A. B. Meadows

In defense of minimalism as one of several ways to approach the world inside and outside of us, through painting

Matter impacts mind. Proportions are felt, colors sensed and relations between colors, too. Light waves travel and reach the retina –  reaching the seeing hearing smelling body. Frequencies translate into something inside: should I call it “vibrations”?  It is not purely metaphoric to speak of the “tone” of a color – the inaudible “sound” it emits, the melody and rhythm of a visual work of art, its “music,” its harmony or dissonance. This also brings to mind that there is something that people call synaesthesia  – a word derived from the Classical Greek concept synaistesis, that refers to the capability to “perceive jointly” different phenomena that seem to belong to separate categories of the world, and that are normally registered by different and distinct senses. Yes, our senses refer us to a world – the world of touch smell sight that links with and feeds our inner world of dreams and thoughts and emotions, our states of mind, reaching from agitation to grief or joy, or simply tranquility. 

We all know  that dissonance can be fresh and creative, awakening something in us, like a loud cry for help, an alarming (“all'armi” or: “aux armes”) call, a painful shriek or surprised shout.

But does harmony or balance put us to sleep? And if so, can that state, close to sleep perhaps, that peaceful state of mind, can calmness and an equilibrium that is reached again, have a healing effect?

There are works of art, abstract, often monochrome works that we have come to refer to as “minimalist” which often have such a tranquile, almost meditative effect.(1) 

     Malevich, Black Square (1915)

Whether purely black in the way of a monochrome painting, like Malevich's “Black Square” (1915), a strictly minimalist achievement avant la lettre, or  exploring the effect of a rectangular white space placed on a white canvas and their minimal differences in tone, as in  Malevichs's “Suprematist Composition: White on White” (1918), minimalist works reduce our mental attachment and reference to ideas not related to the work of art in front of us.(2) And they are thus likely to “bracket” or suspend – at least for the moment, under the condition of intense yet calm and concentrated confrontation with the work –  our involvement in thoughts and emotions that might otherwise preoccupy us, and our focus on physical things and social relationships (thus class relations) that exist around us.(3)  What remains in the center of our attention is the work of art made by the painter: its material way of “being there” – as some say; its unnamable,  elusive, perhaps mysterious “essence,” as others maintain.

Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White onWhite (1918)

Such interpretations, which highlight either the material aspect or the essence of minimalist art, are still being offered post festum, after works like those by Malevich I mentioned above were  created and then put squarely in front of the nose of the audience. The first view, which concentrates on the concrete, clearly describable facets of the work, its “object character,” implies a materialist approach; the second that evokes the “spiritual in art” reflect the idealist position vis-à-vis the work, a position not uncommon among artists and art critics.(4)

The fact that both interpretations can appear to us as plausible should let us explore this coincidence. The black painting is there; of course we will notice its size, the particular black of the surface, the texture of the canvas. We may even note the way light is reflected, depending on how the work is exposed to it.  Focusing in this way on the material quality of the object is not a gratuitous act; the seeming absence of a “narration,” of “content,” of conventional “referentiality” directs us to form, structure, color, the material per se. 

But then, of course, by way of excluding “the expected” – that is to say: exactly that which was acknowledged as an accepted approach of “serious art” in 1915 – a work like the “Black Square” incorporates in fact an implicit reference: to the expectations it disappoints and the tenets inscribed in the dominant canon that it breaks with. For Viktor Šklovskij, such disappointment of the expected, such a break with the tenets of a canon that would, of necessity, become “automatized,” was a prerequisite for genuine aesthetic perception.(5)In order to perceive the break with artistic norms and in order to understand this, while we confront a work like Malevich's “Black Square,” we have to do more than to smell, to perhaps feel the texture (with our eyes) and to touch the frame, to lift up the framed canvas and feel its weight. We have to construct a context in our mind, we must think.

To think about aesthetic conventions and about the fact that they are being challenged by a work, and even to feel the un-expected (if we are too unaware of art traditions and the changing canon), evolves our mind, thus the “spirit” – as some of us will prefer to call it. 

Book cover of a recent French edition of Kandinsky's
Ueber das Geistige in der Kunst.(6) 

Is it then the spiritual that “touches” us (as some say) while we see the work of art?  Is it impossible to separate our material sense perception of the material work of art – a work of art that apparently refuses to carry any (explicit) “content” and that insists on being a pure object –  from our ability to feel and dream and think? 

The spiritual “touch” that some speak of may well be the “immaterial” way we are moved by feelings and thoughts and words that form in our mind, which in turn reflect a history of thoughts and ideas, of discourses and utterances which relate, in one way or other, to the  observations, conclusions, or merely the expressed “feelings” of Others. 
If this is so, we can conclude perhaps that the process of culture we are in touch with and part of (being influenced by it, and participating in it) is, in fact, the non-metaphysical realm of the “spiritual.” Without doubt, this “spiritual realm” exists – as a product of a material world, a society inhabited by material women and men. And it is just as true that this flesh that breathes and feels and thinks, cannot be reduced to mechanics, to chemistry, to anything that is “reductionist” about the positivist natural sciences.(7) 

