yells of awe and anger

The death instinct laying claim. Death making a deposit on even the most modest and humble aspirations, dragging us over the abyss back to the primal aesthetic root; as Nietsche said, if you look at the abyss long it begins to gaze back, slowly, inexorably hypnotizing until we fall over the edge in an act of primitive sacrifice and surrender, the logical and tragic conclusion of the artist when his aesthetic is confined to a strictly mental function. But its not enough to relieve us of the suffering that stark and vulgar materialism exerts on us, the raw void of the madhouse world. The art world is littered with failures of this function from Damien Hirst ashtrays, to Serrano’s Piss Christ and so on all children of the gods of obliteration that began with Duchamp and the pre-Garden of Eden existentialism of Barnett Newman. Or more charitably, parasiting on Duchamps and Newman’s inevitable inability to sustain the initial dynamic and succumbing to pretense of the ironic gesture.

---Leon Wieseltier replies: I never denied that Barnett Newman was familiar with Kabbalistic lore, nor even that its images and ideas are occasionally reflected in his work. Mr. Hess’s stimulating monograph did indeed incontrovertibly establish that. My objection, however, was that it was Mr. Hess who was being carried away in his eager search for the Kabbalah under the canvas. What he persistently described as Kabbalistic influence need often have been nothing more than the expression of a general knowledge of Jewish sources such as would have been available to anyone of Newman’s background and interests. An example: in the commentary to his bold design for a synagogue, Newman commendably declared that women should no longer be crudely separated from the center of worship, but should instead sit “in the full clear light, where they can experience their identity as women of valor.”--- Read More:

Odd Nerdrum one famously once suggested  there was something farcical about much of modernist art. As Kuspit said, it’s ap rovocative crowd pleaser at a conference when mobbed by 500 students to call Barnett Newman paintings nothing but wallpaper with theory, but it does expose the truth that a colored flat plane does not automatically equate with spirituality and that carried as a fashion or trend by followers it implies the sway of theory over art, or market values over spiritual values which elevate and inflates the derivative and unoriginal. Newman understood that linguistically speaking, man was not born free and our linguistic minds were made up for us from the day we were born. If we could tear back culture’s particular habits of perception and expression, could they come back to a source where language was not a barrier; the first sounds out of Yahweh’s mouth in creating the world and the conceptual blueprint for what became the human being…

---Kuspit: What Newman calls the “primal aesthetic root” is inseparable from “original man, shouting his consonants…in yells of awe and anger at his tragic state, at his own self-awareness and at his helplessness before the void…It was a primal act, full of the futility of self-recognition, acknowledging human isolation in an inhuman universe.--- Read More:

…In the case of Barnett Newman, Kuspit finds the aesthetical under siege in the anti-human insistence of Newman on certain primitive, almost animistic energies which he felt were the essence of all created phenomenon. For Newman, art involved a sort of return to a state before the fall of biblical man, before civilization and its accelerating madness. He experienced himself as defiantly alone in a profoundly inhospitable universe. He believed in a regression to some pre-human state of being which was essential to his notion of creativity, to his dependence on a kind of preternatural energy which could elevate him above the bleak mediocrity of industrial society. His was a sort of abstract paganism, in which only a mythic return to pre-human creative energies could justify the lonely howl of the artist, acutely separate and adrift in a universe of eternal night. Read More:

---Newman. Adam and Eve.---Now was I to assume that Newman never read these texts—or, in the light of his allegedly consuming interest, that he did not read them avidly? Indeed, were Mr. Hess himself more conversant with Kabbalah and the state of its study, he would have known that unless Newman possessed the immense scholarly equipment required to study these sources “for himself,” which is unlikely, or was gullible enough to study Kabbalah from drugstore manuals, which is just as unlikely, he, like so many others, would certainly have known most of what he knew about Kabbalah from Scholem. Read More: image:


It is the unique gift of Kuspit to see behind these clever masks of mental seclusion; and to follow the devastating trends in art which have brought us at last to the point where we can no longer assert that art has any real import in our lives at all. What both Duchamp and Newman held in common was the bedrock notion that the aesthetic of art be confined to a strictly mental function; that indeed the separate, personal mind of the artist is the seminal truth in art, and that the actual process of making a work of art and the end-product itself are inferior to its isolated conception. That is to say, they each represent two different modes of a willful retreat into the personal labyrinth of human subjectivity, into a kind of gloomy mental isolation. Thus Newman and Duchamp exemplify what occurs when the dynamic energy of life and love are deliberately withdrawn from the actual human world of culture and art, when what Freud called the “death instinct” lays claim to our most passionate relational aspirations….

Kuspit:Materialism has increased exponentially in art and society since Kandinsky’s day, as the business ideology of today makes clear. Business materialism is evident in the eagerness for corporate sponsorship of art—one may say corporate legitimation of its significance. Business materialism is also evident in the implicit belief that the work of art is a commodity before it is anything else, that is, its commodity identity is its primary identity, or to put this another way, its marketplace value is its primary value. It seems more and more foolish and farcical to speak of a work of art’s internal necessity when it seems designed to cater to external necessity. It is harder and harder to know what one is talking about when one does so. It is harder and harder to claim that a work of art can be a spiritual experience, however much such artists as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman insisted that one was missing the point of their abstract art if one viewed it materially. They were not mere technicians of color, to use a term that has been applied to Rothko, but spiritual provocateurs.--- Read More:

…Kuspit brilliantly traces the downward-spiraling trends of this malevolent assault on aesthetics in art; and we arrive at last at the melancholy present, where commerce and the surface diversions of mere entertainment have almost entirely subsumed what was once known as fine art, or high art. The inspired art that can move us deeply, that can re-connect us with the healing realms of the great unconscious, can find no path into the shrill markets of postmodernism, where the exaltation of the vulgar, the banal, the commercially viable and the strictly ideological are the price of entry.Read More:
I am suggesting that the most spiritual art in the twentieth century was Expressionistic art, in all its varieties, abstract and figurative. In the United States we had a number of Jewish-American artists, such as Rothko, Newman, and Rudoff Baranik who made important spiritual art,
although I think they did not sufficiently attend to the sickness that prompts and informs it. In 1937 an advocate of Expressionism associated with The Ten described Expressionism as a Visionary art that conveyed the throb of life in a world in which it was threatened. It was aware of both internal and external reality, and tried to synthesize them in an intense vision. This is what Beuys did in an inimitable way, not only synthesizing subjective and objective reality in his art, but using it as a form of social action. He was the supreme post-Hegelian German idealist-realist.Read More:

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