Unreal Nature

October 7, 2017

The Inner Consistency of Our Image

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… never will it become aware of the beauty of this retreat it has made.

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

… I observe first of all that living nature is unable to work directly with solids. In the solid state neither stone nor metal is of any use to it. When nature wishes to turn out a hard article of set shape, a support, a lever, a brace, an armor plate; or when it aims to produce a tree trunk, a femur, a tooth or a tusk, a skull or a sea shell, it works in the same indirect way: it takes the liquids or fluids from which all organic matter is made, and slowly separates out the solid substances it needs. Everything that lives or has lived results from the properties and modifications of a few liquids.

[line break added] And every present solid has passed through the liquid phase, molten or in solution. But living nature does not tolerate the high temperatures that enable us to work with the “elements,” to shape molten glass, bronze, or iron into the forms we desire, which will set glass, bronze, or iron into the forms we desire, which will set in cooling. In molding solid organs life has only solutions, suspensions, or emulsions.

I have read that the animal we are examining draws food containing calcium salts from its environment, and that the calcium is extracted and digested by the liver, whence it passes into the blood stream. This is the raw material for the mineral part of the shell — it will feed the activity of a strange organ specialized in the craft of secreting the elements of the solid body to be constructed and of putting them in place.

This organ, a muscular mass that encloses the animal’s viscera and extends to the foot on which it stands and moves, is called the mantle, and performs a dual function. Through its epithelium, the edge exudes the outer coating of the shell, which covers a layer of very curiously and subtly shaped calcareous prisms.

This gives us the outside of the shell. But it grows in thickness, and this growth involves very different materials, structure, tools. Protected by the solid rampart that the edge of the mantle has built, the rest of this admirable organ fashions the refinements of the inner wall, the water-smooth lining of the animal’s home. There is nothing too precious or delicate for the meditations of a life so much of which is spent at home; successive layers of mucus spread a coating as thin as a soap bubble over the deep, twisted cavity into which the solitary creature withdraws in concentration.

[line break added] But never will it become aware of the beauty of this retreat it has made. After its death the exquisite substance it has formed by depositing alternately the organic product of its mucus cells and the calcite from its nacre cells will see the light; it will break the sun’s rays into their wave lengths, and will enchant our eyes with the tender richness of its iridescent bands.

This, we are told, is how nature builds the dwelling and mobile refuge of this strange animal clothed in a muscle cloaked in a shell. But I must own that my curiosity is not satisfied. Microscopic analysis is a fine thing. But while I am occupied with cells, making the acquaintance of blastomeres and chromosomes, I lose sight of my mollusk. And if I concern myself with all this detail in the hope that it will ultimately enlighten me about the formation of the whole, a certain disappointment is in store for me. … But this perhaps is an essential difficulty — that is, a difficulty arising from the very nature of our senses and of our mind.

In order to imagine this formative process, we must first dispose of an obstacle, and in so doing we automatically sacrifice the inner consistency of our image. For actually we — who cannot even perceive our own growth — are unable to visualize a movement so slow that a perceptible result springs from an imperceptible change. We can imagine the living process only by lending it a rhythm which is specifically ours and has no connection with what happens in the creature we are observing.

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




October 6, 2017

Time to Go

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… You wash the dishes, turn around, and it is summer again, or some other time, or time to go.

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

I am here against my good judgment. I understood long ago just what it would be like; I knew that the weekend would be, above all, over. At home at my desk I doodled on tablets and imagined myself and the child standing side by side on the riverbank behind the cottage in the woods, standing on the riverbank and watching the blossoms float down, or the dead leaves float down, or just the water — whatever it would be — and thinking, each of us: remember this, remember this now, this weekend in the country. And I knew that instead of seeing (let alone remembering) the blossoms, or the leaves, or whatever, the child and I would each see and remember some dim picture of our own selves as figures side by side on the riverbank, as figures in our own future memories.

There was no use going. At best, we would miss the whole thing. If any part of the weekend should prove in the least pleasant, and worth trying to remember on that account, or on account of its never-to-be-repeated quality, it would be unbearable. Who would subject a child to such suffering? On the other hand, maybe it would rain.

I decided, in short, not to go. The child is nine, and already morbidly nostalgic and given to wringing meaningful moments out of our least occasions. I am thirty-five; my tolerance for poignancy has diminished to the vanishing point. If I wish, and I do not, I can have never-to-be-repeated moments, however dreadful, anywhere and anytime, simply by calling that category to mind.

[ … ]

… You know what it is to open up a cottage. You barge in with your box of groceries and your duffelbag full of books. You drop them on a counter and rush to the far window to look out. I would say that coming into a cottage is like being born, except we do not come into the world with a box of groceries and a duffelbag full of books — unless you want to take these as metonymic symbols for culture. Opening up a summer cottage is like being born in this way: at the moment you enter, you have all the time you are ever going to have.

