It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Der Blaue Reiter Almanac : Roger Allard

Raoul  Dufy, "Portrait  of Roger Allard" 
(not in the Almanac)

Roger Allard : Signs of Renewal in Painting

I couldn't find much biographical information about Allard (1885-1961), other than that he wrote poetry and criticism of art and literature.

Cezanne, "The Seasons: Fall", 1861

The best training for a study of the pattern of artistic evolutions is to experience the development of a style in painting up to its fossilization and death, preferably a style that is survived by the pseudostyle of its imitators. 

Because impressionism now belongs to the past, we can detect its historical relationship not only to the period directly preceding it—--- which frequently has been done before—but also to the period following it, the art of our time.

The undeniable analogy of impressionism to naturalism, especially in its late period, is perhaps the main reason that impressionism could not lead to a more important style. In all other periods great epochs of art founded schools and the forms of great renovators created definite styles. The narrow limits of the impressionist principle allowed only three or four great artists to develop their personalities.

Surprising reactions followed, such as neo-impressionism, which basically was nothing but a concealed restoration and which finally developed into an art for gourmets. Even the great heritage of Cezanne was dissected and the labor of his discoveries became a cheap commodity. But Cezanne’s art is the arsenal out of which contemporary painting takes its swords for the first parry and thrust in the struggle to defeat naturalism, false literature, and pseudo-classicism. Today different things are being fought for.

It seems important to us to outline this short prehistory of “cubism” up to its final definition in art, because we intend to combat the trivialities and false reports that are disseminated today in all magazines and newspapers on infamoijs cubism.

What is cubism ?

First of all, it is the deliberate intention to restore again to painting the knowledge of measure, volume, and weight.

Instead of the impressionist illusion of space based on perspective in atmosphere and a naturalism of colors, cubism renders sinple, abstract forms in defined relationships and proportions to one another. The first postulate of cubism is, therefore, the order of objects—not however, the order of naturalistic objects, but of abstract forms. It perceives space as a compound of lines, units of space, quadratic and cubic equations and relationships. 

Henri Le Falconnier, 1911

It's not difficult for a 25 year old  to severely  reduce art history to a  "pattern of artistic evolutions". --  yet his requiem for  impressionism remains canonical in academic art history, despite the variety of its prolific, ongoing practice.

His disparagement of "art for gourmets" -- and presumably for the gourmets as well -- also lives on in academia.

One might also note that Le Falconnier, whose above piece was chosen to accompany this essay, was included among "the ambitious young painters out to hijack Cubism" in "The Other Cubists: Jackdaws in Peacocks' Feathers", the title of chapter 14 in Richardson's "Life of Picasso, Vol. 2" -- as shown in the 1911 Salon

 The two of them (Picasso and Kahnweiller) were decidedly unimpressed by the centerpiece of Room 41 ,Le Fauconniers monumental (over ten foot by six foot) Abondance—his Russian giantess of a wife (a painter called Maroussia) carrying a basket of huge fruit accompanied by an oafish putto—which no amount of faceting could redeem from academicism. On the strength of Abondance, this now forgotten painter was perceived as the leader of the new school—and not just in France, either. Le Fauconnier had exhibited an earlier version of his allegory in Munich at the second Neue Kunstlervereinigung, of which was a member (Picasso and Braque exhibited as guests), and it had made such an impression that he was invited to join the Blaue Reiter the following year. After a succession of one-man shows in Munich, Berlin, Prag Budapest, Zurich, Le Fauconnier would soon be better known in Mitteleuropa than Picasso. With his red, fan-shaped beard, imposing height, myopic air of earnestness, which drugs did much to heighten, Le Fauconnier personified the charismatic chef d’école. As such he was hailed Russia (at the Golden Fleece and Knave of Diamonds group shows). also  in Holland, where, after abandoning cubism, he spent World War I. wallowing in mysticism and back-to-nature expressionism. When he returned to Paris after the war, the artist whom Gleizes had once celebrated as master of a new generation” found that he was unremembered.

Even allowing for Richardson's snarky partisanship - Cubism clearly had a much shorter shelf-life than Impressionism.

