Art Talk



Reflections on changing ideas

If all meanings could be adequately expressed by words,
the arts of painting and music would not exist

[John Dewey]

Cézanne's opinion

Cézanne was of the opinion that the 'intentions' and 'abstractions' of writers contravene with those of painters: in 1904 he writes to Bernard:

... Conversations about art are almost always useless. ... The writer expresses himself in abstractions while the painter renders his sensations and his perceptions by means of drawings and colour. ... [2]

He disagreed with Emile Zola, who championed naturalistic literature and painting and who had a preference for (large) narrative canvasses, on which simple life was depicted as lifelike (naturalistic) as possible. This naturalism often describes the hard life and disillusion of farmers and working men together with the negative impact on their environment.

The Impressionists intentionally neglected lifelike imagery; for them nature consists of light and colour. The contours of the subject often were faded and also dissolved into a colourful atmosphere.

Unlike the Impressionists Cézanne has tried to modernise classic art; throughout his life he has searched for visual relations, which form the basis of each painting. His statement to redo Poussin after nature relates to a tradition of organizing, in which form and colour relations are of importance.

Maurice Denis argues that Cézanne recreates Impressionism from within, his paintings represent more than just a fleeting moment, they get spontaneously the qualities of classic art.

A classicism that is not dependent on historical reference but defined as:

....the power of finding in things themselves the actual material of poetry and the fullest gratification for the demands of the imagination. ... [3]


Some eighty years later Lyotard confirms Cézanne’s distinction between a literary and a visual viewpoint:

... To each of the various areas (science, politics, ethics, etc. etc.) a particular regime can be distinguished, each with his own genre de discourse. Each of these areas is distinguished by its own teleology (in philosophy the search for the purpose behind things) and by the relationship between the person that articulates the sentence and the one that is at the passive side of that speech. Not only the sentences, but also the different sub-areas (discourses) are fundamentally heterogeneous. With each of these regimes a way to (re)present the universe corresponds, and one way cannot be translated into another one. ... [4]

Cézanne is one of the few who consequently realized the incompatibility of the various genres de discourse. Many, painters too, expressed themselves in a mixture of genres. On the one hand this had to do with the fact that painters from before World War II, in their attempt to explain the rapid developments of painting, turned to argumentations from philosophy, outside their own genre the discourse, on the other hand with the fact that they themselves were not yet sure how to cope with the new ways of painting and its role in the fast changing developing society.

Flow of Experiments

The early 20th century shows a large number of experiments in painting, which ultimately results in a separation between:

- The visually oriented artists, who critically examine the visual basis of painting.

- The theoretically oriented artists, who searched for the boundaries of the art of painting (the dominion of the eye), crossed the borders, and began to answer the question: ‘what is art?’ This caused a gradual shift from ‘visual’ to ‘conceptual’ art, a process that took until mid century.

This separation is not at all clear in the beginning of the century; for the time being most painters continued working on canvas, were politically and socially engaged or active member of an avant-garde movement.

The Visual Experiment

Around 1912 a flow of experiments starts: a sequence of form and colour experiments in search for basic principles of visual art, resulting in an extensive visual vocabulary. These investigations led to a movement towards abstraction. The extent to which a painting could become non-figurative plays an important role. Some theoretically oriented painters proclaimed this to be the end of the art of painting. Some examples:

- In a search for universal visual values Mondrian reduces the subject to horizontals, verticals, primary colours and black and white. He calls it Neo-plasticism and he publishes his ideas about this new plastic art and dynamic equilibrium, in magazines such as "De Stijl". He succeeds in making the (white) background an integral and active part of the composition and in doing so he achieves a dynamic whole. He concentrated on the visual aspects, which, according to him, are present in many masterpieces. In classic art, however, a veil conceals the visual aspects.

- The Bauhaus was founded in 1919. Artists like Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Johannes Itten and others had much influence. Klee is a very poetic painter. He was working on basic art principles and wanted to combine the logic of science with music, poetry and painting. He tried to show the dynamics of movement and countermovement by simultaneous colour contrasts, dancing figures, tightrope walkers, etc.

