PRINT October 1970

An Ad Reinhardt Monologue

WELL, IN MY CASE, I got out of Columbia and I got onto the WPA project and then into the American Abstract Artists group which had almost all the abstract artists in the country in it, about 40 or 50. There weren’t many abstract artists not in it. I think Stuart Davis didn’t belong because he still liked belonging to the social protest groups.

I’m talking about 1935 and 1936. Intellectually and esthetically the important thing was that there was absolutely no relation between the abstractionists and the Surrealists. The main idea and the whole tradition of abstract art centered pretty much around art as art or that art either had to involve with esthetic essence or not. Whereas the Surrealists were involved with everything else. I suppose even programmatically they were anti-art. They were involved in, I don’t know, life or love or sex or I don’t know what. They were living it up. I remember Mark Rothko saying he had liked the Surrealists because they gave better parties than the abstract painters. Well, the abstract painters were always dull in that sense.

I finally made a program out of boredom. After all these years I think now that for a long time I’ve paraphrased Schopenhauer, saying, “Interest is of no interest in art.” I’ve taken on all the bad terms of the ’30s. Everything that the artists were called that was bad I’ve picked up and I’ve made them not bad words. Like meaningless, useless, imageless—those kinds of words. Words like inhuman, sterile, cold—well, they became cool, see. Everybody affected to be cold, inhuman sort of. And the others—academic, dogmatic, absolute—I picked them up and said, “Well, why not academic?”

I tried to oppose the academic to the market place. I think in the future I see mainly the university academy as the proper place for the artist because, you know, the market place is insane. But the way it has been up to now the university academies are absolutely deadly and the market place, the gallery groups, for the past ten or twenty years have been more lively here. Now almost every artist outside of New York is connected with some school or some museum school and even in New York the majority are. That’s an interesting fact when you take the idea of making money, making a living selling paintings. Only a dozen or two painters do that. I’ve never been involved in that particularly. Now I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years. I’ve never been called a good teacher incidentally. I’m proud of that. Well, you know, there is nothing deadlier than to be called a good teacher like Hofmann or Albers or somebody. That came up recently, you know, and I just happened to mention it. So I was able to say it as if it were a great thing. It’s like making boredom a central fact about art. If somebody is interested, there is already something wrong. They are interested for the wrong reasons.

Anyway, in the late ’30s I was a member of the American Abstract Artists and then in the early ’40s I ran the gamut of commercial and industrial jobs around the New York Worlds Fair that Russel Wright, Norman Bel Geddes and so forth were in on. I did that about as quickly as you could possibly do it. Well, I guess I could do any commercial or industrial job and then I got on PM. Let’s see, in ’44 I was on it. Do you know anything about that newspaper?

Then I was drafted in ’45 and I was a sailor for a year. They didn’t know what to do with me so they made a sort of photographer out of me. I was in Pensacola and San Diego. I was always thrown in with a bunch of kids and I was 29 then. I was called Pop. I was the old man of every outfit. They tried to make an aerial photographer out of me. You know, aerial photography was outdated already because all the cameras were completely mechanical but they had aerial photographers. So I went to Puget Sound and spent time. Then I finally got on a little carrier. I waited in Tacoma, Washington and we saw the carrier built, you know, and when it was ready, we sailed out and then they dropped the atom bomb. We were all ready for that invasion. That was a fluke. The dropping of the bomb prevented me from getting anywhere near anybody shooting at me.

After the war I had my teaching job at Brooklyn College. The job at Brooklyn is interesting because Brooklyn reflects what happened to university art departments everywhere. I mean, it might be the worst department now and yet, I guess, at one point it was the best in the country. It was the best when the Bauhaus first got a little hot here. I was hired not only because I was a painter but because I had a reputation with PM and they thought working for a newspaper was the greatest thing that could happen to an artist, you know. All those people were a little naive. They still had the idea that an artist has something to say so you give him the means and then since there are a lot of people who don’t know, he’ll tell them for you. Art as communication. So then what better place, if you think that way, than being on a newspaper? You can tell everybody everything.

