Critics and Philosophers

Critics and philosophers are useful for the most paradoxical reason—because they confirm what one instinctively knows. Some critics and philosophers. The reason for this can only be that the world around us, including the art world and everything that people in it say, is an ongoing negation of the truth. I remember when Stella was painting very systematically and one heard complaints that the works were soulless, empty, nihilistic or cynical. These attitudes are still present. I always thought they missed the point. Adorno in 1960:

“It must be remembered that the products of purely unspiritual technical efforts may well be a proving ground for the cunning of reason, that is, the rationality of objective spiritual tendencies which would never be made real if pursued simply by the conscious subject  rather than in terms of the concrete material.”

The thinker says what the artist already knew. Today the key term here is still “the conscious subject,” who is always trying to make art harmonious, beautiful according to some unrecognized and even unconscious order, and complaining if their comfort is disturbed. Conceptualists too, believe it if you please. But conceptual art is handicapped from the start because it lacks technical procedures, and obviously the kind of techniques that one phones out for don’t count. One has to feel the voiding of subjectivity, and live it, it’s not another concept. So a kind of coldness that one might feel in front of a work like this is really the air of reality brushing by, and breathing in is called inspiration.


Frank Stella, Zambezi 1959

Art can accomplish so much more than the conscious subject ever can. Now that is not something that I knew back in the day, but experience has taught me. I certainly felt it, but didn’t really “know” what I felt, if that makes any sense at all. Experience has given me the power, and the right, to judge the critic. But it doesn’t take much—you can start today.

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One Response to Critics and Philosophers

  1. Martin Mugar says:

    These are my favorite Stella paintings. They visually force the viewer’s eyes to move in and out endlessly like a piano tuner banging two keys on the piano. Did Adorno ever see them? The repetition of movement in and out adds a percussive feel to the work so typical of minimalist music.This is not a piece about harmonies and as you say it has the air of reality brushing by.

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