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The New Paragone: The Cinema and Vanguard Art Movements

A Symposium on the Avant-Garde and the Early Reception of the Cinema

Hosted by the School of Image Arts, Ryerson University.

March 11—14, 2009

All are welcome! All events are free!

In his new book, Harmony & Dissent: the Cinema and Avant-Garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century, R. Bruce Elder argues that the authors of many of the manifestoes that announced in such lively ways the appearance of yet another artistic movement shared a common aspiration: they proposed to reformulate the visual, literary, and performing arts so that they might take on attributes of the cinema. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Elder argues, the cinema became a pivotal artistic force around which a remarkable variety and number of aesthetic forms took shape.

To support his claim, Elder surveys a range of topics that reveal different aspects of the manner in which the art world of the early twentieth-century responded to the cinema. He undertakes a wide-ranging exploration of the early reception of the cinema. Elder claims that with its appearance, a new “paragone” erupted, and that, contrary to the view held by most historians of film theory and of the early intellectual reception of the cinema, many artists and thinkers proclaimed that this new art was certain to establish itself as the ottima arte, the “top art.” Elder argues that they arrived at this belief for a startling reason: that the cinema apparatus was an exemplary occult influencing machine. According to P. Adams Sitney, Elder’s “learned investigation of the mystical heritage informing even the most dogmatically rationalist areas of modernist art and polemics puts the work of Richter, Eggeling, and Eisenstein in a thoroughly new and dazzling light.”

Ryerson University will be hosting a symposium to discuss Elder’s startling claims about the influence that a pneumatic epistemology had in forming the early reception of the cinema. Running over three days, the workshop will include panel discussions as well as film screenings that are meant to highlight some of the currents of thought that influenced, or were influenced by, cinema in the early decades of the twentieth century.