I just started reading Visual Arts In The Twentieth Century by the always good Edward Lucie-Smith. The jacket blurb includes this as one of three bulleted points highlighting this books special features (the others are analysis by decade, and information of historical and cultural events in the text, which are hardly rare): “The work of artists from historically under represented regions of the world is also included, providing new insight into the global world of art.”

Great, I thought, ignoring the missing hyphen: I’ve moaned any number of times about the assumption that looking beyond Europe and North America is something to highlight, that a look at those continents only is the natural default. I eagerly looked at the immensely detailed contents (300 listings over 5 pages). There appears to be less than 15 pages that step outside that territory, mostly on Latin American painting, in a 400 page book.

My question is this: how the fuck did we get to the state where 4% (I may be misrepresenting this, not having actually read it yet, but it looks clear enough) of a book covering most of the world counts as something to highlight with pride, as redressing the usual imbalance? Obviously the answer is a context of books with compendious titles that offer even less, often zero. Of course you can buy books on Asian, African, etc. art, but where are the overall texts that think that Japanese or Chinese art is of the same interest as French or Italian? I can’t begin to imagine an argument against that position, apart from knowing that the latter are easier to sell, but that’s not a justification for not admitting to a limited focus. (cf supposedly general music mags that are actually rock mags plus tokenism, of course.)