Positivist researchers focused on an “exact” scientific understanding of dreams, taken here as a pars pro toto that represents the subconscious imaginaire, have measured REM phases and their relationship to the frequency or absence of dreams; they have also been involved in mechanist brain research, in neurolinguistics, etc. – but they do not explain the magic experience of dreams, nor do they explain the creative act as such, and the existence of our sense of beauty. Freud was closer to an understanding of both dreams and the roots of art when he attempted his own materialist interpretation, referring us, in the case of dreams, to the childhood experiences suffered in the real world; but his approach focused on the family situation, not society at large, and it remained thus of restricted validity. As for the “motor” of art, he saw it in what he called the Wunsch (désir), drawing parallels between Traumarbeit (« travail du rêve ») and artistic creation. But it seems that the creative impulse and potential of man, linked as it may be to le désir, seems to transcend the sexual, in the narrow sense, and can be interpreted as that impulse in man that is aiming at what Ernst Bloch called the “Noch nicht” (the “Not yet”) or the subconsciously envisaged and longed for liberated future of man when alienation is overcome.(8) 

As Robert Paris has pointed out, materialist and idealists world views do not confront each other in a sort of diametrical opposition but dialectically:  “they need each each other in order to progress by battling each other.”(9)He added that “the interpenetration of matter and ideas is a simple everyday experience.(10) 

It is interesting that Paul Klee, who tended to accentuate metaphysical interpretations like other artists of his time, has shown a good sense of a particular kind of interpenetration of (what is usually considered to be) dead, inanimated “matter” and such potentialities as sense perception that clearly belong to the sphere of the “animated.” He did so, spontaneously, when he was confronted with a certain technological invention. At least, he came close to a position anticipated theoretically (or philosophically) by Aristotle when, reflecting on the recently invented phonograph, he exclaimed that “Matter hears!” This reveals an intuitive insight into a metaphorical “animatedness” of matter, something that would correlate with the monistic interpretation of man as animated human body, matter that breathes and dreams –  its  “soul” being,  as Aristotle had it,  “the form” or in other words, using a synonymous philosophical category, “a quality” of the body.(11) 

In such moment of awareness as Paul Klee revealed, “idealistic” metaphysics turns spontaneously “materialist,” confirming the dialectical relationship between the two “visions du monde.”

Like Paul Klee, Malevich undoubtedly sought to buttress his idealist, metaphysical world view when he created paintings that were object art, three-dimensional due to the frame, but above all: canvas, structure, texture, color, weight, size – devoid of manifest emotional and intellectual content. The spiritual impulse found a material objectivation that became very radical in its aesthetic formulation. 


Two of Rodchenko's monochromes

Devoid of the ideas that provided the frame of reference for these early prototypes of what would become, or resurface, as Minimalism after World War II, in so far as the original ideological position of the painter of the “Black Square” was being contradicted by an opposing one, Rodchenko scrapped the interpenetration of Malevich's “union of opposites” (pure object and pure essence) and produced, with polemical intent, canvases that where, in the last analysis, mechanically reproducable monochromes.(12)That these works, too, were seen and must still be seen as art works, is due to the fact that they embody an undeniable beauty, a sensitive use of color and proportion. And it is perhaps also related to the further fact that they were still hand-made painted works –  a fact that according to Walter Benjamin may contribute to their aura.(13)

Looking back at the predecessors of “minimalist” post-war art, the question arises of course whether their radicalism can still be heightened, and whether anything was and still is left for further exploration by today's artists, in that direction chosen so obviously by Malevich – or in the direction opposed to Malevich's direction that Rodchenko opted for. It is clear that these two painters refuted, in the works here referred to, the sensual richness and the representational character that critics and the public cherished in prior European art. 

Looking at Rauschenbergs panels of the 1950s, the explorative progress made is clear: it consists in exactly the serial quality introduced, by the combination of seven panels, or of three or four panels, into one work.(14) Just as most pop artists did in the 60s, very much in their own way, the “mechanical” quality of seriality is being playfully subverted. A “low” process (of combinatory, serial work, as in a factory) is lifted onto the “high” level of art. Referring to Šklovskij again, we may point out that this adoption of the seemingly banal, in the context of the creative process, is a mark of 20th century experimental or avant-garde art.(15) 

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (three panel),  1951; latex paint on canvas, 72 in. x 108 in. (182.88 cm x 274.32 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Rauschenberg created a number if "white paintings" and "black paintings" in the early 1950s.(16) It is noteworthy that he made no attempt to invoke the “spiritual” quality of his art, as the abstract artist, Klee, and the Suprematist artist, Malevich, had done. But neither did he retain the revolutionary left-wing fervour of a Constructivist artist like Rodchenko, or the almost pathetic incantation of “the miraculous,” cherished by many surrealists.(17) He was not even “tongue-in-cheek” – like Fluxus artists might have been – when he added 7 white, Rodchenko-like panels (or panels similar in painterly approach and execution, to Malevich's “Black Square”) in order to serially construct one large, longish rectangle.(18) 

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (Seven Panel), 1951. 
Oil on canvas, 72 x 125 x 1 1/2 inches. Collection of the artist. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

