Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From MOMA: action painting/frottage

Action Painting

Term applied to the work of American Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and, by extension, to the art of their followers at home and abroad during the 1950s. An alternative but slightly more general term is gestural painting; the other division within Abstract Expressionism was colour field painting.
The critic Harold Rosenberg defined action painting in an article, ‘The American Action Painters’ (1952), where he wrote: ‘At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. … What was to go on canvas was not a picture but an event’. This proposition drew heavily, and perhaps crudely, upon ideas then current in intellectual circles, especially in the wake of Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (Paris, 1946; Eng. trans., 1948), which claimed that ‘there is no reality except in action’. In the 1940s Herbert Ferber, Barnett Newman and others had already characterized their creative process in similar terms; Rosenberg was probably also inspired by photographs of Pollock at work (rather than the actual paintings) that emphasized his apparent psychological freedom and physical engagement with materials. ‘Action painting’ became a common critical term to describe styles marked by impulsive brushwork, visible pentiments and unstable or energetic composition (for illustration), which seemed to express the state of consciousness held by the artist in the heat of creation. Action painting thereby shared the spontaneity of Automatism. Although this implicit, direct synthesis of art and consciousness is questionable, the spontaneous methods associated with the concept were paralleled in European movements such as Tachism and Art informel.
David Anfam
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press


Technique of reproducing a texture or relief design by laying paper over it and rubbing it with some drawing medium, for example pencil or crayon. Max Ernst and other Surrealist artists incorporated such rubbings into their paintings by means of collage. It is also a popular method of making rubbings of medieval church brasses and other ancient monuments and inscriptions.

Gerhard Richter Painting

Pollock Painting

Revised Schedule 2/28-3/28

Paper proposals due
presentation (five min) of individual proposals
Workday Assignment 3

Presentation:  Mark as figure

Introduce Assignment #4
Workday: Assignment 3/4
Discuss Reading (Modernist Painting)

Read: Transcending the Visible  (for discussion 3/28)
Critique Assignment #3
Workday: Assignment #4
Discuss reading (transcending the visible)
Research Archive Presentation:Group 1
Workday Assignment #4
Introduce Assignment #5

Monday, February 25, 2013

Susan Rothenberg on Art21

Watch Memory on PBS. See more from ART:21.

Rebecca Rutstein @ Bridgette Mayer

Rebecca Rutstein / Deep Rift
January 24, 2013
Bridgette Mayer Gallery 
Bridgette Mayer Gallery announces its second exhibition of 2013:
A solo show by artist Rebecca Rutstein will be on view February 27 to
March 30, 2013, with an opening reception Friday, March 1, 6:00 – 8:30 PM.
Bridgette Mayer Gallery is pleased to announce its sixth solo exhibition of work by artist and Pew Fellow, Rebecca Rutstein. Deep Rift will be on view from February 27 to March 30, 2013, with an opening reception Friday, March 1, from 6:00 - 8:30 pm. The exhibition will feature new large and small paintings, as well as a site-specific, wall mounted sculptural piece spanning 10 x 16 ½ feet.
Deep Rift is a natural continuance of Rebecca Rutstein’s fantastical, landscape-based paintings. Her interest in geology as both subject matter and metaphor for life experiences and relationships is present, yet pared down and refined. Overt identifiable iconography has been abandoned in favor of more amorphous spaces. Wire-framed maps were once a muted background component in Rutstein’s work. In Deep Rift they have become the focal point. Undulating and disintegrating across the canvas, these artist-created topographies evoke the never ending turns of life and personal relationships. Along with the subject matter, the artist has shifted her physical use of paint as well. Experimenting with dripping, scraping and dragging paint across the canvas, the paintings in Deep Rift reveal a more dynamic surface quality and bolder color than previous bodies of work.
Rutstein’s participation in the Gullkistan Residency in Laugarvatn, Iceland was a major influence on the work in Deep Rift. She states, “One of the most geologically diverse places on earth – rich in glaciers, volcanoes, geysers and waterfalls – the island straddles two divergent tectonic plates. I was legitimately struck by the stark contrasts in the landscape and humbled by the forces behind it all. In particular, a guided hike on Sólheimajökull glacier in the south of Iceland was the inspiration for many of the paintings as well as the sculptural wall piece in the show.” During this exhibition, the back wall of the gallery will feature a laser-cut, steel sculpture that mimics the movement and rolling nature of Rutstein’s paintings.
Rebecca Rutstein received her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997 and her BFA from Cornell University in 1993. The artist has completed several residencies including, Gullkistan Residency (Laugarvatn, Iceland), the Red Cinder Artist Colony (Na'alehu, Hawaii), the Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff, Canada) and the Vermont Studio Center. She has been a visiting artist at a number of institutions, including Moore College of Art and Design, University of Texas, and Swarthmore College. Rutstein has been the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a Bridgette Mayer Travel Grant, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Grant, a Pew Professional Development Grant, and an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts. She has had numerous exhibitions including solo shows at the Philadelphia International Airport, Sylvia White Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA) and Fleisher Art Memorial (Challenge Exhibition).
Gallery hours are Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m. & by appointment. For additional information please contact Bridgette Mayer at (p) 215-413-8893 (f) 215-413-2283 