Johannes Itten published his influential theory of colours in his book ‘Kunst der farben’. The National Socialists closed the 'Bauhaus' in 1933. This kind of approach was not continued after World War II.

- In 1913 Malevich paints ‘Black Square on white background’, a completely abstract painting, and formulates the principles of, what he calls, 'Suprematism’. He was convinced that he could give the art of painting a scientific base. In order to achieve that he did research in a systematic way at the State Institute for artistic culture in Leningrad, assisted by an extensive staff and many students. The Institute was closed after a change in the official Soviet politics in 1928 and his work was classified as ‘decadent’ [5].

Malevich made the effects of colour, line and composition visible in his abstract (non-objective) paintings. Geometrical forms seem to float in front of a white background. These forms interact energetically.

Malevich distinguished non-objective and object-exploiting art (the subject is still depicted in a recognizable way, but the model merely serves as a cause for the creative act). Both have an autonomous language and content, which remain in both cases independent from the painted subject or narrative [5a]. This visual effect, the own language and contents of the painter’s discipline, has been the main subject of the experiments of the modern painters.
Though he was very much aware of the importance and meaning of non-objective art, a pure abstract art was never his final aim. It was rather a step forwards in the process of awareness towards the existence of an autonomous shape and content of the visual. He allows a painter to work either non-objective or object-exploiting, as long as the visual requirements of ‘painting as such’ (‘die Kunst als Solche’) are complied with. In his later figurative work he tries to apply the results of his research.


The Theoretical Experiment

Filosoof de trap opgaand

Philosopher ascending a staircase

In 1912 Marcel Duchamp [6] works on a series of paintings called: ‘Nude descending a staircase’.

Following the examples of the Cubists and Futurists he divides the figure into fragments and by simultaneous rendering the fragments he tries to visualize the movement of the descending woman. [7] In fact, movement is expressed in the classical way, or, as Mondrian would say: 'in the manner of the Old Plastic’.

Presumably the results of this research were not satisfactory and in 1913 he switches from two-dimensional to three-dimensional (physical) movement by putting a bicycle wheel on a stool: the first ‘ready-made’. After that he concentrated on intellectual art. With this action he crossed the borders of what until then was considered as being art.

The question ‘What is Art’ became the main concern of the intellectually focussed artists.

In 1934 Duchamp’s ideas about a completely new Art Theory were published in ‘der Grünen Schachtel’. In this article he proclaims a way of thinking in favour of intellectual art. Since 1916 Dada worked in accordance with this concept.

It was mainly a literary movement and in the sixties, when postmodernism begins, the implications of this movement became clear. Statements like ‘Art as idea as idea’ and ‘Art after philosophy’ became the dominant thoughts of ‘what Art should be’.

Manifests and magazines

Many painters have explained their pioneering and cross-border experiments in writings and magazines. Some examples:

- The original Futurist Manifesto (Marinetti, writer, 1909) had a mostly political angle: by struggle, anarchy and revolution the labour movement should be striving for a better future. Boccioni, Carrà, Severini, Luigi Russolo and Balla joined the movement and wrote Manifestos in which their fascination for the new technique of the machine, speed and dynamic sensation of movement was published.
The painter Giorgio Morandi was an exception. The Futurist's ideas and choice of subjects did not appeal to him, although he studied the form experiments of both cubism and futurism. He admired the work of Cézanne and gives a very personal painterly response to his work.

- Surrealism, originated by a combination of collage, aspects of cubism and Dada nihilism, was defined by André Breton as: ‘pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express verbally, in writing or in any other way, the true process of thought. The aim was to free the artists from the normal association of pictorial ideas and of all accepted means of expression. Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924. The movement found his way in literature as well as in visual arts and had a liberating influence.

- ‘De Stijl’ (after 1917) believed in a radical change of society in which the arts, in addition to science, should play a leading role. Their ideas had a considerable influence on architecture and design.
Mondrian takes an in-between position. He had unrealistic expectations of what his new vision would do for society, but also made accurate and precise statements about the visual aspects of painting and his own work.


