Literature Review Essay
LiteratureReview of Joseph Cornell
The criticalreview of Joseph Cornell tracks the perspectives that contemporarywriters and artists have had towards Cornell. His works have been asource of intrigue since his death in 1972. Numerous museums and artgalleries have endeavored to collect and group his works. Cornellwas born in December 1903 and later enrolled at the Phillips Academyin Massachusetts. His artistic works were inspired by the climate andlifestyle of New York. In particular, his shadow boxes have eliciteddifferent views among writers and commentators. The shadow boxescrafted by Cornell manifest a great love for the city with itsinnumerable books and forms of music. In 1936, Cornell was featuredin a major exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art organized by theSurrealist movement.1Consequently, Cornell’s works are often categorized as Surrealist.However, Cornell never aligned himself with any particular style orgroup.
Cornell’s workfeatured particular symbols reminiscent of New York. For example,clay pipes appreciated the old houses along Chambers Street in NewYork. The shadow boxes created by Cornell have been the subject ofdebates presented in many articles. The critical review of literaturereveals an evolution in the significance of the shadow boxes.Nevertheless, there was peak attention on Cornell’s shadow boxesimmediately following his death in 1972. Recent revisionism on shadowboxes can also be traced in the literature review. Amidst theseissues, I would align myself with the artists lauding the creativityof the shadow boxes.
The first essayto examine the life and works of Joseph Cornell appeared courtesy ofthe Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1967. Diane Waldman chose aselection of works from the Museum’s catalog to tell Cornell’sstory. Joseph Cornell had long been considered as a sculptor andpainter. Waldman suggests that Cornell could not be rightlyclassified as either a sculptor or a painter since he did not haveany formal training in either subjects2.Rather, his expertise with making boxes and collages renders him as abonafide artist. Waldman highlights the influence of New York lifeand culture in the works of Cornell. The forms and images used byCornell were representative of the precious memories he intended topreserve. His tireless efforts as an artist served to preserve manymoments that would have been forgotten in books and other forms ofliterature. Waldman uses her expertise in Cornell`s work to selectboxes and collages from the past. In this regard, the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum featured 78 boxes and ten collages by JosephCornell. Waldman imbibes each box and collage with life and meaning.The modern reader gets an objective perspective of the inspirationbehind Cornell’s works courtesy of Waldman’s use of iconography.
Unlike Waldman,Anne d`Harnoncourt, curator of 20th Century Painting, examines thesocial history of art to identify relationships between Cornell andvarious forms of 20th-century art. In her essay, “The CubistCockatoo: A Preliminary Exploration of Joseph Cornell`s Homages toJuan Gris,” 1978, she discusses various questions that arose afterthe acquisition of an untitled box by Joseph Cornell. The box wasinscribed the name of Spanish Cubist Juan Gris at the back. Anne usesthe inscription to show the admiration that Cornell had for Gris. Shealso highlights the motivation behind the use of Cubist themes inCornell’s works3.Anne notes the perception of Cornell as shy and reclusive. However,she points out that Cornell had intricate relationships to inventorsof assemblage. Anne uses Cornell’s adoption of Cubist techniques toargue her point that Cornell derived inspiration from other artistsin crafting his shadow boxes.
Similarly,Richard Elovich, in his essay, “London and New York. Joseph CornellRetrospective,” 1981, cites the impact of Cornell’s childhood onhis artistry. Richard uses psychoanalysis in highlighting theimpressive manner in which Cornell propelled to stardom. The artistneither studied sculpture, nor painting. Richard endeavors to explainreasons for his meteoric maturity as an artist. The untimely death ofCornell’s father changed his idyllic childhood.4The struggles faced by his immediate family pushed him into a searchfor perfection. Richard highlights that many of Cornell’s shadowboxes were done to pay homage to people that had shown kindness tohis family. The retrospective exposes the curiosities associated withCornell’s paintings. Richard argues that Cornell’s familystruggles were the primary motivation behind his artistic shadowboxes.
Unlike Richard,Estill Curtis, director of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel,Mississippi, explores questions as to how to classify Cornell’sworks. In his essay, “Joseph Cornell: Dime Store Connoisseur,”1983, Estill explains the dilemma faced by the Archives of AmericanArt. The Archives made strenuous effort to collect Cornell’s worksshortly after his death in 1972. It was thought that the memorabilialeft behind by Cornell could be useful to future scholars. Estillmentions how the small house was packed with stacks of cartonscontaining various documents and items. The majority of the materialcould be classified as personal letters, books, and diaries. However,Estill uses formalism in highlighting the difficulty of classifyingthe shadow boxes. While his other works were easily grouped, theshadow boxes could be rendered interchangeably as constructions orsculptures.5Estill argues that the shadow boxes created by Cornell relay hisversatility as an artist.