William McGregor Paxton, 1909
(not in the Almanac)

Doesn't the above non-cubist painting also exemplify "a knowledge of measure, volume, and weight" ?
Aren't the forms just as tightly ordered as the triangles, circles, and squares found in the Falconnier landscape posted above it ?

Ben Aronson, Reflections, 2008
(not in the Almanac)

While here's a painting done a hundred years later. It's more about light than volume and weight -- but you wouldn't call it tired or moribund, would you ?

Matisse, "Le  Danse", 1910

The task of the artist is to create an artistic order out of this mathematical chaos. He wants to awaken the latent rhythm of this chaos.

Not that mathematical  expressions cannot be applied to the lines in a cubist painting (or any other) - but it's not likely that they were conceived this way.  The mention of "quadratic and cubic equations" is only to suggest an intellectual rigor that otherwise might seem to be lacking.

Any view of life in which the most dissimilar forces struggle in opposition is a center for this idea. The external subject of this view of life is only a pretext for, or, rather, the argument of the equation. This has never been different in art-—only this final meaning has been hidden for centuries; modern art is trying to rediscover it.

Isn’t it strange how difficult it is for our contemporary critics and aesthetes to admit the necessity for a re-evaluation of nature in terms of an exact and abstract world of forms in the visual arts? In other fields, in  music and poetry, a similar abstraction is a self-evident postulate for them. Camille Mauclair, for example, regards cubism as a scholastic sophistry leading to the sterilization of the creative urge. He forgets that two creative people are necessary to enjoy a work of art: the first is the artist who creates it, the great stimulator and inventor, and the second is the viewer whose mind has to return to nature. The further the two of them advance to reach the same goal, the more creative they both are.

Everyone who is fully aware of his own aesthetic feelings will sense the truth of this statement.

If the possibility of a legitimate explanation of aesthetic actions is denied right at the beginning, then one can well ask whether order equals disorder

Louis Anquetin, "Portrait of Camille Mauclair", 1896
(not in the Almanac)

Braque, "Candle Stick and Playing Cards on a Table", 1910
(not in the Almanac)

I would have to agree with Mauclair that  Analytic Cubist paintings suggest a "scholastic sophistry leading to the sterilization of the creative urge".

Because I find paintings like the above to be boring.

I would  agree with Allard that "two creative people are necessary to enjoy a work of art: the first is the artist who creates it..  the second is the viewer ...".    Though I have no idea what would be involved in having one's "mind return to nature." .... and  whether it's important for   "the two of them advance to reach the same goal" depends upon the value of that goal. .Doesn't it ?

Cannot or must not the human mind enter here with theories and differentiations? This is not at all to deny that all values in this world, especially aesthetic values, are relative and changing.

It is hardly necessary to mention the forms and means of expression that have been applied so far in the wide system of cubism; the development of these ideas is still at its beginning.

Some dematerialized their conception of the world in the attempt to separate its various parts from one another. Others searched for a system to transform objects until they became abstract cubist forms and formulas, weights, and measures.

There was the idea of the futurists (“Le cinématisme”) who wanted to replace the old European rules of perspective by a new, to some extent centrifugal, perspective that would no longer show the viewer one fixed plane, but would, so to speak, lead him around the object. Others tried a reciprocal interpenetration of objects to increase the expression of motion.

None of these ideas, however, alone or combined, produces an artistic canon for creating. The terrifying fertility of these ideas is rather the evil sign of decadence. No sound artistic structure can be erected on such a basis. In contemporary literature we have the same movement: the ardent urge for synthesis drives the spirit to arbitrary expositions that push poetry to the picturesque, which is, at the same time, on the brink of the carefully avoided anecdote; a dangerous vicious circle  that banishes the spirit. Therefore futurism appears to us as a malignant growth on the healthy tree of art.

Boccioni,Visioni simultanee, 1912
(not in the Almanac)

I'm not sure why Allard gave Futurism such a hard slap. Nowhere else does he give any importance to an "artistic canon for creating" or a "sound artistic structure"

Perhaps he felt that he needed to throw some avant garde movement under the tires, just to show that he was not indiscriminate in advocating the new.

