PRINT September 1972

Notes on Patronage: the 1960s

WHEN THE HISTORY OF 20th-century America is written, the period of the 1960s—which began in the late 1950s and has still not ended—will be assessed as a time of acute moral crisis characterized by a series of tragedies and upheavals which had a profound impact on the national consciousness—and consequently on art. The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis; John Kennedy’s murder, followed later by those of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King; racial turmoil unprecedented in violence and scope; the gradual administrative and economic collapse of our cities; the growing comprehension of the almost irreversible blight upon the natural environment; the rebellion of an entire generation of youth and the consequent breakdown of our educational system; the loss of faith in the credibility of elected officials; and above all the relentless pursuit of a morally corrosive war in Asia—these contributed to a sense of spiritual malaise during the 1960s unequaled in American history.

IF THE VARIOUS STYLES prominent during the 1960s are considered as parallel to the historical situation just described, one sees a pattern proceeding from complexity to invisibility: assemblage, Pop art, Op art, color-field painting, Minimal art, Conceptual art. This generalized procession of movements was accompanied by a voluminous body of art writing, which increased in direct proportion to the decrease in discernible content. Throughout the period the top of the art world boomed economically. A small group of artists in each movement became rich and internationally famous overnight. Major exhibitions were organized for fledgling painters and sculptors, and illustrated monographs celebrated oeuvres hardly begun. Business, foundations, and government moved in to support their work with grants and commissions. No one noticed, however, amid all the hoopla that, as Hope wails at the end of O’Neill’s Iceman, “the life had gone out of the booze.”

THE AVANT-GARDE OF ANY period is not self-appointed; it is selected out by overdetermined processes which cultural historians have yet to define precisely but which all can recognize as operating. Two such processes seem to have operated in the emergence of the styles which dominated the 1960s.

The first process concerns the motivation of the patrons—art writers, buyers, subsidizers—which unconsciously reflects the motivation of society. Writing in 1947, Clement Greenberg looked forward to:

. . . the development of a bland, large, balanced, Apollonian art in which passion does not fill in the gaps left by faulty or omitted application of theory but takes off from where the most advanced theory stops, and in which an intense detachment informs all. Only such an art, resting on rationality but without permitting itself to be rationalized, can adequately answer contemporary life, found our sensibilities, and, by containing and vicariously relieving them, remunerate us for those particular and necessary frustrations that come from living at the present moment in western civilization.1

Faced with ever-increasing riot, warfare, corruption and disillusion, the patrons of the 1960s chose to support art with an imagery of ever-increasing stasis to “remunerate” themselves for the violence with which they were forced to contend. The human content of art—passionate unconscious outbursts of imagery barely controlled by the disciplines of form and media—was not acceptable to a society struggling to comprehend the death of heroes, racial hatreds, and the baffling intransigence of Asian revolutionaries and flower children. Such content, therefore, was excluded from acceptable art out of the perfectly understandable need to maintain a semblance of psychic comfort. Art’s controls—form and media—were inevitably extolled as content to compensate for chaos.

This process of compensation is intimately related to another process which is rooted in society’s capacity for insight. A patron will buy only what he understands, and can only understand what will complement the pattern of his compensations.

During the 1960s the identity of the buying patron in the United States changed radically from the “robber baron” types who dominated patronage in the past. Though numerous establishment collectors remained active, a new public for art developed, variously labeled the “vanguard audience” or the “culture consumers.”2 This audience was made up of young, mobile, affluent, highly trained technocrats eager to enjoy the comforts of their class—one of which was art. Art magically combined characteristics irresistible to these nouveaux riches: it was prestigious to own and conspicuous to display, and vied with the stock market in investment potential. Though possessing college and sometimes graduate degrees, the great majority of this new audience of apparatchiks had been deprived of liberal educations in the post-sputnik panic for national scientific superiority. Even more serious for the visual arts, their cultural level was fixated at the verbal; their eyes “read” art, but could not see it. The visual arts, foreign to their education and personal experience, yet by definition essential to their level of social and economic pretension, required middlemen skilled in words to help them comprehend what they were all too eager to buy and display. Never have sheep been led more eagerly to the fleecing.