Where Estillmagnifies the versatility of Cornell, Joseph Janangelo, assistantprofessor of English at Loyola University in Chicago lauds Cornell’spersuasive ability as an artist. In his essay, “Cornell and theArtistry of Composing Persuasive Hypertexts,” 1998, Janangelohighlights how Cornell’s boxes can be used to “enact a poetics ofcollage” that can be used to model the artistry, complexity, andintelligence of “persuasive hypertexts.”6Janangelo suggests ways in which Cornell’s art can be used todevelop appreciation for manifestation of textual coherence.Cornell’s art can also help to identify a shaping strategy toreinforce students’ literate activities. Janangelo also usesformalism in highlighting some of the features of Cornell`s artincluding his minimal use of texts and linking of unrelatedmaterials. He argues that Cornell’s shadow boxes are still usefulto modern students of art.
Where Janangeloacknowledges the persuasive ability of Cornell, Daniel Morris, in hisessay, Responsible Viewing: Charles Simic`s "Dime-Store Alchemy:The Art of Joseph Cornell," 1998, highlights Cornell’screativity. Daniel documents how Cornell reinvigorated old materialdiscovered in abandoned bookstores and libraries. Daniel alsostresses the interrelation between verbal narrations and visualdesigns as exemplified by Charles Simic.7Daniel explains why Cornell chose to use shadow boxes for hisartistry. Cornell exploited the understated manner in which shadowboxes could be used as a means of interpersonal communication.Furthermore, Cornell used ordinary and sometimes overlooked objectsin his collages. Daniel uses psychoanalysis in suggesting thatCornell used his artistry as an outlet for his commitment towardspreservation. Daniel argues that Cornell’s shadow boxes can helpmodern audiences to peer into Cornell’s thought process.
Similarly, SimonNiedenthal, senior lecturer at Malmo University in Sweden, discussesthe lessons that we can derive from the boxes made by Cornell. In hisessay, “Learning from the Cornell Box,” 2002, Simon focuses onhow Cornell’s work can be used for fictional purposes. Cornell’s“creative process can be visualized spatially.”8Cornell went to great lengths in search of archived material duringhis “strolls around Manhattan.” Simon highlights how Cornellcollected a staggering amount of items and memorabilia. Nevertheless,the artist displayed great skill in selecting the specific items foreach box. Simon uses formalism in highlighting that Cornell’s artcan be used as a tool to study filtration and distillation ofmaterial. Simon argues that Cornell’s shadow boxes can be used inother fields of study besides art.
Like Simon,Kimberly Mair, in her essay, “Objects of my Affection: JosephCornell and the Corporeal Aesthetics of Assemblage,” 2007, extolsthe aesthetic beauty of Cornell’s art. Kimberly acknowledges thefact that Cornell has been marginalized by past misrepresentations ofhis character and personality. Some have labeled Cornell asreclusive, celibate, and inexperienced.9However, Kimberly emphasizes the artistic beauty of his collection,assemblages, and collages. Misconceptions from Cornell’s biographyhave warped perceptions concerning the artist. Kimberly usessemiotics in highlighting the significations of Cornell’s innerthoughts through his works. Kimberly argues that Cornell’s shadowboxes need to be considered as objective reflections of hispersonality.
Similarly, SusanScheftel, in her essay, “The Cosmic Child: The Artwork of JosephCornell and a Type of Unusual Sensibility, or Thinking Inside theBox: The Mind That Channels Infinity,” 2009, explores the mentalprocess of Cornell. Susan suggests that the practice of using simplemedia such as assemblage testifies to Cornell’s “artisticgiftedness.”10Susan classifies Cornell among distinct persons shaped by childhoodexperiences of separation and isolation. Susan uses psychoanalysis inasserting that Cornell’s works give insight into his mentalsensitivities. Susan argues that Cornell’s shadow boxes not onlyemphasize his remarkable abilities but also give testament to hissensibilities as an artist.
