Unreal Nature

September 30, 2017

Lived, Not Calculated

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… But the making of the shell is lived, not calculated …

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… Still, one element of a human work is lacking. I do not see the utility of this thing [the shell he has made by hand]; it calls to mind no need which it satisfies. It has intrigued me; it delights my eyes and fingers; I stop to look at it as I would to listen to a melody; and unconsciously I consign it to oblivion, for we unthinkingly withhold the future from whatever is of no use to us.

… If I have dwelt at some length on the act of a man who might apply himself to making a sea shell, it is because in my opinion one should never lose an opportunity to compare, in some detail, our way of making things with the work performed by what we call nature. Nature: that is to say, the genetrix, the producer. Whenever we run across something we do not know how to make but that appears to be made, we say that nature produced it.

… All the rest — everything that we can assign neither to thinking man nor to nature’s power of generation — we attribute to “chance.” The word is an excellent invention. It is very convenient to have a word which enables us to say that a remarkable thing (remarkable in itself or in its immediate effects) is brought about in exactly the same way as something else that is not remarkable. But to say that a thing is remarkable is to bring in a man — a person who is particularly sensitive to it, and it is this person who supplies everything that is remarkable about it.

[line break added] What difference does it make to me, if I have no lottery ticket, whether one number or another is picked out of the urn? I have not been “sensitized” to the event. For me there is no “chance” in the drawing, no contrast between the uniform way in which these numbers are drawn and the inequality of the consequences. Take away man and his expectation, and everything comes out the same, sea shell or stone; but chance makes nothing in this world, apart from making us take notice of it.

… I have said that we undertake our works on the basis of several kinds of freedom: freedom with respect to material, with respect to size and shape, with respect to time; the mollusk seems deprived of all these — a creature that can only recite its lesson, which is hardly distinguishable from its very existence. Full of fancy as it may seem (so many so that we borrow certain of our ornamental motifs from it), the mollusk’s work, never retouched, unmarred by changes or reservations, is a fancy that repeats itself indefinitely; we cannot even see why certain eccentrics among the gastropods should work leftward where others work to the right.

[line break added] Still less do we understand the oddly shaped complexities that some shells disclose; or those spines and spots of color, to which we vaguely ascribe some utility that escapes us, without even stopping to think that, outside of man’s little intellectual sphere, our idea of the useful has no meaning. These oddities add to our perplexity, for a machine produces no such deviations; a mind would have chosen them with some intention; chance would have equalized the possibilities. Neither machine, nor intention, nor chance. … All our methods have been rejected. Machine and chance, these are the two methods of our physics; as for intention, it can intervene only if man himself is involved, explicitly or in disguise.

But the making of the shell is lived, not calculated: nothing could be more contrary to our organized action preceded by an aim and operating as a cause.

My most recent previous post from Valéry’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 29, 2017

Less Than Half the Diameter of a Dime Held at Arm’s Length

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… we all hurried away We were born and bored at a stroke.

This is from the essay ‘Total Eclipse’ found in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard (1982):

… You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card.

[line break added] I assure you, if you send any shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-three photograph of the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, they will not be sore afraid. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.

You see the wide world swaddled in darkness; you see a vast breadth of hilly land, and an enormous, distant, blackened valley; you see towns’ lights, a river’s path, and blurred portions of your hat and scarf; you see your husband’s face looking like an early black-and-white film; and you see a sprawl of black sky and blue sky together, with unfamiliar stars in it, some barely visible bands of cloud, and over there, a small white ring. The ring is as small as one goose in a flock of migrating geese — if you happen to notice a flock of migrating geese. It is one 360th part of the visible sky. The sun we see is less than half the diameter of a dime held at arm’s length.

[ … ]

… We teach our children one thing only, as we were taught: to wake up. We teach our children to look alive there, to join by words and activities the life of human culture on the planet’s crust. As adults we are almost all adept at waking up. We have so mastered the transition we have forgotten we ever learned it. Yet it is a transition we make a hundred times a day, as, like so many will-less dolphins, we plunge and surface, lapse and emerge.

