In 1913 an art show was held at the New York's 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. It brought to America the wave of new artists and their art then scything through the old ways of Europe -modernist painters like Picasso, Matisse, Seurat, Van Gogh, Gaughin, and Duchamp. It was lauded as one of the most influential events in the history of American art.
Theodore Roosevelt was among those who visited the Armory show and “took a moderate approach, lauding the unconventional spirit of the Armory Show while casually dismissing the work of such “European extremists” as the Cubists and the Futurists.”
His essay “A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition,” in Outlook, 103 (29 March 1913) gives a glimpse of the commonsense school of art-criticism- the kind that is totally lost today in the morass of art-jargonese mumbo-jumbo.”His essay is a useful reminder that not all new art is good art, even when the critics rave about it.”
The following are some excerpts from this essay.I have added the images and titles for proper appreciation-
"There's a sucker born every minute" is a phrase often credited to P.T. Barnum
It is true, as the champions of these (European)extremists say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.
They may call themselves Cubists, or Octagonists, or Parallelopipedonists, or Knights of the Isosceles Triangle, or Brothers of the Cosine
In this recent art exhibition the lunatic fringe was fully in evidence, especially in the rooms devoted to the Cubists and the Futurists, or Near-Impressionists. I am not entirely certain which of the two latter terms should be used in connection with some of the various pictures and representations of plastic art—and, frankly, it is not of the least consequence.
The Cubists are entitled to the serious attention of all who find enjoyment in the colored puzzle pictures of the Sunday newspapers. Of course there is no reason for choosing the cube as a symbol, except that it is probably less fitted than any other mathematical expression for any but the most formal decorative art. There is no reason why people should not call themselves Cubists, or Octagonists, or Parallelopipedonists, or Knights of the Isosceles Triangle, or Brothers of the Cosine, if they so desire; as expressing anything serious and permanent, one term is as fatuous as another.
A Navajo rug called “A well-dressed man going up a ladder”
Take the picture which for some reason is called “A naked man going down stairs.”
There is in my bath-room a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, “A well-dressed man going up a ladder,” the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the “Naked man going down stairs.”
A historical Navajo rug
From the standpoint of terminology, each name would have whatever merit inheres in a rather cheap straining after effect; and from the standpoint of decorative value, of sincerity, and of artistic merit, the Navajo rug is infinitely ahead of the picture.
Forty thousand years later a smirking pose of retrogression
As for many of the human figures in the pictures of the Futurists, they show that the school would be better entitled to the name of the “Pastists.” I was interested to find that a man of scientific attainments who had likewise looked at the pictures had been struck, as I was, by their resemblance to the later work of the paleolithic artists of the French and Spanish caves.
(emphasis and italics in the excerpts are mine)A question of pathological rather than artistic significance
So with much of the sculpture. A family group of precisely the merit that inheres in a structure made of the wooden blocks in a nursery is not entitled to be reproduced in marble. Admirers speak of the kneeling female figure by Lehmbruck—I use “female” advisedly, for although obviously mammalian it is not especially human—as “full of lyric grace,” as “tremendously sincere,” and “of a jewel-like preciousness.”