A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
This graphic from Nature magazine (volume 76, page 670, 1908) features a host of early flyers from five years or so following the first Wright powered flight. The diagram, which was also made in the first few years of the Cubist movement (and only a year after Picasso's Demoiselles), has a certain geometrical semi-proto-Cubist feel to it. The slickee, hard-edged approach to depicting the flying machines and placing them on the single sheet gives the work a modernist artistic feel to it in the earliest period of 20th c modernism in the first movement of abstract art.
The other thing is that so far as I can tell no major Cubists used the airplane as a subject matter in a painting in the first few years of the movement--which seems a little odd to me, given that it was such a major technological advance that took place in about the same time period as Cubism. Just a year later another collective.montage appears ina quite different form;
[Source, Nature, volume 81, page 399, 1909. And the detail, below:]
And speaking of precursors, now that I have mentioned the Picasso I should also say something about El Greco's The Opening of the Fifth Seal (or The Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse or The Vision of Saint John), painted three hundred years before the Demoiselles. El Greco (1541 – 7 April 1614) was not of his own time, not really...
Siegried Giedion wrote a terrific book called Mechanization Takes Command (and beautifully subtitled ...a contribution to anonymous history) in which he (sweepingly) looks at how mechanization took over from hand production in the life of social and technical world.
The book was published by Oxford University Press in 1948, and given that year, Giedion has something very interesting to say about killing.
After investigating "The Mechanization of Death: Meat" and how over hundreds of years the hammer-to-the-head and skinning that transforms an "animal" into ":meat" turned from human to mechanical hands, he decided that "what is truly startling in this mass transition from life to death is the complete neutrality of the act". The animal=meat act and the mechanization of killing removes the "human" element of the act, and that "one does not experience, one does not feel; one merely observes" a killing that is not somehow dying. He reckons that this experience may in general have made us more capable of desperate act of killing that do no longer seem so desperate.
It is a remarkable and early insight into the meat industry from an uncommon and unexpected source.
I'm not sure if I've ever seen a 16th century human perspective drawing showing the body in plan and elevation and cross-section. Jehan cousin the younger (1522-1595, in France), the son of Jean Cousin the Elder (1490-1560), a painter and sculptor, produced such an image in his Livre de Perspective, which was published in 1560. Well, the image definitely was published in 1560, though the artist may have been father and it may have been son--they worked closely together, and the Younger was taught at great length by the Elder, so much so that their work became indistinguishable. Nevertheless, the images I think are quite extraordinary, as we see below:
And so by Andreas Mantegna, a classic example:
The following images come from the 1608 edition of the Cousin Perspective. a number of which are fairly unusual (all from the Library of Congress site, here):
I think that a pre-proto-neo-antiquarian or whatever Cubist representational form is very clear in the 1812 engraving, which was a relatively simple formulaic presentation of ship/sail construction found in Rhees' Encyclopedia. "Clear" of course to someone here in the print's future, seeing what that form could actually become apart from showing the naval necessaries. But it always puzzles me how an image like this could appear and someone didn't take the next step and turn the thing into "art" of some sort. That would all happen soon enough, the loosening of form and its representation via impressionistic and geometrical ways--Mr. Turner was already 37 years old when this print was published, and on his way (at least intellectually) to his magnificent Romantic career.
Why wasn't this art in 1812, aside from people not being quite ready for it? Maybe there is no other "thing" apart from that. It would take nearly another hundred years before the representational form of say a ship was lessened and stripped away, softened , modified, rubbed, erased, into something that is the object but really isn't.
Perhaps what we have here is a peep (like with Durer's geometric man) into the future at modern art, a dissonance between abstraction and realism. There is a regeneration of form taking place in this image, but it is only something on its way to creating a more idiomatic engineering representation of naval needs, and not a new art form--that would have to wait for Braque and Gris and Leger and Delauny and Villon and Picabia and Duchamp and the rest. So this pre-non-Cubist engraving is not a key to a new vocabulary of vision--it is just a drawing of ship's sails.
