JT lectures at Skowhegan 1960

Jack Tworkov, lecture, Skowhegan, 1960

In the summer of 1960, Jack Tworkov was invited as a guest lecturer and visiting artist to Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Rather than offering a prepared talk, Tworkov asks for questions from the audience and a spontaneous conversation ensues. Tworkov discusses his early education, abstract painting / abstract expressionism, role of a teacher, state of art education and the changes facing abstract painting versus figurative/subject. The following is a transcript of the discussion the artist had between the staff and the students.

TRANSCRIPT: Tonight we are honored to have Jack Tworkov here. Jack Tworkov is one of the major figures in New York painting and guess that’s about it.

JT: Thanks so much, I told Peter that I can’t talk from a prepared text. I can’t prepare a talk. Particularly because just when I start to prepare something I just literally have too many things that come into it. Just to many things and then to straighten out just a few things for a formal presentation just takes to much time and more energy than I have. But at the same time I don’t want you to feel that I didn’t want to make the effort.

But really feel I would be much more to the point if we talked about something you wanted me to talk about than if I ransacked my ideas for something for us to talk about.

In other words you ask me some questions and I’ll try to answer them as exactly as if we were in a conversation. That’s the only way I know how. So I know that it is a little embarrassing to get started this way as it really puts you on the spot. You’ve got to ask the questions…

Did you go to art school?

Well this puts me on the spot! When I made a biography I had to carefully answer where I studied, and it was something like the truth. I was at the [National] Academy in 1923. I was afterwards at the the [Art Students] League. But if I want to be absolutely honest I don’t think I’m a product of school. I studied for a little while with [Guy Péne] du Bois. Taking drawing with du Bois. He was a wonderful teacher. I think I studied with him maybe two months.

Do you think that was a waste of time?

No, I think every contact with a good artist is never wasted, whether as a student or as a friend. I was rather luck in my friends.

What is or should be a painter’s attitude towards drawing?

I am from an age of artists who began by drawing and by painting from nature, so—regardless of my later development—this is something I can’t deny and can’t reject. The habit of careful seeing amazes me to this day. In my paintings I don’t rely much on drawing, but I draw for pleasure a great deal.

I can’t see how artist interested in an individual world and isn’t involved with “seeing.” This is regardless of whether you’re a representational or an abstract painter. You’re always concerned with seeing. I don’t see how a person can very well reject the discipline of seeing.

I think there is probably another question behind this question. It’s not whether you draw or don’t draw. Again, it comes back to the validity of painting say from life—of dealing with the visual world. I think in looking at both students’ work and other artists’ work I never make a great deal of distinction between work that is supposed to be representational say that deals with objects and work that is abstract.

But I do notice one thing: for the best artists—and I’m not talking just for modern art. I’m talking for all the art that I think I know—the artist who works from nature still has to imagine the things he paints. Here, I use the word, “imagine” in a special sense. I mean no one just stands in front of an object, draws something and makes something out of it without in some way bringing a terrific intent to it. It is this intent that forces him to imagine the thing that which he draws, which is there before his eyes. I don’t think you can even draw well without imagining the object.

By imagining I mean this: the same thing that would make you work as an abstract artist—exactly the same type of imagination—you would have to bring to the object that you see. Does anybody imagine that a great artist simply stood before the object and painted it? He would have to imagine it. Whether it was Rembrandt or El Greco, or even such an—on the surface—unimaginative painter as Velázquez still could not have painted those magnificent little princesses without thoroughly imagining the painting.

If you take this as a way of looking at painting then the quarrel so to speak between painting from nature and abstract act disappears. What I mean is you have to look at abstract art as simply another possibility in art that does not necessarily quarrel with other things. I think that abstract art has often been advanced as a quarrel, but now that time has gone by, history has taken care of that situation. You can now see abstract art as simply another possibility and not necessarily one that quarrels with other possibilities in art any more than for instance a poem necessarily quarrels with a novel or there is a quarrel between poetry and prose. They’re just other forms—other ways of imagining.

What do you mean by the discipline of seeing?

Anybody who has drawn knows how much he didn’t see when he first began. As you keep on drawing it’s astonishing how much you don’t see. It’s astonishing. You have to take your pencil in hand and to start to draw the object and fail over and over again before you realize how much you don’t see.

Then again, once you do see you discover how free you are of what you have seen. You discover that the more intensely you see the more free you are of what you see, the more room you have for moving around the things you see.

