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Week 9 abstract expressionism


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Week 9 abstract expressionism

  1. 1. Week 9Abstract Expressionism and the Rise of Formalism
  2. 2. • deliberate concentration on formal qualities• self-referentiality• Autonomy• art for art‘s sake• Abstract Expressionism• FormalismIt will contextualise Abstract Expressionism within thepolitical framework of late 1940s America, and explainhow the work was disseminated by critics such as:•Clement Greenberg• Harold Rosenberg
  3. 3. Willem de Kooning Barnett Newman
  4. 4. • emphasizes the autonomy or primacy of formal qualities• consciously detached from its ideological or cultural context• refers to a way of creating, viewing and interpreting art that focuses on the visual elements and principles (privileging aesthetic response as mediated through sight alone), disregarding politics, historical context, content and the artist
  5. 5. High or Late Modernism is a particular instance ofmodernism, coined towards the end of modernism.Clement Greenberg was an important proponent ofHigh Modernism.Modernism valorizes personal style.This presupposes a unique individuality - a privateidentity or self (subject) - that generates his or her ownstyle according to a personal vision.This individualism is put into question in High (or Late)Modernism.
  6. 6. ―Remember, that a picture, before it is a pictureof a battle horse, a nude woman, or some story,is essentially a flat surface covered in coloursarranged in a certain order.‖ Maurice Denis Definition of Neo-Traditionism (1890) Paul Cezanne Female Nude (Leda) (1885- 1887)
  7. 7. Broadly speaking the term Abstract Expressionism refersto:• non-representational art of the mid 20c in which line,colour, and technique combine to express and elicitpowerful emotion• ranges from impeccable geometry to ‗Action Painting‘, thelatter exhibiting the energetic imprint of the working process(or gesture) visible in such details as brushstrokes• it is stylistically varied but usually marked by a tendencyto exploit expressive possibilities of colour and materialsIt is also sometimes referred to as the ‗New York School‘
  8. 8. The movement can be more or less divided into two groups: Action Painting, typified by artists such as Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston, who stressed the physical action involved in paintingWillem de KooningWoman (1949)
  9. 9. Colour Field Painting, practiced by Mark Rothko and Kenneth Noland, among others, was primarily concerned with exploring the effects of pure color on a canvas.Mark RothkoRed White and Brownc1957
  10. 10. Franz Kline (1910 –1962)
  11. 11. Franz Kline Painting Number 2 (1954)
  12. 12. Barnett Newman 1905 - 1970)Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-510
  13. 13. JacksonPollock1912 –1956
  14. 14. Abstract Expressionism: Importance of the Critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg •Abstract Expressionism was an avant-garde movement •Therefore, it was new to audiences •Critics provided explanations for what these radical works meant
  15. 15. Despite a number of differences in theirapproaches to formalism, theorists sharetwo common commitments, which make upthe core of formalist aesthetics, and whichcan be summarized as follows: one, thedefinition of art in terms of its formalqualities, i.e. form vs. art asrepresentation or expression; and two, thedichotomy of form vs. content.
  16. 16. Greenberg is considered a formalist critic - his assessmentof the value of an artwork lay in its formal characteristics.Believed that although form was not the total of art, itprovided the only firm basis on which to make judgementson both the quality and character of different works of art,as it was too easy to make contradictory assertions aboutsubject matter.Greenberg: Concrete aesthetic encounters Sure of its own objectivity Form over content Purist media categories An evolving linear progression abstracted from artists‘ lives and historic events Against the subjective nature of aesthetic judgement
  17. 17. We can perhaps begin by describing formalism as the valorizationof the purely aesthetic experience, as aestheticism. The principlework of formalism focuses on the techniques specific to amedium.
  18. 18. Systematicallyaccounting formoderndevelopments byemphasizing formalcharacteristics ofpaintings asespecially revealingto construct aparticular history ofmodern art.
  19. 19. For art to be an effective instrument of social betterment, itneeded to be understood by as many people as possible.
  20. 20. The practice of artistic freedom becamefundamental to progressive modernism. Artistsbegan to seek freedom not just from the rules of theacademic institutions, but from the expectations ofthe public. It was claimed that art possessed its own intrinsicvalue and should not have to be made to satisfy anyedifying, utilitarian, or moral function. It was claimedthat art should be produced not for the public‘ssake, but for art‘s sake.
