Today’s elite art buyers deluded into investing tens of millions on the Emperor’s new canvas.Newman-and-karabekian Blue painting with one white stripe fetches over 43 million at Sotheby’s auction. I’ve been to a Barnett Newman exhibition, stood in person before the canvases and patiently took in the subtle permutations of color and form, along with other museum goers, and probably appreciated them better than most. I’ve even done work in a similar vein, such as my “Composition with Bars of Soap“. However, I had a litmus test of art that somehow eludes the top buyer connoisseurs and aficionados. As an art student, I felt that a lot of my classmates weren’t really being honest with themselves when they said their favorite artist was someone like Kasimir Malevich, who painted the infamous “Suprematist Composition” – a white square on a white canvas.

File:Kazimir Malevich - 'Suprematist Composition- White on White', oil on canvas, 1918, Museum of Modern Art.jpg
Kazimir Malevich: ‘Suprematist Composition- White on White’, oil on canvas, 1918, Museum of Modern Art

When I’d pressed for why someone like Malevich, the answer would be a concept of value, such as that he’s responsible for eradicating illusionistic depth, or he’s the “father of minimalist abstraction”. And I’d think, but not say, “Oh, like you really give a shit about the ushering in of minimalist abstraction.” I also felt that many of my classmates weren’t trying to make art so much as they were trying to make art history. I didn’t fall into this trap because I’d already fallen in love with music. I’d gotten obsessed with music early by buying used records (as many as I could stuff in my backpack at a time) cheap (for 50 cents, and up), and knew what it was to find nourishment of the psyche in the incontestably rich art that is music. My litmus test was to honestly ask myself if I liked the visual art in question as much as any of my favorite rock songs. The answer was usually a resounding “No!”

Litmus test


If one were to stop and ponder for a second the musical equivalent of a Barnett Newman “zip” (“stripe” is more accurate for me) painting, it would be a one-note symphony. Let’s say the orchestra plays one chord, and a single instrument, such as a violin, plays the lone note, indefinitely sustained. Size of canvas is switched out for duration of sound. The zip for a single note. And what we’d have folks, is boring-ass music. Might be pleasant, for a few minutes. Might make a big impression at first. One could nod one’s head sagely and imagine one might go on listening to it for the full 8 hours, but one would be highly unlikely to not find some excuse to make one’s getaway, as gleefully guilty as slipping out of work for a half-hour smoke break. A lot of art that is seen as “important” because it ostensibly “changed the way people looked at the world,” bored the living crap out of me. Not because I didn’t get it, or wasn’t sophisticated enough to ascertain the rhetoric around it that placed it in the pantheon of art within a simulacrum superimposed upon reality. Naaah. It was just inherently boring. You had to buy into the rhetoric. You had to take it on faith. You had to convince yourself that it was important, focus your attention, and finally realize its grandiosity as it suddenly seemed monumental and scintillating before your very eyes. However, if you quickly shifted your gaze elsewhere you might realize that it was your rapt attention itself that made the work glow, and not the work itself (kinda’ like listening to music stoned). One could infuse the same sort of sensation into looking at an “Oriental rug” mounted on a wall, or a large map. I know, because once, after imbibing a home brew from the extract of Peruvian Torch cactus, the Persian rug on my floor became positively divine, as did my fish tank.

An “Oriental rug” and a map hung on walls.

In the case of Newman, today’s reviews use words like “huge,” “vibrant” and “distinct” to lend substance to what amounts to not much more than a painted wall with a stripe. If I were getting paid to blindside the public, I’d probably have used phrases like “profoundly simple,” “transcendent,” “luminous” and “sublime” (I’d use “austere” except for the probable negative association with “austerity measures”). Load of bollocks. Oh wait, a little research shows me Southeby’s marketed the painting in question as “a portal to the sublime.” Hope they had the thing roped off so people didn’t fall into Wonderland, Lidsville or the Twilight Zone. Hmmm. I’d like to use that overblown portrayal for one of my own pieces (which actually does have something a lot like a portal in it).

