african art in motionby robert farris thompson

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  • Leonardo

    African Art in Motion by Robert Farris ThompsonReview by: Gerald MooreLeonardo, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Autumn, 1977), p. 343Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1573802 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 17:15

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    philanthropic and governmental activities it is not surprising that no common behavioral pattern emerges for the group.

    All of them are (or were) good company men (including Goodrich, Lowry, Ransom and Thompson, who did not work for companies as such). They were obliged to satisfy their directors, stockholders or other constituents, and in most instances this obligation severely limited the range of their creative initiatives.

    The one individual who clearly succeeded in stamping his views on the institution, instead of subordinating his views to the institution, was McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation. During his long tenure at Ford, Lowry put the emphasis on direct support of individual artists. He refused to give money for buildings and decried using the arts for social, economic or any other ulterior purpose. Lowry, of course, had the great advantage over most of the others of not having to show a profit for his shareholders. Still, Lowry's achievement is impressive, since he successfully resisted becoming simply one more cultural bureaucrat.

    More typical are executives like Stanton, Donovan, Jovanovich and Lieberson who used their talent for innovation to secure new markets for their companies. But judging from the evidence presented here, there was little in these undertakings that contributed perceptibly to higher cultural standards or to the furtherance of the arts in the U.S.A.. Whatevercreative, artist- like skills these men possessed have been used in behalf of the growth and profitabilityof the respective corporations they have served. In the process these skills became technical skills- creativity was subsumed by technique.

    Frank Stanton of CBS is typical. One of the few men in the higher echelons of broadcasting to earn a Ph.D., Stanton was an expert on statistics. Not long after joining CBS he became head of research, which enabled him to develop new statistical methods to measure audience response to programming. These proved so successful that CBS in time became the leader in its field and Stanton became president of the company.

    Turner Catledge, who became Executive Editor of The New York Times was more concerned with efficient re-organization within the Times' operation. He appears to have been a very able and conscientious executive whose main talent was management.

    The story is somewhat different, of course, for Goodrich, Thompson, Ransom and Lowry. Since none of these men were engaged in profit-making enterprises, they were free of the constraints on their skills imposed by the market. But Lowry and perhaps Thompson (in a different way) are the only ones in the group who seem to have iniated genuinely new policies in their fields.

    Ransom, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Lloyd Goodrich, Director of The Whitney Museum of American Art, appear to be capable professionals but do not register strongly in Burns' account. Somehow they seem not to have excited her interest. Perhaps she was inevitably attracted to the flashier personalities.

    Frank Thompson, on the other hand, is impressive, one of the unsung heroes in the ongoing battle for the arts in the U.S.A. A

    relatively obscure Congressman from New Jersey, Thompson did much of the early spadework in Congress to effect the legislation that ultimately resulted in the National Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Burns has written an interesting book, but it would have been a better one had she stuck more closely to her original intent of demonstrating the 'awkward embrace' between artists and cultural managers. Her book also suffers from an uncertain structure and prolix style. Instead of considering each of her nine

    subjects separately, she jumps continuously from one to the other in a manner that seems arbitrary. She is addicted to long quotations, not only from her subjects, but also from secondary sources. The latter often seem of only tangential interest.

    It is a book that requires tenacity on the part of a reader, but it contains chunks of interesting information if one is willing to dig them out.

    African Art in Motion. Robert Farris Thompson. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., and London, 1974. 275 pp.,

    philanthropic and governmental activities it is not surprising that no common behavioral pattern emerges for the group.

    All of them are (or were) good company men (including Goodrich, Lowry, Ransom and Thompson, who did not work for companies as such). They were obliged to satisfy their directors, stockholders or other constituents, and in most instances this obligation severely limited the range of their creative initiatives.