Here's another example of pre-modern art peeping out from the pages of this same encyclopedia, this one being a Prehistoric Rayograph, or a proto-non-photographic example of Man Ray, but from 1810 (and which I wrote about here):
Which is a detail from:
The engraving below is another fine example of futuristic bubbles, this one a possible example of Steampunk Dada, and appears innocently (and beautifully, and importantly) in Architectura Hydraulica (1740),
and titled "Demonstration of Friction". I've simply inverted it and
removed some of the numerical notation--and then, suddenly, it becomes a
sort of Steampunk Balloon Machine--a lovely collection of small
balloons lifting large wheels and cogs, assembling some sort of
something in mid-air, demonstrating very little friction, of lightness
Seems to me that if you look hard enough that these examples are, well, kind of everywhere. They just aren't yet what they could've been.
Here's another example: Geology of Images: Finding Pre-biotic, Neo-Dadaist Images in Antique Astronomy Prints (here)
Walking through the Western North Carolina Mountain Fair last week-end I found a little bit of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) embedded in the sidewalk. (Mondrian helped establish De Stijl (1917 or thereabouts), with a philosophy of using lines to
transform artistic thought onto canvas, and the lines were all
horizontal or vertical, with square and rectangular shapes. These would
represent the pure harmonies of expression, along with the primary
colors as well as black and white. His images are iconic.)
Here's the cleaned-up version of what I saw underneath the text:
And the original:
And Mondrian's trees:
Had he seen this sewer access, I think that Mondrian would have been pleased.)
Once you start looking for Mr. Mondrian, he seems to be everywhere:
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone..
the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by
deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his
contribution to the creative act.” (Marcel Duchamp)
I guess to this quote you could replace "spectator" with just about anything else, including the object that is the art.
This ten-minute missive came from a post a few days ago (Napkins of the Apocalypse) where I located the ultimate end of the American civil defense experience during the Cold War--in the spindle hole of a survival LP issued by a trashy-thready record label in 1962. I wondered if the hopes/dream/prayers of that episodic horrorshow belonged more in the Blank/Missing/Empty or the Holes series of this blog...and where that dark hole fit.
The hole re-appeared this morning while doing the dishes, the drain in the sink sparking a vision of "FiVah" (or "Five A", anti-art's anti-anti-artist) Marcel Duchamp and his iconic found art sculpture "Fountain". It is of course the most famous urinal in the history of urination (I can't speak to famous urinals in non-urinating history) which Duchamp signed "R.Mutt" in 1917 to make it his own. Art.
There are many missing qualities to this artwork that allows it to slide right into this blog's Blank, Empty and Missing Things series, not the least of which is that the first "Fountain" went missing almost immediately. It was rejected from a major show of Duchamp's colleagues, and left a footprint of itself with a blank exhibition card dispaly, nonchalantly photographed in front of a Marsden Hartley painting. It was a shocking piece of art that lead and still leads to debate on what is art and what is not, especially so far as "original" artwork is concerned.
"Fountain" has/had a number of questions about originality--as a concept it was certainly original, in the use of found object as a piece of sculptural art, and of course in its own self, being a urinal and all. Then there's the question of this original idea being so but being hosted in a stock/standard item that was hardly an original construction--it was a simple porcelain object from an assembly line production. that said, even though this was not original when it came to replacing the lost not-original original it proved to be very difficult, at least it was back then in the nineteen-teens.
The urinal that replaced the missing urinal was not quite right, and so was not the not-original original replacing the not-original non-art that was a great original idea.
"Fountain" reminded people of a Buddha; it was hung in various unusual places and its iterations shown in exhibitions far-and-wide, including a very early Dada exhibit where one of them was hung from the ceiling of the gallery with a piece of Mistletoe attached, perhaps in a Duchampian way telling people to "kiss off".
So this great instigator and Jimmy-Hoffa-of-Artworks was missing on many levels--it was a mass-produced private work that was censored by its artist's peers, and original piece of art that wasn't itself original and that went missing almost as soon as it was created.