Eric Wayne, “Death, Dissolution, and the Void” [digital art 2004-12] “A portal into the sublime.”
In fact, if I really, really liked Newman’s blue painting, I could just make my own copy. If you can paint an apartment (I have, including the ceiling and molding) – which means using a paint roller and masking tape – you’re 90% there. Shit, one of the colors is just white! I’ve thought for a while that the American Abstract Expressionist school of art – including such luminaries as Pollack, Rothko, Newman, Still, Motherwell, and Ryman (each having his claim to a particular method of applying paint) – is overrated. They are American “B” artists elevated to international “A” artists of the century, because they are figureheads in an American mythos. These artists were working in the 50’s and 60’s when America, and New York in particular, was considered the new center of the art world, displacing Paris. America was top dog economically and militarily, and it just seemed fitting that in addition to being the leader of the free world, it should rightly be the leader of the art world. As other countries fell behind in terms of power and influence, it was automatically assumed that they fell behind in terms of artistic vision as well. To question the primacy of American art, which was a testament to American freedom, was to question the primacy of America itself. The mind dare not go there.

Jasper Johns “Three Flags” 1958 .  Senator Joseph McCarthy probably didn’t mind this one much!

Many have no idea that Abstract Expressionism became popular during the McCarthy Era of extreme censorship, and hence its lack of any discernible content made it a safe kind of art to practice, unlike the Social Realism that was popular before WWII. This same lack of subject or apparent content makes works like “Onement VI” perfect for hanging in a corporate boardroom or bank lobby as a sign of power and a tacit reaffirmation of American hegemony. You couldn’t do the same with the works of British “A” painters such as Francis Bacon or Lucien Freud, whose figurative paintings were completely outside of the paradigm which placed American art at the forefront of a contrived linear progress of art history. The painting by Francis Bacon which was also on auction at Sotheby’s Tuesday night failed to sell. This kind of painting (though not one of his best) makes one aware of the existence and even suffering of others.

Francis Bacon’s painting, “Study for Portrait of PL 1962,” an oil on canvas, did not sell.

 Ugh! Get that guy off the couch and back to work, out of my site, dammit! I don’t want a person staring back at me, I want an innocuous line. The reasons I consider Bacon and Freud to be “A” painters and the American bunch to be “B” painters has to do with the skill involved, the content, the vision, and the daring. Looking at Bacon’s painting above it should be pretty obvious that he gets juxtaposing fields of color, but doesn’t see doing so as much more than setting up a background on which to focus on the human condition: in this case a compassionate, if visceral and raw depiction of his subject. I’m fairly sure that Bacon, if he had had to, could have made Newman-style color field paintings (he only needed stop at his own backgrounds), but I seriously doubt Newman could have made paintings in the style of Bacon. Also, I can’t just make a near copy of a Bacon like I could Newman’s blue painting. Really, wouldn’t one feel terribly constrained with doing line paintings if one had the ability to use more colors and make more elaborate compositions? Wouldn’t it be a bit like Beethoven just sticking to a few instruments and a half dozen notes? If an artist is going to be stuck in a signature style, I’d hope he or she got one that allowed a full range of color and content. De Kooning got a pretty good deal because he could use as many colors as he wanted and slather paint around with brushes. But once he staked his claim on that style, other artists like Newman got shafted, having to relegate themselves to some other mode of making abstraction. Robert Ryman got stuck with all white paintings!

Francis Bacon: Lying Figure (1966) 4 x 6.5 feet. Oil on canvas.

