Hans Hoffman

Here are some videos on Hans Hoffmann. Hoffman was the European artist most responsible for bringing the insights of European artists to America, where he exposed them to his students in Provincetown. He was an extraordinary painter in that he was able to articulate his thoughts about painting to his students without giving a prescription for what they themselves should paint.

Here’s a video you might enjoy, Steve, since we were lately discussing vertical canvases. The camera work is a little dodgy but at the end you get a good distance shot of all the vertical pieces.

Many of his insights are collected in his book, The Search for the Real.

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9 Responses to Hans Hoffman

  1. johnk823 says:

    What I guess I liked most about the videos, was how Hoffman taught. He didn’t tell his students what to paint or how to paint, but seemed to provide them with total encouragement to paint what they felt using color , shape and space. He wasn’t being a director, telling them what to do, but rather explained to them after what they had done, exactly what it was that they did. To me this is better than teaching and resembles more of a faculty of mentoring in the now. The students would have mostlikely learned more from his methods and manner of explaining and advising other means, than being taught with a do this, do that kind of teaching method. There was also no signs of criticism but more of encouragement.

    As to his own works, they, being abstract, were brilliant and colorful and had a voice all of their own. They had depth to them which created its own kind of perspective through the usage of color. I found all of his pieces quite interesting, at least the ones that they showed the best views of. Large is good! Think I will do a couple larges!!

  2. Steve says:

    Those black and white film clips of the students trying to crowd around the sitting Hoffman in his painting class speak volumes to me. There is electricity in the air, you can see it on everyone’s face. They were “…hungry…” painters , as that one elderly ex-student said. I think that they fed off Hoffman’s hunger. Could they have been as keenly interested if he had been mainly intent on gaining tenure in a university art department? I am not an ardent lover of his paintings, but believe that he was a truly great painting teacher, maybe like Robert Henri in an earlier time. However, as I’ve said earlier, the New York School of the forties and fifties in one of my least studied and appreciated periods, so I am loving this wave of painting as if it was brand new. Add this time period to the list of historical painting times I’d want to live in which I began in the previous post tonight.

  3. Steve says:

    Bart…I didn’t see a “reply” button under the Hoffman video of the vertical canvases, that were so aptly shown like hanging partitions in the museum, so I’ll just comment on them at the bottom of the page here. I’ve got to see a Hoffman in real life, get my nose as close to the painting as the museum guards will allow. I couldn’t get a sense of the paint from what that ‘curator’ guy was describing. But I did feel the ‘vertical’ thrust of those canvases, as you suggested. I get the feeling that the abstract expressionist painters really exploited the vertical format, maybe more than any previous era. Could it have been the excitement and agitation of the times that made those painters want to brush upwards and do it hard and strong? If a painter is excited and full of new energy, is the up & down and diagonal stroke more of a ‘calling’ than the horizontal stroke? This is just a silly hypothetical question.

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Steve, it’s interesting what you say about AEs exploiting the vertical format. I’ve never thought about it that specifically. De Kooning’s got those vertical women but I think they’re more an aberration from his more typical horizontal formats. Still is more vertically oriented.

    I think those Hoffmann’s are completely distinct too as far as any narrow verticals in his work, just as the woman paintings on door panels are distinct with de Kooning.

    Motherwell had those longer horizontal paintings. Pollock favored horizontals and some extremely long mural horizontals. But of course he did verticals as well.

    I think that the energy and excitement had most to do with them pushing into the large scale more than it did a vertical orientation. It’s the epic scale that hadn’t been seen in painting that allowed them to almost step into the color space. And also the viewer can do that as well.

    A lot of people and other painters saw it as egocentric but I don’t see the paintings that way at all. I think they were seeking to put the spiritual and transcendent back into painting. I want to get into Rothko’s book, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art. It’s the most lucid writing I’ve ever read on what the situation with painting was at the time these guys began developing a new way thinking about painting. Rothko is only speaking for himself, of course. It’s always important to remember just how different many of these artists were from one another. What they all had in common is that they were completely dedicated and serious artists. Some of them also had a kind of integrity verging on the monastic that is incredibly rare anymore. Still was almost like an Old Testament prophet in some of his writing. I’ve really got to post some of his stuff as well. The art world in NYC was just tiny back then, and almost all centered in lower Manhattan. Fernand Leger and Rothko had studios in the same building, for example. When Gorky had his show in uptown Manhattan not a single one of the artists from lower Manhattan showed up for it. Of course, it all moved up there soon enough. It was the impoverished artists downtown and the rich society people uptown. Odd to think of it now that way. But that’s how it was.

