November 13, 2009

Art Is Free, But It Is Not A Free-For-All

Abstract Painting, Blue, 1953
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Excerpts from Art-as-Art : The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, Edited by Barbara Rose, first paperback printing by University of California Press, 1991:

"Reinhardt defended abstract art both as an aesthetic and as a moral cause. At a time when many American artists were still confusing abstraction with various kinds of representational art including illustration, Reinhardt spoke, as always, against any sort of compromise. For him, ethics and aesthetics were one.

... The self-proclaimed "conscience of the art world," Reinhardt was undeniably a moralist. For example, he objected to surrealism and expressionism not on aesthetic but on moral grounds. He thought of both as forms of primitivism, which he detested. Throughout his life, he believed that man's greatest task was to raise himself from his origins in primordial chaos to reach the furthest heights of the human spirit, which expresses itself through order. He believed that civilization was worth the discontents it brought with it. If our own civilization had fallen into the decadence of materialism and sensationalism, he looked for spiritual values in other civilizations, older and perhaps wiser than our own."

Red Painting, 1953
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Abstract Art Refuses by Ad Reinhardt, from "Contemporary American Painting" exhibition catalogue, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1952:

"... And today many artists like myself refuse to be involved in some ideas. In painting, for me no fooling-the-eye, no window-hole-in-the-wall, no illusions, no representations, no associations, no distortions, no paint-caricaturings, no cream pictures or drippings, no delirium trimmings, no sadism or slashings, no therapy, no kicking-the-effigy, no clowning, no acrobatics, no heroics, no self-pity, no guilt, no anguish, no supernaturalism or subhumanism, no divine inspiration or daily perspiration, no personality-picturesqueness, no romantic bait, no gallery gimmicks, no neo-religious or neo-architectural hocus-pocus, no poetry or drama or theater, no entertainment business, no vested interests, no Sunday hobby, no drug-store museums, no free-for-all history, no art history in America of ashcan-regional-WPA-Pepsi-Cola styles, no professionalism, no equity, no cultural enterprises, no bargain-art commodity, no juries, no contests, no masterpieces, no prizes, no mannerisms or techniques, no communication or information, no magic tools, no bag of tricks-of-the-trade, no structure, no paint qualities, no impasto, no plasticity, no relationships, no experiments, no rules, no coercion, no anarchy, no anti-intellectualism, no irresponsibility, no innocence, no irrationalism, no low level of consciousness, no nature-mending, no reality-reducing, no life-mirroring, no abstracting from anything, no nonsense, no involvements, no confusing painting with everything that is not painting."

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Art-As-Art by Ad Reinhardt, from Art International (Lugano), December 1962:

"... The one assault on fine art is the ceaseless attempt to subserve it as a means to some other end or value. The one fight in art is not between art and non-art, but between true and false art, between pure art and action-assemblage art, between abstract and surrealist-expressionist anti-art, between free art and servile art. Abstract art has its own integrity, not someone else's "integration" with something else. Any combining, mixing, adding, diluting, exploiting, vulgarizing, or popularizing abstract art deprives art of its essence and depraves the artist's artistic consciousness. Art is free, but it is not a free-for-all."

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The Next Revolution in Art by Ad Reinhardt, from Art News (New York), February 1964:

"... The artist-as-artist's first enemy is the philistine-artist, the "all-too-human" or subhuman or superhuman artist inside or outside or beside himself, the socially useful and usable artist, the artist-jobber and sales artist, the expressionist-businessman and "action" artist, the artist who "has to eat," who has to "express himself," and who lives off, on, in, for or from his art.

The artist-as-artist's second enemy is the art dealer who deals in art, the private collector who collects art, in other words, the public profiteer who profits from art.

The artist-as-artist's third enemy is the utilitarian, acquisitive, exploiting society in which any tendency to do anything for its own transcendental sake cannot be tolerated.

Art-as-art has always been and always will be a trouble for philosophers, priests, politicians, professors, patriots, provincials, property people, proud possessors, primitives, poets, psychiatrists, petit-bourgeois persons, pensioneers, patrons, plutocrats, paupers, panderers, pecksniffs, and pleasure-seekers, for the reason of art's own Reason that needs no other reason or unreason."

Abstract Painting, 1956
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, 1963:

"... A museum of fine art should be separate from museums of ethnology, geology, archaeology, history, decorative arts, industrial arts, military arts, and museums of other things. A museum is a treasure house and tomb, not a countinghouse or amusement center. A museum should not be an art curator's personal monument or an art-collector-sanctifying establishment or an art-history-manufacturing plant or an artist's market block."

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Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, 1966:

[The Present Situation In Art]

"Things are lousy. The avant-garde is arrears. Artists are selling themselves like hot cakes. Art is a good thing. Art education is a holy-schmo business. Artists are jobbing. The lousy government is in this dirty war. One doesn't know what one can do about it. The art critics are all corrupt. The art critics are the art curators and they're also the art collectors and assistant art dealers too. The good old art words are dead. Things are awful. Artists don't know what to do, they're repeating themselves, they're making movies. Artists make telephone directions for making art instead of making it themselves. Some people still think the mass media can explain things. Artists are like businessmen.

Things are great. The avant-garde is behind us. Artists are making out. Lots of money around. Art is a good thing, everywhere. You can do anything you want. Artists are free of expressionism. The old rackets, scumbling, fumbling, staining, straining, striping, stripping are all gone. The art critics are all corrupt. Artists are freer than they've ever been. There are bigger and nicer art books than ever before. Artists are working more and bigger and faster. Telephones have never been so busy. The mass media give more space to artists who are working that gap between technology and life."

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From an interview with Mary Fuller, April 27, 1966:

"... There isn't anything that doesn't go now. The artist community is completely dissolved and artists aren't even talking to each other. They're all geared to the public, at least intellectually. The pop artists exploded the thing. They really did. They really ran all those meanings into the ground. Pollock wanted to become a celebrity and he did. He got kicked out of the 21 Club many times, and de Kooning is living like Elizabeth Taylor. Everybody wants to know who he's sleeping with, about the house he's building and everything. He has no private life. But finally it was Andy Warhol. He has become the most famous. He's a household word. He ran together all the desires of artists to become celebrities, to make money, to have a good time, all the surrealist ideas. Andy Warhol has made it easy. He runs discotheques...."

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Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, undated:

-> A twinge of conscience is a glimpse of God
"If evil is not reproved, virtue is not praised"

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