Robert Motherwell


American Abstract Expressionist Artist, Painter, Printmaker and Editor

Author Quotes

A subject emerges from an interaction between my self, my I, and my medium.

For most painters nowadays examination is self-examination ? this is all that we are accustomed to ? while the relation to the audience is a social matter. And it is our pictures, not ourselves, that live the social life and meet the public.

In a way, painting is like wine: it is as old, as simple, as primitive and as varied. Like wine, it is a very specific means of expression, with a limited vocabulary, but vast in its expressive potential.

No true artist ends with the style that he expected to have when he began? it is only by giving oneself up completely to the painting medium that one finds oneself and one?s own style.

The main thing is not to be dead.

Abstract expressionism was the first American art that was filled with anger as well as beauty.

Generally, I use few colors? Mainly I use each color as simply symbolic? I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.

In my case, I find a blank canvas so beautiful that that to work immediately, in relation to how beautiful the canvas is as such, is inhibiting and, for me, demands ?too much to quickly'; so that my tendency is to get the canvas ?dirt?, so to speak, in one way or another, and then, so to speak ?work in reverse?, and try to bring it back to an equivalent of the original clarity and perfection of the canvas, that one began on.

Nothing as drastic an innovation as abstract art could have come into existence, save as the consequence to a most profound, relentless, unquenchable need.

The most common error among the whole-hearted abstractionists nowadays is to mistake the medium for an end in itself, instead of a means. On the other hand, the surrealists erred in supposing that one can do without a medium, that in attacking the medium one does not destroy just one means for getting into the unknown. Color and space relations constitute such a means because from them can be made structures which exhibit the various patterns of reality. Like Cubism before them, the abstractionists felt a beautiful thing in perceiving how the medium can, of its own accord, carry one into the unknown, that is to the discovery of new structures. What an inspiration the medium is?.

An odd contradiction, if the layman were correct in his unconscious assumption that an artist begins with reality and ends with art: the converse is true ? to the degree that this dichotomy has any truth ? the artist begins with art, and through it arrives at reality.

I almost never start with an image. I start with a painting idea, an impulse, usually derived from my own world.

In printmaking, I essentially use the same process as in painting with one important exception.. to try, with sensitivity to the medium to emphasize what printing can do best... better than say, painting or collaging or watercolor or drawing or whatever... Otherwise, the artist expresses the same vision in graphics that he does in his other work.

One cuts and chooses and shifts and pastes, and sometimes tears off and begins again.

The passions are a kind of thirst, inexorable and intense, for certain feelings or felt states. To find or invent ?objects? (which are, more strictly speaking, relational structures) whose felt quality satisfies the passions,- that for me is the activity of the artist, an activity which does not cease even in sleep. No wonder the artist is constantly placing and displacing, relating and rupturing relations; his task is to find a complex of qualities whose feeling is just right ? veering toward the unknown and chaos, yet ordered and related in order to be apprehended.

Any incentive to paint is as good as any other. There is no poor subject.

I begin (a painting) from an impulse, an intense and irrational desire that takes you over, prompting you to start moving. And from experience,, with some knowledge of what moves oneself, I think it?s not altogether arbitrary what one begins with? certainly implicit partially is the feeling, not that ?I am going to paint something I know? by ?through the act of painting I?m going to find out exactly how I feel?.

In the brush doing what it's doing, it will stumble on what one couldn't do by oneself.

One is to know that art is not national, that to be merely an American or a French artist is to be nothing; to fail to overcome one?s initial environment is never to reach the human? Thus when we say one of the ideals of modern art has been internationalism, it is? as a natural consequence of dealing with reality on a certain level.

The problems of inventing a new language are staggering. But what else can one do if one needs to express one's feeling precisely?

Art is an experience, not an object.

I begin a painting with a series of mistakes. The painting comes out of the correction of mistakes by feeling. I begin with shapes and colors which are not related internally nor to the external world; I work without images. Ultimate unifications come about through modulations of the surface by innumerable trials and efforts. The final picture is the process arrested at the moment when what I was looking for flashes into view.

In the end I realize that whatever meaning that picture has is the accumulated meaning of ten thousand brushstrokes, each one being decided as it was painted.

One must agree with Rilke when he says that with ?nothing can one touch a work of art so little as with critical words?? It was Marcel Duchamp who was critical, when he drew a moustache on the ?Mona Lisa?. And so was Mondrian when he dreamt of the dissolution of painting, sculpture, and architecture in to a transcendent ensemble.

The public history of modern art is the story of conventional people not knowing what they are dealing with.

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American Abstract Expressionist Artist, Painter, Printmaker and Editor