    The one individual who clearly succeeded in stamping his views on the institution, instead of subordinating his views to the institution, was McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation. During his long tenure at Ford, Lowry put the emphasis on direct support of individual artists. He refused to give money for buildings and decried using the arts for social, economic or any other ulterior purpose. Lowry, of course, had the great advantage over most of the others of not having to show a profit for his shareholders. Still, Lowry's achievement is impressive, since he successfully resisted becoming simply one more cultural bureaucrat.

    More typical are executives like Stanton, Donovan, Jovanovich and Lieberson who used their talent for innovation to secure new markets for their companies. But judging from the evidence presented here, there was little in these undertakings that contributed perceptibly to higher cultural standards or to the furtherance of the arts in the U.S.A.. Whatevercreative, artist- like skills these men possessed have been used in behalf of the growth and profitabilityof the respective corporations they have served. In the process these skills became technical skills- creativity was subsumed by technique.

    Frank Stanton of CBS is typical. One of the few men in the higher echelons of broadcasting to earn a Ph.D., Stanton was an expert on statistics. Not long after joining CBS he became head of research, which enabled him to develop new statistical methods to measure audience response to programming. These proved so successful that CBS in time became the leader in its field and Stanton became president of the company.

    Turner Catledge, who became Executive Editor of The New York Times was more concerned with efficient re-organization within the Times' operation. He appears to have been a very able and conscientious executive whose main talent was management.

    The story is somewhat different, of course, for Goodrich, Thompson, Ransom and Lowry. Since none of these men were engaged in profit-making enterprises, they were free of the constraints on their skills imposed by the market. But Lowry and perhaps Thompson (in a different way) are the only ones in the group who seem to have iniated genuinely new policies in their fields.

    Ransom, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Lloyd Goodrich, Director of The Whitney Museum of American Art, appear to be capable professionals but do not register strongly in Burns' account. Somehow they seem not to have excited her interest. Perhaps she was inevitably attracted to the flashier personalities.

    Frank Thompson, on the other hand, is impressive, one of the unsung heroes in the ongoing battle for the arts in the U.S.A. A

    relatively obscure Congressman from New Jersey, Thompson did much of the early spadework in Congress to effect the legislation that ultimately resulted in the National Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Burns has written an interesting book, but it would have been a better one had she stuck more closely to her original intent of demonstrating the 'awkward embrace' between artists and cultural managers. Her book also suffers from an uncertain structure and prolix style. Instead of considering each of her nine

    subjects separately, she jumps continuously from one to the other in a manner that seems arbitrary. She is addicted to long quotations, not only from her subjects, but also from secondary sources. The latter often seem of only tangential interest.

    It is a book that requires tenacity on the part of a reader, but it contains chunks of interesting information if one is willing to dig them out.

    African Art in Motion. Robert Farris Thompson. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., and London, 1974. 275 pp.,

    philanthropic and governmental activities it is not surprising that no common behavioral pattern emerges for the group.

    All of them are (or were) good company men (including Goodrich, Lowry, Ransom and Thompson, who did not work for companies as such). They were obliged to satisfy their directors, stockholders or other constituents, and in most instances this obligation severely limited the range of their creative initiatives.

    The one individual who clearly succeeded in stamping his views on the institution, instead of subordinating his views to the institution, was McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation. During his long tenure at Ford, Lowry put the emphasis on direct support of individual artists. He refused to give money for buildings and decried using the arts for social, economic or any other ulterior purpose. Lowry, of course, had the great advantage over most of the others of not having to show a profit for his shareholders. Still, Lowry's achievement is impressive, since he successfully resisted becoming simply one more cultural bureaucrat.

    More typical are executives like Stanton, Donovan, Jovanovich and Lieberson who used their talent for innovation to secure new markets for their companies. But judging from the evidence presented here, there was little in these undertakings that contributed perceptibly to higher cultural standards or to the furtherance of the arts in the U.S.A.. Whatevercreative, artist- like skills these men possessed have been used in behalf of the growth and profitabilityof the respective corporations they have served. In the process these skills became technical skills- creativity was subsumed by technique.

