Inventors of forms

Why abstraction has to be literary in some sense, is, as Stella has also pointed out, because otherwise it may not have enough of the meanings that we care about, that it may be thin, shallow and dessicated. As Wallace has so sensitively perceived, Moby Dick is full of pain—dismemberment, violent death, the struggle for life. It may be that the tragic is not accessible to abstraction any other way than through literature. Undoubtedly it works well for certain temperaments, but I tend to think that painters, especially modern ones, are not usually good storytellers. Even the best pictorial storytellers—Poussin for example—seem to need to work from something already available and widely known. But then so did Shakespeare. Painters as a rule are not inventors of stories, but of forms. But even though it has a long and noble history, this kind of sidling up to a literary text is maybe the weakest aspect of Moby Dick. The best and the worst of it. When we see a work like this one, completely resolved and beautiful, reservations about the literary text

Frank Stella, Pitchpoling (D-17 1X) 1990

don’t come first to mind, and when we go to the novel and find out that the activity alluded to—if not depicted—is pretty brutal, then maybe something is added. But, however great the work, the secondary relation to the text nags. Neither R.H.Quaytman nor myself have this dependent relation in our narrative series. I think that the forms can write the story. Yet I am planning a work that will be something like an illustration of a text. Better not to be absolutist about anything in art—possibilities are what matter.

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