I didn’t say the word discipline. I really don’t know what discipline is in that sense. I simply mean that for me it’s more a matter of curiosity than discipline. I continually want to find out how well I can see, and I catch myself slipping all the time.

How did you arrive at painting abstractly?

It would be very nice if I could answer this question entirely from a personal point of view: how one day I began to think of painting abstractly and so forth. But that would be false. Art, as you know, does not develop only within individuals. It develops in given times, under given situations and given pressures. In other words, if I turned to abstract painting it’s because I have certain sympathies and certain directions. I shared certain attitudes with other people. I didn’t invent it; I shared with other people certain attitudes, certain points of view.

Why do you paint abstractly?

I could not answer that question personally without going into a very boring kind of autobiography. But to answer it decently, you would have to go back to the whole history of what happened in modern art and how modern art developed. This was not my invention, so I can’t answer this question as if it were a personal thing to myself. You have to answer it as almost a kind of historian.

The statement was made that abstract expression is dead. Would you care to comment on that?

Something in art has been dying or dead ever since I was a student! As far as I know, abstract art was declared dead every other year, and every other year there was an announcement of a return to something or other. I now accept that as the situation in the art world.

But serious, I notice this: very few ideas in art really die. Once they come into the art field, or into society or into culture they tend to stay there and to grow and expand and to change naturally. I think we’ll probably have abstract art in one form or another as long as we’ll have any other kind of art. It will just go on. It will not replace anything, nor will it be replaced by anything. It will always be a possibility now. The idea that we can make pictures without reference to objects is very much like the idea that we can organize sound without reference to natural sound. Just as it serves the musician to be able to organize sound without reference to objects so I think it can serve the artist—and at a very high level indeed—to organize paint without reference to visual objects. I myself think it’s a moment of high development in the history of art and the history of culture. No one has to do it; no one has to like it. It does not replace anything. It leaves plenty of room for other kinds of activity. But I don’t think it’s going to die. It may change. Names will change. Names of schools will change. The critics will always invent a word for the next movement. But the essential idea—the idea that you can make pictures and paintings without reference to objects—I think that has a very good chance of continuing as long as we have art or at least as long as we have a society that permits that kind of thing.

Do abstract artists dislike the human form?

Must I make some kind of affirmation or denial about how I feel about the human form?

Can you offer a definition of abstract expressionism?

I wish I could escape… from the… I’m not really here as a representative of abstract expressionism, nor do I owe anybody an explanation about it, although I suppose I can’t avoid it. I did have a chance to write in Art News a small piece on whether or not abstract expressionism was dying and there I took the opportunity to say that for better or worse it represents an art that neither refers to the ordinary visual world of objects nor to geometry. I other words, I gave it a purely negative definition, leaving it open for almost everything else.

I think that what distinguishes abstract expressionism from other abstract art, say like that of [Piet] Mondrian’s, is simply its rejection of geometric patterning—that it looks for a freer kind of form then geometry gives to it. So my definition is a kind of negative one, but I think it’s also additive. To say what it is would limit it. I would like to define any art so that it just suits me. Other people might want to do something else with it.

Is there a reason that abstract expressionism happened in the United States and not Europe?

I believe that it is. It’s a very complex thing to answer. I think there are other reasons for it in the United States, especially the free form quality of it. There are more reasons for its development here, than in Europe. It has a history that’s very difficult for me to go into because to go into to make scene of it it’s so extensive. It’s so large. I think something happened to painting here after the WPA, after that spirit of leftist excitement and communist excitement in the 30’s, after social realist, after the experience with surrealism, after the experience with the futurists—there are all these movements that started after the experience of Dada.

There was a moment here when the artists didn’t want anything they knew. There was a rejection of known form, and this was a very critical moment because the artists suddenly felt sophisticated. Suddenly we had now known cubism, we had known the futurists, we had known the Dadaists, and we had also begun to know the people involved in it.

At first they only knew the reproductions. It is always a peculiar situation when you know reproductions of paintings and not the painters. Then they knew the pictures a little bit, and then they even got to know some of the people, and once they got to know the people they got to know some of the ideas they were cooking around with.

And then suddenly, we felt as if you just didn’t want to have any ideas. You didn’t want to share this business at all. You wanted to be free from the whole thing, and I think that then people were beginning to search around for some form—not because they wanted to be new—but we wanted to be released, not from the formal aspect of other paintings, but from the ideas around these things.

Even a year ago when I read [Jean] Cocteau’s journal, and he makes references to the early period of cubism; it was very interesting, but suddenly, I felt that’s the reason I couldn’t be in it! The more I admired what he had to say about it, the more I felt the real reason I couldn’t be a cubist. I just wasn’t in it!

