After the Machine: Visual Arts and the Erasing of Cultural by Miles Orvell

By Miles Orvell

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Paul Strand Archive. instrument for reforming perception, a way of relating the new vision to technology and art, which became the foundation of Precisionism and of the American contribution to international Modernism. Rather than seeing technology as a force that intervened between the individual and reality, the machine became a way of creatively "deforming" reality and even of Page 11 mastering it. Technology became a creative force for the artist by being defined as a new "screen" or "filter" through which the world was experienced: Jean Epstein, writing for Broom in 1922, put it this way: "The machine technology of civilization, the innumerable instrumentations that encumber laboratories, factories, hospitals, photographic studies, and electrical shops, the engineer's table and the architect's drawing-board, the aviator's seat, the moving picture theatre, the optician's show window and even the toolkit of the carpenter permit an infinite variety of angles of observation.

In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbersit may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression" (qtd. in Rourke 130). 9 Going so far, Sheeler went even farther, when he wrote for the March 1931 issue of the new Fortune magazine a statement introducing a reproduction of one of his paintings based on a Rouge scene, American Landscape: at the Ford plant "is to be seen the machine working with an infallibility which precludes human competition.

But there is more to the series than at first meets the eye, and understanding Sheeler's place within the discourse of modernism requires looking closely at the work and at the subject, the Ford factory. The Rouge factory, designed to build the new Model A that was replacing the outmoded Model T, was an industrial city on a scale far beyond Ford's old Highland plant, and far beyond anything previously conceived. With 23 main buildings, 70 lesser structures, 93 miles of railroad tracks, 53,000 machines, and 75,000 employees, it was a site for production that Page 16 began with raw materials to create steel and ended with cars (Lucic 90).

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