Friday, February 22, 2013

On Non-Art-Art-Careers

A little Aside--

I want to share this-- as we are all in Art School.  At times, everyone asks themselves the terrifying thought "what will I do in the future".  This is another example of You Never Know.

FYI-- the rest of the videos are great--but can be a bit intense.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NYT//Why We Love Beautiful Things

via Aaron/the NYT

The New York Times

February 15, 2013

Why We Love Beautiful Things

GREAT design, the management expert Gary Hamel once said, is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography — you know it when you see it. You want it, too: brain scan studies reveal that the sight of an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement. Instinctively, we reach out for attractive things; beauty literally moves us.
Yet, while we are drawn to good design, as Mr. Hamel points out, we’re not quite sure why.
This is starting to change. A revolution in the science of design is already under way, and most people, including designers, aren’t even aware of it.
Take color. Last year, German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. It’s not hard to guess why: we associate verdant colors with food-bearing vegetation — hues that promise nourishment.
This could partly explain why window views of landscapes, research shows, can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace. In studies of call centers, for example, workers who could see the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those who couldn’t, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee.
In some cases the same effect can happen with a photographic or even painted mural, whether or not it looks like an actual view of the outdoors. Corporations invest heavily to understand what incentivizes employees, and it turns out that a little color and a mural could do the trick.
Simple geometry is leading to similar revelations. For more than 2,000 years, philosophers, mathematicians and artists have marveled at the unique properties of the “golden rectangle”: subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on — an infinite spiral. These so-called magical proportions (about 5 by 8) are common in the shapes of books, television sets and credit cards, and they provide the underlying structure for some of the most beloved designs in history: the facades of the Parthenon and Notre Dame, the face of the “Mona Lisa,” the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod.
Experiments going back to the 19th century repeatedly show that people invariably prefer images in these proportions, but no one has known why.
Then, in 2009, a Duke University professor demonstrated that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle. For instance, it’s the ideal layout of a paragraph of text, the one most conducive to reading and retention. This simple shape speeds up our ability to perceive the world, and without realizing it, we employ it wherever we can.
Certain patterns also have universal appeal. Natural fractals — irregular, self-similar geometry — occur virtually everywhere in nature: in coastlines and riverways, in snowflakes and leaf veins, even in our own lungs. In recent years, physicists have found that people invariably prefer a certain mathematical density of fractals — not too thick, not too sparse. The theory is that this particular pattern echoes the shapes of trees, specifically the acacia, on the African savanna, the place stored in our genetic memory from the cradle of the human race. To paraphrase one biologist, beauty is in the genes of the beholder — home is where the genome is.
LIFE magazine named Jackson Pollock “the greatest living painter in the United States” in 1949, when he was creating canvases now known to conform to the optimal fractal density (about 1.3 on a scale of 1 to 2 from void to solid). Could Pollock’s late paintings result from his lifelong effort to excavate an image buried in all of our brains?
We respond so dramatically to this pattern that it can reduce stress levels by as much as 60 percent — just by being in our field of vision. One researcher has calculated that since Americans spend $300 billion a year dealing with stress-related illness, the economic benefits of these shapes, widely applied, could be in the billions.
It should come as no surprise that good design, often in very subtle ways, can have such dramatic effects. After all, bad design works the other way: poorly designed computers can injure your wrists, awkward chairs can strain your back and over-bright lighting and computer screens can fatigue your eyes.
We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.
Lance Hosey, the chief sustainability officer at the architecture firm RTKL, is the author of “The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 16, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of the author’s book. It is “The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design,” not “The Shape of Things: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design.”


Op-Ed Contributor: Lone Star Blues

Modernist Painting

Modernist Painting
Forum Lectures (Washington, D. C.: Voice of America), 1960
Arts Yearbook 4, 1961 (unrevised)
Art and Literature, Spring 1965 (slightly revised)
The New Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock, 1966
Peinture-cahiers théoriques, no. 8-9, I974 (titled "La peinture moderniste")
Esthetics Contemporary, ed. Richard Kostelanetz, 1978
Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. ed. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, 1982.

