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

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It is probably natural that many people should have wanted to know
what it was, but it is amazing that some sixty individuals should have been
ready and able to give some kind of an answer as to what it means to them.
—“291?”—I have never known just what it was, I don’t know now, and I
do not believe anyone else does. “291 ” only seems to us what we as individ-
uals want it to be, and because I have my particular “want it to be” stronger
today than ever before, do I resent this inquiry into its meaning as being
impertinent, egoistic and previous. Previous in so far that it makes the
process resemble an obituary or an inquest, and because it further tends to
establish a precedent in the form of a past.
The spirit of “291” can never manifest itself through any definitely
expressive label, or scheme of organization, it can never have anything
resembling a constitution or an eternal policy, for the very good reason that
any one of these would be sufficient to dull its receptivity to new elements,
especially to the one element which has ever arrived opportunely and kept
“291 ” a living issue:—the great unforeseen. Assuming there is always present
the fundamentally necessary intelligent independence, “291 ” must be kept
as free to discard absolutely as it must be free to be enthusiastically receptive;
and on this premise its men, its ideas and its ideals can always be severely
and intensively yet fairly tested. Therefore, there is no permanent room for
dogma or even the trace of anything that moves toward dogma.
In the beginning of August, 1914, dogma demonstrated its failure again
and as far as “291” was concerned I was then ready to put an art movement
such as futurism with anarchy and socialism into the same bag as Church
and State to be labeled “Dogma” and relegated to the scrap heap—History.
The essential progress of “291” has not so much been due to a gradual
process of evolution as to sudden and brusque changes caused largely by an
eager receptivity to the unforeseen. Each of these mutative movements
found reactionary spirits in “291 ” and in transforming these or in eliminating
them Stieglitz has ever shown his greatest “291” potentiality. My appre-
ciating and presenting this particular quality as the most important one and
the one which virtually makes of him a despot, does not mean that I do not
recognize the importance of the broad generous understanding and support
that Stieglitz has given to the individuals, as individuals, that form the
aggregate “291.” It is in this respect that to many of us he has been of greater
importance in our personal development than it would ordinarily seem any
single unrelated individual could possibly be.
During the past year, possibly two years, “291” has seemed to me to be
merely marking time. It had obviously reached a result in one of its partic-
ular efforts and had accomplished a definite result within itself and for itself:
—and for the public at large it had laid the way for others to successfully
organize the big International Exhibition of Modern Art held at the Armory
in 1913.

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