Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

The foundational purpose for art and artists is

to enhance, extend or refine human sense perception.

Moholy-Nagy

The closing lecture of the year 2009 on visual communication was a worth-mentioning one. It was on one of my favourite subjects, modernism, on which I had in-dept studied from an STS (science,technology and society) perspective in my previous ma study. This time I had the chance to interpret it from artists’/designers’/photographers’ points of view. Referring to the notes of Ms Ayiter that were presented in the lecture, modernism describes a series of progressive cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged in the decades before 1914. Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of artists, thinkers, writers and designers who rebelled against late 19th century academic and historicist traditions, and confronted the new economic, social and political aspects of the emerging modern world.

 

On a Finnish Trawler by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

On a Finnish Trawler by Moholy-Nagy

 

While we were reviewing the pioneering followers of modernist movement, we came across a so called ‘polyartist’, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who was among the greatest modern artists, not only for the value of his individual works but for the incomparable quality of his esthetic adventure, with exploratory consistency, through several media. He was considered as a modern example of a ‘polyartist’  because he mastered at several nonadjacent arts, among them painting, kinetic sculpture, photography, film, book design and writing. He was one of the leading figures in the Bauhaus and was highly instrumental in bringing its ideas to the United States. Moholy-Nagy’s interests in a new relationship between the artist and his art, his investigations into the use of light, and his use of new materials made him a very suitable member of the Bauhaus.

In his teaching, speaking and above all in his published statements, Moholy repeatedly insisted on a foundational purpose for art and artists: to enhance, extend or refine human sense perception. He went on to structure his thoughts about modernist culture in general around the idea of a “New Vision,” a “modern way of seeing” in which photography played a pivotal role. His reasons for privileging vision in this way, for defining vision as inherently more “modern” than, say, taste or hearing, are not easily summarized.

One might even propose that the primacy of vision forms an unexamined assumption at the heart of Moholy’s conceptual project, and a point around which its meaning might be deconstructed. In any case, Moholy was perhaps the most energetic among many contemporaries who found in the phrase “New Vision” a suitable label for broad cultural shifts in the 1920s.

“New Vision” was a name for various loosely-related constructions of modernism, of which Moholy’s New Vision was one. He wrote often, in highly enthusiastic and authoritative-sounding prose poem. He seemed to articulate the feelings of many besides himself;  artists, photographers, designers, journalists; and speak for a generation, perhaps even several generations of individuals who sensed a thoroughgoing historical shift in the wind, a change that would change all the way down to one’s individual sense perception.

 

Vision in Motion

 

One of his most influential books, Vision in Motion, was first of all one of the major critical essays about artistic modernism, documenting as it proposed new developments not only in painting and sculpture, but in photography and even literature. What Moholy established in Vision in Motion was a model of writing about all the arts as a single entity, to be called art, whose branches (literature, painting, etc.) were merely false conveniences conducive to specialization and isolation.

Here are some passages from Vision in Motion:

‘Art may press for the sociobiological solution of problems just as energetically as the social revolutionaries do through political action.

 

Mother Europe Cares for Her Colonies by Moholy-Nagy

 

The so-called “unpolitical” approach of art is a fallacy. Politics, freed from graft, party connotations, or more transitory tactics, is mankind’s method of realizing ideas for the welfare of the community.’

‘The illiteracy of the future will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography.’

‘The photogram exploits the unique characteristic of the photographic process—the ability to record with delicate fidelity a great range of tonal values. The almost endless range of gradations, subtlest differences in the gray values, belongs to the fundamental properties of photographic expression. The organized use of that gradation creates photographic quality.’

 

Moholy’s analysis of Finnegans Wake, a comic fiction by James Joyce

 

For all of its intelligence about modern art in general, Vision in Motion is also an “artist’s book,” or book-art of the highest order, about Moholy’s rich esthetic experience, and needless to say perhaps it is a book that only he had enough experience to write and design as well. If we accept the revelations of Conceptual Art that a prose description of artistic experience could constitute an esthetic object, then Vision in Motion has yet other resonances that not even Moholy could have foreseen.

References:

Modernism on http://www.citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/modernists.html

Afterimage articles:  In Focus: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy by Nancy Roth on http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_n1_v25/ai_20198550/?tag=content;col1

Moholy-Nagy: To End in a book by Richard Kostelanetz on http://www.richardkostelanetz.com/examples/moholy.php

Walter Benjamin on A Small History of Photography


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One Response to “Laszlo Moholy-Nagy”

  1. Reblogged this on pigshitpoet and commented:
    Re-purposing art to society; what does it matter if matter doesn’t matter? Does it matter anyway?

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