I consulted my ‘Art in Theory, 1900-1990 : An Anthology of Changing Ideas’ (Harrison and Wood) (It was one of my favourite books when I was at art school, over a thousand pages of extraordinary ‘stuff’ – nothing could be more perfect for reading yourself to sleep.) In trying to recall what it was that Barnett Newman was on about, about art, I found this compelling declaration of intent, issued as part of a joint statement by Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko and Newman himself, and originally published in The New York Times in June 1943. Imagine getting this into a newspaper now.
1. To us, art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.
2. This world of the 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 favour the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. 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 amongst painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academism. 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. This 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; pictures for over the mantel; pictures of the American scene; purity in art; prize-winning potboilers; the National Academy; the Whitney Academy; the Corn Belt Academy; buckeyes; trite tripe, etc.
Adolph Gottlieb, Jetsam, 1967