The Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky was a powerful proponent for informing/persuading/educating the audience to see not only the efficacy of the abstract imagery in Modernist works of art but also the need to sustain the audience’s gaze and convince them to “willingly suspend their initial disbelief”. Not an easy task in the third decade of the 20th century! In his Creative Art (1931) Gorky states: “The critics, artists, and public (are) suspended in the air like vultures, waiting in the air for the death of the distinctive art of this century.” Of course we know, blessed by our 82 years of historic distance, that Modernism and Modernist attitudes of the experimental artists would indeed prevail! But Gorky, like so many artists, knew the transformation would not be easy and a heavy price would be enacted on those experimental artists who were brave (or foolish) enough to push for change. What are your thoughts on Gorky’s statement?
Photograph of Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky Working in his Studio on Activities on the Field, part of the Newark Airport mural, 1936 (part of the Federal Art Project)
Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944
The experience and horror of WWI was so great, it resonated so deeply in the eyes and mind of artists, that the creative arena ennobled itself by venting through social criticism. The visual artists began to understand the age they lived in, the age they witnessed, through optical lenses imposing urgency and emptiness. The previous higher properties of concern for artists, portraiture, history painting, technology, etc., could no longer be extracted from life’s experiences with any moral authority. Richard Huelsenbeck wrote the following in the Dadaist Manifesto (1918): “With Dadaism a new reality comes into its own. Life appears as a simultaneous muddle of noises, colors and spiritual rhythms, which is taken unmodified into Dadaist art, with all its sensational screams and fevers of is reckless everyday psyche and with all its brutal reality.” What are your thoughts on Dada and on Huelsenbeck’s manifesto comment?
Dr. Richard Huelsenbeck, Berlin, 1917
Dr. Richard Huelsenbeck, Dada Almanac
During the years immediately leading up to the First World War, a group of artists in Italy began to extol the “cleansing” aspect of war and entered into a campaign or crusade to sweep the art world free of its age-old traditions, conventions and rituals. It was anticipated by these Italian artists that this effort to “clean house” would be met with fierce resistance. As such, these avant-garde artists were willing to meet resistance with force. One of the leading Italian Futurist painters, who also happened to be a gifted writer, was Umberto Boccioni. In his Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, published in 1910, Boccioni exclaimed: “A clean sweep should be made of all stale and threadbare subject matter in order to express the vortex of modern life—a life of steel, fever, pride and headlong speed…The accusation ‘madmen’, which has been employed to gag innovators, should be considered a noble and honourable title…Sincerity and virginity, more than any other qualities, are necessary to the interpretation of nature…Motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies.” What are your thoughts on the Italian Futurists in general and Boccioni’s manifesto thoughts in particular?
Umberto Boccioni, Self Portrait, 1905
Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1915