Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes

By Ellen H. Johnson | Go to book overview

6 Object as Art

Is Beauty Dead?

A work of art should not be beauty in itself for beauty is dead....

TRISTAN TZARA

In his 1918 Dada manifesto, scrapping old dogmas and formulae of beauty and extolling a new living art for a bitter new world, Tzara was really saying Beauty is dead, long live Beauty! - a new beauty of the commonplace, of freedom, spontaneity, contradiction, absurdity, in short, as he put it: 'LIFE'. As changing generations and individual artists of stature constantly redefine art, they continue to forge new kinds of beauty. Even when an artist's work poses the question, 'Is this art? Does art exist?', he is answering it in the affirmative by his act, as the writer of the absurd dispels the absurd by recognizing it and writing about it. One cannot be anti-art and at the same time make art - absurd, anti or otherwise. Or, as Duchamp phrased it, "The only way to be really anti-art is to be indifferent.'

Each of the three young Americans grouped together here 1 — Mitchell, Rauschenberg and Oldenburg - may stand for one of the several new kinds of beauty which continue to enliven our art. The confrontation of these three very different artists points up the generative power of the break-through in American art which occurred during and after the war. One of them works on a two-dimensional, rectangular surface; another combines three-dimensional found objects with painting on a traditionally shaped canvas; the third paints three-dimensional objects which he has constructed of plaster or cloth and foam-rubber; yet all three are painters and sensuous painters in the 'tradition of the new'. Except for the variety of materials employed, they differ no more nor less from each other than do any three of the first generation New York painters, say Kline, de Kooning, Rothko. Equally dedicated to freedom and individuality, these three young Americans also continue their predecessors' aim to abolish the distance between art and life, to bring life into the work, and to involve the spectator more directly with the work of art. This they accomplish through the vitality of the painting, its unfinish, its movement, energy, change, and its engulfing size; through the incorporation of objects of actuality and the physical projection of the picture's world out into our world; or through the creation of objects related to the commonplace things

-135-

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Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface to the Revised Edition 7
  • Preface 9
  • 1 - Modern Art and the Object from Nineteenth-Century Nature Painting to Conceptual Art 10
  • 2 - The Object Painted and the Painted Object in Quiet Collision 65
  • 3 'the Mountain in the Painting and the Painting in the Mountain' 78
  • 4 - The Painting Freed 97
  • 5 'I Am Nature' 110
  • 6 - Object as Art 135
  • 7 - Art as Object 171
  • 8 - The Object in Jeopardy 196
  • 9 - Women Reshaping the Object 216
  • Notes 261
  • List of Illustrations 273
  • List of Figures 280
  • Acknowledgments 281
  • Index 283
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