PRINT September 1975

Painters Reply

Artforum wishes to ask you, as a painter, what you consider to be the prospects of painting in this decade. It appears that painting has ceased to be the dominant artistic medium at the moment. And we assume that the debates between its two major ideologies, abstract and representational, have outlived their usefulness to the current scene. Our thinking here refers to the fact that neither side has triumphed over the other in a historical verdict to which both had appealed. On the contrary, those understood to be making “the next inevitable step” now work with any material but paint.

1. How do you think this has affected the need to do painting today and the general morale in the field?

2. What possibilities, not found elsewhere, does this medium offer you as an artist?

3. What energies and ideas in painting strike you as worth attention, and why?

RUDOLF BARANIK: The media used in making “the next inevitable step” may be anything but paint, you say. I will not argue with that, nor with the nonsubstantiated “those understood to be making”-this-step reasoning, because it all seems to me a needless concern. Do you really believe that the debate between the abstract and the representational ended in a standstill because neither side triumphed, or was it not a sham battle, fought on the periphery, while the best on both sides secretly remained one?

1) You must not parcel out “fields” in such a seigniorial way, Artforum. I, for one, while a painter (tubes, brushes, cans of Rustoleum, rollers et al.) do not think of myself as being a fellow painter of, let’s say, Fairfield Porter. I do recognize fellow artists: late Reinhardt; middle Segal; Robert Morris of Hearing; Munch of Voices; Ingmar Bergman before he deteriorated; the slow holistic pulsation of an Agnes Martin; the surreal brink of Acconci’s defending space. Some others.

How is the morale in the field? In the field of understated expressionist power fused with fine nerve-ends of formal sensibility—splendid.

2) Obviously, painting does offer some possibilities not found in other media, and very specific ones come to mind: subtle value and chromatic relationships find unique hospitality on stable, flat ground. But this is only a route, and as a painter I happen to be most familiar with it. However, what really matters, both formal values and the power to convey feeling, I grant other media without hesitation.

3) The energies and ideas in painting which merit attention may seem technically unique, but they are not autonomous in a significant sense. Medium partisanship is always naive and can be harnessed for both—desperate forced innovation and nostalgic retrograde conservatism. Thus—no hailing of new media and no mourning for Winsor & Newton.

As for the inevitable next step, I know only one: Socialism.

GENE DAVIS: For the past decade or so, it has become increasingly apparent that advanced art must rely, in large measure, on the manipulation of context to achieve its gains. It is an old and, by now, familiar device: simply take another discipline, shift it into the visual art context and you have advanced art. For example, Joseph Kosuth (language and philosophy), Vito Acconci and Chris Burden (theater), Robert Irwin (architecture), Robert Smithson (landscape architecture), Hanne Darboven and Mel Bochner (mathematics), Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol (advertising and comic art) and Joseph Beuys (politics).

Now that the right to utilize context has been decisively won for all artists, perhaps we can look at painting again with some perspective. It is simplyone of the numerous available visual arts media in which the artist can, in 1975, work with brilliant or not so brilliant results, depending upon his innate gifts and application. Al Held and a few others are good examples. Like most of the other disciplines, it has its clearly defined limits. It may well be that the best painters today are not worrying so much about the “next inevitable step” as they are about extending the limits of the painting medium itself or, perhaps, working within those limits. As every art student today knows, manipulation of context in the late ’60s manner is by now a game anybody can play. However, these comments should in no way be construed as a diatribe against recent advanced art, of which I am an avid and vocal supporter. I simply am somewhat surprised at the assumption implicit in your questionnaire.

After all, the interment of painting is a hardy perennial and Artforum is at the bottom of a long and distinguished list of mourners. Wasn’t it Malevich’s White Square on White (c. 1918) that was supposed to have signaled the death of painting shortly after World War I? Before that, in the 19th century, wasn’t the introduction of the daguerreotype regarded as the coup de grace to painting? In our own time, didn’t Ad Reinhardt characterize his works as “the last paintings that can be painted?”

To paraphrase one of your questions, what do you consider to be the prospects of Earthworks in this decade? Or Happenings? Or body art?

STEPHEN GREENE: Painting, like anything else, cannot count on an eternal life, but were the beginnings of its end to occur in my lifetime, I would devote myself to being the best of the last painters, the last maker of handmade objects on two-dimensional canvas. In 1961 (Art in America) I declared myself neither an abstract painter nor a figurative painter. So then, some of the present problems in painting are not mine. There is no valid reason that either abstract or figurative painting has to triumph over the other. My respect for a Balthus never interfered with my love for a Barnett Newman. The essential difficulty for painting today is its overconcern with style as an end in itself, its basically academic point of view. New academies are not necessarily more interesting than old ones. There are a few exceptions but generally one can count on a spiritual vacuity and a “right” thinking for the moment whether it is the revival of old-fashioned art-school highlights on the nude or a purely formal abstraction that takes what was previously a minimum of powerful forms, divisions, colors and reduces it to a minimal simplemindedness of form and content. Content does not necessarily mean narrative or literature.

In the past few years I was particularly moved, even haunted, by Gilbert and George singing their nostalgic ditty. Its formal performance, its sense of nostalgia and decay, still interests me. It is a psychological interest that is true to its time but I do not mistake it for art of great importance nor do I as a painter feel threatened by it. Whatever interests me, interests me no matter where I find it. In a similar way, Acconci is a fascinating figure. Again, it is a sense of self-destruction made public and it too has its sense of decay. And what about the pathetic figure who destroyed, bit by bit, an important member of his body until he died. These are all fantastic acts of their kind. They hold my interest as does watching, at different times of the day, the incredibly immense wrapping of one of the city gates of Rome by Christo and being fascinated by its immensity of scale, its masking and unmasking of an object and also being fascinated by the color of the ropes used for securing the plastic as it changes in the sun and at dusk. These are things that quickly pass in time and although records of these performances exist I still prefer the possibility of the original work lasting for some greater length in time, such as in a painting.

