Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


back to c. 1945: Barnett Newman writes "The Plasmic Image"

From "The Plasmic Image" by Barnett Newman:

"The subject matter of creation is chaos. The present feeling seems to be that the artist is concerned with form, color and spatial arrangement. This objective approach to art reduces it to a kind of ornament. The whole attitude of abstract painting, for example, has been such that it has reduced painting to an ornamental art whereby the picture surface is broken up in geometrical fashion into a new kin of design-image. It is a decorative art built on a slogan of purism where the attempt is made for an unworldly statement...

It is now a widespread notion that primitive art is abstract... An examination of primitive cultures, however, shows that many traditions were realistic... In primitive tribes distortion was used as a device whereby the artist could create symbols. It is also very important to try to draw a sharp line between art and the decorative arts... In primitive tribes this separation was well-defined...

There is an attempt being made to assign a Surrealist explanation to the use these painters make of abstract forms... Surrealism is interested in a dream world that will penetrate the human psyche... The present painter is concerned not with his own feelings or with the mystery of his own personality but with the penetration into the world mystery. His imagination is therefore attempting to dig into metaphysical secrets. To that extent his art is concerned with the sublime. It is a religious art which through symbols will catch the basic truth of life which is its sense of tragedy... He is therefore engaged in a true act of discovery in the creation of new forms and symbols... No matter what the psychologists say these forms arise from from, that they are the inevitable expression of the unconscious, the present painter is not concerned with the process. Herein lies the difference between them and the Surrealists. At the same time in his desire, in his will to set down the ordered truth, that is the expression of his attitude towards the mystery of life and death... " (TH23-24)

back to c. 1945: Barnett Newman writes "The Plasmic Image"