… when the total eclipse ended, an odd thing happened.

When the sun appeared as a blinding bead on the ring’s side, the eclipse was over. The black lens cover appeared again, backlighted, and slid away. At once the yellow light made the sky blue again; the black lid dissolved and vanished. The real world began there. I remember now: we all hurried away We were born and bored at a stroke. We rushed down the hill. We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.

We never looked back. It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed — a sight rare enough, and one which, in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see. But enough was enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.

My most recent previous post from Dillard’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 28, 2017

Direction and Support

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… once he had extracted their lessons, he abandoned them and began to apply the knowledge he had gained to studies of the world around him.

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000):

Paul Strand’s 1916 exhibition at 291 was a curious affair. Although Stieglitz heralded it as a seminal event in American modernist photography, in fact, the exhibition, which ran from 13 March to 3 April 1916, seems to have contained a motley assortment of photographs.

… Why, then, did Stieglitz choose to exhibit this group of Strand’s photographs in 1916? For more than three years he had not exhibited photographs at 291 because he knew of “no work … which was worthy of 291.” During this time he had presented some of the most innovative and experimental exhibitions in 291’s history, including Brancusi’s sculpture and African art in 1914; Picasso’s, Braque’s, and Picabia’s paintings, drawings, and papier collés in 1915; and children’s art in 1914 and 1915.

[line break added] While these exhibitions included work of great originality, Stieglitz may have needed Strand’s work for other reasons. In March 1916 he wanted an exhibition of an American photographer to function, as he wrote a few months later, “as a natural foil” to the Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters that was on view from 13 to 25 March at the Anderson Galleries in New York.

[line break added] For more than ten years, 291 had been dedicated to fostering a dialogue between photography and the other arts, and Stieglitz had carefully orchestrated the exhibitions, alternating between presentations of paintings, photographs, sculpture, drawings, or prints so that the ideas and issues sparked by one show would be continued and enriched over time.

[line break added] He had also organized presentations at 291 to respond to other exhibitions in New York as well as in the larger art community. Just as he had exhibited his own work at the time of the 1913 Armory Show to demonstrate the differences between the new painting and the new photography, so too did he need to show work by a modern American photographer at the time of the 1916 Forum exhibition.

Other factors may also have led to the 1916 Strand exhibition at 291. In 1915, Stieglitz’s close friends Marius de Zayas and Francis Picabia had challenged his preeminent position in the American art world, calling into doubt the nature of 291’s accomplishments. While de Zayas and Picabia admitted that Stieglitz was a pioneer in the introduction of modern European art to America, he had failed, in their assessment, “to discover” American artists who truly understood the deeper significance of this work and used their knowledge to depict contemporary American life: all were, de Zayas wrote, merely “servile imitators.”

… Stung by the criticism yet confident in the ability of his countrymen, Stieglitz sought modern American artists in 1915 and 1916 to refute these claims. He “discovered” two younger artists, Paul Strand and Georgia O’Keeffe, within months of each other.

Stieglitz gave Strand and O’Keeffe their debut exhibitions at 291 within a month of each other in the spring of 1916. In truth, both exhibitions were a bit premature, for many of O’Keeffe’s works shown that spring were as heavily indebted to art nouveau and symbolism as Strand’s were to the outmoded style of pictorialism. What Stieglitz saw in both Strand’s and O’Keeffe’s work were possibilities, the scattered germs of thoughts that he believed, with proper direction and support, held the potential to merge a modernist vision with an expression of the American experience.

Strand was perfectly suited to the role that Stieglitz cast for him. Fiercely intent, ambitious, keenly focused, and studious, Strand at age twenty-five was eager to explore his own potential and gratified to become Stieglitz’s protégé; he later described it as “like having the world handed to you on a platter.”


Paul Strand, Bowls, 1916

… He later recalled that in the summer of 1916 while he was in Twin Lakes, Connecticut, he made photographs such as Bowls to clarify what he referred to as the “abstract method” and to understand “the underlying principles behind Picasso and the others in their organization of the picture’s space, of their unity … and the problem of making a two-dimensional area have a three-dimensional character.”