A RECENT STUDY the 250,000 people Art in America claims as readers tells potential advertisers that its typical subscriber is about 41 years old, has gone to college, is married, makes about $31,300 a year, holds life insurance valued at $75,000, owns a home worth $60,000, has done a fair amount of air travel within the year, likes brand-name booze and good wine which he drinks from glasses costing an average of $8.00 each (when he eats, the place setting cost him $32.70), owns two or more cars, is likely to nave a boat, couturier clothes, jewelry worth $10,000 and to wear a $300 watch, purchases ten or more art books a year, has some sort of art collection and is an assiduous reader of the ads in his favorite art magazine—which, by the way, he leaves conspicuously about on the coffee table until it is sent off to the bookbinder. The cover statement asserts that the magazine gives its readers not only an increased knowledge of art “but also gives them a deeper involvement in the art world, making them stronger potential customers for you. . . . The excitement and energy in every issue generates sales for you. It ensures that your advertising message will be thoroughly read by a receptive and enthusiastic audience. No other art magazine can deliver a market so affluent, so involved, so actively buying.”3

WE MUST NOT FORGET how foreign visual experience is to the affluent, educated Americans who constitute this patron class. They can comprehend and enjoy the transparent comic-strip satire of Pop art, the scientifically based illusions of Op art, and can be duly impressed by what is asserted about color-field and Minimal art. They can even be conned into accepting elaborate colored patterns as art by authoritative assertions about “quality” and “purity” and “objecthood.” They can, in fact, be led to embrace any image which does not engage them in contemplation of their basic insecurity. Being ignorant of any but the most simplistic psychological theories (and told, anyway, that they live in the post-Freudian era) they do not understand the implications of the visual for their personal development.

It is of the greatest importance that a child’s vision develops before his verbal capacities. The development of words is a late and devastating event in terms of the child’s earlier experience. Seeing is a more primitive form of activity than verbalizing. Some of our most primordial experiences were seen before they were ever understood or verbalized; others, of course, were heard. But our dreams are visual and we spend nearly half our lives experiencing them. Yet the development of comprehensive visual sophistication is almost nonexistent in our culture. Instead it seems to be feared. One of the great human contributions of Abstract Expressionism, and the “painterly” romantic tradition at its root, is its involvement of the visual capacities of the spectator. It invites free association, requires self-encounter, and submerges the eye in the textures and depths of that natural organicism in which our bodies inevitably exist and from which all men, back to our origins, have deduced the human condition. This just happens to be true despite the fact that Abstract Expressionism has been declared passé. Indeed, an art calculated to exclude contact with the human condition may well serve to compensate for immediate traumata, but it cannot nourish a man’s—or a society’s—total being. Such an art, whatever its human authenticity in terms of its creator’s personality, and whatever its relevance to an immediate cultural situation (where it may well be “remunerative” in all senses of the word), is essentially anti-human. It is indeed true, as Barbara Rose points out in her famous essay “ABC Art,” that “the simple denial of content can in itself constitute content. . . .”4 But such a denial is a symptom of events rather than a celebration of life. Its appearance is a sign of moral upheaval at best, of moral absence at worst. The same can be said (or the denial of the art object by the Conceptualists who are still dependent on the collectors and galleries they would deprive of exploitable commodities.


