Barnett Newman

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Newman, 1968: 'Untitled Etching 1' (first version)

Barnett Newman (29 January 19054 July 1970) was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the Color Field painters.

Quotes of Barnett Newman[edit]

chronologically ordered, after date of the quotes of Barnett Newman
Newman: 'The Stations of the Cross', paintings on canvas
Barnett Newman: 'Broken Obelisk', Rothko Chapel (HDR)

1940 - 1950[edit]

  • It was not the inexperienced art public that became American Scenists. It was the artists themselves, a highly sophisticated group, thoroughly familiar with the art work and the art traditions of the world, who had flocked to Paris to participate in the great cultural center, who were very conscious of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists revolutions, who fell for this propaganda [to strive for a pure national American art]. It is upon them that responsibility falls. Their support of this reactionary philistinism is an inexcusable betrayal.. .It is time for the artists to wake up and re-examine their aesthetic foundations; to rid themselves of the millstone that has made art in America an expensive picture postcard-factory.. .It is time that artists refused isolationist money, repudiated the art dealers, the favor of the museum directors. It is time artists forgot about success..
    • Quote of 1942; in Barnett Newman', by Thomas B. Hess, museum of Modern art, New York 1971; as cited in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 124-125
  • We feel that our pictures demonstrate our aesthetic beliefs, some of which we, therefore, list:
  1. To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks.
  2. This world of imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense.
  3. It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way not his way.
  4. We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the nequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.
  5. It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.
Consequently if our work embodies these beliefs, it must insult anyone who is spiritually attuned to interior decoration; pictures for the home...
  • Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb in thier common 'Manifesto', New York Times, 13 June 13, 1943; republished in: Stella Paul (1999), Twentieth-Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 159
  • My idea was that with an automatic move you could create a world [Newman's comment on his series small mixed media works, 1944].
    • In: Abstract Expressionism, David Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London 1990, p. 112
  • ..the terror to expect. Hiroshima showed it to us. The terror has indeed become as real as life.
    • Quote from Newman's essay of 1945, as cited in: Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London 1990, p. 20
  • Let us, rather, like the Greek writers, tear the tragedy to shreds.
    • in Newman's essay of 1945, as quoted in: Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London 1990, p. 20
  • [Concerning all painters] working in what is known as the abstract style: [the abstract form] is a living thing.. ..a carrier of the awesome feelings he felt before the unknowable [common quote of Barnett Newman, Clifford Still, and Mark Rothko, 1947]
    • In: the catalogue of the 'Ideographic Picture' show, New York, 1947
  • Genesis I: 'The earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, let there be light, and there was light.'
  • Short quote of Newman about his first 'Zip' paintings, c. 1946-1948

The Plasmic Image 1. 1943-1945[edit]

Quotes of Barnett Newman from his text The Plasmic Image, 1943-1945; republished in: Barnett Newman, ‎John Philip O'Neill (1992), Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews. p. 138-155
  • The subject matter of creation is chaos. The present feeling seems to be that the artist is concerned with form, color, and spatial arrangement. This objective approach to art reduces it to a kind of ornament. The whole attitude of abstract painting, for example, has been such that it has reduced painting to an ornamental art whereby the picture surface is broken up in geometrical fashion into a new kind of design-image. It is a decorative art built on a slogan of purism where the attempt is made for an unworldly statement...
    • p. 139
  • The failure of abstract painting is due to the confusion that exists in the understanding of primitive art [as well as that] concerning the nature of abstraction.
    • p. 139
  • All artists whether primitive or sophisticated, have been involved in the handling of chaos.
    • p. 139
  • Surrealism, is interested in a dream world that will penetrate the human psyche.
    • p. 140
  • The present painter is concerned not with his own feelings or with the mystery of his own personality but with the penetration into the world-mystery. His imagination is therefore attempting to dig into metaphysical secrets.
    • p. 140

The Plasmic Image 2. 1943-1945[edit]

