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We are not surprised to learn that Guston was someone who struggled with depression.Before coming to the gallery—Hauser & Wirth, 18 Street, New York—I had read some of the critical literature, but not that much and long enough ago to have forgotten a good deal.
But as you continue, they start leaving one by one, and you are left completely alone.
Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.” Of course we can hear Buddhist echoes and thus imagine, or indeed feel, that the resulting work has a special purity or spirituality.
Greenberg, Rosenberg, Mayer, Meyer Schapiro, Roberta Smith, Eva Cockcroft, Louis Menand, Wikipedia.
I had particularly sought out texts that might help me appreciate why the work of Guston and his colleagues had been lionized in the 1950s.
A Pollock looked nothing like a Rothko, which looked nothing like a Gorky or a Kline. At the same time, Menand notes that “no work reduces to a single context.” Indulging ourselves? pretending that the story of our times is not like the story of the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, that it is not simply the story of capitalism’s power and reach and insatiability?
Either way, Abstract Expressionism stood for autonomy: the autonomy of art, freed from its obligation to represent the world, or the freedom of the individual—just the principles that the United States [claimed to be] defending in the worldwide struggle. On my gallery bench I was open to many possibilities.Art critics therefore [and themselves subsidized by the CIA, et al.] developed apolitical modes of appreciation and evaluation, emphasizing the formal rigor or the existentialist drama of the paintings; and the Museum of Modern Art favored Abstract Expressionists in its purchases and international exhibitions, at the expense of art whose politics might have been problematic . Like many another, I have been a fan of the art criticism of Leo Steinberg, and like him I am open to seeing abstract paintings as—like a microscope—helping us see what is essential yet normally imperceptible. a comment of Guston’s (from 1966): “I have a studio in the country—in the woods—but my paintings look more real to me than what is outdoors.” But what—I am looking around at ten or so Guston Abstract paintings, to include, for example, (1960; at right)—what would, what could this essence be: our primitiveness?our incapacity—for intellectual, psychological, or politico-economic reasons—to make sense of our experience, our predicament?I think every good painter here in New York really paints a self-portrait.I think a painter has two choices: he paints the world or himself.It occurred to me, too, that in the United States—and certainly with white male police officers continuing to murder black men—black can never just be a color. just to PAINT,” but an American artist whose palette includes black—and so much black—can never be just painting, can never be liberated “from Value—political, esthetic, moral.” Monochrome painting, which became infamous when the Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt exhibited his nearly all-black paintings, is said to have begun with the French writer Paul Bilhaud’s painting (Negroes fight in a tunnel), 1882. James Baldwin’s approach to blackness in America has come to mind (and I would not be surprised to discover that Guston was as impressed by Baldwin’s essays as I and as so many “liberal” Americans have been). Readers may also be noting that I, like Guston and like his black figures, have a heavy head.Rosenberg had written, “The big moment came when it was decided to paint . From “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (which is rooted in The conundrum of color is the inheritance of every American, be he/she legally or actually Black or White. The first afternoon, I found my way to a bench in one of the quieter rooms of the gallery.It could be understood as pure painting—art absorbed by its own possibilities, experiments in color and form.Or it could be understood as pure expression—a “school” in which every artist had a unique signature.I was struck by the emptiness in the large, clean rooms of this gallery, by how uninteresting, passionless, depressed Guston’s paintings seemed. sheer sensation”. Harold Rosenberg, in “The American Action Painters,” his seminal 1952 essay on Abstract Expressionism, wrote: Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation.In a 1948 essay on “The Crisis of the Easel Picture,” the then dominant New York art critic Clement Greenberg (not referring to Guston’s Abstract work, which was just getting under way) wrote of how pictures were dissolving into “sheer texture . The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper. While I would not associate Guston’s paintings with “the commonplace,” it could seem “apocalyptic”—and a kind of annihilation of the artist—the flatness and frightened imagery, the repetitions of colors, brush strokes, and patterns.