Art of the Day

2 Jul

Man Ray. Anatomies. 1929

Anatomies. by Man Ray (1890-1976). Gelatin silver print, 1929. In the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

Statement from Man Ray about art that was reprinted in the book Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas:

American by birth, though involved for most of his career with the European avant-garde centered in Paris, Man Ray is normally associated with his development of photographic techniques in the orbit first of Dada, and later, Surrealism. In this early statement he articulates a more orthodox formalist point of view. The ‘Statement’ was originally printed in ‘The Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters’, Anderson Galleries, New York, March 1916:

Throughout time painting has alternately been put to the service of the church, the state, arms, individual patronage, nature appreciation, scientific phenomena, anecdote, and decoration. 

But all the marvelous works that have been painted, whatever the sources of inspiration, still live for us because of absolute qualities they possess in common. The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the color and texture of pigment, in the possibilities of form invention and organization, and in the flat plan on which these elements are brought to play.

The artist is concerned solely with linking these absolute qualities directly to his wit, imagination, and experience, without the go-between of a ‘subject.’ Working on a single plane as the instantaneously visualizing factor, he realizes his mind motives and physical sensations in a permanent and universal language of color, texture, and form organization. He uncovers the pure plane of expression that has so long been hidden by the glazings of nature imitation, anecdote, and the other popular subjects.

Accordingly the artist’s work is to be measured by the vitality, the invention, and the definiteness and conviction of purpose within its own medium. 

My comments:

Man Ray’s statement is quite complex and interesting to ponder. It came several years before he started creating the rayograms like the one above for which he is famous, but the main points that he wrote in the statement can be applied to the rayograms like the one above that is the Art of the Day. It seems to me that Man Ray is fundamentally saying that art ultimately boils down to its formal elements and the way that an artist uses them, because it is these formal elements that link all paintings ever created. It’s really the only thing that all paintings, or even artworks that aren’t paintings, share in common. Modern artists like Man Ray decided to zero in their focus on these formal elements and see how far they could go in eliminating the recognizable imagery in a painting while still creating a work that is expressive and meaningful to viewers. With Anatomies, at the first, brief glance it appears to be a print with a black background and a large, white, looming upward triangle in the foreground (this is what I saw when I first gazed upon it). But as your eyes spend more time lingering over this white shape, you realize it’s actually the underside of a person’s chin, with the neck and collarbone hovering below it. The shape and implied motion of the body depicted here reminds me of a great, enormous humpback whale breaking out of the waves. This simple, not often noticed part of the body is transformed into shapes that have incredible majesty and grace. This is the power of art revealed.

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