Roger Fry and his doubts

The influence of the critic and painter Roger Fry was considerable. He is also known as ‘the champion of Postimpressionism' because he made modern art accessible to a large audience in England and America, especially Cubism and the art of Cézanne (as art historian and curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, 1906-1910).

Studying the work of Cézanne and Matisse, he admired the form and colour in their paintings and he became the advocate of modern art with a preference for the aspects of form and colour rather than the narrative in a painting. He attempts to develop a ‘vocabulary’ for this kind of painting with terms like 'plastic' and 'classic'. In his essay of 1911 he uses the word ‘volume’ in order to distinguish between ‘plastic’ and ‘flatness’.

Fry was never an admirer of complete abstract art. But because of his earlier preference for the formalistic aspects in painting he is often referred to as the father of abstract art. The flow of experiments (beginning 20th century) in art has generally been explained as an evolution towards abstraction and Fry is often mentioned as its critical stimulator. His initial ideas (1910) are often, unjustified, linked with the 1940-1960 formalism of Clement Greenberg.[8]

Fry’s complicated way of thinking, the expression of his doubts, his early preference for formalism and human expression, make his writings fascinating. His admiration for both modern and classic art and his long study of art did convince him that the great names in art history justify their claims. He tried to see relations with the work of the old masters e.g. Raphael and Titian.
Titian is full of emptiness, no relation of volumes.
A painter like Rembrandt unites everything. His paintings evoke admiration by their psychological imagination and plastic constructions.

At the end of his life he has his doubts about all the formalistic principles of modern art, which he initially promoted so enthusiastically. He was afraid that pure formalism would separate art from other experiences of life. (ditto: [8])


Barr's CHART: evolution model to pure abstraction

In 1936 Barr’s famous ‘CHART’ is published by the MOMA (New York). The various experiments in art were arranged as an evolutionary process towards abstraction, from Cézanne, father of modern art (1890), to Cubism and finally abstraction.

With this chart the formalistic repertoire of the art of painting seemed to have been defined once and for all, and one wonders whether still anything of interest could be added.

Because of World War II artistic development in Europe lost momentum and the centre of 'Modern Art' moved to America.

Clement Greenberg

Greenberg (in the period 1940 – 1960) is of the opinion that art, in compliance with an evolutionary process, can only lead to full abstraction and he formulates a compelling theory for these thoughts:

.... Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself.... . [9]

The subject (story, narrative) became the enemy of this kind of formalism. Any kind of representation or naturalism had to be avoided, each accidental suggestion of space was forbidden: a painting had to be absolutely flat. Greenberg claimed that the development to pure abstraction was the fulfillment of an inexorable historical tendency [10].
Partly as a result of Greenberg's doctrine, painting of the 1960s develops into pure abstraction. Rigorous non-figuration became a major criterion.

American Artist of those days were eager to develop an original American Art form [11a]. For example in 1948 Barnett Newman declared that American painters, free from the weight of European culture and its 'outmoded images', were creating a new art for a new age: Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life,’ we are making them out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.[11b]

Some painters made abstraction the core of their work, but gave it a totally new meaning. Their method was to have no method: They would sit for hours, even days, in front of a canvas, in order to find out things about themselves and the way in which their abstractions develop. Their abstract forms were as it were a mirror of the essence of the 'modern' man, who, just like an ‘archaic’ man, does not differentiate between the surrounding world and his inner life. The term abstraction became autonomous, conceptual, even when real paint was applied.

Others revolted against the strict rules of Greenberg’s ‘flat’ art, and moved towards minimalism [11] and three-dimensional work [12]. The emphasis is no longer on the work itself, but on the space it occupies, and thus for the gallery in which it is placed. This paves the way for land-art, art-povera, pop art, conceptual art, body art, action painting, and much more.
One is above all artist (and no longer painter, musician, sculptor or dancer), in short, a whole range of new art forms is formed. At the end of Duchamp’s live (1887 – 1986) this group goes back on his work and gives it a central place in art history. Just like Duchamp, they feel no need to devote their entire life to painterly problems.

Art came more and more in the grip of philosophy [13] and theory, and when Greenberg’s influence faded away a shift from a visually oriented to a philosophical way of Art thinking took place.