The department at Brooklyn changed. It was called the Design Department and the old Art Department—nudes and still lifes and painting classes—was out. We didn’t have painting classes. We had Introductory Color, Advanced Color, Descriptive Drawing, Free Hand Drawing. Then less than ten years after that, they changed the name back to Art again. At that time the word Design didn’t sound so good and it became an art department again but with more emphasis on art history. I taught a lot of art history, especially Chinese, Japanese and Indian. But the painting classes came back. The nudes came back. Not so much the still lifes. So now our department is the worst department, partly because it has the worst facilities, I think. Otherwise art departments are exactly alike everywhere. I’ve been around everywhere. I went to Chicago two weeks ago. Minneapolis. Washington. I’ve watched this anyway for the last ten years. They’re all exactly alike. If some student came up and wanted to know where to study painting, you’d want to suggest some place but there’s no place. I wouldn’t know where to send a student to study. You know, I think this is an interesting development because Brooklyn was the first one to be hit by this Bauhaus thing and then it swept the country.

The Bauhaus was logical coming right after social protest painting because it looked like abstract painting and had a great many social uses. There was an assumption that you could teach abstract art and then it was useable everywhere. You could study abstract art and somehow it was related to lettering, related to furniture, to architecture. That idea has been around for a long time now. The magical people in the late ’30s and ’40s were the industrial designers. There were only about a dozen of them. They did the whole Worlds Fair. They shared it. People like Loewy, Bel Geddes, Russel Wright. Then the whole thing shifted. Today it’s the architects. The architects, along with the city planning staffs. They have their lawyers and politicians and economic advisors, committees, statisticians, sociologists, psychiatrists. If they build a house for you, you get a psychoanalysis of your family. You get an analysis of your political and economic life and then the architect will tell you how to live. Or the city planners. And the architects who design art schools now tell you how to paint. The way they design an art school is a way of telling you what should go on there, you know. So most places where they get a chance they move into old buildings. Well, that’s the loft idea, you know. The artist can move into a loft and then the place becomes what goes on there or something like that. They build huge art buildings everywhere. I made fun of Ohio State with their four block long building, four stories high, all glass, all studios, with huge aluminum easels and everything else and there they all are splattering and spritzing around and I said, “You can’t really do New York loft type painting in a nice place like this. You just dirty up the place.” Up at Yale there is a school designed with fancy slats on the windows and all the painters complained that they made this striped pattern on their canvases because the light comes through striated. Maybe that’s the reason for Op art or all those striped paintings. It’s just the light coming through.

But I think at least the university academy is a place of learning and it is just like if you think of an artist as a priest or a teacher, he’s a better person than a businessman. I guess everybody feels that way. There’s a kind of moral prestige that an artist has, like a priest in a sense. I suppose because he’s not involved in exploiting anybody or involved in the values of the business world. If he does become involved in them, he becomes like anybody else and then it becomes funny. You know, it’s funny to have a priest with a high salary. An artist with a large income is in the same position. You have to keep it quiet now. When a priest has a high salary, that’s disreputable. Like all the poor artists in Spain were on the Loyalists’ side and the rich ones were on Franco’s side. So I’ve always had the feeling that, I guess, artists shouldn’t sell their work or, they shouldn’t be involved in being a businessman or being sharp or any kind of entrepreneur in free enterprise but in the long run, I think, they should be part of the liberal arts setup.

At some point it’s too hard to defend art anymore, you know. You can’t get involved in it. But that’s ideally. The teaching jobs are really all pretty terrible. It would be nice to teach if it were free from a job. Personally I only teach one or two days a week. I don’t think I could stand it in the studio all the time anyway. I have enjoyed traveling for that reason too but I can’t really travel for more than about five or six weeks. I get desperate to get back. I started teaching right after PM folded in ’47 and I’ve been connected in some way or other with teaching since.

Going out to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco must have had something to do with Still and Rothko. I don’t know exactly when I met Still. I don’t know when Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery folded but I knew of Clyff Still when he showed there. You know, I made a tree in 1946 somewhere. That was the first time and, you know, I was making fun of everybody. That was the first time Still was mentioned in New York, I think. I don’t know. I’m not sure but it’s possible. I made a lot of trees. They all had schools. You see, Covarrubias made a tree of modern art for the Fair and I patterned my thing on that. I think they used to do those in medieval manuscripts. They had schools or disciples or something. Like the tree of Jesse was a tree full of all kinds of people and ideas. In the leaves you could see heads and figures.

