Barnett Newman

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Barnett Newman Broken Obelisk Rothko Chapel (HDR)

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.


  • 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. "Manifesto," in: New York Times, June 13, 1943. Republished in: Stella Paul (1999), Twentieth-Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 159.
  • Aesthetics is for painting as Ornithology is for the birds.
    • Newman (1952), quoted 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, "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
  • 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.
    • Barnett Newman in: American Artists, a 1966 TV Show on New York's educational television network. Quoted in: Caroline A. Jones (1998) Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist. p. 84

The Plasmic Image, 1943-1945[edit]

Barnett Newman, 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

Interview with David Sylvester, 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

Barnett Newman & David Sylvester, "Interview with David Sylvester," Spring 1965; Republished in: Barnett Newman, ‎John Philip O'Neill (1992), Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews. p. 254-259 [edit]

  • 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]

  • 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
    • 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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