It was pure, matter-of-fact craftsmanship: no denial involved that “art was dead.” On the contrary, it was purely affirmative: It said, look this is art. He didn't say, “Even this is art.”  He was gripped by the feeling that he had created something that would be noted.(19)  And the way he presented the work in New York, it practically amounted to saying something like, “This is advanced art. I made a step ahead. A big step ahead. And I contradicted by it all those competitors who vy for attention and who are getting too much – de Kooning and all the other abstract expressionists who crave to 'express themselves.'”(20)  It was clear that he was influenced by Joseph Albers and his, Albers', insistence that making art was a craft, it implied solid work, a sense of color, experimentation – but it did not imply self-expression.(21) Rauschenberg discarded the first part of Albers' tenet.(22) And he took the second part seriously and perhaps overdid it, in the way of a cool North American businessman who is not interested in self-expression when he lands a public relations coup.(23) If one thing is clear it is that there was no ideological underpinning of the step ahead he had made, in the form of Malevich-type “mysticism” or spirituality.(24)
But there was research involved. That easy-coming, intuitive kind of research that let him make this step ahead of combining the panels, and making the viewer aware, not only of the texture of the canvas, and the brush strokes by which he had applied the white house paint color, but also of the frames and thus the panels, and of the small gaps where the panels were joined together.

It underlined the object quality, the “materiality” of the work.

Today, when I encounter “minimalist” works, I still know that Malevich, in 1915 (or was it 1914, or 1913? –  when he painted the Black  Square that he exhibited in 1915) made a big and a radical step ahead in the direction in which he wanted to go. He made that step regardless of whether we think that it was a sound or a questionable direction.  The works by Clifford Still, by Rauschenberg and so on, in the late 1940s and early 50s in a way repeated that step, and if they achieved much, in terms of fresh exploration, they shifted the frontier a little bit further into unexplored territory. It is difficult to top radical positions that posit the total negation of something. There is hardly a point to compose another work featuring silence, after Cage's 4'33'' of SILENCE.(25) 

I have gone back to Malevich and Rodchenko because I consider works like the Black Square, painted by the former in (or shortly before) 1915 and the monochromes that the latter did in the 1920s as not only precursors of minimalism but early minimalist works. This diminishes of course, to some extent, the reputed novelty of Yves Klein's blue monochromes or Rauschenberg's White Paintings.(26)  When the anonymous author who wrote a brief introduction for the Rauschenberg exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum extolls Rauschenberg's avant-gardist role by saying that this artist “can be seen as presaging Minimalism by a decade,” we do well, in other words, to see to what extent he repeated something that others had done before him –  but also, to what extent he introduced a new aspect, that is,  seriality.(27)

Barnett Newman, Eve (1950)

Thus, with the reputed novelty of Rauschenberg's choice to create paintings by “minimising the subject” in 1950, the avant-garde aura of the Minimalism of the 1960s is put in question, as well. The old problem resurfaces: what is totally new, under the sun? This of course would be an ahistoric way of putting it. The whiteness, thus void, in Classical Chinese landscape paintings has a different philosophic significance and is inserted into an aesthetic strategy that is different from that of either Malevich or Rauschenberg or that of minimalists like Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman who produced, if not white paintings, then –  more generally speaking – monochrome squares and rectangles that left a mark in recent Western art history.(28) Perhaps we are to obsessed with the idea of innovation and absolute novelty, and should instead watch out for what is specific, in a work of art. What we come across is not always asethetically radical, whether we refer to minimalist works or works that critics place in other contexts. 

And yet, seeing minimalist works that artists create today, I love to discover the minute qualities that they manifest, I look for and explore their particular beauty. Perhaps such works educate us –  helping us to look more patiently, more concentratedly, more closely.

It was Šklovskij who, by speaking of the "automatization of perception," made us aware, conceptually, of the decisive difference between true "seeing" that does not simply "confirm" what we think is there and our conventional way of briefly "recognizing" things we think we know –  where the quick glance is a matter of the "economy" of perception in everyday life: after all, there exists a history of how we perceive, there exist engrained mechanisms, and  10,000 years ago a hunter confronting a bear had to grasp the situation very quickly. 

Freshness of seeing matters clearly when we face a work of art. It depends both on the preparedness of the viewer to truly see rather than being content with a quick glance, and on the work that reveals its difference from the expected. 

In the 1950s and 1960s experimental filmmakers in the US, some of them perhaps in the footsteps of Hans Richter, others in those of surrealist filmmakers that came close to the use of superimposition that we love in the works of Brakhage and Markopoulos, revealed their aesthetic intention when they spoke of their desire to "see and make see." It became almost a commonplace among film critics to speak of "new ways of seeing." The affinity to Rauschenberg's early works and later Minimal Art is obvious, in this respect(29) – but also a certain affinity to Malevich. When "metaphors of vision" mattered to Brakhage, the realistic representation of the outside world, by way of the camera eye, receded into the background. Malevich, certainly, sought something beyond the "outside world" – an essence captured in formal patterns and thus in "abstraction." All of these directions of aesthetic research and experimentation were pursued by artists who, on the whole, made no secret of the fact that they were not determined to be create an art that could be called "committed" or "politically involved" in the affairs of society.(30)

It is interesting that Malevich's interest in "essence" (an absolutely idealistic attitude, we have come to believe) was echoed, in a very different way, by the German playwright, thinker and poet Bertolt Brecht. Speaking of realistic representations of a major German industrial corporation, the AEG, with its vast factory in Berlin, Brecht said that the realist who would give us a photographic representation of the "façade of the AEG" would fail to reveal to us "its essence."(31) Because it was clear to him that an understanding of the social and politico-economic essence of the AEG –  and of capitalism –  mattered, Brecht developed a new way of "showing things" on stage. He, too, wanted to provoke "a new way of seeing"  that would let us suspend engrained, stereotyped, superficial ways of "recognizing" again and again what we always thought was there, even if it wasn't, at least not in the way we thought it was.