Greenberg's first essay on modernism, clarifying many of the ideas implicit in "Avant-Garde and Kitsch", his groundbreaking essay written two decades earlier. Although he later came to reject it, in its second parapgraph he offers what may be the most elegant definition modernism extant:
... the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.
The essay is notable for its illuminating (and largely undeveloped) observations about the nature and history of pictures, let alone Greenberg's mid-life perception of the character and importance of the avant-garde. If the theory has a weakness, it lies with the centrality of pictorial art, which it seems to fit modernism like a glove. How much it extended to other art media, let alone other disciplines, is debatable. Greenberg's 1978 post-script remains relevant.
-- TF
Modernism includes more than art and literature. By now it covers almost the whole of what is truly alive in our culture. It happens, however, to be very much of a historical novelty. Western civilization is not the first civilization to turn around and question its own foundations, but it is the one that has gone furthest in doing so. I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost the exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that began with the philosopher Kant. Because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as, the first real Modernist.

The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic, and while he withdrew much from its old jurisdiction, logic was left all the more secure in what there remained to it.

The self-criticism of Modernism grows out of, but is not the same thing as, the criticism of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment criticized from the outside, the way criticism in its accepted sense does; Modernism criticizes from the inside, through the procedures themselves of that which is being criticized. It seems natural that this new kind of criticism should have appeared first in philosophy, which is critical by definition, but as the 18th century wore on, it entered many other fields. A more rational justification had begun to be demanded of every formal social activity, and Kantian self-criticism, which had arisen in philosophy in answer to this demand in the first place, was called on eventually to meet and interpret it in areas that lay far from philosophy.

We know what has happened to an activity like religion, which could not avail itself of Kantian, immanent, criticism in order to justify itself. At first glance the arts might seem to have been in a situation like religion's. Having been denied by the Enlightenment all tasks they could take seriously, they looked as though they were going to be assimilated to entertainment pure and simple, and entertainment itself looked as though it were going to be assimilated, like religion, to therapy. The arts could save themselves from this leveling down only by demonstrating that the kind of experience they provided was valuable in its own right and not to be obtained from any other kind of activity.

Each art, it turned out, had to perform this demonstration on its own account. What had to be exhibited was not only that which was unique and irreducible in art in general, but also that which was unique and irreducible in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through its own operations and works, the effects exclusive to itself. By doing so it would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its possession of that area all the more certain.

It quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medium. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered "pure," and in its "purity" find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. "Purity" meant self-definition, and the enterprise of self-criticism in the arts became one of self-definition with a vengeance.

Realistic, naturalistic art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art; Modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting -- the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment -- were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Under Modernism these same limitations came to be regarded as positive factors, and were acknowledged openly. Manet's became the first Modernist pictures by virtue of the frankness with which they declared the flat surfaces on which they were painted. The Impressionists, in Manet's wake, abjured underpainting and glazes, to leave the eye under no doubt as to the fact that the colors they used were made of paint that came from tubes or pots. Cézanne sacrificed verisimilitude, or correctness, in order to fit his drawing and design more explicitly to the rectangular shape of the canvas.

It was the stressing of the ineluctable flatness of the surface that remained, however, more fundamental than anything else to the processes by which pictorial art criticized and defined itself under Modernism. For flatness alone was unique and exclusive to pictorial art. The enclosing shape of the picture was a limiting condition, or norm, that was shared with the art of the theater; color was a norm and a means shared not only with the theater, but also with sculpture. Because flatness was the only condition painting shared with no other art, Modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else.

The Old Masters had sensed that it was necessary to preserve what is called the integrity of the picture plane: that is, to signify the enduring presence of flatness underneath and above the most vivid illusion of three-dimensional space. The apparent contradiction involved was essential to the success of their art, as it is indeed to the success of all pictorial art. The Modernists have neither avoided nor resolved this contradiction; rather, they have reversed its terms. One is made aware of the flatness of their pictures before, instead of after, being made aware of what the flatness contains. Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before one sees the picture itself, one sees a Modernist picture as a picture first. This is, of course, the best way of seeing any kind of picture, Old Master or Modernist, but Modernism imposes it as the only and necessary way, and Modernism's success in doing so is a success of self-criticism.

