Pattern and Decoration had a brief, buoyant moment, and then fell out of favor. As New York Times critic Holland Cotter has written, “In the neo-Expressionist, neo-Conceptualist late 1980s, no one knew what to make of hearts, Turkish flowers, wallpaper and arabesques.”

Yet the movement resonates with our current moment, looking ahead as it did to the plurality of traditions and cultures celebrated in today’s art world, to its rejection of sexist and ethnocentric biases and its aspirations of inclusivity. “What was on the table—the chopping block, as it turned out,” Katz writes of P&D in the MOCA catalogue, “were the very systems of valuation that had dominated Western art history for centuries, and the primary focus was the hierarchy of fine arts above decorative arts.”

P&D also occurred during something of a watershed moment in the Western art world. Indeed, Cotter has suggested that it may have been the last movement of the 20th century, and possibly the last bonafide movement ever, as postmodernism did away with any notion of a singular narrative of art-historical progress.

Joyce Kozloff, Striped Cathedral, 1977. Photo by eeva-inkeri, New York. Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York.
Installation view of “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985”, at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 27, 2019 – May 11, 2020. Photo by Jeff Mclane. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Miriam Schapiro, Heartland, 1985. Photo by Zach Stovall. © 2019 Estate of Miriam Schapiro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Orlando Museum of Art.
Robert Zakanitch, Angel Feet, 1978. Image © Whitney Museum, NY. Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Jane Kaufman, Embroidered, Beaded Crazy Quilt, 1983-1985. Photo by Joshua Nefsky. Courtesy of the artist
Al Loving, Untitled, 1975. Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Faith Ringgold, Windows of the Wedding #4: Man, 1974. © 2019 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the artist and ACA Galleries.
Sandra Sallin, Melasti, 1981. Photo by Zak Kelley. Courtesy of the artist and The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Eight decades later, the American artists Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff—central figures in the Pattern and Decoration movement—set about mining such quotes to better understand the way modernism’s white male–centrism had shaped conceptions of good art. They assembled what they found into an article titled “Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture.” It featured cameos by Pablo Picasso, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning, among many other famous artists, with quotes that revealed flagrant or latent biases: a way of speaking about art that reflected virulent masculinity, sexism, and a belief in the superiority of the West over the developing world. Perhaps most notable was the claim by H. W. Janson, who published one of the canonical histories of art in 1962, that the applied arts are “of a lesser order than art, pure and simple.”

Jaudon and Kozloff also found that art considered to be lesser was connected with words like “sensuality,” “pleasure,” and “ornament.” The progenitors of modernism may have seen decorative art as superficial fluff, but the loose affiliation of artists who identified with the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement saw the sensuous, pleasurable, and ornamental as every bit as legitimate, complex, and sophisticated as the icons of modernism.

Pattern and Decoration—or P&D, as the movement is also known—looked to decorative traditions across the world, to surfaces like textiles, and to wallpaper, manuscript illuminations, mosaics, glassware, embroideries, and architectural flourishes. “Art historians, absorbed in the rational and moral superiority of Western art, seldom notice that most of the world’s artistic production has grown out of the impulse to adornment,” wrote Amy Goldin, a scholar of Islamic art and P&D’s first theorist, in 1977.

Indeed, the unofficial Pattern and Decoration battle cry was “more is more,” explains Anna Katz her catalogue essay for the survey “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985,” on view through May 11th at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).

Rosalba Carriera: When we first spoke to the press, it was clear we needed code names to distinguish between members of the group. The day we taped NPR's Fresh Air, Georgia O'Keeffe died. It was then that it came came to us to use names of dead women artists and writers to reinforce their presence in history and to solve our interview problems. It was as though Georgia was speaking to us from the grave. So far, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Rosalba Carriera, Lee Krasner, Eva Hesse, Emily Carr, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Romaine Brooks, Alice Neel and Ana Mendieta are but a few of the famous women from history who have joined us. We are actively recruiting Rosa Bonheur, Angelica Kauffmann and Sofonisba Anguisolla. (Of course, one Girl didn't care for the idea and calls herself GG1.)

Q. But, isn't judging art an issue of quality? If women and artists of color were really good, wouldn't they make it on their own?


Lee Krasner: The world of High Art, the kind that gets into museums and history books, is run by a very small group of people. Our posters have proved over and over again that these people, no matter how smart or good-intentioned, have been biased against women and artists of color.

Romaine Brooks: Success in art is a matter of luck and timing as well as being good or having talent. Why do white men seem to have all the luck? It's not just a happy accident. Thus far, and throughout history, the system has been set up to support and promote the work of white male artists. That is their luck. In the old days of Western culture, it was patronage and the atelier system. It's not that different now, though patronage doesn't come in the form of royal courts and the Roman Catholic Church, but in the form of gallery owners, collectors, critics and museums who back certain artists. Once enough money has been invested in a certain artist, everyone mobilizes to keep that artist's name out front and consequently in history. The artists who make it in this way begin to define quality.

Alma Thomas: “Quality” has always been used to keep women and artists of color out.

