Vorticism was an English avant-garde movement which encompassed both the visual and literary arts. Founded in 1912 by the writer and painter Wyndham Lewis, Vorticism was related to Futurism and Cubism in painting and to Imagism in literature. Chiefly, the movement extolled the virtues of the machine. Its visual art was sharp-edged and angular; its literature is frequently described as turbulent and noisy. In 1914 Lewis and writer Ezra Pound (who coined the term Vorticism) established Blast, a magazine dedicated to promoting the new movement. However, the periodical—like Vorticism itself—was shortlived and lasted only two issues. Although several young artists and writers joined the movement, including David Bomberg, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, T. E. Hulme, and Pound, Vorticism did not endure as a distinct literary and artistic school after the first World War.
Wyndham Lewis And Vorticism
William C. Wees
SOURCE: "Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism," in Blast 3, edited by Seamus Cooney, and others, Black Sparrow Press, 1984, pp. 47-50.
[In the following essay, Wees documents Lewis's activities as the founding figure of the Vorticist movement.]
In 1914 Wyndham Lewis devoted much of his time to what he described as his "undeniable political activity." In the space of half a year Lewis directed London's new Rebel Art Centre, led a widely reported campaign against the Italian Futurists, and edited and made most of the major contributions to BLAST, Review of the Great English Vortex. These activities attracted attention—exactly the purpose of art politics—and won for Lewis a reputation as, in the words of the Daily News (7 April 1914), "the extremely able leader of the Cubist movement in England."
Lewis's sly self-caricature in Blasting and Bombardiering describes "Mr. W.L., Leader of the 'Great London Vortex,'" who discovered in himself the "romantic figure [who] must always emerge to captain the 'group.'" In accordance with his role, he never passed up a chance to explain in articles, interviews and manifestos, "why life had to be changed, and how." "'Kill John Bull with Art!' I shouted. And John and Mrs. Bull leapt for joy, in a cynical convulsion. For they felt as safe as houses. So did I." Exciting and inconsequential—Lewis's...
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Characteristics And Principles Of Vorticism
Reed Way Dasenbrock
SOURCE: "Vorticism among the Isms," in Blast 3, edited by Seamus Cooney and others, Black Sparrow Press, 1984, pp. 40-6.
[In the following essay, Dasenbrock considers Vorticism in in the context of other literary and artistic movements of the period.]
Though BLAST is principally thought of today as the magazine of Vorticism, it was planned and announced before the birth of Vorticism, and, indeed, most of the first issue was laid out before the Vorticist manifestos which open and close that issue were conceived. Pound wrote to Joyce on April 1, 1914, that "Lewis is starting a new Futurist, Cubist, Imagiste Quarterly," and the advertisement for BLAST which appeared in The Egoist on April 15, 1914, announced it as a "Discussion of Cubism, Futurism, Imagisme and all Vital Forms of Modern Art." The most telling evidence that BLAST preceded Vorticism is in BLAST itself. In one of Lewis's notes, "The Melodrama of Modernity," he is willing, despite the critique of Futurism in the same article, to accept the label Futurist for his own art. He does say, however, that "we may hope before long to find a new word."
Only some time in May or June of 1914 did Pound and Lewis come up with that new word, Vorticism, which would describe their art in contradistinction to the other isms of modern art, Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, and Expressionism....
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Lewis And Pound
W. K. Rose
SOURCE: "Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis: The Crucial Years," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 4, Winter, 1968, pp. 72-89.
[In the following essay, Rose examines the careers and friendship of Lewis and Pound from 1910 to 1920.]
Of Ezra Pound's many and celebrated literary associations, that with Wyndham Lewis has the unique interest of showing the poet in close contact with the pictorial arts. It is special too in that Lewis, unlike Yeats or Eliot, saw a revolution in the arts as a public battle and shared the poet's zest for skirmishing. Viewed less narrowly, this relationship engages one's attention as would any other involving two dynamic human beings, both of them gifted artists and important influences in the cultural history of their epoch. For all of one's reservations about the "dangers of literary biography," of which Noel Stock warns in his book on Pound, I do not see how some observation of this pair as a pair can help but add to our understanding of their works, and of their epoch.
