The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Sensibility of the Sixties (1967)

Art in America, Vol. 55, (January - February 1967) pp. 54 - 55.

Artists answered various questions posed by the editors.

DARBY BANNARD: "A more beautiful and intellectual art than we have seen since impressionism..."

Sensibility is a refined sensitiveness to something, in this case to styles of painting and sculpture. I would say that the predominant styles or attitudes at this time are "pop" and "minimal."

Avant-garde could be a useful critical term if properly defined. It presumes a "mainstream," a directional historical flow of a series of stylistic changes. Someone should write a thorough essay on this. It is enough to say here that there is always an avant-garde within any vital art environment such as we now have, that its character is always the same, and that it consists of artists who are making works containing new or apparently new characteristics which will influence other artists. For example: Picasso in 1912, De Kooning in 1945, Noland in 1960.

The avant-garde artist usually makes good works of art, but avant-garde characteristics and high quality cannot be perfectly correlated. At this time Pollock seems to have been a less avant-garde though more original and better painter than De Kooning. The same goes for Matisse relative to Picasso. In 1960, Rauschenberg may have been more avant-garde than Noland, though by far the inferior artist. David Smith was probably the best sculptor of his time, but he was not very avant-garde. In the future he may appear to have been more so. I believe the avant-garde in painting today consists of painters who are dealing with color problems.

An academy is an organized society of members with acknowledged view in common, but this is not precisely the sort of academy you meant.

Many artists share styles of art-making. At any time there are few superior and many mediocre artists. The mediocre artists adapt, rather than create, style. When a given style, such as pop, is fascinating, "hip," and easy to transfer, many mediocre artists will adapt the style and produce lifeless "academic" works. Obviously there is always an academy in this sense, just as there is always an avant-garde. The difference between a widely shared sensibility and an academic sensibility is simply a matter of degree. Certainly the pop and op artists compose academies, and a "minimal" academy is forming.

The avant-garde cannot easily become the academy, because avant-garde artists usually sustain the quality which made them avant-garde artists in the first place. The styles they develop will become academic in other hands. Increased attention of colleges and mass media to present-day art will broadcast a style and glamorize it, and help provide stylistic material for the mediocre, potentially academic artist. Also, publicity means money and prestige for artists; therefore there will be more artists, more academic paintings and sculptures, more sharing of styles and hence a seemingly more "academic situation." However, I think this is not important. The good artists also benefit from all this, and that is important. An art environment should be judged by its good art, not its bad art.

It is hard for me to say what was happening ten years ago in this respect. However, I think advanced art is having an easier time of it now. Critics have always been able to sense that which is new and original, but now they seem less likely to condemn it. They may be afraid of their historical image. Besides, the present complex and lively art situation is breeding new critics who are more serious, more intelligent and better balanced. I also feel that abstract art is in the primitive stage of an era of new clarity, and that the paintings done in the latter sixties will lay a basis for more beautiful and intellectual art than we have seen since impressionism.

All these factors will stimulate interest in paintings and sculpture on a broader scale than ever before. To me it is an altogether pleasant prospect.