Target Practice

The American art scene lost one of the great, yet forgotten artists of the twentieth century last Tuesday with the passing of Kenneth Noland at 85 years of age.  One of the Color Field painters, the abstract art movement christened by influential critic Clement Greenberg as the true successor to the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Noland enjoyed his greatest success in the late 1950s and early 1960s, only to become collateral damage when Greenberg tumbled from the apex of the critical world and he and the rest of the Color Field painters became targets, too.

Of all the Color Field artists, Noland’s art may suffer the most in reproduction.  A painting such as 1958’s Beginning (pictured) seems like a mass-produced target.  However, seen in person, you experience the textures and nuances of the work that made it a different kind of expressionism from the wild days of “Jack the Dripper.”  Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Morris Louis, and others all suffer from the “I could do that” brand of uninformed art criticism.  That criticism makes their treatment at the hands of critics who knew better all the worse.


Greenberg treated art criticism as a gladiatorial sport.  Pollock was his champion, slashing his way to the top.  When Jackson found an early grave, Clement searched for a new champion, finding one in the Color Field group—a name he himself coined, like the manager of a British Invasion band.  So synonymous was Clement and the Color Fielders that his enemies became their enemies.  When the Warholian irony of the Pop Art movement ran neck deep in art circles, art critics, like any self-respecting mob, piled on the alpha figure of Greenberg.  Then, like any self-respecting mob, mafia division, they went after those he loved, including Noland.

Noland’s greatest innovation remains his use of shaped canvases.  He made it no longer hip to be square in the use of painting supports, customizing the shapes of canvas into triangles, diamonds, and polygons of all kinds.  What seems like a small change today was groundbreaking at the time.  Many other artists have followed suit since, literally adding a whole new dimension to their art thanks to Noland.  As with the simple geometric patterns he painted, Noland’s simple use of shapes other than squares and rectangles quietly, subtly, and almost imperceptibly left a mark on modern art.

Perhaps Noland’s death will restore some of his well-earned reputation, but aside from a few column inches in The New York Times, this will probably be just another blip on the cultural radar at large.  The critics took their toll long ago, but the effects remain the same.  For many casual art lovers, a strange void exists between the days of the Abstract Expressionists of the Fifties and the Pop Art of the Sixties.  Noland and others filled that void once, and may again.

Countries with more butter have happier citizens

Butter supply and life satisfaction are linked – but by causation or correlation?

Image: Carey Tilden/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
Strange Maps
  • Haiti and other countries with low butter supply report low life satisfaction.
  • The reverse is true for countries like Germany, which score high in both categories.
  • As the graph below shows, a curious pattern emerges across the globe. But is it causation or correlation?
Keep reading Show less

Jordan Peterson on why you need to clean your room

Sometimes the basics really matter.

Dr. Jordan Peterson. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Jordan Peterson believes that only by taking care of your immediate environment can you then move onto bigger challenges.
  • The idea stems from millennials who want to change capitalist economic structures though can be applied broadly.
  • In a distracted age, our inability to pay attention to our environment is leading to increased rates of anxiety and depression.
Keep reading Show less

Will Hunt (explorer) – into the Earth: the mysteries and meanings of underground spaces

The catacombs of Paris. Secret graffiti beneath NYC. The hidden cities of Cappadocia. Writer and explorer Will Hunt is your philosophical tour guide to what lies beneath.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "The surface of the earth is where we're rational . . . Part of us dreads the chaos, and part of us is always attracted to it."
  • "There were these things hanging from the ceiling…long strands of bacteria called "snotsicles"… But at our feet was a natural stream that had been running through Brooklyn forever."
  • "It's…about death. Undergoing a death. We're going into the other world and then retreating to the surface… changed in some way."
Keep reading Show less