It was Mondrian, another pioneer of abstraction, who interestingly enough, spoke of the "new man" he envisioned - and this long before the term became a watchword and later on, an automatized, routine slogan in the now defunct USSR. Mondrian said of the "new man" that he hoped the future (and also his art?) would bring about, "When he feels, he thinks - and when he things, he feels."(32) Mondrian recognized the split that devastated modern man, due in part, to the hegemony of "thought" in the wake of Descartes and Newton, and in part due to the specialization that we can attribute to the mode of production that evolved, first in Europe, then globally, in the Modern Age. Like others, Mondrian sought to heal the wound and thought that art could help us to become full, holistic, non-alienated human beings again. Brecht, I think, would have critiqued Mondrian as naive –  but he, too, bet on art, in his case drama and poetry. And he, too, while turning his eyes to the real world, to questions of power and political economy and class relations again, knew full well that the unity of thought and aesthetic perception –  the unity of clear rather than fuzzy, stereotyped thinking  and clear, beautiful, humane emotions that accompany such thinking –  matters intensely. 

Perhaps the art of Malevitch, and Minimal Art, as well – like so much else that is experimental in the arts –  can be understood as prolegomena, as a test phase and preparatory stage, for what is to come, and what we all should hope for and try to achieve: a sensitive art that makes us see, and an art that will not let us close our eyes to what is patently wrong in the world we inhabit.


(1) No wonder that several minimalists came to embrace Zen inspired aesthetics and a Western type of “Buddhism.” This tendency is already foreshadowed in the ideological positions of Malevich who was influenced by G.I. Gurdjieff. As a consequence, “Malevich's contemporaries (the Bolsheviks and the Constructivists, respectively) were not pleased with the underlying spirituality.” (Gabrielle K., “Kasimir Malevich and his "Suprematist Composition:White on White", in: http://culturemob.blogspot.de/2006/12/kasimir-malevich-and-his-suprematist.html.)
It is perhaps interesting to note that Gurdjieff's methodological tendency to deliberately increase the effort needed in order to read and understand his writings was reflected in Malevich's way of writing. See: Anna Muse, "Weaving Texts:  A Note on Malevich's Uses of Language," in: Kazimir Malevich, The White Rectangle: Writings on film. Berlin (Potemkin Press) 2002, pp. 86 -90. The method chosen by both revealed a tendency of  avant-garde art at the time to "make perception difficult" in order to derail automatized perception, that is to say, modes of perception conditioned by routine. This strategy is best reflected, analyzed, and conceptualized in the writings of Šklovskij. See for instance: Viktor Šklovskij, "Die Kunst als Verfahren" [Art as Method or Art as Procedure (1916)], in: Jurij Striedter (ed.), Russischer Formalismus. München (Fink) 1988, pp.3-34. [This imporant text resurfaced later on as the first chapter of  his book Theory of Prose as: Art as Technique (also translated as Art as Device).] It is worthwhile to quote here a key statement from this article: "Wenn wir uns über die allgemeinen Gesetze der Wahrnehmung klarwerden, dann sehen wir, dass Handlungen, wenn man sich an sie gewöhnt hat, automatisch werden. So geraten z. B. alle unsere Angewohnheiten in den Bereich des Unbewusst-Automatischen [...] So kommt das Leben abhanden und verwandelt sich in nichts. Die Automatisierung frisst die Dinge [...] Und gerade, um das Empfinden des Lebens wiederherzustellen, um die Dinge zu fühlen, um den Stein steinern zu machen, existiert das, was man Kunst nennt. Ziel der Kunst ist es, ein Empfinden des Gegenstandes zu vermitteln, als Sehen, und nicht als Wiedererkennen; das Verfahren der Kunst ist das Verfahren der 'Verfremdung' der Dinge und das Verfahren der erschwerten Form, ein Verfahren, das die Schwierigkeit und Länge der Wahrnehmung steigert [...]."  In other words, it is important to make aesthetic perception difficult in order to prompt the viewer to truly see. For Šklovskij, it was important that the viewer should "sense" or "feel" the hard "stonen quality" of a stone, the characteristics of the material. This was achieved by methods and Kunstmittel (art devices) that make our perception more difficult and compel us to take more time in order to see a work of art. Malevich, in his emphasis on the spiritual "meaning" or essence of his abstract compositions, may have disagreed with the prominent accent put on the importance of sensing the material quality of the work of art, however. [I apologize for having recourse to a German translation of Šklovskij's text.]

(2) Margarita Tupitsyn, in her book on Malevich and Film (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press 2002) has reminded us of the long-suspected fairly direct connection between “Malevich's early nonobjective experiments” and “the work of a dizzying array of second-generation postwar artists, including Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Art & Language, Mel Ramdsen, On Kawara, Komar and Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, and Allan McCollum.” (Kent Mitchell Minturn, “Seeing Malevich, Cinematically,” in: Art Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 142.

(3) Kent Mitchell Minturn speaks of “Malevich's Adorno-esque abhorrence of mimesis [...]" (Kent Mitchell Minturn, “Seeing Malevich, Cinematographically,” in: Art Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), p. 143.) 