The above painting by Bacon has much of the color field virtues of a Barnett Newman, such as large swatches of powerful pigment – the eye CAN just drift into the purple paint in the background if it chooses – but it’s more colorful and sumptuous. Bacon has used foreign material, such as sand, to give the surface of his painting texture, and that combined with the color and his large, outlined forms demonstrates his complete awareness and integration of American Abstract Expressionist sensibilities and techniques. But Bacon combines this with a figurative tradition to create something more complex and satisfying, even if it has no place in the foyer of a Wall Street brokerage firm. Personally, I despise painting or other visual art being evaluated in terms of how it will look in a given setting, and instead take it purely as an image unto itself. Deliberately making art for the living room or the gallery setting is a bit like setting out to compose elevator music. And while I’m sure Newman didn’t set out to make living room art, I’m pretty confident his work was conceived with gallery walls in mind, in which case it’s difficult to imagine his art outside of the white-walled gallery, and the insular world of it’s particular context. Beyond that, where has everyone been? Has no one read Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions? Do they not know about the fictional character, Rabo Karabekian, who sold a painting called The Temptation of Saint Anthony for $50,000? This was a large “Hawaiian Avocado Green” canvas with ONE day-glo orange stripe. OK, the novel was written in 1973, and Newman’s “Onement VI” was painted in 1953, so the satire is 20 years older than Newman’s canvas, and not the other way around. But now it’s forty years since Vonnegut first presented Karabekian to the public, and the art public remains blissfully unaware or unresponsive to Vonnegut’s criticism of the overwrought spiritual rhetoric of the minimal, color field painters.

Covers of “Breakfast of Champions”, in which Vonnegut first introduced Abstract Expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian; and “Bluebeard”, which is a fictional novel in first person narrative about Rabo’s final years.

Here’s what Southeby’s had to say about “Onement VI”:

“Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could capture the ineffable essence of existence”

Wow! Skip selling SOULS, you could hawk those PAINTINGS to the Devil. The sheer kernel of being is laid bare in pigment. You need goggles to look at it for fear of being blinded by the magnitude of the unalloyed radiance of Godhead! Is Southeby’s ever spreading that on thick?! And it sounds so much like the parodic hyperbole Rabo Karabekian spouted to justify the $50,000 that was spent on his 2-color canvas.

“…The picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal – the ‘I am’ to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us – in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light…”

For those of use who can triangulate our visual art, literature, and music, it might be obvious that the selling of Newman’s blue painting with one white stripe for >$43,000,000 is the hypostatization of Karabekian selling his “Temptation of St. Anthony” for $50,000 back in the day (which was probably based on actual, prior sales of “color field” paintings). In one word, it’s a joke. If you’re not really sure Vonnegut’s Karabekian was a satirical character, keep in mind that his controversial painting was “Hawaiian Avocado Green” with one strip of “day-glo orange” tape on it. That should sound funny.

Rabo Karabekian, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”.  Fictional artwork conceived by Kurt Vonnegut.

I remember it seemed odd to me when I was an art student that some of my teachers seemed unaware of Vonnegut’s satire on American “Abstract Expressionism” and its over-glorified offshoots. I even contemplated making my own giant “Hawaiian Avocado Green” canvas with one day-glo orange stripe, exactly to the dimensions specified in the book, and regurgitating precisely the arguments Rabo made to justify his own work. My guess is I’d have pulled it off magnificently. But, it was just a little too thin for me. I like a little more meat in my art. Thinking along those lines, and generally getting lost in fields of mundane color (kind of like getting into the role as an actor), I happened to notice how well the two bars of soap in the shower complemented each other, though they were from different manufacturers. I built an 8 x 4 foot painting, the left half of which matched the color of one bar of soap, and the right the other. I mixed the colors carefully in acrylic, and rehearsed my jargon about artist’s pigments imitating the industrial colors of consumer items. So postmodern! I even used glazes to make the canvases have the same semi-gloss sheen as the soaps. But the main attractions were the recesses in each 4 x 4′ panel, in which the respective original bars of soap were placed, then sealed behind sheets of Plexiglas.