With Joseph Kusuth's publications [14] 'The Idea of Art as Idea' and ‘Art after Philosophy' that shift became reality. Thereafter visually oriented painting hardly plays a role any more. Art is increasingly considered to be the expression of the intentions of a group, the avant-garde.
The question: ‘What is art?’, is approached from all possible angles. The given answers, together with the associated art forms, are multiform and numerous.


Focus on Language and Theory

Structuralism and Conceptual Art

Saussure, founder of structuralism,

... perceives the meaning of signs in terms of value: the value of a word is, just like that of a coin or banknote, determined by human conventions, and by their function in larger institutes or systems. He does not consider language as a naturally growing organism, but he describes the language system as a social reality, which exists outside the individual consciousness. Therefore it is impossible to convert linguistic facts into nature-facts. ... [15]

In 1967 Jacques Derida, who continues building on structuralism, makes his famous comment: 'There is no outside-text'. [16]
According to Derida the presented (signified) and not the presenter (signifier), the expressed and not the sign, is the essential in art. Under the influence of structuralism visual form and artefacts are increasingly used and understood as words in a spoken language. It’s all about meaning, represented with signs, which is understood by a particular cultural group. The senses and the painting merely operate as a medium, the meaning is conveyed, but no one is interested in how that happens or how it looks like.

A work of art is only sign (signifier): The appearance of the sign remains irrelevant as long as the group understands what the meaning is. In this way the significance of modern art is determined by human conventions, much like the connotation of a word (Dutch: boom; English: tree) or the value of a coin. Works of art that are conceived in this linguistic-analogue way cannot be reduced to nature-facts, but tend to theory and signification: artefacts are more and more used as arguments in a discourse or essay.

Because works of art are theoretically generated, every meaning could be given to any artefact, form or object, as long as the insiders understand the intention. Conceptual Art evolved in the sixties as a consequence of this linguistic-analogical way of applying images. It has developed a great variety of appearances.
An early example is the work of Lucio Fontana (spatialisme), which was important for the development of postmodern art. His 'spatial concepts (Concetto spaziale)' consist of monochrome coloured canvases with a few knife cuts. It took him one hour of concentration before he could strike. 'Performance' is the crux of this work, but that cannot be experienced in the museum.
Lucio Fontana is no longer called painter but conceptual artist.

Merleau-Ponty on Cézanne

Merleau-Ponty philosophizes about the painting in order to develop his influential opinions on phenomenology [17] (perception and sensation), and for that purpose he takes the work and quotations of painters.

He claims that the space of the linear perspective is the product of 'reflected' perception, which is directed by the mind. This is, according to him, not what Cézanne does.

MP: Cézanne shows us the world as it really appears to us in the 'unreflected' perception, that is based on a certain movement of the eyes and hence a movement of the body. The painting realises nature as it is shown to the moving eye and the moving body. The painter paints the canvas according to the requirements of the painting, without involvement of his intellect.

As the making of a painting comprises of much more than mere observation this kind of reasoning does not explain how an 'unreflected' perception actually can be transferred into a convincing painting.

It is a process of observing and searching for structure, at the same time choosing lines, forms, colours, etc. and for that the painter needs experience, knowledge and understanding. This is what Cézanne calls ‘an optic’ and ‘a logic’. The subject is transferred into a visual construction, while at the same time controlling the process and remaining faithful to the subject. A very complicated activity and Cézanne’s painting lessons are not easy to learn.

Matisse, who admired Cézanne, was of the opinion that Merleau-Ponty had no understanding for the art of painting.



Inspired by the rapid succession of art forms in the 20th century Lyotard writes:

... What then is the postmodern? What place, if any, does it occupy in that vertiginous work of questioning the rules that govern images and narratives? It is undoubtedly part of the modern. Everything that is established must be suspected, even if it is only one day old. ... What space does Cézanne challenge? The Impressionists. What object Picasso and Braque? Cézanne’s. What prejudice does Duchamp break with in 1912? The bias that one has to make a painting, be it cubist. And Buren challenges another prejudice that he believes emerged intact from Duchamp’s work: the place of the work’s presentation.

