Exciting things have happened in American painting during the past fifteen or twenty years, more exciting things than any place else in the world, things which somehow parallel other areas of vitality on the cultural scene, like the new jazz and the emergence of Actors' Studio. It's easy to find similarities between the careers of Charlie Parker, James Dean, and Jackson Pollock. It's easy, also, to find a common philosophical-esthetic-moral position in the work of the artists included in this book, one which they share with the new jazzmen and the "method" actors: it's improvised existentialism (as perhaps oversimplified in such phrases as "existence precedes essence," "no reality except in action," "total involvement," etc.). So what's happened (an assimilation of the European traditions of expressionism, cubism, and surrealism: "a consolidation of gains") has been labeled "action painting" (Harold Rosenberg), "abstract expressionism" (Alfred Barr on Kandinsky; much later, Robert Coates on certain Americans), even "American-type painting" (Clement Greenberg). The best of the artists who have had to lug these labels deserve more (which is to say, less of a load); they deserve to be looked at separately and carefully by the public--the informed as well as the general public. (Metzinger was a "cubist"; Picasso is Picasso.) I see no qualitative difference between an uninformed viewer saying, "All modern art looks alike," and a critic lumping together (except geographically or chronologically) such very different artists as, say, Pollock and De Kooning. (Both of these artists have emphasized the painting act, the reality of what happens on the canvas, and about there the similarity ends.)
One label that has been applied frequently is "School of New York"; this, at least, is only geographical, and more accurate as a description of younger artists than of the previous generation: some of these younger artists were born in New York, all of them live and exhibit here. Walter Silver, the photographer, is among them both as an artist and a New Yorker.
The authors of the pieces in this book are are all on the New York scene, except for one who lives across the river in Princeton (Rudikoff) and one who is presently in Spain (Reid). But all have spent and do spend a lot of time in New York and get kicks in galleries, artists' studios, and from art in their own homes. Half are poets. That's not a very original theory I have: that poets write about art . . .