    Frank Stanton of CBS is typical. One of the few men in the higher echelons of broadcasting to earn a Ph.D., Stanton was an expert on statistics. Not long after joining CBS he became head of research, which enabled him to develop new statistical methods to measure audience response to programming. These proved so successful that CBS in time became the leader in its field and Stanton became president of the company.

    Turner Catledge, who became Executive Editor of The New York Times was more concerned with efficient re-organization within the Times' operation. He appears to have been a very able and conscientious executive whose main talent was management.

    The story is somewhat different, of course, for Goodrich, Thompson, Ransom and Lowry. Since none of these men were engaged in profit-making enterprises, they were free of the constraints on their skills imposed by the market. But Lowry and perhaps Thompson (in a different way) are the only ones in the group who seem to have iniated genuinely new policies in their fields.

    Ransom, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Lloyd Goodrich, Director of The Whitney Museum of American Art, appear to be capable professionals but do not register strongly in Burns' account. Somehow they seem not to have excited her interest. Perhaps she was inevitably attracted to the flashier personalities.

    Frank Thompson, on the other hand, is impressive, one of the unsung heroes in the ongoing battle for the arts in the U.S.A. A

    relatively obscure Congressman from New Jersey, Thompson did much of the early spadework in Congress to effect the legislation that ultimately resulted in the National Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Burns has written an interesting book, but it would have been a better one had she stuck more closely to her original intent of demonstrating the 'awkward embrace' between artists and cultural managers. Her book also suffers from an uncertain structure and prolix style. Instead of considering each of her nine

    subjects separately, she jumps continuously from one to the other in a manner that seems arbitrary. She is addicted to long quotations, not only from her subjects, but also from secondary sources. The latter often seem of only tangential interest.

    It is a book that requires tenacity on the part of a reader, but it contains chunks of interesting information if one is willing to dig them out.

    African Art in Motion. Robert Farris Thompson. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., and London, 1974. 275 pp., illus. ?11.00. Reviewed by Gerald Moore*

    *School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN, England.

    illus. ?11.00. Reviewed by Gerald Moore*

    *School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN, England.

    illus. ?11.00. Reviewed by Gerald Moore*

    *School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN, England.

    343 343 343

    Few readers would think of consulting a book on African art to gain an understanding of words used by Blacks in the U.S.A., yet one will find such insights here. For example, 'cool': 'It cools the town when you dance ... when you finish you are restored to repose . . . the chiefs keep themselves peaceful when they are dancing-this is reassuring to the townsmen.' The style of walking called 'bopping' may be compared with this Ijo description from Nigeria: 'A cool way of walking in which the upper trunk and pelvis rock fore and aft, while the head remains stable with the eyes looking straight ahead.' This can also be compared with the 'High Life Strut', a dance in which the sensuous oscillations of a dancer's body must not affect the cool carriage and expression of the head.

    But Thompson's interest in all this is not merely intrinsic (although it is part of his strength as an art critic that he is interested in a wide range of contemporary African experience); he is concerned with its application to sculptural art. It is part of his argument that African traditional sculptures carry iconographic meanings and that these meanings are surprisingly general throughout the continent, regardless of the precise cultic roles of the sculptures. He establishes this not only by an array of well-selected photographs of sculptures of bodies in motion and at rest but also by a record of the reactions to the same works of informants in widely scattered parts of Africa. If African sculpture is iconographic, then it is reasonable to say that the positions, gestures, patterns and lines depicted celebrate the same aesthetic qualities that are associated with graceful standing, walking, riding, kneeling or sitting. Thus, Thompson's informants said, when shown a wooden sculpture from far away, 'he stands well' or 'the way she is sitting is beautiful', because these features are generally understood in Africa.

    It might be argued that much of this iconography is obvious; for example, a kneeling posture with both hands presented speaks of humility and service. But the evidence presented here goes far beyond this. For instance, Thompson shows how the flatness and horizontal thrust of a Gelede mask or a Senufu animal head-dress are associated with the belief in the power of witchcraft or in the magic powers of nature, both of which must be assuaged by celebrating, not by shunning them. His statements are well supported by references and the illustrations are clearly identified. The book is beautifully presented, but its content, characterized by scholarship, insight and devotion, sets it apart from the usually attractive but trite reading matter often found in books of this kind.