In an amazing acceleration the “generations” stumble over each other. A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Thus understood, postmodernism is not modernism at its end, but in its cradle, which it will not leave. ...

Everything is questioned, each judgement is rejected as being biased or outdated. By the dominance of language and theory, the aims of the artist and the rules of painting are predominantly considered in philosophical terms: 'Questioning the ways of being'.

... What is called art in the late twentieth century ... might be characterised as a branch of philosophy practised with materials and objects. ... [19]

The artist, who no longer may call himself a painter or a musician, aims for the sublime: a permanent birth of new artistic expressions, in which rules are replaced continuously.


Theory and Multiformity

Art became more and more involved with subjects like: semiotics, structures of social power, politics, feminism, psychoanalysis and Western-oriented attitudes to race in references to orientalism and colonialism [20]. As a result many new Art Formulae were invented. Surfing the Internet for ‘twentieth or twenty-first century art’ will give dozens of hits.

Hans Belting complained in 1990:
...Art history therefore simply declared everything to be art in order to bring everything within its domain, thereby effacing the very difference that might have thrown light on our subject. ...[20a].

Debating art became multiform with a large number of specialisms. In the twenty-first century pluralism grows further with the adoption of the concept hybrid, crisscrossing the boundaries between the various disciplines: everything may (or should?) participate!

As no one can be an expert in all areas, nobody is able to comprehend all diverse art practices. Some are of the opinion that all (Post-)Modern Art could be considered as a form of representation:

... One significant feature of Modernism is that it is considered as a form of representation. Representations are always built on pre-existing cultural resources, and hence have always to be explained as developments within an on-going cultural tradition. The functions of a representation are not to be explained in terms of the intentions of an individual author, rather they can only properly be understood in terms of the objectives of some social group. Whether or not it is always appropriate or rewarding, it is clearly possible to view any and all works of art as representations in this sense. .... [21]

Art thus becomes a statement that requires authorisation from a discourse, or, in terms of Foucault’s analyses:
... a painting or a building can be seen as the nodal point of an infinite number of discourses, social, artistic, psychological and so on, and used as a means of identifying hidden agendas of power and control. ... [22a]

Basically this view could be associated with the proclamation of the 'death of the author' by writers like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault [22]. These opinions are at odds with the position and work of many classic or modern painters who created art works with
... the power of finding in things themselves the actual material of poetry and the fullest gratification for the demands of the imagination. ,,, [3]

And now?

Eric Fernie states that the subject [Art] may now appear to present a rather fractured image, partly because art historians (and artists) disagree. He distinguishes two groups: - Classic art historians, who still rely on aesthetics and iconography, and - the 'new art historians' or 'revolutionaries', who strive for a whole new way of art appreciation, or even proclaim the end of art history or art theory.

Fernie believes in the potential of the (Art) subject, which has as its:
… first defining asset the ‘expertise of the eye’, … and as its second ‘the concrete character of its subject matter’. .... [22b]

The search for answers to the question ‘what is art’ of the twentieth century, has led to many new Art Practises and a large diversity in thinking about art. Because of the competiveness of the many new Art Formulae one would expect that the art of painting would have been pushed away towards a remote area of the art landscape, yet anywhere in the world more paintings are shown than ever before: in more museums, in more galleries, at more auctions, via the internet and in many other ways.
Considering the success of the many publications and international expositions of “Classical” and ‘Modern” painters the interest in the art of painting is still very much alive.

Tom (A.M.) van der Linden, Gouda, May 15, 2015


[1] John Dewey in Art as experience (1934).

…. Because objects of art are expressive, they are a language. Rather they are many languages. For each art has its own medium and that medium is especially fitted for one kind of communication. Each medium says something that cannot be uttered as well or as complete in any other tongue. The need of daily life have given superior practical importance to one mode of communication, that of speech. This fact has unfortunately given rise to a popular impression that the meanings expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting and music can be translated into words with little if any loss. In fact, each art speaks an idiom that conveys what cannot be said in another language and yet remains the same.
.... All language, whatever its medium, involves what is said and how it is said, or substance and form. The great question concerning substance and form is: Does matter come first ready-made, and search for a discovery of form in which to embody it, come afterwards? Or is the whole creative effort of the artist an endeavour to form material so that that it will be in actuality the authentic substance of a work of art? The question goes far and deep. …


[2] Michael Doran: Conversation With Cézanne (2001). University of California Press.