Q. How did the Guerrilla Girls start?
Q.What did you do?
Q. Why are you anonymous?
Q. Why do you call yourselves 'girls?' Doesn't that upset a lot of feminists?
Q. Why are you Guerrillas?
Q. Isn't calling yourselves the Conscience of the Art World a little pretentious?
Q. Why the gorilla masks?
Q. What about the short skirts, high heels and fishnet stockings?
Q. Why do you use humor? What does it do for your message?
Q. Do you allow men to join?
Q. What was the response to your earliest actions?
Q. What have you done since then?
Q. You sound surprised by your success. What did you expect?
Q. What have you done besides posters?
Q. Have you ever been accused of discrimination yourselves?
Q. Is there anything you'd like to apologize for?
Q. How many are you?
Q. How do you work?
Q. Where do you get your information?
Q. How often do you meet?
Q. Who finances you?
Q. What's the ethnic make-up of the Girls?
Q. Has anyone said your masks are racist, that they conjure up images of lower forms of jungle life that have been used to humiliate black people?
Q. You've also done posters about abortion rights, the Gulf War, the homeless, rape, Clarence Thomas and other issues that have nothing to do with the art world. Why?
Q. How does an artist “make it”?
Q. But, isn't judging art an issue of quality? If women and artists of color were really good, wouldn't they make it on their own?
Q. Is art by women and artists of color different from art by white men?
Q. Is the art world like the rest of society in its treatment of women and artists of color, or is it a special case?
Q. So you can't just stay in your studios, work really hard and hope that you'll get noticed?
Q. Do you really want to rewrite art history and cancel out all the white male artists we know and love?
Q. Hilton Kramer called you “Quota Queens.” Do you really think that all shows must be 50% women and artists of color?
Q. You hate the language that's used to describe art. What's wrong with words like masterpiece, seminal and genius?
Q. If the art world is so corrupt and disgusting, why do you want to be part of it?
Q. What's your position on pornography?
Q. What about censorship? Should museums show obscene and offensive art?
Q. What about lesbian and gay issues?
Q. Doesn't the mask keep you from taking responsibility for the charges you make? Isn't that cowardly?
Q. Has anyone ever tried to expose who you really are?
Q. Have you made a difference?
Q. Has success ruined you?
Q. Where do you go from here?
Q. One last thing. How can you stand wearing those masks all day?

Kathe Kollwitz: In 1984, The Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibition titled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. It was supposed to be an up-to-the minute summary of the most significant contemporary art in the world. Out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. All the artists were white, either from Europe or the US. That was bad enough, but the curator, Kynaston McShine, said any artist who wasn't in the show should rethink “his” career. And that really annoyed a lot of artists because obviously the guy was completely prejudiced. Women demonstrated in front of the museum with the usual placards and picket line. Some of us who attended were irritated that we didn't make any impression on passersby.
Meta Fuller: We began to ask ourselves some questions. Why did women and artists of color do better in the 1970's than in the 80's? Was there a backlash in the art world? Who was responsible? What could be done about it?

Frida Kahlo: We decided to find out how bad it was. After about 5 minutes of research we found that it was worse than we thought: the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists. When we showed the figures around, some said it was an issue of quality, not prejudice. Others admitted there was discrimination, but considered the situation hopeless. Everyone in positions of power curators, critics, collectors, the artists themselves passed the buck. The artists blamed the dealers, the dealers blamed the collectors, the collectors blamed the critics, and so on. We decided to embarrass each group by showing their records in public. Those were the first posters we put up in the streets of SoHo in New York .

GG1: The art world is a very small place. Of course, we were afraid that if we blew the whistle on some of its most powerful people, we could kiss off our art careers. But mainly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our own work.
Lee Krasner: We joined a long tradition of (mostly male) masked avengers like Robin Hood, Batman, The Lone Ranger, and Wonder Woman.

Gertrude Stein: Yeah. We wanted to be shocking. We wanted people to be upset.
Frida Kahlo: Calling a grown woman a girl can imply she's not complete, mature, or grown-up. But we decided to reclaim the word “girl”, so it couldn't be used against us. Gay activists did the same thing with the epithet “queer.”

Georgia O'Keeffe: We wanted to play with the fear of guerrilla warfare, to make people afraid of who we might be and where we would strike next. Besides, “guerrilla” sounds so good with “girl.”

Eva Hesse: Of course. Everyone knows artists are pretentious!
GG 1: Anyway, the art world needs to examine itself, to be more self-critical. Every profession needs a conscience!

Kathe Kollwitz: We were Guerrillas before we were Gorillas. From the beginning the press wanted publicity photos. We needed a disguise. No one remembers, for sure, how we got our fur, but one story is that at an early meeting, an original girl, a bad speller, wrote 'Gorilla' instead of 'Guerrilla.' It was an enlightened mistake. It gave us our “mask-ulinity.”

Emily Carr: Wearing those clothes with a gorilla mask confounds the stereotype of female sexiness.
Meta Fuller: Actually, we wear mostly nondescript, black clotheslike every one else in the art world. Sometimes we do wear high heels and short skirts. And that's what people remember.

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Our situation as women and artists of color in the art world was so pathetic, all we could do was make fun of it. It felt so good to ridicule and belittle a system that excluded us. There was also that stale idea that feminists don't have a sense of humor.
Eva Hesse: Actually, our first posters weren't funny at all, just smart-assed. But we found out quickly that humor gets people involved. It's an effective weapon.

Frida Kahlo: We'd love to be inclusive, but it's not easy to find men willing to work without getting paid or getting credit for it.
Kathe Kollwitz : Seriously, we have lots of male supporters and lots of men have asked to join. We're thinking about it.

Anais Nin: There was skepticism, shock, rage, and lots of talk. It was the Reagan 80's and everyone was crazed to succeed, nobody wanted to be perceived as a complainer. Hardly any artists had the guts to attack the sacred cows. We were immediately THE topic at dinner parties, openings, even on the street. Who were these women? How do they dare say that? And what do their facts say about the art world? Women artists loved us, almost everyone else hated us, and none of them could stop talking about us.

GG1: One poster led to another, and we have done more than sixty examining different aspects of sexism and racism in our culture at large, not just the art world. We've received thousands of requests for them and they've found their way all over the world. Museums and libraries have collected entire portfolios. We've spoken to large audiences at museums and schools on four continents, sometimes at the invitation of institutions and individuals we have attacked.

Romaine Brooks: We didn't expect anything. We just wanted to have a little fun with our adversaries and to vent a little rage. But we also wanted to make feminism (that “f” word,) fashionable again, with new tactics and strategies. It was really a surprise when so many people identified with us and felt we spoke for their collective anger. We didn't have the wildest notion that women in Japan, Brazil, Europe and even Bali, would be interested in what we were doing.