    American Sculpture in Process: 1930/1970. Wayne Andersen. New York Graphic Society, Boston, Mass., 1975. 278 pp., illus. ?11.25. Reviewed by Peter Lipman-Wulf**

    The author distinguishes four definite periods of 3-dimensional artistic expression in the U.S.A.: the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60's. In contrast to the ordinary perception of reality, where the foreground is seen sharply, the middle ground less so and the background blurred, the earlier developments are clearly presented in a well-organized way, while more recent ones are more and more vaguely described under artificial classifications.

    The author states in his Foreword that he treats the subject in a scholarly historical manner but avoids theoretical and critical discussions. This makes the book a handy tool for sculptors and scholars, as well as for art lovers.

    The slow development in the U.S.A. of an independent tradition of sculpture between 1930 and 1950 is well described. As a sculptor, I found particularly interesting the inside story on the work of groups connected with the Sculpture Centre and the Tenth Street Gallery in New York City and of groups of a distinctive character in Chicago and Los Angeles. Sculptors between 1960 and 1970, especially those who contend with non- traditional subject matter and new materials are less well treated, however there are excellent illustrations that knowledgeable readers can evaluate themselves.

    I believe that the author should have discussed the sociological implications of many of the works included, as well as their

    Few readers would think of consulting a book on African art to gain an understanding of words used by Blacks in the U.S.A., yet one will find such insights here. For example, 'cool': 'It cools the town when you dance ... when you finish you are restored to repose . . . the chiefs keep themselves peaceful when they are dancing-this is reassuring to the townsmen.' The style of walking called 'bopping' may be compared with this Ijo description from Nigeria: 'A cool way of walking in which the upper trunk and pelvis rock fore and aft, while the head remains stable with the eyes looking straight ahead.' This can also be compared with the 'High Life Strut', a dance in which the sensuous oscillations of a dancer's body must not affect the cool carriage and expression of the head.

    But Thompson's interest in all this is not merely intrinsic (although it is part of his strength as an art critic that he is interested in a wide range of contemporary African experience); he is concerned with its application to sculptural art. It is part of his argument that African traditional sculptures carry iconographic meanings and that these meanings are surprisingly general throughout the continent, regardless of the precise cultic roles of the sculptures. He establishes this not only by an array of well-selected photographs of sculptures of bodies in motion and at rest but also by a record of the reactions to the same works of informants in widely scattered parts of Africa. If African sculpture is iconographic, then it is reasonable to say that the positions, gestures, patterns and lines depicted celebrate the same aesthetic qualities that are associated with graceful standing, walking, riding, kneeling or sitting. Thus, Thompson's informants said, when shown a wooden sculpture from far away, 'he stands well' or 'the way she is sitting is beautiful', because these features are generally understood in Africa.

    It might be argued that much of this iconography is obvious; for example, a kneeling posture with both hands presented speaks of humility and service. But the evidence presented here goes far beyond this. For instance, Thompson shows how the flatness and horizontal thrust of a Gelede mask or a Senufu animal head-dress are associated with the belief in the power of witchcraft or in the magic powers of nature, both of which must be assuaged by celebrating, not by shunning them. His statements are well supported by references and the illustrations are clearly identified. The book is beautifully presented, but its content, characterized by scholarship, insight and devotion, sets it apart from the usually attractive but trite reading matter often found in books of this kind.

    American Sculpture in Process: 1930/1970. Wayne Andersen. New York Graphic Society, Boston, Mass., 1975. 278 pp., illus. ?11.25. Reviewed by Peter Lipman-Wulf**

    The author distinguishes four definite periods of 3-dimensional artistic expression in the U.S.A.: the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60's. In contrast to the ordinary perception of reality, where the foreground is seen sharply, the middle ground less so and the background blurred, the earlier developments are clearly presented in a well-organized way, while more recent ones are more and more vaguely described under artificial classifications.