No, non-painting has not rivaled the possibilities of how penetrating, exciting, an area of color can be. Too, the spiritual power of a Newman still remains unrivaled. We have had too much interest in “entertainment” and our world is burning and has been for quite a while. In 1966 or ’67 (Art in America) I referred to the “slick sixties” and now in painting we have the conservative seventies, saddled with its conservatism on both sides of the figurative and abstract scene. The “style” and its rationale are too obviously readable and the individual personality remains vacuous; anonymity would be preferable. The potential of painting has not disappeared. When color stops to spread itself atmospherically over 20 feet with a charm that recalls the sentimental and bad paintings of the 19th century, when those tired nudes and proficient still lifes, whether they are small or immense in scale, disappear, and when the photograph is used in an inventive way, not in the 19th-century way as an aid to the eye, some of the potential of present-day painting is and will be realized. We have had enough “merchandise” for all aspects of the “market” and it will be indeed tough again to “make it” and perhaps we will again have more profound artists, those who are tough in the interior sense.

Finally, I do not think it is a question of other forms vs. painting. Remember how they fought over the idea of painting vs. sculpture in the Renaissance and, of course, both forms were of immense value and perhaps it was all that old artist’s ego trip again. And talking of the ego, an inner necessity as well, I take it that painting is still very much alive while I continue to paint.

BUFFIE JOHNSON: The viewing of art from an art-historical perspective leads to the dead-end at which painting is said to have arrived. The problem lies in the continual expectation of a “next inevitable step.” In the formal and traditional art-historical approach “accomplishment” is measured in terms of innovation in the spatial manipulation of the picture plane; the artist is categorized as Classic or Romantic, the art defined as abstract or representational. This approach has led to the death of “feeling” in art, and has brought about the “decline”of painting,which is a language of feeling (Robert Motherwell, among others, has expressed the thought that painting is a language of feeling) by artificially motivating painters to stretch the medium, in the name of innovation, beyond its limited capabilities.

We must first acknowledge that painting, like every other medium, has its limitations and work, so to speak, within that frame. Despite the infinite number of spatial illusions possible within that frame, it nevertheless remains a two-dimensional frame of reference whose dimensions are given in height and width. The dramatic alteration of the traditional exterior shape of the canvas by Frank Stella still left him confined to the geometric configurations within that frame.

Those who have abandoned painting in favor of other mediums have often done so in an effort to express that which is “beyond painting,” as painting reflects that which is “beyond words.” Marcel Duchamp was perhaps the first to express the futility of merely painting the object. His obsession lay in the reality of the object itself, whereas painters are generally inspired by the mere smell of the studio, putting away the temptation to taste the color that has just been mixed. Addicted to painting, they are not easily seduced by the newer trends away from their “habit.” When one is seriously involved in a love affair, one doesn’t think about the possibilities found elsewhere, they simply don’t exist. One becomes focused and centered on the object of devotion, disregarding its imperfections. A passionate painter expresses devotion to the object by painting it.

Having been proclaimed “dead” more than once, the persistence of painting is remarkable. The invention of photography prompted some to proclaim the death of painting, a claim that can undoubtedly be attributed to an innovation-oriented, art-historical method of evaluation. That photography has had a significant influence on painting, there is no doubt, but it is no replacement (photo-Realism notwithstanding).

If the “energies and ideas” in painting seem to have dried up, it is largely a result of the false ideologies of establishment academia. The weighty dialogue has crushed the true significance of the creative act, introducing a false sense of reality into our “magic theaters.” From its inception, art has ventured into the unknown realm of the spirit, a world that manifests itself through symbols rather than words. Magic images have for millennia expressed the timeless fears and concerns of the human mind. We err in thinking that we have conquered these fears with our technological sophistication; instead we have refused to confront them, permitting them to haunt us while we debate the more obvious non-issues. Whatever words are used, what remains is that all painting, regardless of its intention, expresses the inner life of the artist.

P.S. Buffie Johnson is alive and well, and painting in New York City!

WOLF KAHN: The discussion which Artforum wishes to initiate is framed in terribly warlike terms. Implied is that every artist forms part of a titanic power struggle in which the victory belongs exclusively to that tendency ’which makes that “inevitable next step.” In such a context no lingering is allowed. The past is only useful insofar as it tells us what we may not do. (“It’s all been done.”) Most painters begin from more innocent premises, and their development from these premises tends, therefore, to be more natural and certainly less painfully self-conscious than that of individuals in whose work the current varieties of avant-garde ideology play a predominant part.

Thus, for me, as a painter, painting is valuable just because of its long history and, since it is so deeply embedded in Western civilization, of all the visual arts it needs the least justification. As a direct expression of the sign-making and imitative instincts, children will begin to paint and draw with the most minimal encouragement from the earliest age. Later on, in school, the student who draws well (i.e., represents most interestingly) elicits constant admiration from his classmates. This goes on right through so-called “higher education.” The logical next step for this gifted and skilled individual would then be to become a painter, just as a young person with a beautiful voice will wish to become a singer. That is because painting continues to be image-making at its highest, most direct and most flexible level. It is at once furthest removed from the everyday world—paintings have closer associations with other paintings than they can ever have with commercial art, photography, display, design, interior decoration, or fashions—and at the same time painting can include the most intimate symbolic correspondences with life rhythms and life experiences in general, as well as with human aspirations of the most rarified kind, such as the relation between formalism and platonism exemplified in such artists as Mondrian or Piero della Francesca.

Every generation manages to produce its crop of fine new painters. Today’s generation, besides producing painters and other artists, also produces the usual crop of artists manqués, of bureaucrats, and of spoilsports in general, who justify their personal failures by pronouncing the premature demise of this and that. But there is no news here, these obituaries have been with us since the daguerreotype.

The public for painting is larger and more enthusiastic than ever, and they feel little need to justify their delight and enthusiasm, nor do I feel that the time has come when we painters need to feel put on the defensive by the tired rhetoric of ideologues.

