Modernist Visual

Artists as well as writers engaged in the early twentieth-century interest in primitivism. In France two of the most innovative artists of the period, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954), dramatically transformed their art in 1906 after being shown an African mask; in London the sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) was inspired by the African, Assyrian, and Oceanic sculpture he was able to see in Paris and London ethnographic museums (Antliff and Leighten 2001: 32; Silber 1986: 22-26). Having ceased to write about literature, in 1913 and 1914 Hulme devoted himself to championing this new style in art, praising in particular Epstein's sculpture and the paintings and sculptures produced by the group of artists known as the 'vorticists'.

Hulme summarized the major points of his art criticism in a 1914 lecture since published as 'Modern Art and Its Philosophy'. It argues that the new style of art practised by Epstein, Picasso ('cubism') and Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) ('vorticism') indicates the emergence of a general change in outlook, or attitude towards the world (1994: 269). In many ways the change corresponds to the romanticism/ classicism shift he forecast earlier in relation to poetry, but Hulme now moves the argument away from its original Action Française context and renames his terms. Romanticism, which Maurras had traced to the French Revolution of 1789, is now renamed 'the humanist attitude' and traced to an earlier point (earlier even than Eliot's English Civil War): the Renaissance. Classicism is renamed 'the religious attitude', and this allows Hulme to include in it the primitive pre-classical and Eastern cultures that lay outside the Action Française's framework. Hulme represents the emergence of the religious attitude, as he had the emergence of classicism, as a re-emergence, a return to the attitude of an earlier age. He argues that Epstein is interested in Assyrian sculpture not because it is exotic or fashionable, but because he has an emotional affinity with the Assyrian sculptor: primitive works of art 'are liked directly, almost as they were liked by the people who made them, as being direct expressions of an attitude which you want to find expressed' (1994: 277).

The major source behind Hulme's argument was a book by a German art historian, Wilhelm Worringer (1881—1965), entitled Abstraktion und Einfühlung (Abstraction and Empathy) (1908). Worringer argued that the history of art should not be read as a history of ability, progressing towards a Western-defined conception of naturalism or realism, with non-Western art dismissed as primitive or technically inferior versions. Instead, the history of art should be understood as consisting of two opposed artistic intentions: one produces the art of naturalism, familiar in the West, but there is also, Worringer argues, an artistic intention that produces abstract art. Naturalist art is an expression of empathy, produced by artists expressing their delight in the world. Abstract art expresses anxiety about the artist's place in the world — the defining feature of the abstract artists, Worringer suggests, is their instinctive agoraphobia, their 'spiritual dread of space'. The empathetic artist aims to represent the vital and organic nature of the world, and therefore produces naturalist work. The space-shy artist, however, aims to make sense of the world by drawing out individual forms from their surrounding context and giving them a fixity, a permanence. Lines tend to be less curved, more angular, and the three dimensions we perceive in nature are flattened into two (1997: 15—22).

Hulme provides a long and fairly faithful account of Worringer's argument in 'Modern Art and Its Philosophy', but we should note that he introduces certain emphases. First, while Worringer argues

Cubism. Considered by many to be the most Important art movement of the twentieth century. Cubism existed from about 1907-1920 and Is associated with the work of the Paris-based artists Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Juan Gris (1887-1927), among others. The cubist style is characterized by fragmentation of the image (often into different perspectives perceived simultaneously) and a move towards abstraction. Cubism was one of the major influences on Wyndham Lewis's London-based vorticist group.

that abstraction is as important a tendency in art as naturalism, he explicitly states that he does not intend to elevate one above the other (1997: 30—31); Hulme, by contrast, represents abstract art as more complex and a greater artistic achievement, and welcomes the return of the religious attitude which produces it (1994: 284—85, 293). Second, while Worringer raises the idea that the modern artist has an affinity with the primitive artist, he rejects the conclusion that this will bring about a general return to abstraction (1997: 18); Hulme states that affinity more firmly, and explicitly explains the new art as its expression. Finally, Worringer is somewhat obscure in his situating of the abstraction/empathy hypothesis in history. It is not clear whether the tendencies correspond to distinct historical periods, or different stages in a people's culture, or are simultaneously available throughout all periods of history and stages of culture. Hulme, as we have seen, relates them to specific time periods: the pre- and post-Renaissance (Beasley 2006: 66).

Although Hulme did not himself explore how a distinction between humanism and the religious attitude might be applied to literature, it proved useful to Pound in his theorizing of modernist poetry, especially because Hulme's art criticism was written just when Pound was separating himself from the imagist group and forging an allegiance with the vorticists. Hulme's distinction between 'attitudes' provided a forceful account of the difference between the modern artist and his or her immediate precursors; even better, Hulme's argument did not cut off the chosen modern works from all tradition, only recent tradition. In the important essay 'Vorticism' (1914), Hulme's essays provide the background to Pound's argument that modernist literature is both new and rooted in a productively distant past. Comparisons with the primitivism and abstraction of the visual arts are essential to Pound's argument: he compares his poem 'The Return', for example, with sculptures by Epstein and the vorticist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891—1915), and relates 'In a Station of the Metro' to the aesthetic theories of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866—1944) (1970a: 85-86; Beasley 2007: 98-106).

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