Was Hayter the first visitor out in San Francisco? They only had a few. I was the last anyway. That’s happened to me a couple of times. I go somewhere and then it folds after that. The school was a very pretty place. Very nice. That courtyard. I thought it was a nice place. There was a nice freedom about working in the halls, working in the rooms. Here, in the city colleges, the universities, they still tend to have classroom type rooms and in that school, it was more like a loft. It was an old monastery, wasn’t it? No.

Somebody romanticized it as an old monastery.

Intellectually though, even though socially I was extremely friendly with people like Clyff Still and Rothko and Motherwell and others, I was, I guess, a little uncomfortable with the mixture of both abstraction and Expressionism. Anyway I’ve returned now to realizing that there is a whole line of artists beginning, I suppose, with all the romantics, the Surrealists, the Expressionists, the Fauves, the Futurists and then all the neo-Dadaists, Pop and Op, Happenings and all the assemblage, collage—there’s a whole tradition of, well, people who don’t like the term Fine Art like Duchamp didn’t. There is a whole series of people who don’t like the idea of the museum of fine art. The Futurists wanted to burn museums. The Dadaists wanted to and then in recent times, Matta and Dubuffet. And then lately I suppose someone like Motherwell to whom I have a sentimental attachment because I edited a book with him. Once the two of us did a book together.

The whole idea of the artist moving into power or moving into the world and so on seems to be another idea from my idea of art being not a routine everyday affair but of another dimension. So then, you know, I get the religious business which is not true. I mean, it’s such a funny thing for Rosenberg to call me a black monk. It’s not true at all. I mean, I’m not monkish any more than any artist who has to isolate himself to work. I’ve been called more religious names than anybody. You know, I’ll get on the religious title thing. I know Rothko and Motherwell are doing religious jobs now and I was sort of poking fun at them but I’ve been called more religious names than anybody. I’ve been called a Zen Buddhist, a Puritan, a Calvinist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, an iconoclast, a non-believer, a Byzantinist. I’ve been called a Gnostic, a black monk and I’ve been called an egghead. Oh, I have a whole list, a whole sheet of the things I’ve been called that has to do with this kind of stuff and the thing is that when I get into an argument, I say, “It would be insane for me to take on all this meaning.” See, I’ve taken the meaningless position all the time.

And then it’s such fun. I really had to make fun of the pretensions to meaning, especially the pretensions to meaning of Clyfford Still or on the part of Motherwell. I think Rothko is the freest of them. Then later de Kooning and Pollock permitted it. Especially de Kooning. I was, you know, shocked at the meanings that the artists would allow or accept. For instance, I could have had six or seven of the world’s eight or nine great religions. I could have embraced them and said, “Yeah. That’s what I mean.” You know, all the Hindus and all the Buddhists. It was like Motherwell’s paintings that had Spanish or Irish rebellion titles on them. Larry Rivers made a thing called The Russian Revolution and Louise Nevelson had a thing called Homage to Six Million Jews. That’s absolutely disgraceful. You can’t get any more callous than that. And when de Kooning started to make those women, everybody talked about the Eternal Woman, Eve and Lilith and the endless female and so on. The “great mother” and then finally on top of that, all the strata of masochist, homosexual appreciation of all the slashings and hacked anatomy and then finally the classic review of Tom Hess when he reviewed de Kooning’s latest painting and said, “De Kooning’s women are getting younger and friendlier.” That’s fantastic.

There isn’t anything that doesn’t go now. The artist community is completely dissolved and artists aren’t even talking to each other. They’re all geared to the public, at least intellectually. The Pop artists exploded the thing. They really did. They really ran all those meanings into the ground. Pollock wanted to become a celebrity and he did. He got kicked out of the 21 Club many times and de Kooning is living like Elizabeth Taylor, you know. Everybody wants to know who he’s sleeping with, about the house he’s building and everything. He has no private life. But finally it was Andy Warhol. He has become the most famous. He’s a household word. He ran together all the desires of artists to become celebrities, to make money, to have a good time, all the Surrealist ideas, so Andy Warhol has made it easy. He runs discotheques. He does absolutely everything and hits the fashion and gossip columns every day, almost, you know.

