PRINT May 1977

Clyfford Still: The Ethics of Art

That thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its own nature alone and is determined to action by itself alone.

—Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics

And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

—Joel 2:30

BEGIN BY TAKING CLYFFORD STILL at his word as to his intention. The key to his art: the idea of freedom. He calls his paintings “fragment [s] of a means to freedom,” and dedicates them “to all who would know the meaning and the responsibilities of freedom.”1 Not only is his art a means to an end, but a successful one, the “valid instrument of individual freedom” (my emphasis).2 The claims grow: Still hopes to “restore to man the freedom lost in 20 centuries of apology and devices for subjugation,” hopes “to create a free place or area of life where an idea can transcend politics, ambition and commerce.”3

Run this freedom to the ground,

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