Introduction to Media Purity'Purity' can be defined as an untainted and desirable object or reality. In art and art criticism, particularly during the time of , the concept of 'purity' was applied to mean an unmixed medium or singular style. Some prominent examples of media purity in Abstract Expressionism include the paintings of Pollock, Hofmann, Newman and Rothko, whose works strived to create "pure" abstractions, void of context, figuration or definitive meaning.
Breakdown of Basic Ideas
Origins in "Art for Art's Sake"Greek philosopher Plato spoke about the concepts of Truth, Beauty and Love as concrete and pure ideas that are unencumbered by outside forces. From this philosophy arose the idea of the autotelic (from the Greek autoteles), which implied that a work of art is complete within itself, representing itself and existing purely as a work of art. This idea developed into the phrase, "Art for Art's Sake."
Media Purity in Abstract ArtTheorists such as Greenberg and Hofmann updated the idea of 'Art for Art's Sake' and applied it to Modern art, claiming that pure forms represent nothing other than the form itself, i.e. a square represents a square, a circle a circle, and so forth. As well, the flatness and planarity of the canvas will remain pure only if the artist respects its nature, and doesn't complicate it with figurative forms or rendering it a surface in which a three-dimensional perspective exists. A work of art is pure only by limiting itself to a single medium. By remaining within those limits, Greenberg argued, the medium of abstraction may explore a virtually limitless number of possibilities.
Michael Fried and MinimalismIn the 1960s, critic Michael Fried, originally a disciple of Greenberg, took a stand against the artistic style known as Minimalism, believing it to be an essentially impure medium. Fried's argument was that artists, such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, whom he called "literalists," were intentionally creating non-art. This approach exaggerated the materiality of the works, focusing on an interactive experience for the viewer rather than the work itself. Therefore, what impedes a Minimalist work of art from being pure is its interaction with the spectator, thus rendering it a work of theater. This is what Fried refers to as "art and objecthood." When there exists no differentiation between the art and the object (two different media), as was Fried's claim with the literalist works of Judd and Flavin, then the work is not pure.
Critics and Artists Who Defied Media Puritydid not take stand against ideas of media purity, nor did he offer much of an opinion on it either. Rosenberg's philosophy was concerned with what he called "Action Painting," in which the creative and emotional actions of the artist produced the abstract image. In turn, Greenberg accused Rosenberg of ignoring the importance of an Abstract painting's form and complete lack of subject matter, thus disregarding the purity of abstraction.
Thomas B. Hess, the editor of Art News, was clearly not bothered by issues of purity in Abstract art because he celebrated artists who worked in mixed media. One possible exception was , who worked solely with oil paints and canvases. However, since de Kooning often painted abstracted figures, as seen in Woman and other works, his paintings are what Greenberg would consider not entirely pure, as he combined painting and narrative.
There were many artists working at this time who cared little for maintaining the purity of abstract forms in their work, but arguably no one more so than "Combine" artist, Robert Rauschenberg. By placing everyday objects such as blankets, glass and miscellaneous hardware onto his painted canvases, Rauschenberg's work achieved the antithesis of media purity.
MOST IMPORTANT ESSAY:
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page
|Harold Rosenberg was a critic, art historian, and curator who published important works on modern art and culture. He was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, and coined the term "Action Painting."
ArtStory: Harold Rosenberg Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page