Eric Kuns: Composition with bars of soap. 8 x 4 feet. [Acrylic, soap, Plexiglass, masonite board].
Eric Wayne: Composition with bars of soap, 1991. 8 x 4 feet. [Acrylic, soap, Plexiglass, masonite board].
This piece, which can be seen as belonging to the same tradition of minimalist color field painting as Barnett Newman’s $43,000,000 masterwork, is now on sale for 1/1000th the price (because I’m not dead yet) of “Onement VI”, or, $7,000 less than Rabo Karabekian’s much maligned, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”. A mere $43,000 will get you this fine piece. Just shoot me an email, then we can make arrangements. OK, let’s make it $4,300 (plush shpping and handling).

Back to Barnett Newman, and consensual reality. I really doubt that people are stepping through a “portal into the sublime” and partaking of the “ineffable essence of existence” when they look at a Barnett Newman painting. They’re looking at a well-wrought geometric design writ large. Just as people of various religions or belief systems may invest significance in an icon or object that is meaningless to outsiders, or even how people value gold over other minerals, the momentous artistic and spiritual substance attributed to Newman’s canvases is literally in the eye of the beholder, and conjured with faith. The art itself doesn’t resonate such glory, though it’s got a pretty nice vibe. But once you convince yourself it’s an incarnation of the transcendent, captured by the artist in pigment, you’re sold (and ready to buy). I can get the same awestruck sensation looking at the faux Rabo Karobekian masterpiece.

~ Ends

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57 replies on “Buying Barnett Newman’s Art on Faith

  1. I think the marketing model of the second half of the 20th century was to attract attention to an art piece but getting someone to pay an obscene amount of money for art that could be done by anyone. A lot of the abstract expression, which I sometimes refer to Big Mac art because it can be done by everyone, I think fell into that model.

    I don’t think that model can work anymore because it relied on gallery opportunities being restricted and public awareness being controlled through media relationships. Basically, although the art could be done by everyone, not everyone had the opportunities to show their art or have art critics sing its praises, denounce it or introduce it to a billionaire collector.

    With diversification of the media, people who might previously wanted to become famous by buying the expensive work are instead realizing that even if people do pay attention to their purchase, it will mainly just be to think of the collector as another fool parting with their money.

    Anyway, I do believe that some abstract expressionism is better than others. In my opinion, the key to a good abstract expressionist painting is a feeling that there is some kind of sense of pattern or reason in the chaos. The Malevichs and Newmans don’t have that, which is why I don’t rate them. I’d say they are more junior burger than Big Mac or maybe just two buns.


    1. Big Mac art! Ha, ha, ha. Nice observations about the marketplace and the role of the artist within it, in regards to restricted access to galleries and the public’s perceptions being controlled.

      Right, I think Abstract Expressionism could be quite interesting, in the same way as music without lyrics, because one doesn’t have to be beholden to arranging color and form in relation to a recognizable form. Oddly, few practice that kind of Abstract art where one could really pull out all the stops.

      I’m actually a pretty big fan of the more gooey varieties of Abstract Expressionism, just think that the big names are overrated.


      1. I am a fan of Jackson Pollock. His work has those suggestions of patterns in colour, line and texture that I like. Newman and Rothko are just decorative for me and not very nice decorations at that. I have to say that I don’t get emotion in abstract expressionism and by their prevalence in hotel rooms and corporate offices I dare say that would be a common response. I know Rothko said some people broke down in tears in front of his art but was that marketing or a bit like someone going to Church to find god and convincing themselves god spoke to them once there?

        For me, emotion is in life. Malevich said pure emotion was disconnected from it, but I get more emotion in a work of van Gogh.