R. B. KITAJ: I am answering you about the prospects of painting from a table at Florian’s in the city of Ciorgione.

How in hell can you ask what possibilities, not found elsewhere, does painting offer? For Christ’s sake, nowhere else except in painting can you paint a picture. Passions for pictures like the Tempesta and for picture-making will always live in the race of men and women. It will always be possible to introduce into pictures aspects and issues and qualities not known there before. Few modernists have the range or imagination to assume what painting could be . . . that a truly social art might emerge, to challenge the assumptions of an art which now dwindles at the margins of society in despair and quietist arrogance. There are so many things to do; there is a plenitude to inquire after . . . and it will not seem out of the question that Tolstoy or Dickens are more hopeful and pertinent to painting than Malevich or Duchamp.

Our modern art ship began to sail away from most other people about 70 years ago and now it’s drifting out of sight. It is my feeling that most of our modernist versions, including the most intelligent abstraction, have failed in all these years to coincide in substantial senses with the needs and aspirations of enough other people. Something like a sanctity of the self has displaced, for a while, many wider attentions. It has always seemed strange to me that most artists align themselves with the great causes in our time: antifascism, the liberation of vast peoples, the women’s movement, socialism. Strange, because it is rare for our art to enter into even a dialogue beyond the fancy-pants “current scene,” with its entrenched devotion to preserving the prerogatives of laissez-faire vanguardism and modernism, let alone break that tired circuit toward the wider motives, peoples, implications we seem to reach with other parts of ourselves. The Cole Porter song says, “In the morning, no!” Our art has been a privileged no-no long enough. We are all implicated, but some of us may not be beyond repair.

Artists have always painted and drawn the human figure and they always will. Many, many people will understand this . . . the impulse is in our bones. Now and then this impulse will become magical in the lives and works of imaginative painters. They will have made more wonderful figure inventions than others . . . and . . . in pictures about aspects of our lives not taken to be the province of painting by modernists. I assume a historical measure running through late Michelangelo crucifixion drawings and, say, late blue Matisse nudes. That measure will run again, through a true revolution, at least as potent as the one art needed 70 years ago.

Modernism was worth doing but now its writ is run and our art seems as unprepared for change and as suspect as our political institutions. Art about art needs a rest. I want to believe that picture-making about people, ranging across the widest poetic occasion, will result again in figure inventions worth matching up to real people.

Only when young artists go the tough route, learn to draw well again, and become what R. P. Blackmur called “suspicious readers,” will a social poetics of painting make it anew.


Upon my return from Central America, I found your letter among a disappointingly high stack of letters and bills. It is with some reservation that I reply to your questions, mainly because I find that the vocabulary and the presumptive quality of certain phrases (e.g., “the next inevitable step,” “triumphed over,” “ceased to be the dominant artistic medium at the moment”) does not serve to frame the issues of what are “the prospects of painting in this decade.” In fact, I find them basically misleading. Is painting dead? Again? I remember its more recent demise in the ’60s, killed by a large gray Minimal monolith. I believe they are now extinct.

Being away a lot, I have not felt the reverberations surrounding the debate between the “major ideologies, abstract and representational.” Furthermore, it is now generally known that abstract artists and representational artists have been seen together, talking and carrying on in a seemingly convivial manner. Personally, some of my best friends are photo-Realists and some of them have rhythm and dance well if provoked.

The “general morale in the field” is fair to good. Reports from the various fronts are mixed, the enemy has won some major access routes but these concessions are well within the parameters of artistic tolerances. There appears to be adequate light at the end of the tunnel to do at least some videotape stuff—possibly a small watercolor or drawing.

The assertion that certain unnamed people have made “the next inevitable step” is indeed a bold one and a difficult one to subscribe to. How did you find out? What were your investigative tools? These steps, as you state, have been taken “with any material but paint.” If so, perhaps they should be discussed as to their affirmative relationship to their specific medium. Is it video or tree-climbing or sculpture or wordgames or masturbation or filmmaking that has pushed beyond the very frontiers of Art?

“One small step (”inevitable“) for man. . . .”

This is not to suggest that there isn’t important work being done “with any material but paint” but in New York, at least, one has to watch where one steps.

ELLEN LANYON: I have never really questioned whether painting was or will be threatened by innovations in other media. It seems ridiculous to have to defend painting when it has sustained such a very long and staunch history for itself. It is true that the big rubber band of ideological systems seems inexhaustible and the resultant invention with extraordinary materials (including humans in performance) has once again evoked that stale prediction . . . But . . . it is hard to imagine that most artists will ever retire paint and brush from their repertoire. Indeed, they have rather stubbornly resisted the temptations of nouveau-media and although many may have been temporarily seduced by the experimentalists, the eventual return to a familiar arena is the adventurer’s reward.

If anything, this resistance is the inevitable snapback. The energy that emanates from such confrontation is very healthy as it tends to build art world backbone and it most certainly has revitalized diversity and encouraged the emergence of the private world imagists, narrative art and the unabashed romantic realists. So . . . the need to paint today is not lessened by the pressures of an avant-garde but, instead, gets stronger as the desire to do battle via example becomes more positive. Of course, there will always be those who are easily demoralized, but survival of the fittest is not a new issue and one can hardly expect or desire the focus to be on one system.

Painting has been the most vital tool for my invention: it has always been the means with which to meet the challenge of describing an activity or environment and making it come alive from the limits of the two-dimensional surface. It’s a constant reward, the drama of manipulating paint, when, as if by accident or not, a color, an edge or a stroke makes just the right mystical connection. In the attempt to depict an extension of the sorceror’s stage craft I need to create the illusion of an inanimate object surrounded by or full with living, moving creatures. I have to paint it . . . having found no better a method for making such implied realities believable.

There seems to be a remarkable counter-mainstream activity about and it is encouraging to see how many painters are utilizing personal sources, autobiography, literalism and the ever-persuasive echoes of Dada and Surrealism. Somehow, I feel that involvement with such concepts has brought about more of an interest in researching the properties of paint media and reestablishing a concern and respect for historical example.

ADELE LEONARD: Artforum’s statement that “painting has ceased to be the dominant artistic medium at the moment” seems particularly ironic at this moment since so many of those artists who made their names in the ’60s by attacks on painting are suddenly either painting, making objects that look suspiciously like paintings, or are purported to be “thinking about painting.”

