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Avant-Garde589 VA The American We are norv committed to an unqualified act, not illustrating out\\orn mr-ths or And the contemporarl'alibis.

One must accepttotal responsibilityfor what he exccutes. in realizing measureof his greatness u,ill be in the depth of his insight and his couragie his olvn vision. Demands for communication are both presumptuous and irrelevant. The obsener usuall-vwill seervhat his fears and hopes and learning teach him to see.But if he can escapethese demands that hold up a mirror to himself, then perhaps somc of the implications of the u,ork mav be felt. But whatever is seen or felt it should be he,something else.It is the pricc one remembered that f:- j.s pa1, for cl: oured onlv as an instrument.f has to seduction or assaul $r*rer

16 Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978)frorn'The Arnerican Action Painters' were and Rosenberg Greenberg Expressionism, representationAbstract of In the critical dramaand existential modes, formeremphasizing the for responsible the two dominant 'Action innovation. upon where latterconcentrated formalandtechnical the commitment art abstract of the 1940sand which newinformal under the Painting'was designation the supplanted to criticism, be gradually known English-language in firstbecame widely 1950s 'Abstract - a specifically to tends Expressionism' termwhich bythe nowmorewidespread painters contemporarEuropean rather than theircomparable identify workof Amerrcan the of a his have may ies.lnfactRosenberg originally intended titleto carry connotationpolitical (i.e. rather Painters' ignored to read as'American-Action which been commitment haslargely Paris'(lVD12), fromhisearlier'Fallof Echoing Action-Painters'). a theme as'American than 'Action 'lnternational Painting' and of Culture', of America thenewlocus the as he identifies possibility revolution keptalive is at of the in form as the advanced of thatculture, which published News, 1952,pp. Ll, NewYork, December inArt least imagination.Originally in The of in 22ff Reprinted Rosenberg, Tradition theNew,NewYork,1959,pp. 23-39.The . present is fromthefirsthalfof theessay. extract taken


Getting Inside the Canr,as painterafteranother to to began appear oneAmerican At a certainmomentthe canvas redesign, in a space which to reproduce, as an arenain rvhichto act ratherthan as 'express' object, go on the canvas not \,ras What wasto actual imagined. or or an analvse a picturebut an event. in rn'ith image his mind; he u'entup to an his The painterno longerapproached easel in to in it rvith material his handto do something that otherpieceof material front of him. The imagervouldbe the resultof this encounter.
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(abstract' 'Abstract-Expressionist', u'hat or 'Expressionist' or Call this painting counts is its special motive for ertinguishing the object, rvhich is not the samc as in other abstractor Expressionistphasesof modern art. 'pure' art, since the extrusion of the object was The neu, American painting is not not for the sakeof the aesthetic.The apples rveren't brushed off the table in order to