    Nowadays there are any number of art worlds. But back in the 50s in America the small group of serious painters was a small and dedicated band. It disintegrated almost completely as the hyper-commercial scene exploded and enormous amounts of investment money it all seemingly overnight. The 1950s was the last time in the history of Western painting that you saw any kind of fraternity of artists gathered together to define painting for themselves.

    • Steve says:

      “…the fraternity of artists…” that you speak of in your post is something that I’ve longed for all of my painting life ( off & on as it has been over the years ). The closest I ever came was in Europe when two other friends and I became closely linked in our lives and art. Both those friends still do creative work when they can and we stay in touch and get together once a year to reconnect and see what each has been doing. But that’s a very loose personal version of the Ashcan School, or the Impressionist movement which were solid groups of outsider painters with a core purpose. I’m not a joiner-of-groups generally, primarily because I have never seen any groups worth joining, so I’ve slogged along on my own, finding real connection when & where I can. That’s ok, and at this point in my life I don’t expect that to change. But I still view those periods in history when authentic painters and new painting intersected, forming vital movements. It isn’t the notoriety that appeals to me, but the comradery and common purpose. That would’ve been fun.

      • trueoutsider says:

        Why not email your friends a link to your writing here. Everyone is welcome to read and comment. I think that it’s particularly useful for those who have time free in the evening and are interested in just general discussion of any area of painting that interests them.

        I’ve never had any luck with artist groups myself, even going through undergraduate and graduate schools. The time of small groups of artists defining identities for themselves apart from the commercial world seems something of the past. Although you never know what the future may hold. We might see this as a vanguard for how any number of groups might form around a general alienation with painting as it is defined within what I sense as a completely hostile commercial world.

        There was a book written by Lewis Hyde that examines the notion of art as a gift outside the seemingly all pervasive free market fundamentalism. You might want to take a look at it. It’s had great influence on many poets and writers. And I think it’s just as germane for visual artists.


  5. johnk823 says:

    This all reminds me of my socialogy class in college, when the teacher started getting into the discussions on “Norms in society”. It seems that throughout the history of art norms have been being tried by various groups, whether the curators, museums, art critics and even the artists themselves from time to time. This would, I think, be true of various art schools and academies. It is as though you aren’t suppose to have a mind of your own.

    Thank goodness ther are those artists that dared to step out of the norms (set up by others), and to venture off into various realities of their own. It would be like a grid lock of only being able to paint like your looking through a camera and nothing else.

    But, at the same time look at how artists themselves treat one another, as if because you don’t paint the way they do, there must be something wrong with you and alot of them aren’t afraid to express it. This is what I fine a shame and most offensive as an artist.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    John, I think that’s what makes me appreciate teachers like Hans Hoffmann all the more. They’re really just communicating their own enthusiasm and to get other artists to open up their own eyes and spirit. Much like what we’re discussing with Camille Pissarro. It’s also why I was so fortunate to find a teacher like Milo Russell at an early age. He was an artist like the two above that simply communicated his own enthusiasm and love of painting. He was never telling other artists how to paint or what was the true path. He always said that the best thing an artist starting out could do was to follow their own instincts and way of seeing the world. That way you’d always have something. If you start out as an artist copying whatever the current fashion is then when that fashion changes you’re left with nothing.

    • johnk823 says:

      That’s so true of copying, when it all cahnges your left with nothing. Another thing that I find important, at least for myself, is being fairly versital and having at least a little bit of common knowledge of several styles, technique and handling of different materials, is a good thing to obtain as an artist.

      This way, when things to change you have choices as to direction where you might want to take the next step toward. But, always with your own vision in mind. I find this helpful, in my personnal choices when getting ready to start another painting and it give me flexabillity when making those choices.

      Because of my various techniques and style I have been able to have several different jobs and do several different projects. Some artist like to stick to one style or technique and hope for good outlets for their work, while other artist work on developing their own style or technique and sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

      I think if your into art for the commercial end of it, you could be in for some big suprises. I do art for the love of doing art, not for commercial recognition. Lots of choices out there!

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