The rhetoric of Minimalism and Conceptualism that went along with these attacks on painting did intimidate certain painters. Some painting became extremely self-effacing and apologetic. Out went color, light, space, texture, and the recognition that paintings are objects to be looked at and enjoyed. (That is, painting wasn’t dead, but there were a lot of dead paintings around.)

I feel that the “energies and ideas worth attention” in painting are anti-Minimalist (not post-Minimalist). I am interested in the work of artists who have a personalized content at the core of their work (not merely arid, formalist ideas), the work of artists who recognize the barrenness of much current SoHo art and want to reach out to other sources and traditions, and the work of artists who know that painting is an unabashedly sensual art as well as an intellectual process.

It seems almost banal to say that “this medium” offers endless “possibilities”—and always has. I want to keep putting more and more into my own paintings—austerity and ornamentation, flatness and depth, primitivism and refinement. And above all, I always want to have paintings around to look at—old ones, new ones—all kinds.

ALLAN McCOLLUM: The “energies and ideas in painting” I find most worthy of attention are those which expand the medium’s capability to structure the viewer’s experience in a literal—not pictorial—space and time.

“Literalization” as a common contemporary imperative, however, is being better dealt with outside the discipline of painting, at present, where many artists have embraced mediums having an a priori sympathetic relationship with the overlapped dimensions of literal space (the earth, the human body, etc.) and literal time (film, video, etc.).

Painting, on the other hand, is having to confront contemporary imperatives with a vocabulary of devices evolved from concerns which were originally pictorial; and reworking these devices, which means altering the language of painting itself, involves meticulous effort. This is taking time, and it will take more time.

Any altered language, however, while possibly able to reorder priorities within the discipline, could not eliminate painting’s inherent pictorial capabilities; and painting, by virtue of these capabilities, will remain the best way to represent the matrix archetype—along with any manipulations within the matrix—simultaneously to the viewer. This, I believe, is due to a primary, possibly precultural level of intentionality beyond which a painting, as an iconographical entity, need never be questioned.

In this way, painting can introduce into the culture prelinguistic models for certain types of conceptualizing, especially those which involve parts-to-whole relationships. Other kinds of art, particularly those which provoke frequent epistemological reevaluations, are not generally useful in this specific way.

Painting, then, has a valuable dual capability: it can, in its literal capacity (along with your “next-inevitable-step” forms), expand and transform the esthetic parameters of one’s apprehensions—while providing simultaneously, in its more unique pictorial capacity, possible programs for psychically orienting oneself within them.

The art of making paintings has traditionally taken place within such an extreme set of limitations that every new painting created is linked by its very nature to every other painting in existence. The entire discipline then is so uniquely coherent that it has become an ideal medium through which the evolution of esthetics within the culture may be divined. To realize this is to realize that painting plays a vital role in the amalgamation of contemporary polemics into the continuity of history.

As a painter, I find this role to be a challenge and a source of great excitement—lack of wide popular support notwithstanding—and my “morale,” thank you, is as intact as my conviction that all art, ultimately, complements all other art, however discordant and perplexing the differences may appear in the interim.

DONA NELSON: Artforum’s statement concerning painting makes the making of art sound a lot like the making of war. I do not make abstract painting in order to “triumph” over representational painting; I do not make it as an appeal to “historical verdict”; I do not make it because of its “usefulness to the current scene”; I make it because I would rather paint than do anything else. Contrary to Artforum’s implicit assumption, the making of art fulfills a private rather than a public need, and for this reason many painters keep working a whole lifetime, beset with doubts about their work and without public recognition. Any artist’s struggle is not with history, but with himself. If he is to make a vital art, his work must become a kind of visual equivalent to the whole of his life. He must rediscover his innate ideas, those that cannot be separated from his feelings or from his hand, those that have most likely been plowed under and humiliated by art education, the organs of art education, and art chic or, conversely, the fear of art chic.

Artforum’s view of painting seems limited to the history of Western painting from the end of the 19th century to the present, seeing this history as rushing from Manet, Monet, and Cézanne to Marden with hardly a moment to spare for the pleasures of a long contemplation of a single painting, leading to nothing, coming from nothing, a timeless and specific reality like no other in the world.

If a painter is to continue working with any kind of cheer and conviction, he must see painting as part of an infinitely varied and infinitely repetitive world tradition. Within this tradition there is plenty of room for both Pollock and Ch’en Hung-shou (Chinese landscape painter, 1598–1652), for both an anonymous Basohli painter and Roy Lichtenstein, for both the greater lights and the lesser lights. Within this tradition one moves easily from abstract to representational painting. The rush from one formalistic solution to the next is momentarily halted and all the subtle qualities of each painter’s hand, intellect, and feeling are laid out across the wall for our leisurely delectation.

My memory of art history is in terms of specific paintings. When I think of those paintings, my morale (I don’t know about “general morale”) is high and I know why I am a painter. The formal and physical solutions of my work will be, are, particular to me, at the same time having something in common with everything I’ve ever liked: paintings, people, places, certain kinds of weather.

As to the second and third questions, the possibilities offered by painting as distinguished from other media are primarily of a formal and physical nature: flat space, color, and surface. Although other kinds of space have been explored in recent abstract painting, only flat space is particular to painting (this is not to exclude the emanating space of color and surface). I am interested in plotting the flatness, surveying it, trying to make a taut space, an unfamiliar place. The notion of place in modern painting can be found in Newman, but it is present way back in history. Masaccio and Cézanne immediately come to mind. From observation, some other people seem as if they might be interested in similar ideas, among them, Gary Stephan, Mel Bochner, and Elizabeth Murray. Some of Brice Marden’s recent drawings are also about locating a specific space.

Good ideas can make a good painting, but they can’t make a great painting. Paintings are painfully, exhilaratingly honest objects. One of the interesting things about Marden, in contrast to, say, Stella, is that his idea isn’t very original (Kelly was doing colored panels years ago), but his art is original. It succeeds on the strength of his touch (the way he does them) and his eye (his color). A painter need never worry about imitators, because ideas can be exchanged but the quality of the hand cannot. This is where the hope of painting lies, in the way each of us does our work.

