Milton Resnick on Wonderfulness

This is the pull quote on the back of Geoffrey Dorfman’s marvelous book Out of the Picture: Milton Resnick and the New York School, a compilation of interviews and lectures.

It’s absolutely irrelevant what galleries and critics and people who buy your paintings think. They just don’t have any possible idea of what happens to you and they’re really not that interested. As a matter of fact, they hate the idea that anything really happens to you. They want you to be a genius and that’s it. You have to be wonderful–that’s all there is to it. Then, anything that you happen to do gets to be part of the wonderful thing that you are. But what is a great deal of importance to you is what do you do when you paint. How does it change you? What does it make of you? Because you are certainly not the person who should be painting a painting. None of you are. None of us are. We cannot live without our place in things and the place in which we live does not make room for painting. We are doing something contrary to our place and time and as long as we remain what we are, all we can do is indicate our opinion. In other words, art becomes our opinion about ourselves, our times, and our place; and of course that is not really painting.

This is one of the most profound statements I’ve ever read by another American painter of the 20th century. Resnick focusses on the monastic practice necessary to accessing the deep experience that is specific to painting. And which very few painters seem to understand. Most painters are entirely closed to this experience because they aren’t interested in what painting does to them but instead are caught up in the deadening search for technical perfection. Technical perfection of what?

Resnick strikes the exact note in the first sentence. It’s absolutely critical that painting, if one is to ever enter into the state necessary to go anywhere, is attempted without regard to galleries, critics, or collectors.

Pieter Bruegel, in his drawing of the Painter and the Connoisseur (c. 1565), gives us an indelible image of the timeless divide between the world of the artist and the world of the viewer. The disheveled artist with the downturned mouth and furrowed vs. the genial gawking of the connoisseur, hand on money bag.

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7 Responses to Milton Resnick on Wonderfulness

  1. Marcia says:

    So true. The hardest thing is to keep that part of the brain shut off while you are working.

  2. wewordsmiths says:

    Thank you for an excellent passage from Resnick.

    This is exactly so. When writing seriously, I enter “my” fictional world, look about and describe what I see and feel. Yet I only catch perhaps 30% of the vision, the awe-full remains left in unconscious seas; which may be of water or fire or dust.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    I knew Resnick briefly when he taught at my art school in the mid-70s and was greatly influenced by his thinking, while not in the least influenced by his painting. He gets everything right about the painting experience and the painting attitude except for one big thing, and it’s the same thing that the other abstract painters of that time didn’t get. Pollock was the one who sensed it immediately which is why he found himself trapped in his field/drip paintings and said to Krassner, “I’m not saying anything.” He then tried to go back to introducing representational elements, but he hadn’t the ability to do it. Greenberg trashed his efforts in a review and even stopped speaking to Pollock after that, as he’d gotten what he wanted from him. Pollock stopped painting entirely and began drinking himself to death.

    Resnick was a purist, even calling de Kooning gutless for not abandoning the figure. But I note that later in life Resniick began to bring in the figure, primitively of course as that was the only way he could paint it. Guston abandoned abstraction entirely, also not knowing how to paint the figure using comic figures I bet he picked up from Crumb. I have to research that more closely to look at dates to make sure.

    Yes, the painter can go down deep and put himself into that transcendental state necessary for making real painting. But if he has no representational vocabulary at his service (of the kind Guston developed, probably the only painter moving back to representation who understood this) then the paintings produced stand for little other than a kind of “drug-like” experience at best. One can stand in front of an Olitiski or Kelly/Newman/Martin/Rothko glow field or go into the Turrell light box for their “art” experience… Or one can get in a John C. Lilly sensory deprivation tank and do the same thing. This is “science” art… the kind of art made by scientists. Not art in any sense of the word’s real meaning. Take Zola’s “Art is nature viewed through a temperament” or Seneca “All art is an imitation of nature.”

    In all the cases mentioned above, just as Pollock realized, the artist is saying precisely nothing. If one has no temperament that has been created by hard looking and investigation of nature then one is just setting up installations or throwing up colored sheets that give a pleasant or unpleasant experience. But all one is doing is providing an experience for a viewer. One is not saying anything at all, as one has no vocabulary that they can say it with. The artist is providing the viewer with a visual experience that he himself is indulging in when he’s painting. So what? If a painter puts himself into a mystical state by painting that doesn’t mean the painting itself has much value as a work of art. And so art critics and art historians drive artists out of the temple and strew around kitsch objects, telling everybody what the painter is saying and why it’s so significant. At this point there is no need for painting at all, as the New Yorker informs us regarding the latest MoMA most abstract junkfest. It’s why I say painting is only alive outside the art world, as the art world itself won’t show actual painting as it’s defined painting as dead. It needs to continue to show painting that is dead. That’s the only acceptable rhetoric with which to look at painting. … or how “beautiful” a painting is, whatever that would mean. Late Goya isn’t beautiful because it’s black sludge. Matisse is beautiful because it’s pretty colors. That’s what art criticism amounts to… Who has used the prettiest colors. So no Goyas.

