Death of AbstractionRecently a reader took issue with an article I wrote on the end of Modernism in the late 1950's. I've not enjoyed so much reading a response to one of my "columns" in a long time. I wish more of them would stir such excitement. At times, I get the feeling there's nobody out there and I'm rattling on to myself. I think where she and I disagreed is not that there is no longer any abstract work being done (some of it is quite good too) but that today it's purely self-expressive decoration...fun to do and no doubt important to the artist, but of little use or understanding to anyone else. At best it is art for artists and decorators only. I think what I was trying to say was that in terms of innovation its time came and went and that minimalism was its last gasp, as if the mind of the artists involved in the movement were literally going blank.
Because of Abstract Expressionism's passing as a cutting force in the artistic development of man, it left painting in general (and not just abstraction) to become passe'. We have only to look at the fragmentation of art into regionalism, commercialism, and a few other isms to see that there is no longer any organized progression in the development of man's art because it has nowhere else to go. The camera freed art to explore outside the realm of reality, but there is not an infinite number of basic variations in painting, especially when so many artists of the past and today doing the variating.
This is not to say that individual artists and art appreciaters cannot continue to do and "enjoy" abstraction or continue to develop personally (as we all should), but that we are treading where angels no longer fear to go. The analogy to classical music is interesting and valuable. True, it is still appreciated but, like abstraction, it is, well...old. Today, in order to innovate if they can, artists must be totally outrageous (as in the disgusting cadaver painting). The shock resistence of the art world is at at all time high. Abstraction no longer excites anyone but aritsts, and perhaps anymore, not very many of them.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
17 February 1998