Man Ray’s letter to Knud Merrild


I have been doing some reading on Man Ray recently- he is an artist known to most photographers for his pioneering Rayograms and solarisation and if, like me you trained in photography pre-digital days you would have experimented with these techniques in the darkroom.

The quote above is from a letter Man Ray wrote to an artist friend who’s work he greatly admired. Knud Merrild was a Dutch post-surrealist and modernist artist who ended up in California the same time as May Ray (who fled Paris in August 1940). Merrild’s work was bought and admired by several great artists and writers but he never gained the fame and notoriety of his contemporaries. He suffered a heart attack and returned to Denmark where he died in 1954.

Recently there has been much press about the cut in arts funding across the whole of the UK and It’s got me to thinking about how little the arts are valued within modern society- I mean good art- art that makes you think and feel emotion and want to do and try harder in your own practice- not the insipid zombie art people buy to match their sofas, or the kind of art that is all about the ego of the artist (I still long for the day when we have a row of plaster cast dicks from all of the well-known artists still alive lined up on pedestals in order of size from small to large and the largest one gets to be ‘top artist of the world’).

I like this quote because it offers hope and that is something all artists need to keep going- without hope there is nothing as an artist. I know we need it across every facet of life but it is the one thing that keeps me going- the idea that the ‘thing’ I am creating at that present moment will give me satisfaction and, in turn, perhaps inspire others, provoke an emotion in them or change how they think or feel about a certain something.  But I also like the fact that Man Ray uses the word ‘illusion’ as if Merrild is creating some sort of magical world (or personality). Like a great author, Man Ray is lost in Merrild’s work- the illusion has taken hold and is all-encompasing to the point of obsession. I’ve had a few art obsessions – most recently travelling to Vienna to see Klimt’s The Kiss and while there discovering the Striking Heads of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt- all these journeys in art, where just reading a few lines about a certain artist takes me deeper and deeper in to a journey.

But back to Man Ray and his love of Merrild’s work. We do not compliment each other enough or reward ourselves with a moment of happiness before moving on to our next creative obsession. It doesn’t matter that the world has not sat up and taken note of our latest creative outpouring. What is important is the journey and the acknowledgement from those who get it- whose opinion is treasured (not friends- they will always tell you they like it with little critical discussion). I can imagine Merrild’s happiness at receiving this letter from Man Ray and the impact it potentially had on his work- how such a letter could push his work on further and inspire him to keep going.

By lisafotos

I live in Edinburgh and graduated with a degree in Photography from Napier University. I loved travelling when i was younger which helped me form a strong world-view. I specialised my career to working with predominantly children and young people to develop their creative skills and, hopefully in the process, some additional skills and knowledge

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