It has been said that abstract expressionism was politically safer?

Abstract expressionism was politically safer? Politically safer from whom?!!!

McCarthyism… I don’t know.

No! It was just the opposite! If you want to know that truth. Because the artist, as it came up out of the Depression, had other loyalties; had other fears. They placed the disapproval of their communist friends and associates. In a sense, abstract expressionism first started perhaps slightly as a protest of the project and the associations on the project, a kind of desire to free themselves from the project days. It was just the opposite. To politically safe was at one time the other side of the one you mean.

I’ll tell you as I remember it: it was the other way around. It was politically unsafe to be conservative. Not that I say that abstract expressionism is necessarily conservative.

You see, the development of art is never without reference, never purely an individual thing. Don’t misunderstand. No one takes the place of the great artist, no one replaces his role, but even the greatest genius does not live outside of a society and of the currents that agitate, and art primarily reacts very sensitively to cultural movements.

For instance, all the social movements in Europe, whether they are right or left, are always directed against the middle class—against the bourgeoisie. All art is offered as an art with the utmost contempt for the middle class. Either you spit on the middle class from an aristocratic point, or you spit on the middle class from the point of the proletariat. Every movement arises this way.

For instance, it is interesting if you read the literature how cubism came up as a program against impressionism. It was the cubists who made us hate impressionism. As long as the cubists had any authority in art, you could not admit to liking an impressionist painter. The word impressionist was the worst word you could use against a painter! To be called an impressionist was enough to kill you. I knew this because I grew up with this. You had to guard yourself against being seen as an impressionist.

As a matter of fact, some people have not yet liberated themselves from this. I was reading Hunter’s book, Art Since 1945. He makes a terrific effort to defend [Philip] Guston, whom he wants to build up, to defend Guston from the possible suspicion that he might be an impressionist, and on the other hand, because he wants to put me down a little bit, he says that that impressionism fits me better.

This movement against impressionism was primarily an aristocratic attitude. If you notice, impressionist art was a very comfortable art by people who felt very comfortable in their society. The attack against impressionism happened because, from an aristocratic point of view, impressionism has all the bourgeois virtues. They were not attacking it for bourgeois vices; they were attacking it for bourgeois virtues.

The strange thing in America was that these attitudes were a little bit mixed up. It was difficult to adopt an outwardly aristocratic attitude about art because the people who carried it out of Europe were either the decadent sons of aristocrats or the decadent sons of bourgeoisie who wanted to act like the decadent sons of aristocrats. It wasn’t a question of how you felt about it. I want quite sure how I felt about it. All I knew was that I couldn’t feel very genuinely because I was no such aristocrat.

I think that the abstract painting in this country reflected how it was suddenly difficult to associate yourself with certain movements by long distance. At first I would say it was simply negative; it discarded attitudes that didn’t fit comfortably. Afterwards, I think that there were more positive aspects, but those take a little longer to reveal themselves.

The first things I notice about any art movement is that it is pretty clear about what it is against. It takes some time before we realize what it is for. For instance, in the case of the impressionists, we knew that they were against the church painters and what they called “Italian” painting and “Italian” ways of organizing a picture, but it was a long time before we realized that it was a postponed reaction to the French Revolution. When David thought he was a revolutionary he was really an aristocrat, but it was the impressionists who finally acted and painted like citizens.

Would you say that the Industrial Revolution was also an effect on this new thing?

In detail, I really don’t know because an artist doesn’t sit down and think out these things. I’m really talking not as an artist, but as an observer in the same field. I don’t think an artist thinks these things out deliberately. All I know is that art always reacts to certain forces.

I think a great problem in this country is the cultural immaturity of so many people, especially the minute you leave any urban center. There is a terrible cultural innocence that is now a real danger to us because it’s not only in art; it’s in politics; it’s in religion; it’s in morals; its in everything else. The most typical American—the one who is praised as “typically” American—is still a kind of pie-eating know-nothing, and this is the great danger in our country, and this is one of the things towards which art is reacting in one way or another. It is reacting against this kind of cultural innocence that you have in this country. I’ve been going around the country myself now, and believe me, it’s a problem.

Does this imply that the moment abstract expressionism is accepted it will be superseded?

Of course! Why shouldn’t it be superseded? It would be very a unhealthy situation in art if it wasn’t.