[3] Christopher Reed (1996). A Roger Fry Reader. Chapter 3: Refining and Defining: The Post-Impressionist Era.


[4] Jean-François Lyotard in le Différend (1983)


[5] Malevich 1878-1935). Exhibition catalogue ‘Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam’ March 5 1989 – May 28 1989. On Art, Art Analysis and Art Education: The theoretical Charts of Kazimir Malevich. By Linda S. Boersma.


[5a] Exhibition catalogue Malevich 1878 – 1935. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 5-3-1989 t/m 29-5-1989: On Art, Art Analysis and Art Education: The theoretical Charts of Kazimir Malevich. By Linda S. Boersma.

… New art no longer allows extraneous meanings to impose themselves. The gap between imposed content and the essence of a painting is demonstrated in chart 11. Paintings which merely serve to immortalize a religious event, for instance, do not form an organic entity. The narration can be depicted at will in any conceivable style. Naturalism which does not call for any painterly perception or content, is able to express any imposed content or sensation whatsoever. As a contrast, the charts present ‘art as such’. Malevich divides this art into two ‘systems’: The ‘non-objective’ art of, say, Suprematism, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Moholy-Nagy, and what he called ‘object-exploiting’ painting. Cézanne, Matisse and the Cubists still depicted recognizable objects, but the model merely prompted the creative art. An earlier proposition is re-affirmed: The content of their work is not the depicted object, but in fact purely painterly. In the last chart on this subject, all previous diagrams are combined into one, making Malevich’s classification of painting clear at a glance: art at the service of a literary subject and ‘art as such’; ‘Non-objective’ or ‘object-exploiting’, but always with an autonomous content. …


[6] From: Marcel Duchamp, Gestalter unser Zeit. Door Arturo Schwarz, herausgegeben von H.L. Jaffé und A. Busignani, 1973.: Before 1913 Marcel Duchamp painted in a style that was related to Cubism and Futurism (speed, energy, powerful lines and new technology). In 1912 he removed, on request, his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2, an attempt to express movement similar to motion pictures) from an exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. In 1913 he produced his: Bicycle Wheel on a stool, the first ready made, an idea that did not fully develop until 1915. The idea was to question the very notion of Art.

Duchamp was the first person who presented an everyday object as a work of art (a readymade). He wanted to bridge the gap between art and life. This was a milestone for the contemporary visual arts and thus Duchamp evoked art-philosophical questions about the nature and function of art. In 1917 he produced ‘Fountain’, an commonplace urinal signed with R.Mudd, which he anonymously submitted to an exposition without a jury in new York, 1917. He himself was a director of that exhibition, but his fellow members thought that this submission’s aim was meant as an insult to the organization, and refused the work.   

In 1934 Duchamp’s ideas for a completely new art concept were presented in ‘der Grünen Schachtel’. He proclaimed a much more intellectually than visually oriented art. His ready-mades would demonstrate this conceptual art.

In 2004 a panel of 500 art experts elected the ‘wheel stool’ as the most influential artwork of the 20th century. 


[7] By the development of the short shutter speed around 1888 it was possible to analyse movement in phases, with very short time duration.


[8] Christopher Reed] (1996). A Roger Fry Reader. An excellent representation of the ideas and the meaning of Roger Fry.


[9] Greenberg in: Avant-garde and Kitsch, 1939. The art historian Greenberg proclaimed, on philosophical grounds, that each art might refer only to itself. The only topic that is allowed in painting is painting, and therefore it must be flat, flat, and flat again. Greenberg's theory was based on an advanced essentialism. The route of art that followed the theory of Greenberg ended as a blind alley. Because that theory claimed exclusivity and wanted that art would eliminate all non-essential a trend arose that diverted the emphasis from paintings and sculptures to specific objects and materials (objecthood). In this process the (formal) content of the works became less and less essential, but the emphases was laid on the context and the place of the work’s presentation.

