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The trick of using one's talent

THE trick to being an artist often lies in knowing what to do with one's talent. There's nothing wrong, of course, in simply delighting in it, or in taking pride in what it can produce. At least not for a while. There comes a time, however, especially if that talent is strong and true, when it demands something more than playfulness or self-indulgence, and will try to lead its owner in a more challenging direction. Few things are as disheartening as the sight of talent floundering for want of focus, or neutralizing itself because of conflicting ideas. And yet, the vast majority of paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, etc., produced today fail to achieve the status of art because of one or both of these conditions. The problem often is not great -- but then, it need not be in order to prevent the perfect fusion of substance and means that true art demands. It can be something as simple as carelessness over c olor or composition or sentimentality. It can also be as destructive as an inability to decide between various styles -- even between such contradictory modes of expression as realism and abstraction -- or an unwillingness to view art in other than purely escapist terms.

Talent, in short, simply isn't enough. For it to achieve the level of art, it must be permitted to grow in a manner that best gives voice and form to its possessor's creative vision and values.

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No one understood this better than Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), a Russian-born American artist who established a modest reputation for himself in the '30s and '40s as a painter and printmaker of predominantly urban views, and who has recently won increasing acclaim as one of the outstanding lithographers of the 1925-45 period.

Lozowick began his art training in Russia at the Kiev Art School -- which included a general education -- in 1903 and then emigrated to America in 1906. In 1912 he enrolled at the conservative National Academy of Design in New York, even though his interests were already moving in the direction of modernism, and he would soon find himself totally committed to some of its ideals.

His fascination with Cubism and other advanced art movements led him to Europe in 1919 and a four-year period of intense experimentation with ideas and forms derived from Dadaism, Fernand L'eger, Juan Gris, and the Russian Constructivists. He exhibited successfully with the Contructivists in 1922 and went on to mount two equally successful one-man shows in Berlin in that year and in 1923.

In 1924 he was back in New York, busily spreading the word on modern Russian art and carrying out many of its principles in his own paintings, as well as in illustrations, window displays, poster designs, and stage sets. His critically acclaimed 1926 exhibition helped consolidate his reputation as one of America's promising younger artists and led to his acceptance as a respected member of the New York art community.

Although Lozowick's interest in lithography began in 1923, it wasn't until 1928 that he applied himself seriously to that medium. In the next two years he produced over 70 prints (almost a third of his total oeuvre ), had a major showing of his graphic images at the Weyhe Gallery, and became known to print collectors as a creator of stunningly patterned urban scenes.

Their effectiveness derived largely from his sensitive application of Cubist and other modernist structural principles to views of city streets, factories, skyscrapers, bridges, construction activities, and anything else that might be encountered in New York. And from his special knack at translating the squares, circles, triangles, and curved and straight lines of Constructivist theory into the elements that make up a modern metropolis.

In his hands, geometry became the formal skeleton of pictures of urban life, but in a manner that permitted his subjects to remain a bit closer to reality than to design and that made it obvious that his images resulted as much from observation as from imagination or theory.

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There was nothing he saw during his numerous sketching trips in and around New York that he couldn't simplify drastically, modify to conform to his highly compact compositional scheme, and then ``authenticate'' as part of the real world by adding the appropriate textures and one or more characteristic details. His best prints, as a result, are as dramatically and imaginatively patterned as any of his early Constructivist drawings -- but with the added advantage of being impressive depictions of the dail y life of a great city as well.

They prove -- although that, of course, was not his intention -- that an individual of modest talent can create art, as long as he or she has intelligence, imagination, and sensibility and the determination and vision to direct those qualities toward a worthwhile and clearly defined objective.

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