[ … ]

… Now it is Sunday morning, mid-July, hotter than blazes, the birds half dead and hushed. We are on our way; we are taking a last look at the river. The water seems lower. The water seems lower, and there’s a bit of chalk moon over the woods downstream. On the way back we will visit my sister, as we did on the way — my sister whom I love. We have eaten and packed the car.

It is funny how the occasion imperceptibly changes, like the light, at an inconstant rate. At any given glance you may see that the dog has rolled over in his sleep, or the trees have lost their leaves. Morning drains inexpressibly into lunchtime, or Christmastime. Overhead the geese are migrating, just as they were the last time you looked. You wash the dishes, turn around, and it is summer again, or some other time, or time to go.

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




October 5, 2017

In This Big, Noisy, Growing and Groping America

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

Sherwood Anderson described him [as] “father to so many puzzled, wistful children of the arts in this big, noisy, growing and groping America.”

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

… In his later years when he told the story of his life, he usually presented it as a seamless narrative in which his ideas and activities evolved naturally: he even had a tendency to suggest that his varied activities were inevitable, pre-determined, almost pre-ordained, and that his life and work formed a unified whole, rather than the disjointed and at times uncertain series of events that, in reality, they were.

Especially in 1917 and 1918, immediately after America’s entry into World War I, Stieglitz’s path was not at all clear. “The worst of it all,” he lamented to Arthur Dove in May 1917, “is that I see no future.” Isolated by his ambivalent loyalties and his strong feelings for Germany, Stieglitz was further secluded by the closing of 291 in June 1917. For several months in 1917 and 1918 he retreated to a small room one floor below the vacated Little Galleries [aka 291], which he deprecatingly called “The Vault” or “The Tomb.” There he continued to “hold forth,” as he said, expounding upon his ideas to those artists, photographers, and writers who continued to visit.

[line break added] Yet, without an exhibition space or new works of art to use as the starting points for discussions, the discourse dissipated and became abstract. Moreover, with the enforced regimentation and curtailed liberties dictated by a country at war, many of the ideas on which 291 had been predicated, especially its freewheeling experimentation and the notion of complete artistic freedom, no longer seemed possible; for many, including Stieglitz, it was clear that modernism would have to be rethought.

Just as important, many of Stieglitz’s friends and colleagues, as well as others who had animated the collective art scene, left New York City or drifted away from his orbit.

[ … ]

… After the war, Stieglitz’s model was more communal, even familial and intimate, with growing spiritual overtones: he endeavored to nurture, protect, and promote a community of American artists, photographers, writers, poets, and critics whose collective voice, he believed, would enrich a spiritually deprived nation. Less rebellious, more constructive, Stieglitz no longer sought to challenge the status quo, but rather to build up a foundation for a new American art, and he no longer conceived of each new exhibition in response to the one before it, but as an addition on top of it.

… Once the rebellious midwife to a thousand ideas, Stieglitz now assumed the role of facilitator, financier, and, as Sherwood Anderson described him, “father to so many puzzled, wistful children of the arts in this big, noisy, growing and groping America.”

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




October 4, 2017

The Second Coming of the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… there are two kinds of viewers: those who “hasten to greet it” and those who miss the encounter for which they should have been waiting.

Continuing through The Miracle of Analogy or The History of Photography, Part 1 by Kaja Silverman (2015):

… [In Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology”] We have exalted ourselves to “the posture of the lord of the earth,” he writes there, and relegated everything else to the status of “standing reserve” — raw material for us to do with as we wish. We do not see that nothing can escape this instrumental logic, and that we are “at the point” where we ourselves, “will have to be taken as standing-reserve.” But the essence of technology is nothing technological; it is, rather, “poiēsis” or “revelation.” There are two kinds of poiēsis. The first is the product of human labor; it results from “the skills and activities of the craftsman,” the arts of the mind,” and the “fine arts.”

[line break added] The second kind of poiēsis has a very different source; it occurs through the “arising of something from out of itself.” Heidegger compares it to “the bursting of a blossom into bloom,” and calls it “poiēsis in the highest sense,” because it houses a “saving power.” It has the power to save us because it resists our attempts to establish ourselves as its source — because it is so manifestly a “self-showing” and a “self-giving” on the part of the world. It is by “coming to presence into the beautiful” that something gives itself to be seen, Heidegger writes near the end of the essay, and he repeatedly associates beauty with illumination: with “light,” “radiance,” and a “shining forth.

[ … ]

In a striking passage in her 1857 essay, Lady Eastlake compares the appearance of the photographic image to the creation of the world, just as Janin did in his 1939 review, but she uses the verb “to reveal” twice in this passage, suggesting that the photographic image may actually have more to do with the disclosure of the world than its creation.

