Art Is One of the Faiths of the World…!?
Do you agree or disagree?
Art Is One of the Faiths of the World: Minor White lectured to his third year class of photography students at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute in May 1950. Minor White also wrote Beaumont and Nancy Newhall on how the lecture came about, as well as writing a reply to a letter from third year student Philip Hyde, who through a question in his letter to Minor White instigated the lecture topic. The original letter from Philip Hyde to Minor White has yet to be located. Philip Hyde’s correspondence file with Minor White did not contain a copy. The original letter may be in the Minor White archive at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. For more related background on Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, Philip Hyde, Ansel Adams and other points in the history of photography see the blog post, “Minor White–Philip Hyde Letters.”
Minor White’s Reply To Philip Hyde
(From Philip Hyde’s correspondence file with Minor White.)
25 May 1950
Thank you for your letter. It means much to me, just what or how is so mixed with my own life that it is hardly worth explaining – or too long an explaining, let us say. The little lecture on Monday said most of it. Art should be a faith in the world – that becomes my own aim with photography – however often I may fail.
As for yourself, you have something to give the world, now you are ready to start giving it, go ahead.
That takes the production of photographs and it takes the placing of them before people. It usually seems like a waste of time to spend the hours presenting your work, especially to one who can produce; be we will have to accept the hard, bitter fact that getting the product before people has to be done.
The best of work and the best of luck,
Minor White (signature)
Minor White’s Letter To Beaumont And Nancy Newhall
(Reproduced from Minor White: The Eye That Shapes by Peter Bunnell, The Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, copyright 1989 by the Trustees of Princeton University.)
May 25, 1950
Dear Beau and Nancy:
Enclosed is the usual Spring dither on what we are teaching. It always amazes me to discover how much we expect to lay before the kids. Fortunately much of it is not presented directly, but forms the basis of criticism and discussion over prints and over hootch.
One of the values of teaching, to me, is now and then having to be what I am expected to be. The other day I had a letter from a third year man (Phil Hyde–and he really has something to give to the world), [which] put me on the spot. Is art to be a reflection of the hopelessness of the present day man or is it to be one of the solid things which he can hang on to. Whew! It came up over my Disaster Series which he felt was a powerful ride straight to destruction and that it was devastating because it did not offer even the faintest possibility of salvation. Soooo, at lecture Monday I had to go on record saying that for me, art was one of the faiths of the world. That jarred a few of the boys, but it vindicated this one man–not that he really needed it–it’s his conviction anyway–but perhaps it would cement for him his belief and thus save him years of proving to himself that he was right. It is not often that I have to take a stand, trying to be four teachers at once, I can usually state that facts 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., are fact objectively. If I had other teachers who stood for one view or another I could afford to take one myself. But it is worth it. I grow up in that class because in order to answer their questions I am forced to. It was a wonderful lift to make that positive statement, art is a communication of ecstasy, it is one of the faiths of man. For all my photographing the lonely, the frustrated, the despair, it is my belief that my aim with art is the solution of these things within the work of art. Came home that evening about 8:00, tired and feeling free more than usual. A shot and Bach fugues and I was off on a binge of sheer lyricism….
Do you agree or disagree with Minor White? Is art one of the faiths of the world? Is art’s role to show the dismal state of the world, or to give us hope and why?
(Continued in the blog post, “Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 2.”)