Notebook, 1993-


Ashton, Dore, ed. 'Twentieth-Century Artists on Art.' New York: Pantheon Books. 1985. - 20th Century Artists on Art


Since I am a firm believer in the Renaissance maxim "Truth is the daughter of Time," I regard much of the material in this book as a source for a later, more distanced view of twentieth-century art. The terminology itself is not seasoned, and often displays a tentativeness that I'm sure will be dispelled as the century draws to its close.

It is obvious that the twentieth century has been far more industrious about the business of inventiing sobriquets than previous centuries, when such simple designationas as "classical" and "romantic" or "baroque" could serve for decades. The reasons for the accelerated floriation of "isms" will also become more clear in future assessments. Moreover, since artists' talk about art is not always synchronous with intellectual currents of any given period, it will be apparent in future years that certain terms were less than satisfactory as descriptions of orders in the visual arts. I believe a close reading of the texts in this book will offer the reader clues about how to interpret the terminology, and more important, how to interpret the groupings of certain artists, both geographically and chronologically. Since most often the naming of movements is done by zealous critics rather than artists themselves, it behooves us to take cognizance of what artists say and pose it against the often hasty judgments of critics. The following list of terms, then, is meant to help the reader form an independent judgment and not to give definitive forms to things too close to us in history.

Abstract Expressionism.
Term used to designate a group of American painters and scuptors who, during the Second World War, developed an independent view of the nature and meaning of their art. Although their works varied greatly, they generally believed that art was an expression of the individual psyche, that representational forms were not essential to project meaning, and that freedom from a priori conventions was implicit. Certain artists associated with the group emphasized the direct expresson of gesture and brushwork [i.e., Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning] while others emphasized large surface, scale, and color values [i.e., Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman]. Sculptors in the group-most notably David Smith--extended the implications of collage, assembling works from disparate units, usually working with welded metal. As a whole the group represented a point of view that was philosophically coherent but diverse stylistically.

A group formed in Paris in 1931 to foster the efforts of those who believed that pure abstraction, rather than abstraction visibly derived from nature, was the most progressive art of its time. Many members of the association worked with geometric elements, often echoing the principles of Piet Mondrian's and Theo van Doesburg's group, de Stijl. The association published an important international journal, Abstraction-Création: Art Non-Figuratif, from 1932 to 1936.

Action Painting.
The American critic Harold Rosenberg used this term to describe the paintings of those among the Abstract Expressionists [such as de Kooning and Pollock] whose work emphasized the act itself of wielding a painting tool, revealing the energy of the rapid stroke and thereby reflecting the aesthetic belief that a painting included a visible account of the artist's process, his intimate exprerience, in its completion.

Art Nouveau.
An international movement, originating in the late nineteenth century and lasting until the First World War, in which a new approach to design was advocated. Largely associated with the practical arts of architecture and the design of utilitarian objects, the movement is often perceived as having clarified modernism and introduced organic, ornamental style. Emphasizing the beauty of the curve, the Art Nouveau artists sought to combat the rampant eclecticism of ninetenth-century design. In painting, however, a more complex goal was implicit; to free painting from imitative realism. Art Nouveau became an opening wedge in the struggle to validate pure abstraction.

Art Informel.
A term used in Europe to distinguish artists who sought a psychological expression free from the restraints of formal picture-making. In general, Art Informel artists shared the assumptions of the American Abstract Expressionists in which the process of becoming is more important than the final product. Both groups were deeply imbued with the belief that the individual psyche harbors deep feelings that can be brought to the picture surface only by means of extremely free techniques, such as those suggested earlier by the Surrealists.

Founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 by the German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was an art school that offered a new concept in the education of artists and architects based on Gropius's belief in the unity of the arts. By 1923, he addressed the question of mass production, advocating the application of high-level design principles to ordinary artifacts. The original staff included, among others, the outstanding painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, the architect and furniture designer Marcel Beuer, and the designer Herbert Bayer. In 1925 the Bauhuas was moved to Dessau into buildings designed by Gropius and his students and staff. From 1925 to 1933--when the Nazis forced it to close--the Bauhuas exerted immense influence in architecture, design, theater, and the dissemination of the most avant-garde European ideas in the arts through its important publications.

Der Blaue Reiter [The Blue Rider].
A group formed by Wassily Kandinsky in 1911 dedicated to the exhibition of advanced art from all over Europe and Russia. In 1912 Kandinsky and Franz Marc published a remarkable collection of essays and illustrations, "The Blue Rider Almanach," which included work by primitive artists, folk art, the art of children and of European avant-garde painters, as well as essays by Marc himself, the painter August Macke, and the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Theodor von Hartmann.

