Albert Pinkham Ryder, The Lovers’ Boat, ca. 1881
“It is not freedom of choice that is the meaning of the fifties, but the freedom of people to be themselves. This type of freedom creates a problem for us, because we are not free to imitate it. In every other era, the Messianic aspect of art has always been sought for in some organizing principle, since this principle is, and has always been what saves us in art. What is hard to understand about the fifties is that these men did not want to be saved in art. That is why, in terms of influence (and who thinks in any other terms?), they have not made what is something called an “artistic contribution.” What they did was to make the whole notion of artistic contribution a lesser thing in art.
Albert Pinkham Ryder, The Canal, 1890
Ryder once said about one of his paintings that it had everything – everything but what he wanted. What Ryder wanted was the fifties. Ryder was aware that it is not the “unifying principle” and not the “artistic achievement” that make the experience behind a work of art. To me it has never seemed an accident that he walked the same pavement on University Place. In temperament, in the emotional tradition of his work, he was the first Abstract Expressionist.”
From: Give My Regards To Eighth Street – Collected Writings of Morton Feldman (edited by B.H. Friedman; afterword by Frank O’Hara), Cambridge, Exact Change, 2000.
Albert Pinkham Ryder, Jonah, 1885-95
As I alluded to in the previous “Hedy Lamarr” chapter of these Morton Feldman excerpts, some of Feldman’s pronouncements about art could be gnomic and obscure. I think I know what he means here, but I’m not certain. I do have a strong sense of the things he deems valuable to the creative artist and I share his interest, enthusiasm and affinity for the works of the American master Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917).
I love the fact that Feldman speaks so positively and unselfconsciously (i.e., there is no pose or kitsch effect) about the 1950s, a decade that has been (since the 1960s) trivialized and derided. I was only a child during the 1950s, but I was happy then also. Life always throws up challenges and obviously most of my nightmares date from my first decade of life (certainly the architecture of all subsequent nightmares was drawn then), but I was happy to be alive and awakened to the possibilities and potential of what life brings. An interest in art came later, after many tide cycles. (I grew up near the ocean and the beach.)
Albert Pinkham Ryder, Photographic Portrait by Alice Broughton, New York, 1905