Eva Hesse: The posters are our most public communication but we've done other things, too, like billboards, bus ads, magazine spreads, protest actions, letter-writing campaigns. We're particularly proud of having put up broad sheets in bathrooms of major museums.
Rosalba Carriera: We send secret letters to egregious offenders, often honoring them with bogus awards. We gave John Russell of The New York Times an award for The Most Patronizing Art Review of 1986, when he reviewed Dorothy Dehner's show and called her “Mrs. David Smith,” referring to her famous sculptor husband (they had been divorced for years).
Alice Neel: The Norman Mailer Award for Sensitivity to Issues of Gender Equality went to painter Frank Stella when he said he liked the “muscular” work of “girl” artists like Helen Frankenthaler. We shook a hairy finger at art market superstar Brice Marden when he said in Vanity Fair that he wasn't sure if it was good for him to be represented by a female dealer.
Tina Modotti: We sent The Apologist of the Year Award to a woman critic, Kim Levin, for reviewing a show of David Salle without dealing with his misogynist imagery. (Recently, on a panel in Berlin, she claimed to be grateful for the criticism.)
Gertrude Stein: We send Seasons Greetings to friend and foe. We remind the latter that “>We know who's been naughty or nice.” We wish the former “Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward women.”
Frida Kahlo: The next time art critic Michael Kimmelman pans a show that actually includes a fair number of women and artists of color like his hysterical rant against the Whitney Biennial of 1993 we're going to send him a year's supply of Midol.

Alma Thomas: Yes. Menopausal women felt we were making fun of them by titling our newsletter, Hot Flashes from the Guerrilla Girls. I guess they didn't know the Girl who named it was having them herself.
Kathe Kollwitz: One male journalist is still threatening to sue us for charging white males a higher subscription rate to Hot Flashes than women or artists of color. We thought it was fair, because white men earn more. We told him to go sue hairdressers who charge women more for a haircut.
Romaine Brooks: We also heard from a gay white male, who was angry about having to pay the same as straight white males. So we refined our language to read, “Straight white males with superior earning power: $12., Everyone else: $9.”

Anais Nin: Our spelling mistakes.

Lee Krasner: We don't have any idea. We secretly suspect that all women are born Guerrilla Girls. It's just a question of helping them discover it. For sure, thousands; probably, hundreds of thousands; maybe, millions.

Alice Neel: Over the past 10 years, we've come to resemble a large, crazy, but caring dysfunctional family. We argue, shout, whine, complain, change our minds and continually threaten to quit if we don't get our way. We work the phone lines between meetings to understand our differing positions. We rarely vote and proceed by consensus most of the time. Some drop out of the group, but eventually most of us come back, after days, months and sometimes years. The Christmas parties and reunions are terrific. We care a lot about each other, even if we don't see things the same way. Everyone has a poster she really hates and a poster she really loves. We agree that we can disagree. Maybe that's democracy.

Violette LeDuc: We usually just count in galleries, in museums, in the media.
Eva Hesse: One of our best sources is the magazine Art in America, which publishes an Annual Guide, where galleries and museums proudly announce their “discriminating” line-ups for the year.
Alice Neel: Lots of institutions provide public information that we reinterpret. That's how we did our exhibition about the Whitney Museum's pathetic record of not showing women and artists of color.
GG 1: For the second issue of Hot Flashes, we wrote a phony letter from an imaginary graduate student asking P.R. departments of 150 museums what was happening.
Romaine Brooks: For the first issue, we sat for days in the New York Public Library, reading everything The New York Times wrote about art during 1991-2. Then, we got personal dirt on the critics from confidential sources all over town.
Ana Mendieta: We're a large, powerful anonymous group and that means that we could be anyone, anywhere like Leo Castelli's proctologist, Mary Boone's plastic surgeon, David Salle's hairstylist, or Carl Andre's next girlfriend.

Tina Modotti: Every 28 days.

Georgia O'Keeffe: In the beginning, we paid for the posters out of our own pocketbooks. And we received unsolicited contributions like one from a secretary at a N.Y.C. museum who wrote, “I work for a curator you named on one of your posters. You're right, he's an asshole. Here's $25.” We sometimes get contributions from women artists when their careers take off. But we have no matron of the arts who writes us big checks, or a Guerrilla Girls' PAC. We do accept retributions from institutions we have attacked when they buy our posters and pay our lecture fees.

Gertrude Stein: Our membership is a secret, but the percentage of women of color is better than the general population.

Zora Neale Hurston: We've talked about that. We are exploding stereotypes here, like when we use the word “Girl.”.
Meta Fuller: There is nothing second-rate or inferior about gorillas and to think so is Homo-Sapiens-centric.
Alma Thomas: I would have preferred pink ski masks.

Paula Modersohn-Becker: We consider ourselves inhabitants of many worlds and can appear in any one we wish.
Liubov Popova: We wanted to try out what we had learned about making effective posters in a larger arena.
Kathe Kollwitz: We're not systematic in our attacks. It happens in a much less orchestrated way. Members bring issues and ideas to the group and we try to shape them into effective posters. Sometimes we're all interested in an issue and we can't figure out or agree on how to make it into a poster, so we table it for a later meeting.
Emily Carr: Lots of issues are important to us. We focus on the world for awhile, go back to the art world and come back out again.
Ana Mendieta: An event like the Gulf War, which outraged us, can precipitate a whole bunch of posters in a very short time.

Romaine Brooks: Even without discrimination, it is very hard to succeed as an artist.
Alma Thomas: You work in your studio, then take your art around to galleries, which act as agents for a small number of artists and sell their art. Sometimes galleries are approached by hundreds of hopeful artists a week. You also try to get museum curators interested in your work. Museums are public, not-for-profit institutions that buy and exhibit art. They are influenced by what the galleries show and visa versa. Museums exhibit even fewer artists than galleries. Critics fuel the process by judging your work. It is a challenge to get their attention, because there are many more shows than reviews. Art collectors buy from galleries and also sit on the boards and committees at museums, advising them (and being advised by them) on what to collect. To make a living from her art, an artist has to crack this system.
Diane Arbus: Museums and galleries tend to exhibit the same few artists, who are overwhelmingly white and male.