      2. Definitely with you on Van Gogh! I know you did 20 paintings devoted to him, and I really dig that your incentive was in part a feeling of awe and insufficiency in respect to his passionate devotion to his work. I also prefer Pollock to the more minimalist painters, like Newman or Ryman or even Stella. In the case of Pollock the “action” of his flinging of the paint gave his work a kind of dynamism that is absent in the more methodical and clinically applied paint of Newman. However, the all-over sameness of Pollock’s canvases is a weakness that makes them probably pretty easy to fake. When it comes to abstract paintings, some of the best canvases I’ve seen were done by Gerhard Richter, who took full advantage of non-representational painting in using a full range of rich colors, textures and compositions to make his evocative paintings (through I’m sure there’s some Richter’s in corporate environments as well).


  2. After quick bout of vigorous you-said-it dancing (an odd thing to do while reading): YES! I heartily approve of a point I think I saw floating somewhere in here. Art can have objective characteristics (dimension, materials, etc.), but it’s also very much about the viewer.

    Also, I really enjoy the kind of artsy-salesy talk (“Newman wanted to regenerate art …”). I know it’s purpose is to convey some sort of meaning, but I think it can be an entertaining creative piece of work all by itself. If an artist has a grand statement to make about the single-striped painting, I want to hear about it … but don’t force me to gaze in awe at the work it describes.


    1. Yeah, if someone has an overarching theory behind their work, I definitely wanna’ hear it, too. And then something you hi-lighted got me thinking again. Newman is said to have wanted to “regenerate art”. In 2013 that sounds a little ridiculous and a lot pretentious. You have to believe in a linear evolution of art, which excludes non Western art, in order to even think that your art could change its course. Imagine if someone were to say the same thing about music today. Would their revolutionary new approach be supposed to change or make irrelevant all other music all over the world? Could any one style of music assert primacy over all others? Impossible. It would be the equivalent of saying that the hamburger had made curries obsolete.


      1. I’d love to know what he really means about regenerating art. Like you, I think it’s not realistic, but I respect grand futile gestures sometimes for the humor and other times just for the intriguing grandiosity. It’s gesturology: art via grand gestures.


  3. I have always been a great fan of Barnett Newman. One of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters of all times. I don’t at all think his was overrated. Sorry!


  4. The bigger issue would ask about the fortunes the rich and super-rich spend on a variety of things — yachts, rare wines, designer fashion, jewelry, automobiles, private jets, high-end prostitutes, big-time gambling — an entire range that would leave you and me baffled. What makes them deem one item so superior to another? Maybe it has everything to do with the imprint of their money or the high priesthood of their selecting. I said “spend” but could as easily mean “squander,” as in the negative side of potlatch where an individual or family buys status.
    You mention gold but could more pointedly examine diamonds, a gem whose value exists solely because of a carefully manipulated, monopolistic marketing strategy that has duped all social strata.
    Essentially, we all need to look more closely, not just at the artifact itself but also at the layers of our own reactions. Or, for that matter, whether we are investing in art at all or are merely bystanders in the horse race.


    1. I think the super rich want art that is recogniseable. they gravitated to works by Newman because the work is simple like a trademark so is easy to remember. Furthermore, if they paid a lot of money for it, the media used to question why, which got the image plastered all through the media.

      Warhol was great at exploiting this. He never claimed to have any great artistic insight or even individuality. He just searched for recogniseable imagery and tagged his name and style onto it to make it his own.


      1. Agreed, and Warhol is another artist that leaves me a bit cold. His popularity seems to rest at least as much on his cult status and image as it does on his actual art.


    2. Right, Jnana, the >$43,000,000 spent on the Newman painting represents some serious disposable income, and at a time of near ubiquitous “austerity” for the rest of us. Perhaps you are right about the import of the “imprint of their money,” which to me implies both trying to influence Western culture. and insert themselves as some sort of player or participant in it. by ascribing artistic value to what gets purchased, and also just doing the equivalent of buying a Guchi bag.


  5. Hmm. Regardless of the selling prices – which are so far from anything I can afford that they’re kind of irrelevant – I like Newman and Johns, and I think Freud and Bacon are overrated. Newman and Johns (and Rothko) make me think about what a painting is or can be, and the role of colour in making a painting. Freud and Bacon don’t quite spark the same reaction for me.