    It’s also why we no longer have any painting culture whatsoever because we killed off the actual language of painting and replaced with theory and words.

    Duchamp lampooned the Abstract Expressionist and all abstraction of the Malevich “Suprematist” sort quite neatly. Of course he was happy to see the stupidity of it all, and summed it up with one work: “To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass, with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour”. Or one can buy a lava lamp or kaleidoscope and look at it with one eye, close to for almost an hour and have a groovy experience. That’s all that has been done to art. We’re clowns and entertainers making groovy fashion accessories and room decorations and providing viewers with deep mystical experiences staring into fluorescent tube displays. Nauman’s work ridicules art in the same way. All Duchamp and Nauman have to say is art people are morons. Let’s see what else they’ll pay money to line up for and “interpret” as brilliant while all the cash flows over it.

    I can only imagine what critics and historians have written about the piece below when the title says it all. “You’re an Idiot” is the shorter version of the title. We now have the evidence from a few researchers that Duchamp was a thief of another artists work, a charlatan, a liar.

    The entire edifice of contemporary art collapses if one admits that one of its two foundational pillars was a con man. That research is reported pretty much nowhere. The con art world needs to go on slam dancing its way into oblivion while throwing cash around like confetti. This is all it amounts to now, artists too dismally caught up in their own little narcissistic bubbles to say a word in protest or recognize the truth. They think what they’re doing, if they have a few thousand likes for something they did, makes it art. The overarching culture decides what is art. The more likes you’re getting in my book means the more your work is like the terrible decline we’re witnessing now. The only hope for art of for any individual artist is to uproot themselves entirely from it, even if its only in one’s mind because one can’t escape it in reality. What it is in reality is this:

    • True Outsider, Your facts are questionable at best. Guston’s late imagery dates from 1965 or so, a bit too early for it to be influenced by Crumb, (although obviously comics are something he was always attracted to.) Pollock resumed drinking in Autumn of 1950; Greenberg thought the show from that year was Pollock’s best. Also Pollock continued to paint for another three or four years after he started drinking again. Also Duchamp was the architect of the Ready-made, so he’s about as far from Resnick, who worked like a horse on his paintings all his life, as can be imagined. Finally, Resnick received academic training as a student including cast drawing. He could draw exceptionally well since the 1930’s. He just wasn’t interested in doing that. This is a fact; we have some drawings from back then. So he didn’t ‘have’ to paint the figure the way he did. Which admittedly doesn’t address the central point you’ve been trying to make, which from what little I can see, seems to be that you prefer cartoons. So do most students I come into contact with. What they say or what that says about them, I can’t say. So much for ‘saying.’

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Geoff, I’m not an art historian or art critic, anymore than Resnick was so you might keep that in mind. And perhaps you’d agree that establishing historical facts when it comes to the art world with its manifest lying, charlatanism and mythmaking is a difficult thing to do at best. What are the Pollock biographies but a lot of gossip from God knows how many dubious sources.

    What’s your definition of Resnick drawing exceptionally well exactly? Ingres? What’s your particular pedigree that makes you an authority on what academic competence is? Was his drawing on the level of say, Jacob Collins or Graydon Parrish? If you were to send me images of Resnick’s academic drawings, which I’d like to see, how would I know they were Resnick’s drawings? I’m to take your word for it? Somebody I’ve never even met. And whose initial comments are those of a moron gratuitously insulting me.

    Those are just a few examples of how difficult it is to establish any kind of art “facts”. I do have an interest in establishing whatever I can and so very much appreciate your writing in. I do take exception to your posturing and snide manner, however.

    You can go fuck yourself with your comment about my preferring cartoons. I can tell whether somebody knows how to draw by looking at their work. Resnick’s late figurative work doesn’t give any indication whatsoever he has the least bit of facility as a draftsman. Picasso’s does in spades all through his life. Did Resnick forget how to draw having spent his entire life throwing paint around in a poor imitation of late Monet? Monet knew how to draw and it’s painfully evident when comparing late Monet to all of Resnick’s work just how fantastically short Resnick falls as a painter by comparison.

    If you want to act as publicist/mythmaker with me and try to refute whatever I say by pedantic dating of when Pollock was or wasn’t painting we can go into it but it’s obviously a side issue and not germane to the assertions you’re making about Resnick which I actually would like to establish. But be my guest.