Lady Eastlake also invokes a second biblical story in this passage: the parable of ten virgins who fall asleep while waiting for a bridegroom, and whose lamps go out while they are sleeping. Five are able to relight their lamps when the bridegroom returns, because they have brought extra oil, but the others are unprepared. The bridegroom takes the “ready” virgins to the wedding banquet, but shuts the door on the others. In its scriptural context, this story is an allegory for the Second Coming.

… The real reason why Lady Eastlake turns to this parable is because it is the pivot through which she shifts from her first account of photography to her second — from the notion that photography creates the world to the notion that photography reveals it. Although this might seem a trifling distinction, it is in fact profound. The world did not disappear when Descartes replaced his sensory perceptions with mental representations; it was still there, but it was no longer present. The heliograph, daguerreotype, and calotype were the means through which it attempted to rectify this situation — to “come forward,” or “presence.”

Lady Eastlake uses the story about the wise and foolish virgins to effect this shift because photography is a second coming, and the only one we are ever likely to experience: the second coming of the world. The parable also analogizes the other part of the photographic event: the part that has to do with us. Like the bridegroom, the photographic image arrives from elsewhere, hoping that we will see it. Unfortunately, though, this does not often happen, because there are two kinds of viewers: those who “hasten to greet it” and those who miss the encounter for which they should have been waiting.

My previous post from Silverman’s book is here.




October 3, 2017

Who Risk Spoiling a Canvas to Say Something in Their Own Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:25 am

… Even if the seemingly wild and anarchic creations of Pollock were not understood, the knowledge that he and a few others — the mad geniuses of America — existed was very appealing …

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

… Making the first perceptive comment on Pollock’s temperament, James Johnson Sweeney had written in the catalogue to the exhibition in 1943 that Pollock’s talent was volcanic, lavish, explosive, and untidy. He praised Pollock’s freedom to throw himself into the sea and, significantly, bolstered his independence, making it seem an avant-garde virtue.

[line break added] “But young painters, particularly Americans, tend to be too careful of opinion. Too often the dish is allowed to chill in the serving. What we need is more young men who paint from inner impulsion without an ear to what the critic or spectator may feel — painters who risk spoiling a canvas to say something in their own way.” In this sentiment, Sweeney was to be followed by all those who willed a New York School.

[ … ]

… By their writing in The Nation or Partisan Review or The New Republic, these few critics reached what Maritain called the enlightened public, the same public that Alfred Barr had been patiently besieging for two decades. When the man of letters, the poetry lover, or the college-educated professional opened the pages of these publications, he was reminded again and again not only that America had painters and sculptors, but also that they were exceptional. In this way the growing sense of importance felt by the artists and critics themselves was communicated to a widening public.

[line break added]And since so intelligent and perceptive a man as Greenberg was willing to see greatness in this new phase of American culture, it was not difficult for others to accept the possibility that it was true. Even if the seemingly wild and anarchic creations of Pollock were not understood, the knowledge that he and a few others — the mad geniuses of America — existed was very appealing to the perpetually hungry cultural enthusiasts.

The artists themselves, unaccustomed to so much serious approval, began to feel they really had something going that required close examination. Conversations in the Waldorf Cafeteria took on new color, and issues were discussed in new terms. Gradually reference to European precedents was sublimated. By the end of the war, the New York artists and their friends on the West Coast were fairly certain that their special situation was new and the idea that there was indeed a modern American painting grew in their consciousness, no matter how obliquely. This liberated many spirits from old conflicts,enabling them to address themselves to the broader issues.

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




October 2, 2017

So You Judge

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… it compels you to call it art, as if you were its author. … [I]f you decided not to call it art, you would still act as if you were its author. You would merely call it non-art.

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

… could you dig out of your [imaginary] collection a work exemplary enough to stand for a paradigm of the whole? Your answer would be: “Let me consult with my feelings.” Examples would be summoned and most probably the first ones to come to your mind would be your favorites.

… Having been educated to the idea that architecture started with the Crystal Palace, painting with Cézanne, music with Schönberg, you would remember the silly guilt you felt simply for liking the ruins on the Forum the first time you visited Rome. The discovery of Palladio, of Masaccio, of Monteverdi came later, and there is no way for you to reach into your imaginary collection of artworks without acknowledging the helter-skelter order in which they entered it. “Is this legitimate?” you would ask yourself. “Am I not supposed to come up with a model, something that could stand for art at large and be objectively valid, or at least historically relevant?” More grappling with your feelings is called for.

… your interlocutor would press you: “Stop beating around the bush. Tell me of a single work of art that you think eminently deserves that name, and that would be representative of all the art you love.” “It’s impossible,” you would reply. “Each work of art is unique, works of art don’t obey the parliamentary logic of representation.” And you would add that feelings don’t either, that no one image of love could be made to stand for the infinite variety of all its manifestations, as if Tristan and Isolde could be substituted for, say, Othello.

