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Originally published in the catalogue for the exhibition "The New Decade"
The Whitney Museum of American Art
"I adopted the term Pictograph for my paintings out of a feeling of disdain for the accepted notions of what a painting should be. This was in 1941.
I decided that to acquiesce in the prevailing conception of what constituted 'good painting' meant the acceptance of an academic strait-jacket. It was therefore necessary for me to utterly repudiate so-called 'good painting' in order to be free to express what was visually true for me. My Pictographs have been linked with totem-poles, Indian writing, psychoanalysis, neo-primitivism, private symbolism, etc., the implication being that my work is not quite what painting should be. This has never disturbed me because my aim has always been to project images that seem vital to me, never to make paintings that conform to the pattern of an external standard.
Now in 1955, as in the early 40’s and before, I am still concerned with the problem of projecting intangible and elusive images that seem to me to have meaning in terms of feeling. The important thing is to transfer the image to the canvas as it appears to me, without distortion. To modify the image would be to falsify it; therefore I must accept it as it is. My criterion is the integrity of the projection.
I frequently hear the question 'What do these images mean?' This is simply the wrong question. Visual images do not have to conform to either verbal thinking or optical facts. A better question would be “Do these images convey any emotional truth” This, of course, indicates my belief that art should communicate. However, I have no desire to communicate with everyone, only with those whose thoughts and feelings are related to my own.
That is why even to some pundits, my paintings seem cryptic. Thus when we are solemnly advised to consolidate our gains, to be humanists or to go back to nature, who listens seriously to this whistling in the dark? Painting values are not just black and white – I prefer innocent impurity to doctrinaire purism, but I prefer the no-content of purism to the shoddy content of social realism.
Paint quality is meaningless if it does not express quality of feeling. The idea that a painting is merely an arrangement of lines, colors and forms is boring. Subjective images do not have to have rational association, but the act of painting must be rational, objective and consciously disciplined.
I consider myself a traditionalist, but I believe in the spirit of tradition, not in the restatement of restatements. I love all paintings that look the way I feel."