    As far as comic book artists, their academic training and achievement was and is by and large was far higher than that of almost any abstract expressionist painter you can name. I really detest pretense, Geoffrey. I’d like to get to the beef if you don’t mind. Where is it in anything you wrote?

    You might also do me the courtesy of actually reading what I’ve written. To wit, where do you find me comparing Resnick to Duchamp? Duchamp is not the “architect of the readymade” as I pointed out. He stole the urinal from another artist. That’s a fact. It’s been established by Varnedoe and Julian Spaulding and others. Is that of any interest to you? Or are you one of these pedants who simply wants to be right about your own little narrow fanatical interest in Resnick?

    Coming onto my blog and attacking me doesn’t put me in a good mood toward you, particularly after I made kind remarks about you and Milton, who I basically consider an eccentric charlatan but quite likeable. I don’t think he was much of a painter. My idea of good painter is Courbet or van Gogh, not comic books, you stupid turd. You might have established that by looking through some of my hundreds of other posts.


    PS… please feel free to use as many florid insults as possible as this is certain to drive up readership. Also you’re full of shit that Guston was painting like Crumb in 1965. In 1965 he was painting those stupid grayish blobs. Check out Head 1. Better than a Resnick, yes. But not by much. By the way, Guston referred to Resnick as a drunk in a conversation at the NY School. Is that the case or was Guston slandering him? Maybe you can add to my factual knowledge. That is, if you fucking know anything at all. When did you even meet Resnick? Did you know him back in the mid-1970s? Did you know him when he was calling De Kooning a gutless nobody or Pollock a clown posing for LIFE magazine?

    Guston was a figurative artist, but lacked any kind of serious academic achievement on the level you’re claiming Resnick had and which I know he didn’t simply by looking at his painting throughout his life. Drawing from the cast is an indication of precisely nothing. Anybody who knows the first thing about art knows that.

    People who think Abstract Expressionism is a major achievement in the arts by and large don’t know the first thing about art or anything else for that matter. From what you’ve written, it’s clear you’re one of the totally confused. One of those who prefers to talk and talk and talk rather than do the least bit of actual looking.

    And artists like Resnick , who as you comment “weren’t interested in doing it” are invariably piss poor draftsman as they have no interest in it. Get it, Geoff. If you have no interest in something you’re hardly likely to be any good at it. You have any ability to understand simple logic? It comes in handy when trying to understand art, believe it or not.

    You can take this from me as someone who can draw academically. But I had to teach myself since American art schools like the one I attended (where I had the lamentable experience of artists like Resnick as teachers) didn’t teach any drawing skills at all, much less academic ones. That’s because they were under the reign of the totally inept abstract expressionists, people copying photographs, conceptualists, minimalists, earth artists, bad painting art, etc.

    In 1967 Guston’s work is a lot of clunky crap… the Klu Klan stuff… Suddenly… after Crumb’s work appears Guston’s “comic” type stuff begins looking far better than the dopey KKK work…. No doubt in my mind he saw those Crumb comics, which are based on the same material Guston started referencing and talking about in the book of interviews published a couple years ago. Of course you’re too above common things like comic books so you wouldn’t know the first fucking thing about it.

    In Guston’s interviews he talks about the same artists Crumb derived his “big foot” style from. Anybody with any kind of eye can see this. But art critics don’t have eyes at all. The ones with any brains could be counted on one’s hand.

    For one thing, I’ve done five times the amount of drawing and painting than Milton Resnick ever thought about doing. So don’t give me that back-breaking labor bullshit… I’ve got a fused spine from the back breaking labor and I’m only 61 years old. How old are you, man? And why don’t you wake the fuck up? But I suppose I can’t expect that from someone like yourself whose spent his life mouthing off and not doing any work at all. Clement Greenberg, Jr.

    I’m sick to death of pompous turds like yourself talking down to me, just as much as I was sick to death of your type when I was in art school. Resnick was delusional… probably some kind of schizophrenia, so I cut the guy a break. He talked total bullshit, just like Duchamp. But I liked Resnick. He was a sweetheart of a guy and energetic. However, I did not appreciate his arrogant painting over all the other students paintings. I didn’t let him paint over mine like the rest of the robot-lemmings. But that’s what art school is all about, isn’t it? Brainwashing.

    As I said in a post not long ago, you art critics and writers have totally demolished what was once a beautiful thing. Resnick had agency in that. Less than Duchamp, but the New York School did it’s part in destroying the great tradition of Western Painting. Of course, you’re not the least bit aware of that as you haven’t the least bit of knowledge or interest in that tradition. Resnick’s entire life work amounts to very little against the grand tradition that the AEs along with the sack of shit Greenberg savaged. Hope you’re proud of yourself, Geoff.