[line break added] He wanted to see “how you build a picture, what a picture consists of, how shapes are related to each other, how spheres are filled, how the whole thing must have a kind of unity.” Like his mentors Cézanne, Picasso, and Braque, Strand used simple, everyday objects — cups, bowls, tables, fruit, and porch railings — for his experiment.

[line break added] Like the Cubists, he both deconstructed these objects, turning them on their sides and emphasizing their formal structure, and he synthesized new compositions in which all elements before the camera, voids and shadows as well as the objects themselves, functioned as energized positive elements within a dynamic composition. Although the resulting photographs were highly innovative, they were for Strand no more than experiments, and once he had extracted their lessons, he abandoned them and began to apply the knowledge he had gained to studies of the world around him.

My most recent previous post from Greenough’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 27, 2017

Kin

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… it holds open the perceptual “open,” helping us recognize what we might otherwise foreclose.

This is from the Introduction to The Miracle of Analogy or The History of Photography, Part 1 by Kaja Silverman (2015):

… The idea that photography means “camera,” and that the camera is an instrument for mastering the world, emerged early in the history of the so-called medium. In a chilling passage in his 1859 essay “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” Oliver Wendell Holmes not only characterizes the world as a picture, whose essence inheres in its photographic respresentability, but suggests that once this essence has been extracted, the world itself can be thrown away.

[line break added] “Form is henceforth divorced from matter,” this passage reads. “In fact matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer … Give us a few negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if you please.” [Silverman disagrees with this kind of characterization of photography, and the theories of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes.]

[ … ]

… As I hope to show, photography isn’t a medium that was invented by three or four men in the 1820s and 1830s, that was improved in numerous ways over the following century, and that has now been replaced by computational images. It is, rather, the world’s primary way of revealing itself to us — of demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed us. Photography is also an ontological calling card: it helps us to see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies.

[line break added] When I say “analogy,” I do not mean sameness, symbolic equivalence, logical adequation, or even a rhetorical relationship — like a metaphor or a simile — in which one term functions as the provisional placeholder for another. I am talking about the authorless and untranscendable similarities that structure Being, or what I will be calling “the world,” and that give everything the same ontological weight.

… Most of us are willing to acknowledge some of these similarities, but extremely reluctant to acknowledge others, particularly those that call our autonomy, agency, unity, and primacy into question. Photography is the vehicle through which these profoundly enabling but unwelcome relationships are revealed to us, and through which we learn to think analogically. It is able to disclose the world, show us that it is structured by analogy, and help us assume our place within it because it, too, is analogical.

[line break added] A negative analogizes its referent, the positive prints that are generated from it, and all of its digital offspring, and it moves through time, in search of other “kin.” As I discovered over and over again while writing this book, photography also analogizes the analogies that reside at the heart of human perception: those through which we see and are seen. Since it almost always does so in a visual way, it gives them a second power; it holds open the perceptual “open,” helping us recognize what we might otherwise foreclose.

Every analogy contains both similarity and difference. Similarity is the connector, what holds two things together, and difference is what prevents them from being collapsed into one. In some analogies these qualities are balanced, but in others similarity far outweighs difference, or difference, similarity. One of the most miraculous features of an analogy is its ability to operate in the face of these imbalances: to maintain the “two-in-one” principle even when there is only a narrow margin of difference, or a sliver of similarity.

… This process does not begin when we decide that it should, or end when we command it to. Photography develops, rather, with us, and in response to us.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 26, 2017

In Competition with Your Schoolmates

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… success carried with it the idea that only those capable of competing could ever know it.

Continuing through The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… The perils of mass acceptance, or rather mass exploitation by cultural cartels, were keenly sensed by many of the vanguard painters in New York, who struggled in various ways to avoid being trapped. But they were aware, at the same time, that only ‘success’ in the mythical American sense could insure their existence in the culture. Many of them had relinquished their idealistic dreams of influencing society through their critiques in painting when the war broke out. But there was a lingering residue of ambition to break the silence of America in relation to the arts, particularly in painting and sculpture.