Modernist painting in its latest phase has not abandoned the representation of recognizable objects in principle. What it has abandoned in principle is the representation of the kind of space that recognizable objects can inhabit. Abstractness, or the non-figurative, has in itself still not proved to be an altogether necessary moment in the self-criticism of pictorial art, even though artists as eminent as Kandinsky and Mondrian have thought so. As such, representation, or illustration, does not attain the uniqueness of pictorial art; what does do so is the associations of things represented. All recognizable entities (including pictures themselves) exist in three-dimensional space, and the barest suggestion of a recognizable entity sufffices to call up associations of that kind of space. The fragmentary silhouette of a human figure, or of a teacup, will do so, and by doing so alienate pictorial space from the literal two-dimensionality which is the guarantee of painting's independence as an art. For, as has already been said, three-dimensionality is the province of sculpture. To achieve autonomy, painting has had above all to divest itself of everything it might share with sculpture, and it is in its effort to do this, and not so much -- I repeat -- to exclude the representational or literary, that painting has made itself abstract.

At the same time, however, Modernist painting shows, precisely by its resistance to the sculptural, how firmly attached it remains to tradition beneath and beyond all appearances to the contrary. For the resistance to the sculptural dates far back before the advent of Modernism. Western painting, in so far as it is naturalistic, owes a great debt to sculpture, which taught it in the beginning how to shade and model for the illusion of relief, and even how to dispose that illusion in a complementary illusion of deep space. Yet some of the greatest feats of Western painting are due to the effort it has made over the last four centuries to rid itself of the sculptural. Starting in Venice in the 16th century and continuing in Spain, Belgium, and Holland in the 17th, that effort was carried on at first in the name of color. When David, in the 18th century, tried to revive sculptural painting, it was, in part, to save pictorial art from the decorative flattening-out that the emphasis on color seemed to induce. Yet the strength of David's own best pictures, which are predominantly his informal ones, lies as much in their color as in anything else. And Ingres, his faithful pupil, though he subordinated color far more consistently than did David, executed portraits that were among the flattest, least sculptural paintings done in the West by a sophisticated artist since the I4th century. Thus, by the middle of the 19th century, all ambitious tendencies in painting had converged amid their differences, in an anti-sculptural direction.

Modernism, as well as continuing this direction, has made it more conscious of itself. With Manet and the Impressionists the question stopped being defined as one of color versus drawing, and became one of purely optical experience against optical experience as revised or modified by tactile associations. It was in the name of the purely and literally optical, not in the name of color, that the Impressionists set themselves to undermining shading and modeling and everything else in painting that seemed to connote the sculptural. It was, once again, in the name of the sculptural, with its shading and modeling, that Cézanne, and the Cubists after him, reacted against Impressionism, as David had reacted against Fragonard. But once more, just as David's and Ingres' reaction had culminated, paradoxically, in a kind of painting even less sculptural than before, so the Cubist counter-revolution eventuated in a kind of painting flatter than anything in Western art since before Giotto and Cimabue -- so flat indeed that it could hardly contain recognizable images.

In the meantime the other cardinal norms of the art of painting had begun, with the onset of Modernism, to undergo a revision that was equally thorough if not as spectacular. It would take me more time than is at my disposal to show how the norm of the picture's enclosing shape, or frame, was loosened, then tightened, then loosened once again, and isolated, and then tightened once more, by successive generations of Modernist painters. Or how the norms of finish and paint texture, and of value and color contrast, were revised and rerevised. New risks have been taken with all these norms, not only in the interests of expression but also in order to exhibit them more clearly as norms. By being exhibited, they are tested for their indispensability. That testing is by no means finished, and the fact that it becomes deeper as it proceeds accounts for the radical simplifications that are also to be seen in the very latest abstract painting, as well as for the radical complications that are also seen in it.

Neither extreme is a matter of caprice or arbitrariness. On the contrary, the more closely the norms of a discipline become defined, the less freedom they are apt to permit in many directions. The essential norms or conventions of painting are a the same time the limiting conditions with which a picture must comply in order to be experienced as a picture. Modernism has found that these limits can be pushed back indefinitely -- before a picture stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object; but it has also found that the further back these limits are pushed the more explicitly they have to be observed and indicated. The crisscrossing black lines and colored rectangles of a Mondrian painting seem hardly enough to make a picture out of, yet they impose the picture's framing shape as a regulating norm with a new force and completeness by echoing that shape so closely. Far from incurring the danger of arbitrariness, Mondrian's art proves, as time passes, almost too disciplined, almost too tradition- and convention-bound in certain respects; once we have gotten used to its utter abstractness, we realize that it is more conservative in its color, for instance, as well as in its subservience to the frame, than the last paintings of Monet.