But superseded in what way? The hope is that it will be superseded by non-abstract art. That, I think, is not so. I think it will be superseded by some other form of abstract art. If the idea is that you want an art that is going to be more comfortable for everybody, then I think we need a more uncomfortable art.

I was wondering whether a lot of the things we now see it urban centers that don’t exist in nature—new shapes, new forms, certain kinds of light and colors that were not here 45 or 50 years ago…

I imagine that everything we see leaves its mark some place. I’d rather think that in America free painting came as an assertion of more organic life. It’s not the assertion or the claims of the machine. Not because we are against the machine, but simply because we have those claims already well established. And in this country we need claims and assertions of other kinds of life than mechanical life. Maybe that’s part of the reason why there was so much protest against over-organized geometric form—not necessarily a good protest—but I think it existed.

Do you care if people understand your painting or not?

Understand in what sense? Of course, all paintings should communicate. If anybody likes your picture, you’ve reached that person; you’ve communicated to that person. My problem is with the word understanding. Again, I must fall back on music. What do I understand by a piece of music? The understanding, to begin with, is not a verbal understanding. We have made communication so much a matter of verbal communication that every time the appeal is a nonverbal one, the cry is always “you have not communicated.” Where does that leave us? How does architecture communicate? How does a table communicate? There’s a whole world of nonverbal experience to which painting belongs that does not communicate in the way in which words do. Now, even the poets resent that; even the poets say they don’t want to communicate in words in that sense which you mean.

Do you feel that you are communicating through the universal masses?

I think that if three people like your painting you have enough evidence that you have communicated. If I stand in front of something and say, “I see a camel,” and you say, “of course, I see a camel too,” that’s enough! It takes only one other person to communicate with.

A lot of people just pretend to know about abstract painting…

Why bother about those people who pretend? What can we do?

I think that in the field of aesthetics, we each know that you have to like what you genuinely like. When you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Sometimes you have to wait until you like it. Sometimes you have to live with a picture before you learn you don’t like it.

You talk about cultural innocence in this country. If the people are so low, do you really want to paint for them?

The people are not so low. Actually, there’s a very large audience in this country. My impression is that there is an enormous creative energy in this country in painting and in other fields to. You would be surprised at how much good painting is going on all over the country and how much work is being done in other fields, especially now in music. There is a great deal of composing being done and marvelous performances wherever you go.

It’s a strange thing. There is a terrific development in creative work but not an equal development in the audience, and I think it’s due to the fact that very little art gets through directly to the people. They are all the interpreters, and there all these mass media that speak for the art. There’s Life [Magazine] telling people what art is about. There is the radio, the critics and the television. Everybody is in on the act now—teachers, the art historians—but there is very little direct contact. The people always want to be instructed. They’re being instructed badly. Do you know what I mean? All these interpreters are doing a terrible job.

I was recently at an art forum in Milwaukee. There was a poet, Charlie [John Ciardi], a composer, [Alvin] Etler and myself.[i] To 90% of the audience, the idea of art simply meant, “What kind of picture shall we hang in the house?” The idea that art should have a wider scope of ideas than this didn’t occur to them. They thought it was just a simple matter. The question of what kind of life was flowing through this art didn’t even occur to them. The question was new to them.

You made a reference to the fact that in our country outside of the cultural centers the people are very backward. Do you really have evidence that it’s better in other parts of the world?

No! No! As a matter of fact that as nothing to do with this situation. I think we have an opportunity here. I don’t think it’s better elsewhere. You see the attitude in Europe and in many other places is quite different. For instance, in France, no one cared how many people there are like this because they had not been taken into consideration culturally at all. There was a peasant class, and there was a class that were the guardians of culture and the users of it. It made very little difference what a peasant thought about art. Then we started going by the premise that everybody is entitled to an education, and I’m all for it, that everybody is entitled to be in on what in many countries is a class thing. I’m all for it; I think it’s a good idea.

Do you feel that good painting is being done today in other countries that has grown out of this kind of educational back ground you are talking about?

I really don’t know what to say about this. The universities and the university art department are very often like islands in theses places. A lot of talent flows in towards universities in music, in art, in poetry and in writing. Sometimes spending a month or so on a university campus is very interesting from that point of view, and the universities have some very good art departments, and I think a student gets a lot out of that. Now, would you call that an academic background? I really don’t know. It’s simply where he can come into contact with music and art and such. It doesn’t necessarily make him an artist; it doesn’t do him any harm.