Quotes of Barnett Newman, from 'The Plasmic Image' 1943-1945; as cited in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990
  • The present painter is concerned not with his own feelings or with the mystery of his own personality but with the penetration into the world mystery. His imagination is therefore attempting to dig into metaphysical secrets. To that extend his art is concerned with the sublime. It is a religious art which through symbols will catch the basic truth of life which is its sense of tragedy.
    • p. 124
  • The present painter can be said to work with chaos not only in the sense that he is handling the chaos of the blank picture plane, but also in that he is handling the chaos of form. In trying to go beyond the visible and the known world he is working with forms that are unknown even to him. He is therefore engaged in a true act of discovery in the creation of new forms and symbols that will have the living quality of creation.
    • p. 125
  • ..the present painter is not concerned with the process. Herein lies the difference between them and the Surrealists. At the same time in his desire, in his will to set down the ordered truth.. can be said that the artist like a true creator is delving into chaos. It is precisely this that makes him an artist for the Creator in creating the world began with the same material, for the artist tries to wrest truth from the void..
    • p. 126
  • The new painter owes the abstract artist a debt for giving him his language, but the new painting is concerned with a new type of abstract thought.. .He [the new painter] is declaring that the art of Western Europe is voluptuous art first, an intellectual art by accident. He is reversing the situation by declaring that art is an expression of the mind first and whatever sensuous elements are involved are incidental to that expression. The new painter is therefore the true revolutionary, the real leader who is placing the artist's function on its rightful plane of the philosopher and the pure scientist who is exploring the world of ideas, not the world of the senses.. the artist is today giving us a vision of the world of truth in terms of visual symbols.
    • p. 127
  • We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of western European painting. Instead of making 'cathedrals' out of Christ, man, or 'life', we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings..
    • p. 127

1950 - 1960[edit]

  • Aesthetics is for painting as Ornithology is for the birds.
    • Quote of Newman (1952), as cited in: C. Greig Crysler, ‎Stephen Cairns, ‎Hilde Heynen (2012). The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory. p. 123
  • Painting, like passion, is a living voice, which, when I hear it, I must let it speak, unfettered.
    • Barnett Newman, in The New American Painting, exhibition catalogue May 28 - Sept 8. 1959; republished in: Barnett Newman, John Philip O'Neill. (1992). Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews. p. 160

1960 - 1970[edit]

  • Does a man want to be an artist? Is it like he wants to be a priest, or a lawyer? Is the artist that kind of profession? Or, as I once actually wrote, I think every man is an artist. An artist is a matter of my birthright... what I'd like to be is a man in the world. And I paint in order to do a painting, not to... make myself into a so-called artist... I'm impelled to do something, to say something.
    • Quote of Barnett Newman in: American Artists, a 1966 TV Show on New York's educational television network; as cited by Caroline A. Jones (1998) in Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist. p. 84
  • In 1940, some of us woke up to find ourselves without hope – to find that painting did not really exist. Or to coin a modern phrase, painting.. ..was dead. The awakening had a exaltation of a revolution. It was that awakening that inspired the aspiration – the high purpose – quite a different thing from ambition – to start from scratch, to paint as if painting never existed before. It was that naked revolutionary moment that made painters out of painters.
    • in Jackson Pollock: An Artists Symposium, ARTnews Vol. 66 no. 2 April 1967; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, pp. 147-148

Interview with David Sylvester 1. Spring 1965[edit]

  • ..[by making his work 'Onement', in 1948]..from then on I had to give up any relation to nature, as seen [by himself till then]. That doesn't mean that I think my things are mathematical or removed from life. By 'nature' I mean something very specific. I think that some abstractions - for example Kandinsky's - are really nature paintings. The triangles and the spheres or circles could be bottles. They could be trees, or buildings. I think that in 'Euclydean Abyss' and 'Onement' I removed myself from nature. But I did not remove myself from life.
    • interview, April 1965, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'The Listener', Aug. 1972; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 37

Interview with David Sylvester 2. Spring 1965[edit]

(republished in: Barnett Newman, ‎John Philip O'Neill (1992), Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews. p. 254-259)
  • Sylvester: When was it that you first did a painting with one or two simple lines, horizontal or vertical, across the surface?
    Newman: I would say that it began in '46— '47. In those years, whenever I did a painting with one or two elements in it, it did always have a sense of an atmospheric background, I suppose — with the exception of a painting which I called Euclidian Abyss, where the background is black and has some of the white coming through, but there's no true atmosphere.
    • p. 255
  • The problem of a painting is physical and metaphysical the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical.
    • p. 259

Quotes about Barnett Newman[edit]

chronologically ordered, after date of the quotes about Barnett Newman
  • You can tell in Léger just when he discovered how to make it like an engine.. ..What's wrong with that? You see it in Barney (=Barnett Newman) too, that he knows what a painting should be. He [Newman] paints as he thinks painting should be, which his pretty heroic
    • Quote of Franz Kline (1958), in Evergreen Review, vol. II, (no 6) autumn 1958, p. 11-15
  • I've always felt that Barnett Newman was an abstract expressionist.. .And I've always felt that Barnett Newman dealt with space and time/ space relationships and also approached his canvas with the same respect you do and applied as little to the surface of the canvas as necessary to make his aesthetic point.
    • quote of the interviewer S.C. in: 'Oral history interview with Agnes Martin', 1989 May 15; Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Subject matter is not.. ..eliminated from Newman's painting in any strict sense. In a monologue entitled The plastic Image (1943-45), Newman stresses the importance of subject-matter in painting. In the absence of subject-matter, he writes, painting becomes 'ornamental'.

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