Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Man Ray: Pre-Surrealist Photographer

Man Ray
Man Ray's career is distinctive above all for the success he achieved in both the United States and Europe. First maturing in the center of American modernism in the 1910s, he made Paris his home in the 1920's and 1930's, and in the 1940's he crossed the Atlantic once again, spending periods in New York and Hollywood. His art spanned painting, sculpture, film, prints and poetry, and in his long career he worked in styles influenced by Cubism,  Futurism, Dada and Surrealism. He also successfully navigated the worlds of commercial and fine art, and came to be a sought-after fashion photographer. He is perhaps most remembered for his photographs of the inter-war years, in particular the camera-less pictures he called 'Rayographs', but he always regarded himself first and foremost as a painter.
Key Ideas
Although he matured as an abstract painter, Man Ray eventually disregarded the traditional superiority painting held over photography and happily moved between different forms. Dada and Surrealism were important in encouraging this attitude; they also persuaded him that the idea motivating a work of art was more important than the work of art itself.
For Man Ray, photography often operated in the gap between art and life. It was a means of documenting sculptures that never had an independent life outside the photograph, and it was a means of capturing the activities of his avant-garde friends. His work as a commercial photographer encouraged him to create fine, carefully composed prints, but he would never aspire to be a fine art photographer in the manner of his early inspiration, Alfred Stieglitz.
AndrĂ© Breton once described Man Ray as a 'pre-Surrealist', something which accurately describes the artist's natural affinity for the style. Even before the movement had coalesced, in the mid 1920's, his work, influenced by Marcel Duchamp, had Surrealist undertones, and he would continue to draw on the movement's ideas throughout his life. His work has ultimately been very important in popularizing Surrealism.
Man Ray was born as Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Philadelphia. His tailor father and seamstress mother soon relocated the family to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where Ray spent most of his childhood. His family changed their surname to Ray due to the fear of anti-Semitism. His name evolved to Man Ray after shortening his nickname, Manny, to Man. He kept his family background secret for most of his career, though the influence of his parents' occupations is evident in many of his works.
In high school, Ray learned freehand drawing, drafting and other basic techniques of architecture and engineering. He also excelled in his art class. Though he hated the special attention from his art teacher, he still frequented art museums and studied the works of the old masters on his own. Such self-motivation from the early age proved to be a solid grounding for the versatility he showed throughout his artistic career. Upon graduating from high school in 1908, he turned down a scholarship to study architecture, and began pursuing his career as an artist.
Early Training
In his studio at his parents' house, he worked hard towards becoming a painter while taking odd jobs as a commercial artist. He familiarized himself with the world of art by frequenting art galleries and museums in New York City and became attracted to contemporary avant-garde art from Europe. In 1912, he enrolled in the Ferrer School and began developing as a serious artist. While studying at this school that was founded by libertarian ideals, he met his first influential teachers and artists like Robert Henri, Samuel Halpert, Max Weber, and Adolf Wolff and was surrounded by those with anarchist ideas, which helped shape his own ideology.
After briefly sharing a small studio in Manhattan with Adolf Wolff, Man Ray moved to an artist colony in New Jersey in the spring of 1913 just across the river from Manhattan. He shared a small shack with Samuel Halpert, who inspired Ray as a painter to develop ideas and techniques that would later become a foundation for his career. During this time, he frequented the 291 Gallery in New York City. Ray developed a close personal relationship with the gallery owner and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who introduced Ray to photography. Ray met a Belgian poet, Adon Lacroix (aka Donna Lecoeur) in New York, and they married in 1914. In 1915, Ray met Marcel Duchamp who was visiting the colony with Walter Arensberg and they soon developed a lasting friendship. This new friendship helped define Ray's interest in the subject of movement and guided his focus to Surrealism and Dada.
Though often shadowed by his lifelong friend and collaborator, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray played a major role in Dada and Surrealist movements in America as well as in Europe. His multiple attempts to promote avant-garde art movements in New York widened the horizons of the American art scene. His serious yet quirky imagery has influenced a broad audience through different iterations of his work in pop culture. Many of his important works were donated to museums around the world through a trust set up by his wife before her death in 1991. Most importantly, his process-oriented art making and versatility have influenced a number of modern and contemporary artists, from Andy Warhol to Joseph Kosuth, who like Ray strove to continually blur the boundaries between artistic disciplines.
Quotes by Man Ray
To create is divine, to reproduce is human.
Nature does not create works of art. It is we, and the faculty of interpretation peculiar to the human mind, that see art.

Photography by Man Ray

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Origin of Gingerbread Houses

This tradition dates back to the story of Hansel and Gretel.

Like most Christmas traditions, gingerbread houses are big business, Wilton, a popular confectionery-making company, reports that it created over two million gingerbread house kits in 2011. For those who are more DIY-inclined, domestic gurus from Martha Stewart on down offer recipes and plans for making your own sugary domicile. But in spite of gingerbread house-decorating’s cozy holiday connotations, the roots of this tradition may lie in the folktale Hansel and Gretel.
Now, gingerbread houses didn’t start with the Brothers Grimm. They date back to the 1600s, a few centuries after the emergence of gingerbread itself, writes food historian Tori Avey. The tale of Hansel and Gretel may be even older than that, some historians say, perhaps dating to a 14th century famine in which parents turned children out to fend for themselves.
By the time folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm composed and published a version of the tale in the early 19th century, gingerbread houses were a long-standing tradition. Somewhere along the way, possibly because of historical connections between gingerbread and religious ceremonies or guilds, gingerbread and gingerbread houses had become associated with Christmas. The Grimms’s widely read stories helped to popularize gingerbread houses, leaving many with the belief that gingerbread houses started with the Grimms’s version of the tale.
Given its link with the gruesome fairytale, which involves two children almost getting cooked and eaten by a witch who lives in a gingerbread house before they turn the tables and cook her, it might seem surprising that the gingerbread house is still connected to Christmas. But today’s family-friendly holiday has numerous roots in the grimmer festivities of earlier times.
“Early German settlers brought this lebkuchenhaeusle (gingerbread house) tradition to the Americas,” writes Barbara Rolek for The Spruce. Today, gingerbread house-building competitions are an annual holiday tradition both nationally and in different parts of the country, and landmarks like the Washington Monument have been recreated using the spicy dough.
The gingerbread house-building contests in the United States today do bear some resemblance to the “gingerbread fairs” that were hosted by some cities in England and France during the Middle Ages and later, writes Amanda Fiegl for Although the origin of these fairs was simply that gingerbread was a tasty and ubiquitous medieval treat, it did offer an opportunity to get together and enjoy a delicious treat–and what could be more Christmassy than that?
Different Types of Gingerbread Houses

Political Cartoons of the Week, No, 137