Sunday, November 29, 2009

Morton Feldman - Give My Regards to Eighth Street

Morton Feldman
Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings

Avant-Garde composer, friend of John Cage, Philip Guston, Frank O’Hara, Mark Rothko, Christian Wolff, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and Franz Kline, among others, Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings, which came out in 2000, is a sort of one-stop shop, an indispensable document of that time, as well as the aesthetics that still inform a lot of what has become foundational to our time.

I highly recommend it. There’s an outsider edge to the first half of the book that is quite fascinating. What he says, especially about academic artists and the establishment from the forties through the seventies, is enlightening. I’ve never heard these things talked about in quite this way before. So there’s the history of the thing, but then on the other hand, he’s a close writer about aesthetics and what’s going on in the process of being an artist, that is also something I’ve not found anywhere else. It’s difficult to talk about these things, and he doesn’t always succeed, but he gets further than I’ve seen anyone else get (so far). And it’s also incomplete, as it centers in the music/painting world, with only little tips toward poetry and the other arts, and it’s also a complete boys club of associations and thinking. It misses a lot. But even with that, what it hits, it hits well. This is a necessary book.

I’ll paste something from it here, and maybe a bit more tomorrow. I’m quite taken with it.

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Now, almost twenty years later [the essay was written in 1971], as I see what happens to work, I ask myself more and more why everybody knows so much about art. Thousands of people—teachers, students, collectors, critics—everybody knows everything. To me it seems as though the artist is fighting a heavy sea in a rowboat, while alongside him a pleasure liner takes all these people to the same place. Every graduate student today knows exactly what degree of “angst” belongs in a de Kooning, can point out disapprovingly just where he has let up, relaxed. Everybody knows that one Bette Davis movie where she went out of style. It’s another bullring, with everybody knowing the rules of the game.

What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment—maybe, say, six weeks—nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened. Because for a short while these people were left alone. Six weeks is all it takes to get started. But there’s no place now where you can hide out for six weeks in this town.

Well, that’s what it was like to be an artist. In New York, Paris, or anywhere else.

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Morton Feldman
from Rothko Chapel (1971)

Morton Feldman
The Viola in My Life (1971-72)


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He married the Canadian composer Barbara Monk shortly before his death. He died from pancreatic cancer in 1987 at his home in Buffalo, New York, after fighting for his life for three months.


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