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Frank Stella was an American painter born
in Massachusetts. He graduated with a degree in History from Princeton University, before
moving to New York in 1958. At this time in America, abstract expression
was huge. Jackson Pollock had a 4-page spread in LIFE magazine, and he was most known for
his ‘drip ‘ paintings, where he would lay a large piece of canvas on the floor,
and he would pour, drip, and splatter paint all over the surface. They were splashy, showy, intuitive, and chaotic. Pollock’s work, as well as the work of other
abstract expressionists, like Franz Klein, was incredibly influential on the young Stella.
However, upon his arrival in New York City, he felt compelled to rebel against this expressive
use of paint. Instead he was drawn to the “flatness”
of works like those of Barnett Newman, and the “target” paintings of Jasper Johns.
He began to produce works that were not so much a picture, as much as they were an object.
They didn’t represent anything of the physical or emotional world of the artist. He stated
that the pictures were “a flat surface with paint on it – nothing more” Stella’s work culminated in a series of
Black Paintings. Now when you first see the work, you might
be taken aback a little. It seems so straightforward: The elements themselves seem quite simple:
Black parallel lines arranged in a very deliberate arrangement. Black enamel paint. A thicker
than conventional canvas. It is not immediately apparent how it is made,
or the thought process behind each decision. It seems strong and stoic, maybe even a little
cold and void of emotions. These paintings were made freehand by Stella,
with a house painters brush. You can see irregularities when you look closely at the surface. But
you’re not going to see any gestural strokes, like those of the abstract expressionists.
Really, the hand is quite removed. You can’t really tell where each stroke begins or ends.
Or what the movement is, other than following the line. Stella called these stripes a “regulated
pattern” that forced "illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate." The precisely delineated black stripes intended
to emphasize the flatness of the canvas and really force the audience to realize and acknowledge
the canvas as a flat surface with paint on it. This was important because it is in direct
opposition with a really widely held belief that painting is a window into the three-dimensional
space. Paintings reflected things of the real world. This was an idea that dominated since
the Renaissance. The thicker than conventional canvases, really
emphasised the object-ness, as opposed to the thinner, more window-like quality of conventional
canvases. And this apparent materiality – of paint and
canvas being just paint and canvas – as opposed to a more representational or illusionistic
image – blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture.
This would become a pattern we see in a group
of artists that, after several different names, would later be known as the Minimalists. They
would also use non-art materials such as plywood, scrap metal, and fluorescent light bulbs. They were characterized by unitary, geometric
forms and industrial materials. It was a cool anonymity that contrasts with
the hot expressivism of the previous generation of artists. They attempted to avoid metaphorical associations,
symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence. They really tried to remove suggestions of
self-expressionism and illusions – no signs of the artist’s hand or thought process
or aesthetic decisions.
The Minimalists’ emphasis on eradicating signs
of authorship, inevitably led to the sense that the meaning was not so much "inside"
the object, as much as it was on the surface – it existed because of the viewer’s interaction
with it. By the late 1960s, Minimalism began to show
signs of breaking apart. A lot of the artists were moving on to different ideas, and it
was also receiving a lot of criticism from people who thought it wasn’t the right direction
to go in to. The most important of these would be Michael
Fried’s essay "Art and Objecthood," published in Artforum in 1967. In it, he wrote about
the importance of the movement as a turning point in modern art, but he also wrote about
how he was uncomfortable with what it meant. For him, these artists were not so much creating
a work of art, as much as a political and/or ideological statement about the nature of
art. Just because you arrange non-art objects in
a three-dimensional space and proclaim it as "art", it didn’t necessarily make it Art.
For him, he said Art is Art and an object is an object. Minimalism began to off shoot into several
different branches. And it has a great legacy for the movements that would follow, put under
the greater umbrella of "Post-Minimalism" art. There was the “Light and Space” movement
in California. Land art became more popular all over US. Eccentric Abstraction, and other
developments were in direct response to the problems that Minimalism posed. Minimalism seemed to be one of those things
that had to be done. Someone had to push it all the way. But it also was scary because they’re no
going further from there. What do you guys think? I hope you guys enjoyed this video. This Minimalism
video was highly requested last time when I asked you guys what you wanted to see next. So I would like to hear what your vote is
between Color Field Painters (like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman) or Impressionists (Renior,
Degas) All that Jazz. That should be a good one. Be sure to check out my blog post at LittleArtTalks.com
There will be one that accompanies this very video about Franz Klein, and his life and
work. Thanks so much for watching, I’ll see you
guys next time.