A sourcebook of
by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz
University of California Press,
just over 4 lbs, this 1000-page book is a tremendously interesting
and comprehensive anthology of
artists' writings, interviews, manifestoes, statements, letters
and so forth, covering the period from the end of World War II
to about the mid-1990s.
as a textbook for students of art and art history, it is organized into nine sections,
each dealing with a major area of contemporary art. Each section
has an introduction by one of the editors, and there is a
General Introduction at the beginning by Kristine Stiles.
sections are: 1. Gestural Abstraction; 2:Geometric Abstraction;
3: Figuration; 4: Material Culture and Everyday Life; 5: Art and
Technology; 6: Installations, Environments, and Sites; 7:
Process; 8: Performance Art; 9: Language and Concepts.
with Jackson Pollock's Guggenheim Application of 1947 ("I intend
to paint large movable pictures which will function between the
easel and the mural. ..."), in here you will find words by
most of the major artists of the last fifty years, excepting
painters such as Picasso who, from the standpoint of
contemporary theory, belonged to an earlier era. His influence,
though, hovers over the whole book and all the artists in it,
much as Shakespeare's influence still hovers over literature, as
Harold Bloom has argued.
artists are notoriously variable in their ability to express
themselves in words and in this respect the anthology does not
disappoint --and in fact the variation makes the volume a great
dip-and-browse book (I should make clear at this point that I
have not read the whole book). A few of the selections are all but
unreadable; others are models of well-expressed original
Sol LeWitt, for instance, needs a mere paragraph to clarify what Conceptual Art is all about.
Bacon explains that he prefers to paint people he knows from
photographs and memory because if the person is in the room with
him he feels inhibited about distorting their image (I can
totally relate to that).
Neel is as truthful and honest and interesting in a 1983
interview with Patricia Hills as she was in her marvelous
excerpts from here and there:
Dubuffet, 1951: "Written language seems to me a bad instrument.
As an instrument of expression, it seems to deliver only a dead
remnant of a thought . . . I believe (and here I am in accord
with the so called primitive civilizations) that painting is
more concrete than the written word, and is a much more rich
instrument for the expression and elaboration of thought." (p
in1988, describing his search for a company to produce large
porcelains, gives an intimation of how profoundly the rules have
changed: "Then I went to Italy . . . thinking that the Italian
mentality is much more courageous . . . In the end, my Michael
Jackson piece will be the largest porcelain ever produced in the
world. So what I was doing was financing their experimentation . . .
The way it works is that one of the factory artists makes the model
and signs it. I sign underneath the piece with the date and number
of the edition. I have them sign it because I want them to give me
100%, to exploit themselves." (p. 382-3, Material Culture and
Reinhardt's Twelve Rules, so utterly negative as to border on
nihilism, explain his all-black paintings and strike a chill in the
warmest heart (p 89--90, Geometric Abstraction).
artist Nam June Paik said in Art and Satellite (1984): "God
created love to propagate the human race, but, unawares, man began
to love simply to love. By the same logic, although man talks to
accomplish something, unawares, he soon begins to talk simply to
talk." (p. 435, Art and Technology).
Anthony Caro asserted in 1979 that ..."Abstract art which is not
expressive becomes arbitrary or decorative" -- thus putting down his
stake in an old debate that is likely to continue into the
foreseeable future -- if, of course, the world as we know it has
such a thing as a foreseeable future (p. 104, Geometric
selections are presented without comment apart from the section
introductions. The source for each selection is given in a footnote
on the page where the piece begins, a considerate decision on the part of the editors
much-appreciated by this reader.
I hope the titbits
quoted above will give a tantalising flavour of the riches to be found in
this anthology and will whet the reader's appetite for more. The
illustrations are sparse and in black and white only, but are
exceptionally well chosen -- not a cliché among them, and
some refreshing choices -- as in Lucien Freud's
startling portrait of Francis Bacon, and Giacometti's self-portrait scribbled
on a paper napkin.
October 14, 2004, modified November 14, 2004
See more on Amazon.com
Back to Art Books index page