To what extent does a concern with elemental humanity represent a reaction to the cataclysmic events of 1939-45?
The events of 1939-45 are bound to have an effect on the artists practicing in the period immediately following the 2nd world war. Indeed not just those events but also those of the first world war. Prior to that time artists like the Vorticists, futurists and suprematists were preoccupied with the power of machines and the ability of man to take control of his future.
The events and destruction of 2 world wars in just over 30 years must have affected all western artists of the time. That could be those living in the parts of the world directly affected by conflict or the other parts of the world, not directly affected, but who witnessed the destruction from afar. Or those who were displaced to another country because of the conflict.
Barnett Newman wrote that the war “has robbed us of our hidden terror, as terror can only exist if the forces of tragedy are unknown. We now know the terror to expect. Hiroshima showed it to us.”
How individual artists reacted to the events of 1939-45 will vary according to the artist concerned. No one can really doubt the concern expressed by Picasso in his response to events in Guernica. For other artists the expression of such concern may not be as obvious.
Does it matter if viewers of art works ‘miss the point’ provided that they take something from it?
If the viewer’s do ‘miss the point’ then does this represent a failure on the part of the artist?If the painting does not convey what the artist intended can it be a successful work of art? Is it a masterpiece if viewers take away a feeling, emotion or viewpoint entirely opposite to that the artist was trying to convey? If viewers appreciate a painting and are enriched by having seen it then maybe that can be regarded as successful even if it is not the same as the artist’s intention.
Is it possible to make a formal analysis of such work?
I think it is very difficult to formally analyse these works, I found this to be the case when I tried to annotate a painting by Rothko. If the artist says “if you ….. are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point” then this surely makes a formal analysis futile as it does not unearth anything the artist was trying to convey. Perhaps people should just respond to such paintings rather than analyse them.
Clement Greenberg’s assertion.
Greenberg wrote ‘Realist, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art. Modernism used art to call attention to art. Greenberg seems to think that representational art, e.g. paintings by the old masters, was not true art but merely failed attempts to represent 3 dimensional scenes in 2 dimensions. This, he did not think, was true art, whereas modernism recognised the limits of 2 dimensions and built upon them.
I think that it is somewhat ridiculous to condemn several hundred years of realistic art as somehow concealing true art. While much would depend on what your own definition of what art is, to maintain that any particular style is right or wrong is to deny other people’s views on art or beauty. Gombrich says there is no such thing as art, there are only artists. I we stick to this belief then we can make our own judgements of what we believeto be good or valuable art irrespective of style or tradition.
Describing the works of the later artists, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and others, the critic Andrew Graham-Dixon describes them as “a new kind of American artist: not a priest or a self-proclaimed hero, as the Abstract Expressionists had been”.