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jtucker's picture

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Have you ever heard someone say, “my kid could have done that” when referring to a painting like this one by Clyfford Still and been pissed off?

Yeah, me too. As annoying as these pretentious parents may be, it's true that modern art can leave folks feeling confused and defensive. That really is the cornerstone of the ostentatious high-class art world after all, the desire of a group of people to feel intellectually superior to others. But you're in luck. You're on Sartle. Now you, too, can be intellectually superior!

This snobbery never rang more true than in the 1950s. The birth of the  paintings that seem to irritate so many came at the fingertips of the raucous and raunchy abstract expressionists. Besides drinking, womanizing, and being super manly, the abstract expressionists felt that art needed to marry the unconscious with self-expression. Artists like Still, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko were not thinking when making art but feeling. So if you are one of those aforementioned parents, you're basically saying that your kid can create art that reflects a lifetime of alcohol abuse and anger management issues. Next time I hear that I'll ask, "What kind of parent are you??"

Not to hate on those who are confused though, these paintings can be tricky to grasp at face value. A better understanding of the artist themselves is often necessary to fully embrace the beauty of their work. Still was definitely a pessimist. He saw the world as on the brink of technological breakthrough resulting in a deteriorating modern society. He felt that the human spirit was in conflict with nature, and it troubled him deeply. Coming from a world of Tindr dates and poop emoji, I can't say that he was wrong.  

But good ol’ Still tends to not catch as much flack as the other guys, and maybe that's because paintings feeling more painterly. Still was one of the first color field artists, which means he loved color for the sake of color. But his jagged blocks of paint were not random, but rather expressed his angst-filled outlook on life. When referring to his art, Still once said, “These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union.” See what I mean about Still being a bit of a downer? I still love this painting though, perhaps for its gargantuan size (9.5ft x 13ft) and its saturated color. This painting feels like a living beast that kids best watch their back around.