(4) The idealist interpretation of Malevich's works that is still current was of course pre-figured  in his own writings. It is remarkable that Malevich thought of his canvases that refused mimesis as “non-objective” when they were in fact devoid of content and reduced to bare material presence. Malevich's view that emphasized the spiritual significance of these non-mimetic works  is revealed in his writings edited by Troels Anderson in the 1970s, with later additions offered by more recent editors.

(5)  See the relevant statements in:  Viktor Šklovskij, O teorii prozy. Moskwa 1925; Moskwa (Federacija) 1929; Viktor Šklovskij, Theorie der Prosa (Ed. and transl. by  Gisela Drohla). Frankfurt am Main (S. Fischer Verlag) 1966 [192pp.]; Victor Chlovski, Sur la théorie de la prose. (Trad. du russe par Guy Verret). Lausanne ( L'Age d'homme) 1973 [300pp.]; Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose (transl. by Benjamin Sher, with an introduction by Gerald L. Bruns). Elmwood Park IL (Dalkey Archive Press) 1991 [XXI, 216pp].

(6) See. Wassilij  Kandinsky, Ueber das Geistige in der Kunst, insbesondere in der Malerei. Munich (Piper Verlag) 1912, 5 leaves, 104 pp., 9 plates, and ten original woodcuts. At the time, Kandinsky was influenced somewhat by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of a spiritual doctrine that was inspired both by theosophy and by an idealist reception of popularized "materialist" (and even socialist) ideas. Steiner, who had read (and misunderstood) Marx, focused like many progressive liberals on "the social question" but also - almost as a loner - on a critique of positivist, non-holistic (nicht ganzheitliche) modern medicine. He called his doctrine anthroposophy, because man was to be in its center. That his thinking was attractive to idealist painters was perhaps a result of Steiner's focus on the psychosomatic effects of.eurhythmics (it would influence Mary Wigman, and at least indirectly, Martha Graham) and of colors as well as "organic" architectural forms (something that would influence Hundertwasser later on). Steiner clearly attempted to "bridge" the abstract opposition of "matter" and "spirit" by way of his mystic, spiritualist "theory" and a practice based on his thoughts. As for Kandinsky, he was not alone in having recourse to mystic thinkers; Paul Klee shared his interest in the psychic implications (or the psychic resonance, in the viewer) of such material "phenomena" as colors, visual rhythms, proportions etc. Mondrian was influenced by theosophy in his search for formal balance and harmony. Thus, Kandinsky's evocation of the spiritual in art was in line with the idealist inclinations of many artists around 1910-1917 who, quite helplessly, confronted the socio-cultural crisis of Western civilization and looked for, and in fact, suggested idiosyncratic "ways out" of this crisis. Of course, obscurantist speculation can fructify a poetic mind and lead to fascinating works of art. The question remains what "kernel of truth" (or insight into the profound questions of our time) may surface in an oblique way in speculative idealistic writings and in works of art that are influenced by their ideas.- On the other hand, the political implications of the "spiritualist" turn to "abstract art" and to "the spiritual in art" deserve attention. It was not by chance that Kandinsky's Ueber das Geistige in der Kunst was able to influence a younger generation of painters in the US in the wake of WWII when  the Guggenheim Foundation (re-)published it. See: Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art. New York, NY (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)  3rd printing 1946. -This publication was followed by: Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the spiritual in art and painting in particular 1912. New York (Wittenborn, Schultz) 1947, and a French (re-?)edition: Wassily Kandinsky, Du Spirituel dans l'art et dans la peinture en particulier   Paris (Éd. de Beaune)  1953.  See also the role of the International Committee of the Museum of Modern Art, the role of such museums in pushing abstract art and marginalizing US and European realist artists, and the way US government agencies (from the State Dept. to USIS and the CIA) used funds, connections, and organizational know-how in order to make this strategy succeed. Cf. Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe. New York (Free Press) and London (Collier Macmillan) 1989; Pierre Grémion, Intelligence de l'anticommunisme: le Congrès pour la liberté de la culture à Paris (1950-1975),  Paris (Fayard) 1995;  Maria Eugenia Mudrovcic, Mundo nuevo: cultura y guerra fría  en la decada del 60. Rosario (Beatriz Viterbo) 1997; Kristine Vanden Berghe, Intelectuales y anticomunismo: la revista “Cuadernos brasileiros” (1959-1970). Leuven (Leuven Univ. Press) 1997; Frances Stonor SAUNDERS, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. London (Granta Books) 2000;  Giles Scott-Smith, The Politics of apolitical culture: The Congress for Political Freedom, the CIA, and post-war American hegemony. London and New York (Routledge) 2002; Olga Glondys, La guerra fría cultural y el exilio republicano español: 'Cuadernos del Congreso por la Libertad de la Cultura' (1953-1965). Madrid (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas) 2012; and the book  reviews by D. Howard,  “L'anti-totalitarisme hier, aujourd'hui et demain: Frances Stonor Saunder, Who Paid the Piper. The Cultural Cold War, the CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. – Pierre Gremion, Intelligence de l'anti-communisme. Le Congrès pour la liberté  de la culture à Paris, 1950-1975. – Ulrike Ackermann, Sündenfall der Intellektuellen. Ein deutsch/französischer Streit von 1945 bis heute,”  in:  Critique: revue générale des publications françaises et étrangères. Issue no.647/2001, pp.259-278.

