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

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The caricaturist is a natural iconoclast. Iconoclasm is the trade mark of
his activity. He beats against the iron doors of tradition. He waves the flag
of revolt. He proclaims a rebellion against the social laws and customs—all
the tyranny of traditional morals and habitudes, under which truth and beauty
are stifled. He is the thrower of the mental bombs of contempt and despair.
And all this merely out of curiosity, not to reform humanity—he leaves that to
fanatic sentimentalists. There is no sentimentalism in his art’s philosophy.
He lets the beholder draw his own conclusions.
He is the true child of his age. Men and women are merely the toys with
which his bored Ego amuses itself, in attacking a man’s position or a woman’s
vanity. He finds the child’s pleasure in destroying a mechanical doll. He sends
his soul abroad on adventurous missions. He plays his part in the comedies
of the hours. Wherever there is any bustle and stir he seizes, amiable and alert,
his weapon, his pencil that is his sword. A few passes and somebody is sure
to be wounded. The victim limps home and hides his shame. An exciting
profession—as it furnishes a melodramatic stimulant to life.
And when I think of these gentlemen who look so shrewdly and pitilessly
upon their generation, there is none upon whose swordsmanship I can count
more surely than that of De Zayas. He has a subtle wrist and a quick eye.
He represents better than most men of the day this city, at once beautiful
and horrible. In this spectacle of contemporary life, De Zayas has seen an
immense and ironic drollery. And he has amused himself and written it down
for us in his own expert fashion. His style is direct, brief, strict, hard. His
ideas are realistic, huge, grim, vulgar, common at times and yet always unfore-
seen, so modern they are. It is a kind of calligraphy, not unlike the signs of
Japanese syllables, lean and black, decorative and mystifying, that have a
meaning even to those who do not understand the language.
What is the object of this new style of caricature ? To write the mono-
graphs of human souls. This may be considered a pompous phrase, but it is
not meaningless. The artist who would write the monograph of a soul has but
to discern at what point the parody touches the subject. Each man has some
external characteristic, an appearance, gesture, attitude, which reveals the
essence of his personality. The interest of the caricaturist is not in the actor
but in the role the particular Thespian plays. He need not consider whether
the Dianas of Murray Hill are contented with their lot, of their vain little
turbulences, what they chatter to each other as they meet in the dull suavity
of the drawing rooms—their attitude interprets them.
What De Zayas loves in his models is their foibles, their weaknesses,
their emotional misery, and it pleases him to humiliate himself, to crown him-
self with their thorns, to ulcerate himself with their woes. Thus he gains the
supreme pleasure of testing in reconstructed tortures the chastisement of their
sins—without having the trouble of committing them himself.
Caricature with him is not character seen across a temperament, it is
character volatilising itself in the temperament of the portrayer. It is opposed
to general art ideas. It describes only the individual, it desires only the unique.
It does not classify. It declassifies.

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