Europe: Photography and poetry

English: This photograph of Berenice Abbott wa...

English: This photograph of Berenice Abbott was taken by Hank O’Neal at his Downtown Sound Studio in New York City, 18 November 1979 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relating the concept of space with continuity, movement and time has been the tendency
of historians as early as the 19th century. However, time is not considered as a dimension of
space before the 20th century. Despite Futurist Filippo T. Marinetti who claims

“time and space
died yesterday” (Caws, 2001: 187), space-time becomes a new concept in art and architecture
with the influence of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in physics and the mechanical
improvements in technology. Four-dimensional space replaces Euclidean space first in Cubism.
The concept of simultaneity brings forth the coexistence of more than one point of view
expressing aesthetic experience in time. Representation of the visual memory of a moving
observer is preferred to optical vision in Cubist paintings.
Abbott’s subjects were people in the artistic and literary worlds, including French nationals (Jean Cocteau), expatriates (James Joyce), and others just passing through the city. According to Sylvia Beach, “To be ‘done’ by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody”.[9] Abbott’s work was exhibited with that of Man Ray, André Kertész, and others in Paris, in the “Salon de l’Escalier” (more formally, the Premier Salon Indépendant de la Photographie), and on the staircase of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her portraiture was unusual within exhibitions of modernist photography held in 1928–9 in Brussels and Germany.[10]
In 1925, Man Ray introduced her to Eugène Atget‘s photographs. She became a great admirer of Atget’s work, and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait in 1927. He died shortly thereafter. While the government acquired much of Atget’s archive — Atget had sold 2,621 negatives in 1920, and his friend and executor André Calmettes sold 2,000 more immediately after his death[11] — Abbott was able to buy the remainder in June 1928, and quickly started work on its promotion. An early tangible result was the 1930 book Atget, photographe de Paris, in which she is described as photo editor. Abbott’s work on Atget’s behalf would continue until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. In addition to her book The World of Atget (1964), she provided the photographs for A Vision of Paris (1963), published a portfolio, Twenty Photographs, and wrote essays.[12] Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain international recognition.


Landscape at Collioure, Oil on canvas. In the ...

Landscape at Collioure, Oil on canvas. In the collection of the MOMA. 38.8 x 46.6 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Open Window, Collioure (1905, Henri Matisse) i...

Open Window, Collioure (1905, Henri Matisse) inside the National Gallery of Art’s East Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Woman Reading, Oil on canvas. In the Cone coll...

Woman Reading, Oil on canvas. In the Cone collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days we are unlikely to be quite that opinionated about drawing. Few would want to
explain why a drawing was outrageously bad – you chuckle knowing that it is meant to be
like that. The most impressive drawing show that I have seen in recent years was the Polke
exhibition at MOMA in 1999, and if I think of it as ‘creative’ it is because of its fearless,
searching energy – from a scrawl in a private sketchbook to a vast Spiderman fantasy. I
wonder what Matisse would have made of it. Would he have sensed an underlying
competence, a discipline? Or a degenerate, diseased mind?
For generations of nervous art students the key to getting onto a good course was the portfolio of drawings. The interview panel would leaf through these in silence.

If they weren’t up to scratch no amount of smart talk would get you through. It wasn’t just about ability or perseverance or ‘being able to draw’ – that could mean quite different things to different people.

Drawing was the touchstone, outside of fashion, beyond argument, the
foundation of art.

Whole cultures were categorized by their use of line and form, some
pure and classic, some degenerate, confused. According to Ruskin, half the National
Gallery was well below par and would do the student serious educational damage: we
should look at Rembrandt and Michelangelo in moderation in case we picked up bad

It may now sound nutty to dismiss whole periods of art history and drawing, but
perhaps we are no better. We have become art tourists, afraid to make any noise that might cause embarrassment. We are there to appreciate, to consume uncritically. We look, but not too hard!!