The entire course of Western civilization has been marked by a growing emphasis on rational comprehension and by the put-down, if not outright suppression, of direct, intuitive, non-rational experience. Art belongs to the non-rational. The purpose of formal criticism is to harness art to the rational by confining it to the limitations set by an authoritarian elite. . . . By removing the ineffable from art, criticism has also made possible the transformation of art into a commodity. By the creation of rational standards codified as canons of taste, critics have created a scale of aesthetic values that our materialistic society easily has translated into its most effable blessing—cash value. . . . The art critics have subverted not merely a utilitarian body of concepts like economics or sociology, but the liberating transcendent values of art. And what is more, their distortions have been motivated less by the simpleminded pursuit of rationality than by the desire for power.5

THE PATRONAGE OF NEW ART during the period of the 1960s can be divided into three separate but intimately related activities: promotion, acquisition, and subvention. These are listed in the order of their importance, promotion being the essential prerequisite today for all other forms of patronage. The art writer—whether critic, curator, or art historian—became the principal patron of the 1960s. Those who acquired art—such as collectors, dealers, and museums—depended on the art writer’s judgments to certify their investments. Those who sought to support artists through direct grants and commissions—such as business, foundations, universities, and various state and federal agencies—justified the expenditure of their limited resources on the basis of what was already declared a safe bet by the art writers. While such a pattern of procedures is not unique to the history of patronage, it was developed during the 1960s into an art form more refined—and human—than the merchandise it promoted. The key to its success was art writing.

IN THE INTRODUCTION to Gregory Battcock’s anthology of art criticism, The New Art, he says, “Today’s critic is beginning to seem almost as essential to the development—indeed the identification—of art as the artist himself.” He goes on to comment:

. . . art is not merely a question of understanding, but of acceptance and response. Since people have so much to lose by facing up to the challenge of art, they will not-cannot—do so. Insecurity, intolerance, and reaction are all incompatible with art appreciation. Art is humanism and reality, and, as such, cannot be seen accurately in terms of the past. At this point, responsible criticism becomes absolutely essential. The critic has, as it were, to paint the painting anew and make it more acceptable, less of the threat that it often is. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the art of our time simply could not exist without the efforts of the critic.6

Battcock also notes that many of the authors in his anthology see the role of the curator of an exhibition “as equivalent to that of the artists whose work he selects, since he is the creator of the exhibition, if not of the individual works within it.”7

IN 1962 CLEMENT GREENBERG WROTE an article titled “How Art Writing Earns its Bad Name,” in which he scathingly commented on Harold Rosenberg’s famous “Action Painting” essay and the blight of “Existentialist and Phenomenological Rhetoric” which characterized the discourse of art criticism during the preceding decade. Denouncing its “perversions and abortions of discourse: pseudo-description, pseudo-narrative, pseudo-exposition, pseudo-history, pseudo-philosophy, pseudo-psychology, and—worst of all—pseudo-poetry . . .” as making art look silly, he proceeded in the next ten years to inspire a small articulate band of professional critics to ever more dizzying heights of Logical-Positivistic rhetoric which has made art look not figuratively silly but literally empty. The rhetorical excesses of the critics of Abstract Expressionism were prompted by the need to verbalize a range of human expressive content never before so starkly presented in painting. Greenberg in the same essay notes “the speed with which modernist painting and sculpture have outrun the common categories of art critics. . . .”8 Taken as a whole, these verbal “excesses” have their own inner logic and intuitive rightness—as do the radically dissimilar oeuvres which constitute the body of art they strive to explicate. Clarity of diction gave. way to much stammering. It will be several decades before that awe can be expounded with precision and comprehensive insight. It will take that long—or longer—partly because art criticism will have somehow to survive the relentless verbal cybernetics of those who chose to promote a body of work devoid of human description, narration, exposition, history, philosophy, psychology, and saddest of all, poetry.