I think that if you are lucky enough to have a good teacher you can save an awful lot of wear and tear and an awful lot of time. But the most important thing often, some times, is not so much the teachers you encounter but other students that you work with. To work for a little while in a group is a marvelous idea. You see yourself against other people.

I think that if I were to run a school I think that this contact between students is the thing that should be emphasized because it’s very genuine. That’s the very genuine thing about it. You see yourself in relief against other students. Students are talking to each other. That’s a terrific thing, and in essence this is what the artists do afterwards when they start exhibiting. They’re doing the same thing. Before you start exhibiting and having a professional life as an artist, living that way with students is a very dynamic thing.

I never underestimate the drive, the force or the intelligence of a student who wants to go off by himself. I think that’s a terrific thing.

Also, when it comes to studying art, I don’t think there is a beginning place. I know that there is something you must begin with, like the courses, Art #1 or Art #2, Art #3. I don’t think that there is any beginning. I think that you can come in at any point, anywhere. So that If a student wants to work in an undisciplined way, trying everything, ignoring all the rules, ignoring all the background, well why not? If he learns something that way, good. If he comes to grief and find it did nothing that’s good too. What can happen? Nothing is lost.

Sooner or later, a serious student finds out what he needs, and he finds the sources to get it. Sooner or later he becomes a student, a serious student. Now I don’t know when, you know. Sometimes, you begin with the idea you can do it all yourself. Alright Try. Find out. Sooner or later you find where you must go and look, whom to ask advice and whom to ask the question.

The idea of academic training in the sense of “first we do this, and then we do this, and then we progress to that,” I think has been proved to be not so hot frankly.

I don’t care whether you first start painting abstractly and then draw the figure or first draw the figure and then start painting abstractly or whether you miss one or the other. In each case, if you’re a serious student you will find your teacher, you will find your friends and you will find your way of painting, and if you’re not a serious student all the other things will only help you find out that perhaps you’re in the wrong profession.

Can you say that Abstract art is individualism. It could be considered personal?

I would like to say yes, only I’m afraid that it means that it has no other meaning except some kind of obscure personal meaning, and that is not true. You can’t act any way in a society that does not have a real meaning beyond individual meaning, regardless of what your own intention is.

Might this be because your art is open and flexible?

What kind of art isn’t open and flexible and finally decided by the individual? In this sense, it’s the actual making of the picture. What isn’t flexible? What isn’t open?

I’m saying art in general…

There is a problem. If you lived in a society that was closed for a thousand years, that was not invaded by any other kind of influences, that was well established and organized, such a society like Ancient Egypt or China, art can last for maybe a thousand years maybe and have a certain kind of organized form where you teach and receive and so forth—a traditional art in other words. We live in a world where every society is invaded. Every group is open. Every idea is subject to attack.

In other words, Don’t forget there must have been a society that never knew that any other society existed besides their own. And they were also related by blood. They were like a school of fish. Now, we are a society that is everywhere. Everywhere. You are invaded; you are open. In such a society, to speak of an art in the same sense as it was for Egypt for thousands of years, just to take a most extreme example, is impossible. In such a society, art is almost a totally different thing.

When you are painting abstractly do you purposely avoid objects? Are you painting from your subconscious?

I see, you want me to tell you how I paint?!!!

Some people listening to music also get certain kinds of pictorial ideas from it too. It’s possible.

Within the painting, do you ever refer to an object?

Well I myself have very often. In my early upbringing as an artist there was quite a struggle for me to get on. I always loved the idea of making pictures without reference to objects, but it was very hard for me to do this, and I think has been only four or five years that I’ve made some pictures that are really without reference to objects, and I’m still struggling in that direction. I don’t know really how to answer your question. The picture is neither better nor worse in some way because it does or does not refer to objects. If it does refer to a figure or to a landscape it doesn’t make it neither better nor worse. I don’t know how to answer this.

Are you free of this, are you free of objects?
I think today I am, and I would like to be more and more free of it. That’s my concern; that’s my problem. I could have just the opposite concern. I mean, I set myself this problem: to be free of objects.

Did you develop into this way of thinking, of working, I mean you work from models don’t you?

When I paint I don’t really paint from objects. Now that is absolute. I don’t have any objects in mind.

There is a painting you have titled Pink Mississippi. Does it specifically reference the river? Do you classify this as abstract expressionism? How would you classify this painting?

I’ll leave the classification to someone else. [Sam] Hunter says it’s abstract impressionism! I don’t care, but I call it Pink Mississippi because I painted it in Mississippi.

That is my question, why did you title it that?

I just happen to be there.

