In 1975 Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word* traces the turn the art world took from realism and technical skill to the…well, the art no one gets, but feels like they’re supposed to.

I remember a few years ago meandering around the Museum of Modern Art in NYC when, somewhere past the exhibit featuring a PVC pipe with a stick in it, I entered the Barnett Newman room. The plaque there read something to the effect that “it took Newman 20 years to reach this stage in his career.” The room was filled with solid color canvases, each sporting a vertical line top to bottom.

newman-painting
The painting that made me want my $20 back.

Fast forward a few years. I’m finishing up Wolfe’s book in an airport bar, sleep deprived and physically drained from the San Diego Comic Con. But I remember being there, having just finished a bowl of clam chowder and a Blue Moon, realizing this book made perfect sense. I knew why I felt like modern art was a sham.

If you’re a modern art aficionado Wolfe’s book probably won’t change that. But, if you’re like me, standing there staring at a vertical line being told to marvel at it, it might help shed some light on something you otherwise couldn’t articulate.

Especially if you’re an artist who’s spent most of their life trying to hone skills, draftsmanship, study form and light and color…and then read the news that those plain, lined canvases sold for millions of dollars. And you wonder what that fool with the million dollars knows that you don’t.

In the coming weeks I’m going to be blogging through The Painted Word. Mostly as an exercise in my own continuing education. I hope you might find something in it worthwhile as well, even if you disagree.

 

(*Disclosure on the Amazon link. I’m an Amazon Affiliate so if you buy the book through that link it helps support this humble blog.)

 

 

 

 

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