It is true that the rapid formalistic changes of the past 30 years are coming to a halt, but it is the barren anti-art spirit of goal-to-goal thinking that is dead, not painting itself.

PAT PASSLOF: It may of course be inflexible pride that will send me down with a leaky ship—or just plain backwardness. Undeniably the ranks have deserted. Every practical consideration argues against it. Why not at least take up printmaking?

Who will answer your questions? Who will be asked? A friend of mine threw his away angrily convinced that all this software would be run through hardware to become some Conceptual artist’s next piece. Who wants to be defensive? But how can I resist the ironies of an issue of Artforum devoted to painting?

No doubt your provocation will flush many of us out of the woodwork—one which may well have been our best position. Painting is an unfolding—waiting around for our “next step” could put you out of business.

How to write back to Artforum from where I am to where it is? Dearest Artforum—my experience in the studio is fraught with doubt—but strangely not on this question; painting seems to me to have just arrived at its primacy, to have shed its last encumbrance; to offer the richest, most direct, most plastic of all vehicles. I can do anything with it—even Earthworks if you will—I don’t need to chew up the whole desert. Art doesn’t require “things-in-themselves” to have the experience of them. People who decry the commercialization of art and want to take it out of the galleries seem to end up spending a lot of other people’s money wrapping buildings or canyons or sinking ships in a megalomaniac theater. If they were sincere, or at least honorable, they would stop sending us such urgent word of their activities—this art of flirtation. True, they do not end up with an “object,” but art is ephemeral. A painting is evidence, tracks, a vessel. The intrinsic worth of paint and canvas bears the same relationship to its content as the body’s pennies’ worth of chemicals does to the spirit it carries.

The sins of the marketplace are the sins of a political system I don’t presume to understand. Nor are they solved by seizures of guilt and the compulsion to get “art” out to the “masses.” Education’s goal is still conformity. People who make or need art need first to know the secret of doing nothing. This dream does not resemble what economists like to refer to as “leisure” for the busy or ambitious.

“Real” used to be for exorcising the literary (once a corruption), now reversed. Words are wonderful. Not a poet, I envy them their freedom to “travel light” and resent my unwieldy painter’s baggage. But to see my thoughts in the instant—nothing can equal that. The alternatives I see around me offer only further delays, and indirection; seem clumsy, time-consuming, sullen and recalcitrant. Shyness and other imperfections disqualify me from the cult of “artist as his/her own medium.” Why should I take up wearing a gas mask in the studio, dust off the “Brown Notebooks”—just to satisfy a program which wants to empty everything out, to disembody itself? If I myself wanted these things I’d go straight to Tibet. Become an adept—pure mind or spirit.

If you aim at the word instead of the work, logic will take you from abstract to essence and, in that sense, this program of emptiness is buttoned up just “right.” If you strip the leaves from Wittgenstein’s artichoke to get at the essence you’ll be left with neither artichoke nor essence. One thought I never had is being “right” or, for that matter, “wrong” either. What I’m after is contradictory, capricious, paradoxical and full: in short, magic. Abstraction for me means more, not less. The trouble with being romantic is that, when uninspired, it is pretentious—a calculated risk.

Today artists do anything they can think of. I tell my students: “If you can think it, don’t bother doing it. Think with a brush—the finger of your brain.” Reason is a form of aggression to replace the unknown—an art of calculation blind to the language of vision. Science came in on the wings of an angel when the Renaissance made them functional—wings, that is—suddenly big enough to support their angels.

The naturalism of “art as life as art” and “information systems” often meet on a plane which is radical in its dumbness. One says: “Here is my turd.” “The other adds: ”It has the following components, characteristics and dimensions . . ." There may be some truth to the notion that if you don’t live too hard dying will not make such a difference.

A painter was asked if he did not think the young people who came after him were out front forging new paths. His answer: “There is nothing in front of me but the abyss.”

TONY ROBBIN: It is harder than ever to know the future of art by meditating on its past. Using the language of Artforum’s question, I fully agree that the “debates” between painting’s “two major ideologies, abstract and representational, have outlived their usefulness to the current scene.” So has the debate on whether painting can serve the Counter-Reformation. But is it really a criticism of painting that discussions between proponents of realism and proponents of abstraction leave me fatigued and depressed? Painting survives its sophomoric apologists, and my satisfaction for the tedium they inflict is the knowledge that they will be the last to understand new content and new formal strategies.

Complex spatial paradox is one formal strategy which makes visible a sensual and philosophical awareness of contemporary experience. Painting, more than film, video, or sculpture, is free to investigate such a space because only in painting is it possible to present space per se, free of objects and gravity. The whole history of spatial illusion—projection, perspective, atmosphere, overlap, color space, texture and the scale jumps, multiplicity and simultaneity of views as analogues for motion parallax and stereo vision—all these can be extracted from previous styles and used to construct a protean space. And seeing space in this new way allows one to think and feel differently about one’s total experience. It implies a sense of the self capable of enjoying flux, appreciating the order in apparent chaos, and acting in the midst of uncertainty. Painting with its vast array of stylistic elements, with its great flexibility of form, and with its unity in time is, as always, a most avant-garde medium.

JIM ROCHE: Rudimentary notions of implied scale, plane shift, edge endings, push-pull color, density relief, eye to mind discrepancies, and the like, are granted some consideration while painting, but to hold them as foremost concerns is quite limiting. Yet, much effort I’ve seen seeks to make a convincing “comment on limitations” set by the physical structure of the actual painting itself, the fluid color quality of commonly used paint, the method used to put the fluid on the structure, and what it does visually after you get it on there. Comment seems to have replaced content. So . . . a good thing . . . . Restlessness has set in among painters of these past few years as they bore of a painting system that comments only on itself. Right this minute, everybody’s tired of grid line fascination painting, geometric color area painting, tie-dye, splash, wash, drip, and rub, surface painting, shaped-this, incised-that painting, smear grease, count number, spot, dot, layer, and tear painting, photographically rendered message realism painting, and hermetically sealed personal tragedy painting: so all that’s over with, and out. Now what?