IT SHOULD BE NOTED that some critics allow the poetry to reside in the spectator, or anywhere else, as long as it does not violate the purity of the work. Lucy R. Lippard, in a long and informative article on blank paintings, notes, with a satisfaction that obscures a fundamental contradiction of terms, that “the public eye is becoming more accustomed to forced contemplation.”9 Her point is that the paintings of artists such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Mangold, Yves Klein et al., are not “empty” but capable of inducing psychic states comparable if not identical to mystic contemplation. Quite true—as would almost anything stared at sufficiently long translate boredom into introspection. Then again, true mystics tend to contemplate complexity, not blankness. *

MICHAEL FRIED BEGAN AN ARTICLE titled “Confounding the Confusion” with the following statement:

The most distressing single aspect of the contemporary New York art scene is, to my mind, not its commercialism, which became more or less inevitable the moment American art began to win recognition abroad, but its inability to handle ideas and issues generated by the art itself with even a bare minimum of intellectual rigor.10

THE RIGOR OF CRITICAL INTELLECTION these days is best epitomized in the use of the word “quality.” According to Greenberg, “quality” can transcend the most dearly held convictions:

You cannot legitimately want or hope for anything from art except quality. And you cannot lay down conditions for quality. However and wherever it turns up, you have to accept it. You have your prejudices, your leanings and inclinations, but you are under the obligation to recognize them as that and keep them from interfering.

Greenberg goes on in the same article to define “quality”:

. . . the quality of a work of art inheres in its “content,” and vice versa. Quality is “content.” You know that a work of art has content because of its effect. The more direct denotation of effect is “quality.” . . . “Effect,” like “quality,” is “content,” and the closer reference to actual experience of the first two terms makes “content” virtually useless for criticism. . . .11

But the term “quality” is clearly not useless for criticism—though the unequivocal equivalence with “content” and “effect” here stated might make a rigorous logician think so. The term “quality” is used in many senses and for many purposes.

First, it is used as an all-purpose synonym for human reference or expressiveness in a work of art. The “effect” of this can be sensed, but shouldn’t be mentioned—unless you are going to step outside the limits of criticism and act, in Greenberg’s terms, as “men of letters” or “iconographers.” It is, however, taken for granted that “quality” inheres somehow in any work promoted by the critics in question despite their seeming desire to minimize humanistic content.

Second, the word “quality” seems to be used as “beauty” once was: as the veritable “last word.” You simply had to be sufficiently perspicacious, sensitive, intelligent, and moral, to know what it meant. Thus the critic is free to assert the presence of “quality” in anything and those who protest because they do not discern it are dismissed.

Third, the word can also be construed as an indicator of what is currently being pushed, so the initiates will not make the faux pas of walking past the blank canvas or colored cube without the proper genuflections. As such, it is often suspiciously interchangeable with the simple concept of “fashionable.”

The word is, therefore, a cop-out, a put-down, and a code term for what is “in.”12

ONE OF THE WEAKEST ASPECTS of contemporary art writing is the simplistic theory of causality implicit in so much of it. “Art begets art” seems to be the most common notion—implying veritable orgies at night in closed museums. But art is begotten by human beings. The basic presumption that the relational is more important than the expressive—vide the emphasis on Cubism—is very limited, especially when hooked up with a linear view of history. An art understood solely as the logical conclusion of previous movements can be neither original nor radical except, possibly, in technique. A richer concept of causality would take into consideration the psychological idea of “overdetermination” and would acknowledge that a work of art looks the way it looks because of everything “in the air” its creator assimilated.

THE PROBLEM OF VALUES he problem of values in art writing is as complex as it is crucial. Since works of art are made by human beings who exist within specific psychological, sociological, economic, and cultural situations which inevitably influence their art, it is easy to say that these fluctuating situations make any universal criteria impossible to establish. Each new situation demands new values. This I think is true for the “form” of art—not its “content.” Form, pattern, design, are created new in each era. Content—human content—reference to the human cycle of birth, nurturing, sex, love, power, decline, and death—is the constant on which values can be based. The problem in our time, as opposed to the past, is that we have been led, through the work of this century’s great psychologists (whose insights we have yet to assimilate emotionally, but with which we have already become all too superficially familiar) to a level of self-consciousness with which we cannot yet cope on all levels of human endeavor. The process of extracting the wisdom from what has been essentially a therapy, and building a new complex of humanistic values on it, is only beginning.