    1. Hi Fiona. Well, I kind of like that we’re on opposite sides on Newman/Johns vs. Bacon/Freud. Would that there be ample audience for all art forms, and I don’t think Newman or Johns or Stella or Ryman are bad artists. However I want to point out that you mentioned that Newman “makes you think about what a painting is or can be…” For me, I’ve thought about this kind of thing. I studied Abstract Expressionism when I was 18 and collected used copies of Art in America from a local bookstore. That was nearly 30 years ago. I even made non-representational art back then

      Spraypainting with tentacles, @1984
      Spray painting with Tentacles, 1984

      and still do.

      Rorschach Experiment 1, 2012
      Rorschach Experiment 1, 2012

      So, I’m not so captivated by the ideas behind or around the art – those become irrelevant over time – in the same way that I don’t care if Sgt Pepper was the first concept album or not: I like it for the music. And the “music” of Newman just isn’t as interesting to me as the music of Bacon.


      1. Quick comment by an art ignoramus — I REALLY LIKE that tentacles thing. Something about it gives me the impression of being near a pier on the water and listening to the water make that “chunka-chunka” noise it does as it laps the pilings. That’s a really, really, REALLY nice painting.


      2. Hi Erik, I guess we both like different kinds of ” music” then. Perhaps our opinions are different because you are a working artist and I am at best an enthusiastic dabbler, so we are coming at the works from different perspectives. But I do love those two paintings of yours!


      3. Yes, we may like different kinds of music. Oddly, I respect jazz for a lot of reasons, for example, but just never was able to really get into it. But I’m certainly grateful it’s out there, just as I’m grateful that the color field painters are out there. Cheers.


  6. I think Vonnegut is simply a greater artist than Barnet Newmann, Rabo Karabekia, and Kazimir Malevich. He’s deeper. Though I have to say there’s something on the level with Vonnegut in Jasper Johns’ work.


  7. I’m a fan of art and art history.

    I really enjoyed your post (and loooved the novel Bluebeard).

    Sadly, today craftsmanship and creativity are now secondary to “trends” and “marketable” names.

    And maybe the saddest thing, the rich patrons have no eye and appreciation of art.

    All they want is the status to say “I own a Barnett Newman”.

    + + +


    I saw this Rothko documentary last year.

    Enclosed is part 1 … maybe you’ll enjoy it too.


    1. Yeah, Bluebeard was great. I think maybe the satire in it helped me see Abstract Expressionism from a new perspective outside of the one I got in art school. Of course I read it more than 20 years ago. I also want to say, “I own a Barnett Newman,” because then I could sell it for a tiny fraction of it’s going rate and live happily ever after.


  8. Enjoyable post. But it seems to me like you’ve never encountered a single Barnett Newman painting. You may have stood in front of one, but I’d guess what you experienced was his entire oeuvre and that of his contemporaries, quotes by the artist, superlatives used by reviewers, ideas about wealthy art investors, Kurt Vonnegut, and so on, all seen from the comfortable vantage point of a very different era.

    It seems to me you’re committing the same fallacy as those who overvalued the work because of its historical position: you forgo actual encounter in favor of a bunch of mental associations. (From a neurological perspective, we do experience our associations, so encounter and association probably feel like the same thing.)

    Of course, you don’t have to like any one painting by Newman. I think a Newman painting can be a rich thing to experience, though not necessarily sublime. But I don’t have to under-appreciate it because the artist and others may have over-appreciated it.

    Yes, Newman and others of his time appear to us to have possessed a ponderous conceit. But that’s the ego for you, not the era. The ego is just as responsible for our current epoch of jokey indifference and smart-assery.

    At least, that’s what my ego would have me say.