It is understood, I hope, that in plotting out the rationale of Modernist painting I have had to simplify and exaggerate. The flatness towards which Modernist painting orients itself can never be an absolute flatness. The heightened sensitivity of the picture plane may no longer permit sculptural illusion, or trompe-l'oeil, but it does and must permit optical illusion. The first mark made on a canvas destroys its literal and utter flatness, and the result of the marks made on it by an artist like Mondrian is still a kind of illusion that suggests a kind of third dimension. Only now it is a strictly pictorial, strictly optical third dimension. The Old Masters created an illusion i of space in depth that one could imagine oneself walking into, but the analogous illusion created by the Modernist painter can only be seen into; can be traveled through, literally or figuratively, only with the eye.

The latest abstract painting tries to fulfill the Impressionist insistence on the optical as the only sense that a completely and quintessentially pictorial art can invoke. Realizing this, one begins also to realize that the Impressionists, or at least the Neo-Impressionists, were not altogether misguided when they flirted with science. Kantian self-criticism, as it now turns out, has found its fullest expression in science rather than in philosophy, and when it began to be applied in art, the latter was brought closer in real spirit to scientific method than ever before -- closer than it had been by Alberti, Uccello, Piero della Francesca, or Leonardo in the Renaissance. That visual art should confine itself exclusively to what is given in visual experience, and make no reference to anything given in any other order of experience, is a notion whose only justification lies in scientific consistency.

Scientific method alone asks, or might ask, that a situation be resolved in exactly the same terms as that in which it is presented. But this kind of consistency promises nothing in the way of aesthetic quality, and the fact that the best art of the last seventy or eighty years approaches closer and closer to such consistency does not show the contrary. From the point of view of art in itself, its convergence with science happens to be a mere accident, and neither art nor science really gives or assures the other of anything more than it ever did. What their convergence does show, however, is the profound degree to which Modernist art belongs to the same specific cultural tendency as modern science, and this is of the highest significance as a historical fact.

It should also be understood that self-criticism in Modernist art has never been carried on in any but a spontaneous and largely subliminal way. As I have already indicated, it has been altogether a question of practice, immanent to practice, and never a topic of theory. Much is heard about programs in connection with Modernist art, but there has actually been far less of the programmatic in Modernist than in Renaissance or Academic painting. With a few exceptions like Mondrian, the masters of Modernism have had no more fixed ideas about art than Corot did. Certain inclinations, certain affirmations and emphases, and certain refusals and abstinences as well, seem to become necessary simply because the way to stronger, more expressive art lies through them. The immediate aims of the Modernists were, and remain, personal before anything else, and the truth and success of their works remain personal before anything else. And it has taken the accumulation, over decades, of a good deal of personal painting to reveal the general self-critical tendency of Modernist painting. No artist was, or yet is, aware of it, nor could any artist ever work freely in awareness of it. To this extent -- and it is a great extent -- art gets carried on under Modernism in much the same way as before.

And I cannot insist enough that Modernism has never meant, and does not mean now, anything like a break with the past. It may mean a devolution, an unraveling, of tradition, but it also means its further evolution. Modernist art continues the past without gap or break, and wherever it may end up it will never cease being intelligible in terms of the past. The making of pictures has been controlled, since it first began, by all the norms I have mentioned. The Paleolithic painter or engraver could disregard the norm of the frame and treat the surface in a literally sculptural way only because he made images rather than pictures, and worked on a support -- a rock wall, a bone, a horn, or a stone -- whose limits and surface were arbitrarily given by nature. But the making of pictures means, among other things, the deliberate creating or choosing of a flat surface, and the deliberate circumscribing and limiting of it. This deliberateness is precisely what Modernist painting harps on: the fact, that is, that the limiting conditions of art are altogether human conditions.

But I want to repeat that Modernist art does not offer theoretical demonstrations. It can be said, rather, that it happens to convert theoretical possibilities into empirical ones, in doing which it tests many theories about art for their relevance to the actual practice and actual experience of art. In this respect alone can Modernism be considered subversive. Certain factors we used to think essential to the making and experiencing of art are shown not to be so by the fact that Modernist painting has been able to dispense with them and yet continue to offer the experience of art in all its essentials. The further fact that this demonstration has left most of our old value judgments intact only makes it the more conclusive. Modernism may have had something to do with the revival of the reputations of Uccello, Piero della Francesca, El Greco, Georges de la Tour, and even Vermeer; and Modernism certainly confirmed, if it did not start, the revival of Giotto's reputation; but it has not lowered thereby the standing of Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, or Watteau. What Modernism has shown is that, though the past did appreciate these masters justly, it often gave wrong or irrelevant reasons for doing so.