Like Susan, Tony Fabijancic, in his essay, “The sadness is in you:memory in the boxes of Joseph Cornell, William Gibson, and E.L.Doctorow,” 2012, examines the mental drive behind Cornell’s art.Tony explores the manner in which Cornell’s reconstructions providea nostalgic view of his past. It may be difficult to conclude withabsolute certainty whether Cornell’s art symbolized his life.11However, Tony also uses psychoanalysis in asserting that establishingprecedent between Cornell’s shadow boxes and his past experiencesis an easier task. Tony argues that Cornell’s shadow boxes do notso much describe his life as they do of his past memories.
Since the deathof Cornell in 1972, various writers and commentators have taken akeen interest in his works. His biographical references have led manyto make biased conclusions about his life and art. For example, somehave ridiculed his inexperience. Others have viewed his collages andassemblages as hobbies of a recluse. Nevertheless, a critical reviewof literature presents a wholesome view of Cornell`s life and art.The significance of the shadow boxes has been the subject of manyarticles. There has been a general trend on how his works areperceived over the years. Initial articles focused on the applicationof his shadow boxes while subsequent literature dwelled onunderstanding Cornell’s thought process through his shadow boxes.As discussed, his death in 1972 sparked a peak period of attention onhis shadow boxes as they became widely accessible. Nevertheless,recent revisionism on the shadow boxes points to the influenceCornell derived from past memories and fellow contemporaries.Consequently, his credentials as an artist are firmly establisheddespite his lack of formal training.
Curtis, Estill. “Joseph Cornell: Dime Store Connoisseur.”Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 23, no. 3 (1983):13-20.
d`Harnoncourt, Anne. “The Cubist Cockatoo: A PreliminaryExploration of Joseph Cornell`s Homages to Juan Gris.” PhiladelphiaMuseum of Art Bulletin, vol. 74, no. 321 (June 1978): 2-17.
Elovich, Richard. “London and New York. Joseph CornellRetrospective.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 123, no. 937(April 1981): 247, 249-250.
Fabijancic, Tony. The sadness is in you: memory in the boxes ofJoseph Cornell, William Gibson, and E.L. Doctorow. (Nov., 2012).http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/twim20
Janangelo, Joseph. “Cornell and the Artistry of ComposingPersuasive Hypertexts.” College Composition and Communication,vol. 49, no. 1 (Feb., 1998): 24-44.
Mair, Kimberly. “Objects of my Affection: Joseph Cornell and theCorporeal Aesthetics of Assemblage.” Third Text, vol. 21,no. 6 (2007): 707-718.
Morris, Daniel. Responsible Viewing: Charles Simic`s "Dime-StoreAlchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell." Papers on Language andLiterature, vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 1998): 337.
Niedenthal, Simon. “Learning from the Cornell Box.” Leonardo,vol. 35, no. 3 (2002): 249-254.
Scheftel, Susan. The Cosmic Child: The Artwork of Joseph Cornell anda Type of Unusual Sensibility, or Thinking Inside the Box: The MindThat Channels Infinity. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child,64, (2009): 51-54.
Waldman, Diane. Joseph Cornell. (New York: Solomon R.Guggenheim Foundation, 1967): 1-54.
1 Waldman, Diane. Joseph Cornell. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1967): 12.
2Waldman, Diane. Joseph Cornell. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1967): 10.
3 d`Harnoncourt, Anne. “The Cubist Cockatoo: A Preliminary Exploration of Joseph Cornell`s Homages to Juan Gris.” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 74, no. 321 (June 1978): 3
4 Elovich, Richard. “London and New York. Joseph Cornell Retrospective.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 123, no. 937 (April 1981): 247.
5 Curtis, Estill. “Joseph Cornell: Dime Store Connoisseur.” Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 23, no. 3 (1983): 15.
6 Janangelo, Joseph. “Cornell and the Artistry of Composing Persuasive Hypertexts.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 49, no. 1 (Feb., 1998): 28.
7 Morris, Daniel. Responsible Viewing: Charles Simic`s "Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell." Papers on Language and Literature, vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 1998): 337.
8 Niedenthal, Simon. “Learning from the Cornell Box.” Leonardo, vol. 35, no. 3 (2002): 251
9 Mair, Kimberly. “Objects of my Affection: Joseph Cornell and the Corporeal Aesthetics of Assemblage.” Third Text, vol. 21, no. 6 (2007): 708.
10 Scheftel, Susan. The Cosmic Child: The Artwork of Joseph Cornell and a Type of Unusual Sensibility, or Thinking Inside the Box: The Mind That Channels Infinity. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 64, (2009): 51
11 Fabijancic, Tony. The sadness is in you: memory in the boxes of Joseph Cornell, William Gibson, and E.L. Doctorow. (Nov., 2012). http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/twim20