(7)  As Robert Paris notes, “Les scientifiques mécanistes croyaient certes trouver dans des relations de cause à effet une continuité définitivement mortelle pour l’idéologie non fondée sur la matière physique mais ils ont trop simplifié la relation physique elle-même.”  Robert Paris, “Aux sources des philosophies matérialistes”, in: http://www.matierevolution.fr/spip.php?article2853

(8) See: Ernst Bloch,  Philosophische Grundfragen. Teil 1: Zur Ontologie des Noch-Nicht-Seins: ein Vortrag und 2 Abhandlungen. Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp) 1961; see also: Robert Paris, “Utopia e scienza nell' immaginario socialista,” in: Il socialismo e la storia : studi per Stefano Merli / a cura di Luigi Cortesi, Andrea Panaccione; scritti di Aldo Agosti,  Luigi Cortesi, Andrea Panaccione et al. Milano (F. Angeli) 1998.

(9) In the article I quoted further above, R. Paris said, “L’opposition entre les matérialismes et les idéalismes n’est pas une opposition diamétrale mais dialectique : ils ont besoin l’un de l’autre pour progresser en se combattant.”  He buttressed his position by emphasizing that “[l]e point commun entre matérialisme et idéalisme consiste à considérer qu’il y a un seul monde qui englobe à la fois la matière et les idées et que ce monde obéit à une même logique globale.” (R. Paris, “Aux sources des philosophies matérialistes”, ibidem.)

(10) “L’interpénétration de la matière et des idées est une expérience simple de tous les jours.” (R. Paris,“Aux sources des philosophies matérialistes”,  ibidem.)

(11) See Ernst Bloch, Avicenna und die aristotelische Linke, Berlin (Rütten & Loening) 1952.

(12) “In 1921, Rodchenko  created and exhibited three monochrome paintings—one red, one yellow, and one blue [...]” (Bailey Harberg, “What to do with white?”, in: https://www.clyffordstillmuseum.org/blog/white-paintings.)
When the already renowned Constructivist artist replied in this way to Malevich's BLACK SQUARE, he was implictly saying that “you can't push  formalist, radically non-representational art any further...”  He was aware of something composers became aware of after John Cage composed his 4'33'' of silence: There is nothing to be achieved by composing additional pieces of silence, the concept has been exhausted, the point has been made. Yes, Rodchenko was right in a way – if painting was understood as an art form concerned with material, structure, color, then the reductionism implied in Malevich's thrust toward the empty canvas and the non-color, black, or in another case, white, could not be carried on any further, a point zero had been attained.  It was, in this sense, not only an avant-gardist formal achievement but at the same time, the end of painting – even as an abstract, conceptional undertaking.  Rodchenko saw this quite clearly and Harberg basically confirms this when he interprets the three monochromes  as a polemical “proclamation of painting’s death and the end of bourgeois art tradition.” (Harberg, ibidem) Interestingly, Malevich himself revealed an “awareness of the mechanical reproducibility of his trademark Black Square,” as  Tupytsin has pointed out. (Kent Mitchell Minturn, “Seeing Malevich, Cinematographically,” in: Art Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4, Winter, 2004, p. 142)

(13) Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit. Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp Verlag) 1963; also: Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)," in: Neil Badmington (ed.), The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. London (Routledge) 2008, pp.34-56.

(14) I'm referring here to the White Paintings, especially White Painting (7 panel), White Painting (3 panel), and White Painting (4 panel)

(15) Šklovskij, ibidem.

(16) Concerning  Rauschenberg's first exhibition of White Paintings, see: Roni Feinstein,  "The Unknown Early Robert Rauschenberg: The Betty Parsons Exhibition of 1951," in: Arts Magazine (New York) 59, no. 5 (Jan. 1985), pp. 126-31. Regarding the black paintings, see for instance "“ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG: BLACK FIELDS OF EXPERIMENTATION," in: Stephanie Rosenthal (ed.), Black Paintings [Exhibition catalogue for the exhibition Black Paintings: Robert Rauschenberg. Ad Reinhardt. Mark Rothko. Frank Stella, at the Haus der Kunst Munich]. Ostfildern  (Hatje Cantz) 2006. The catalogue text notes that "[f]rom 1951 to 1953 Rauschenberg created three largely black  group of work, [….]the first, the 'Night Blooming' series, immediately on returning to Black Mountain College."(p.27) See also: Roni Feinstein, “The Early Work of Robert Rauschenberg: The White Paintings, The Black Paintings, and the Elemental Sculptures,” in: Arts Magazine, Vol. 61, no. 1  (Sept. 1986),   pp.28-37; and: Roni Feinstein,  Random Order: The First Fifteen Years of Robert Rauschenberg's Art, 1949–1964. Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1990. 

(17) Malevich, just as –  in a different sense –  Rodchenko were imbued with the radicalism that was virulent at their time, in the context of the society they were part of.
When, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, North American painters like Clifford Still and Robert Rauschenberg reverted to Malevich's monochrone Black Square and his much more complex White Painting, the ideologically intense atmosphere of the period European artists (and  Russian artists, in particular) experienced between 1914 and 1925 had given way to an “anti-ideological” climate, the climate that flourishes in the market place, the climate that sheltered the American Dream of individual freedom, consumerism, and of “Anything goes...”.