Lee Krasner: The world of High Art, the kind that gets into museums and history books, is run by a very small group of people. Our posters have proved over and over again that these people, no matter how smart or good-intentioned, have been biased against women and artists of color.
Romaine Brooks: Success in art is a matter of luck and timing as well as being good or having talent. Why do white men seem to have all the luck? It's not just a happy accident. Thus far, and throughout history, the system has been set up to support and promote the work of white male artists. That is their luck. In the old days of Western culture, it was patronage and the atelier system. It's not that different now, though patronage doesn't come in the form of royal courts and the Roman Catholic Church, but in the form of gallery owners, collectors, critics and museums who back certain artists. Once enough money has been invested in a certain artist, everyone mobilizes to keep that artist's name out front and consequently in history. The artists who make it in this way begin to define quality.
Alma Thomas: “Quality” has always been used to keep women and artists of color out.

Alice Neel: If art is the expression of experience and everyone admits that gender and race affect experience, then it stands to reason that their work could be different.
Ana Mendieta: That's another thing that we're fighting for. We think the art that's in the museums and galleries should tell the whole story of our cultureour real culturenot just the white male part.

Rosalba Carriera: Many people believe that art is special and exempt from conventional scrutiny. While art may be transcendent, the art world should be subject to the same standards as anywhere else. We think there's a civil rights issue here.
Zora Neale Hurston: Women and men of color have been denied equal access to becoming artists in our culture for centuries. But there have been many stunning exceptions and even they are neglected by museums and written out of history books!
Paula Modersohn-Becker: Janson's History of Art, the most widely-used textbook, didn't mention a single woman artist until Janson died. Then, his son revised it, including a big 19 out of 2,300.
Gertrude Stein: There's a popular misconception that the world of High Art is ahead of mass culture but everything in our research shows that, instead of being avant garde, it's derriere. Look at our poster that compares the number of women in jobs traditionally held by men to the number of women showing in major art galleries (Bus companies are more enlightened than NYC art galleries.) The art world is a lot more macho than the post office.

Meta Fuller: Of course not. Any veteran of the Civil Rights, Women's, or Gay Rights movement knows that progress is the result of pressure, protest and struggle.

Georgia O'Keeffe: Yes and no. History isn't a fixed, static thing. It always needs adjustments and revisions. The tendency to reduce the art of an era to a few “geniuses” and their masterpieces is myopic. It has been a huge mistake. There are many, many significant artists. We're not going to forget Rembrandt and Michelangelo. We just want to move them over to make room for the rest of us!

Zora Neale Hurston: We've never, ever mentioned quotas. We've never attacked an institution for not showing 50% women and artists of color. But we have humiliated them for showing less than 10%.
Georgia O'Keeffe: To make up for what's happened so far in art history, every show should be 99% women and artists of color, but only for the next 400 years.

Frida Kahlo: If a masterpiece can only be made by a master and a master is defined as “a man having control or authority,” you can see what we're up against. Considering the history of slavery, we suggest changing the words to massa' and massa's piece.
Lee Krasner: Seminal, an adjective for semen is completely overused to describe creative achievement and originality. Yuk. Just thinking about it brings a bad taste to my mouth.
Tina Modotti: Next time anyone feels the urge to use the word seminal, try germinal instead.
Anais Nin: The word genius is related to the Latin word for testicles. Maybe that explains why it's so rarely used to describe a woman.

Kathe Kollwitz: We don't all want a piece of the pie. We are a diverse group, different ages, different races, different sexual orientations and different levels of art world success. Some of us want to blow up SoHo, some have already had museum retrospectives. What we do agree on unanimously is that women and artists of color deserve a piece of the pie and shouldn't be prevented from getting a big piece, if that's what they're after.
Violette LeDuc: People who attack us for wanting a piece of the pie usually have most of it. They wouldn't attack a woman in another field like a law graduate who wants to be a partner in a firm, or a Supreme Court Judge.

Anais Nin: We plan to have a position on it as soon as we can agree on what it is.

Rosalba Carriera: Sure, as long as some of it is made by women and artists of color.

Romaine Brooks: We support lesbian and gay rights and some of us are queer.
Gertrude Stein: We've covered lesbian and gay issues in a number of posters. For example,we called for the Far Right to undergo psychoanalysis to determine the source of its interest in Robert Mapplethorpe.
Violette LeDuc: We proclaimed that Clarence Thomas would extend the same right to privacy he demanded for himself to homosexuals.
Alice Neel: We ridiculed homophobic AIDS paranoia in our explanation of Natural Law.
Vanessa Bell: The first Hot Flashes poked fun at The New York Times' puritanical language when covering lesbian and gay issues.
Georgia O'Keeffe: We would like to see art about lesbian sexuality taken as seriously as art about gay male sexuality. And it's happening.

Rosalba Carriera: Actually, what started off as a lark, as a way of doing something constructive with our anger, has become a big responsibility to a huge audience. We didn't ask for it but we're trying to live up to it. None of us has ever profited from being a Girl.
Ana Mendieta: Give us a break. Was the Lone Ranger a coward?

Paula Modersohn-Becker: One guy threatened us. But the thought of millions of angry, spear-carrying feminists on his case was more than he could bear.
Liubov Popova: A number of years ago, two guys put up a poster with their photos, claiming to be the Guerrilla Girls. Some weird career strategy!