    The author states in his Foreword that he treats the subject in a scholarly historical manner but avoids theoretical and critical discussions. This makes the book a handy tool for sculptors and scholars, as well as for art lovers.

    The slow development in the U.S.A. of an independent tradition of sculpture between 1930 and 1950 is well described. As a sculptor, I found particularly interesting the inside story on the work of groups connected with the Sculpture Centre and the Tenth Street Gallery in New York City and of groups of a distinctive character in Chicago and Los Angeles. Sculptors between 1960 and 1970, especially those who contend with non- traditional subject matter and new materials are less well treated, however there are excellent illustrations that knowledgeable readers can evaluate themselves.

    I believe that the author should have discussed the sociological implications of many of the works included, as well as their

    Few readers would think of consulting a book on African art to gain an understanding of words used by Blacks in the U.S.A., yet one will find such insights here. For example, 'cool': 'It cools the town when you dance ... when you finish you are restored to repose . . . the chiefs keep themselves peaceful when they are dancing-this is reassuring to the townsmen.' The style of walking called 'bopping' may be compared with this Ijo description from Nigeria: 'A cool way of walking in which the upper trunk and pelvis rock fore and aft, while the head remains stable with the eyes looking straight ahead.' This can also be compared with the 'High Life Strut', a dance in which the sensuous oscillations of a dancer's body must not affect the cool carriage and expression of the head.

    But Thompson's interest in all this is not merely intrinsic (although it is part of his strength as an art critic that he is interested in a wide range of contemporary African experience); he is concerned with its application to sculptural art. It is part of his argument that African traditional sculptures carry iconographic meanings and that these meanings are surprisingly general throughout the continent, regardless of the precise cultic roles of the sculptures. He establishes this not only by an array of well-selected photographs of sculptures of bodies in motion and at rest but also by a record of the reactions to the same works of informants in widely scattered parts of Africa. If African sculpture is iconographic, then it is reasonable to say that the positions, gestures, patterns and lines depicted celebrate the same aesthetic qualities that are associated with graceful standing, walking, riding, kneeling or sitting. Thus, Thompson's informants said, when shown a wooden sculpture from far away, 'he stands well' or 'the way she is sitting is beautiful', because these features are generally understood in Africa.

    It might be argued that much of this iconography is obvious; for example, a kneeling posture with both hands presented speaks of humility and service. But the evidence presented here goes far beyond this. For instance, Thompson shows how the flatness and horizontal thrust of a Gelede mask or a Senufu animal head-dress are associated with the belief in the power of witchcraft or in the magic powers of nature, both of which must be assuaged by celebrating, not by shunning them. His statements are well supported by references and the illustrations are clearly identified. The book is beautifully presented, but its content, characterized by scholarship, insight and devotion, sets it apart from the usually attractive but trite reading matter often found in books of this kind.

    American Sculpture in Process: 1930/1970. Wayne Andersen. New York Graphic Society, Boston, Mass., 1975. 278 pp., illus. ?11.25. Reviewed by Peter Lipman-Wulf**

    The author distinguishes four definite periods of 3-dimensional artistic expression in the U.S.A.: the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60's. In contrast to the ordinary perception of reality, where the foreground is seen sharply, the middle ground less so and the background blurred, the earlier developments are clearly presented in a well-organized way, while more recent ones are more and more vaguely described under artificial classifications.

    The author states in his Foreword that he treats the subject in a scholarly historical manner but avoids theoretical and critical discussions. This makes the book a handy tool for sculptors and scholars, as well as for art lovers.

    The slow development in the U.S.A. of an independent tradition of sculpture between 1930 and 1950 is well described. As a sculptor, I found particularly interesting the inside story on the work of groups connected with the Sculpture Centre and the Tenth Street Gallery in New York City and of groups of a distinctive character in Chicago and Los Angeles. Sculptors between 1960 and 1970, especially those who contend with non- traditional subject matter and new materials are less well treated, however there are excellent illustrations that knowledgeable readers can evaluate themselves.

