JF Ptak Science Books Part of the History of Dots series Post 2007
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:
Source: Anamorphic Art
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: