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The Emersonian Presence in Abstract Expressionism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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In all of the literature on abstract expressionism, very little has been written about what I would call the Emersonian presence. It is a presence rather than a source or influence. And it is not limited to Emerson, since it can be found in such figures as Walt Whitman and William James, among others. But it is easier to say “an Emersonian presence” because precise influences are difficult, probably impossible, to establish. What I am concerned with is an attitude of mind that recurs in American intellectual history and that resonates through much 20th-century American art, ranging from early modernists such as John Marin through artists associated with process art. I do not mean to deny other welldocumented European and American sources, influences, and presences in abstract expressionism and other American movements, but only to call attention at this time to the Emersonian presence.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1990

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References

NOTES

1. O'Connor, Francis V., Jackson Pollock (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1967), p. 32.Google Scholar

2. Wilmerding, John, “Introduction,” in Wilmerding, , ed, American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850–1875 (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1980), p. 17Google Scholar. See also Novak, Barbara, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century, (1969; rept. New York: Harper and Row, 1979), chs. 5–7.Google Scholar

3. My reading of Emerson is based on Poirier, Richard's The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections (New York: Random House, 1987)Google Scholar and Bloom, Harold's two books, Poetry and Repression (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976)Google Scholar and Agon, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982)Google Scholar. Some of my citiations from Emerson's writings came from these books.

4. Emerson, Edward Waldo and Forbes, Waldo Emerson, eds., Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), vol. 5, pp. 398, 399.Google Scholar

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 412Google Scholar. Unless otherwise noted, all references to this volume will be carried in the text with the name of the essay and page number from which the reference was taken.

6. Pollock, Jackson, “Statement,” Possibilities 1 (Winter 19471948)Google Scholar, cited in Friedman, B. H., Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), p. 100.Google Scholar

7. Pollock, , in Friedman, , Jackson Pollock, p. 229.Google Scholar

8. McGiffert, Arthur E. Jr, ed., Young Emerson Speaks (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938)Google Scholar, cited in Loving, Jerome, Emerson, Whitman and the American Muse (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), p. 35.Google Scholar

9. Wicher, Stephen E. et al. , eds., The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 19591972)Google Scholar, cited in Loving, , Emerson, p. 15.Google Scholar

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13. From the manuscript “Lectures on Human Culture,” 1837–38Google Scholar, cited in Wicher, Stephen, Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), p. 84.Google Scholar

14. From an unpublished letter written by Newman in 1947, reproduced in American Artists on Art: From 1940 to 1980, ed. Johnson, Ellen H. (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), pp. 17, 19.Google Scholar

15. From “The Plasmic Image,” manuscript cited in Hess, Thomas B., Barnett Newman (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1971), pp. 3738.Google Scholar

16. Cohn, Sherrye, Arthur Dove: Nature as Symbol (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985), p. 37.Google Scholar

17. From “The Ideographic Picture,” Gallery, Betty Parsons, 1947Google Scholar, cited in Johnson, , American Artists, p. 15.Google Scholar

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19. Newman, , “The First Man Was an Artist,” The Tiger's Eye 1 (10 1947): 60.Google Scholar

20. Emerson, and Forbes, , Journals, vol. 5, p. 288.Google Scholar

21. Bloom, , Poetry and Repression, p. 254.Google Scholar

22. Motherwell, Robert, statement in “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” Bulletin (The Museum of Modern Art) 18 (Spring 1951): 13.Google Scholar

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24. Bloom, , Poetry and Repression, pp. 244, 254.Google Scholar

25. Bloom, , Poetry and Repression, p. 248.Google Scholar

26. Hess, , Barnett Newman, p. 26.Google Scholar

27. Bloom, , Agon, p. 154.Google Scholar

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30. From an exhibition statement, The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, 1914.

31. “John Marin By Himself,” Creative Arts 3 (10 1928): xxxixGoogle Scholar; and Emerson, , “Self-Reliance,” p. 269.Google Scholar

32. Emerson, and Forbes, , Journals, vol. 8, p. 90.Google Scholar

33. Seligman, Herbert J., ed., Letters of John Marin, 1931 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970), n.p.Google Scholar

34. Emerson, and Forbes, , Journals, vol. 8, p. 122.Google Scholar

35. Tompkins, Calvin, “Georgia O'Keeffe-The Rose in the Eye Looked Pretty Fine,” The New Yorker (03 4, 1974): 55Google Scholar, cited in Hoffman, Katherine, An Enduring Spirit: The Art of Georgia O'Keeffe (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1984), p. 89.Google Scholar

36. Georgia O'Keeffe (New York: Viking Press, 1976), opposite plate 100.Google Scholar

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