Greenberg mentioned the work of e.g. Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland as “Post-Painterly Abstraction” See also: Art in Theory, 1900 – 2000. An Anthology of Changing ideas. Ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. New edition 2010.

Some painters from that period: de Kooning, Newman, Pollock, Rothko, Still, Gorky, Kline.


[10] Introduction to Greenberg’s article: 'Towards a Newer Laocoon (1940)' in 'Art in Theory 1900-2000':

... His aim was at one and the same time to establish to quality of certain abstract art and to justify abstraction as the fulfilment of an inexorable historical tendency. ...


[11a] See also: Anne Cohen-Solal: Painting America. The Rise of American Artists, Paris 1867 – New York 1948.


[11b] David Galenson. 'Rise and fall Abstract Art 20th century'. iBook.


[11] For example: Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Yves Klein, Sol LeWitt.


[12] In 1921 Rodchenko and Stepanova already made monochrome paintings that would have complied with Greenberg's viewpoint. Rodchenko showed three monochrome coloured canvasses: a red, a bleu and a yellow one, and claimed that he had reduced painting towards its logical result. Thereafter they stopped painting and produced only 3-d constructions.

Soll Lewitt's constructions may have been inspired by those 3-D works, but are simpler. Anyhow, Judd’s objection to Greenberg’s theoretical essentialism was not at all new. In fact, in Russia, half a century earlier similar thoughts were developed, though based on a different reasoning. For Rodchenko designing was not a matter of aesthetics, but a catalyst for social change. Art was to be resolved into real life. In contrast, Rothko and Newman tried to resolve life into Art.


[13] Philosophers have extensively explored the boundary conditions and purpose of art. Adorno wondered whether it is thinkable to make art after the Holocaust, later on he is convinced that “High Art” enpowers people to equip them against domination and exploitation. Art thus has an educational task and a purpose to prevent dictatorial domination.


[14] Joseph Kosuth, a conceptual photographer: 'Art As Idea As Idea' (1966-67) and Art after Philosophy' (1969).


[15] Saussure (father of structuralism)
... understands the meaning of signs in terms of value: the value of a Word is, just like that of a coin or bank note, determined by human conventions and by their position in larger institutions or systems. He does not consider language to be a naturally growing organism, but he describes the language system as a social fact that is outside of the individual consciousness. Therefore it is impossible to convert linguistic facts into nature-facts. This is Saussure's breakthrough: he does no longer take biology as the sample science, but sociology, after Durkheim’s model. In the previous decennia the opposite happened, when Saussure’s Structuralism served as a model for social science, including sociology. Because of Saussure we nowadays consider social phenomena, from myths to fashion, as systems of signs. ...

Source: NRC Handelsblad, 26-04-2013. Book review bij Michiel Leezenberg, Revolutionair in de taalkunde: John E Joseph, Saussure (2012), Oxford university press, 2012.


[16] Derida (1967) in: de la grammatologie:

... Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. ...


[17] Merleau-Ponty developed the concept of the body-subject as an alternative to the Cartesian "cogito." Descartes suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has material properties and that it can be divided into ever-smaller pieces, while the soul (or mind) is unitary. This point of view is currently under discussion, amongst other things by discoveries in neurobiology. According to M-P man perceives with his body because he is part of the space that is perceived and because man cannot perceive without his body. Since a painter needs his body to paint and because modern painting, like cubism, does not use the method of linear perspective anymore, he comes to the conclusion that painters like Cézanne were searching for the “deeper” essence of things. In so doing he equals his own objective, the development of a theory of phenomenology, with that of the painters.


[18] From: Jean-François Lyotard (1982 – 1985), "Answering the question: what is the postmodern?” in The Postmodern Explained to Children, Sydney, Power Publications, 1992.