The epoch was, neatly, a decade, 1910-1920. Looking back, one can see it clearly—in London and New York at least—as the seed-time of the new art. What we now think of as "modern poetry," "modern art" came to fruition in the ferment of those years. They are also, not irrelevantly, I believe, the crucial years of the friendship of...
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SOURCE: "Vorticism," in Fortnightly Review, Vol. XCVI, July-December, 1914, pp. 461-71.
[In the following excerpt, Pound explains Vorticist poetry.]
"It is no more ridiculous that a person should receive or convey an emotion by means of an arrangement of shapes, or planes, or colours, than that they should receive or convey such emotion by an arrangement of musical notes."
I suppose this proposition is self-evident. Whistler said as much, some years ago, and Pater proclaimed that "All arts approach the conditions of music."
Whenever I say this I am greeted with a storm of "Yes, but.…" "But why isn't this art futurism?" "Why isn't?" "Why don't?" and above all: "What, in Heaven's name, has it got to do with your Imagiste poetry?"
Let me explain at leisure, and in nice, orderly, old-fashioned prose.
We are all futurists to the extent of believing with Guillaume Appollonaire that "On ne peut pas porter partout avec soi le cadavre de son pere." But "futurism," when it gets into art, is, for the most part, a descendant of impressionism. It is a sort of accelerated impressionism.
There is another artistic descent vid Picasso and Kandinsky; vid cubism and expressionism. One does not complain of neoimpression or of accelerated impressionism and "simultaneity," but...
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SOURCE: "Affirmations," in The New Age, Vol. XVI, No. 11, January, 14, 1915, pp. 277-8.
[In the following essay, Pound explains the forms and techniques of Vorticist painting.]
There is perhaps no more authentic sign of the senility of a certain generation of publicists (now, thank heaven, gradually fading from the world) than their abject terror in the face of motive ideas. An age may be said to be decadent, or a generation may be said to be in a state of prone senility, when its creative minds are dead and when its survivors maintain a mental dignity—to wit, the dignity or stationariness of a corpse in its cerements. Excess or even absinthe is not the sure sign of decadence. If a man is capable of creative, or even of mobile, thought he will not go in terror of other men so endowed. He will not call for an inquisition or even a persecution of other men who happen to think something which he has not yet thought, or of which he may not yet have happened to hear.
The public divides itself into sections according to temper and alertness; it may think with living London, or with moribund London, or with Chicago, or Boston, or even with New Zealand; and behind all these there are possibly people who think on a level with Dublin, antiquarians, of course, and students of the previous age. For example, Sir Hugh Lane tried to give Dublin a collection of...
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Cooney, Seamus. Blast 3. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1984, 356 p.
Collection of new and reprinted essays discussing various aspects of Vorticism and focusing on the works of Lewis and Pound.
"The Death of Vorticism." The Little Review V, Nos. 10-11 (February-March 1919): 45-51.
Contends that Vorticism did not "die" but became an accepted part of England's artistic life.
"Vorticism and the Politics of Art." The Times Literary Supplement (22 November 1957): 700.
Review of William Roberts's book The Resurrection of Vorticism and the Apotheosis of Wyndham Lewis, finding that Roberts has legitimate grievances with how Lewis and Sir John Rothenstein present his role in the Vorticist movement.
Wees, William C. "England's Avant-Garde: The Futurist-Vorticist Phase." Western Humanities Review XXI, No. 2 (Spring 1967): 117-28.
Describes the differences and similarities between the Futurist and Vorticist art movements.
__. Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972, 273 p.
A study of Vorticism's place in the English artistic milieu of the pre-World War I period.
Zinnes, Harriet. "Nature and Design: 'Burying Euclid Deep in the Living Flesh'." In Ezra Pound: The Legacy of Kulchur,...
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