Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Darkness has a history and a uniquely modern form. Distinct from night, shadows, and artificial light, “artificial darkness” has been overlooked—until now. In fact, controlled darkness was essential to the rise of photography and cinema, science and spectacle, and a century of advanced art and film. Artificial Darkness is the first book to historicize and theorize this phenomenon and map its applications across a range of media and art forms.

In exploring how artificial darkness shaped modern art, film, and media, Noam M. Elcott addresses seminal and obscure works alongside their sites of production—such as photography darkrooms, film studios, and laboratories—and their sites of reception, including theaters, cinemas, and exhibitions. He argues that artists, scientists, and entertainers like Étienne-Jules Marey, Richard Wagner, Georges Méliès, and Oskar Schlemmer revolutionized not only images but also everything surrounding them: the screen, the darkness, and the experience of bodies and space. At the heart of the book is “the black screen,” a technology of darkness that spawned today’s blue and green screens and has undergirded numerous advanced art and film practices to this day.

Turning familiar art and film narratives on their heads, Artificial Darkness is a revolutionary treatment of an elusive, yet fundamental, aspect of art and media history.
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About the author

Noam M. Elcott is associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University and an editor of the journal Grey Room.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 30, 2016
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780226329024
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / General
Art / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945)
Performing Arts / Film / History & Criticism
Photography / History
Technology & Engineering / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The history of art from the early nineteenth century on-ward is commonly viewed as a succession of conflicts between innovatory and established styles that culminated in the formalism and aesthetic autonomy of high modernism. In Art and Crisis, first published in 1948, Hans Sedlmayr argues that the aesthetic disjunctures of modern art signify more than matters of style and point to much deeper processes of cultural and religious disintegration.

As Roger Kimball observes in his informative new introduction, Art in Crisis is as much an exercise in cultural or spiritual analysis as it is a work of art history. Sedlmayr's reads the art of the last two centuries as a fever chart of the modern age in its greatness and its decay. He discusses the advent of Romanticism with its freeing of the imagination as a conscious sundering of art from humanist and religious traditions with the aesthetic treated as a category independent of human need. Looking at the social purposes of architecture, Sedlmayr shows how the landscape garden, the architectural monument, and the industrial exhibition testified to a new relationship not only between man and his handiwork but also between man and the forces that transcend him.

In these institutions man deifies his inventive powers with which he hopes to master and supersede nature. Likewise, the art museum denies transcendence through a cultural leveling in which "Heracles and Christ become brothers" as objects of aesthetic contemplation. At the center of Art in Crisis is the insight that, in art as in life, the pursuit of unqualified autonomy is in the end a prescription for disaster, aesthetic as well as existential. Sedlmayr writes as an Augustinian Catholic. For him, the underlying motive for the pursuit of autonomy is pride. The "lost center" of his subtitle is God. The dream of autonomy, Sedlmayr argues, is for finite, mortal creatures, a dangerous illusion. The book invites serious analysis from art critics and theological thinkers alike.

Hans Sedlmayr (1896-1984) was a founding member of the New Vienna School of art historians. His books include The Architecture of Borromini, The Revolution of Modern Art, and Austrian Baroque Architecture.

Roger Kimball is co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art.
“How do we think?” N. Katherine Hayles poses this question at the beginning of this bracing exploration of the idea that we think through, with, and alongside media. As the age of print passes and new technologies appear every day, this proposition has become far more complicated, particularly for the traditionally print-based disciplines in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. With a rift growing between digital scholarship and its print-based counterpart, Hayles argues for contemporary technogenesis—the belief that humans and technics are coevolving—and advocates for what she calls comparative media studies, a new approach to locating digital work within print traditions and vice versa. Hayles examines the evolution of the field from the traditional humanities and how the digital humanities are changing academic scholarship, research, teaching, and publication. She goes on to depict the neurological consequences of working in digital media, where skimming and scanning, or “hyper reading,” and analysis through machine algorithms are forms of reading as valid as close reading once was. Hayles contends that we must recognize all three types of reading and understand the limitations and possibilities of each. In addition to illustrating what a comparative media perspective entails, Hayles explores the technogenesis spiral in its full complexity. She considers the effects of early databases such as telegraph code books and confronts our changing perceptions of time and space in the digital age, illustrating this through three innovative digital productions—Steve Tomasula’s electronic novel, TOC; Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts; and Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions. Deepening our understanding of the extraordinary transformative powers digital technologies have placed in the hands of humanists, How We Think presents a cogent rationale for tackling the challenges facing the humanities today.
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