fathers and sons: leaving traces

It was a school that combined crafts and fine arts, and conceptually followed a basic  idea that mass-production was reconcilable with  individual artistic spirit. Founded at Weimar in 1919, Bauhaus concepts of art were particularly influenced by Modernism. That is, characterized by economy of method, rationalism,  functionality, geometry of form, and design that took into account the nature of the materials employed. It was also a reaction against the status-quo. The Bauhaus style was consistently renewed but based on the same concepts such that it gave rise to extensive  opposition from conservative politicians and those in academia , some of which were valid, but like many developments in arts, it was the insularity and hermetcism of the dominant classes and art forms which result in innovations…

Benjamin:With the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism, art sensed the approaching crisis which has become evident a century later. At the time, art reacted with the doctrine of l’art pour l’art, that is, with a theology of art. This gave rise to what might be called a negative theology in the form of the idea of “pure” art, which not only denied any social function of art but also any categorizing by subject matter. (In poetry, Mallarme was the first to take this position.) An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics. Read More:http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm image:http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/11502

He was perhaps overshadowed by his famous father, Lyonel,one of the first group of hand picked  artists selected by Walter Gropius to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar. T. Lux Feininger was both a painter, and a photographer who used the camera to archive to assemble a visually compelling record of the artistic avant-garde between the wars in Germany.He died at 101 and it was quite a life. Not many students can claim to have studied painting with the likes of Josef Albers, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. But T.Lux’s story would be incomplete without the father…

---The later works are nostalgic, but more to the artistic point they are illustrational as well as abstract -- abstract illustrations, even more pointedly, populist abstractions, that is, abstractions that appealed to the same masses who read the comic strips as well as to the esthetic cognoscenti who despised them. Comic strips were too “vulgar” to be taken seriously as art, but Feininger’s abstract images were esthetically precious despite their illustrational character. But the taint of being a people’s art -- an art that had broad rather than specialist appeal -- hung like a cloud over Feininger’s abstractions, which is why they have never been fully respected by the “purists.”---Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.asp

Lyonel Feininger began his career as a cartoonist and illustrator — a very successful one and a very original one. He was so successful that in 1906, after working for a dozen years in Germany, he was offered a job as a cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune, the largest circulation newspaper in the Midwest. He worked there for a year, inventing what became the standard design for the comic strip: in the words of John Carlin, “an overall pattern. . . that allowed the page to be read both as a series of elements one after the other, like language, and as a group of juxtaposed images, like visual art.” His originality did not end there: he went on to become one of the great abstract painters. Like Kandinsky, music was his model, but Kandinsky only knew music from the outside — as a listener (inspired initially by Wagner, then by Schoenberg) — while Feininger knew it from the inside. He was born into a musical family — his father was a violinist and composer, his mother was a singer and pianist, and at the age of 16 he left New York, where he was born (1871), to study music and visual art in Germany, from where his parents emigrated. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.aspa

---but they have gained a new lease on importance now that purity has become passé, not to say peculiarly ridiculous. Hygienically sacrificing familiar content to unfamiliar form -- paring content away until there is only consciousness of form -- backfired into staleness and sterility. It led to short-lived esthetic success -- the so-called “new lyricism” that Braque spoke of -- but it became a failure of creative imagination, however initially creative. Feininger realized this, perhaps more than any other abstractionist of his time. He never lost his imagination, that is, his imaginative response to external, consciously perceived reality -- unlike Kandinsky, who argued that abstraction existed to evoke internal reality, to make us conscious of unconscious content ---Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.asp

The Bauhaus was not really  a place, but rather  than a continually evolving state of mind.A spirit.  Gropius started it in 1919 as a blend of mystical retreat and high class trade school. It soon became a training ground for many of artists, designers, and architects who were crucial to European Modernism but whose works don’t necessarily conform to the tubular minimalism usually connected with the Bauhaus. What usually defines bauhaus is a reaching for the noble within the modern context: the in-between space in relation to art and technology.