Art is not permitted to have a natural development in America. Upon achieving a style an artist is immediately enlarged according to the art public’s ambitions. He is recognized yet deprived of his identity by his immediately becoming an historical fact. As a fact he may be more sociologically or culturally valid than he is aesthetically. The pressure of the Zeitgeist becomes a permanent part of his sensibility, in effect destroying the real individuality.13

I RECENTLY RECEIVED A POSTCARD from an artist complaining that she faced the same problems as WPA artists and was unable to find an outlet for her work. She asked if there was a similar program for “1973” artists. Let us presume the author has potential, and is honestly seeking practical career guidance. What to suggest?

First of all, of course, there is no WPA for artists today. It is neither economically necessary nor politically feasible. The closest thing resembling federal patronage is the National Endowment for the Arts and its Arts Councils. But, as everyone knows, you have to be “in” to get one of the rare grants they dispense. And the writer isn’t “in” yet. The same goes for a Guggenheim. Indeed, any subvention of the artist is premised on his success; no one risks scarce grant money on unknowns these days. So, for this artist one of the three basic sources of patronage—subvention—is for the moment out of the question (unless she wants an M.F.A.).

An “outlet” is sought. That suggests finding a dealer. Perhaps our correspondent is already sufficiently initiated in the ways of the art world to understand that today, within the system of patronage that has developed during the 1960s and will assuredly continue into the 1970s, the artist is of negligible importance to the art market and is best evaluated by the identity of his dealer. There are a limited number of dealers in the country and an unlimited number of artists. So dealers need pick only “quality” for their “stables.” And, of course, their clients, the collectors and museums of the nation, are also only interested in “quality.” If an artist wants to sell his work, through the outlet of a dealer, to the people who will buy it, he must sell himself to a dealer. There being relatively few dealers and too many artists, the dealers must have some criterion on which to base the necessarily pragmatic judgment of what is going to sell. The art writers provide this crucial information. The buyers naturally want to buy what they see being promoted by the “experts” and the dealers know they can sell what they back. A young artist wishing an outlet must therefore get written about.


The artist today is . . . in a quandary. Regardless of his intent, he finds himself under pressure exerted by the pervasive power of the art market and the political economy in which it participates. He is therefore involved in a process that is totally antithetical to the thrust of his action as an artist. The idea that the end-use of a work of art has moral significance is a concept that is only beginning to find its place in his consciousness. The extension of his responsibility for his art to its exhibition, literary criticism and sale is a relatively new idea. Whether it will take root will depend on many factors, including his willingness to refuse the questionable favors of art criticism and to act in concert with other artists.14

DURING THE DEPRESSION YEARS artists effectively organized to demand economic security. After World War 11, the remnants of the old Artists’ Union and Artists’ Congress coalesced in Artists Equity—a national organization devoted to promoting and protecting the interests of professional artists. During the 1960s Artists Equity ceased, for all practical purposes, to exist as a national entity. Riven by petty internal disputes and subverted by the lack of dynamic leadership (its national office somehow got tucked away in Seattle) it became a collection of local social clubs for embittered has-beens. Young and successful artists were repelled by the organization’s stultifying atmosphere and some of its own members were even compelled to wonder to what purpose their dues were dedicated. Only the separated New York chapter, under the able leadership of Elias Newman, actively fought to protect artists’ rights—especially against the gross inequities of the 1970 tax law which will not permit fair deductions when artists give their works to institutions. Recently the national office of Artists Equity moved to Washington, D.C., but as yet there is no sign of revitalization on the national level.