[line break added] Nearly all the members of the New York School suffered throughout their lives deep conflicts concerning success and their role in the society. Their behavior — now hostile, now almost obsequious — toward the forces that controlled renown in America, became a part of the myth of the New York School. Insofar as they were children of the United States they shared to some degree the universal reverence for success. Even Jacques Maritain, whose welcome in America was so warm that he became its leading French defender, listed the passion for success as one of the notable American illusions:

It is generally believed tha success is a thing good in itself, and which it is, from an ethical point of view, mandatory to strive for. In this American concept of success, there is no greediness or egoism. It is, it seems to me, rather an oversimplified idea that ‘to succeed’ is to bear fruit, and therefore to give proof of the fact that psychologically and morally you are not a failure.

Although Maritain gently suggests that this American illusion will in time change, he gives, in the same book, a sound analysis of the adverse conditions which spur on Americans, especially artistic Americans, in their drive toward this illusory goal. He notes that although Americans are kind, open-minded, thirsty for knowledge, and serious, they do not take artists seriously:

In France, artists are kings; everybody is interested in their doings and in the opinion of a great novelist or a great painter in national affairs. Here, on the contrary, their opinions carry less weight than that of prominent businessmen; furthermore, and this is more serious, they seem to arouse some suspicion, and communion between the beholder and the artists is lacking in the very place where it should exist, namely, in that area which, though indeed larger than the small group of expert connoisseurs, is narrower than the general public, and which may be called the enlightened public.

He adds that the general public has vulgar taste in America as in every other country, but that the enlightened public, who should know better, ‘are no more interested in the inner creative effort of a painter or a writer than, I would say, in that of a cook who prepares food for them in restaurants.’

For the American youth dreaming of a career in the arts, success was as necessary a goal as it was for the youth planning a career in business. And success carried with it the idea that only those capable of competing could ever know it. The tragic comedian Lenny Bruce, who grew up during the Depression and served in the Navy during the war years, wrote bitterly about his own earlier cravings, on which he reflected while standing on the deck of a warship in battle:

Our society is based on competition. If it isn’t impressed upon you at home with the scramble for love between brothers and sisters, they really lay it down to you in school. … You bring home 100 percent and your mother hugs you and your father pats you on the back. The teachers beam at you. But not your schoolmates; they know they’re in competition with you, and if you get a high percentage they must get a lower one. … In essence, you are gratified by your schoolmates’ failures. We take this with us into adulthood. Just look at the business world.

My most recent previous post from Ashton’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 25, 2017

Prudence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… it is never a criterion that exempts you from having to judge again; it is merely a guideline that you may or may not follow, a record of prudence that helps you decide whether you should let the experience of your predecessors nourish your own, but which, in any case, you ought to confront with your actual feelings.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… Jurisprudence is the legal memory in which society stores the judgments issued in the past over cases similar to those currently submitted, but which the written law could not have foreseen in their singularity. Judges are invited to consult jurisprudence for inspiration but they remain free to contradict it. The closer a legal system comes to common law and the less it depends on the written code, the more important jurisprudence becomes. The history of art — and even more, the history of the avant-garde, namely the history of modern art — resembles such a judicial system.

… The first reader of a book, the first listener to a concerto, the first viewer of a picture already judges the artist’s judgment, while the artist had, through provocations, already lodged an appeal against the prejudices of the times.

… As [with] the historian of art, art for you is a given whose outcome is at stake. But more clearly than most historians of art, you state and take on your responsibilities as judge. Quite possibly this will mean no more than a slight inflection of style, with which you avoid creating the belief that history itself is speaking through your mouth or writing itself through your pen; yet such an inflection of style will be more than the simple scruple or the regret shown by certain art historians — the most honest ones — who admit to the subjectivity of their choices and accountings.