    I believe that the author should have discussed the sociological implications of many of the works included, as well as their possible impact on the general public. Sculpture in relation to

    **Whitney Rd., Sag Harbor, NY 11963, U.S.A.

    possible impact on the general public. Sculpture in relation to

    **Whitney Rd., Sag Harbor, NY 11963, U.S.A.

    possible impact on the general public. Sculpture in relation to

    **Whitney Rd., Sag Harbor, NY 11963, U.S.A.

    This content downloaded from 195.34.78.61 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 17:15:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

    Article Contentsp. 343

    Issue Table of ContentsLeonardo, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 265-352Front MatterArticles by ArtistsAn Application of the Water Bell Liquid Flow Phenomenon in Visual Art [pp. 265 - 269]Computer Art: Pictures Composed of Binary Elements on a Square Grid [pp. 271 - 276]On Painting Realistically: A Memoir [pp. 277 - 282]

    Perception of Perspective Pictorial Space from Different Viewing Points [pp. 283 - 288]The Symbolism of the Cross in Sacred and Secular Art [pp. 289 - 294]On Interpreting Pictorial Art: Reflections on J. J. Gibson's Invariants Hypothesis [pp. 295 - 300]NotesOn My Approach to Making Paintings in Black and White [pp. 301 - 302]The Structuralism of Claude Levi-Strauss and the Visual Arts [pp. 303 - 306]Participatory Art with Steam as Medium: 'Steam Works' [pp. 307 - 308]My Sculpture Made from Polyester Resin and Bones [pp. 309 - 311]Comments on David L. Drabkin's Book "Fundamental Structure: Nature's Architecture" [pp. 313 - 314]Paintings and Poetry: A Teaching/Learning Experience in Self-Actualization [pp. 315 - 316]Comments on Umberto Eco's Book "A Theory of Semiotics" [pp. 317 - 319]A Commentary on Kirlyfalvi's Book "The Aesthetics of Gyrgy Lukcs" [pp. 320 - 321]

    DocumentsDeciphering the Signs of the Times [pp. 322 - 323]Science Foils Poetry [pp. 324 - 325]

    Terminology [p. 326]International Science: Art News [pp. 327 - 328]Aesthetics for Contemporary Artists [pp. 329 - 332]Booksuntitled [p. 333]untitled [pp. 333 - 334]untitled [p. 334]untitled [p. 334]untitled [pp. 334 - 335]untitled [p. 335]untitled [p. 335]untitled [pp. 335 - 336]untitled [p. 336]untitled [pp. 336 - 337]untitled [p. 337]untitled [pp. 337 - 338]untitled [pp. 338 - 339]untitled [p. 339]untitled [pp. 339 - 340]untitled [p. 340]untitled [p. 340]untitled [pp. 340 - 341]untitled [p. 341]untitled [p. 341]untitled [pp. 341 - 342]untitled [p. 342]untitled [pp. 342 - 343]untitled [p. 343]untitled [pp. 343 - 344]untitled [p. 344]untitled [p. 344]untitled [pp. 344 - 345]untitled [p. 345]untitled [pp. 345 - 346]untitled [p. 346]untitled [p. 346]untitled [p. 346]untitled [p. 347]untitled [p. 347]untitled [p. 347]untitled [pp. 347 - 348]untitled [p. 348]untitled [p. 348]untitled [p. 349]Books Received [pp. 349 - 350]

    LettersOn Conditions for Creativity and Innovation [p. 351]

    On Book ReviewsThe Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog [p. 351]Quantum Realism: An Art of the Techno-Nuclear Age [p. 351]Messages of the Body [pp. 351 - 352]Art in Context [p. 352]Alchemy as a Way of Life [p. 352]The Esthetic Animal: Man, the Art-Created Art Creator [p. 352]

    Back Matter