  21. 21. According to Greenberg:―Realistic, naturalistic art haddissembled the medium using artto conceal art: Modernism used artto call attention to art. Thelimitations that constituted themedium of painting – the flatsurface, the shape of the support,the properties of the pigment –were all treated by the OldMasters as negative factors thatcould be acknowledged. Only Clement Greenberg arguedimplicity or indirectly. Under that art should hold itselfModernism, these same limitations separately from mass culture,came to be regarded as positive and defend its own purity andfactors and were acknowledged complexity against the vulgarization andopenly.‖ blandishments of kitsch.
  22. 22. The project of Modernity can be thought of asthe development of science, philosophy andart, each according to its own innerlogic. This links the concept of modernity tothe concept of modernism as it was articulatedby Greenberg.The concept of the avant-garde is that of a loosely organizedoppositional force and challenge to the dominant artisticculture.The avant-garde is often thought of as part of the "inner logic ofmodernism" - the built in source of contradiction or critique thatmoves art forward. (Note that this assumes a model of progressas part of the inner development of the arts and culture.)
  23. 23. Critics such as Roger Fry, Clive Bell and Clement Greenbergspoke up for a specific „aesthetic experience‟Greenberg:• explicit critique of the effects of capitalism on culture was part of his evaluative process• „good‟ or „great‟ art was a form of resistance to the destructive effects of mass production, the division of labour, and the encroachment of high technology• committed to the formal and historical significance of the art he discussed• championed American avant-garde painting• supported „abstract‟ art, considering it a revolution against the established American taste for nationalistic narrative painting
  24. 24. Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)Abstract Expressionism is a form of art in which the artistexpresses himself purely through the use of form and colour. It isform of non-representational, or non-objective, art, which meansthat there are no concrete objects represented. Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950
  25. 25. Considering Americanmodernism in the earlydecades of the ColdWar, we can trace thecombative debateamong artists, writers,and intellectuals overthe nature of theaesthetic form in anage of mass politicsand mass culture.
  26. 26. The rise of Abstract Expressionism after the Second WorldWar and the cultural cold was politics, and the role of MOMA MOMA was part and parcel of the CIA‘s efforts to combat Communism with American culture The Abstract Expressionists were overwhelmingly men, previously Marxists and then disillusioned Marxists Their art exemplified a worldview that could be construed as the ultimate antithesis to Communism They were individualistic, autonomous, exuding despair and anxiety Jackson Pollock, in particular, became the icon of alienation The CIA latched onto Abstract Expressionism for its purported anti- communism
  27. 27. Modern art was CIA weaponRevealed: how the spy agency used unwitting artists such asPollock and de Kooning in a cultural Cold WarFor decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it isconfirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used Americanmodern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock,Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weaponin the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that itacted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American AbstractExpressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with theSoviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof ofthe creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US.Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, couldnot compete.Stonor Saunders, Frances. Sunday, 22 October 1995, The Independent
  28. 28. The uniqueness of an art form ultimately depends upon thespecificity of the medium, i.e. the characteristics that itshares with no other form of art. Once this specificity hasbeen discovered, Greenberg claims, the progressivemodernist is called upon to purge all elements not essentialand specific to the medium. Nothing borrowed from themedium of another art can be tolerated. Thus, underModernism, each art searches for "purity" and in that purity,absolute autonomy not only from other advanced art forms,but from mundane everyday life and popular (mass) cultureas well. (All forms of popular culture are referred to byGreenberg as kitsch.)[See Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch"]
  29. 29. As a result, Greenberg saw abstraction as being anecessary means of removing all other content fromartwork. The abstraction referred back to the paintingitself, as opposed to the real world.Greenberg‟s theory surrounding AbstractExpressionism was based on the concept of the „purity‟of art, “art for art‟s sake”.Greenberg championed Abstract Expressionism asbeing a movement that removed art from all otherhumanist concerns such as politics, popular culture,and instead drew on the artwork itself for its concept.
  30. 30. Modernism reasserts the two-dimensionality of thepicture surface. It forces the viewer to see the paintingfirst as a painted surface, and only later as a picture.This, Greenberg says, is the best way to see any kindof picture.A flat picture plane – which was a result of the artistsno longer trying to represent 3D objects, necessary asit showed the artist was accepting the overriding factof the medium.
  31. 31. Greenbergs formalismheld that modern abstractpainting was the purestand most advancedartistic style in all ofhuman history. With hisseminal 1939 essay, "TheAvant-Garde and Kitsch,"art theory in the era ofAbstract Expressionismhad unofficially begun.
