Celebration of Emptiness

Ad Reinhardt on art as its own end.

brown concrete building interior

Any friend of Thomas Merton is a friend of mine, and when I learned that artist Ad Reinhardt was one (they studied together and became close friends at Colombia College of Colombia University), I paid attention. This morning, I learned that it was Reinhardt’s birthday (1913-1967). I spent my coffee hour over Reinhardt’s Art as Art, and today’s post is a collection of notes from reading. It includes many phrases from Reinhardt’s text.

Art as art is nothing but art, and art is not what is not art.

More and more, what is becomes more pure, more empty, more absolute.

More exclusive? Yes, that too, but not in the way art people imagine. Think

camel through the eye of a needle, the way. This “anything goes”

degradation is contemptible, trifling, a suicide-vaudeville. 

The point is to reveal, to make the one thing no secret. This one thing

changes everything. They want to separate fine from intellectual, manual

from craft, but all that matters is art as art. The fine art museum is the

place for this, so long as it doesn’t imagine itself a church or a museum

of history or geology, ethnology, or archaeology. It can’t be a club or

a success school, either; it can’t be a rest home or “foster love of life.”

It can’t “promote understanding . . . among men” or any such thing.

This is crazy talk. Art is art; life is life. Art is not life, nor is life art. No

one should burden one with the other, and above all, don’t make 

it a means to some other end, some so-called higher value. There is

none. There is one fight only, between art and non-art, true and false.

Art is free, but it is not a free-for-all.

The one struggle in art is the struggle of artists against artists. Save

your “mirrors of the soul,” your “reflections of condition,” your “new 

image of man” delusions, your diatribes about being a “creature of

circumstance.” No one ever forces an artist to be pure. Art comes from

art working, and the more an artist works, the more there is to do. It’s

a long, lonely routine: preparation, attention, repetition.

The end? No end but this. From a variety of ideas, to one. From many

styles, to none. Pure evanescence. From hot air to breathlessness, 

neither life nor death; outside content, outside form; outside space, 

beyond time. Nothing to grasp, nothing to use, and nothing to sell.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

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