(18) While I prefer to speak here of seriality, the author who wrote a short introductory piece on Rauschenberg on the website of the New York Guggenheim Museum  refers to Rauschenberg's “conception of the works as a series of modular shaped geometric canvases,” thus emphasizing the modular quality at the expense of seriality.  See: N.N., “Robert Rauschenberg”, in: http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/singular_forms/highlights_1a.html.

(19) B.W.Joseph writes that Robert Rauschenberg urgently entreated his New York gallerist, Betty Parsons, in 1953 to give him the opportunity to have a second exhibition that year – featuring the white paintings. “As he explained to Parsons, he considered his White Paintings 'almost an emergency'.” Branden W. Joseph, “White on White,” in: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 1, Autumn, 2000, p.90.

(20) “In a blatant statement against the popular Abstract Expressionist movement dominating the NYC art scene at the time, Rauschenberg exhibited his 1951 White Paintings at Stable Gallery in 1953.” Harberg, ibidem. - See also his interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler which reveals that "[i]n the early 1950s Rauschenberg reacted against the internal subjective musings of the Abstract Expressionists by asserting his own sensitivity [...]" (Paul  F. Fabozzi, Artists, Critics, Contexts: Readings in and around American Art since 1945.  (Prentice-Hall) 2002, p.68.) The art critic Hubert Crehan suspected that Rauschenberg was actually attempting to employ dadaist strategies of shocking bourgeois art viewers, but he thought that dada was dead already and unable to shock anyone. (Hubert Crehan,  "The See Change: Raw Duck," in: Art Digest (New York) vol.27, no. 20 (Sept, 1953), p. 25.) Roni Feinstein, who wrote repeatedly on Rauschenberg, thinks, however, that a neo-Dadaist approach to art had indeed come into play: "That the White Paintings posed a new definition of art and asserted the continued viability of certain Dada principles was not recognized  until the emergence of Minimal Art in the mid-1960s. Rauschenberg's paintings can be understood as proto-Minimal in their removal of the hand of the artist, in their non-color, in their modular, repetitive, and non-relational structures, and in the manner in which they were intended to be experienced." (Roni Feinstein, “The Early Work of Robert Rauschenberg: The White Paintings, The Black Paintings, and the Elemental Sculptures,” in: Arts Magazine, Vol. 61, no. 1  (Sept. 1986), p.32.)

(21) “Much of Rauschenberg’s practice was based on the idea that what the artist may or may not have been feeling is unimportant […].”  Vincent Katz, “A Genteel Iconoclasm. Robert Rauschenberg,” in: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/genteel-iconoclasm.

(22) In Roni Feinstein's view, the White Paintings and the Black Paintings were indeed also a reaction to the influential teacher at Black Mountain College, Josef Albers: "[T]these works represented Rauschenberg's response to Color Field Painting [...]" (Roni Feinstein, ibidem, p.37). It is difficult to agree with Feinstein, however, when she adds that works like White Painting (seven panel)  represented "a moment […] of (relative) discipline and control." Unless, that is, we give very much emphasis to the word relative. Rauschenberg obviously reacted to the paradigm offered by Josef Albers' way of working, which relied very much on control, rigour and discipline. The panels Rauschenberg did between 1950 and 1953 simply seem less spontaneous and more controlled than some of his works of the 1960s and 70s. There was nothing faintly similar to Albers' approach in the way Rauschenberg applied ordinary cheap white house paint to the canvas, and the way he put together the panels can only be described as careless and sloppy. It was an act of revolt –  against admired abstract expressionists like De Kooning (insofar as it implied the  rejection of a way of painting interpreted widely as "self-expression"), but also against the respected teacher.

(23) In fact, the art critic Hubert Crehan interpreted Rauschenberg's public relations coup as, possibly,  “a tour de force in the realm of personality gesture.” (Hubert Crehan, ibidem.; also quoted by  Roni Feinstein, ibidem, p. 32.)

(24) B.W. Joseph thinks that the letter to Parsons  (“the only statement about the White Paintings [by RR] that we have from this time”) “reveals Rauschenberg in a state of transition. It marks the end of what he termed a 'short lived religious period' […].”  B.W.Joseph, ibidem.

(25)  Various authors have noted the close link between Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings and the silent piece by John Cage. Cage, however, in contrast to Rauschenberg, was already “[u]nder the sway of the Buddhist aesthetics of Zen”: “interpret[ing] the blank surfaces as 'landing strips' or receptors for light and shadow,  [he] […] was inspired to pursue the corresponding notion of silence and ambient sound in music. His response [was the piece called] 4'33" (1952) [….]”  N.N., “Robert Rauschenberg”, in:  http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/singular_forms/highlights_1a.html.

(26) Most critics see Yves Klein's  "IKB 191" (created in 1962) and his other blue monochromes as works that made him a “pioneer in the development of Minimal art.” (Yves Klein became famous for patenting his blue - a fact that points to the close connections of modern art with the art market and the particular "logic" underpinning commodification.). If we want to speak of pioneers, apart from Malevich and Rodchenko, we should not forget a number of paintings Barnett Newman did in the early 1950s, or the fact that Rauschenberg's teacher at the Black Mountain College, Joseph Albers, started “[i]n  1950, at the age of 62, [...]  what would become his signature series, the Homage to the Square. Over the next 26 years, until his death in 1976, he produced hundreds of variations on the basic compositional scheme of three or four squares set inside each other, with the squares slightly gravitating towards the bottom edge.”  N.N., “Josef Albers. Study for Homage to the Square 1964.
Display caption, December 2012,” in: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/albers-study-for-homage-to-the-square-t02312/text-display-caption.
As to Rauschenberg's innovative introduction of the White Paintings, it is above all the close look at the works created around 1950 that lets us discover their relative "newness" or novelty. But it is difficult to agree with a statement which claims that "[i]n the white canvases Rauschenberg "swept away" the entire history of painting as a preparation for rediscovering texture and structure [...]" (Stephanie Rosenthal (ed.), Black Paintings, p.32).

