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For the moment I was a naïve, curious about my lack of interest in Guston’s paintings.Could it be a sign that I was about to spend the next month, if not five years, of my life studying and writing about these abstract canvases and how rich they were?
And I had looked again and again at versions of the paintings available online, versions that, , deformed the work, backlighting it, making it more resplendent and translucent—almost as if one were holding an old photographic slide up to a light.
Surprise, surprise, given all this, on my second visit the work looked quite different.
I wanted both rest and to try to absorb something about Guston’s “Abstract” work that, naïve, I wasn’t absorbing.
Among other things, it is a simple fact that in 2016 Abstract Expressionist work is a lot harder to understand in an art gallery or museum than it is when you see a painting in this style gracing the security desk of the headquarters of a large corporation. is that abstract painting was an ideal propaganda tool.
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.
And I think the best painting that’s done here is when he paints himself, and by himself I mean himself in this environment, in this total situation. who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade, — Allen Ginsberg, from found myself in a partial situation—or in a total one masquerading as a partial one?
— Philip Guston, 1960 I saw the best minds of my generation . —a retrospective of the painter Philip Guston’s work from the late 1950s and 1960s. This was when he was having a good deal of success as a member of the New York School of more or less Abstract artists, and before he again openly embraced the figurative, cartoon-like, editorializing painting of his Los Angeles youth. It was a gray afternoon, heading toward evening; the gallery’s many skylights were offering little light; and I was in a gray-heading-toward-evening mood.