But you didn’t refer to the river purposefully…

No, no.

What do you think there is the function of an art school in an abstract expressionist world?

I think there is an enormous amount to be learned about painting just the same. If I looked at a Cézanne from a Sainte-Victorie period it isn’t how to paint the mountain that impresses me. It is just the painting that impresses me, and to learn to paint like that—well, it took Cézanne a lifetime to learn to paint, a lifetime of ideas about painting, about color, about form. All this is still left to be learned to paint, and it doesn’t make any difference whether you paint realistically or abstractly. If you’re a new painter, one can tell instantly. If you painted only one or two years one can tell very quickly. So there is still a lot to be learned in painting, regardless of whether you paint realistically or abstractly. There is still everything to be learned about painting.

So what is the purpose of teaching?

A kind of communication between teacher and student, a teacher participating somehow in the experience of the student, being able to gauge something of his intention and helping him in some way…

I don’t know, it’s hard for me to answer. I think I’ve been a fairly successful teacher. I haven’t necessarily taught abstract painting. In fact, I never set out to teach any particular kind of painting, but if you ask me what I teach, honestly, I wouldn’t know in detail what I teach. I actually don’t know what to teach until I see the painting of a student. Until there is a painting, I don’t know what to say about it.

How does an artist know when a painting is finished?

The artist himself by living with it long enough. You put something on the canvas, and then that dictates the next thing, and then you live with it, and you like it, or you reject it, and you change it, or you restore it, and after a while you think that’s the image you want to live with. That’s the thing you want to leave on the canvas, or you destroy the canvas.

I can only bare witness that there is! I can’t tell you exactly how because I don’t know how to answer that. Why is that such a big surprise? Why the insistence on this question? I ask the other art… ask the same question… how do you do in the other art? Why do you ask it of a painter? Where’s the connection with the human spirit in a purely abstract organization of sounds in a Bach cantata or a Bach fugue? Tell me what it is? You know it was a religious thing because it was made for the church. If my picture hung in a church, would you say that? Would you say that that was enough? How do you know from just listening? What is it that you’re moved by it, and that’s all you know. I am moved by painting

Distinction between Bach and Mozart?

You’re talking about something as abstract as music, and you’re making distinctions. How do you know? It reaches you in some way, and you make a distinction, but I make no distinction in painting too. Don’t you think there is a great deal of distance in an abstract painting by Mondrian and an abstract painting by Klee. How do you know? What informs you there?

What makes one painting soft and another painting hard? What makes one painting… Of all the million qualities you get out of painting—out of just a brush stroke sometimes—how do we know?

Can you talk about attention to human spirit begin conveyed in art? What kind of responsibility do you feel in art?

I ask the same question to a man who paints still lifes or a man who paints landscapes. What makes one dramatic, full of tension and urgency and what makes another make you feel limp and uninterested?

Like in Klee and Mondrian…

But how do you know that? You’re using words. How do you know? What do you read from? When you look at these pictures, how do you read them? In the end, you read these things from the painting. How come when two painters both paint the same girl in the same school with the same approaches one is interesting, and the other is not? I’m assuming both know how to draw and how to paint…

One thing is sure: you could make no distinction between Bach and another musician if not enough time had elapsed to assimilate their form sufficiently to be able to make a distinction. Today, we can tell Bach from Mozart very easily, that is if you are listening to music. Some people who don’t listen to music can’t make the distinction anyway. To begin with, it means a lot of listening, and, in painting, a lot of looking.

Also, I think that if we know only one painting we would have absolutely no idea whatever. We oversee one painting against the whole society of painting, the whole group of painting, and then we begin to make distinctions. We begin to sense what painter wants to say what and what means he uses. We see that one painter wants to make a very quiet, serene and withdrawn picture, and another painter wants to thunder and push you around. We get all this from the work, but we get it because we see a lot of painting and begin to make distinctions.

The only think that can say further, without question, I feel that a good abstract painter is as much connected, as you say, with the human spirit as any other painter. I don’t see any reason why not. Unless you want to go on the theory that it is impossible to make art without reference to objects in nature, and that I would deny on the basis of my experience and my emotions.


[i] Tworkov participated in a panel discussion on the campus of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on July 13, 1960. The panel included Poet John Ciardi (1916-1986) and composer Alvin Etler (1913-1973) and coincided with an exhibition of eighteen drawings by Tworkov held in the student union. See: Donald Key. “Tworkov Says US Gave New Freedom to Art,” The Milwaukee Journal, July 3, 1960.


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