(27) N.N., “Robert Rauschenberg”, in: http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/singular_forms/highlights_1a.html.

(28) I'm thinking here also of works done in two colors, like Barnet Newman's Eve (1950) that introduces a narrow, almost rectangular stripe on the left margin of a rectangular painting done otherwise in the way of a monochrome work featuring a subdued, somewhat brownish red. We can feel that the surface of the painting is carefully "dynamized" by the fact that this narrow geometrical, comparatively darker,  geometrical vertical "ribbon" of brownish violet is a bit wider on the top than it is is on the bottom of the canvas. But in fact, the very existence of the "ribbon" suffices already to gently  "dynamize" the reddish, rectangular, otherwise monochrome painting These nuances were in fact presaging what would become known as Minimalist Art. But so did the gaps between Rauschenberg's panels in his early White Paintings and the visible carelessness of his application of house paint. - It is difficult to speak of meaning when we see such paintings. But seeing Newman's Eve, it is as if I hear a warm, serene, radiant song. Poems can be like that, too.

(29) It's indeed obvious that you have to look closely in order to get a sense of how these works are and what "they are about." In an article published in Mark Amsler's book  Creativity and the Imagination, Donald A. Crosby and Ron G. Williams point out how Rauschenberg was reflecting "the changes that take place in persons and ultimately in society when we learn to see with “fresh eyes,” eyes less constrained by habit and preconception.”" Not only did this artist search for new materials and new ways of incorporating them in the works he created but he apparently hoped that these works would trigger a fresh vision.  See: Donald A. Crosby and Ron G. Williams, “Three Case Studies,” in: Mark Amsler (ed.), Creativity and the Imagination: Case Studies from the Classical Age to the Twentieth Century, Cranbury NJ (Associated University Presses) 1987, p.212, footnote 44.

(30) Rauschenberg, during the 1960s, revealed a skepticism that in some way was the heritage of those US liberal and left-wing writers and artists who became disillusioned in the late 1940s.  In a text titled "The Artist Speaks," he declared, “We know no better than anyone else how to handle the metaphysics and practice of worldly power. We know even less, since we have not been in the slightest involved with it.” (Quoted by Fabozzi, ibidem, p.68) It was a perfect subjectively valid justification of "apolitical art."

(31) In 1931, Brecht wrote, “Die Lage wird dadurch so kompliziert, dass weniger denn je eine einfache "Wiedergabe der Realität" etwas über die Realität aussagt. Eine Photographie der Krupp-Werke oder der AEG ergibt beinahe nichts über diese Institute. Die eigentliche Realität ist in die Funktionale gerutscht. Die Verdinglichung des menschlichen Beziehungen, also etwa die Fabrik, gibt die letzteren nicht mehr heraus. Es ist also tatsächlich "etwas aufzubauen", etwas "Künstliches", etwas "Gestelltes".” (Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 18: Schriften zur Literatur und Kunst 1. Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp Verlag) 1967, p. 161f.) - As B.W. Seiler pointed out,  it was not only Brecht (among thinkers on the Left), "der den Realismusbegriff von seinem abbildlichen Sinn wegführt": apparently under his influence, at least in this respect, Adorno would later on proceed in the same direction. “[Es ist] Adorno, der den Realismusbegriff am weitesten ins Nicht-Abbildliche umgedeutet hat. Sein berühmtes Diktum, der Roman könne nur dann seinem realistischen Erbe treu bleiben, wenn er auf einen Realismus verzichte, der, "indem er die Fassade reproduziert, nur dieser bei ihrem Täuschungsgeschäfte hilft", spricht den Realismus von der Wahrscheinlichkeitstradition nicht nur frei, sondern verwirft sogar jedes Festhalten an ihr als Täuschung.(49) Nach Adorno steht das äußere Bild der modernen Gesellschaft in einem so gegensätzlichen Verhältnis zu ihrem eigentlichen Wesen, daß schon nur das Berühren ihrer Oberfläche den Zugang zur Wahrheit versperrt.”(Bernd W. Seiler, "Das Wahrscheinliche und das Wesentliche: Vom Sinn des Realismus-Begriffs und der Geschichte seiner Verundeutlichung," in:  Christian Wagenknecht (ed.), Zur Terminologie der Literaturwissenschaft: Akten des IX. Germanistischen Symposiums der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft, Würzburg 1986. Stuttgart (Metzler) 1989, p.373-292; online: Bernd W. Seiler  (1999), Die Verundeutlichung des Realismusbegriff, p.387. http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/lili/personen/seiler/drucke/realismus/verundeutlichung.html)

(32) See "Editorial," Art in Society, issue 8 http://www.art-in-society.de/AS8/Editorial.html