Die Brücke [The Bridge].
A group of artists, most of whom had been architecture students, formed in 1905 in Dresden by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Fritz Bleyl, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who intended to express an anti-bourgeois, socially progressive, and highly emotional attitude. Their works, and on occasion those of various other artists such as Emil Nolde, were exhibited together until around 1913. Their prints and paintings generally remained based on interpretations of landscapes and figures freely organized and often rendered in non-naturalistic color. The term expressionism, current before the First World War, was applied most often to the works of these artists.

Camera Work.
The title of a periodical founded in 1903 by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Together with his gallery, "291," the magazine introduced major currents of European and American avant-garde art. Stieglitz was the first to show Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Georges Braque in America, and the first to show the Americans Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keefe, Arthur Garfield Dove, and John Marin. Camera Work appeared from 1903 to 1917.

An acronym for the cities Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, chosen by the founding artists of the group--Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, Corneille, and Pierre Alechinsky--in 1948. Internationalist in perspective, these artists generally adhered to the figurative-expressionist tendency in the postwar Art informel grouping, drawing their ideas from the earlier Surrealist and Expressionist phenomena.

Conceptual Art.
A rather vague term used to designate works by artists who believe that the initial idea, however presented to the public, is the most important aspect of the work. The most frequent usages apply to works in which a written text is combined with a material object or image.

A term engendering considerable controversy and often applied to deeply differing modes of art. In general the notion of constructing with its implicaton of assembled, tectonic, and geometric configurations, underlies the term. Constructivism generally denies figurative imagery and often invokes mathematical principles. The term is most often applied to the Russian art movement founded in about 1913 by Vladimir Tatlin and spread by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner.

A pejorative epithet coined on the occassion of a 1908 exhibition of the work of Georges Braque by a journalist referring to Braque's planar reductions--similar to those of Cézanne. Braque and Pablo Picasso were soon after dubbed Cubists, and their innovative approach to pictorial space and subject matter exercised vast influence on modern painting. By analyzing objects into their planar components and suggesting formal interactions on the entire picture surface, the Cubist formulated a new way of defining pictorial space.

The name was chosen randomly by a group of rebellious young artists from all over Europe sheltering in Zurich during the First World War. From 1915 on, leaders such as the artist Hans Arp, the poets Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara, and the poet-musician Richard Huelsenbeck broadcast their anarchistic ideas. Dada quickly became an international movement that found adherents in Paris, Berlin, New York, and other capitals. Many participants saw their riotous poetry readings, randomly composed paintings, and absurdist plays as protest against the rational Western tradition that had culminated, they felt, in the horrors of the First World War. By 1923, the somewhat negative functions of Dada were superseded by Surrealism.

Earth Art.
During the late1960s a number of sculptors began exploring ways to use large tracts of the actual landscape to form images. Sometimes literally moving earth and stone with modern machines--as in the case of Michael Heizer--and sometimes merely leaving marks on the landscape such as chalk lines or furrows, artists producing these works referred to them as "earthworks."

El Paso.
During the mid -1950s a number of Spanish artists and writers formed the El Paso group in Madrid as a means of bringing into the static Spanish culture fresh contemporary approaches to art, largely derived from France. Most of the artist identified closely with the Art Informel movement.

Euston Road School.
The name of an art school opened in London in 1937 which grouped painters such as William Coldstream and Victor Pasmore with others in a programmatic movement away from abstraction. Spurred by the economic failures throughout the Western world, its artists believed that art should reflect--and if possible change-the state of society.

The term gained wide curency in the early part of the century to make a distinction between those painters--such as the Russian Wassily Kandinsky and the German Ernst Ludwig Kirchner--who felt their work expressed their inner feelngs with direct emotional or intuitive means and those painters--such as the Cubists--who avoided violent color and emotive effects, fitting more nearly into an objective tradition often seen as classicism.

A short-lived tendency in French Painting in which Henri Matisse, André Derain, and Maurice Vlalminck [among others], working in the wake of Van Gogh and Gauguin, used brilliant color in broad impasto strokes to suggest the vitality and structure of their largely landscape motifs. The term was coined by a hostile critic: in French fauves means "wild beasts."

