Tom Wolfe Spells it Out

January 27th, 2005 · No Comments · Artists, Writing

“None of the Abstract Expressionist paintings that remain from the palmy days of 1946 to 1960 — precious few are still hanging except in museums and the guest bedrooms of Long Island beachhouses, back there with the iron bedstead whose joints don’t gee, the Russel Wright water pitcher left over from the set of dishes the newlyweds bought for their first apartment after the war, and an Emerson radio with tubes and a shortwave band… none of the paintings, as I say, not even Jackson Pollock’s and Willem de Kooning’s, makes quite as perfect a memorial to that brave and confident little epoch as the Theories. As for the paintings — de gustibus non disputandum est. But the theories, I insist, were beautiful.

Theories? They were more than theories, they were mental constructs. No, more than that even… veritable edifices behind the eyeballs they were… castles in the cortex… mezuzahs on the pyramids of Betz… crystalline… comparable in their bizarre refinements to medieval Scholasticism.

We can understand the spellbinding effect these theories had, however, only by keeping in mind what we have noted so far: (1) the art world is a small town; (2) part of the small town, le monde, always looks to the other, bohemia, for the new wave and is primed to believe in it; (3) bohemia is made up of cenacles, schools, coteries, circles, cliques. Consequently, should one cenacle come to dominate bohemia, its views might very well dominate the entire small town (a.k.a. “the art world”), all the way from the Chambers Street station to Eighty-ninth and Fifth.” – Tom Wolfe, “The Painted Word”, 1975

Category: Artists · Writing

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