In some ways this situation is hardly changed today. Art criticism and art history lag behind Modernism as they lagged behind pre-Modernist art. Most of the things that get written about Modernist art still belong to journalism rather than to criticism or art history. It belongs to journalism -- and to the millennial complex from which so many journalists and journalist intellectuals suffer in our day -- that each new phase of Modernist art should be hailed as the start of a whole new epoch in art, marking a decisive break with all the customs and conventions of the past. Each time, a kind of art is expected so unlike all previous kinds of art, and so free from norms of practice or taste, that everybody, regardless of how informed or uninformed he happens to be, can have his say about it. And each time, this expectation has been disappointed, as the phase of Modernist art in question finally takes its place in the intelligible continuity of taste and tradition.

Nothing could be further from the authentic art of our time than the idea of a rupture of continuity. Art is -- among other things -- continuity, and unthinkable without it. Lacking the past of art, and the need and compulsion to maintain its standards of excellence, Modernist art would lack both substance and justification.

Postscript (1978)
The above appeared first in 1960 as a pamphlet in a series published by the Voice of America. It had been broadcast over that agency's radio in the spring of the same year. With some minor verbal changes it was reprinted in the spring 1965 number of Art and Literature in Paris, and then in Gregory Battcock's anthology The New Art (1966).

I want to take this chance to correct an error, one of interpretation an not of fact. Many readers, though by no means all, seem to have taken the 'rationale' of Modernist art outlined here as representing a position adopted by the writer himself that is, that what he describes he also advocates. This may be a fault of the writing or the rhetoric. Nevertheless, a close reading of what he writes will find nothing at all to indicate that he subscribes to, believes in, the things that he adumbrates. (The quotation marks around pure and purity should have been enough to show that.) The writer is trying to account in part for how most of the very best art of the last hundred-odd years came about, but he's not implying that that's how it had to come about, much less that that's how the best art still has to come about. 'Pure' art was a useful illusion, but this doesn't make it any the less an illusion. Nor does the possibility of its continuing usefulness make it any the less an illusion.

There have been some further constructions of what I wrote that go over into preposterousness: That I regard flatness and the inclosing of flatness not just as the limiting conditions of pictorial art, but as criteria of aesthetic quality in pictorial art; that the further a work advances the self-definition of an art, the better that work is bound to be. The philosopher or art historian who can envision me -- or anyone at all -- arriving at aesthetic judgments in this way reads shockingly more into himself or herself than into my article.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

A World of Images and Copies

I thought of this two-page spread from Scott McCloud's very interesting art-/comic-theory graphic novel, Understanding Comics, during our class discussion about living in an image-dominated reality where copies of images are ubiquitous. I highly recommend Understanding Comics to anyone interested in comics, graphic novels, or sequential narratives.

Notice that this comic (originally published in 1993 before the Internet was common) has gained a new level of meaning by appearing as a digital image on your computer screen.

reading group #2




Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Morgan Meis on "inventing abstraction" from the Smart Set

FROM: the Smart Set

Idle Chatter 
Outside the Lines
The Abstract painters blurred the boundary between science and spiritual, and aimed to portray the essence of reality through color.

It is like the message above Dante's Gates of Hell. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Except that we are not entering hell, we are entering an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The message at the Gates of MoMA is in the form of a question. It asks, "Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?" The writer of the message is neither God nor Satan. He was a human being, and from Russia. His name was Wassily Kandinsky.

The attempt to answer Kandinsky's question led to a transformation in painting the implications of which are still being felt today. The transformation was Abstraction. Painters, just a few years prior to Kandinsky, happily portrayed human beings and animals and landscapes and historical events. After Kandinsky, pure forms and shapes and colors took over the canvas. This was a shocking and more or less unprecedented development. It took the art world by storm and carried the oft-bewildered public along with it.The current show at MoMA, “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” tracks the developments in painting over those 15 tumultuous years. The question that lingers behind the show is: “Why did they do it?” The answer is to be found on the canvases, and also in the writings and comments that are left behind by many of the early pioneers in abstract painting. Abstract painting was an attempt to paint the Absolute. Kazimir Malevich, the Russian Suprematist painter and early practitioner and theorist of abstract painting proclaimed, "I have broken the blue boundary of color limits, come out into the white; beside me comrade-pilots swim in this infinity." The majority of early abstract painters felt a version of Malevich's glee. They were getting rid of the constraints of figurative painting. They were moving past false appearances and entering the domain of Truth. Painting in the abstract was a way of painting the true reality of the world, the real essences that are obscured in our everyday perception. Robert Delaunay, another pioneer in abstract painting, said that, "Direct observation of the luminous essence of nature is for me indispensable."