So, it’s freer now. There was a kind of Abstract Expressionist oppression. There was a real oppressiveness with Greenberg and Rosenberg, I think. At least, I didn’t like it, the way all through the ’40s and ’50s it became a real racket. Finally, somebody like Greenberg became the critic, agent and dealer. Then there were also the dealers around who were creating styles, you know. Like a lot of the Pop and Op was dealer created. It was all right, you know. It was just a way. But anyway it was a complete mixing up and as a matter of fact, the whole word “corruption” doesn’t come up any more. I think a few years ago Clyfford Still could call Robert Motherwell an “old whore” or somebody could call somebody else one. I could call Clyfford Still an old whore but, you know, you can’t do that any more. There is no one artist who could call any other artist an old whore. This is the kind of time it is.

I don’t know what somebody else’s story is about the ’40s and ’50s but that whole success thing started then. Some of my students, at least, nailed that whole business about Paris being dead and New York being the center of the art world. You know, even if it was true, the way it was done, the way everybody wanted to say it, to repeat it, was shocking. It may be true enough but there was a certain kind of national chauvinism there, a real kind of philistinism about everybody wanting artists to be like everybody else. Like Gottlieb pretending that he’s only a good businessman. Artists are to be accepted by businessmen, stockbrokers, just like anybody else. Everyone thinks it’s great. That’s so shocking.

Well, I think the whole success was an accident. You never had that kind of success until at one point the Abstract Expressionists were confronted with it and then the Pop and Op people took it up. But now there must be a whole endless part of what might be called the fine art world that is absolutely no different from the commercial world in terms of the processes and so on. So I may sound very old-fashioned when I talk and, you know, want to make absolute limits or want painting not to be confused with any other art and there is no third dimension, nothing like that. I don’t want the fine art process, which to me is a free process, in which you didn’t have a job to do, confused with something else. You didn’t have some idea yourself or somebody else had an idea and then you carried it through and then somebody could tell you if you did it right or not. You know, that’s the commercial or industrial process. I mean, it was not unconscious or automatic but anyway it was free enough and if you were painting, you had a lot of painting to do and if you stopped, you didn’t have any to do.

Anyway, I think that’s a completely different idea and process. Then the whole mixture, the number of poets and musicians and writers mixed up with art. Disreputable. Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg. I’m against the mixture of all the arts, against the mixture of art and life, you know, everyday life. I had these ideas, I think, all the way through pretty much. I sort of inherited them from the ’30s so I was a little uncomfortable with the Abstract Expressionists in one way or another. As a matter of fact, even out on the West Coast, I didn’t really understand or certainly share the enthusiasm for what was going on out there. Everybody was really hopped up out there and I didn’t know quite what about but, you know, it was sort of funny. I know that someone like Hassel Smith thought that I represented New York or something more than Still or Rothko. I was amused. He was picking little fights with me every time he possibly could, which was all right, but I was sort of amused because I didn’t really represent whatever it was he thought I represented, some kind of New York idea. And then another amusing thing is that I gave a series of talks which were sort of elementary. I was talking to students really, but I talked about the modern abstract painter and when I came to contemporary works, I showed things I was interested in, you know, and I included Rothko and Still and so on but I showed the Still slide upside down and somebody reported it to him. Then Still got some idea that I wasn’t with them, that I did it deliberately, you know, that I was some kind of saboteur. You know, there was always a little of that feeling of mistrust as if I was up to something. Maybe I was. But that was funny. I was on very good terms with him and then suddenly I got this thing, you know, and it started with that slide. I don’t think it was even my fault. The slide was in the box that way. Besides it didn’t look any different upside down.

