SCHOOL OF NEW YORK
Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is his real subject, of which anything he paints is both an homage and a critique, and anything he says a gloss. It is the visual expression of the modern mind, subtle, rich and sensual; who lacks the culture of modern painting is without a great human experience, new, adventurous and pure with the intensity of mystical experience, but secular in background.
The recent “School of New York” – a term not geographical but denoting a direction – is an aspect of the culture of modern painting. The works of its artists are “abstract,” but not necessarily “non-objective.” They are always lyrical, often anguished, brutal, austere and “unfinished,” in comparison with our young contemporaries of Paris; spontaneity and a lack of self-consciousness is emphasized; the pictures stare back as one stares at them; the process of painting them is conceived of as an adventure, without preconceived ideas on the part of persons of intelligence, sensibility and passion. Fidelity to what occurs between oneself and the canvas, no matter how unexpected, becomes central. The specific appearance of these canvases depends not only on what the painters do, but on what they refuse to do. The major decisions in the process of painting are on the grounds of truth, not taste.
“One must live with, and love the art of painting all one’s life before its essential problem, in any given period, even begins to appear. In modern times the problem has been to project an experience, rich, deep felt, and pure, without using the objects and paraphernalia, the anecdotes and propaganda of a discredited social world. The means left for a painter are those inherent in his medium, its structure, rhythm, color and spatial interval.”
“The crisis is essentially the same crisis the abstract expressionist painters faced, and solved so brilliantly in their own way: the problem of bringing forth a distinctly American painting, divorced from the stylistic influences and esthetic concerns of a tradition of European art. If, during the last decade, abstract expressionism has been thought of – at least in this country – as finally having solved the problem of the creation of a distinctly American art, here is a whole new generation who have engendered widespread confusion by thinking otherwise. Seen from this point of view, painters from the soup can, the dollar bill, the comic strip, have in common not some moral attitude toward their subject matter that some say is positive and others say is negative, but a series of painting devices which derive their force in good measure from the fact that they have virtually no association with a European tradition.”
“As a painter, cursed or blessed with a terrible and vital sensuousness, I must look for wisdom with my eyes. I repeat, with my eyes, for nothing could be more ridiculous or irrelevant than a “philosophical conception” painted purely intellectually without the terrible fury of the senses grasping each visible form of beauty and ugliness.”
“The painter who is just beginning thinks that he paints from his heart. The artist who has completed his development also thinks that he paints from his heart. Only the latter is right, because his training and discipline allow him to accept impulses that he can, at least partially, transform.”
“The legacy of art is a record of man’s experience; a vision of his mind and soul; his appetites, aspirations, fears, dreams, delights and beliefs. In light of this, an essential value of painting is that there is something to be revealed and someone to reveal it to.
“Art is creative for the sake of realization. Painting need serve as a work of faith, of passionate involvement and conviction. The endurance of painting is dependent upon its continuing pertinence to life; its utility should be considered in terms of its revelatory nature.”
Notes for a lecture on his views of contemporary art and painting
Delivered at the St. Louis Museum of Art, 1964