Page 16 - Studio International - September 1967
P. 16

themselves indifferent to whether they hung
      COMMENT                                  a lawyer. It no longer needed defending on   on to it; having won a market, have not
                                               higher grounds.
                                                Now, this acceptance by society of the   tried to supply what was in demand.
                                               avant garde artist has had a worrying effect   Rauschenberg, for example, after winning
                                               upon some people, especially middlebrow   the Venice Biennale painting prize in 1964,
                                               journalists mindful of the consciences of   was placed, being prolific, to make a
                                               others. They claim that an avant-gardist   fortune, regardless of what he turned out—
                                               ought to be an outsider, that if he's not he's   collectors buy names, not quality. In the
                                               either corrupted or in danger of corruption.   event he produced hardly anything for the
                                               And of course it's true that some artists   next two years: he remains the artist who
                                               have started well, have become successful,   once tossed a number of his paintings into
                                               have gone downhill artistically (some while   the river (with nobody looking). Larry
                                               remaining successful, others not). It's   Poons, when I called on him a few months
                                               generally assumed that the success brought   ago, was completing a large painting which
      David Sylvester                          about the decline: post hoc ergo propter hoc.   was the best thing of his I'd seen. It was
                                               But it may be that some talents which    clear that he had mastered the problems he
                                               flower early would be quick to die irre-  had been working on over the last few years,
                                               spective of whether they got early recogni-  and was nicely placed to enjoy repeating
      I asked Frank Stella whether he saw his   tion or not. It may be that the artist who,   this success for a while (there's a waiting-list
      work as having the sort of metaphysical,   having found a formula, cashes in on it by   for his work). His ideas were otherwise. He
      transcendental content which all his pre-  repetition and never develops, had nothing   said this was the last painting he was going
      cursors—Mondrian, Malevich, Newman—      more than that formula to offer in any case.   to do with small units and showed me an
      attributed to their work. Not unexpectedly,   The artist who does develop rather than   experimental canvas he was working on
      he answered that this had never been an   waste time and energy cashing in is to be   with elongated units. Obviously it was going
      issue for him, that his own sole concern   admired, not for his moral rectitude, but   to take him time to get anywhere with
      was with the 'visual presence' of the    for having enough talent to be interested   these. He wasn't prepared to waste any of
      painting. He added that he thought this   in developing it.                       that time producing things for the market.
      applied to all of his own generation, and   The Abstract Expressionists generally were   I am saying all this, not because I want to
      offered an explanation. The earlier non-  slow to develop, slower still to win fame.   pat these artists on the back for their
      figurative painters had worked in a defensive  Rothko, for example, perhaps the greatest   integrity, but in answer to the familiar
      situation, in which their work was not   American artist of this century, was into   argument that acceptance undermines the
      publicly accepted. The claim that it had a   his forties before his talent matured, into   avant garde. The avant garde is traditionally
      metaphysical content might have been a   his fifties before it was widely acclaimed.   the enemy of the bourgeoisie. Many of its
      justification, a token of serious intention.   The younger generations, in contrast,   creations in its palmy days were made
      The present generation had no such       include several artists—Johns, Stella, Poons—  expressly to épater le bourgeois. What, then,
      problem: society was now prepared to     who were doing important work while still   becomes of the avant garde, goes the argu-
      admit that non-figurative art was art. The   in their twenties and were already being   ment, when the bourgeoisie falls over itself
      abstract artist was no longer a social out-  acclaimed for it. And it's a striking fact that   to buy the latest far-out thing? Can the
      cast; painting abstract pictures was now an   the best of the younger Americans who   avant garde afford to become respectable ?
      accepted profession, like being a doctor or    have won acceptance have shown      But there's no evidence that it has become

      Contributors to this issue

      Jasia Reichardt, assistant director of the Institute of   John Latham has works in many public and private   Harry Thubron,  teacher and artist, is head of the
      Contemporary Arts, Edward Lucie-Smith, poet and   collections in England and America. He is among the   painting school of Leicester College of Art.
      critic and Dore Ashton, American writer and critic   artists included in 'The 1960s' at the Museum of
      are regular contributors to Studio International.   Modern Art, New York, and will be represented in   Troels Andersen is editor of Billedkunst, the Danish
                                               the ROSC exhibition in Dublin this autumn.   magazine. He studied art history and Russian lang-
      David Sylvester is Visiting Lecturer in Fine Arts at                              uage and literature at the universities of Copenhagen,
      Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania this autumn and   Elma Askham, the painter, was formerly head of the   Moscow and Leningrad in 1960-66. He is preparing an
      winter. He has recently been appointed a Trustee of   painting department at Lancaster College of Art. She   English edition of Malevich's essays on art, due to be
      the Tate Gallery.                        has also taught at the University of Illinois.   published this year.
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