al 5 9 0 T h e I n d i v r d ua n dt h e S o c i a l go so that nothing make room filr perf ect relations of spaceand colour. Thei' had to painting. In this gesturing with materials thc would get in thc $'a1' of the act of draw-ing,are aurilaesthetic,t.'. hls been subordinated.Form, colour, composition, been attempted logicalll', u'ith or practicall.vall, as has iaries, anr 6ne of u'hich is the revelation unpaintecl canvases can be dispensedrvith. What matters alwavs effect, the imagc' containeclin the act. It is to be taken for granted that in the final whaterer be tlr be not in it, will be a tension' Dramas Of As If artist. The painting A painting that is an act is inseparablefrom the biography of the 'moment' meansthc 'moment' in the adulteratedmixture of his life - ivhether itr.tf is'I entire duration of a lucid dranl'i or actull minutes taken up with spotting the canvas the a' The act-painting is of the samemetaphysicalsubstance in sign language. conclucted betrveenart The new painting has broken down everv distinction thc irrtist's existence. and lif-e. do $'ith action It follows thar an-vthingis relevant to it. An-vthing that has to mythology, hero worship' Anything but art criticisnr psvchologv,philosophy, historv, can't get al1'l' T'he painter gets alvay from art through his act of painting; the critic form - as if thtin terms of schools,st,vles, fiom it. The critic who goes on iudging (the work of art)' painter were still concernedwith producing a certain kind of object ' '] instead of living on the canvas is bound to seem a stranger' [' of colour, texturc' Art relation of the painting to the rvorks of the past, rightness of sa)-s poetr\ ' As etc. com., b"& into painting b.v"vavof ps,"--chology. Stevens balance, psychologvot is 'ir is a processof the personalit.v the poet.'But the ps.vcholog,v the of 'read' a paintins criticism that rvantsto ps-Vchological creation.Not that of the so-called thc the act' translates or for cluesto the artist's sexualpreferences debilities.The work, 'world'- and thus transcendsit' psvchologicallygiven into thsintentional, into a discardedas irrelevant, what givesthe canvastt: references With traditional aesthetic his emotionll meaning is not psychologicaldata but role, the way the artist organizes The interest lies in the kind ot ur-if n. were in a living situation. and intellectualenerg,y taking place in the four-sided arena,a dramatic interest' act Criticismmustbeginbyrecognizinginthepaintingtheassumptionsinherentinit. has to think in rr mode of creation. Since the painler has becomean actor' the spectator - psychic state' concentration r,ocabularvof action: its inception, duration, direction of a connoisseur the and relaxationof the lvill, passivity,alert rvaiting.He must become the evoked' spontaneous' gradationsbetween the automatic, the 'It's Not That, It's Not That' It's Not That' found their rvar with a few important exceptions,most of the artists of this vanguard painter but a reto their present work bv b.irrg crrt in tlvo. Their tvpe is not a .voung 'l'he of a man Inuy b. over fort-v, the painter around seven. The diagonal born one. him from his personaland artistic past' grand crisis separates 'Marxists' (wPA unions, artists' congresses); they hacl \,lan,v of the painters were had been trying to paint Art (cubism' Postbeen trying to paint societ-v.others Imoressionism)- it amounts to the samething'

The big moment camewhen the canvaslvas a gestureof lib If the war and the decline there is n suddenimpatience. Americansten their emotions, thinks of himself as a battleg ),Jights.Yet it is strangehon : the past ten vears and abando doing. A far-off watcher unab might have assumedthev uer At its centre the movemen of the Past and the Good Lift The refusalof valuesdid nc ' it did after the First World *'orld to be different, he u'an 'na meant liberation from the leavebehind the self that rvish

to the Past. With the American, heir c lnd Societr'\ as not exPerie heginningof an oPtimism re1 The American vanguardP: Ishmael took to the sea' On the one hand, a desPer tlther, the exhilarationof an a t r u e i m a g eo f h i s i d e n t i t r' Painting could now be re that would be an alte .rctivit.v o i o m a t i cm e m o r i e s f P a i n t i n t ( ) k e e pf r o m i n t r u d i n g i n t o satched for what each nove

Ilasedon the Phenomenonol religio irainters,essentialh'a ir sion has been exPerienced

mvths. T h e t e n s i o no f t h e P r i r a 'I'he a c t o n t h e c r n r a ss P r i n 'storY' lvhen the Painter fir recognition. Or it attemPts his total personalit-v m]'th Some formulate their With others,usua episodes.

a Sign. T h e r e r o l u t i o na g a i n s t has provided EuroPean val \merica in the form of