While looking through an issue of the Comptes Rendus for the announcement of the funeral of the great mathematician and all-around genius Henri Poincare1, I found in the weekly issue (a fraction of an inch comprising the three-inch-thick half-yearly volume of papers published by the French Academy) this wonderful illustration. It looks a bit like the superstructure to a Cubist dance, and bears a good strong attraction to many of the still images produced by Etienne Marey, maybe even a little like a mirrored representation of a stick figure skeleton of Duchamp's Nude Descending, which interestingly was finished in this same year.
[Etienne Marey, ca. 1880/1]
There's also a bit of early dance notation that the image reminds me of, particularly Raoul Feuillet's publication of Pierre Beauchamp's Orchesography4,
a work published first in 1700 (and then in English in 1706) and
dedicated to instructing people on the movements of the dance:
The image is an illustration for the article "Un nouveau cinematographie a images, tres frequentes", by P(ierre) Nogues, and was a technical rendering of a device that ran film through a projector at a very high speed. Nogues (1878-1971) was an assistant and collaborator to Etienne Marey, who was one of the earliest and perhaps the greatest figures in early cinematography and who--like Eadweard Muybridge--successful managed to create articulate optical machines that could capture and record minute and fast motion in people, animals, blood, and so on. Nogues and his contemporaries lie Georges Demeny, Francois-Franck and Lucian Bull were among the founding encyclopedists of motion. The drawing above was an outline for a sprocket device that feed flexible film through a camera at very high speed (ultimately reaching some 380 frames per second). It is a beautiful thing.
[M. Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2, 1912. It is interesting to note in passing that this painting was supposedly rejected in the Salon des Indépendants show of 1912 and then caused a massive set-to in the NYC Armory Show of 1913. The infighting and family strife in the Salon in the 1900-1912 period is so big and complex it would make a fine if drippy daytime television romance drama.]
1. Poincare died 17 July 1912, aged 58; the announcement of the funeral for one of the intellectual kings of the 19th century appeared on page 263 in this issue for 22 July 1912.
[Detail from engraving in the seventh image, below]
I'm not sure if I've ever seen a 16th century human perspective drawing showing the body in plan and elevation and cross-section. Jehan Cousin the Younger (1522-1595, in France), the son of Jean Cousin the Elder 91490-1560), a painter and sculptor, produced such an image in his Livre de Perspective, which was published in 1560. Well, the image definitely was published in 1560, though the artist may have been father and it may have been son--they worked closely together, and the Younger was taught at great length by the Elder, so much so that their work became indistinguishable. Nevertheless, the images I think are quite extraordinary, as we see below:
And so by Andreas Mantegna, a classic example:
The following images come from the 1608 edition of the Cousin Perspective. a number of which are fairly unusual (all from the Library of Congress site, here):
The late Medieval/early Renaissance Tractatusartis bene moriendi was a work book of the dead--rather, a book for those about to be dead, an instructional for the process of dying the good death along the (loose) order of the Tibetan Bardo Thodol and the Egyptian book of the dead. The Ars was written in the early the 15th century (some sources say 1415) and began appearing in some of the earliest illustrated printed books by about 1450--it was a wildly popular/necessary book, going through some 100 editions by 15001.
The books basically readied the dying for death, for a holy death, a death filled with high possibilities of a rewarding afterlife, for dying in the good graces of Christ and the christian ideals. The images were such that non-readers could understand them--and this is still pretty much the case.
Many of the variants of this work include a dozen or more woodblock illustrations, an example of which is found above. We see the soon-to-be-departed at the very last instant before death, surrounded by all manner of distractions and entertainments aimed at luring the person to an earthly- rather than holy-demise. Demons, conjurers, makers of greed, and devils surround his bed in temptation, all while the Virgin Mary, Christ and the creator look down upon the besieged from behind the top of the bed.
Death was not an uncommon visitor in Europe in the early/mid 15th century, and perhaps this book served some in the way it taught people how to die a noble and religious death, especially when clergy may not have been so available.
