A literary measure

I’d like to answer the question I asked about Motherwell’s work a few posts back by suggesting that it fails for both reasons; the Elegies series is both too literary and not literary enough. The works are too literary because they accept the vagueness of a “poetic” meaning. One could argue that the meaning is pretty clear, but the method is association and whatever specificity the works have is given by the series title. Titles deserve more discussion, but for now I’m suggesting that the balance between vagueness and concreteness, between information given and information withheld, is too conventionally “poetic.”

Robert Motherwell, At Five in the Afternoon 1949 (study for the Elegies series, directly alluding to Lorca's poem)

Yet they are not literary enough because there is apparently no development over the series. As discussed in the posts on R.H.Quaytman, the series is the narrative form of modernist abstraction, and to accept that and work with it is a way to avoid the trap of what Frank Stella calls the “semi-abstract.” This lack of development is likely what Serge Guilbaut sees when he accuses Motherwell of repeating himself, but I don’t believe it constitutes a moral or political failing. What I’m trying to do is to explain to myself why, when I look into Motherwell’s work, it feels old fashioned to me; that though it has so many good ideas and so many good qualities, and is so interesting and problematic in its literariness, it just feels fusty.

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One Response to A literary measure

  1. Pstotto says:

    Motherwell was making the story up as he went along, exploring the visual under the auspices of exploring the non-visual. All that’s left is the visual, the 2D data set, whatever code Motherwell thought he was transmitting, regarding ‘meaning’, the subjective nature of his experience of the visual, was a fantasy that only he could ever understand. What he was experimenting with, was the nature of the visual, with regard to the novel form and space representation abstraction promised. It is not known as yet, how far he succeeded or failed, in terms of image analysis, because image analysis is in its infancy.

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