We are proclaiming the right of the new constructive movement in art. We defend its good purpose against all romantic points of view which deny the sleeper the opportunity to think and to speculate and in which he is regarded as an inspired dreamer whose left hand does not know what his right hand is doing.
The first and most noble right of the artist is to be a conscious builder of his ideas.

Whenever someone gets around to writing a comprehensive history of conceptual art - this paragraph would have to be considered.

I guess I'm what Allard calls a "Romantic". Not that I "deny the sleeper the opportunity to think", but that I want composition to be the discovery, rather than the demonstration, of ideas.

Many highly talented artists of our time bleed to death disregarding their right to work consciously. The most honest among them realizes the imperative necessity of new aesthetic laws and the knowledge of these laws.

I doubt I'd be interested in the work of those who "realize the imperative necessity" of any aesthetic laws, new or old --- though such "laws" are so liable to be fuzzy and open to wide interpretation, it may not make any difference.

Cubism is no new fantasy of “savages,” no scalp dance around the altars of the “officials,” but an honest search for a new discipline.

From this point of view the old quarrel about the priority of its discovery is completely irrelevant. Unquestionably Derain, Braque, and Picasso made the first formal attempts in cubism; these were followed by more systematic works by others. We are indebted to the spirit and temperament of these artists; therefore we place their names on the top of this objective essay, which is not meant to evaluate talents but only to show the line of development. Since the exhibition in the Salon d’Automne in 1910, this line took a very clearly defined direction. The exhibition of the Indépendants and of the Salon d’Automne in 1911 finally made it clear that one could speak of a “renewal” in painting. 

This is the very same 1911 Salon which Richardson, above, condemned as academic and derivative

The critics’ attitude was remarkable; they were no longer reserved but very angry and offensive. They would have put up with the works of some amateurs, but they could not bear to be confronted with a serious movement that threatened to cause the final downfall of their own senile art. They clearly expressed their indignation that these new painters did not even think of wiping the sand out of their tired eyes so that they could see the athletic qualities of these new paintings. The critics were upset about the vast, pulsating life of this rich movement; they would rather have tried to classify it as a hoax upon the masses.This was a waste of time, for among the new painters were celebrities such as Metzinger, and Le Fauconnier, who asserted the noble reserve of his northern character in the delicate architecture of his space creations. Then Albert Gleizes, who forced his rich imagination into logical constructions. Then Fernand Léger, indefatigably searching for new relationships of proportions; finally the painterly Robert Delaunay, who conquered the arabesques of the plane and who shows the rhythm of great, infinite depths. 

This group pursues its high aims apart from the dreamlike art of Rouault and without connection to the talented and delicate Matisse. To this group belongs also the stylish Marie Laurencin and R. de La Fresnaye, full of tradition and schooling and full of new forms. Is it not an infallible proof of the power of the movement that from an inner congeniality it attracts the most heterogeneous elements? Dunoyer de Segonzac, L.-Albert Moreau, Marchand, Dufy, Lhote, Marcel Duchamp, Boussingault, and many other names whom I soon hope to have the opportunity to speak about.
With the sculptors, like Duchamp-Villon and Alexander Archipenko, we also experience the trend toward new ideas.
The new spiritual movement is also no longer solely French. The same search for renewal in art resounds abroad.
Is it possible to see in this valiant movement anything else but the rebellion against worn-out aesthetics and at the same time the creation of a new canon, which shall give our life style and inner beauty?

Dufy, 1910

Marchand, 1910

Duchamps, 1911

Delaunay, 1911

Fresnaye, 1911

Gleizes, 1911

Laurencin, 1911

Leger, 1911

Metzinger, 1911

Lhote, 1911

Segonzac, 1911

Above is a collection of images I found of paintings  by the artists Allard has listed. They were all done around the time the Almanac was published - though none of them were included in it.

Andre Derain, 1910

And here's one by Derain. Allard credits him as one of three pioneers of Cubism, along with Picasso and Braque


It's interesting that Allard ended his essay  by proposing that these painters "give our life style and inner beauty" - definitely not what you would expect from an advocate of avant garde art a hundred years later..

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