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Artist as Author

Action and Intent in Late-Modernist American Painting

With Artist as Author, Christa Noel Robbins provides the first extended study of authorship in mid-20th century abstract painting in the US. Taking a close look at this influential period of art history, Robbins describes how artists and critics used the medium of painting to advance their own claims about the role that they believed authorship should play in dictating the value, significance, and social impact of the art object. Robbins tracks the subject across two definitive periods: the “New York School” as it was consolidated in the 1950s and “Post Painterly Abstraction” in the 1960s. Through many deep dives into key artist archives, Robbins brings to the page the minds and voices of painters Arshile Gorky, Jack Tworkov, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Sam Gilliam, and Agnes Martin along with those of critics such as Harold Rosenberg and Rosalind Krauss. While these are all important characters in the polemical histories of American modernism, this is the first time they are placed together in a single study and treated with equal measure, as peers participating in the shared late modernist moment.

256 pages | 15 color plates, 45 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2021

Art: American Art, Art--General Studies


"Robbins's penetrating analysis centers on mid-twentieth-century abstractionists of the New York School, diving deep into the closely argued definitions of individual 'action' put forward principally by Harold Rosenberg, and diversely exemplified by Jack Tworkov, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, and others."

Nancy Princenthal | Art in America

“In this elegant book, Robbins makes a serious intervention in the field of post-war American art, paying careful attention both to abstract painting as it was conceived originally and as it continues to be written about today. Walking readers through the formation of a small group of key painters, she reveals various views among artists and critics on issues of authorship, agency, and the role of the painterly gesture.”

Jo Applin, author of Lee Lozano: Not Working

Artist as Author presents a bracing new account of Abstract Expressionism and its wake. Rather than accepting as given the evaluations handed down in the art-historical literature, Robbins reveals how much seemingly opposed artists (and their critics and historians) have to say to each other; the result is both refreshing and astonishingly complex. This sophisticated discussion of the critical debates about artistic authorship makes the case that painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, and Agnes Martin afford a new foundation from which to evaluate the stakes and impact of Modernist painting. This is a major intervention demanding a rethinking of received narratives.”

David Getsy, author of Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender

Table of Contents

Introduction. The Artist as Author

Part I

Chapter One. The Act-Painting

Chapter Two. The Expressive Fallacy

Chapter Three. Rhetoric of Motives

Part II

Chapter Four. Self-Discipline

Chapter Five. Event as Painting

Chapter Six. Conclusion: Gridlocked


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