Understanding Minimalism & Colour Field Painting | ARTiculations

I feel like I’ve seen this thing happen
a million times – somebody walks into an art gallery, see a painting that’s just say
a big block of colour or something, and go – what am I supposed to be looking at? And I gotta say – I totally understand this
feeling and I can relate to where people are coming from. These type of works – known in
art history as “colour field paintings” or “post-painterly abstraction.” There is
not an immediately obvious way to interact with these works. But as is with everything
else in life – nothing is as simple as it first seem, and there is actually so much
to talk about. Firstly, if you start to think about it. You
may think, well what’s so interesting about colours and shapes? Well, in fact, colours
and shapes ARE super interesting. It’s like asking why is the sky blue. It seems like
– well it just is. It’s so simple. But if you really think about all the intricacies
of the electromagnetic spectrum and you think about how sunlight and its various wavelengths
are dispersed in our atmosphere – well that is super interesting. But if you are still
having trouble, then lets take a look at a few examples. Frank Stella is a painter who was initially
known for painting deductive shapes – such as line and shapes that follow the shape of
the canvas that it’s painted on, are proportional to the canvas, or are geometrically related
to the shape of the canvas. In later years, Frank Stella would go not only paint on canvas
that are rectangularly shaped, he would also go on to produce irregular shaped canvases
such as polygons and half-circles. Artists like Kenneth Noland, Mark Rothko and
Barnett Newman were also know for creating works that explored the elemental nature of
colour. Most of them insisted on making the artworks be about itself and have explorations
of colours and shapes on the canvases be the utmost important factor. You might take look
at a painting by Noland like this one and see some sort of a sunset over a watery horizon
– but that is not how he intended it. Here, the artist’s goal is not have you think
about external factors. You are meant to contemplate and explore the pure elements of the form
itself. This is very different from almost all other forms of art that have come before
it. Almost all other art forms are on some level related to some type of external history,
context or narrative – such as a religious painting that’s supposed to be depicting
a story from the bible, or a cubist painting that’s alluding to the horrors of war. Here,
apparently, all that’s supposed to matter are the colour and the shape that are in front
of you. But you might ask – do viewers have to be bound by the artist’s original intention?
Does it matter what they think we should think? And that’s a good question. Some colour field artists are also quite innovative
when it comes to their technique. Some of you may have heard of the artist Jackson Pollock
– who was known for flinging paint onto a canvas with a paintbrush back in the 1950s.
In the 1960s artist Helen Frankenthaler took this in kind of a different direction by not
even priming or stretching her canvases, and instead just laying them horizontally on the
floor. And instead of flinging paint onto a canvas with a paint brush, she just took
buckets of paint and poured them directly onto the floor, letting the paint soak into
the canvas. This approach produced fields of colour that are even, flat and consistent,
instead of brushed and textured. Frankenthaler also inspired many other artists like Kenneth
Noland and Morris Louis. These techniques were revolutionary to many artist because
they had come to realize that in addition to not being restricted by what to paint,
they were also not restricted by how to paint. they were totally no longer bound by the paintbrush
or the easel. Now, you can be a traditionalist and really
dislike how painting got this way. You could say that you don’t consider this type of
painting true paintings because these artists were totally not using traditional painting
methods. And fair enough. Many of these artists themselves, as well as their contemporary
art critics also considered what they were doing to be beyond the realm of painting.
But by doing things such as abandoning the paintbrush, creating two dimensional forms
that are shaped and stained in three dimensional space – these artists blurred the boundaries
between painting and sculpture. They also highlighted notion of colour, shape and space.
Even though colour, shape and space have always been crucial to paintings – they were always
kind of just elemental, background components that were a part of paintings. And these artists
put the elements front and centre stage. And with these breakthroughs – you cannot deny
the tremendous artistic possibilities and creative expressions that were opened up by
people like Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella and the subsequent generations of artist
that they inspired. So what do you think? Do you think colour
field painters were successful in stripping their compositions free of external references
and context? And does knowing the intent of the artists affect the way you view and experience
the work? Let me know in the comments. And see you guys next time. Frank Stella is a painting that was in- is
a painting, ha. Frank Stella is a painter Frank Stella is a painting that was
in- oh my god.

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