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115 Years: In Their Own Words

Throughout our history, ARTnews has relied on artist-contributors, from Frank Bowling to Laurie Anderson. Below are excerpts from their essays and reviews.

Precisely controlled and modulated, [Lynda] Benglis’ tapes work on several formal and descriptive levels simultaneously.
— “Reviews and Previews,” by Laurie Anderson ▲, March 1973


What meaning, then, for the artist can the differentiation of “primitive” have? There is a disagreeable connotation to the word, like that of being inept or coarse. Children’s work is not considered primitive, at least not our own—they are merely childish or wonderful—nor is Rousseau, who is more wonderful than childlike.
—“The ‘arts’ called ‘primitive,’ ” by Isamu Noguchi, March 1957


[Stuart] Davis’ palette has always been, in spirit at least, strictly red, white and blue. His subject has always been America—not America as seen in American art but as seen on a walk down Broadway or a drive past a harbor in a fishing village. He resists art by being true to life. More intensely than any painter in our history, he offers a specific, objective, national experience.
—“Stuart Davis: True to life,” by Elaine de Kooning, April 1957


I like everything about [Joan] Miró—his clear-eyed face, his modesty, his ironically-edged reticence as a person, his constant hard work, his Mediterranean sensibility, and other qualities that manifest themselves in a continually growing body of work that, for me, is the most moving and beautiful now in Europe. A sensitive balance between nature and man’s works, almost lost in contemporary art, saturates Miró’s art, so that his work, so original that hardly anyone has any conception of how original, immediately strikes us to the depths.
—“The significance of Miró,” by Robert Motherwell, May 1959


In the famous opera I am writing at the moment, I want one hundred (100) hogs to be killed simultaneously against a background of 558 motorcyclists, the engines running. Now that I have seen [Henri] Cartier-Bresson, I want the hogs to be prepared for slaughter in rigorously parallel lines, like a wonderful Mondrian—wonderful because pinked (the rose of pigs); each of the black lines will become tender, bleeding, deafening with sonorous volume.
—“Cartier-Bresson: moralities,” by Salvador Dali ▼, February 1960


Yayoi Kusama is an original painter. The five white, very large paintings in this show [at Brata gallery] are strong, advanced in concept and realized.
—“Reviews and previews: new names this month,” by Donald Judd, October 1959


It is as though what is being said is that whatever black people do in the various areas labeled art is Art—hence Black Art. And various spokesmen make rules to govern this supposed new form of expression. Unless we accept the absurdity of such stereotypes as “they’ve all got rhythm…,” and even if we do, can we stretch that a little further to say they’ve all got painting? Whichever way this question is answered there are others of more immediate importance, such as: What precisely is the nature of black art?
—“It’s Not Enough to Say ‘Black Is Beautiful,’ ” by Frank Bowling, April 1971


Fine art is not “a means of making a living” or “a way of living a life.” Art that is a matter of life and death cannot be fine or free art. An artist who dedicates his life to art, burdens his art with his life and his life with his art. “Art is Art, and Life is Life.”
—“Twelve rules for a new academy,” by Ad Reinhardt, May 1957


Appropriation pointed to something—some psychological or cultural condition outside of the work itself—that was the basis of its claim to criticality and, at its best, excavated something deep in the psyche. But there are other things in life. At present, painting is focused on structure, discovering and molding pictorial form for its own sake.
—“Structure Rising,” by David Salle, March 2015


[Jackson Pollock] created some magnificent paintings. But he also destroyed painting.
—“The legacy of Jackson Pollock,” by Allan Kaprow ▼, October 1958


How am I to simplify the composite picture “female” and “artist” in words? There is not a doubt in my mind that we still exist in a very self-conscious, sexually-repressed time. Although our culture has been and is male-dominated, the sexual experience is not unique to males nor is the art experience unique to males.
—“Eight Artists Reply,” by Lynda Benglis, January 1971


A certain anxiety persists in the painting of Piero della Francesca. What we see is the wonder of what it is that is being seen. Perhaps it is the anxiety of painting itself.
—“Piero della Francesca: The impossibility of painting,” by Philip Guston, May 1965


As the wholeness of life eludes control, so the wholeness of art eludes the control of the artist. The realist thinks he knows ahead of time what reality is, and the abstract artist what art is, but it is in its formality that realist art excels, and the best abstract art communicates an overwhelming sense of reality.
—“Art and Knowledge,” by Fairfield Porter, February 1966


Did the painter of Marilyn Monroe become her? Did she really look like that when he welcomed her in the “immanent space in his heart”? No, for art comes from art as well as from heaven. [Willem] de Kooning’s Monroe is shredded, Action-Painted, New York-anguished. She reveals her epoch even as Rubens’ Helene Fourment reveals hers.
—“Figure paintings today are not made in heaven,” by Philip Pearlstein, Summer 1962


A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 68.

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