(We offer a version of this print--printed in 1771 in Leipzig, and published in Heinecken's Idee Generale d'une Collection Complette d'Estampes. True this woodcut comes some 200 years or so after the original, but it still has a flavor of substantial age, of one of the earliest images to ever appear in a printed books.)
Here's another example, this time the dying man is beign attacked by agents of pride and greed. The images are genuinely upsetting--scary even.
This is not a particularly early Cubust-like comic book or sci-fi pulp image--it actually comes quite late in the career of early Cubism, in 1934--some 21 years or so following the pro forma appearance of the movement at the Armory in 1913. But it is interesting, and seems to have been composed in context with the story--and it looks rather good.
The earliest examples go right back into the very heart of Cubism:
This is a detail from a very early example, "Mamma's Angel Child", by M.T. "Penny" Ross, which appeared within a year or two of the show. Ross (1881-1937) was a very active illustrator and seemingly somewhat Zelig-like, somewhat everywhere, and signed this work "Paul Vincent Cezanne Van Gogen Gaugin", just to make sure that there was no mistake, and no real understatement.
[Kuznetsov, E. Tsirk. [Circus.] Moscow: Academia, 1931; Cover design by N. Akimov.; 8 v.,  leaves of plates : col. ill. ; 32 x 57 cm.]
I found this dustjacket art of Soviet-era books (all from the 1930's save one) in the New York Public Library collections (here)
and was struck by the geometrical objects in many of the designs. They
have a sense of warmth to me, somehow, like softer work coming from the
tail end of the Constructivist period, having elements of Dada but
really just having some of the hard edge of Constructivism without the
scorching/awakening images that might have been embedded in the
Lapin, Boris Matveevich. Podvig. [A Heroic Exploit.] Leningrad: Izd-vo Pisatelei v Leningrade, 1934. Cover design by S. Iudovin.
Duchmap stopped painting at a certain point in the 1920's, which was fairly early on in his life, but he didn't stop making art.
de joueurs d'échecs" Marcel Duchamp,
Dreams that Money Can Buy is a 1947 film by surrealist/dadaist Hans Richter (1888-1976, a 1912 member of the Blaue Reiter) that includes many artists. This is a Duchamp's fragment, with music by John Cage. (As a matter of fact, Richter claims to have made the first abstract film in Rhythmus 21 in 1921 and also made the interesting 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements in 1957.)
Long is the line in the history of art--far less so the dot.
The line has been part of a long and deep inheritance of rendering a truth, factual, perspectival presence--in general, at least. Certain symbolic and metaphoric elements will sometimes confuse and collapse bits of the image, but the effort for centuries has been to present a balanced nature as close as practicable to its perfection. That was the strength of the line.
The strength of the dot was in doing something not quite the opposite but approaching it.
It is interesting to think of the importance of dots in the first revolutionary changes in 500 years in the history of art. Honestly, there wasn’t anything epochal that happened between the re-discovery of perspective (ca. 1330-1400) and the arrival of Impressionism (and just afterwards of non-representational art) in the 1872/3/4-1915 period.
Dots aren’t brought to bear formally in the revolutionary movement until the early 1880’s. Impressionism for all intents and purposes is formed with the Societe Anonyme in 1872 (whose members included Monet, Pissaro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and eleven others), and perhaps more realistically in 1874 when the Societe exhibited its first salon. (The first show held at the Nadar Studio in Paris in April 1874; a tiny, one month long affair, compared to mammoth exhibitions like the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867.)
It was Georges Seurat who brought the whole world to the dot experience with his artistic method of Pointilism, in particular with his magnificent Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, an enormous work given its composition—dots. The dots replaced the brushstroke, and their placement in relation to their color was an absolutely brilliant innovation, establishing a perfect result for the viewer when examining the work as a whole. (It may well be that the French chemist an designer Michel Chevreul made this discovery a few decades earlier, noticing the effect and changes in color depending on placement and—in his case, with fabric—color in the dyes for his material.)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the discoverer of nothingness in art and the introduction of the first non-representational paintings in art history (1913) used his fair share of dots in his exploration of the previously invisible. One good example is his 9 Points in Ascendance (1918), which is nothing but black dots, an impossible composition just two decades prior to its creation.