"Painterly realism of a boy with a knapsack color masses in the 4th dimension," Kazimir Malevich (1915) 
The "luminous essence of nature" was composed, for Robert Delaunay, of two fundamental things: light and color. Sunlight falling on a patch of grass, for instance, reveals the color green. But the color green is, in the standard color theory of Delaunay's time, a mixture of the primary colors blue and yellow. So, a study of the color green becomes a study in the primary relationships between the colors that make up our visual experience of the world. Delaunay's early paintings are such color studies. Blocks of primary and secondary colors bump up against one another in primal shapes and forms. These are the building blocks of the world we experience in normal life. You could almost say that Delaunay is playing God, messing around with the foundational stuff of the universe to uncover fundamental truths. It is not so surprising, then, that Malevich says of his own studies in light and shape and color that, "Every real form is a world. And any plastic surface is more alive than a (drawn or painted) face from which stares a pair of eyes and a smile."
For this reason, it could be argued that the most important precursor to abstract painting was not any painter or school of painting, but a man named Ogden Rood. Rood was a physicist interested in color theory. In 1879, Rood wrote a book called Modern Chromatics, with Applications to Art and Industry. Rood pointed out that our perception of colors in all their variance and blending is actually the result of bits of contrasting primary color very close to one another. We think we are seeing green, but we are actually seeing the effect of a contrast between blue and yellow (there were important debates at the time as to whether the primary colors were red, yellow, and blue, or red, green and blue but the essential point about contrast and blending were the same). Neo-Impressionists like Seurat developed this insight in the late 19th century into the techniques of pointillism. Seurat was able to create entire canvases of tiny unconnected dots. From a short distance, the human eye picks up the contrasts in the color and blends them together to create a coherent scene. What up close is merely an unconnected chaos of colored dots becomes, from a few feet away, the scene of a Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
The difference between the Neo-Impressionists and the Abstract painters is in the goal. The Neo-Impressionists took Ogden Rood's insights and used them to build up a visual picture of reality as we see it in everyday life. Seurat's paintings are always, as long as one stands far enough away from the canvas, recognizable scenes from daily life. The abstract painters wanted to go one step further. They wanted to plumb the depths of essential reality. They wanted to show us the truths behind appearances, but only the truths, to give us a look at the relationships of color before they become something recognizable. Color, they thought, comes before objects.
There was an element of scientific inquiry in this approach to abstract painting. Ogden Rood was, after all, a physicist. Rood's theory of colors was based on what were, at the time, the most advanced studies and experiments in the behavior of light. Robert Delaunay was perfectly comfortable saying things like, "nature engenders the science of painting." But science, for most of the early abstract painters, was not an end in itself. Science gave us a look into the true nature of reality. Seeing the essential relationships of color was like looking at the universe through the eyes of God. Abstract painting, therefore, was taking scientific discoveries and using those discoveries in the service of the spiritual. Most of the abstract painters celebrated in the show at MoMA thought of their work in this way. They saw themselves as looking into the soul of the universe through the eyes of God — with the help of Ogden Rood.
Wassily Kandinsky was probably the clearest about this relationship between the optical science of abstract painting and its spiritual consequences. There is a small show at the Guggenheim Museum right now (“Kandinsky 1911-1913”) that, like the larger show at MoMA, portrays Kandinsky as a key figure in the emergence of abstract art. The show includes pages from his book On The Spiritual in Art, from 1911. There are also works in the show by Robert Delaunay and Franz Marc, two of the artists who most directly applied Kandinsky's theories of color and essence. Kandinsky was keen to show that contemporary developments in color theory were opening up new possibilities in man's relationship to the divine. Kandinsky became a follower of Theosophy and the infamous Madame Blavatsky. Madame Blavatsky once said, "The chief difficulty which prevents men of science from believing in divine as well as in nature Spirits is their materialism." Kandinsky saw his art as science, minus materialism, plus spiritualism. And this is exactly what Kandinsky argues in his book. In his Introduction, Kandinsky wrote, "Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal." The job of abstract art, for Kandinsky, was to break through that materialism using the tools of color theory derived from physics. Painting, for Kandinsky, hitherto lacked the ability to reveal inner essences and real spirit. Kandinsky dismisses art that is "a mere imitation of nature which can serve some definite purpose (for example a portrait in the ordinary sense) or a presentment of nature according to a certain convention ('impressionist' painting)…" His abstract art is going to do more. "Today," as Franz Marc wrote in agreement with his friend Kandinsky, "we are searching for things in nature that are hidden behind the veil of appearance... We look for and paint this inner, spiritual side of nature." In On The Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky describes the life of the spirit as it is represented in the figure of the triangle.

