PRINT December 1966

Some Remarks

AS I HAVE SAID for several years, I believe that art is shedding its vaunted mystery for a common sense of keenly realized decoration. Symbolizing is dwindling—becoming slight. We are pressing downward toward no art—a mutual sense of psychologically indifferent decoration—a neutral pleasure of seeing known to everyone.

I know now that I can reiterate any part of my fluorescent light system as adequate. Elements of parts of that system simply alter in situation installation. They lack the look of a history. I sense no stylistic or structural development of any significance within my proposal—only shifts in partitive emphasis—modifying and addable without intrinsic change.

All my diagrams, even the oldest, seem applicable again and continually. It is as though my system synonymizes its past, present and future states without incurring a loss of relevance. It is curious to feel self-denied of a progressing development, if only for a few years.

Electric light is just another instrument. I have no desire to contrive fantasies mediumistically or sociologically over it or beyond it. Future art and the lack of that would surely reduce such squandered speculations to silly trivia anyhow . . .

. . . the lamps will go out (as they should, no doubt). Somehow I believe that the changing standard lighting system should support my idea within it. I will try to maintain myself this way. It may work out. The medium bears the artist . . .

Artists whom I know usually voice a quiet pride about their ability to “live off the land” (the canny life) year by year. Somehow, they conceal the desperation and frustration forced upon them and their work by poverty. The hope that someday they will also “make it,” politically or financially, sustains many of these men. Of course, few of them ever will (few of them ought ever to attend to such a notion).

. . . If they are lucky, the artists drift back to “the Scene” once again to try to content themselves with being palatable “nowheremen,” available on demand to decorate the culture with their persons and their art, often for three thousand dollars or less per annum.

What can be done about the stinking status quo of a commercial art game which continually victimizes its key participants, the artists? I think that the situation requires the intervention of a virulent National Council on the Arts which ought to “trust bust” subversively, if it can, the devastatingly smug art market by spreading its funds generously and, in general, acting in behalf of the artists. It should scheme to persuade the Congress to get the money to the nation’s artists as soon as possible. It should become their lobby for a “crash program” to preempt another pocket of involuntary poverty within the framework of the War on Poverty toward a Great Society which Mr. Johnson envisions for all of us, perhaps even artists. (I think that I have my official euphemisms in order here.) Gallery commerce will be compelled to be competitive for the artists on their own terms—which is only fitting.

Further, with money in their pockets, artists can determine what kind of individual forum they need for their proposals. Many of them may never enter a gallery again. As the Andrew Sisters used to harmonize, “. . . but I can dream, can’t I.”

In the fairyland of self-identified “new” English sculpture, one can only abhor the tritely compulsive flora and fauna—the enameled steel pansies and the frolicsome “I” beams.

. . . my own proposal has become mainly an indoor routine of placing strips of fluorescent light. It has been mislabeled sculpture by people who should know better.

The term “avant-garde” ought to be restored to the French Army where its manic sense of futility propitiously belongs. It does not apply to any American art that I know about.

One would think that the old Works Progress Administration with its programs of out-sized tasks for indigent artists had rendered monumental sculpture and murals an American absurdity nearly thirty years ago. Just about every artist of the period who tried, flubbed at public sentiment and scale.

Somehow, I have to assume that you do not mean to revive the conceptual smell of posed muscular rustic toilers from both sexes in bas relief along a municipal courthouse wall or the rarefied air of ponderous semi-nude anthropomorphized athletes classically off-white in the round striding in concrete across a small town’s green as “progress through chemistry” or to promote the abstract analog of a similarly scented romance in fiberglas or anodized aluminum or neon light or the very latest advance in Canal Street pyrotechnology.

Like the lilies of the field, but not my kinetic colleagues, I neither toil nor spin.

In the beginning, and for some time thereafter, I, too, was taken with easy, almost exclusive recognitions of fluorescent light as image. Now I know that the physical fluorescent light tube has never dissolved or disappeared by entering the physical field of its own light as you have stated. At first sight, it appeared to do that, especially when massed tightly with reciprocal glass reflections resulting as within “the nominal three” but then, with a harder look, one saw that each tube maintained steady and distinct contours despite its internal act of ultraviolet light which caused the inner fluorescent coating of its glass container to emit the visible light. The physical fact of the tube as object in place prevailed whether switched on or off. (In spite of my emphasis here on the actuality of fluorescent light, I still feel that the composite term “image-object” best describes my use of the medium.)

What I have written further explains (it even alters) notions contained in the last paragraphs of “ . . . in daylight or cool white”1 and denies current interest on my part in what appears to be metaphysical thought about light and related visual activity.

My drawing is not at all inventive about itself. It is an instrument not a resultant.

