SPECULATIONS, OR POSTIMPRESSION IN PROSE BY MABEL DODGE

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Title

SPECULATIONS, OR POSTIMPRESSION IN PROSE BY MABEL DODGE

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Mabel Dodge Marketing Modernism and Deeming Herself the Champion of “The New”

Mabel Dodge’s article for the March 1913 addition of Arts and Decorations brought modernism to the public while simultaneously glamorizing the notion of “The New”. Dodge served as a bridge between the work of radicals and the conversations held by the general public in their daily lives. By bringing these artistic concepts to the public, Dodge inherently simplified and glorified the modernist ideology of individual artists like Gertrude Stein. Though radicals like Mina Loy or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn would prefer their work stay “counterculture” rather than mainstream, and others like John Reed and Big Bill Haywood would find that the public would never truly grasp their message, Dodge’s role in bringing the conversation to the public is important to the dissemination of these radical ideas. Dodge displays modernism as not only an artistic form, but also an ideology, conveying how modernism could be expressed and used to extend consciousness. Dodge uses Stein’s portrait of herself as an example of the power of modernism to push boundaries and forge “The New” and, in doing so, also brings Stein’s new literary tone into vogue. Dodge’s role in the Armory Show conveys how she never just financial supported the arts like the typical portrayal of the “patroness,” but that she was invested in the artists and ideas behind the show as well. She wanted to create the Armory Show not just for the modernist movement, but for the furthering of consciousness and knowledge itself.

Dodge introduces the Armory Show, writing that “Many roads are being broken today, and along these roads consciousness is pursuing truth to eternity” (Luhan 2549). By starting so broadly, Dodge portrays the work at the Armory as something historically monumental and therefore something the public would want to be a part of. Essentially, her “sales pitch” takes the stance that to not see the Armory Show would be to be left out of the new wave of consciousness. Such a broad statement is also used as a sort of “hook” to her article. The article was published in a magazine that circulated beyond the radical circles actively engaged with modernism. Art and Decorations was distributed throughout the city to the general population; therefore, Dodge’s article takes on a much more “flashy” tone in comparison to a piece she might write for a more “like-minded” publication like The Masses, which was distributed mainly within Greenwich Village. Dodge continues her persuasive tone, writing, “This is an age of communication, and the human being who is not a communicant is in the sad plight that the dogmatist defines as a condition of spiritual non receptivity” (Luhan 2549). Dodge is again depicting modernism as the new “it” commodity.

By depicting modernism like a product or object of consumption, Dodge does not really explore any of the concepts Stein was trying to explore in her piece, and therefore, she simplifies Stein’s work. Dodge’s depiction of the portrait would later cause tension between Dodge and Stein. However, the connection Dodge makes between Stein’s literary work and the art of the Armory Show is important for making a name for both of them and for spreading more information about the Armory Show itself. Baralonini writes that Dodge would make names for Stein and herself “quite spectacularly, at the famous 1913 Armory, Show where she wrote an introduction to the cubist art being displayed for the first time in America, connecting it with the writing of Gertrude Stein, and particularly her favorite example, 'Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia’" (280). By providing some level of interpretation along with her “sales pitch,” Dodge conveys her own dedication to the ideology of modernism.

Dodge writes how “Gertrude Stein is doing with words what Picasso is doing with paint. She is impelling language to induce new states of consciousness.” While this is a generalization, her focus on how she believes art can function to unlock “new states of consciousness” is clear. Dodge strives to facilitate open discussion of new ideas to create a constantly progressing future. This openness is part of Dodge’s core and was reflect in all areas of art and reform she works for in the The Village and beyond. Dodge glorifies Stein’s writing when she effusively describes, “She [Stein] has taken the English language and, according to many people, has misused it, or has used it roughly, uncouthly, and brutally, or madly, stupidly, hideously, but by her method she is finding the hidden and inner nature of nature” (Luhan 2549). Dodge’s abundance of adverbs entice and intrigue the reader, almost like an advertisement. Thus, Dodge both conveys excitement for the ideology of modernism and also simplifies separate work of individual artists as she displays it for the public.

Dodge didn’t just support the show by drawing attention to modernism in the eyes of public. She also participated heavily in the selection of pieces to be included and financed the project heavily. Dodge’s role conveys the expansive nature in the show. Dodge recounts,
“As soon as I collected a few pictures from here and there, feeling dignified in people’s drawing rooms designating what I wanted, and had written a check for five hundred dollars and sent it to Davies, I felt as though the exhibition were mine. I really did. It became, overnight, my own little revolution. I would upset America; I would, with fatal, irrevocable disaster to the old order of things. It was tragic—I was able to admit that—but the old ways must go and with them their priests” (Luhan 2550).
Describing it as “her revolution” and how the art would “upset America” conveys how Dodge aimed always to make new paths and forge the new in society. Dodge’s reflection convey she purposefully challenged the standards of mainstream America in 1913, and she even addresses the influence of Christianity directly as she writes, “the old ways must go and with them their priests.”