    1. Hi thyrsday. I like the challenge of your post. I’d probably agree with you if you weren’t talking about me, because I like the idea that I’m just looking at the art through a jumble of expectations and concepts and not at the thing itself. I’ve definitely seen a lot of Newman and other Abstract Expressionists in various exhibitions and permanent collections. In fact I generally like Abstract Expressionism, and was nuts about De Kooning when I was 18-21 (later I become less impressed with his use of color, but I might need to give his work a fresh look), when I embraced it as my favorite style of art. I had books on Pollock, Rothko, Richter, Stella, and De Kooning… I was also taught these artists in art school. What I’m getting at is I was probably too receptive and enthusiastic about it to just have seen completely through a veil of intellectual interpretation. In other words, I grew out of it over time. And now it seems overblown, or at least the more minimal varieties of it do, and the primacy and price tag of paintings of artists like Newman seem to have as much or more to do with their place in an American legacy than in the art itself.

      I am going to defer to your comment about not under-appreciating Newman’s art because others over-appreciated it, as well as your assault on the impetuous, ever-present ego. I mentioned this in another comment, but, I find the abstract works of Gerhard Richter much more beautiful and entrancing, because of the range of color, rich mode of application of paint, and variety of composition.


      1. And fair enough. A gracious response too, insofar as my original reply, I now think on re-reading it, may have come across a little accusatory. That is not what I would want.

        I guess this business of perceiving things through a fog of mental associations is our default setting, and the easiest thing in the world. To my mind, the real trick is to experience things directly – whether they be a Newman, a Richter, or a sandwich – without the interference of ideas. But that’s my preoccupation. Not that I’m much good at it.

        Thanks for the blog.


      2. Hi thyrsday. What you are talking about is a lot like what Aldous Huxley talked about in “The Doors of Perception”. He talked about the brain (I’d say “mind” here) working as a sort of filtering mechanism, and certain uuuuuuh psychoactive plants removing the filters so that one would see the world as if for the first time.

        Right. we build a simulacrum on reality based on our culture and belief systems, but don’t realize we do this. Then we perceive our worlds in and through such a paradigm.

        I agree without, and I’m not much good at bypassing the intellect either. But I try, sometimes.


  9. I’m not very good at english, so I didn’t read all, but the way you write made me keep reading, even if I’m not so interested in art. I’m so agree when you explain the zip as a single music note!


  10. Great piece and thought provoking. I’ ve been wracking my brain lately, about many of the issues you address here. I recently entered a grant competition that wanted writings, art, etc., focused on contemporary art. Well, I never set out to focus on contemporary art but in considering applying for the grant, all your questions and more, came up. Thanks for writing honestly. Your article attracted me because I’m still questioning!


  11. Great interpretation of modern art trends ! I’m an artist who often reads statements by artists in galleries and they are so boring and meaningless they put me to sleep. When art needs an intellectual explanation that art is weak. I think those artists are trying to bullsh-t the public into thinking that the reason they don’t like “modern art” is because they just aren’t smart enough to “get it”. And what we have now is alienation from the general public because those con men are taken seriously be the establishment.
    I was contacted by agents in New York who wanted big bucks to represent my work but those guys aren’t known in my hometown, where I could possibly get sales from the investment. Ironically, when I looked them up online they are still talking about Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol in NY. And I h8 those artists, so I knew the agents were only after me for money because my art definitely doesn’t fit in with their likes.
    I hope to tell the world on my blog that postmodern is passé. NY is probably passé too now because they are stuck in that mental game zone.


    1. “When art needs an intellectual explanation that art is weak.” Yup. An explanation can help sometimes to get into something, but it the art NEEDS it to succeed, that’s a problem. I’m a big fan of international music, and I listen to all sorts of stuff that I can’t understand the language of (when there’s lyrics), but that doesn’t stop me from liking it or make me need an explanation.


