Stuart Davis

Robert Hughes, as close to a house deity as this blog has, stuck some 24-carat quotes from artist Stuart Davis into The Shock of the New and American Visions:

I care nothing for Abstract Art as such, but only as it evidences a contemporary language of vision suited to modern life.

That was 1950, but the principle still rolls onward over all the imaginative visuals and brilliant creatures that crop up in comics, where the art has one foot in the abstract department before you even get to the occasional high-modernist artist or Jack Kirby’s pop-art collages. For that matter the principle blasts from the screen when you try to keep track of the brawls in John Wick 3, a language of vision suited to punching foreigners in the throat without consequences.

And evidences a vision suited to modern life” sounds like the life comes first and the art’s vision adjusts; a better arrangement than believing that art should jostle ahead of life on the track and reveal the hidden wickedness of the artist if the critic only peers at it hard enough. All of which makes Davis’s anti-fascism more overt rather than less, spelt out in pulsing signs and symbols, a modern life going nowhere but forwards.

Real art determines culture when its image is a public view of satisfaction of impulse - not merely an SOS from a subjective event. Painting is not an exhibition of feelings.

I believe that there is a vast audience which, like myself, is more interested in the scenery than the familiar furnished room of their own short-circuited emotional wiring.

By which point he might as well have been talking about arts criticism, a large sector of which has opted for the subjective SOS about its own emotional wiring as the main sellable product, shortly before discovering that such language was suited to modern life but not suited to getting paid.

Swing Landscape (1938)Swing Landscape (1938)

The Mellow Pad (1951)The Mellow Pad (1951)

American Painting (1932 and 1942-54)American Painting (1932 and 1942-54)


February 18, 2020