Frank Stella’s brilliant book Working Space, one of the all time best things ever written by an artist, is fundamentally a meditation on the work of Caravaggio. It’s not about the relevance of Baroque art to the art of today, it’s just about the relevance of Caravaggio, with a few interesting remarks about Paulus Potter. For an artist, “Baroque” is a meaningless term, only individual works are real. This why I find grand academic projects about the Baroque so hard to understand, especially when they involve art and artists.
Later Stella became interested in the work of Correggio, and discussed it at length in an essay called “Grimm’s Ecstacy.” In this piece he retreated from the challenge that he posed to contemporary abstraction in Working Space, affirming anew a more typical modernist emphasis on surface and flatness. I wrote about this article a few years ago. How he gets from the image below to something familiar to abstraction today is remarkable.
I may be wandering a little off topic in this post, but I find that I like to look at old master pictures, and that they add something to the blog. The point is that abstraction has not lost continuity with the past, but the past is not a theory, or a system, or a sequence of art historical periods, but a number of very vivid works.