  12. And don’t forget that the CIA was helping to promote Abst.Expressionism )

    Wonderful parallels with music. I doubt you really can use favourite music to measure a painting (though a gourmand may use Michlen star dinners to do the same), for these two are rather different in the way they engage our brain, but in terms of emphasising the one-noteness, it was quite convincing.

    Sadly, this will never be read by those few thousand abramoviches, perelmans, and qatar sheiks who keep the art industry rolling. And I am sure guys & dolls at Sotheby’s whistled all the way to the bank, after laughing their heads off while writing the bullshit they write about stuff they sell.


    1. Right, artmoscow, I was just reading about the CIA promoting Abstract Expressionism. Who would have guessed artists were making fortunes partly because the CIA was bolstering their popularity around the world. And I’m quite fascinated by the fact that they were considered innocuous enough to not incur the wrath of Senator McCarthy. In other words they were safe domestically and good to export, in order to make the rest of the world respect our innovation and vision.

      You’re right, of course, that comparing paintings and music is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but I wanted to get at how one values art in general. It seemed to me that people loved music but convinced themselves they liked cerebral art more. A friend might assert he loved Piet Mondrian for some art historical reason, and then whistle Jimi Hendrix all day. Generally, Mondrian is held on a pedestal of high art and Hendrix relegated to a lower realm of popular music for the masses. I think it’s probably the reverse. Hendrix was doing the more outlandish and daring art, and Mondrian making dry designs in the studio. At least that’s another way to look.


      1. Well, art valuation and evaluation might differ by a letter, but these two “activities” are worlds apart )

        I think that Mondrian was at least as revolutionary as Hendrix, but his revolution happened to be in design. It was not even his own, but that launched by designers he influenced. He made acceptable all the minimalist concepts and colour combinations that interior design has been using for the last 40 years. Ikea should built Mendrian a memorial. Hendrix was great himself, and set up a lot of musicians following him for greatness as well )

        Thank you for coming back. It is a pleasure to read you!


  13. I like that art can be many different things to many different people. I have had similar thoughts to those you express, but I like that the simplicity of form of Newman let’s your mind wander to deep places. Or perhaps that it’s like going to Macy’s — it’s very Ralph Lauren and Nautica. What I don’t like is that other artists are not sold. Surely there is space in the world for the voices of all, not just a few that some collectors deem worthy of huge prices. Why must our field of vision only be take up by a few soothing, untroubling views? Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


  14. All the poser art students I studied with who like Malevich must surely now be doing one of the following:
    a: Flipping burgers.
    b: Living off their wealthy parents, still, aged 40.
    This sort of art seems to be appreciated by those who can’t paint or draw.


  15. Great article.
    Eliminate Capital Gains cuts and IRC Section 1031 and watch art prices sink like stones.


  16. And I love your work. Your older works have rawness with a mental smack. The new pieces show you’ve made a nice progression into a cleaner, sharper, more philosophical place. They draw the viewer in deeper, forcing them to linger longer. Best of luck.


  17. I got halfway down this post smugly intending to recommend the two Vonnegut books to you.
    I should have guessed.

    P.S. I’ve whacked two mozzies since making my last comment.


  18. Reblogged this on His Visual art Exists (only) As “printed pixels" on a page, or pixels carried by electronic signals, or pixels on a display device (output device for presentation of information in visual or tactile form). and commented:
    As someone who really resonates emotionally with Barnett Newman for various emotional reasons – I highly enjoyed reading this article that also touches on Kurt Vonnegut’s Rabu Karabekian – Bluebeard is even the book Vonnegut signed for me when I met him. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. People will fall for nearly anything they can spend a lot of money on.

    I like your soap work!

    And the music references are super: I sat thru too many bizarre performances of “the music of tomorrow” (and watched too many swoony folks waggle fat wallets afterward) to not recognize the same shilling in the visual art biz. Is that to cynical? Oh, well.

    As always, thank you for posting this (even if it was a very long time ago). 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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