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PRINT May 1985

GERHARD RICHTER: PAINTING AS A MORAL ACT

AMONG THE LOOSE COLLECTION of essays, notes, comments, and fragments that William Carlos Williams entitled The Embodiment of Knowledge one finds “The Beginnings of an American Education (Chapter 2. The Address Toward Collegiate Study. The New in Art.),” in which the poet remarks about an art student’s “difficulty in knowing.”1 Whatever the student has learned about what has been done in the past will, according to Williams, amount only to “that which is . . . of no use to him, in fact nothing less than a barrier which he must surmount if ever he is to do anything that can be called serious work.” Throughout his life Williams guarded against an imposition of the past on the present: “There is an antagonism between the ages,” he wrote elsewhere; “Each age wishes to enslave the others. Each wishes to succeed.” To Williams the ballast of the past proves especially fatal in art, “the category

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