At least since the Renaissance and probably long before, Western civilization has placed a premium on originality in the arts of form. But as long as common sense is operative, originality is not taken to mean the creation of something unrelated to any precedent or prototype, but rather the reconfiguration of a given prototype in a vitally creative way, thereby endowing that prototype with new life and significance. A restoration of that sounder understanding of originality can only arise from a radical revaluation of our classical heritage and the rich treasury of forms it makes available to us for the commemoration of the men and women, events and ideals, that have contributed to the national welfare.
That revaluation has in fact been underway for several decades now, and as a result we are witnessing the gradual but steady growth of a classically oriented civic-art counterculture embracing architecture, urbanism, and fine art. That counterculture has now reached the stage where it should figure prominently in the selection of designers for our major memorials. To make sure that happens, the essentially political task at hand—one that should attract adherents from both sides of the aisle—is to curtail sharply the sway over our nation’s public art and architecture currently enjoyed by a modernist apparat deeply entrenched in government, cultural institutions, the academy, and the media.
For the biggest victim of the dominant trends in contemporary memorial design is the public itself.