But then we were friends for many years. I remember I used to eat with him all the time, lunch. I had a studio right around the corner. We used to eat at McSorley’s. I used to catch baseball with Still so I was fairly close to him for a while. Clyfford Still was terrific when he was assaulting everybody, when he was angry. Someone called him a Holy Roller, the mid-Western preacher. In other words, he’d get it in against business, against everything and he sounded great. But then, you know, I followed around in some of his footsteps. I was down in Los Angeles, for example, and there was some crazy woman who wanted to drive me around town. This was in 1960, I think. I had a show out in LA in ’60, maybe ’61, and this woman wanted to drive me around. Anyway, she was one of Still’s lady friends, a millionairess, and I don’t know why she wanted to drive me around but she took me to see her house and there was a huge room, you know, about half the size of this loft, with a velvet wall on which there was a huge yellow Clyfford Still. And here Clyff was arguing against millionaires and he’s always had a millionaire somewhere back there. That was true. By this time, I gathered that this woman thought I was a great friend of Clyfford’s so I thanked her for driving me around and then I explained to her that I wasn’t very good friends with Still and she said, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. There’s nobody he hates worse than Rothko.” So I said, “Well, maybe I’m only fourth or second of his hates.” But I knew that was a real sweetheart relationship when that collapsed. And then, you know, over a period of years you hear about Still not selling to a museum or a collector because there’s a Rothko in there. You know about that. Then Still selected some other millionaire somewhere in Pennsylvania or Maryland or somewhere. I don’t know how he gets people to be that involved with him but he got the Buffalo Museum and they’re putting out a big book on him, color reproductions. They’ve become kind of an agent for him in a way. He gave them thirty paintings.

Anyway, he’s also a “good friend” of Newman’s. Did you read that exchange in Art News? Gee, that was something. You know, the funny thing about it, Newman was a very close friend of mine and I went abroad and by the time I got back I had difficulty seeing him. He didn’t list his phone or something like that and then I found out he was involved in suing me for $100,000 because I put him in a group. I had mentioned 54 painters in a kind of mandala. It was a written kind of mandala, a diagram, you know, the four directions in American art, the four kinds of artists, and I did this because it was his first step towards fame, in a way. I don’t know what date this was. He must have still been friendly with Still. Anyway, the two of them—one sued me for $100,000 and Still wrote a letter trying to get me fired from the school and he tried to get everybody fired who published this piece. It was a college art journal. Anyway, Still did all these things so, you know, these fellows were absolutely murderous. I don’t really know why. I mean, I understand it in a way. Later on Newman said that he had to separate himself from “Those Three”—Rothko, Still and Reinhardt—as if, you know, you really can’t have a career if you, I don’t know what. But this was a very funny thing in a way, the way the whole thing fell apart.

You know, in the late ’30s with the artists unions, artists talked to artists. There were no artists talking to the public. The social protest painters were talking to other artists too. They tried to talk to the public but the public didn’t pay any attention to them. They thought their paintings were too ugly. Someone like Mike Gold would say that Philip Evergood was the greatest painter in the world but he couldn’t understand why Evergood made his people look so ugly. If he made them real nice, then there would be no hesitation about acceptance. So that was the Artists Union and the Artists Congress and the American Abstract Artists and then in the middle ’40s the milieu was with the people I just talked about. There were two things going on there. The crowd that was sitting around the park all the time, like de Kooning, Kline, Marca-Relli and a few others. There were a lot of Italians here. We called them the Mafia later on. Then Motherwell started a school that didn’t go. They had more instructors than they had students. Four instructors and three students. Motherwell, you know, thought he was famous enough to start this school and there would be a huge line but he wasn’t famous enough then. Anyway, then there was the Artists Club. And the Artists Club over a period of years was another academic institution where artists talked all the time, and young artists learned how to act. As a matter of fact, they all learned their chutzpa, you know, from their masters talking all the time. Then the artists’ bars were a second milieu and it was quite interesting, you know, all the relationships among the artists and so on.

You see, then it fell apart. After that, you don’t have any artists’ milieu. You have a wide open romantic situation where artists are talking and having to do with the general public or something like that. Like Pop art which was partly gallery created. By now the museum curator who puts it on and the collector or the dealer is as famous as the artist. I mean, you read about the Sculls and so on, the Pop collectors. Henry Geldzahler becomes the impresario and now when they show a group of Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, it’s called “Dorothy Miller’s Show.” They were always called that privately. Now it’s publicly. I was left out of most of the museum shows. The Museum of Modern Art got to showing me, you know, about twelve years after they showed Still and Rothko and those guys. It used to be a sore point but it wasn’t so bad because, you know, it kept me young. So when they finally showed me, they showed me with Bontecou, Chryssa, Marisol. And then last year I was stuck into the Responsive Eye show and now, I think, in ’67 or ’68 they’ll probably have a certain kind of show in which I’ll be an important part. So I’m the only one. I always claim I was there before the Abstract Expressionists and I’m still there with the young. Then it was a virtue being left out.

