Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1914 (Heft 47)

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When you asked me, my dear Alfred, to write down some impressions
of just what “291” has meant to me, I felt you were entering the enemy's
camp to request an opinion as to what was thought of the campaign just
waged. I can write now much more dispassionately than I could have some
five years ago, because then, frankly, the shows got on my nerves. Since
that time, so many strange happenings have occurred in art, I am inclined
to take them with complacency, if not toleration. It is a tearing down of
the old faith, however, without substituting anything in its place, that one
sees in “291.” To me, the years have brought no order out of the chaos of
the new men you have exploited. When they or you talk—and I seem to
have heard many theories within your walls—one is impressed by the logic,
the sanity of intention, but when I see the results hanging about, I cannot
perceive they have any relation whatsoever with the subject of the conver-
sation. I have told you this many times and I can only reiterate it. When
most of these men are not unspeakably dreary, they are pathetically weak in
expression, or so strange and impossible as to say absolutely nothing to me,
though I have—largely out of regard for you—striven hard to grasp their
point of view.
Their utter disregard of form, or beauty as I understand it, their stupid-
ity in the arrangement of composition lines are all things my art notions
rebel at, recoil from in disgust. Now and then an exhibitor comes along at
“291” who is less impossible than the rest, but I have yet to see one who
has had the slightest appeal. It is all like a Barmecide Feast at which you
tell me there are appetizing dishes, but which for the life of me, I can make
nothing of and upon which I should starve. To me the value of the place
has been perhaps that it has given some of the modern painters courage to
work away from the conventional lines, to experiment, to dare, and as such
I doubt not, it has had its place in the great economy of things. I am not sure
however, but that it has done quite as much harm as good and I know after
all, the men who have been most enthusiastic followers of your leaders have
deteriorated into men who have blindly copied the Matisses, Picassos and
the Picabias, and imitation while intensely flattering, is most unhealthy. I
am too much a believer in the absolute necessity of knowledge of one's craft
to accept feeble, uncertain lines, poor construction and absence of modeling
so obvious in the mass of things you have shown in your gallery. It all
seems to my old-fashioned mind, an effort to arrive at some result without
training, to attract attention not through artistic delight in nature, but through
a novelty secured at any cost. No, Alfred, pleasant as it has been to drop
in the rooms and listen occasionally to a discussion, I have yet to find in-
spiring things on the walls in the way of paintings, or in the sculptures on
the shelves and I regret now more than ever, the distinct loss to photography
that has been caused by your neglect of your camera through your atten-
tion to a field so different, for in photography you were supreme.
Arthur Hoeber

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