VA TheAmerican Avant_Garde 591 The big moment camewhen it was decidedto paint. just -fhe .. ro pArNr. gestureon the canvaswas a gestureof liberation, from varue poliiical, aesthetic,moral. If the war and the cleclineof radicalism in America had anything to do with this sudden impatience, there is no evidenceof it. About ,fr. .ff..r, large issuesupon their emotions,Americans tend to be either reticent "f 'l'he or unconscious. French artist thinks of himself as a battleground of history; here one hears onlv of private Dark Nights' Yet it is strangehow many segregated individuals came to a dead stop rvithin the past ten \'earsand abandoned,even physica'y destroyed,the work they had been doing' A far-off watcher unable to realizithat theseeventswere taking place in silence might have assumedthev were being directed by.a single voice. At its centre the movement was a$'ay from, rather than towards. 'I.he Great works of the Past and the Good Life of the Future becameequally nil. The refusalof valuesdid not take the form of cond.*natio.r or defianceof society,as it did after the First World War. It was diffident. The lone arrist did not wanr rhe r'vorldto be different, he wanted his canvasto be a world. Liberation from the object meant liberation from the 'nature', societl.and art alreadythere. It was a mo\rementto leavebehind the self that wished to choosehis future and io nullifv its promissorvnotes to the pasr. with the American, heir of the pioneer and the immigrant, the fbundering of Art and Society was not erperiencedas a loss. On the contrarr,:, end of'Art marked the the beginning of an optimism regarding himself as an arrist. The American vanguardpainter took to the white expanse the canyasas Melville,s of Ishmael took to the sea. On the one hand, a desperate recognitionof moral and intellectualexhaustion;on the other, the exhilarationof an adventureover depths in which he might find reflectedthe t r u e i m a g eo f h i s i d e n r i t r . Painting could now be reclucedto that equipment which the artist needed for an activity that would be an alternativeto both utilitl'and idleness.Guided by visual and somatic memories of paintings he had seenor made memories rvhich he did his best to keep from intruding into his consciousness he gesticulatedupon the canvasand watched for what each novelty would declarehim and his art to be. Basedon the phenomenonof conversionthe ne\'. movement is, with the majoritr, of the painters' essentiallya religious movement. In almost a"r", however, the con'er_ "".ru sion has been experiencedin secularterms. The result has been the creation of private m1'ths. The tension of the private mvth is the content of everv painting of this 'anguarcl. The act on the canvassprings from an attempt to resurrect the saving moment in his 'storv' when the painter first felt himself ,.i""sed from value - mvth of past self_ recognition' Or it attempts to initiate a new moment in which the painter u-ill realize his total personalitv- myth of future self_recognition. Some formulate their myth verbally' and connect individual u'orks *,ith its episodes'With others, usually'deeper,the painting itself is the erclus^'e fbrmulation. a slsn. The rer'-olutionagainst the given, in the self and in the u-orld, *l.rich sincc Hegel . has provided European vanguarclart with theories of a Ne* Realitr,, has re-entered America in the form of personal revolts. Art as action rcsfs ,rn th. enormous

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and 592 The Individual the Social irssumption that the artist accepts as real only that u'hich he is in the process ot creating.'Except the soul has divesteditself of the love of createdthings. . .' Thc arrist u,orks in a condition of open possibilitv, risking, to follorv Kierkegaard, thc possibilitl- lacking in realit.v.To maintain ,rnguishof the aesthetic,u.hich accompanies the fbrce to refrain from settling anvthing, he must erercise in himself a constant No. 1 . . . l -


of The omnir,orousness tht subtletv of insight from an Semanticalh'and ethica devices is equated lvith : damned to promote u ork displal'ed as evidenccof s presentedas evidenceof ir 'Paintin o of aesthetics r fallaciesbecomesa PoPuh Unknorvn are the crlm( c a l l e d \ r t .E r e n t h c l h i r n and for their reassurancc artists, architccts esthetes, bv mainl--v hatred tll' c\.n . t f r s c i n a t eh c i n d i f f e r c n t P

I held it imPerative to er t h r o u g ha l l c u l t u r a lo P i a t r,isioncould be achieved T o r c q u i r es u c h r n i n t technicsan conventional demanded full resolutro i n d i ri d u a l i s m ,n o e a P e r conceitsor technical fetis a n d c o m p o u n dd c c e i t . Thus it llas necessa tensions, and its concor ffapped in the banal cor position';nor tt objective

for social control. It rvas as a journer th short-cuts rrerc permitt triumph, or failure, or tl and lvastedvallevsand ct plain. Imagination, no lc And the Act, intrinsic al The rvork itself, rvhct of meaning, could not h b e ro n d r a n i n . a m b i t i o n at this rvork, a \\'arnlng s the relation I bear to thc

and for another PurPos