PRINT February 1984


Agony has many faces. One need not talk of agony but it is the reason why I began to work. It is the reason why I continue to work. When I’m working I feel OK, but a need to make something isn’t a need to feel better. You have a feeling about something; you’re working when you’re looking for it.



loud or quiet,

agony (are the different tones from one painting to the next. We can say agony is the state, the subject matter; we can also say it is the pack of lies that forces someone to reconstruct reality).

The mentality of the artist is the thing:

it is a selfish person,

a presumptuous one,

using his- or herself

as the barometer,

as the guinea pig,

believing that way to be of some use,

but not having time to consider the opinions of others lest his or her receiver get jammed up.

People have a funny involvement with art.

They are interested in it for many reasons that address their relationship to the world, and how art figures for them, and what they think it’s doing to others, and who and what they think the artist is and is trying to do, and how they feel about that.

I think a painting should be able to make you examine your preconceptions by creating a viewing time with its own information. I try to cut out as much distraction as possible; jerk you outside of yourself and make you beside yourself.

Reportage and other embellishments,

whether quick or witty,

fill the pages

in the relentless bombardment of weekly magazines and weekly relationships.

They serve to obfuscate and often tell us only about others’ relationships to the world,

as do the self-promotion of gallerists, and critics,

and the attached desire of prestige and monetary interests of collectors,

and the information we have to know about their lives, and who they are.

But the whole support structure,

and our dependency on it,

not excluding the artists,

isn’t the pressure.

Time is an issue: the time that a work of art exists in: its lifetime; the life of the artist.

A painting doesn’t care whether you like it or not (I may); agreement has only a tangential relationship to the art object.

You make something for you, or for others (but the work is still the object of your desire); not for an audience,

but conscious of the audience—some of whom are certainly not alive yet.

A painting is complete when it reveals and illuminates that place where it came from. It must describe both itself and the world, its need to exist. It need not be accessible to everyone, and certainly not to everyone’s understanding, for although my work is about meaning, it is not necessarily your meaning.

History is the artist’s confidante and consolation

in the cell

that is the space created by art’s displaced relationship to time.

“The gift that one painter from one generation can give to another is to [offer] a point of convergence, where physical fact (paint and [what it suggests]) can locate a state of consciousness. This is the use of the emblem, the quantity called style. . . . An artist finds a point of embarkation—a point to continue from. I’m sure you [de Kooning] felt that way about Soutine, I do.”1

There is a misconception about the reasons for the look of things put in the world by artists that may be similar to something either they did or somebody else did. Similarities in appearance are construed as similarities of intent. Not necessarily true. There is an elastic area where quotes live. Some people don’t even know they’re quoting; conscientious objectors use quotes with disdain, and others declare all parts of art the same—a computer programmed with material, image, any subject, things of different kind catalogued by sameness of emotional density—authorship is not ownership of an idea or a style; and then there are those who just use history as a pastiche to make palatable their lack of ideas and their bourgeois relationship to art. Furthermore, using stylistic similarity as an interpretation for a work of art diminishes it, because it is sometimes there because of a biological and physical agreement with a situation that may have existed before. Style is the effect of character; a syntax that reveals the will and need to make something. Finding something again can indicate a need for it, not necessarily a new need, a strategy, or a joke.

It takes little insight to say about a painting that it looks like a Franz Kline. A more important question is why, for instance, does an early Twombly have similarities to an early Beuys? What series of feelings and circumstances led two works to have similarities of look and feeling? An agreement of appearance comes from an agreement of need. America’s mistake with Yves Klein was to judge his work in terms of its surface instead of in terms of its iconography. Over and over, these “similarities” make up the human stream of things, which constitutes the history of objects.

My work, though called expressionist,

is so only insofar as expressionism means an expression about the world and not the self. It is the way I fit into the world, a realization about life which can be gotten in no other way.

It is appropriate (modern) for only as long as it is true. Modernity has nothing to do with linear progression from figure to the absence of figure, from the distillation of the outside edge of the painting to the painted rectangle. It has to do with the accuracy of the artist in making a usable X ray of biological fear.

All of the things I have made, the varied materials and subjects, the various objects, all run together in my mind as events.

Each work is a witness; the conscious recognition of the simultaneous state of a moment filled with longing, anxiety, curiosity, fear, death, the remembrance of every pertinent impetus nameable and unnameable. Friends living and dead, friends I used to know. The disillusionment with their loss. The remembrance of the circumstances surrounding our split. The recollection of the way they stood and answered when you noticed how they changed. The way your stomach felt, bloated, anticipating cancer. Nerves, perhaps? The recognition of devotion—

looking into a puppy’s eyes.

Lots of times I haven’t been able to see a painting that I’ve made until I’ve made the next painting. It’s funny how the possibility of seeing something can depend on something that doesn’t exist yet.

That’s just the opposite of work being dependent on past history.

One painting colors the other

(the next or the one before), making possible a reading going forwards and backwards in time (marking a specific time).

Built separately, but always as a part (whether others call them the good part, i.e., the good period,

or the bad part)

of the whole body of work that represents the artist’s attitude toward life.

The materiality of a work of art is just parts of a desire, only important as a quality of being, a feeling, a meaning, a recognition which is described by and describes the time it has been made in: something human.

I have two little girls and a beautiful and intelligent wife,

people are buying my paintings,

people are writing about me; people will write about anything—

people are writing about people buying my paintings.

I can go where I want,

eat whatever I like, make a pig of myself—and will continue to do so as long as I’ve got money.

As you all must know by now

I am a “success” (conditionally).

If you think that I am satiated, not hungry anymore,

that’s what your morality is.

A chemical need, like displaced love,

is not a profession. Not a career. Not a choice.

I don’t matter. What I have to show you does.

Julian Schnabel is a painter.



1. From a statement by the author in Willem de Kooning: The North Atlantic Light 1960–1983. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1983.