Emily Carr: We've made dealers, curators, critics and collectors accountable. And things have actually gotten better for women and artists of color. With lots of backsliding.
Frida Kahlo: Just last year, Robert Hughes, who in the mid-80's claimed that gender was no longer a limiting factor in the art world, reviewed a show of American art in London for Time and said “You don't have to be a Guerrilla Girl to know that there weren't enough women in the show.” That's progress, even though Hughes reneged on a promise to apologize in this book for his past insensitivity.
Paula Modersohn-Becker: Mary Boone is too macho to admit we influenced her in any way, but she never represented any women until we targeted her.
Kathe Kollwitz: Museum curators feel compelled to suck up to us on camera. They used to ignore us and hope we'd just go away.
Gertrude Stein: The situation was pathetic. It had to change. And we were a part of that change.

33.3%: Yes.
33.3%: No.
The rest: Undecided.

All: Back to that jungle out there. Back to work.

Emily Carr: It's hot.
Paula Modersohn-Becker: Not as hot as we make it out there.
Alma Thomas: But we look so beautiful, it's hard to complain.

PATTERNS, GRIDS, AND PAINTING

PATTERN, FOR AMERICANS, HAS NEVER even been an esthetic issue. Our artistic self-consciousness: developed out of painting and, perhaps, architecture. Associated with decoration and the machine, pattern was always outside the area of legitimate artistic concern. The stylistic revisions of the last decade or so—remember the defense of boredom?—might have been expected to alter that situation. Yet to artists now working with pattern (especially women, who may feel it as something particularly their own), it still seems to imply a lack of inwardness and freedom, and they are often defensive about it. Pattern carries the aura of craft and contrivance, although many individual aspects of pattern—its affinities with number, rationality, mechanical production and depersonalized imagery—have been reclaimed for art. Pattern itself remains unanalyzed, its salient characteristics unknown. Unlike painting, pattern has no mystique, and it has been underground so long that thinking about it reveals surprising complexities. I’ll try to start at the beginning, although that is already a lie. There is no beginning, middle or end to pattern. Its boundaries are vague, or, at least, I frankly don’t understand them. Perhaps I should just say that what follows seems to me to be generally true.

It is ordinarily supposed that pattern is the repetition of a motif; it isn’t. The crucial determinant of pattern is the constancy of the interval between motifs, a fact easily demonstrated by anyone with access to a typewriter. If you preserve the spacing between sequences of letters it doesn’t matter what letters or marks you use, a pattern will appear. On the other hand, a single motif, like a rubber stamp, irregularly applied to a sheet of paper does not yield any sort of pattern at all.

Two warnings are in order. First, we must distinguish between the creation of pattern and allusions to it. Early Matisses, like La Desserte, refer to patterned cloth as a pictorial element, but the motifs are so large, interrupted and dispersed that pattern does not actually appear. At the beginning, Matisse’s painted pattern no more is a pattern than the painted lemon is a lemon. And when he does begin to use true pattern, he is very cautious. He chooses small, simple linear motifs: stripes, diamonds, squares.

Second, a pattern only comes into phenomenal existence when there are enough repetitions of the space/interval to establish it clearly as a unit. On a typewriter, four or five rows are needed if you are using the short side of the page and varying the “motif” (which, of course, engenders small-scale differences in the shape of the intervals). To clinch the demonstration, introduce a new sequence of spacing in the next four lines. The result will be legible as two patterns, regardless, again, of the marks you have actually made.

The naive assumption that pattern is the repetition of a motif is fatal to any sophisticated understanding or use of it. That assumption ignores the possibilities of pattern because, in effect, it allows the pattern-maker to vary only the way in which his motif is stated. This does not necessarily vary the pattern itself. The truth of that statement depends on what you decide to call “the pattern itself.” It seems natural to say that one pattern can have variant forms or that you can perceive a whole range of changes as presenting alternative forms of a single pattern.

Taking interval as a constant, then, a single pattern can be maintained through changes in motif, through changes in color, and through changes in density (the scale of the interval relative to the size of the patterned area). Of course the “feel” of the pattern will be different as it passes through those changes, but the juxtapositions of variants will usually, under scrutiny, support a sense of family resemblance. The mutations will seem internal, genetic. On the other hand, if you change the interval while any or all of the other variables remain constant, the difference feels radical. The new pattern appears as a transformation, a system change. The conceptual richness of pattern can be fully realized only through the juxtaposition of related patterns. That is why pattern books and fabric stalls from Bloomingdale’s to the souks exercise their perennial fascination. While a single pattern may be boring, traditionally offering nothing beyond its own sensible identity, the confrontation of related patterns inevitably teases the mind, evoking the presence of hidden laws and an infinity of legitimate, unexpressed possibilities.

In the context of pattern, the elements of drawing take on an unexpected weight. Thicken a line here, flatten a curve, deepen a tone—it’s not simply a form that changes. The rhythm of the whole alters. The effect of variants in pattern, sometimes subtle, sometimes violent, is hard to describe in the usual formal terms. Our esthetic vocabulary was built for unique forms and closed aggregates, and in pattern nothing is unique or closed. Orchestration is all.

Pattern can be so enthralling that the convert, disengaged from the usual pleasures of painting, begins to feel that only the most outrageous prejudice keeps pattern from receiving the artistic enthusiasm it deserves. But this, too, is naive. Pattern is not an extension or variant .of picture-making, although bits of it can be pressed into serving pictorial purposes. Pattern is basically antithetical to the iconic image, for the nature of pattern implicitly denies the importance of singularity, purity, and absolute precision.

A lot of painting—perhaps most of it—aims at perfection. The enthusiasts of pictures continually call our attention to the impossibility of changing a single stroke or nuance. Like a brimming glass of water, a painting full of meaning or feeling cannot easily tolerate any addition, subtraction, or displacement. Pattern, on the other hand, once established, is incredibly tough. Islamic artisans traditionally put “mistakes” in their patterns as a religious renunciation of perfection, which belongs only to God. Their mistakes disturb nothing. A demonstration of the irrelevance of perfect form.

