Dear Gordon Smith:
suggestion that I write a few notes for the catalog of this collection
of paintings raises the same interest and the same qualifications that
were present when the exhibition itself was first considered. The paradox
manifest by the appearance of this work in an institution whose meaning
and function must point in a direction opposite to that implied in the
paintings -- and my own life -- was accepted. I believe it will not be
resolved, but instead will be sharpened and clarified. For it was never
a problem of aesthetics, or public or private acceptance, that determined
my responsibility to the completed work. Rather, it was the hope to make
clear its conceptual germination of idea and vision, without which all
art becomes but an exercise in conformity with shifting fashions or tribal
ethics. Perhaps a brief review is in order —. In the few directions
we were able to look during the 1920's, whether to past cultures or the
scientific, aesthetic, and social myths of our own, it was amply evident
that in them lay few answers valid for insight or imagination. The fog
had been thickened, not lifted, by those who, out of weakness or for positions
of power, looked back to the Old World for means to extend their authority
in this newer land. Already mired by moralists and utilitarians in the
swamps of folkways and synthetic traditions, we were especially vulnerable
to the mechanistic interpretations of motive and meaning. There followed
a deluge of total confusion.
spokesmen and self-styled intellectuals with the lust of immaturity for
leadership invoked all the gods of Apology and hung them around our necks
with compulsive and sadistic fervor. Hegel, Kierkegaard, Cezanne, Freud,
Picasso, Kandinsky, Plato, Marx, Aquinas, Spengler, Einstein, Bell, Croce,
Monet, — the list grows monotonous. But that ultimate in irony,
-- the Armory Show of 1913 — had dumped upon us the combined and
sterile conclusions of Western European decadence. For nearly a quarter
of a century we groped and stumbled through the nightmare of its labyrinthine
evasions. And even yet its banalities and trivia are welcomed and exploited
by many who find the aura of death more reassuring than their impotence
or fears. No one was permitted to escape its fatalistic rituals —
yet I, for one, refused to accept its ultimatums.
to the body of reference or "sensibility" which indulges homage or
acquiescence to the collectivist rationale of our culture, I must
equate with intellectual suicide. The omnivorousness of the totalitarian
mind, however, demands a rigor of purpose and subtlety of insight
from anyone who would escape incorporation.
and ethically the corruption is complete. Preoccupation with luminous
devices is equated with spiritual enlightenment. The laws of Euclid
are publicly damned to promote work illustrating an authoritarian
dialectic. Witless parodies are displayed as evidence of social artistic
commitment; and qualitative arrangements are presented as evidence
of access to supernal mysteries. The rush to betray, in the name of
aesthetics or "painting," an imagery born in repudiation of socio-psychological
fallacies becomes a popular, but sinister, measure of its power.
the crimes not covered by the skirts of that ubiquitous old harridan called
Art. Even the whimperings and insolence of the venal are treasured in
her name — and for their reassurance — by the arrogant and
contemptuous. Indeed, among ambitious esthetes, artists, architects, and
writers, the burden of our heritage is borne lightly but mainly by hatred
or cynicism. The impudence and sterility which so hypnotically fascinate
the indifferent, perform a sordid substitute for responsibility and truth.
it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which would aid in
cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a
direct, immediate, and truly free vision could be achieved, and an
idea be revealed with clarity.
such an instrument, however, — one that would transcend the powers
of conventional technics and symbols, yet be as an aid and instant critic
of thought — demanded full resolution of the past, and present through
it. No shouting about individualism, no capering before an expanse of
canvas, no manipulation of academic conceits or technical fetishes can
truly liberate. These only make repetition inevitable and compound deceit.
Thus is was
necessary to reject the superficial value of material — its qualities,
its tensions, and its concomitant ethic. Especially it became necessary
not to remain trapped in the banal concepts of space and time, nor yield
to the morbidity of "the objective position;" nor to permit one's courage
to be perverted by authoritarian devices for social control.
as a journey that one must make, walking straight and alone. No respite
or short-cuts were permitted. And one's will had to hold against every
challenge of triumph, or failure, or the praise of Vanity Fair. Until
one had crossed the darkened and wasted valleys and come at last into
clear air and could stand on a high and limitless plain. Imagination,
no longer fettered by the laws of fear, became as one with Vision.
And the Act, intrinsic and absolute, was its meaning, and the bearer
of its passion.
itself, whether thought of as image of idea, as revelation, or as
a manifest of meaning, could not have existed without a profound concern
to achieve a purpose beyond vanity, ambition, or remembrance, for
a man's term of life. Yet, while one looks at this work, a warning
should be given, lest one forget, among the multitude of issues, the
relation I bear to those with "eyes." Although the reference is in
a different context and for another purpose, a metaphor is pertinent
as William Blake set it down:
Vision of Christ that thou doust see
my Vision's Greatest Enemy:
is the friend of All Mankind,
speaks in parables to the Blind:
let no man undervalue the impliations of this work or its power for
life; — or for death, if it is misused.
several large and significant areas of the work cannot be exhibited,
I believe what will be shown will justify the interest and effort
you have so courageously given.