Unreal Nature

September 7, 2017

That Sense of Touch

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… “the quality of touch in its deepest living sense is inherent in my photographs.”

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000). The Cézanne chapter is by Jill Kyle:

… When Stieglitz first began to exhibit modern European art in 1908, he intended for the paintings and drawings to serve as a counterpoint for the photography he displayed. By providing direct comparisons, he meant to raise questions about how each medium depicted the world and to show that similar approaches underlay their execution. Noticing that European non-photographic art was receiving more attention than photography, though, Stieglitz increased his commitment to modern art.

[line break added] He saw in works by Cézanne, for example, an approach to the concrete, objective world, one centered on freedom of expression of form and the material object that was not unlike his own. In contrast to the soft-focused pictorial imagery of his early works, Stieglitz’s straight, sharp-focused photographs such as The Steerage emphasized design and direct presentation of geometric forms from the external world. This focus on the objective world encouraged Stieglitz to ally modern art with photography, his own included.

The adoption of a more modern aesthetic in photographic images was not immediate for Stieglitz, just as his ability to appreciate the new trends in European art, including the finer points in works by Cézanne, did not happen instantly. Especially instrumental in his education in modern aesthetics was a trip to Paris in 1909, during which he and Edward Steichen heard Leo Stein discuss the virtues of modern art in a broad context, new with old, modern with ultra-modern, Western with Eastern.

[ … ]

… Writing from Rome to an American protégé, Stein explained that “nowhere on the ceiling has Michelangelo attained to the sheer expression of form that is often achieved in [Cézanne’s] drawings. I believe that nowhere is it as complete as in those apples of Cézanne.” Especially impressed by the use of such language was Stieglitz, who had once said of his own work that “the quality of touch in its deepest living sense is inherent in my photographs. When that sense of touch is lost, the heartbeat of the photograph is extinct.”

[ … ]

… Although the March 1911 exhibition of Cézanne’s work was the last [Cézanne show] to be held at 291, which closed in 1917, the same year that publication of Camera Work was suspended, Stieglitz was a premier force in the development of American early modernism. He not only kept alive an experimental approach to Cézanne, one that bridged Western and Eastern traditions in art, but at 291 he encouraged change and artistic investigation, the reevaluation of aesthetic canons, and a determination to face the challenge posed by Cézanne’s art.

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

-Julie

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