A more crucial threat arises out of the relationship of pattern to iconic meaning. Many people believe that the interdependence of ideas and forms is what gives art its intellectual dignity. Pattern vitiates the impact of form and turns thought into ritual. The link between a perceptual form and its extraformal meaning is normally fragile, and requires support from the context in which it occurs. Mere repetition is dangerous enough—repeat any word ten times in a row and it becomes pure sound. Pattern is lethal and can kill the power of any image. Simply regularizing the interval between pictorial elements makes forms lose their individual meaning. They become motifs whose similarity overrides any differences among them. It is here, in the difference between motif and subject, that the true “mereness” and “abstractness” of pattern lies. Pattern trivializes and degrades its themes by turning them into esthetic details within a larger, more inclusive form.

In effect, patterned repetition in space has the same consequences as the repetition of symbols over a long period of time. To see the same image over and over again in a variety of situations disengages the control of context and erodes meaning. Without institutional control, religious symbols readily become lucky emblems and ultimately “mere” decorative motifs, as we can see from the fate of many pagan and Buddhist themes. From a strictly artistic point of view, the absence of referential meaning is not necessarily a loss.1 The artistic impulse is promiscuous—it doesn’t necessarily take a respectable idea to turn an artist on. Like the gilded fly, he’ll go to it on any occasion.

Consider Warhol’s early use of repeated images. They presented the paradox of an emotionally loaded subject (the car wrecks, riot scenes, electric chairs) which flickered between carrying and failing to carry its expected emotional response. That paradoxical effect was attributed to Warhol’s schlocky color, the coarseness of handling, or the associations to mass media. Yet perhaps the crucial step was just the regular repetition of the motif, which suddenly made it possible to see the picture as a pattern and its subject as a motif. Certainly, similar themes and treatment never had the same flattened, brutalized effect in Rauschenberg’s hands. They remained stubbornly, if vaguely, poetic—his sensibility is implacably intimate and nuanced. When Warhol began to use sentimental images, flowers, cows, portrait heads, the same pattern format sabotaged the sweetness as effectively as it had previously undercut the horror.

I think it is impossible to respond simultaneously to a picture and a pattern because each evokes a different mode of perception and a different kind of esthetic experience. Each engenders a specific kind of attention and particular sets of expectations. The sets are psychologically incompatible and the kinds structurally distinct. The fundamental structure of pattern is the grid; any pattern can be reduced to some grid. I suggest that grids and compositions are cues to different mobilizations of self. It may seem excessively magical to claim that in choosing one type of organization or another the artist establishes a fundamental relationship to the viewer that no later artistic decision can abrogate. Yet we all learn to mobilize our attention in a variety of ways, and have undoubtedly learned how to respect and set aside the cues for various sorts of attending. This is true even though we may not be able to say exactly what those cues are.

Compositions breed involvement, intimacy and references to self. Grids generate a greater emotional distance—a sense of the presence of objective, pervasive law.

Composition arises when an artist wishes to snare somebody into sustaining attention to a complex whole. He must keep his forms and form elements together without overloading or impoverishing his field. Any composition has focal areas, and locally intensifies and submerges control over the perceiver’s activity as he moves over the work as a whole. In the nontemporal arts, sequence and tempo are established by exploiting the similarity and contrast of forms.

However complex the execution of a composition may be, seeing a composition is easy. It is a deliberately engineered reprise of ordinary looking. Whenever we face some corner of the world, we are likely to find some parts of the display more interesting than others, to move our attention there and to check out the rest as subordinate setting. The hierarchic, relational aspects of pictorial composition simply displace and harden the usual process of floating, intermittent attentiveness.

Scanning is a much more specialized, anxious kind of looking. It contains an element of search, and unsatisfied search at that, since it implies a restless refusal to focus and an attempt to grasp the nature of the whole. The characteristic response to patterns and grids is rapid scanning.

Why should an organization that is instantly recognized as regulated and lawful evoke so unquiet a response? I think it is because the linear grid, whether it is expressed or implicit (as in pattern), is disorienting. It has no intrinsic shape, no body or geography of its own. It is a featureless field of equally stressed marks, a sea of notation that demands justification as a form before it can be investigated in detail. The first requirement in any unfocused situation is to locate the boundaries of the field, since the boundaries alone can provide orientation. Thus any pattern or grid is initially scanned in order to establish its relationship to the physical world. It demands location as a physical unit. Does it also provoke justification in terms of a larger situation? If so, that “requirement” initiates the philosophical aspect of pattern.

Unless framing elements are stressed, grids are centrifugal. The possibility of unframed grids arises because the regular juxtaposition of repeated units itself establishes a unitary area or field. Thus, exhibitions of series art and Conceptual art (both of which are normally hung to equalize the importance of their component parts) very often yield visual, unframed grids. Sometimes the arrangement is more than just practical. In Robert Ryman’s work, for example, the grid is eminently suited to his subtle, static fields. They require such a close focus that the grid extends beyond the range of peripheral image and thus functions as the context of the viewer and his visual field simultaneously—a zone of silence. In Helen Frankenthaler’s recent show of ceramic tiles at the Guggenheim, on the other hand, the presence of the grid was baffling. Were the tiles supposed to be tiny pictures of disjunctive units of a complex whole? In the immensity of the Guggenheim’s dynamic space, the question seemed less than urgent.

Grids are nonhierarchic and nonrelational, but that is not because relationships among its components do not exist, nor because the components of the grid are necessarily equally stressed. A grid is nonrelational because its internal spatial relations are marked out as invariable and therefore inexpressive and disregardable. Its shapes are thus not shapes at all, but authoritative markers, indicating the pace and rhythm by which we are to perceive the whole.

By denying informational value to shape, the normal carrier of form and content, the grid offers nothing more (or less) than a seamless experience of measured space, the experience of visual order itself. A grid is an isolated, specified, unlocalized field, as close as we can come to perceiving pure being, free from any added rationale or emotional activity.