Anyway, there are these, I guess they are artistic ideas, many of them around. Now the ’40s and ’50s are taking their proper place. There was an awful lot of hoopla put out about it. Especially Still and Rothko were talking for a long time, and others too, against the tradition of painting as if they were involved in a vision or something like that. My point of view now is that—I’m sorry it’s not my point of view. I think it’s an esthetic point of view and it’s only really one point of view, the idea that a formalist esthetic sets art as art only and not as anything else. Then the idea of art coming from art only and not from anywhere else. The painter only comes from other painters which I would say is true anywhere in the history of art, East or West. So then I state these absolutely. Then the talk about action painting implying some kind of therapeutic value where a guy has a bad love affair or the boss yells at him so he comes back to his studio and whacks the canvas, that whole idea of action painting. Rosenberg wrote pretty eloquently about that. Then the idea of art having any kind of meaning or coming from anywhere else, I’ve been arguing against. Then the Abstract Expressionist notion of visions or Surrealist ideas of dreams or some kind of unconscious activity was just bullshit, you know. It didn’t come from that. So the whole Romantic side then. If you have art, it’s art and you either have it or you don’t, I suppose. And on the other side if you have art and life mixed up like the Surrealists talk about, it’s a fake, you know. I know Motherwell said Abstract Expressionism was a good term because the abstract part was the art part and the expressionist part was the human part. That’s a crock of —.

I remember I recently pointed out when the word “humanism” came up that the word “human” has never been used in relation to art without it implying that there was something wrong with the art. You know, the word “humanist” always seems to justify something that is wrong. Just like if you say an artist is a “nice human being,” you’re almost saying there’s something wrong with him as an artist. You say, “That artist is a bastard,” and that already sounds like, you know, at least he’s a good artist or something. But the word “human” is not only disreputable but it’s fake, you know. I mean, after all, all art is human. You know, animals and vegetables don’t make it. The social protest painter used to think that if you made a face in a painting, it made it human but it didn’t. But there is something that hangs around, I suppose, in the Romantic. If you have a strict esthetic system, you have to cut out all Romantic work but the Romantic work becomes classic on the basis of it becoming good or something like that or conforming to some kind of standard at some point. So you always have only the esthetic problem, especially in a museum of fine art, especially as distinguished from other museums, like museums of decorative art or industrial art or naval art or millinery art. So art history is not a general subdivision of history. It is not a product of society. It’s as George Kubler recommends. You know that Shape of Time book? He’s a reputable art historian and he argues for meaningless art history. For the last forty or fifty years the formalist point of view has been ignored and consequently art historical problems have not been worked and it is primarily due to Cassirer’s idea of art as symbolic language or the notion of art as having some kind of meaning, I guess.

Anyway, this is a point of view and it’s certainly not just mine but I’ve been stating it as extremely as possible so it sounds individual and eccentric and so on and yet, you know, it’s absolutely the only esthetic position one can take. It’s the esthetic position and any other position or any other idea is about something else. Yale asked me to be on a panel there called the “Esthetics of Non-art Art” and I said I was glad to participate as a non, non-artist. People like Claes Oldenburg or somebody like that are always talking exactly the way Duchamp or Zola did. They said, “We don’t want art. We want life and sweat and tears.” We want, you know, like Oldenburg, puke and vomit and, you know, the thing is it isn’t true. They don’t have all that crap in their work anyway. It’s all an esthetic manner anyway. This is what I’ve always been saying. I still say it. It sounds as if it’s very new again now. Then when a Surrealist or some Romantic guy gets up, all I can say is, it isn’t true. I don’t project my point of view. I just have to get up and be as dogmatic as possible because I’m writing dogma anyway and I’ll say, “I want to say something true or false or right or wrong. I don’t want to give you a personal opinion that can be counterbalanced or balanced out by somebody else’s personal opinion.” As though it were all relative, as if everybody had a right to their own opinion and everything was equal and so on. So I sound very belligerent and make some people sore but I think it’s true.

