Commentary by Andrew Raftery, NA
When I recognize that a print presents a narrative, my first response is to figure out the story the artist is trying to tell. In my own practice as a maker of narrative engravings, I know that deciding how to present the element of time is as important as the actual subject. Yet my approach to temporal depiction, both in the appreciation of works by other artists and in my own prints, is primarily intuitive. This is the case for most viewers. We perceive that a work of art tells a story and we decipher the narrative with tools accumulated through the millions of visual experiences we all carry around. As I considered my own instinctive responses to visual narratives, I wondered what I would learn from a more analytical approach, especially with regard to the construction of time using the means available in still, handmade images.
In planning Visualizing Time, I selected thirty-five narrative prints by National Academicians, ranging in date from 1830 to the present. I categorized them according to the strategies or techniques the artist employed to imply the passage of time and thereby create narrative. This suggested many connections between prints from disparate eras, despite the contrasting visual and political worlds of their subjects and settings. Even if we acknowledge that the formalist and theoretical tendencies of the twentieth century and beyond have led most of us to decrease the emphasis on understanding works of art primarily in terms of a story the artist intends to tell, we nevertheless retain the intellectual and emotional tools required to comprehend and enjoy what is actually “happening” within a narrative work of art.
The National Academy is grateful to the following for their generous support of our operations: The Bodman Foundation, The Bonnie Cashin Fund, in honor of Henry W. Grady, the Alex J. Ettl Foundation, the F. Donald Kenney Exhibition Fund, The Estate of Geoffrey Wagner in memory of Colleen Browning, NA, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.