A movement launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who published his Futurist manifesto in Paris in 1909. Adventurous artists, writers, poets, composers, and architects in Italy before the First World War flocked to Marinetti's banner, eager to proclalim the importance of new technology, new political ideologies, and new artistic styles to Italian culture, which they felt was mired in the heavy trappings of the past. The ideas set forth by such artists as Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, and Carlo Carrà, and by the composer Luigi Russolo and the architect Antonio Sant'Elia, had a broad influence throughout Europe and were of special importance to the Russian avant-garde on the eve of the First World War.

A term used by the artist Allan Kaprow to describe the hybrid art forms of the 1960s in which visual artists extended their works into theatrical situations, often with spectator participation, and incorporated elements from painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, and film. Ephemerality and spontaneity were highly valued by Happenings artists such as Jim Dine, Robert Whitman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Red Grooms. Happenings had historical precedents in the early years of the Soviet Union and in the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.

Hard Edge Painting.
Jules Langsner, a California critic, used the term in the late 1950s to distinguish the new nonobjective, geometrical painting from prewar varieties. Artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, he felt, had moved away from the dogmatic attitudes of artists such as Mondrian and van Doesburg, and were using broad, flat color planes and hard edges in a more open manner.

Installation Art.
A rather loose term for works that appeared in the 1970s in which artists assembled elements of various materials in specific gallery or museum situations, intending to establish an environment rather than an isolated, single work of art.

Kinetic Art.
Originally cited by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner in their 1920 manifesto, the term was first used to describe works of art, particularly sculpture, in which moving parts are incorporated, powered either by motors or by natural forces as in the works of Alexander Calder. Later the term was extended to include works that introduce optical illusion, as in the works of Jesús Rafael Soto or Raacov Agam.

Metaphysical School [Scuoloa Metafisica]
Metaphysical painting is mainly associated with the work of Giorgio de Chirico, who early in the century, first showed his interest in eerie, strangely lighted effects that he felt expressed a meaning beyond that of ordinary reality. In 1917 he and Carlo Carrà talked about a "Metaphysical School," a loose group of artists who believed they could suggest such a mysterious and transcendent reality in figurative paintings. Briefly associated were Carrà , Giorgio Morandi, Mario Sironi, Filippo de Pisis, and others.

Mexican Mural Movement.
During the early 1920s the revolutionary Mexican government sponsored a vast program of education in which Mexican artists were enlisted to paint murals in public places. Strong figures such as David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera vigorously applied themselves to the art of the mural, covering the walls of countless Mexican public buildings with passionate accounts of Mexican history and revolutionary aspirations. Siqueiros's 1921 manifesto called for a monumental heroic art celebrating the cultures of pre-Hispanic America.

Minimal Art.
A term that came to be used in the late 1950s to distinguish a tendency among artists following the generation of Abstract Expressionists, and reacting against them by eschewing emotional effects and seeking to present an austere, stripped art whose components were often modular. The extreme simplicity of their works--in both painting and sculpture--derived not only from their compositional reductions but also from their use of unadorned surfaces and simple materials.

Name given by Piet Mondrian to his newly formulated theory of art around 1917. The new plastic expression, he wrote, would ignore the particulars of appearance---natural form and color--in favor of the abstract form and color derived from straight lines and primary colors. He thought the unity of nature could be expressed through the precise use of the "two positions that form the right angle."

Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity].
A term used by the German critic G. F. Hartlaub in 1923 to describe the social realism of the works of such artists as George Grosz and Otto Dix, who cast a harsh and seemingly objective light on the society of Weimar Germany. They rejected the anarchic rebelliousness and individualism of the Dadaists, as well as the emotional excesses of the Expressionists.

New Bauhuas.
Founded by Lázló Moholy-Nagy in Chicago in 1937, the school was modeled on the original Bauhaus, where he had taught from 1923 to 1928. It was one of the major sources of Bauhaus influence in the United States.

New York School.
One of the various names given to the group of artists who emerged during the Second World War, mostly in New York, also called Abstract Expressionists or Action Painters.

Nouveau Rêalistes.
Artists grouped together by the French critic Pierre Restany whose "realism" consisted in their use of found materials and their rejection of conventional painting and sculpture formats. The chief artists associated with the group were Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Arman, and Martial Raysse.

Performance Art.
An extremely imprecise term used often to describe works by visual artists who draw upon several arts--such as dance, the theater, and sculpture--to make a work of hybrid character.