Paint will be used but its physical properties will be given less attention than its sheer color quality. A variety of materials and objects used in conjunction with paint will occur as paintings vary more from thick to relief through a plane layering arrangement of these objects and materials that are themselves celebrated as color, human symbol, line, space, and surface. “Painting” will become more physical, more handled. A shift also to gravity plane as working base may occur. Recent paintings are fixed on a plane unrelated to humans; by that I mean we can’t walk on the damn wall, so gravity plane’s advantage is solid physical relation to humans, and a more intimate contact with the paintings, in that, you can walk on the same plane the painting is walking on. Readily recognizable concern for human content is growing in American art as underlying premise for whatever you do. As this concern fully blossoms, the “beginning of concern” will be studied closely, and implied ritual arrangements, understood by everybody on some level, will be sought and finished to show some aspect of where art thinks “man” is now.

As observation, man painted on ground before he painted on wall and these paintings made from earth colors and life objects were arranged into a symbol representing the cumulative spiritual record understood at the time. The complexity of these paintings, the visual energy they emit, and the number of levels of possible interpretation, depend on the aspirations of the artist, how much he knows about the whole culture he is a part of, and his competency at using visual elements to point this up. This basic understanding of painting as a physical joining of material, object, and color on a plane, into human-related imagery that becomes, and is itself, a fixed symbol of implied ritual, has its place in the coming years. And remember, random anything is dumb; if you don’t know where or why it goes, you shouldn’t put it on there; random is out, concise is in, and less is not more; more is more.

EDWIN RUDA: I find it incredible that after 25,000 years of art and 5,000 years of written history—after all that visual hindsight and explication—the gulf between image and word persists the way it does. Only 25 years ago abstract painters were being asked why they painted the way they did; now the question seems to be: why paint at all? Indeed, the Artforum statement continues this line of interrogation—a sort of esthetic third degree: Mr. Caveman, why all that scratching on the wall? Monsieur Monet, why bring all that fuzzy stuff to light? Mr. Abstract Painter, why the perverse interest in paint when you could alphabetize, numerate, schematize, linguisticize, electrify, ecologize, photo-duplicate, and jerk off? Really one is tempted to reply to the presumptuousness of such questions with a touch of malice . . . to-be put up against a wall like that and asked to defend your choice of existence . . . to suffer the false and mean inference that painting has had its day and that one might do well at this point to abandon ship and swim for dear life toward some mythical “media-firma.”

The “next inevitable step” theory suggests that new media—as alternative modes of expression—will eventually displace painting altogether. But on what earthly grounds? Sheer proliferation? New is better? Superior intellect? Keeping up with the Duchamps? The issue is trumped up, pointless. A case of mixed categories. Painting is as painting does with its own brand of intelligence and discriminatory power . . . and with as many possibilities before it as behind it. More personally, it provides me with the exact means of saying precisely what I wish to say in the precise way I wish to say it . . . with just the right breadth, depth, transparency, motility, and weight. Let others sow their seeds wherever and however they choose; after all we yield to the democratic faith, however anarchic.

It would help matters if critical language got behind the painting experience in order to elucidate it instead of itself. Unfortunately most critiques terminate out in left field as a separate, narcissistic enterprise. Merleau-Ponty refers to the necessity of our “inhabiting” or “haunting” the painting as part of the act of comprehension—which sounds to me like an excellent way to begin to see. He also reflects on the double-edged fact that “the painter chooses paint . . . and paint chooses the painter.” A pretty tight reply to "why paint rather than __?

Whatever happens to painting in this decade is O.K. with me. It’s more interesting when you don’t know. The same with my morale. If it’s up it’s up, if it’s down it’s down. I just take its craziness for granted and disregard it. Mostly I’m too absorbed with painting to pay attention to much else. Then before I know it the decade is over and I’ll be wondering what happened. I hope I accomplish something.

PETER SAUL: In regard to your paragraph of assumptions—what a “next inevitable step” is—or whether it has anything to do with painting a picture—is strictly a matter of opinion. Wealthy and/or intellectual people argue about this and the outcome affects my life style—and every artist’s—very much: if I could get a person like you to think I was “the next inevitable step,” I’d buy a new car and I’d kiss your ass. But that’s irrelevant to my painting which is uninfluenced by the announced judgment. Nevertheless, here are my answers because I do agree with you that art-style painting is dead. Use my opinion as an example of “bland” indifference from remote “provinces.”

1) I think it takes popular interest away from “type” of painting (professional group work?) and returns everybody’s attention to the great pile of individual pictures of all types. Consequently there’s the same need for unique paintings of special, individual purpose that there always was. But any paintings intended to be an “example” of a “style” are dead now.

My morale is unchanged because I was never part of the style groups or derived any support from their existence. However, many artists I’ve met are gloomy if abstract or happy if realistic (publicized high prices for Estes, etc.).

2) The unique property of paint is that it necessitates no compromise with what you want it to look like. The same pile of tubes can make a Rembrandt, a Mondrian or a de Kooning. Therefore I always have the possibility of getting what I want more exactly. This can’t be said for light bulbs, car fenders, rope or broken glass—which looks like what it is and can only be arranged by the artist.

3) I can’t verbalize on what “ideas and energies” in painting are worthy of your attention because that phrase translates as art style and we both agree that’s dead in paintings. My idea is to make my paintings interesting enough that all kinds of people can look at them without inducement from expert opinion.

DAVID SIMPSON: In the first century A.D., Petronius declared painting dead. In 1934 Moholy-Nagy declared painting dead. in 1970—probably earlier—Robert Morris declared painting dead. Three of many.

Some of us suffer from the “McLuhan Effect.” Significance is measured in terms of the number of people who “pay to get in.” The depth of response doesn’t matter so long as large numbers of people are involved.

Painting isn’t dead or dying.

What has happened is that a portion of the audience—that part of it which wasn’t responding with much conviction in the first place—has deserted painting for other more “exciting,” “relevant” or “original” things.