I brought up the thing with Robert Motherwell’s titles like the Spanish ones and he said, oh, well, that he would have made the paintings anyway and Larry Rivers said that, well, at least, he did some work, that big diorama that he did or something like that. Anyway, artists have a way of talking to the public and there are ideas for the public and then other ideas for other artists and they’ll adopt a principle among other artists. I mean, Motherwell’s paintings are fairly strong, good paintings. They don’t have to be given titles or meanings. The latest thing, Frank O’Hara was calling them bull’s testicles and tails hung on the wall and they were called Brontosaurus rising from the primal seas and they were called scenes in prison and they were called subway scenes, posts and people standing around, something like that and it was just endless what they called those black and white blobs and stripes he was making. Well, that whole question of meaning is ridiculous. I have a statement I made, a sheet where I picked out a statement almost every one of the Abstract Expressionists made—Still or Motherwell —and said the exact opposite.

Whatever a painting is for anybody else, among artists, you know, it’s different. Once they were thought to be either rustics or rascals. Well, they’re not rustics. All these guys know what they’re doing so the only conclusion is that they’re scoundrels. Intellectually. You know, why would Larry Rivers want to do a thing on the Russian revolution? It doesn’t say anything about the Russian revolution. Well, Time magazine would print it in full color and he knew they would, I suppose, and then if somebody from the outside would ask him, he would say, well, his parents were Russian Jews so he has some idea or feeling about it but that’s a lot of baloney. Anyway, the classic idea of an artist is somebody who knows what he’s doing and who is a separate person. Even as an artist, he is separate from himself as a human being. I never go anywhere except as an artist. I think that way and I indicate that whether I’m a good father or a bad husband or anything in my personal life is completely irrelevant. Whereas, there was a spread in Vogue magazine two issues ago. Motherwell . . . It was called something about “Good Food,” that series, cooking up recipes and trying to indicate that some artists live well just like all the Vogue magazine readers. Then in the last issue they had Barney Newman with a monocle. He looked like a Prussian and he’s got a bunch of paintings called Stations of the Cross with lines on them and he was telling the interviewer that he was always interested in the passion with a capital P and then he finished up with the quote, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” from Matthew as if he were Christ on the Grünewald cross or something. Yeah. Now see, that’s outdoing Louise Nevelson and Larry Rivers and Robert Motherwell as far as meaning is concerned. That’s a much bigger meaning, the whole Stations of the Cross business. The Irish or Spanish rebellions and the Russian revolution are only 20th-century affairs as far as meaning is concerned.

Well, there was a “New York School” show at the Los Angeles Museum and again, it was funny. For the first time I was graduated back into that school after, especially here in the City, being left out. It’s not bad that I was but at one point it looked like it had gotten a little personal or something. Not that I entirely agreed with the thing. If they had called the show Abstract Expressionist Painters, it would have been different but they were calling it New American painting, the New York School. Then it’s funny if they leave me out. Then it’s personal, see. Especially if you include 20 or 30 people or something. It isn’t a matter then of somebody liking or not liking. It’s not the same as a critic or a curator picking a show of what he likes. If they’re writing a sort of a history or writing a document, then I raise hell about it. So that was one of the problems here. I was sort of an outsider for a long time. It was funny that the Los Angeles Museum show stuck me back in again and I don’t really belong there. From the work it’s quite apparent that I don’t. But the work I did at any time was quite different because I was never involved with pictographs like Rothko and Still who still retain some of that pictograph idea with the implication of some meaning. So, I was there in the Clyfford Still room at the LA Museum and I don’t know if it was that same woman who drove me around but she was saying how great she thought this one was. She felt like she was right in the middle of the Grand Canyon. Well, I think there were endless pieces making Clyfford Still American in the sense that he represented the plains and the aerial views of the mid-West and the desert, you know. I don’t know but I don’t think so. Anything he’s done, I guess, has a naturalistic look because it looks like gobs of trees or something but I don’t know about the whole question of whether it’s a manner or whether it has all that meaning, you know. If you decide that it’s America and nature and everything, well, I would say, true. I don’t know how long people were writing about Mondrian as if it were the structure underlying appearances, you know. There isn’t any more insane idea than that. As if you look at trees or grass or something, and you come up with a Mondrian or something like that.