In the middle of this appeared the half-tone illustration, the great liberator of photographic illustration in popular publication. Invented in the late 1870’s by Stephen Henry Horgan and used in the Illustrated London News for the first time in 1881, it made the publication of accurate images much feasible and economical. No longer were readers dependent on the accuracies of artists interpreting photographs or photographed scenes—the photographs themselves were now publishable at little cost and in high quality, vastly increasing the veracity of published reports dependent upon images. This was revolutionary in its own way, democratizing the sharing of images and icons.
That said about dots, the line was surely used to transport a bit of reality in art, even before the 18th century--among the earliest appearances being with Hans Holbein in his The Ambassadors of 1533, and a beautiful and very famous use was made by Andrea Pozzo in his illusionistic works at S. Ignazio in Rome in 1685 (and which I mention in an earlier post). Certainly Carel Fabritius attempted and succeeded in this throughout his career, playing with the substance of perspective, as we can see here in his View in Delft, in 1652:
Also the lines of the anamorphic image severely distorted the presentation of reality--if you had the mirror to distort it and if you had the mirror to reconstitute it:
This example is much more recognizable in widely-circulated images of the modern work of people like Kurt Wenner, who have continued in the tradition of Leonardo's researches in the difficulties of wide angle distortion:
Seeing this collection of dots in the construction of human faces I was reminded very strongly of the portraits made on the typewriter by Julius Nelson in his work, Artyping, published and sold for a dollar by the Artyping Bureau of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1939 (and pictured first, above). Nelson was an instructor in "secretarial science" in Windber High School in Pennsylvania and no doubt put together this pamphlet as something expressive of his artform and as an advertisement for his profession. This was hardly the first time that anyone used the typewriter artistically, as I can recall some measure of artistic expression in type in Punch magazine as far back as 1869, though portraiture by typewriter does not appear to be a very wide section in the art world between those times. In any event, a portrait that he made here is rather close to those presented on the Modern Metropolis site--the "Dot Portraits" Nathan Manire.
Modern Art would have the final dispositional comment on the typewriter as an instrument of art, when Claes Oldenburg made his Soft Typewriter in 1963:
And then, of course, the magnificent resurrection of the typewriter artform, replacing the spplication of black or red with something a little more complex:
I was digging a little in Herman Melville and Moby-Dick and fell into eleven pages of his scholarly ruminations on the depictions of whales in art and literature, fictional and otherwise. Its really a very fine little gem, bobbing there in the nearly the exact middle of the book. (It is not the middle of the middle of the middle like Gettysburg in Mr. Foote's The Civil War, a Narrative, where as it happens the battle appears in the middle chapter if the middle volume, but it is close enough.) Here it is, from the full text at the University of Virginia:
There are times when the future turns up in unexpected places--and sometimes that imagery is quite unintentional, and belongs only to the viewer in that future, looking back. It seems to me that many of these examples belong in the history of scientific illustration
Thomas Dick's Celestial Scenery, or, The wonders of the planetary system displayed
was published by Harper & Brothers in New York in 1838 is a good example for a home of some of these flashes of future brilliance. What we're seeing in the pages of this chunky book--which was an influential object in the early reading of a number of people who were to become influential astronomers, one including E.E.. Barnard--are lovely, simple, and include some relatively simple images of size comparisons. The result seems to my eye to suggest Suprematist art, geometrical art that would come into being another 75 years hence or so. (This movement was founded by the great Kazimir Malevich in the 19-teens, who said of it: "Under Suprematism I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.") Of course the Dick images were simple comparatives and not-yet-art--but they certainly do suggests themselves as something more than what they are. The full text of the book is located at the Internet Archive, here. (Thanks to Trevor Owens and his interesting Pinterest collection here who brought my attention to the Dick book via images of the Martian canals.)
A plan of the rings of Saturn relating their size and some of their imagined composition:
Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle, 1915:
Comparative of the Earth to Saturn's rings; image bottom, depicts the Sun and Jupiter