japonisme: the first hippie

07 February 2009

the first hippie

the more i read about arthur wesley dow, the more i find him reported to be as spiritual and ecumenical about everything, his art, his studies, as he is about his religion. a quiet man without whose presence, an art seminar was considered a failure.

"The prints exude a sense of serenity in keeping with Dow's larger philosophical agenda of educating the public to make choices, in life as in art, that deliver harmonious results." 1

after studying in all of the most upstanding and academic parisian schools, and meeting and learning from the nabis, dow returned home to ipswitch, deflated. he hadn't found what he had sought.

the academie dictated copying antiques, sketching models. "Truth in the form of representa- tional accuracy has no relevance in art, Dow came to feel. Only beauty matters, beauty realized through expression, not imitation.

To unlearn the rules drilled into him in France, Dow immersed himself in private study of art both foreign and ancient--Egyptian, African, Oceanic and Aztec. He found his inspiration in 1891 at the Boston Public Library, in a book of Hokusai prints. 'One evening with Hokusai,' Dow wrote to his wife, 'gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study of pictures.'" 1

when i look at his photography, and then his prints, sometimes his paintings, the photos seem clearly to be 'sketches' for his prints, but his great-grand-daughter says that wasn't the case. at one point his photography became his primary focus -- "just a newer way of printmaking," he said. but since he wished neither to be known as a photographer rather than a painter, nor to compete with kasebier and stieglitz.

sometimes he would go out to attempt to recreate some of his prints and painting with his new tool, the camera.

i have to wonder though, still. really?

An impas- sioned advo- cate of synthesizing lessons from East and West in the teaching and practice of art, Dow proved himself adept at doing just that. Less an originator of ideas than a consolidator and popularizer, he channeled diverse tributaries of influence into one concentrated, easily navigable river.

"A tremendous social force, art had the power to usher in progress, but also to inhibit it, Dow felt. The future depended on a deeper appreciation of beauty in everyday life. Art was hailed as an inner, ethical necessity, primary nourishment for the soul. To Dow, alluding here to Emerson, art was "the expression of the highest form of human energy, the creative power which is nearest to the divine." 1

i promise we'll go into dow's book, composition, soon, but first, there he is sitting overlooking the marshes, in a photo taken by his brother dana, with such a sweet, young, flirtatious tree at the fore.

is it the same as the young cherry in the painting, are they the same as the one in the print? i like to believe so, and to see dow as the first hippie, in the very best, most honorable sense of the word.



Anonymous evan said...

I've always found the "philosophy of art" interesting, though in college, it's the one course I dropped (the teacher bored the hell out of me- he didn't so much speak as enunciate). As an artist I realize I don't so much have a philosophy as I have an urge that demands to be responded to. Everything else seems to evolve around looking. When I go walkies I carry a camera- in case I see something & I want to use it in the future for reference, but also as a rosary- instead of Hail Marys it's more a reminder to look look look...

08 February, 2009 09:59  
Blogger here today, gone tomorrow said...

"Only beauty matters, beauty realized through expression, not imitation."

Wow....can't wait to learn more about this guy from you, lily!

08 February, 2009 12:40  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

that's really interesting, evan. it reminds me of what roxy and i were talking about, how being out with one's camera can release you. interesting that we saw we "lose ourselves" when we're paying attention, looking looking, as you say.

08 February, 2009 13:12  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

me too, lynn -- thanks! it's so interesting to have such a long 'love affair' become informed after all these decades.

when i went to ipswitch (which was in 1991, not 1989 as i had thought), i went to the ipswitch historical society, which was mainly one old woman (by her own telling) alone in a big house with many relics of her father's having been in trade with china.

and stacks of books about arthur wesley dow. it was a biography written and printed in 1934 -- 12 years after dow had died but at a time when many people were still alive who had known dow, and when thousands of his notes and his letters were still available to him.

turns out this is *the* biography, the one every book, article, etc., refers to. the pages had never even all been fully cut, attached at top, bottom, or on the outside.

they are now.

08 February, 2009 13:19  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

I enjoy your presentations of gifted but "quiet" artists that have often been overlooked. Hope all is well with you these days Lotus/g.
Your Friend

08 February, 2009 21:31  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you dear princess. it's funny--dow has loomed so large for me for so long that i am surprised every time i run into someone who was not familiar with him, which is like EVERY DAY!

now i wonder where and how i learned about him. i'll have to go through my books that i've had the longest and see if the answer lies there....

09 February, 2009 11:23  

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