists, writers or composers late in life? We aim in this conference to explore the full range of possibilities for establishing an understanding of late style from genuine natural phenomenon to cynical critical construct.
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