Separating Art from Life

By Hooks, Margaret | Afterimage, January-February 1996 | Go to article overview

Separating Art from Life


Hooks, Margaret, Afterimage


In a 1925 letter to Edward Weston, Tina Modotti emphasized the difficulty she experienced reconciling her art and her life: "Art cannot exist without life I admit but ... in my case life is always struggling to predominate and art naturally suffers." Today, more than 70 years later, the work of this renowned photographer continues to be overshadowed by her tumultuous life. A similar situation exists for Modotti's friend Frida Kahlo. In contemporary discourse, it seems that it is still not possible to discuss the artistic production of both women without focusing on their lives, particularly their emotional relationships with famous artists: in Modotti's case, Weston, and in Kahlo's, Diego Rivera.

Obviously it takes time for the fascin-ation with the lives and appearances of these outstanding women artists to give way to a true appreciation of their work. One wonders if this is particular to women artists. Why, for example, have the dramatic life and good looks of Robert Mapplethorpe not overshadowed his photography? In Modotti's case, her photographs have yet to be properly deciphered, and her work still remains dislocated from the context of her contemporaries and the artistic movements of her time. While art and life cannot, as Modotti recognized, be wholly separated, it is now time to cut through the mythology that invariably accompanies her life, to begin an evaluation and appreciation of Modotti the photographer. Such a revision is encouraged by "Tina Modotti: Photographs," the first major retrospective of Modotti's photographs held in the United States (previous exhibitions have taken place in Europe). Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this exhibition of approximately 90 vintage prints provides a substantial cross section of Modotti's work. The show was curated by Martha Chahroudi, the museum's curator of photography, and Sarah M. Lowe, an art historian who also wrote the catalog essay. Although there is little new material in the show, it does provide a splendid opportunity to see a great deal of Modotti's vintage work in one place at the same time. However, there are some problems in the design and installation of the exhibition. The many different mats and frames jar, particularly the outstanding platinum print, Abstract: Crumpled Tinfoil (c. 1926), on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, which is sacrificed to a hideous green mat. In addition, the hanging of so many prints at eye level, on long walls, becomes monotonous. One hopes that these mistakes will be avoided at other venues.

Unfortunately, an exhibition of this magnitude probably would not have taken place without the mythology that surrounds Modotti's life. For instance, plans for the exhibition floundered in 1994 when adequate funding was not forthcoming and the show had to be rescued by a hefty donation from Madonna, a fervent Modotti fan. In the accompanying fanfare the star auctioned her 1963 Mercedes-Benz to help finance the event. If the self-perpetuating Modotti mythology is to be dispelled, a careful examination of her work is needed.

Modotti is considered one of the major prewar women photographers. In 1923, she moved to Mexico with Weston and studied photography with him. Together they introduced modernist photographic practice to Mexican artists. These artists, in turn (particularly muralists such as Rivera), influenced Weston and Modotti. The result, especially in the case of Modotti, who spent seven years in Mexico, was a marriage of modernist photographic aesthetics with Mexican revolutionary culture. She used her camera to depict life in Mexico during the tumultuous and vibrant post-revolutionary years. Modotti essentially photographed subjects that she loved. These included Mexican women and children, murals, painters and poets, swaying palm trees, stately sugar cane and what I would call the icons of the Mexican revolution: the ear of corn, the bandolier and the guitar. Her fascination with form is reflected in these images as it is in her exhilarating still lifes of such mundane subjects as an oil storage tank, scaffolding or the rims of wine glasses. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Separating Art from Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.