I Saw a Film!

While I studied art history in the uni, we didn’t much talk about the more modern era. To boot I am a tremendous sucker for artists, or other crafts-people, especially of the creative type (but creativity is part of science as well), talking about process. I can listen to interviews with respected artists all day. I love delving into inspiration, failed attempts, and courses of study employed by people who have done things that I find impressive. This film focuses on the New York scene from roughly 1940-1970 and on those artists who were challenging, in a big way, what a painting was meant to be. They became known as abstract expressionists.

I will not pretend that I am an art critic, or even qualified to have much of an opinion regarding the various works by these artists. For example, I am certain Andy Warhol is far more interested in establishing himself a scenester and not so much an established artist. Here he is charming, underspoken and self-denigrating, and while a central figure to many impressive trends from the Velvet Underground to iconic soup can painting (pop-painting), it has long be difficult to grasp the foundational gravity of his character. Standout artists of this movement however, like Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, share a certain vision of continuing the no-less-than explosive free-style drip methods employed by Jackson Pollock. But Hey, to go back to my leading statement, I know what I like. And when it comes to art, that’s sort of the gut purpose. Though, for many involved, it’s much more about investment speculation. And this film briefly touches on those facts in a tangential way. I enjoyed a moment when they mentioned Dada and the fact that Dada was unknown, though Duchamp obviously had left his mark. It is kind of amazing the ability we have to familiarize ourselves with almost anything at the touch of a button. The world before this possibility is almost entirely forgotten.

Our discussion is pretty philosophical in the opening sequences. We’re tasked with thinking about what “American” basically means, and how we can be independent of our forebears artistic efforts. There’s quite a lot more, most of these artists really spend a lot of time thinking hard about the justifications of their work. Which I suppose is ever more intense when we’re dealing with art, rather than say, planting a tree or fixing a car. Anything could be an artistic statement.

I always fell apart, as a younger man, when I was looking at the work of people like Barnett Newman who seemed to be having us on with his huge flag-like paintings of nearly singular color. Often bisected by a line or two.

I suppose it’s a matter of beauty, and that is always in the eye of . . . well you know the old cliche. What I hadn’t ever thought about was the idea of painting air.

The artists talk about their inspirations, their motivations, their techniques. They discussing going big. They tape their medium to the floor and discuss the activities. We don’t see painters painting however! This is one of the only curmudgeonly complaints I can muster here. We get pretty close, but mostly we just talk. This is not like the old film of Picasso making dozens of works that were destroyed after the film was created.

The outlook is rather interesting, being now about fifty years old, and not entirely swathed in a kind of battling politic, despite the raging divisions the nation faces. We are not asked to consider the artist’s points of view about Vietnam or assassinations, moon landings, nor Nixon, NYC crime spikes, nor the threats of North Korean and the Pueblo. No, instead we are discussing how much money artists made at their day jobs, and how strongly they clung to washing dishes to get buy while they shared studio space and created these objects. It is rather nice to have worlds that continue in spite of our daily deluge of frustrations. Meditations and possibilities that art has always held and the massive therapy it employs from the times of the earliest cave paintings to the present day.

This is running free on Prime (usa) and a wonderful multi-level study that I’m amazed I never knew existed.

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