Filling the vacuum, the Art Workers Coalition and the National Art Workers Community developed, during the late 1960s, a comprehensive program which encountered head-on the fundamental economic and political problems of the art professional (which the N.A.W.C. defined loosely enough to include commercial artists and designers). These organizations tapped the energy of the youth movement and introduced direct confrontation into the art world for the first time since the 1930s. Some of their leadership, however, tended toward immaturity (cockroaches dumped on the Metropolitan’s banquet tables), and such tactics helped to defeat their long-range purposes. Despite their at times eloquent program and much-touted mailing list, they have as yet had no measurable national impact.

These organizations—at the poles of somnolence and radicalism—did next to nothing during the 1960s to effect comprehensive public and private patronage for all of the nation’s visual artists. What is needed is a force at the center, capable of uniting the profession and lobbying vigorously with the art establishment and federal and state patronage agencies. There is no sign, at present, that such a force is in the making.

WHEN ONE TURNS TO CONSIDER the patronage of the Federal Government one turns—theoretically—from “art world” patronage to that of the people—as represented by their elected officials. Public money is involved and therefore—theoretically—public sensibility prevails. The taste of the people rather than that of the epigoni of the art magazines and galleries prevails—theoretically—in the development of public policy. The results, at least in terms of the experience of the 1960s, are discouraging. Of about $25,370,000 appropriated by Congress for the National Endowment fur the Arts between its start in 1966 and 1969, only $595,000—or 2%—went directly to individual visual artists in the form of grants. These grants were determined by regional advisory committees (anonymous) under the aegis of Henry Geldzahler of the Metropolitan Museum, who acted as visual arts advisor to the Endowment’s Chairman, Roger Stevens. Geldzahler was succeeded by Brian O’Dougherty, now the editor of Art in America, when Nancy Hanks became Chairman.15

THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE Arts—indeed, any governmental art patronage agency—is profoundly afraid of the “creative” artist: the writer, the composer, the painter. That fear is based on the reality that people mistrust the individual creative artist because he is committed to transcending the conventions of civilized society to obtain and exploit greater spiritual freedom.

What do I mean precisely? Unfortunately art writers have, like the people and their legislators, ignored the causes of art in favor of its effects. We have no viable body of art theory. Art writers are not given to speculation (except on the art market). No one is really thinking about the nature of art and artists—let alone how that reality relates to the patronage of art. In only one field is there hopeful inquiry—the field of psychology. The revisionists of psychoanalysis, in particular such men as Erik Erikson, Norman O. Brown, and R. D. Laing, are beginning to lay the foundation of an art theory—or more precisely a theory of the psychodynamics of creativity.

In brief, this theory sees the artist as a person compelled to break through the repressions imposed by society, to reject the status quo and to express in some externalizing medium—paint, sound, words—new configurations of old experiences so crafted as to bring us a step further along in the evolution of our awareness of life and its meaning. The social role of the artist then is to reject the status quo—that “reality principle” which Freud held immutable—and to create the context for a new order. If this be true, then the people and their representatives must stop fearing and start valuing the individual artist. But the people hate change, artists are dedicated to it; the people like order, artists explore chaos; the people demand seriousness, artists revel in what Norman Brown calls “polymorphous perversity.” The artist wants unconsciously to attain that state of infant bliss that is timeless, that is ignorant of death, that is perfectly free. He sees that the constant reformulation of this state as redemptive for himself and those with whom he wishes to communicate. Society, however, cannot but fear so radical a challenge to the status quo and it responds by finding innumerable ways of making the artist’s life as difficult as possible. It resents his freedom from its guilts and restraints, his oneness with a nature it can only exploit. It would repress him as it represses its infants to be clean, obedient, diligent citizens who will never rock the boat.

The challenge of the individual artist to the state is, then, more complex than just being a simple impractical soul incapable of making a living in any normal way. Everyone recognizes that as a myth. His challenge goes deeper and begs the question of how far the state is willing to risk the fact of its artists. How far is it willing to go in risking the revolutionary nature of true art?