Painting is hard to do, and in any age to excel in any art form has been excruciatingly difficult. Even so, in our own age, painting, along with all other art forms, may be just a desperate expedient. True meaning—proven so—is elusive.

Artists as well as other people may be solipsistic, and sometimes believe what they cannot do cannot be done at all. For those who need the large audience and measure significance in terms of numbers, the pressure is great to make things or think up ideas that are more “exciting,” “relevant” or “original.” Besides, it’s easier to do something you can do well than something you cannot.

One doesn’t take “the next inevitable step” in painting by working with “any material but paint.” The whole notion of a series of inevitable steps in art is no doubt a mistaken one. Honesty is probably a more important quality than originality, if originality is taken to mean “the next step,” or that art “progresses” in steps.

Progress in art is a myth. There were “cubists” in the Renaissance (at least Cambiaso and Bracelli came close), and every child with a crayon has been, is or will be an “abstract expressionist.” If progress is a myth then linking it to originality won’t work. Linking originality to honesty is more likely to succeed. Honesty meaning recognizing and following your own human will—an in no way simple adventure.

Painting is still the most economically effective way to create visual metaphors. Metaphors are magic. They replace the Thing itself with an allusion to it, without being—boringly—the Thing itself. Whatever else they may be about, good paintings are still metaphors which express light without wasting it, add to space without merely occupying it and play tricks with time—expanding and contracting it—without simply taking it.

Finally, more than any other visual medium, painting provides—economically—the possibility for what Nicolas Calas has called the most significant purpose of art, that of providing “a kind of exalted happiness” for those who are visually literate.

Music provides this for us aurally, and is probably the greatest of all the arts.

JOAN SNYDER: For myself painting remains the most vital way to say what I want to say. I have always found the people who proclaim “painting is dead” to be ludicrous. If not perhaps bitter, maybe untalented. Or maybe just bored art critics who need a new suit, new buddies, and a new pitch. It’s probably true that there’s nothing new under the sun. But there’s still our lives, and our fears, and loves and complexities—and there’s still color in the world and lines and shapes and masses and sounds and words. It’s what painting is all about. It’s what sculpture is all about. It’s what video is all about. And everything else that the avant-garde is doing. Some do it well, some poorly. There are good paintings and bad, good books and bad, good video tapes and bad. Oil paint has an old quality to it—something traditional—it smacks of the past in a way maybe film or words on walls of galleries don’t. But I am convinced that there is infinitely more to explore through the medium of painting than I have done or seen. So I am still exploring and being more than content with the struggle. In response to your statement that those understood to be making the “next inevitable step” now work with any material but paint. That statement is sickening. It talks about the market and competition, and art critics and dealers and collectors and art magazines. It doesn’t talk about artists/painters. Serious painters are devoted to their work and frequently obsessed by their images. It doesn’t mean they don’t consider other mediums or try other mediums than paint. But it’s not a decision due to art critics, art magazines and consumerism. I’m sure there will be many good responses to this jab in the ribs by the so-called observers of the avant-garde. So I’ll end my statement.

PAUL STAIGER: If materials and not the attitude toward materials were most important in terms of “the next inevitable step” art will make then it would be of concern to painters that the next “step” will be made, as Artforum suggests, “with any material but paint.” But of course that step cannot be defined in terms of materials for they are subordinate to attitude, and to phrase ideology as a function of formal solutions is a mistake, leading to a superficial, academic kind of art.

The perception of paint as a tool, of course, has changed and Artforum is right when it says that the old central issues of abstraction and representation seem of little use today. However it surely doesn’t follow that because these have been set aside there is no need to paint. Painting was never bound up exclusively with any one set of problems and further the artist has always used his materials on a personal theoretical level: in the making there is no appeal to the great historical verdict.

Painting is worth attention now just because its historic ideologies seem useless: it presents us with a dead-end, restrictive proposition, which almost precludes the possibility of that next step and as such makes choices much more difficult. It might be that other materials would respond to this restrictive attitude, but none so totally as paint (its conventions are too thorough). If within this framework the painter is faced with a material that leaves open few new possibilities, the image painter seems to have even fewer. Here the act is reduced to copying the photo-image and making becomes simply a question of recording marks predetermined completely by the outside source. No artful decisions are necessary or desirable for form-content is preexistent. To paint becomes a mindless chore, a way of passing time filling in meaningless information, the craft per se being of interest only insofar as it imposes restrictions on the structure. Painting becomes practice, the repetition of elements without concern for ideological or esthetic categories beyond those implicit in such a posture.

MAY STEVENS: Notions of progress and historical inevitability are false issues and are understood as such by all but those who fall for scienticism and historicism, who have transferred Marxist determinism whole, unmodulated, coarse and clumsy into a field much too subtle and unruly for Marx or Greenberg. Just as the debate between abstraction and representationalism was a false issue (governed on one side by the sham god of the historical imperative and on the other by the shaky-legged totem of mimesis as absolute), so primacy of medium is a false issue, a diversion. It’s easier to deal with the problems of media and subject matter than with those of art.

Collage, assemblage, found objects, all developed because the artist didn’t care about media, not because he/she desired to spite or contradict paint. Why are we looking at art from pygmy bleachers with mini-concepts? Categorizers who try to make their work easy for themselves ought to be seen as mutilators. Just as artists and all other human beings must live with flux and uncertainty, make statements in the midst of shifting winds and tides, so must critics. We all have to wrestle with real problems without claiming to know the truth or the inevitable next step—and without discoursing on merest facts because they, while without significance of any kind, are verifiably true.

Live issues for Artforum’s pages are: art and content, art and politics, art and people. Lucy Lippard, in her catalog essay for my recent show at Lerner-Heller Gallery, said: “In a post-Duchampian and Warholian day when all materials and activities and subjects are automatically accepted as art-worthy, overt politics remains virtually the only tabu.” Why is it so hard for art-minded people to understand art as a natural vehicle for political passion, not an adulterant but an irritant, a stimulant, a rich and common source of energy? The obvious answer is that art which the establishment is least able to accept is not the avant-garde (which fights prior art concepts) but the politically effective (which fights establishment myths of patriotism and nationalism, the superiority of one class, sex or race to another).