    And I could fucking care less what Greenberg wrote or when he wrote. Neither could Resnick, which is what I liked about Resnick. How about this for a fact. Greenberg was totally color blind. Were you aware of that? You seem aware of precious little from your doltish remark above.

    Of course you don’t understand a word I’m writing. You don’t understand painting. You don’t understand art. You don’t even have any interest in it. Just like Resnick had no interest in drawing. He didn’t have any interest in the art of painting. Grandiosity. Pomposity. Arrogance. That’s what it’s all ended up as. Sure. Laugh at the comic art kids. Laugh at the Pop artists, as well. The reason we have all of this low-brow nonsense is because guys like you and Resnick and Greenberg trashed the tradition to the point there were no standards whatsoever. There was no content whatsoever other than the bloated and moronic prose of art critics/historians like yourself. Or whatever you’re posturing as. You’ll have to inform me. Don’t tell me you’re one of those artist types following in Resnick’s footsteps throwing your paint up there with all the sublime results.

    I know more about painting and art history in my little pinkie than some blowhard jackass like yourself. Why don’t you have some of your other art critic pals write in to me and we can have some nice discussions. Again, all the insults you can muster. Tell me that I’m a comic artist and the point that I prefer comics and too stupid to understand the genius of dripping paint of a stick. I did it in high school… Not a big learning curve to make a Pollock. There are forgeries galore out there. Or didn’t you follow events at Knoedler Gallery. .. Who CAN’T do an abstract expressionist painting?

    These comic type kids you want to sneer out wouldn’t waste their time doing one. The only people who have any use for them are posers like yourself. Even Frank Stella tossed them in the trash. Andy pissed his abstract expressionist works. You think he’s great? You have any opinions at all you’d like to voice or are you one of these art people who just kisses the ass of whatever makes money? You like Rauschenberg? Now there’s a guy who crapped all over the AEs. Erased de Kooning.. Lichtenstein and his parody brushstrokes. Richter and his squeegee.

    So are you a dyed-in-the-wool AE defender? Everything is crap after the greats of the 1950s? Love to hear about it. I’d no doubt respect it. I respected Resnick. Just didn’t think he was that good a painter. Certainly nobody to follow in any way, shape or form. What’s to follow? You don’t understand what these guys did led to directly to this total wasteland we all inhabit.

    And if you do write back what I would prefer is that you stop writing like pompous nitwit. I’m hoping there’s some kind of at least half-bright human being underneath your pomposity. At this point I seriously have my doubts.

  5. sydsart says:

    I do think that you are a very brave man. You say what I always wanted to when I was in school but never had the courage to. love from a grandmother.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, Syd. When I was in art school it was a sham. I had one great, great teacher named Milo Russell. The rest of the faculty younger on the make who were pissed off they had to teach in the stick rather than be part of the New York School action, so they took it out on the students. There would be women running out of grad critiques in tears.

    A certain portion were sleeping with the women students with their mid-life crises and getting divorces from their wives who were fed up with them. And they liked to think they could push around and humiliate any male art students who took them for what they were, a pack of talentless asshole wannabes. Needless to say I was not universally admired and so took to living in white trash or poor black neighborhoods, rarely going to class, vandalizing drawing rooms and calling it my conceptual art (that got me arrested by the Richmond police), and further endeared me to the arts faculty. Our litho teacher never even showed up to class but had a grad student teach the entire thing. Her name was Anne Doering and she was a real sweetheart. She even pulled some of my lithos for me. Too bad she wasn’t permanent faculty. But it was invariably the untenured faculty who cared. The tenured faculty were primarily burnishing their reputations by prancing around like geniuses in front of the girl art students who all adored them.

    It was such a great place to learn what being in the art world would be all about. There was a saying a few of us rejects had, “It’s not who you know; it’s who you blow.” Small wonder it produced Andy, Basquiat and Company as the Lords of American Art. Not that I think any kind of remote moral standards should apply when it comes to how artists behave.

    I’ve I’d had a can of spray paint handy I would have used it to spray all over Baldessari’s jacket “Art Asshole” and call him my walking living art project. So, yes, I was a bit ornery and angry back then. Now I’m just tired of being a “gentleman” while having a lot of boors spit on me. So end of Mr. Nice Guy…

    The decent people get stomped on while the aggressive bullies and women who love them have a party going down on each other… At least it was low tuition back then. Now the wonderful Liberal Class and their Republican pals have arranged it that kids have to go into hock for 200 grand for an arts degree… But then again, look at all the networking they have access to. You can meet real art stars in the flesh! Take em up to your room and show em what you’ve got. But this kind of behavior never happens in the fine arts… It’s just with Beat writers and groups like Led Zeppelin. We painters are the paragons of moral rectitude.

    A grandmother! Wow! I’ve always wanted to be a grandad but my my son is a slacker in that regard…. 🙂

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