Every time (or nearly every) that a new artistic style or movement emerges (in literature, think e.g. of romanticism or naturalism or modernism; in painting, think of impressionism or cubism or abstraction), it’s accompanied by two narratives.
One narrative comes from defenders of the Older Art. The burden of this narrative is that the Newer Art is not merely inferior, but pernicious – that it represents a betrayal of the very principles of art itself. Think of the hostile reviews of the first Impressionist Exhibition in Paris (such as “Wallpaper in its early stages is much more finished than that”); or the singers who refused to learn Wagner’s operas because they were “unsingable”; or the Vienna Musikverein’s initially rejecting Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht because it used “nonexistent” chords; or the literal violence that broke out in the theatre at the first production of Victor Hugo’s play Hernani for its violation of the rules of classicism.
The first reviewer of D. H. Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow, today rightly regarded as a masterpiece of modernist literature, wrote: “There is no doubt that a book of this kind has no right to exist. It is a deliberate denial of the soul that leavens matter. These people are not human beings. They are creatures who are immeasurably lower than the lowest animal in the Zoo. There is no kindness in them, no tenderness, no softness, no sweetness. … Art is not anarchy. … The artist is not his own law-giver. He must bow before the will of the generations of men. … Life can be made very horrible and very hideous, but if literature aids and abets the business of making it horrible and hideous, then literature must perish.”
The other narrative comes from representatives of the Newer Art, the emergence of which is typically accompanied by pronouncements and manifestoes to the effect that either a) the Older Art was always worthless, stale, sterile – that art is coming into its own only now for the first time in human history, or else b) the Older Art may have been worthwhile for its own time, but changes in historical circumstances have made it no longer valuable for the modern era. (As an example of the latter, I’m thinking of the various art theorists who have claimed that the advent of photography renders representational art obsolete.)
(Ayn Rand, incidentally, ends up on both sides of this divide. In her sneering dismissals of most modern art, she sounds like the partisans of Older Art. But in her championing of the architectural theories of Sullivan and Wright against the then-prevailing neoclassical style, she sounds like the partisans of Newer Art. Her claim that Mozart belongs to the age of “pre-music” also makes her a particularly extreme Newer Art partisan. Correspondingly, many critics of her novels come across as either Older Art or Newer Art partisans (depending on the details), rejecting her novelistic style and construction because it does not match whatever sorts of novels the critics regard as paradigms of the genre.)
Against both forms of partisan narratives is the happy fact that, over time, the consensus of art critics tends to converge gradually on a sane recognition that the Older Art (generally speaking) was always good and still is, and that the Newer Art (generally speaking) is also good. The artistic prejudices of a particular era, mutually exacerbated by the clashes with rival prejudices, tend to fade as the passions that drove them are lost to the graveyards, thus removing the impediments to people’s ability to recognise and appreciate the objective value that was always there.
It has been said that science progresses one funeral at a time. I would add that art criticism recovers its equilibrium one funeral at a time.