This being so, it is not surprising that artists who begin with the grid usually proceed to destroy it. The step most commonly taken is the reintroduction of shape, either by breaking into the regularity of the field (turning the grid itself into a stressed shape) or by interrupting the unbroken equality of its internal relations. Turning the interval into a structural module naturally entails a return to shape and composition. The toughness of patterns, in which the grid is normally unstated, is utterly reversed by actual grids, which are extremely vulnerable to inflection. They easily lose their unitary, nonmaterial character and become a kind of composition—usually called constructions, lest the module escape your notice. Like all other constructions, grid-derived works are more or less tidy, more or less arbitrary. Subjected to the hazards of illusionistic perspective, illumination and material process, grids lose their metronome effect and return to the everyday world of things and symbols.

Few things on earth are more pointless than a grid seen through a temperament. Like an artificially illuminated sundial, it dumps vision in favor of visibility. The experience of the grid can be interesting, but the form itself is noninformational. An “interpretation” of it is somewhat more vacuous than handwriting analysis. As an aid to art-making, the grid is trivial, a mechanism out of Creative Playthings that guarantees neither order nor ingenuity. It has no more claim to intellectual significance than correct anatomy. Nevertheless, if you start with .a grid, it would seem merely intelligent to stay with it and investigate its own odd nature, turning your materials into a substantiation of it. Surely the strength of artists as diverse as Alfred Jensen and Agnes Martin lies significantly in their unwillingness to subvert the grid.2 On the other hand, artists like Ryman and Kelly, whose strength lies apart from rhythm and intuition, are sufficiently sensitive to interval to keep their relationship to the grid submerged, holding it as an unstressed backstop. It keeps their viewers locked into relating to the sameness of their different surfaces.

Most semidestroyed grids are pretty boring. Preserved grids, if the artist can hold you to them, are pretty interesting. Grid structures with submerged asymmetries, of the sort found in Near Eastern carpets and some Buddhist paintings, are notoriously esthetically satisfying in a way that even good paintings are not. The enjoyment of patterns and grids, so often linked to religion, magic, and states of being not-quite-here, requires an indifference to self-assertion uncongenial to most Westerners. When I suggested that grids evoke the experience of law, I did not mean to speak metaphorically. It is one of our cultural quirks that we find law and creativity an odd pair. Charismatic personalities are another story—we expect creativity from them. Our art history is the history of big artists—yet little artists, making small contributions to a collective articulation of form, embody an equally real creativity. An enormous amount of the world’s artistic production has been made as the process of discovering possibilities within rigid frameworks, like the requirements of the crafts or the structure of the grid. We are only beginning to think about such things.

1. When the audience for a work doesn’t share a wide range of attitudes, the lack of stress on iconography can be a positive advantage, freeing it from sources of possible resistance.

2. I find Martin’s titles over-concrete. They are undoubtedly part of the history of the work, but they are irrelevant to its immediate lyricism.

anti-pure, anti-purist, anti-puritanical, anti-minimalist, anti-post minimalist, anti-reductivist, anti-formalist, anti-pristine, anti-austere, anti-bare, anti-blank, anti-bland, anti-boring, anti-empty, anti-dull, anti-monotonous, anti-flat, anti-picture plane, anti-sterile, anti-clean, anti-sanitized, anti-machine-made, anti-technological, anti-computerized, anti-universal, anti-internationalist, anti-imperialist, anti-bauhausist, anti-dominant, anti-authoritarian, anti-mandarinist, anti-mainstreamist, anti-transcendent, anti-rigid, anti-systemic, anti-linguisticized, anti-bureaucratized, anti-black, anti-white, anti-grey, anti-grid, anti-god, anti-moralistic, anti-religious, anti-priestly, anti-mystifying, anti-mystical, anti-orthodox, anti-logic, anti-conceptual, anti-male dominated, anti-virile, anti-tough, anti-cool, anti-cruel, anti-cold, anti-rational, anti-absolutist, anti-academic, anti-dogmatic, anti-doctrinaire, anti-aesthetic, anti-classicist, anti-hermetic, anti-exclusivist, anti-idealist, anti-conventionalist, anti-determinist, anti-programmatic, anti-dehumanized, anti-unintelligible, anti-sophisticated, anti-disinterested, anti-uninteresting, anti-detached, anti-emotionless, anti-meaningless, anti-formless, anti-colorless, anti-lineless, anti-spaceless, anti-lightless, anti-textureless, anti-imageless, anti-timeless, anti-deathless, anti-lifeless, anti-breathless, anti-elitist, anti-historicist, anti-loveless, anti-sexless, anti-pleasureless, anti-funless, anti-jargonized, anti-structuralist, anti-dictatorial, anti-ordered, anti-closed, anti-controlled, anti-controlling, anti-arrogant, anti-sublime, anti-grandiose, anti-pedantic, anti-patriarchal, anti-heroic, anti-genius, anti-master.

additive, subjective, romantic, imaginative, personal, autobiographical, whimsical, narrative, decorative, lyrical, architectural, sculptural, primitive, eccentric, local, specific, spontaneous, irrational, private, impulsive, gestural, handwritten, handmade, colorful, joyful, obsessive, fussy, funny, funky, vulgar, perverse, mannerist, tribal, rococo, tactile, self-referring, sumptuous, sensuous, salacious, eclectic, exotic, messy, monstrous, complex, ornamented, embroidered, articulated, spatial, light-filled, delicate, warm, open, questioning, sharing.........

War and Virility
Purity
Purity in Art as a Holy Cause
The Superiority of Western Art
Fear of Racial Contamination, Impotence and Decadence
Racism and Sexism
Hierarchy of High-Low Art
That Old Chestnut, ‘Humanism’
Decoration and Domesticity
Autocracy

Joseph Hirsh, from ‘Common Cause,’ D. W. Larkin, 1949: ‘The greatest artist has wielded his art as a magnificent weapon truly mightier than the sword . . .’

Diego Rivera, ‘The Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Art,’ 1932: ‘I want to use my art as a weapon.’

