ad reinhardt: monolog


"I got out of Columbia and I got into the WPA project and then into the American Abstract Artist group, which had almost all the abstract artists in the country in it, about forty or fifty. There weren't many abstract artists not in it. I think Stuart Davis didn't belong because he still liked belonging to the social-protest groups.

I'm talking about 1935 and 1936. Intellectually and aesthetically the important thing was that there was absolutely no relation between the abstractionists and the surrealists. The main idea and the whole tradition of abstract art centered pretty much around art-as-art or that art either had involve with aesthetic essence or not. Whereas the surrealists were involved with everything else. I suppose even programmatically they were anti-art. They were involved in, I don't know, life or love or sex or I don't know what. They were living it up. I remember Mark Rothko [for Rothko go to National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.] saying he had liked the surrealists because they gave better parties than the abstract painters. Well, the abstract painters were always dull in that sense.

I finally made a program out of boredom. After all these years I think now that for a long time I've paraphrased Schopenhauer, saying, 'Interest is of no interest in art.' I've taken on all the bad terms of the thirties. Everything that the artist were called that was bad I've picked up and I've made them not bad words. Like meaningless, useless, imageless - those kinds of words. Words like inhuman, sterile, cold - they became cool. Everybody affected to be cold, inhuman sort of. And the others - academic, dogmatic, absolute - I picked them up and said, "Well, why not academic?"

I tried to oppose the academic to the market place. I think in the future I see mainly the university academy as the proper place for the artist because the market place is insane. But the way it has been up to now the university academies are absolutely deadly and the market place, the gallery groups, for the past ten or twenty years have been more lively here. Now almost every artist outside of New York is connected with some school or some museum school and even in New York the majority are. That's an interesting fact when you take the idea of making money, making a living selling paintings. Only a dozen or two painters do that. I've never been involved in that particularly. I've been teaching for almost twenty years. I've never been called a good teacher, incidentally. I'm proud of that. You know, there is nothing deadlier than to be called a good teacher like Hofmann or Albers. It's like making boredom a central fact about art. If somebody is interested, there is already something wrong. They are interested for the wrong reasons.

Anyway, in the late thirties I was a member of the American Abstract Artists and then in the early forties I ran the gamut of commercial and industrial jobs around New York World's Fair that Russel Wright, Norman Bel Geddes, and so forth were in on. I did that about as quickly as you could possibly do it. I guess I could do any commercial or industrial job and then I got on PM in forty-four.

Then I was drafted in forty-five and I was a sailor for a year. They didn't know what to do with me so they made a sort of photographer out of me. I was in Pensacola and San Diego. I was always thrown in with a bunch of kids. I was twenty-nine then. I was called Pop. I was the old man of every outfit. They tried to make an aerial photographer out of me. Aerial photography was outdated already because all the cameras were completely mechanical, but they had aerial photographers. So I went to Puget Sound and spent time. Then I finally got on a little carrier. I waited in Tacoma, Washington, and we saw the carrier built, and when it was ready, we sailed out and then they dropped the atom bomb. We were all ready for that invasion. That was a fluke. The dropping of the bomb prevented me from getting anywhere near anybody shooting at me.

After the war I had my teaching job at Brooklyn College. The job at Brooklyn is interesting because Brooklyn reflects what happened to university art departments everywhere. It might be the worst department now and yet at one point it was the best in the country. It was the best when the Bauhaus first got a little hot here. I was hired not only because I was a painter but because I had a reputation with PM and they thought working for a newspaper was the greatest thing that could happen to an artist. All those people were a little naive. They still had the idea that an artist has something to say so you give him the means and then since there are a lot of people who don't know, he'll tell them for you. Art as communication. So then what better place, if you think that way, than being on a newspaper? You can tell everybody everything.

The department at Brooklyn changed. It was called the Design Department and the old Art Department - nudes and still lifes and painting classes - was out. We didn't have painting classes. We had Introductory Color, Advanced Color, Descriptive Drawing, Free Hand Drawing. Then less than ten years after that, they changed the name back to Art again. At that time the word Design didn't sound so good and it became an art department again but with more emphasis on art history. I taught a lot of art history, especially Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. But the painting classes came back. The nudes came back. Not so much the still lifes. So now our department is the worst department, partly because it has the worst facilities, I think. Otherwise art departments are exactly alike everywhere. I've been around everywhere. I went to Chicago two weeks ago. Minneapolis. Washington. I've watched this anyway for the last ten years.

They're all exactly alike, if some student came up and wanted to know where to study painting, you'd want to suggest some place but there's no place. I wouldn't know where to send a student to study. I think this is an interesting development because Brooklyn was the first one to be hit by this Bauhaus thing, and then it swept the country."

Ad Reinhardt, Art as Art, The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhard, edited by Barbara Rose, p. 23-29 

ad reinhardt (1913-1967) 142256-37


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