[19] From: Eric Fernie, Art history and its methods, a critical anthology. Phaidon Press, 1995. part III: The concept ART:

... In the third, comprehensive sense, the visual arts can be described as those made objects, which are presumed to have a visual content or to which we react aesthetically.
... This very broad definition is advisable for the art historian because what we call art today is not or was not necessarily considered in the same way in other cultures and at other times. In fact one can go further and say that what is called art in the late twentieth century (which might be characterised as a branch of philosophy practised with materials and objects) represents a minority view among human cultures.
Thus while a fifteenth-century altarpiece, for example, may in part have been valued for the similar reasons as it would be if displayed in a gallery today, it was also in large a practical object performing a social function. ...


[20] From: Eric Fernie, Art history and its methods, a critical anthology Introduction: The late twentieth century. Phaidon Press.


[20a] From: Hans Belting Bild Und Kult: Eine geschichtedes Bildes van dem Zeitalter der kunst. 1990.  See also: The Books That Shaped Art History Thames & Hudson. 2014


[21] Art in Theory, 1900 – 2000. An Anthology of Changing ideas. Ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. New edition 2010.


[22] From: Art in Theory, 1900-2000. Chapter VIID 2. Critical revisions: Michel Foucault. What is an Author? (1969).

... Existentialism, indeed artistic Modernism in general, privileged the author. The sense of the self-contained individual, reaching its high point in the artist, has deep roots in the desires and self-images of Western societies. The twin quest for authenticity and originality which are described right across the body of modern art find their fulfilment in tragic authors, or more particularly in their biographies: van Gogh and Jackson Pollock being perhaps the stereotypical examples. This form of privilege came under challenge from the Wave of Structuralist influence which passed across French thought in the 1960s, spreading outwards as part of an intellectual project which, in its origin at least, was manifestly radical with respect to bour-geois convention. Thinkers as diverse as Lacan, Althusser, Barthes and Foucault all questioned the status of the homogeneous individual, seen new as an ideological construct. Foremost amongst the casualties of this attack was the concept of the author.
The critique of the author has sometimes been ridiculed as a denial of the existence of biological individuals. Its force is rather to locate the individual within a system of conventions, rules, norms, grammars and so forth which, in effect, articulate him – or ‘speak’ him. The ‘death of the author’ point to a critical revision of priorities. ...


[22a] From: Eric Fernie, Art history and its methods, a critical anthology Introduction: The late twentieth century. Phaidon Press.

… Michel Foucault (1926-84) adopted the concept of 'discourse analysis to describe his view of the fractured and multifarious character of power relations in a society; in these terms a painting or a building can be seen as the nodal point of an infinite number of discourses, social, artistic, psychological and so on, and used as a means of identifying hidden agendas of power and control. Foucault's approach reminds us that the art of the past is the art of the victors, and that the work of historians is itself conditioned by a web of discourses. …


[22a] From: Eric Fernie, Art history and its methods, a critical anthology Introduction: The late twentieth century. Phaidon Press.
… The subject may now appear to present a rather fractured image: aesthetes and iconographers on the one hand tending the shrines of genius and antiquity, and revolutionaries on the other, bent on overturning the temples of art, mammon and patriarchy, all set against a backdrop of exhaustion suggested by titles raising the possibility of the end of art history or the end of art theory. …
What this image ignores, however, is the potential of a subject which has as its first defining asset the expertise of the eye (which, although never innocent and always requiring interpretation, can illuminate aspects of cultures across linguistic and social barriers), and as its second the concrete character of its subject matter (which, in common with the material studied in related disciplines such as 'anthropology, 'archaeology and ‘geography, prevent it ever becoming wholly in thrall to philosophy). …


[23] The exhibitions:
- Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (19/10/13 – 2/2/2014).
- Cézanne, Picasso, Mondriaan. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (17/10/2009 – 12/02/2010).
- Mondrian and Cubism. Paris 1912 – 1914. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (25/01/2014 – 11/5/2014).

… Mondrian took cubism far more seriously, as a way of using colour and line to arrive at the essence of art and beauty....
... Mondrian was taking the play of lines in earlier drawings – a landscape, a portrait, a flower still life or a view of trees – as the starting point for the abstract compositions of the post-1911 period. In other words, he was basing his abstract compositions on figurative works. [from website: www.gemeentemuseum.nl ] …