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ably relational. This is as true today as it was in the past, despite the development of contemporary styles which seem to declare the contrary. The notion that art quality must have a relational basis runs directly counter to the Minimal esthetic, which conceives of the work as an undisguised whole, and indirectly counter to the esthetics of Pop and Op, which depend on the prefabricated emotive units, or relationships unified toward a specific effect. Each of these styles begins with a ready-made idea which functions as a big unit, thus reducing to a minimum the relational potential of various parts of the work. Art is a human-to-human activity. The art work is the permanent embodiment of a series of decisions made by the artist. To have human value the work must reflect a certain number of these decisions and to do this the work must have an overt complexity. In other words, it must be relational. This is not a popular view today, and as far as I can tell it is quite unprovable. However, I am convinced that it is true. I am also convinced that today these decisions should involve as materials the basic "parts" of painting as it has come to us through tradition. Since Impressionism painting has tended toward explicit and self-conscious use of its own conspicuous elements. All painting consists of paint and the surface upon which paint is deposited. Creating a complex surface, adequate for expression, depends on line, hue, shading, canvas shape, tone, light and dark, intensity, blurring and sharpness, and so on. We have yet to make a real abstract art; that art will consist of the basic elements peculiar to painting exercised freely. Most of us have taken modern art courses in college, or have had equivalent art instruction. We remember being told how to look at a painting, and how to look at qualities picked from the work. We were directed to attach our first attention to the simply perceivable and discernible parts of the painting. These parts were meant to be footholds to gain entrance to the mystery, if any, of the painting. This notion, as it surfaces in teaching, is a conceptual realization of an idea which has been becoming slowly visible in the painting of advanced artists for the past 150 years — an idea which is the stylistic springboard for the serious painting being done today: a painting is made of parts; how the parts are put together is what determines the quality of the painting. The consciousness and pressure of this simple idea is the basis of the stylistic revolution of modern art. It is the core of the modern "main-stream," which one way or the other affects practically every artist. The first broad application of this principle as a deliberate method was made by the Impressionists. Until the early 19th century art was influenced by art, not by nature. Despite the gradual understanding of perspective, anatomy, and other natural properties of the visual world, painters shield away from nature. But "style" painting in this sense died with Ingres. The work of the early nature painters, such as Constable and Corot, was more modern and viable in every way, and drove the other kind of thinking about art down into Bougereau and the Academy. As the Impressionists slowly saw how vastly complicated nature was they felt compelled to come to terms with nature through thinking as well as painting. They wrote their theories down, as we all know. It looked as if they were going after nature with a dissecting tool. Actually they were just trying to rationalize the frightening (to a painter) things they realized as they took mankind's first real look at nature since the cave painters — such as, a shadow under a tree looks purple, everything is made up of bits of light and color, and there are no lines. This writing and thinking must have been an effective safety valve for the Impressionists' conceptualizing tendencies, because they made the freest and most beautiful painting of our civilization. The Impressionists' paintings were built of small patches of paint because visual nature is made up of small patches of color. It could be argued that Cezanne's art was a record of the misunderstanding of Impressionism. He was a "space" painter, not a "color" painter. He took the patches from the Impressionists but he used the color bluntly, as the Abstract Expressionists did later, as an "ax" to divide planes. By taking the elements of his painting from painting, instead of from nature, Cezanne started us away from nature and back toward style. Then Picasso and Bradque picked up the idea of painting-as-spatially-related-parts, developed the Cubist method of picture-making, and, equally important, returned us to our old custom of thinking about painting as a stylistic continuum. We are getting away from Cubism now, but for better or worse we are stuck with our thinking habits. Art-making today is admittedly specialized and intellectual; painting styles evolve almost exclusively from other painting styles. Some artists have adapted to this situation, and take vigorous advantage of it. They are those upon whom painting as a high art depends. I call them "color" painting, but that is inadequate, as any designation must be, and probably reflects my own prejudices. Stylistically they are a disparate group They do share a heightened interest in color. But what really characterizes them is their willingness to face the problems of abstract art without the props of a borrowed style. There is only one way to do this — start with the simple elements of painting which naturally inhere to painting: color, line, area size, paint, shading, in short, all the infinite means available to inflect a surface with variation. Then decisions have to be made about what to do with all this, what to accept and reject, and how to handle it all in an expressive manner right from the beginning. Of course this may take ten years and 100,000 decisions, and not many buyers will be attracted in the meantime. That's why so few painters really start from scratch, or at least perform the equivalent by completely rejecting or subduing earlier borrowed styles. Some present-day painters whose work I admire are Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Albert Stadler, Frank Stella, Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, and I suppose four or five others I cannot think of right now. Their personal styles vary, of course, and some must be better than others, but I could not evaluate them in any absolute or historical sense. Some are "post-Minimal," some are "Post Abstract Impressionist," some are conservative, some are jumping the gun. It would be quite difficult to summarize the style of each. Among them are the best younger painters working today. They are both traditional and revolutionary, taking what is left to them by abstract Expressionism to make fine paintings which in turn are changing the character of art in our time. With a basic vocabulary of the simple elements of painting and personal styles comprehending the potential of these elements they are laying a basis for future painters which is more broad and solid, and less restrictive, than that left them by Abstract Expressionism. In fact, I think we are on the verge of a great period of abstract painting. Like mercy, the quality of art is not strained. Good art is like real pleasure, or a funny joke — it cannot be pushed, forced or borrowed. There are no short cuts to making good art, and none to understanding it. Though art is the most deeply meaningful human activity, it is superficially without meaning; it spells out nothing. An art style that flaunts meaning is a dangerous one, especially for the artist who falls for it. After years of work and recognition his easy beginnings will catch up to him and he will become an example of "an episode in the history of taste." These insidious styles exist in any art environment; they art tantalizing, and allow themselves to be used easily. By continuously recognizing these attractive traps, and avoiding them, the artist will keep himself free to build and maintain an expressive style on his own terms. 1. For example, compare de Kooning's early drawing with Picasso's sketches for Guernica. 2. Frank Stella's paintings of 1959 and 1960 say it better than I can. See the Museum of Modern Art catalog for the "16 Americans" show, 1960. 3. Many of the favorite subjects were designed years ago: the Campbell's soup can, the Coke bottle, the Terry-and-the-Pirates type comic strip, and many others, including Marilyn Monroe, I should think. The source of possible subject matter for Pop is huge: 20th-century kitsch. It is easy to come up with something "new." I am surprised that the range of Pop subject matter is so modest. 4. I left Jasper Johns out of this discussion, because he is a more complex artist than the others, who serve well enough to illustrate the Pop style. 5. For example, see Riley's painting reproduced on the cover of the Responsive Eye catalog. 6. Not what they have learned from Albers, Newman, Reinhardt, et al. The example of these men may have helped the younger artists in their struggle with Abstract Expressionism, and I am sure that a few ingredients were lifted from their paintings in the process, but the actual stylistic influence was far less than it appears to have been. The main influence, albeit a partially negative one, was Abstract Expressionism itself. The reaction against Abstract Expressionism caused the symmetry and the wide-open spaces of today, and the inheritance from Abstract Expressionism was the subtle promise of a real abstract art, which Abstract Expressionism, like any imperfect parent, failed to fulfill. 7. Clement Greenberg, from his foreword to the Post Painterly Abstraction show, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April, 1964. 35
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