T. E. Hulme: Contemporary Drawings
The CONTEMPORARY DRAWINGS series, begun In March of 1914, can be understood as a polemical response to the representational style advocated by Sickert. Edited by T.E. Hulme, the series reproduced some of the most experimental paintings and drawings then being created by English artists.
Edited by T. E. Hulme.
THIS series will include drawings by David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, F. Etchells, Gaudier-Brzeska, C. F. Hamilton, P. Wyndham Lewis, C. R. W. Nevinson, Roberts, and E. Wadsworth. Most of them are members of the London Group, which is now holding an exhibition in the Goupil Gallery. Some of the drawings are Cubist, some are not. Perhaps the only quality they possess in common is that they are all abstract in character. The series include everyone in England who is doing interesting work of this character.
In view of the amount of capable work continually being produced it is difficult to realise that the only part of this which is important that which is preparing the art of the next generation, may be the work of a relatively quite small group of artists. I claim, however, that this series includes all those artists in England at the present moment who are working in the direction which alone contains possibilities of development.
Appended to each drawing will be a short note for the benefit of those who are baffled by the abstract character of the work. For this the editor, and not the artist, is alone responsible. You have before you a movement about which there is no crystallised opinion, and consequently have the fun of making your own judgments about the work. You will have, moreover, the advantage of comparing these drawings with the not very exhilarating work of the more traditional school–with those, shall I say, in the series Mr. Sickert is editing?
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1. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, The Dancer
(NA 14.20, March 19, 1914)
1. There are two kinds of art, geometrical or abstract, and vital and realistic art, which differ absolutely in kind from the other. They are not modifications of one and the same art, but pursue different aims and are created to satisfy a different desire of the mind.
2. Each of these arts springs from, and corresponds to a certain general attitude towards the world. You get long periods of time in which only one of these arts and its corresponding mental attitude prevails. The naturalistic art of Greece and the Renaissance corresponded to a certain rational humanistic attitude towards the universe, and the geometrical has always gone with a different attitude of greater intensity than this.
3. The re-emergence of geometrical art at the present day may be the precursor of the re-emergence of the corresponding general attitude towards the world, and so of the final break up of the Renaissance.
– T. E. Hulme (NA 14.15:467)
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2. David Bomberg, Chinnereth
(NA 14.22, April 2, 1914)
Mr. David Bomberg’s drawing contains four upright figures in various attitudes. If you ask why the legs look like cylinders and are not realistically treated, the answer I should give would be this – the pleasure you are intended to take in such a drawing is a pleasure not in representation, but in the relations between certain abstract forms. Take, for example, the figure on the left of the drawing; consider particularly the line which runs up one leg, across the hips and down the other leg. If you take any interest in that form, just as a form, then you will see quite easily that it could not have been given with the same force and directness in a more realistic drawing. The accidental details of representation would have veiled or, better, “damped down this directness."
– T. E. Hulme, The New Age, April 2, 1914
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3. William Roberts, Study
(NA 14.24, April 16, 1914)
This drawing contains four figures. I could point out the position of these figures in more detail, but I think such detailed indication misleading. No artist can create abstract form spontaneously; it is always generated, or, at least, suggested, by the consideration of some outside concrete shapes. But such shapes are only interesting if you want to explain the psychology of the process of composition in the artist's mind. The interest of the drawing itself depends on the forms it contains. The fact that such forms were suggested by human figures is of no importance.
– T. E. Hulme, The New Age, April 16, 1914
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4. C.R.W. Nevinson, The Chauffeur
(NA 14.26, April 30, 1914)
Mr. C. R. W. Nevinson's "Chauffeur" is the study for the picture he exhibited in the London Group. I need not add much to what I said when I criticised it in my notice of that exhibition, except that the elongation of the right side of the face is an attempt to show the distortion produced by light.
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5. Edward Wadsworth, The Farmyard
(NA 14.26, April 30, 1914)
MR. WADSWORTH'S drawings this week suffers somewhat by reproduction, as in the original is is coloured; the light background being yellow and grey, and the dark parts a very dark blue. The lighter parts of the drawing represent three farm buildings grouped round a pool. The space they enclose is concave to the spectator, the middle building being father back than the two side ones. The darker parts represent the trunks and foliage of a tree standing on a slight mound.
It is interesting to compare this with the previous drawings in this series for it represents a much earlier stage in the process of abstraction. By considering this halfway stage, one can perhaps make this kind of art more comprehensible.
A school of painting is often interested in and emphasises one aspect of nature to the exclusion of others; but, though a painting may only pick out one of the hundred elements of which a natural scene consists, yet enough trace of the other ninety-nine remains in the pciture for one to be able to recognise it as reprsentation. In impressionism, though the chief emphasis is on light and colour, yet the other elements–shape, outline, solidity, etc.– though not emphasised, do appear to an extent sufficient to make the picture a recognisable representation. (Though the first time the simple man sees an impressionist picture he finds it an incoherent chaos, he is as unable to synthesise its elements into a whole as he is those of a Cubist picture.)
But a Cubist picture is in slightly different position to an impressionist one, for this reason: Like the impressionist picture, it emphasises one aspect out of many possible ones. But the nature of the element emphasised here–the relations between planes–is such, that emphasis on these relations disintegrates the thing as representation. In a drawing like Mr. Wadsworth's, this process has not gone far. It is a drawing made before an actual landscape, in which the planes which interested the artist are given in the objects in which they occured. But it is easy to see how this emphasis on the relation between planes inevitably developed into later cubism, where the planes are given without any representation of the objects which suggested them.