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Painter’s Word

Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley and Ad Reinhardt as Writers


Edyta Frelik

This book adds a new perspective to the study of American art by reclaiming underrated writings of three 20 th -century masters, Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley and Ad Reinhardt. Their rich and diverse literary output was never before studied methodically in and beyond the context of their painting. The book’s first part sets the necessary framework for discussing their texts by outlining the long history of debates about inter-art analogies and rivalries. Through systematic close reading of Benton’s, Hartley’s and Reinhardt’s writings the study reveals novel and unique juxtapositions of visual and verbal elements at work which are present in both their paintings and writings and confirms the existence of a strong link between their painterly and writerly dispositions.
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3. They Wrote As They Painted


Among the unexplored and uninhabited regions in this space is a relatively small but fertile territory occupied by works which are the product of literary endeavors by established visual artists. When twenty-nine years ago Marcia Tucker observed in “Director’s Foreword” to Blasted Allegories that “in recent years, artists’ texts have taken their place alongside visual works as a separate and equally viable medium,”90 it seemed that the existence of this area of “contact” between the visual and the verbal was officially acknowledged as a relevant aspect of the “sister arts” discourse. The truth is, however, that among artists’ written texts it is mostly those which have an identifiably theoretical or critical character that make it into academic curricula, mainly in art history departments. Without much consideration, their value as literature is usually disregarded and they are classified, at best, as merely supplementary material that can be useful in explaining artists’ aesthetic views and artistic practice. Thus, manifestos, catalogue statements, and pedagogic writings are relevant sources inasmuch as they shed light on the artist’s visual works, additionally revealing his ability to express his ideas verbally as well as being a master craftsman when working within his primary artistic medium. From this perspective, the expressive medium and form are of secondary interest, especially given that art scholars are not equipped with the tools necessary for analyzing literary output. Literary critics, who are qualified to do so, rarely take serious interest in such endeavors, assuming that even their authors consider...

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