The Tradition of the New

The Tradition of the New

The Tradition of the New

The Tradition of the New

Excerpt

"You cannot hang an event on the wall, only a picture," Mary McCarthy admonished us in her generous review of this book. One or two other friendly critics sounded related objections. In approving certain happenings in art and literature, these essays had, it seems, neglected esthetic values, a lack particularly evident in the section, "American Painting Today." The Action Painter, whom we had presented, may not intend, the argument ran, to produce an art object but "to abolish art" in favor of the meaningful gesture. Painting, however, is in the "realm" of things made, not of deeds done; and art wins against the painter by changing his "act" back into a picture. Hence once a painting is finished, the criticism ought to tell us whether it is good or bad.

In reply, I should like to point out that in dealing with new things there is a question that precedes that of good or bad. I refer to the question, "What is it?"--the question of identity. To answer this question in such a way as to distinguish between a real novelty and a fake one is itself an evaluation, perhaps the primary one for criticism in this . . .

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