On Modern American Art: Selected Essays

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

Expressionism to my growing enthusiasm for their counterparts in Northern Romantic landscape painting. Similarly, I attempted to explain the rude but, for me, tonic assaults of Lichtenstein's early Pop paintings by making reference to the earlier shock of Courbet's Realism or Seurat's quasi-mechanical dots and cartoony style. This dialogue between the lessons learned from art history and the unsettling surprises of Young Turks have become, I now see, a recurrent theme in my work, enabling me and, I hope, the reader to recognize that art keeps living in both present and past tense. In fact, another theme here appears to be how often new attitudes defined in contemporary art may drastically alter our judgments of historic art, so that the wildly craggy abstractions of Still may allow us to see afresh a relatively forgotten painter like Tack, just as Warhol's or Bidlo's fascination with replicas and reproductions may give us unexpected access to, say, the once-vilified late work of de Chirico.

At any rate, my greatest wish in presenting this selection of forty years of looking at American art is to help my readers realize, as I have, that there are no absolute truths in the experience of art. My first words about the likes of Rothko, Johns, and Stella seem almost embarrassingly simple-minded compared to the complex ways I perceived them in later decades. On the other hand, I hope that those early attempts to grapple with what was then disarmingly new work still convey the unmediated thrill of first encounters. It is clear that art, like people and history, keeps changing, and I trust this anthology will confirm my belief that we must remain open and flexible, readjusting inherited prejudices and hierarchies to accommodate the demands of the new and the unfamiliar.

As for the swift and, for me, almost effortless way in which this book was transformed from an idea to a material fact, I have heavy debts of gratitude. The editorial chores of sifting wheat from chaff among the candidates for this selection and of putting what remained into coherent patterns were begun by James Leggio and finished by Barbara Burn. They were both models of efficiency and good humor, turning what might have been the stresses of close-eyed scrutiny into conversational pleasures. Tracking down the more than two hundred illustrations that were essential to my arguments was another major task, and this was accomplished with quiet dedication and proficiency by Jennifer Bright, who magically retrieved works that, over the decades, had been scattered to the four winds. Last and hardly least, I must thank Kathleen Robbins, who took on the daunting project of putting into immaculate order a complete bibliography of my writings from 1954 to the present. It was a great and touching honor to have these four people worry so productively about preserving my achievements for posterity.

Robert Rosenblum New York, March 1999

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