Anyway, I went out to LA for the show and took my daughter to see Disneyland to make sure it wasn’t a wasted trip. It was the first time I had a chance to show three or four 12 foot paintings which I had done in the late ’40s which I hadn’t shown since the Betty Parsons Gallery. Everybody of that crowd had a chance to show all their work. You know, I don’t know what I’ll do exactly but I think the Jewish Museum might put on a big show in the fall. I don’t know. I expect it to make me a little freer. I talked to Motherwell about the big show he had at the Museum of Modern Art which should have left him free but, you know, he isn’t. He’s, in one sense, in worse shape than he’s ever been. I mean free in that when you get a big public show like that then I think that should take care of all the reasons why you need galleries and collectors or critics or anything like that. I think Rothko is sort of free. He doesn’t have any need or desire to have shows or anything like that. The only criticism I have of Mark maybe is that he is a little bourgeois but otherwise, I think, he has been free of most of the crap. And, you know, he has no desire and he can’t take any of the extra esthetic stances anyway. You know, as an old Jew he can’t possibly be a drunk and he can’t possibly act like a naif. He can’t be a boy, say, like de Kooning. Or act as if he’s not responsible for anything that happens.

Guston pretends that he didn’t know what was going on, plays like an innocent but he wasn’t. I think Kline was a real innocent. I think that was his problem. He really didn’t know what went on. Everybody was calling him the greatest artist that ever lived and he didn’t know what the hell. Somebody would say that to Rothko and he’d say, “Oh, tut, tut. Sure.” But Motherwell never knew whether he wanted to be a bum or a prince. He’s got enough money and I have a feeling he wants to live like the rich. For a long time he wanted to be a bohemian like artists are supposed to be and then he started to say there was a new kind of artist around who were professors and scholars like Reinhardt and himself. Holy Smokes. You know, if he had indicated “slide conscious” or “intellectual” or an artist who was against the anti-intellectualism that would have been perfectly all right but the connotation of professor is terrible, you know. That’s like being a “good teacher.” And no matter what I do or teach, it has nothing to do with scholarship. I was a little shocked. So that was the image around!

I don’t know what it is now except that popularly the artist is some guy who can make money and live it up. See, there is some idea that artists have great times, dancing and drinking, all the narcotics and everything, you know. Sometimes artists’ parties are raided because they think there is dope or something. There’s no basis to this at all. The only thing is that in artists’ lofts they play loud jazz late at night or they work all night and if they have a party, it’s in a factory district. Like this district is absolutely dead after 6 o’clock. I should have a party here. The real Village is over there and this would be the hottest spot in the radius, you know, lit up and the only noise and so on, especially if they see Negro fellows with white girls and you hear hot jazz, then the cops come around. They think it’s a dope den. Funny. Some artists like Larry Poons have Pinkerton agents when they give a party and then people don’t bother them. And, boy, there’s nothing more boring than parties especially when they’re mixed up with Happenings and all that presumably good time, involving the audience, participation. Where the audience is splattered with paint and shit and they have to dance around naked.

Anyway, I think all that has been replaced. I said somewhere that Happenings were being replaced by funeral services. That’s the latest thing. That’s the latest place where you can see artists in any quantity. There’s no other way to see them. You know, I don’t think artists go to openings, certainly not to the Museum of Modern Art. Maybe at some of the openings and maybe at the Jewish Museum you get a certain kind of artist but the only place where you can see artists is at funeral services. It looks like artists haven’t been dying until recently. You know, Pollock’s death was a shock. And then Kline. And then in the last year or two there have been an awful lot of deaths, you know. There were an awful lot of artists showed up I hadn’t seen for years at Joe Freeman’s funeral but then there was Hofmann and Kiesler, Frankfurter from Art News and Diller died. Kurt Seligmann. Those were both colleagues of mine. And I don’t know who else but, you know, it’s amazing how many people showed up at those funerals.

The remarks above were tape-recorded on April 27, 1966.

Mary Fuller