[line break added] It will be both a working method and a moral principle resulting from your knowing that once you admit a recognized work of art into your discourse, it is accompanied by an invisible tag saying “this is art,” and that, though the tag is a given, what it says is not a fact. When, as a historian, you write about something that has already been called art by others — historians who preceded you or critics faster than you — you are taking stock of a judgment registered somewhere on the jurisprudential record, but which nothing forbids you to reverse as long as you are not unaware, nor keep your readers unaware, that a judgment had been passed.

[line break added] Jurisprudence doesn’t have the force of law, but it carries some weight. Yet no matter how heavy it weighs on your judgments, it is never a criterion that exempts you from having to judge again; it is merely a guideline that you may or may not follow, a record of prudence that helps you decide whether you should let the experience of your predecessors nourish your own, but which, in any case, you ought to confront with your actual feelings.

My most recent previous post from de Duve’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 24, 2017

Without Any Distance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… finger it familiarly on all sides, turn it upside down, inside out, peer at it from above and below, break open its external shell, look into its center, doubt it, take it apart, dismember it, lay it bare and expose it, examine it freely and experiment with it.

Continuing through the essay ‘Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… For the first time, the subject of serious literary representation (although, it is true, at the same time comical) is portrayed without any distance, on the level of contemporary reality, in a zone of direct and even crude contact.

… It is precisely laughter that destroys the epic, and in general destroys any hierarchical (distancing and valorized) distance. As a distanced image a subject cannot be comical; to be made comical, it must be brought close. Everything that makes us laugh is close at hand, all comical creativity works in a zone of maximal proximity. Laughter has the remarkable power of making an object come up close, of drawing it into a zone of crude contact where one can finger it familiarly on all sides, turn it upside down, inside out, peer at it from above and below, break open its external shell, look into its center, doubt it, take it apart, dismember it, lay it bare and expose it, examine it freely and experiment with it.

[line break added] Laughter demolishes fear and piety before an object, before a world, making of it an object of familiar contact and thus clearing the ground for an absolutely free investigation of it. Laughter is a vital factor in laying down that prerequisite for fearlessness without which it would be impossible to approach the world realistically. As it draws an object to itself and makes it familiar, laughter delivers the object into the fearless hands of investigative experiment — both scientific and artistic — and into the hands of free experimental fantasy.

… The shift of the temporal center of artistic orientation, which placed on the same temporally valorized plane the author and his readers (on the one hand) and the world and heroes described by him (on the other), making them contemporaries, possible acquaintances, friends, familiarizing their relations (we again recall the novelistic opening of Onegin), permits the author, in all his various masks and faces, to move freely onto the field of his represented world, a field that in the epic had been absolutely inaccessible and closed.

… The novel comes into contact with the spontaneity of the inconclusive present; this is what keeps the genre from congealing. The novelist is drawn toward everything that is not yet completed. He may turn up on the field of representation in any authorial pose.

My most recent previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 23, 2017

How Quickly the Effort Wanes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… our considered projects, our intentional constructions or fabrications seem very alien to our underlying organic activity.

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… just as I hesitate in regard to the material [I might use to make a shell], I may hesitate about the dimensions I shall give to my work. I see no necessary dependence between form and size; I can conceive of no form that might not be larger or smaller — it is as though the idea of a certain figure called forth in my mind an endless number of similar figures.

… I feel, finally, that if I have undertaken to produce one particular form, it is because I could have chosen to create entirely different ones. This is an absolute condition: if one can only make a single thing and in a single way, it means that the thing almost makes itself; therefore, such an action is not truly human (since thought is not necessary to it), and we do not understand it. What we make in this way really makes us more than we make it. What are we, if not a momentary balance between a multitude of hidden actions that are not specifically human?

[line break added] Our life is a tissue of such local acts in which choice plays no part, and which in some incomprehensible way perform themselves. Man walks, breathes, remembers — but in all this he is in no way different from animals. He knows neither how he moves, nor how he remembers; and he has no need to know in order to move or remember, nor does he need to know before doing so.