Dear Mr. —————————:

Unfortunately, Mrs. ————————— noticed your review of her “Art in Process” exhibition and inflicted it upon my attention.

The general remarks in your writing are so extravagantly silly as to deserve laughter only. You have mine.

Somehow, I am always troubled by reviewers like you who conveniently quote out of context. Also, you have compelled expressions (not an “explanation,” friend) about two different propositions to apply to a third one. (Mrs. ————————— is at fault in this too.) How characteristically careless of you!

How my simple remarks about my simple propositions (not “simplistic” and without deception) disclose “sententious justifications” to you is a wonder to me. Boy, have you got a problem up there!

Finally, you did not even notice that my proposition deployed fluorescent light and not the neon source of both Mr. Millonzi and Mr. Antonakos (not “colored fluorescent tubes flashing, etc. . . . ” in Steve’s case).

Hopefully, you are young enough to retrain your platitudes through "Operation Head Start,’’ never to contrive another critical line.

If sophisticated contacts in contemporary society, phenomena and/or media are to be accomplished for art, we will have to opt for artists who are educated more or less inclusively. The preciously limited environment of art schools must be abandoned altogether. Universities will have to permit artists to wander in their curricula with or without degree responsibility. Science and technology might be as permissive. Other areas and disciplines also . . .

Because artists in America have remained traditionally mute on visual public affairs, superficial, irresponsible and supercilious unqualified opinion has substituted for their proper appraisal in the look of things.

It is well known that New York City possesses the world’s largest and most significant community of artists. And yet, outside of the temporizing and limited protests of the Artists Tenants Association as it attempts to integrate itself within high rise society, there has not been and is no conspicuously responsive cry from artists against the relentless destruction of their part of Manhattan and the growing conviction that that island will be converted subsequently into a unanimous business venture—an office building with the convenience of an adjunct culture.

I know of no occupation in American life so meaningless and unproductive as that of art critic.

In art schools of the 1950s, young people were encouraged often to wield a loaded brush against all surfaces and to weld something rusty to something rusty to something rusty and so forth. Insouciance was out of order. The serious look of broad emotional gestures for complicated spaces was promoted. A certain passion could be expected to guarantee results—well, almost results. Today, in an aftermath of celebration for simple statements (in sculpture) one-man show business can be more easily-joyously perpetrated than was generally suspected in the preceding decade. (It is no longer necessary for you to punish oak with hammer and chisel, to molest sheet metal with an acetylene torch or to drown plywood in slick epoxy paint—in short, to learn the trade of a contemporary sculpture.)

The contents of any hardware store could supply enough exhibition material to satisfy the season’s needs of the most prosperous commercial gallery.

One’s proposal challenges what one thinks art might become (even its existence). Asking out about whether or not art exists has developed into an intellectual pose after Duchamp’s lead. It is gilding the ego and not worth much to one’s colleagues.

I cannot make a particular response about the assumed existence of such an indefinite notion as “a sensibility of the 1960s.” My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does not connect “sensibility” to “art.” Its closest reference seems to me to be: “refined sensitiveness in emotion and taste with especial responsiveness to the pathetic.”

About “greens crossing greens” (to Piet Mondrian, who lacked green) of May 17, 1966:

This room contains two simple segmented barrier channels of green fluorescent light which cut each other’s course arbitrarily, each at a different horizontal height over the floor.

The length of either channel is variable—restricted by bounds of walls.

Green is used throughout because it is pleasant color at this extent, brilliant as fluorescent light and soft in the total barrier.

Dear Miss —————————:

From your writing about the “Primary Structures” exhibition, I understand that you do not like to be “somewhat heavily weighted” with information and ideas; therefore, I enclose a brief Shaker hymn that is just as smashingly topical as your “cannons of Minimal art”:

“Balls of Simplicity”

My brethren and Sisters

I’ve got some little balls of Simplicity.

My blessed Father James did give them unto me.

O will you have some, they will make you free.

Henry B. October 10, 1843.

Well red,


As you know, artists are reluctant usually to have their working intentions pinned down to explicit remarks which they regard as limiting of thought process and the fact of the work before (or even after) it can be seen.

Also, artists shun the semblance of substitute verbal sham. Their aches after honesty often produce the familiar symptoms of bad humor of “serious” artists—what everyone learned to detest about those real men who stridently gabbed out their art through the heat, smoke and stale beer of the Cedar Bar Syndrome, a decade ago.

Dear —————————,

I must tell that I have never experienced a more complete and distinguished artist of the body than you are.

Please recover quickly.

Sonja and I would like you to recuperate in our new home on the wooded Schofield Ridge when this may be possible.

Please accept fond regards and best wishes from Sonja and me.

I can hardly keep coherent: Fatigue encompasses my wandering ballpoint, said Li Po.

Dan Flavin



1. Artforum, December, 1965.