Background[ edit ] By the s Wolfe was, according to Douglas Davis of Newsweek magazine "more of a celebrity than the celebrities he describes. In the midst of working on stories about the space program for Rolling Stone —stories that would eventually grow into the book The Right Stuff —Wolfe became interested in writing a book about modern art. In particular, Wolfe criticized three prominent art critics whom he dubbed the kings of "Cultureburg": Clement Greenberg , Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg. Wolfe argued that these three men were dominating the world of art with their theories and that, unlike the world of literature in which anyone can buy a book, the art world was controlled by an insular circle of rich collectors, museums and critics with outsized influence. He summarized that history: "In the beginning we got rid of nineteenth-century storybook realism. Then we got rid of representational objects.
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Oh, rats, Tom fumed, all my hours squinting and starring at unintelligible paintings and I never comprehended those massive cutting-edge, avant-garde canvases were based on ideas and philosophies outlined by hyper-perceptive, authoritative art theorists.
For the Abstract Expressionists, Clement Greenberg was the first to expound the theory. It was time to clear the tracks at last of all the remaining rubble of the pre-Modern way of painting.
And just what was this destination? Then as Tom Wolfe points out, a second major theorist, Harold Rosenberg, added another dimension.
What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. And what do I myself think of Tom Wolfe on the subject of modern art? Permit me to answer by way of an experience: When I was years old I accompanied my mother when she took a summer workshop at a local college for Sunday school teachers.
She took me to the college bookstore and told me I could pick out any book I wanted. Ah, my very first book, ever! I scanned the bookshelves; there was a series of small books on various types of art and I chose a book with a cover that fascinated me on two counts: first, the picture — a combination of colors and shapes arranged geometrically - orange circles, black half circles, purple and cream rectangles, large dark green squares and a black square in the middle; second, two words on the cover: Abstract Art.
Back at the dormitory where I was staying, I turned the pages, both fascinated and mesmerized by all the paintings. I remained in my room with paper and crayons doing my best copying the art in the book. By the end of the day, when one of the Sunday school teachers returned to the dormitory, I proudly showed her my drawing and my book.
My response to her fury was not to be upset, but to be pleased. I enjoyed being transported to this special, new world of art and how this art could trigger such a violent emotional reaction in an adult. Now wonder she was so mad! And, predictably, she countered with all the judgment and outrage she could muster as spokeswoman for the conventional, average, bland, mundane world.
The Painted Word
The painted word
The Painted Word
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