---T. Lux Feininger’s 1927 photo “Charleston on the Bauhaus Roof,” showing the artist Xanti Schawinsky with Clemens Röseler on banjo.----Benjamin:Walter Benjamin who wrote in his essay ‘The author as a producer’: (looking at photography…) ‘What do you see? It becomes more and more subtle, more and more modern, and the result is that it can no longer photograph a rundown apartment house or a pile of manure without transfiguring. Not to speak of the fact that it would be impossible to say anything about a dam or a cable factory except this: the world is beautiful. The World is Beautiful that is the title of a famous book of photographs by Renger-Patsch, in which we see the photography of the ‘new objectivity’ at its height. It has even succeeded in making misery itself an object of pleasure, by treating it stylishly and with technical perfection. For the ‘new objectivity’ it is the economic function of photography to bring to the masses elements which they could not previously enjoy spring, movie stars, foreign countries by reworking them according to the current fashion; it is the political function of photography to renew the world as it actually is from within, in other words, according to the current fashion.’ Read More:http://esmuto.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/new-objectivity-and-bauhaus/ image:http://bwgallerist.com/2011/07/14/notable-t-lux-feininger-photographer-and-painter-dies-at-101/

But,Bauhaus was also  an intentional and deliberate break from the past. If one looks at the coziness of bourgeois existence in the preceeding generation, the 1880’s, there  was actually a rather obvious message in the bourgeois home that stated, “you have no business here.” As Walter Benjamin wrote, there was not not a square inch in which one had not left a trace of his own. Brechet’s “erase the trace” was a Bauhaus ethos. In the bourgeois room the opposite behavior was seen as an ethos in the strictest sense, that is to say, according to Benjamin: a habit. Indeed, he wrote, “leaving traces is not just a habit, but the primal phenomenon of all the habits that are involved in inhabiting a place.”

---His maritime paintings, often of old-fashioned sailing ships, had flat, simplified forms and uninterrupted blocks of color that seemed to put him in the camp of the magic realists but also had the flavor of children’s book illustration. A critic for The New York Times, reviewing Mr. Feininger’s first one-man show in Manhattan in 1937, noted “a queer affinity in spirit to Currier & Ives prints or the Rousseau vein.” After leaving Germany Mr. Feininger painted some striking self-portraits reminiscent of Otto Dix and began adding locomotives to his repertory of images. In the early 1960s he began painting in a semi-abstract prismatic style influenced by his father and Kandinsky. ---Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/arts/t-lux-feininger-photographer-and-painter-dies-at-101.html image:http://anneyhall.tumblr.com/page/319

Kuspit: It was untimely of Feininger to remind us that the age-old task of art is to imaginatively enlighten us about our experience by giving its content formal presence, making it uncannily significant, confirming that content is inherently mysterious — so-called pure form borrows its “mystery” from the content from which it is derived (form is transformative; when it becomes pure, an end in itself, it has lost perceptual purpose, diminishin

s esthetic appeal) — but it is what makes his abstract illustrations timely today.

For Feininger, abstract art was a way of transfiguring and redeeming experience, the way Bach’s fugues and chorales — “Bach’s mighty tones,” which Feininger played on the organ — do. His abstractions are also “world-enraptured transfiguration[s],” as he suggests.(2) As Bryan Gilliam writes, Feininger “adopted his father’s metaphysical notions of music as a meta-art, a healing space where an imperfect human soul, ‘failed by visual expression, coils its way in sound to peace and calm’.” Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.asp