A narrowing of the gap between art and life requires that artists have a different attitude toward the rest of the world. It is such an easy, such a sleazy victory to set oneself above the art-illiterates. Like despising Vietnamese because they are small and can’t speak English. If art doesn’t speak beyond the environs of West Broadway and Madison at 57th, it has to be our fault. Here is where critics can work and think—in the gap that needs closing.

SIDNEY TILLIM: In answer to your questionnaire, I simply don’t think about art the way Artforum now does. For me, both the assumptions and questions raised in the questionnaire have mostly to do with fashion. That’s not all negative. Fashion fills a need for change and mobility. It’s at least diverting. I don’t deny the flair of some of it and I admit to feeling very isolated at times. But fashion really despairs of originality and typically and necessarily assumes the things your questionnaire assumes, e.g., painting is obsolete, ideology is obsolete, everything is obsolete, while at the same time presenting itself as the heir of the modernist tradition. (Thus, while the politics of your document is “antiformalist,” the reasoning behind it is ultraformalist.) It thus skirts the greater despair of contemplating the possibility that art—as it is—isn’t important anymore, or at least vital—if it ever was in much of this century. In this century, science has been more important than art; it’s certainly expressed our “collective values” better. Maybe it’s even been the “art” of the century. But now even science is not “new.” The “new technology” only implies its assimilation. . . . It’s also diverting. So it’s ironic that art should pick up on it now. It is the essence of fashion to copy the past rather than learn from it. I have for some time thought and still think that the time is ripe for a revival of ideology and something like the rebirth of painting. No medium is dead, but maybe modernism—or your brand of it—is, or nearly.

JOHN TORREANO: I consider the “debate” referred to in the questionnaire between abstraction and representation academic and more interesting to nonpainters than it is to painters. To me a more interesting “debate” is alluded to in the sentence which states: “. . . . those understood to be making the next inevitable step’ now work with any material but paint.” This sentence expresses a popular notion of the “advanced guard” and the idea that artists are in a kind of ideological race to achieve historical significance.

The concept of artists “taking inevitable steps” assumes a predetermined conception of history and as such is destructive to the development of ideas. Furthermore, the association of “inevitable step-taking” with “advanced thinking” is the by-product of particular American-Calvinist approach to Capitalism. Because of this bias the concept of advanced gets confused with fashion. On the one hand we are encouraged/required to change as part of a need to keep the consumer involved with the “new” and dissatisfied with the “non-new.” I chose the phrase “non-new” rather than “old” because, in our culture, if something is old enough it is considered “antique” and achieves the status of historical value. It then becomes a “collector’s item.” Here the attitude of predetermination serves a double function. It encourages superficial changes by presenting the use of new and unusual materials as advanced rather than fashionable and at the same time keeps real changes submerged in rhetoric to maintain the status quo. These fashionable changes are no more advanced than the changes General Motors makes every year when they present a new line of cars. General Motors does it to sell cars. Within art, the changes are designed to maintain history by reaffirming the value of already established ideas. This reaffirmation process also serves to increase the economic value of particular art. Therefore, following this line of argument, artists would end up working for history by trying to achieve history.

As an artist, I strenuously object to the idea of working for art history. To me the taking of “inevitable steps” has always been unnecessary and unchallenging. In this case it also appears to be dictatorial. I use paint because it is necessary for the expression of my ideas. I do not use paint, or any other material, because I am supposed to. Furthermore, I believe that history is flexible and that events are not inevitable. Art adds to history but more importantly it alters the perception and interpretation of history.

The continued popularity of paint as a medium has to do with its plastic nature, its ability to receive an infinite range of impressions and the accessibility it lends to mark-making. All artists make marks. Painting is a complex elaboration on the impulse to mark. These characteristics allow the possibility of individual artists to externalize particular points of view with a great deal of efficiency. The expression of particular points of view is a most important function of art.

MARIO YRISARRY: It’s hard getting past the cynical tone of your letter but I’ll answer your annual painting-killing inclination.

First of all, you are also, among other things, media. This is or was the McLuhanesque Age. Featuring media art in media is understandable. Photographs, illustrations, graphs, diagrams, copy, captions, etc., make a very magazine-type magazine. It also provides a lot of work for people who would rather write about art than look at it. Pushing the controversy aside, representational art looks better in magazines than does an abstract painting. You see recognizable objects, even if the painting is lame. Photographs flatter everything except abstract painting. For good reason, good abstract art has always had photography in its sights. Movies are great, and TV is great, and Artforum is great, but painting is painting. Men and women who are painters paint. And because you’re uninformed about unpublicized value and sustained development in painting does not mean painting is floundering. The decline of color field (a movement you know a lot about) precipitated pattern painting. Late color field more or less petered out with peripheral wipes and empty centers. The achievement of a field of color is worth keeping. The emptiness of a gorgeous beige became a bore. The problem has been how to fill an overall field of color with form. Pattern painting has done that. Unnoticed, pattern painting developed from grid painting. When you do something that repeats inside of each of those boxes you are using grids to produce a form-filled distribution of color, or a color distribution of forms. Anyway it is not empty.

There is a lot of pattern painting going on. Much of it by other confusing names, but it is pattern painting. As a pattern painter, I am painfully aware of every new convert, but, there is a lot of it around.

Pattern painting serves each of us differently. For one it might be a system of color. For another a clash of spaces. For another a distribution of illustrations. For another a gestural survey.

Recently I was on a panel in SoHo discussing pattern painting. The conclusion I came to after the experience is that the field is so new and so extensive we had no familiar questions about it yet, except how does it differ from grid painting? When the vines grow on the gridded trellis you have pattern painting.

There is a lot more about pattern painting but we have a 500-word limit. O.K., let’s get to the crux of it. If “those understood to be making the ’next inevitable step’ now work with any material but paint” then I say good. I hope it serves them right, particularly performance art if they have starlike inclinations. We all like to be entertained but not everybody wishes to perform. Hurray for other fields of art. The further they get away from painting, the better for painting . . .

Everything lives, including the annual inclination to kill painting.