ONE MUST ALSO ASK how far our institutions are willing to go in giving the true artist the craft training he needs. Education in art is in a deplorable condition. It ranges from rigid, art historian dominated programs in computerized universities to total license in what amounts to unsupervised playpens disguised as art schools. In short, serious art students today are either repressed from the start and/or cheated of useful technical training. The “playpens” are perhaps the easier limbo since the university art departments can be hell for sensitive but inexperienced young students. They are filled with well-meaning, third-rate artists who achieve little more than to perpetuate their frustrations in the careers of their students. No artist, conscious of his own genius, should teach full-time in such places—and if one thinks about the really great artists of the last quartercentury, none has.

Most art students in colleges are merely curious, some find in art the sublimation necessary at critical stages in their early development; very few indeed need art to live. There is no educational situation in which faculty members are required to be more subtle in the weeding-out process, and none where they seem to fail their responsibilities more consistently. Art students are permitted to proceed in ambition beyond the scope of their talents and beyond any reasonable expectation of sustained professional careers. Their fate is easily predicted. Whatever function art initially fulfilled for them as persons soon vanishes. Yet their role is fixated as “artist.” Few have the insight, courage, or economic opportunity to evolve out of that role. The result is, in every recent generation of artists, an overwhelming percentage of “sociological” artists who have long since lost the psychological impetus to create. They depend on the ignorance of the public, the flexibility of the art world, and the tolerance of the universities—whose much vaunted “patronage” is damnation for them and their hapless students.

AN ARTIST UNWILLING TO patronize himself should not expect others to support him. The vocation of art is a profound risk. Indeed, there are artists who equate that risk with inspiration. It is the risk of the revolutionary. To see art as a business or a means to fame and fortune is to be blind—and blindness in art is tragedy. Too many young artists seek to “make it” in the art world before they have learned to make a work of art on their own. They think, some innocently, some cynically, that if one plays the current game, makes the right contacts, and trims at the edges or the middle or sideways as the fashion blows, instant stardom is to be won slightly after twenty.

There are very few men and women born to art as a lifelong pursuit. The true artist, who lives for his work, must sacrifice for that work. That does not mean starve in a garret. Physical suffering in Bohemia has been amply replaced by the mental anguish of the sensitive soul looking at the world about him (the art world included) and trying to make art that is true to himself. It is the suffering of isolation, of anger, of necessary compromise between internal idea and external media. It is problem solving and dreaming. It is looking into the abyss of self and loving life. It is making something personal out of something very, very old. It is remaining young while growing old. It is facing death while crafting immortality. It is unwillingness to accept the status quo, the current fashion, the seductions of success. It is the capacity to cope with all that when recognition eventually comes—a capacity founded on the knowledge, even at the height of fame, that back there in the studio is the norm and measure of integrity. It takes many years of arduous experience before such a state of integration is achieved for an artist. It takes, in short, many years of self-patronage.16


A main point at the start of these notes was that art is as dependent on its patrons as taste is on ethics. Society gropes for moral nutrients in the same instinctive manner as infants, left to their own devices before a variety of foods, will ingest a balanced diet. The process is not neat, but it works. The period of the 1960s will soon be over with the war in Vietnam. Many of the shocks of the 1960s will become accustomed problems. A few of the problems may even be solved. Certainly new causes will be needed. Perhaps the experience of the old causes will have matured their participants. Perhaps they will teach a new generation how to think and feel more deeply about human concerns, and to recognize and accept them in an art not born of guilt and fear and those cold calculations that form the creativity of the threatened. Young artists will emerge from a culture they have themselves partly invented, groping their way toward a new ethic and a new humanism. The old escape route of the bland, the pure, the Apollonian, will no longer “remunerate.” Neither will Dionysian irresponsibility. A new synthesis will emerge, fusing all those stark patterns and technologies with a revitalized vision of the age-old images of dream, of life, of love, of death. What the new art will look like, no one can say. That it will be increasingly communal and democratic, one can predict. That it will even redeem the art writers, the dealers, the collectors, the curators, the foundations, and perhaps moisten those dry dugs our Federal Government is pleased to call “endowments,” one can hope. For the time is near when “high” art will once again have the capacity to elevate the spirit, and the sensitive soul with money in his pocket and a wall to fill can look at the newest art not only with amusement or amazement, aversion or avarice—but with awe.