---Picasso never outgrew the caricature, suggesting that his art is a case study in arrested emotional development. Feininger did: his art is a case study in maturing spirituality. The idea of making a modern spiritual art -- an art that conveyed spirituality through abstract form rather than through outworn traditional imagistic form -- originated with Kandinsky. Feininger carried this idea to its logical conclusion, as it were, making art that was the ripe fruit of the initial spiritual decision “to awaken ...the whole nightmare of the materialistic attitude,” as Kandinsky said.(8) It was the first awakening. The second awakening was to the pure spirit: Feininger “saw” it, as though in a revelation -- “saw the light,” as his late paintings show. For Kandinsky, “only a weak light glimmers, like a tiny point in an enormous circle of black,” indicating that “the awakening soul is still deeply under the influence of this nightmare.”(9) Light gets stronger and stronger in Feininger’s pictures, which finally seem to be consumed by light. They become pictures of light -- revelations of light. Feininger grasps its every nuance, tone, move. It is always subtle and intense, dynamic even when it seems static -- stopped in its changing tracks. His Cubist planes are compact gates of light, sometimes blinding and direct, sometimes subdued and indirect, but always open in the darkness—an opening that stops the eye even as it leads it beyond the visible. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.asp image:http://www.midcenturia.com/2010/11/lyonel-feiningers-prismatic-art.html

The products ofthe Bauhaus-ssentially a limited repertoire of specialized,luxury objectsrepresent a paradigmatic example by which to examine the intellectual aspirations of modernism against its social and material reality. As highly legible expressions of affluence, the object-types produced under Gropius’s direction-silver and ebony tea services, chess sets marketed as “luxury”-spoke mainly to an elite. Not only was their reproducibility limited by their costly fabrication and materials, but their bourgeois natwe stymied the school’s ideological and social project. Walter Benjamin’s assessment of the status of the work of art in a mechanical age is used to differentiate production from reproduction; reproduction, as both a practical and a theoretical construct, is precisely where a mateial and economic failure at the Bauhaus took place.Read More:http://www.fa.hku.hk/SeminarSeries/poster_Schuldenfrei_001.pdf
But he was clearly ahead of his time — a “postmodernist,” if postmodernism involves the realization that tradition is all that is left of art, or, rather, that all art has become traditional — that Old Master art and modern art are equally traditional — that is, historical, part of the same Museum of the Imagination, as Malraux called it. The future of art depends on their imaginative synthesis — the kind of synthesis Feininger offers us: a convincing synthesis of Old Master art, which is always illustrational and communicative, always speaks to human experience, which is why it has popular appeal, whatever its stylistic credentials; and modern abstract art, which, perhaps paradoxically, is also illustrational, for it illustrates art, suggesting that it is an edifying idea and experience in itself, and as such radically unique and significant, which is why it appeals to the esthetic elite, that is, the happy few who can appreciate “the art in art,” who borrow their sense of significance from art, without worrying whether it communicates anything humanly significant, even if they sometimes try hard to suggest that it does.

Feininger’s paintings represent something, not just themselves, as abstract paintings tend to do. Feininger’s paintings have their important place in musical abstraction, but they have a more important place in the dialectic of content and form that has made art important since in antiquity. And, perhaps to overstate the matter, it is the only reason it is important. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11.asp
“Seeking to travel light, he saw the acquisition of property as a snare to be avoided,’’ he wrote in “Lyonel Feininger,’’ a 1974 book edited by June L. Ness. “I find some kind of significance in the fact that my father never owned a house of his own, nor learned to operate a car… . He needed privacy but detested solitude; he greatly enjoyed the presence of his family – but in another room.’’

That distance may have aided father and son when Mr. Feininger began painting in 1929….

T. Lux Feininger . 1932.---There was a valedictory feel to the way Mr. Feininger concluded his 1984 essay for the Monitor, when he mused about the course his life took after he moved to the United States in his mid-20s. “I followed my star after I got here, without trying to tell the inhabitants of the New World how they ought to be,’’ he wrote. “I took them as I found them, but I believe that, retired after 25 years of teaching, I have left them better than they were.’’---Read More:http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-18/bostonglobe/29787678_1_bauhaus-paintings-lyonel-feininger/3 image:http://arttattler.com/archiveseaside.html

…“He never obtruded a view, did not interfere,’’ Mr. Feininger wrote of his father in a 1983 essay for The Christian Science Monitor. “I recall best his occasional plea to remember what painting was about: the artist’s responsibility to discover ‘his form,’ and not to get lost in anecdotal preoccupation with subject matter or ‘photographic shading’ of surface values.’’Read More:http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-18/bostonglobe/29787678_1_bauhaus-paintings-lyonel-feininger/2

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