Dodge briefly writes of her role in funding the Armory Show as she describes addressing several checks. The importance Dodge’s financial and organizational support is often eclipsed by the work of the male organizers of the exhibition. Shapiro writes that in reality, “Not only did 80 percent of the funding come from women, but also one-third of the buyers and lenders were female.” This art historian’s stance displays how women have been under recognized for their contributions. Shapiro also addresses Dodge’s impact directly when goes on to describe how ”Mabel Dodge, the quintessential ‘New Woman’” helped gather artwork from private collections, apparently at ease in selecting pieces for the exhibition,” and goes on to describe how Dodge “immersed herself in establishing modernism in America” (162-3). Dodge’s collective work on the Armory Show and her publication of “Speculations or postimpressionism in prose” contributed to modern art’s arrival in America. Dodge presented modernism so that it was received by not only radicals, but also the public. Dodge’s work to bring counterculture to the forefront of conversations aligns with her goals for all humans to have furthered consciousness.

Baralonini, Helen. "Mabel Dodge Luhan: in search of a personal South."
Southwest Review 8.3 (1998): 280-1. Print.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Location 2549-50). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Shapiro, Meyer. "The Introduction of Modern Art in America: the Armory Show."
Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries, Selected Papers. By George
Brazilier. New York: n.p., 1978. 162-66. Print.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection

Publisher

Beinecke Library

Date

1913

Contributor

Adam Budge

Rights

Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection

Format

Image of publication

Language

English

Type

Opinion piece

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

[Arts and Decorations, March 1913] Many roads are being broken today, and along these roads consciousness is pursuing truth to eternity. This is an age of communication, and the human being who is not a communicant is in the sad plight that the dogmatist defines as a condition of spiritual nonreceptivity. roads lie parallel and almost touch. In a large studio in Paris, hung with paintings by Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso, Gertrude Stein is doing with words what Picasso is doing with paint. She is impelling language to induce new states of consciousness, and in doing so language becomes with her a creative art, rather than a mirror of history. In her impressionistic writing, she uses familiar words to create perceptions, conditions, and states of being never before quite consciously experienced. She does this by using words that appeal to her as having the meaning that they seem to have. She has taken the English language and, according to many people, has misused it, or has used it roughly, uncouthly, and brutally, or madly, stupidly, hideously, but by her method she is finding the hidden and inner nature of nature. After the International Show opened the noise began. “Well, who is Mabel Dodge?” they exclaimed. And thousands of copies of Arts and Decoration were sold, for Gertrude Stein’s “Portrait” of her, serving as an example of her style, was in it, and she had signed that article—and there was something new under the sun and everybody’s blood ran quicker for it! A chance to laugh, to curse, to run cold from words! Oh! Look at the letters that poured in. People were struck by the thing and they tingled. I suddenly found myself in a whirlpool of new, unfamiliar life and if Gertrude Stein was born at the Armory show, so was “Mabel Dodge.” The way it happened was that as soon as I had written the article and given it to Gregg, he showed it to Arthur Davies and told people about it. Long before it was printed, they came after me and got me into the exhibition part of it; asked me to help collect any examples of modern art bought in Europe, in New York, from people who would loan them; asked me to help with the money. I had an automobile, with a smug chauffeur named Albert driving it in bearskins, and I had a small bank account with nothing much to buy except flowers and cigarettes. As soon as I collected a few pictures from here and there, feeling dignified in people’s drawing rooms designating what I wanted, and had written a check for five hundred dollars and sent it to Davies, I felt as though the exhibition were mine. I really did. It became, overnight, my own little revolution. I would upset America; I would, with fatal, irrevocable disaster to the old order of things. It was tragic—I was able to admit that—but the old ways must go and with them their priests. I felt a large, kindly compassion for the artists and writers who had held the fort heretofore, but I would be firm. My hand would not shake nor could I allow my personal feelings of pity to halt me. I was going to dynamite New York and nothing would stop me. Well, nothing did; I moved forward in my role of fate’s chosen instrument, and the show certainly did gain by my propulsion. The force was there in me—directed now. Things, then, were flowing in and out of the apartment. Edwin had flowed out and stayed out. He shook his head and intimated I would go to the bad but when he read the article in Arts and Decoration, and then immediately afterwards kept seeing things in magazines and newspaper about Mabel Dodge, he had a “can-I-believe-my-eyes” sensation and wrote a nice letter in which he said that he was thrilled by a certainty of my “approaching recognition” at last, and that he was sorry this had been so long delayed by his blundering interference. He told me I had been right all the past years—he had not understood me. It was a generous, appreciative letter and I was glad he wrote it.





Original Format

Published opinion piece