Francis V. O’Connor is an art historian based in Washington, D.C. He has just completed editing two volumes on government patronage during the 1930s. The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs (Smithsonian Institution Press) was published in April; Art For the Millions: Essays from the 1930s by Artists and Administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project (New York Graphic Society) will appear this fall.



1. Clement Greenberg, “The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture,” Horizon, London, October, 1947, p. 27. Emphasis mine. See also Jack Kroll, “Some Greenberg Circles” (a review of Greenberg’s Art and Culture and of her books), Art News, March, 1962, pp. 35, 48. It should be noted that Greenberg made this statement while still strongly supporting the art of Jackson Pollock.

2. For the term “vanguard audience” see Thomas B. Hess, “A Tale of Two Cities,” reprinted from Location, Summer, 1964, in The New Art, ed. Gregory Ballcock, New York, 1966, pp. 161–178. He states: “Society as a whole assigns to the vanguard audience the duty of containing, and where possible emasculating, modern art . . . It patronizes new painting while attempting to contain and muffle its subversive content; it loses the artists’ statements of despair and exaltation in bland motions of chummy acceptance”; pp. 167, 174. For an optimistic view of the “culture consumers” see Alvin Toffler, The Culture Consumers, New York, 1964.

3. “Summary: Art in America Readership Study,” conducted by Russell Marketing Research Inc., New York, c. 1972.

4. Barbara Rose, “ABC Art,” Art in America, October–November 1965, reprinted in Minimal Art; A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Ballcock, New York, 1968, p. 281.

5. Ingrid Weigand, “Is Criticism Necessary?,” The Art Gallery, January, 1972, p. 11. This is an eloquent and hard-headed analysis of the present situation of art writing. It should be read along with Hilton Kramer’s “Writing About Art,” The New York Times Book Review, June 4, 1972, pp. 5, 54. All signs indicate that the state of criticism is to be subjected to some stern scrutiny. May the revisionists flourish!

6. Battcock, p. 14.

7. Ibid., p. 17.

8. Clement Greenberg, “How Art Writing Earns Its Bad Name,” Encounter, December, 1962, p. 71.

9. Lucy Lippard, “The Silent Art,” Art in America, January–February, 1967, p. 62. Emphasis mine.

10. Michael Fried, “Confounding the Confusion,” Arts Yearbook 7, 1964, p. 37.

11. Clement Greenberg, “Problems of Criticism II: Complaints of an Art Critic,” Artforum, October, 1967, pp. 38, 39.

12. This debasement of the term “quality” is a symptom of all that is wrong in current discourse about art. Yet the concept is indispensable and its redefinition is required. To that end, I am preparing a study tentatively titled “The Quiddity of Quality.”

13. Sidney Tillim, “Notes of a New York Critic,” Arts Yearbook 7, 1964, p. 58. 1

4. Weigand, p. 43.

15. See the Hearings before the Select Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, on amendments to the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, Parts I and 11, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970, passim, for detailed information concerning the National Endowment’s enterprise on behalf of art institutions and pusillanimity in regard to meaning aid to the individual creative artist during the 1960s. The Endowment can argue that it helps hundreds of thousands of artists indirectly through its grants to art institutions such as orchestras and dance companies and museums. Yet it makes no distinction between “interpretative” and “creative” persons. It is one thing to support the violinist and the dancer and the curator (the books of whose institutions are open to audit)—quite another to take risks to augment their repertoires.

16. See Bernard Rosenberg and Norris Fliegal, The Vanguard Artist: Portrait and Self-Portrait, Chicago, 1965, passim.