Pop Art.
A term coined by the British art critic Lawrence Alloway in the mid-1950s to describe the early work of such artists as Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, who were using "vernacular" culture and the products of the mass media as materials in their art. In America such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein spearheaded the movement by using industrial products and techniques in their works and by elevating advertising, comic strips, and science fiction as appropriate subject matter in painting and sculpture.

Precisionist Movement.
Precisionist Movement. During the 1920s, American artists such as Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, and Niles Spencer worked with Cubist principles to create a representational art that favored clean lines and functional subject matter [such as factories and barns] or urban vistas.

Productivist Movement.
Derived from Vladimir Tatlin's 1920 manifesto, in which he advocated "production art" that would take into account new technological and industrial techniques and the skills of engineers to produce an art for the masses.

In Russia around 1912, Mikhail Larionov formulated a theory of painting that drew upon Futurist ideas of dynamic force lines and semiscientific observations of the movement of light rays. Natalia Goncharova and Larionov himself became its best-known practictioners.

Section D'Or.
An exhibiton in Paris in 1912 and a publication that brought together such artists as Robet Delaunay, Frantisek Kupka, Jacques Villon, and several others, all of whom practicied variants of Cubism and were interested in the old mathematical idea of proportion called the golden Section.

De Stijl.
Title of the magazine founded by Theo van Doesburg in 1917, which became the principal organ for the dissemination of Piet Mondrian's principles of painting, and of van Doesburg's and others' theories for the total revision of architectural principles.

Der Sturm.
Name of the journal founded by Herwarth Walden in 1910, and the gallery founded in 1912, in which works from all the major avant-garde movements of Europe--Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, and Expressionism--were exhibited and extensively discussed.

Name given by Kasimir Malevich to his philosophy of art around 1915. Malevich and his followers advocated a nonobjective art that would express "pure feelng" and that, in its abstraction, would create a new spiritual dimension in art, independent of all "purpose" other than artistic.

The word, coined by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, was soon adopted by André Breton to describe the new approach to the arts that he had put forward around 1922, and that was eventually embraced by such writers as Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, and Benjamin Peret, and such painters as Joan Miró, Man Ray, Alberto Giacometti, René Magritte, and Salvador Dali. The philosophy of Surrealism was based on the new awareness of the subconscious heralded by Freud, and on the attempt to bring dream and reality to an existence on the same plane. Also important to the Surrealists was the commitment to radical political attitudes, opposing the capitalist structures that they felt had led to the carnage of the First World War.

Used generally to characterize the work of artists and poets of the last decade of the nineteenth century, who had rebelled against the verism of both the naturalists and the Impressionists. The symbolists maintained, with the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, that oblique symbolic reference was the most profound. Among others, Gauguin and Odilon Redon advocated views that were called symbolist.

Term derived from the French word Tache [Stain or spot] to describe, in the mid-1950s, French lyrical painting of an abstract nature. Tachist works were sometimes relaetd to those of the American abstact Expressionists. The term Tachism was sometimes used interchangeably with Art Informel.

Named by Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Unism was a movement of several Polish artists in the mid-1920s who were seeking to go beyond Kasimir Malevich's prinicples to an art of all-over composition in which oppostioins were minimal. Decades later, the American minimalists seemed to pose the same ideal.

Valori Plastici.
An important Italian art journal founded in 1918. In early issues, Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà defined Metaphysical painting; later issues sounded the call for a return to Italian classicism. During the 1920s, after the review had ceased to exist, many artists who had been exposed to Valori Plastici in Europe and even the United States were influenced to shift their focus away from cubism and abstraction toward a new figurative expression.

A term used by Ezra Pound in 1913 and enthusiastically adopted by the painter and writer Percy Wyndham Lewis in 1914 to characterize a motley group of British artists who, like him, had been influenced by both Italian Futurism and French Cubism.

WPA and Federal Arts Project.
The Works Progress Administration [WPA] under the Federal Arts Project, officially established in 1935 by the United States government, employed out-of-work artists in many capacities. The program was essentially devised to help artists survive during the Depression, but it also had the idealistic goals of enhancing and dignifying American culture. Many painters and scuptors were given their first opportunity to work intensely during these years, and to experience a kind of professional solidarity. A mural division, an easel-painting division, and a sculpture division were active by 1935. Most of the artists who became the best-known and most distinguished Abstract Expressionists in the post-war period were employed by the WPA. This communal experience is often credited with having established American artists as legitimate and contributing members of American society.

Zero Group.
Formed in Düsseldorf in 1957, by Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker, and Otto Piene to put forward their work and views. The Zero Group was interested in kinetic principles and dematerialized art composed with light.



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