[line break added] But if he builds a house or a ship, if he forges a tool or a weapon, a design must first act upon him and make him into a specialized instrument; an idea must coordinate what he desires, what he can do, what he knows, what he sees, what he touches and manipulates, and must organize all this expressly toward a particular and exclusive action, starting from a state in which he was entirely open and free from all intentions. Once he is called upon to act, his freedom diminishes, relinquishes its rights, and for a time accepts a constraint that is the price he must pay if he wishes to impress upon a certain “reality” the configured desire that he carries in his mind.

To sum up: all specifically human production is effected in successive, distinct, limited, enumerable acts. But up to this point certain animals, the builders of hives or nests, are quite like us. Man’s specific work becomes unique when the separate, independent acts involved require his deliberate thinking presence to provoke them and adjust their diversity to an aim. Man consciously sustains his mental image and his will.

[line break added] We know only too well how precarious and costly this “presence of mind” is; how quickly the effort wanes, how our attention disintegrates, and that what arouses, assembles, corrects, and revives the efforts of our separate functions is of a nature quite different from them; and this is why our considered projects, our intentional constructions or fabrications seem very alien to our underlying organic activity.

My most recent previous post from Valéry’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 22, 2017

As If Someone Were Gagging the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening …

This is from the essay ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’ found in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard (1982):

… Nature’s silence is its one remark, and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block.

… What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.

… At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, to the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep — just this one.

[line break added] The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don’t do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression; instead, it is all there is.

My most recent previous post from Dillard’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 21, 2017

Innovative Impact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

Stieglitz’s clouds and Paul Strand’s bowls and fences could count their genesis in the Negro statuary at 291.

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000). The Armory Show chapter is by Charles Brock; the African Art chapter is by Helen M. Shannon:

… the unintentional outcome of the [1913] Armory Show was that European modernism received such intense publicity that Americans were blinded to the merits of their own artists. While applauding the organizers’ efforts to promote modernism in general, Stieglitz early on had anticipated their failure to demonstrate that modernism’s destiny was in the hands of American painters and photographers.

[line break added] Ironically, it was the Frenchman, Picabia, who expressed most succinctly the buoyant message demonstrated by the three exhibitions [at 291, before, during and after the Armory Show] discussed here: “the best informed man on this whole revolution in the art of painting … is an American and a New Yorker, Mr. Alfred Stieglitz.” 291’s influence as a modernist center was evident upon Picabia’s return to Paris where his wife, Gabrielle Buffet Picabia, opened a gallery in emulation of Stieglitz, and later in 1917 when Picabia himself published the periodical 391.

[ … ]

… In the June 1914 issue of Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz announced that four photography exhibitions would open the fall schedule at his gallery 291. The show that opened the season, however, on 3 November, was something quite different. “Statuary in Wood by African Savages — The Root of Modern Art.” This dramatic change of plans indicates Stieglitz’s receptivity to the various streams feeding European, especially French, modernism, in this case the interest in so-called primitive art.

On the announcement card, Stieglitz described the presentation as “the first time in the history of exhibitions that Negro statuary will be shown from the point of view of art,” and this claim is provisionally true.

… Some writers, leery of the current art trends, placed the African works on a higher aesthetic level than that of the European avant-garde. The writer in The New York World argued that “the French apostles have a long road to travel before they can get within hailing distance of their African precursors.” Chamberlin [in The New York Mail] stated that “enamored by their success, Picasso has adopted their limitations — and produced a merely curious, not an admirable, result, like the negroes.”

… The search for modernist primitivism in American art has focused primarily, as in European art, on its manifestations in painting, sculpture, and other traditional media. However, in the United States the encounter with African art produced a different result. By 1914, the same types of works that had disquieted modernists in France and Germany entered 291 already validated as aesthetic objects, framed within a more distanced, “objective,” formal view. While a source for artists of all media, the sculpture at Stieglitz’s gallery may have had its most immediate innovative impact on the development of American modernist photography. Stieglitz’s clouds and Paul Strand’s bowls and fences could count their genesis in the Negro statuary at 291.

My most recent previous post from Greenough’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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