The New Vision of László Moholy-Nagy


Today's artist, László Moholy-Nagy, is at the request of reader Lauren. The Hungarian-born artist passed away 62 years ago yesterday, but his influence on the art world is still felt today.

1. László Moholy-Nagy took a break from his law studies to serve as an officer in the Hungarian army during World War I. In 1917, though, his left thumb was shattered by shrapnel, resulting in an extensive hospital stay. Moholy-Nagy had begun drawing and writing poetry on the battlefield, and continued during his recuperation. By the end of his service, he had created "more than 400 drawings on military-issue postcards."

2. The artist was born László Weisz, but changed his surname to Nagy, his uncle's surname. The name change may have been partly influenced by his father's desertion of the family when László was still a child. Later, he added Moholy to the beginning of his surname after the town, Mol, in which he grew up.

3. Moholy-Nagy wore many artistic hats throughout the years. He was a painter, photographer, sculptor, and teacher, as well as practicing typography, printmaking, and industrial design. He also wrote, both poetry and books, and created films and documentaries. According to The Guardian, though, he was "fundamentally a painter," which was expressed by Moholy-Nagy when he said, "It is my gift to project my vitality, my building power, through light, colour, form. I can give life as a painter.

4. Fundamentally, Moholy-Nagy may have been a painter, but he was also quite passionate about his photography. He believed "that photography could create a whole new way of seeing the outside world that the human eye could not," a way of seeing that he called "the New Vision." Believing strongly in the importance of photography, Moholy-Nagy wrote, "It is not the person ignorant of writing but the one ignorant of photography who will be illiterate of the future."

5. In 1922, Moholy-Nagy pushed the boundaries of original art when he had paintings made for him by a factory. In a move that one source called "brilliant and audacious," Moholy-Nagy telephoned the factory with a description of what he wanted, working with the factory's color chart and graph paper. He called the resulting "Telephone Paintings" his own, because the idea was his. The paintings were titled with letters and numbers, like factory production codes.

6. As the Nazis gained power in Berlin, where Moholy-Nagy lived for a time, he moved on to England, though his English was not quite perfect. One memorable anecdote, related by The Guardian, tells of Moholy-Nagy arriving at a party in London and "smilingly" telling his hostess, "Thank you for your hostilities."

Larger versions of "The Spirit of St. Louis for Hattula" (left) and "Nuclear I CH" (right) are available. Fans should check out the Moholy-Nagy Foundation; the Moholy-Nagy collections at SFMOMA, the Getty, and the George Eastman House; and Tate Modern's 2004 László Moholy-Nagy & Josef Albers exhibition. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.