Would You Call This Painting Art?

This is Vir Heroicus Sublimis by American painter Barnett Newman (1905-1970). It hangs in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.  The Latin title of the painting means “Man, heroic and sublime.”

I caught this couple intently studying the museum’s literature on this oil on canvas and thought that it made for an interesting photograph.

When this painting was first exhibited in 1951, Barnett Newman tacked to the wall a notice that read, “There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance.  The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance.” Newman believed deeply in the spiritual potential of abstract art.

There is a great deal of modern art that we appreciate.  However, I gotta wonder, do some modern art painters secretly laugh at the gullibility of the art buying public?  When I compare this with a Picasso, for example, at least Picasso shows some talent and begs us to look at life a little differently.

Here, I wonder, does Barnett Newman expect us to look at life differently with no clear artistic talent demonstrated?  Take a gander at this Google search of his paintings, and you be the judge.

Barnett Newman is seen as one of the major figures in Abstract Expressionism and one of the foremost of the Color Field painters.

Color Field is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process. In color field painting “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.” (via Themes in American Art: Abstraction.” National Gallery of Art).

OK.  Color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject itself.

I have to admit.  I was immediately drawn to this painting when I first saw it.  My first thought was, “is this art?”  However, as I was drawn into the massive swath of color, I did find myself enjoying the massive display of the color red.  But, I also have to admit,  I am a freak about bold, saturated color.  You’ve probably noticed that in my photography.

So, is this art?  For me, I wouldn’t define this as art as my immediate impressions are inclined to do.  But, I did enjoy the experience of this “art”.

What say you?  Is this art?

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6 Responses to “Would You Call This Painting Art?”
  1. Josie says:

    Hi David and Carol,
    I do indeed consider it art. I have long been a lover of Ellsworth Kelly — who has some works at the MOMA — and has canvases covered in large blocks of color like the Newman you focused on here.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

    So we all see it differently. Wink But I love your photo and thank you for posting this interesting look at modern art.
    I love the museums themselves, too. My favorite? The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. What a masterpiece!

    • David Porter says:

      Hi Josie,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! We too are BIG fans of museums. When we are traveling in metropolitan areas, you can always find these boomers roaming in a museum.

  2. Xavier says:

    I think it’s easier to appreciate Newman in the context of his time. He painted this in 1940′s America, when going to the drive-in and girls with poodle skirts was the cultural currency of the time, that and industry and commerce. America was never known for being an artistic center like it is know, it was one of indsutry. Yet here were painters like Newman, Rothko, and Pollock, who were doing things in painting that were so audacious even the Europeans, the current rulers of the avant-art world, found them strange. The odds were against these guys, a bunch “uncultured” Americans, to produce a new vision of art and expression…

    Not that context is all that matters with this type of art, but it’s about the expression of ideas through an entirely new means. Newman always considered his “zips,” like the ones in Vir Heroicis Sublimis, to be streaks of light and thought, because of the massive scale of the work, the zips would remind a viewer of their own light, humanity, and individuality encompassed within the whole – be it the canvas, or existence.. For Newman to arrive at an idea like that through a painting so visually reductive is quite interesting to me.
    Cheers Smile

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