… Vis-à-vis your collection, however, your feeling is one of moral duty. You fear, and rightly so, that if your judgments on art were forgotten, so would be the art itself. What matters is not that these judgments be attributed to you, but that they be passed along. So, you feel that a preposterous investiture is bestowed upon you: the right and duty to claim all the works in your collection as though you, not the artists, were their author. You must burst into laughter at this point: a feeling like this one catches the sublime at exactly the point where it topples into the ridiculous. And at this point, your choice is ripe.

You dig into your collection and bring back Duchamp’s urinal. To make sure, you check the feelings it arouses in you against those aroused by the works that enjoy a prominent position in your collection, and especially by those which might have been plausible candidates for the title of exemplary examples of art at large, such as Picasso’s, for instance. And you decide to stick with this urinal. It has everything Picasso’s Head of a Bull has in terms of ready-made qualities and surprise effect; it may even have evolved out of Picasso’s Absinth Glasses or cardboard and sheet metal Guitars.

[line break added] It has formal qualities that evoke Brancusi and Hans Arp, plus a sense of provocation that Arp never conveys. It expresses its time as well as Manet’s Olympia, and it reaches far into its own future to connect with the works of Johns and Warhol and many others. Indeed, like the joker in a card deck, it is the ever-present signifier in the cross-referenced index of your favorite works of art since Manet. Without it, how would you account for Manzoni’s cans of Artist’s Shit being in the same collection as Bonnard’s Nude in a Tub?

[line break added] You don’t account for that, yet it is a fact of your experience that they are, and that you can pass from a notion of art where Bonnard is a master, and not just one of good taste, to another, where Manzoni is a priest, and not just one of derision. Perhaps it is thanks to Duchamp, who was a champion of passages. For all those reasons, you love this urinal, and though some of these reasons cancel each other out, it doesn’t matter. Feelings are illogical: sometimes you are in the mood for Wagner, sometimes for Mozart. Why couldn’t this urinal be a beautiful object at times, while at others, it thumbs its nose at the very idea of beauty?

Yet you find as many reasons, and perhaps less illogical ones, to hate the bloody thing. To admit that Bonnard and Manzoni should stand side by side in one and the same collection yields a very unsettling feeling. Even more unsettling is the idea that Duchamp’s urinal might have reconciled them. Hasn’t it become an object of taste, and a very bland one at that, ushering in banality?

… Check with your feelings again. They tell you that there are far too many reasons why Duchamp’s urinal should be in your art collection, and that there are just as many reasons why it should stay out. It is neither a painting nor a sculpture, nor, for that matter, a poem or a piece of music. It doesn’t belong to any of the arts. It is either art at large or nothing. It is on the threshold of your collection, undecidable, but if it enters it — so your feeling tells you — then it is exemplary of everything that is in it. All the while, it compels you to call it art, as if you were its author. The teasing is unbearable, and that’s what clinches your decision. For if you decided not to call it art, you would still act as if you were its author. You would merely call it non-art.

… Your duty has become your right, for in front of this ready-made urinal nothing distinguishes you from Duchamp. You didn’t make it but neither did he. He didn’t call it art himself; he let posterity call it art, and though it is now a fact of jurisprudence that posterity did so, jurisprudence doesn’t dispense you from judging on your own. So you judge and, pointing at Duchamp’s urinal, you say: “This is art; this is the thing I choose to be an exemplary example of everything I call art.”

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




October 1, 2017

It Is, Of Course, Never Whole

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… Through contact with the present, an object is attracted to the incomplete process of a world-in-the-making …

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):

… The present, in its so-called “wholeness” (although it is, of course, never whole) is in essence and in principle inconclusive; by its very nature it demands continuation, it moves into the future, and the more actively and consciously it moves into the future the more tangible and indispensable its inconclusiveness becomes. Therefore, when the present becomes the center of human orientation in time and in the world, time and world lose their completedness as a whole as well as in each of their parts.

… Every event, every phenomenon, every thing, every object of artistic representation loses its completedness, its hopelessly finished quality and its immutability that had been so essential to it in the world of the epic “absolute past,” walled off by an unapproachable boundary from the continuing and unfinished present. Through contact with the present, an object is attracted to the incomplete process of a world-in-the-making, and is stamped with the seal of inconclusiveness.

… The image acquires a specific actual existence. It acquires a relationship — in one form or another, to one degree or another — to the ongoing event of current life in which we, the author and readers, are intimately participating. This creates the radically new zone for structuring images in the novel, a zone of maximally close contact between the represented object and contemporary reality in all its inconclusiveness — and consequently a similarly close contact between the object and the future.

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




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.




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.




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.




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