"Color study — squares with concentric rings," Vasily Kandinsky (1913) One can feel slightly embarrassed by Kandinsky's adherence to Theosophy, by Delaunay and Marc's painfully sincere statements about the spirituality of their canvases, by Malevich's outbursts as he dashes into the white space of pure infinity, by Piet Mondrian's mushy claims that abstract art is the emotion of beauty. But that is what the abstract artists told everyone they were doing. And that is what they did. They were worshiping truth and beauty. They were engaged in a spiritual practice. These abstract paintings are meant to be viewed in something of a religious manner.
The contemporary world, however, does not have ears to hear this message, nor eyes to see it. The story that MoMA wants to tell about the birth of abstraction, and the story being told by many of our critics, has nothing to do with what the abstract artists were actually doing. Kandinsky, Delaunay, Kupka, Malevich, Mondrian. These men are mysterious to the contemporary mind. The instinct today is to brush the stuff about spiritualism and the absolute under the rug. It only makes people nervous.

"Localization of graphic motifs II," František Kupka (1912-13) 
MoMA, therefore, focuses on early abstract painting as primarily a negative movement, a movement that was rejecting the art that had come before. Thus the quote they chose for the front gates: "Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?" In that quote, Kandinsky is speaking about the need to reject the object, to throw it away. But imagine what a different impression would be made if the quote above the gates was from Kandinsky’s On The Spiritual in Art, where he writes: "It is evident therefore that colour harmony must rest only on a corresponding vibration in the human soul."
Of course, even with a quote like that, the spiritual nature of early abstract art would not be palatable to many. In his review of the show at MoMA for The New Yorker, art critic Peter Schjeldahl wondered:

What possessed a generation of young European artists, and a few Americans, to suddenly suppress recognizable imagery in pictures and sculptures? Unthinkable at one moment, the strategy became practically compulsory in the next. Many of the artists had answers — or, at least, they cooked them up. The trailblazing Wassily Kandinsky and the bulletproof masters of abstraction, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, doubled, tortuously, as theorists. They initiated what would become a common feature of determinedly innovative art culture to this day: the simpler the art, the more elaborate the rationale.
It is unimaginable to Schjeldahl that Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, or any of the artists could be doing anything but "cooking up" crazy theories when they start talking about art and spirituality. Jerry Saltz, in his review of the MoMA show for New York Magazine, argues that the show "will still leave general audiences in the dark about why abstraction came into being. But careful observation reveals how powerful abstraction can be, how it is still a tool that circumvents language, disrupts identification, dissolves narrative, delays the crystallization of meaning, and becomes a reality unto itself." Kandinsky would probably agree that abstract painting "becomes a reality unto itself." But the idea that it is meant to "delay the crystallization of meaning," would have confused and upset him. Early abstract art as Kandinsky understood it was meant to crystallize the very heart of meaning, not delay that crystallization.
Disrupting identification, dissolving narrative, delaying meaning — these are all contemporary concepts applied backwards to early abstract art in the inability to confront these paintings as they were meant to be confronted. Either these paintings are giving us the absolute or they aren't. If these painting do not reveal the essential nature of reality than at least have the respect (one can hear the early abstract painters begging from across the decades) to credit us with a genuine failure.
A few years ago, the noted art critic Donald Kuspit wrote an article called "Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art." Kuspit argued — bravely and against contemporary sensibility — that we ought to take Kandinsky seriously as precisely the spiritual artist he claimed to be. "How many works of art made today," Kuspit asked, "require a second glance? There are no doubt works that seem emotionally powerful, and even deep, but rarely does one find a work in which the emotion and the medium seem one and the same." That is the crucial accomplishment of early abstract art. The emotion and the medium are one and the same. Looking at one of Malevich's great paintings like “Black Cruciform Planes: (1915) or a Mondrian like “Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red and Gray” (1921) the oneness of emotion and medium seems obvious. True reality sub specie aeternitatis is staring at us right there on the canvas. We, alas, are too blind to see. • 4 February 2013

Morgan Meis is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for The BelieverHarper’s, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan's selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at

Thumbnail photo “Yellow Cow,” Franz Marc (1911) courtesy of the Guggenheim.
Article photo © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
All call outs courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Dana Schutz

face eater

Malcolm Morley

Steamship. 1966

Race Track 1970
Day of the Locust. 1977

Gerhard Richter

Two Candles. 1982

Dead (tote). 1963
Betty. 1988

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reading Questions

via Aaron:

What is the difference between a painting and an image? Where do images exist?

According to the article, what are some of the advantages or positive functions of abstract painting?

Identify two or more of the interpretations of reality presented in the article. How do these relate to your own views? What is the connection between reality and art?

Schwabsky seems to imply that abstraction is the opposite of representation. Do you agree or disagree with this notion?

Are there any other statements made by the author that you disagree with?

What is the main point of the article?