Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1910 (Heft 31)

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Mantegna could have painted a Watteau. It is different, however, when one
passes from particular examples to general principles. Then one may discover
the link of a common motive uniting these two painters, otherwise so different.
It is the representation of form, used in both cases decoratively and with a
desire to express its actuality and vitality, yet in neither case with the abstrac-
tion of expression that distinguishes the Oriental artist. The latter uses form
only as a symbol to express something of the kokoro or universal spirit, while
the Caucasian artist bases his idealism and realism alike upon the representa-
tion of the actualities of form. This, as a motive, is neither less nor more than
the photographic point of view. Imagine a photographer of Holbein’s analytic
and comprehending genius and he would produce a portrait that, while it
might differ in degree of quality from the work of that master, would be the
same in kind. So, if a modern Velasquez should arise, he might be expected
to render his impressions sometimes with the camera, sometimes with the
brush. For the point is not that the camera can do all that the brush can, any
more than that the reverse is true. A man who is equally proficient in both
mediums will select the one or the other, as it seems more fitted to render the
particular subject that he has in mind. The real issue is that in the matter of
motive, of point of view, the camera has invaded the field of painting. If the
latter would once more occupy an independent field of its own, it must discover
a new motive. It has already set about the discovery, seeking for it in the
direction of abstraction. The motive is no longer to represent form, but to
express the quality, the character, of form; to use it as a symbol of expression.
It therefore proceeds by simplification, in order as far as possible to divest
form of its formal significance, and make it yield suggestion to the imagination.
And, once more, the suggestion is abstract, detached from association with the
concrete actualities of form, and expressive of qualities that invite and stimulate
the higher faculties of the imagination.
Whistler, unless we except Corot, was the first modern to attempt this
abstract use of form. No sooner had he received the lesson of impression
from Velasquez than he began to learn of Oriental art. He was the only man
of his time to divine the difference of motive on which the latter is based and
to fit it to his own purpose. It became the habit of his mind to view the
particular in relation to the general, to see the type in the individual, to regard
the personal and the local as manifestations of the universal. His portraits,
to quote his own word, are “evocations” of the idea with which the personality
had inspired him. In his nocturnes, forms lose their concrete assertiveness
and become as presences, looming athwart the infinity of spiritual suggestion.
But the nocturnes, after all, are beautiful evasions, wherein the artist has
taken refuge from the obviousness of facts by immersing himself in the
penumbra. Whistler left this new motive to be carried further by others who
would view the facts of appearances in clear, open daylight and yet discover
how to render their abstraction. The artist who thus carried forward the new
motive was Paul Cézanne.
It is only since Cézanne’s death in 1906 at the age of sixty-seven years,
that the world is beginning to realize his influence on modern painting. For,

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