  32. 32. Clement GreenbergAvant Garde and KitschFor Greenberg in 1939, thedemand for Kitsch seems toaccompany modernization, be itunder Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, orin the Western Democracies."Kitsch is the culture of themasses in these countries, as it iseverywhere else."
  33. 33. Modern Art? Or AnArt of the Modern?Since the War every twentieth-centurystyle in painting has been brought toprofusion in the United States:thousands of "abstract" painters—crowded teaching courses in ModernArt—a scattering of new heroes—ambitions stimulated by new galleries,mass exhibitions, reproduction inpopular magazines, festivals,appropriations.Is this the usual catching up of Americawith European art forms? Or is Harold Rosenberg, "The Americansomething new being created? For the Action Painters" from Tradition of thequestion of novelty, a definition would New, originally in Art News 51/8, Dec.seem indispensable. 1952
  34. 34. Getting Inside the CanvasAt a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painterafter another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in whichto reproduce, re-design, analyze or "express" an object, actual or imagined.What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; hewent up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece ofmaterial in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.Call this painting "abstract" or "Expressionist" or Abstract-Expressionist,"what counts is its special motive for extinguishing the object, which is notthe same as in other abstract or Expressionist phases of modern art.The new American painting is not "pure" art, since the extrusion of theobject was not for the sake of the esthetic. The apples werent brushed offthe table in order to make room for perfect relations of space and color.They had to go so that nothing would get in the way of the act of painting.
  35. 35. Dramas Of As IfA painting that is an act is inseparablefrom the biography of the artist. Thepainting itself is a "moment" in theadulterated mixture of his life—whether"moment" means the actual minutestaken up with spotting the canvas or theentire duration of a lucid dramaconducted in sign language. The act-painting is of the same metaphysicalsubstance as the artists existence. Thenew painting has broken down everydistinction between art and life.
  36. 36. "Its Not That, Its Not That, Its Not That"Many of the painters were "Marxists" (WPA unions, artistscongresses); they had been trying to paint Society. Others hadbeen trying to paint Art (Cubism, Post-Impressionism)—it amountsto the same thing.The big moment came when it was decided to paint . . . just toPAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation,from Value—political, esthetic, moral…The refusal of values didnot take the form of condemnation or defiance of society, as it didafter World War I.
  37. 37. Milieu: The Busy No-AudienceEveryone knows that the label Modern Art no longer has any relationto the words that compose it. To be Modern Art a work need not beeither modern nor art; it need not even be a work. A three thousand-year-old mask from the South Pacific qualifies as Modern and a pieceof wood found on the beach becomes Art.When they find this out, some people grow extremely enthusiastic,even, oddly enough, proud of themselves; others become infuriated.These reactions suggest what Modern Art actually is. It is not even aStyle. It has nothing to do either with the period when a thing wasmade nor with the intention of the maker. It is something thatsomeone has had the social power to designate as psychologically,esthetically or ideologically relevant to our epoch. The question of thedriftwood is: Who found it?Modern art is educational, not with regard to art but with regard to life.You cannot explain Mondrians painting to people who dont knowanything about Vermeer, but you can easily explain the socialimportance of admiring Mondrian and forgetting about Vermeer.
  38. 38. Cockcroft, Eva. Abstract Expressionism: Weapon ofthe Cold War. Artforum, vol. 15, no 10, June 1974,pp39-41―After the Industrial Revolution, with the decline of the academies,development of the gallery system, and the rise of the museums, therole of artists became less clearly defined, and the objects artistsfashioned increasingly becomes part of the general flow of commoditiesin a market economy.‖• Artists no longer had direct contact with the patrons• They retained little or no control over the disposition of their works• Many artists rejected the materialistic values of bourgeois society• Many artists indulged in the myth that they could exist entirely outsidethe dominant culture• Avant-garde artists generally refused to recognise or accept their roleas producers of cultural commodity
  39. 39. Why did Clement Greenberg champion the concept of the autonomy of art?
  40. 40. Frascina F, Harrison C, editors. Modern art and Modernism.A critical anthology. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd;1982, pp.308-14. (Greenberg)Frascina F, Harris J, editors. Art in modern culture. Ananthology of critical texts. London: Phaidon Press Limited;1992, pp.5-10. (Greenberg)Harrison C. Modernism. London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd;1997, pp.6-21 and pp53-61.Meecham P, Sheldon J. Modern art: a critical introduction.London: Routledge; 2000, pp1-15.Wood P, Frascina F, Harris J, Harrison, C. Modernism indispute. Art since the forties. London: Yale University Press;1993, pp.170-5