by Kim Orcutt

John Sloan (American, 1871–1951), “A Slight Attack of Third Dimentia [sic] Brought on by Excessive Study of the Much-talked of Cubist Pictures in the International Exhibition at New York.” The Masses, 4, no. 7 (April 1913). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

John Sloan (American, 1871–1951), “A Slight Attack of Third Dimentia [sic] Brought on by Excessive Study of the Much-talked of Cubist Pictures in the International Exhibition at New York.” The Masses, 4, no. 7 (April 1913). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

The avant-garde European paintings and sculptures at the 69th Regiment Armory inspired responses of all kinds. Cartoonists created witty parodies, critics argued and debated in print, and some expressed their reactions in rhyme (still others, like John Sloan, combined drawing and verse in his satirical “A Slight Attack of Third Dimentia [sic]”). Poems about the new styles appeared in newspapers across the country, and while most were lighthearted, they often touched on the same issues that critics discussed in serious prose.

Maurice Morris’s short verses for The Sun of New York express his perplexity when looking at the paintings of Picabia, and the sculpture of Brancusi:

“Picabia’s ‘Procession, Seville’”
Of fair Sevilla’s towers
I gain a faint impression.
but still am several hours
in rear of that “procession.”

“Bust of Mlle. Pogany, by Brancusi”
Art is itself embodied in each curve!
The sculptor chisels life down to its core.
We know he’s found the germ, for we observe
That it is but an egg and nothing more. [1]

Some critics explained that the wild colors of the Fauves and the fragmented planes of the Cubists represented the artists’ personal vision. A Chicago writer expressed some viewers’ disgruntlement:

“The Cubist”
Blessings on you, painter man!
Do you really think you can
By some geometric law
Make us see the thing you saw?
Do you really think that Art
Is of Science any part,
And that through triangulation
We shall come to your sensation?
Have you, honestly, a notion
Art is other than Emotion
That it is, for you or us,
Differential calculus?

Nay. With what it means to you,
Art has simply naught to do;
Art begins when you’ve conveyed
Meaning of the thing you’ve made.
You may show it well or ill;
That is question of your skill.
But the meaning you must show,
Else it isn’t Art. Lord no!
Any baby building blocks
Any Cubist canvas mocks. [2]

But others were thrilled by what they saw. Poet Harry Kemp described his rapture:

I cannot shake away their wild control;
Their colors still go roaring thru my soul,
Splurges of golds, and reds, and blues, and greens,
Huge malformed arms and legs, translunar scenes,
Strange cubes evolving into half-guessed forms,
Cyclones of green, and purple rainbow-storms.
. . .

You go out with a whirlwind in your head.
The thing, at least, is not inert and dead;
There’s life and motion there, and rending force,
Color-Niagaras thundering on their course,
Power that breaks like a great wave in spray—
And what it means we’ll let Tomorrow say! [3]

[1] Maurice Morris, “At the International Art Show” (excepts), The Sun (New York), February 23, 1913, 10.

[2] “The Cubist” (excerpt), Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1913, 6.

[3] Harry Kemp, “The Exhibition” (excerpt), The Independent 74: 3353 (March 6, 1913): 512.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>