Pablo Picasso, ‘Statement about the Artist as a Political Being,’ 1945: ‘No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy.’

Le Corbusier, ‘Guiding Principles of Town Planning,’ 1925: ‘Decorative art is dead . . . An immense, devastating brutal evolution has burned the bridges that link us with the past.’

Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, ‘Basic Principles of Constructivism,’ 1920: ‘We reject the decorative line. We demand of every line in the work of art that it shall serve solely to define the inner directions of force in the body to be portrayed.’

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Antonio Sant’Elia, ‘Futurist Architecture,’ 1914: ‘The decorative must be abolished! . . . Let us throw away monuments, sidewalks, arcades, steps; let us sink squares into the ground, raise the level of the city.’

El Lissitsky, ‘Ideological Superstructure,’ 1929: ‘Destruction of the traditional . . . War has been declared on the aesthetic of chaos. An order that has entered fully into consciousness is called for.’

‘Manifesto of the Futurist Painters,’ 1910: ‘The dead shall be buried in the earth’s deepest bowels! The threshold of the future will be free of mummies! Make room for youth, for violence, for daring!’

Clement Greenberg, ‘Detached Observations,’ 1976: ‘The ultimate use of art is construed as being to provide the experience of aesthetic value, therefore art is to be stripped down towards this end. Hence, modernist “functionalism,” “essentialism” it could be called, the urge to “purify” the medium, any medium. “Purity” being construed as the most efficacious, efficient, economical employment of the medium for purposes of aesthetic value.’

Louis Sullivan, ‘Ornament in Architecture,’ 1892: ‘it would be greatly for our aesthetic good, if we should refrain from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.’

Amédée Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art, 1931: ‘Decoration can be revolting, but a naked body moves us by the harmony of its form.’

Willem de Kooning, ‘What Abstract Art Means to Me,’ 1951: ‘One of the most striking of abstract art’s appearance is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.’

Henry van de Velde, ‘Programme,’ 1903: ‘As soon as the work of cleansing and sweeping out has been finished, as soon as the true form of things comes to light again, then strive with all the patience, all the spirit and the logic of the Greeks for the perfection of this form.’

Adolf Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime,’ 1908: ‘We have outgrown ornament; we have fought our way through to freedom from ornament. See, the time is nigh, fulfilment awaits us. Soon the streets of the city will glisten like white walls, like Zion, the holy city, the capital of heaven. Then fulfilment will be come.’

Guillaume Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters, 1913: ‘To insist on purity is to baptize instinct, to humanize art, and to deify personality.’

David Hume, ‘Of National Characters’ (on Africans), 1748: ‘There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.’

Roger Fry, ‘The Art of the Bushmen,’ 1910: ‘it is to be noted that all the peoples whose drawing shows this peculiar power of visu-alization (sensual not conceptual) belong to what we call the lowest of savages, they are certainly the least civilizable, and the South African Bushmen are regarded by other native races in much the same way that we look upon negroes.’

Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence, 1953: ‘Now a barbarian art can keep alive only in the environment of the barbarism it expresses . . . the Byzantine style, as the West saw it, was not the expression of a supreme value but merely a form of decoration.’

Roger Fry, ‘The Munich Exhibition of Mohammedan Art,’1910: ‘It cannot be denied that in course of time it [Islamic art] pandered to the besetting sin of the oriental craftsman, his intolerable patience and thoughtless industry.’

Gustave von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, 1945: ‘Islam can hardly be called creative in the sense that the Greeks were creative in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. or the Western world since the Renaissance, but its flavor is unmistakable . . .’

Sir Richard Westmacott, Professor of Sculpture, Royal Academy (quoted in Rediscoveries in Art: Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and Collecting in England and France, Francis Haskell, 1977): ‘I think it impossible that any artist can look at the Nineveh marbles as works for study, for such they certainly are not: they are works of prescriptive art, like works of Egyptian art. No man would ever think of studying Egyptian art.’

Adolf Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime,’ 1908: ‘No ornament can any longer be made today by anyone who lives on our cultural level.’ ‘It is different with the individuals and peoples who have not yet reached this level.’ ‘I can tolerate the ornaments of the Kaffir, the Persian, the Slovak peasant woman, my shoemaker’s ornaments, for they all have no other way of attaining the high points of their existence. We have art, which has taken the place of ornament. After the toils and troubles of the day we go to Beethoven or to Tristan.’

Adolf Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime,’ 1908: ‘I have made the following discovery and I pass it on to the world: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. I believed that with this discovery I was bringing joy to the world; it has not thanked me. People were sad and hung their heads. What depressed them was the realization that they could produce no new ornaments. Arc we alone, the people of the nine-teenth century, supposed to be unable to do what any Negro, all the races and periods before us have been able to do? What mankind created without ornament in earlier millenia was thrown away without a thought and abandoned to destruction. We possess no joiner’s benches from the Carolingian era, but every trifle that displays the least ornament has been collected and cleaned and palatial buildings have been erected to house it. Then people walked sadly about between the glass cases and felt ashamed of their impotence.’

Amédée Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art, 1931: ‘Let us beware lest the earnest effort of younger peoples relegates us to the necropolis of the effete nations, as mighty Rome did to the dilettantes of the Greek decadence, or the Gauls to worn-out Rome.’ ‘Given many lions and few fleas, the lions are in no danger; but when the fleas multiply, how pitiful is the lions’ lot!’

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Cubism, 1912: ‘As all preoccupation in art arises from the material employed, we ought to regard the decorative preoccupation, if we find it in a painter, as an anachronistic artifice, useful only to conceal impotence.’

Maurice Barrés (on the Italian pre-Renaissance painters), 1897 (quoted in André Malraux, The Voices of Silence)’. ‘And I can also see why aesthetes, enamoured of the archaic, who have deliberately emasculated their virile emotions in quest of a more fragile grace, relish the poverty and pettiness of these minor artists.’

Herbert Read, Art and Industry, 1953: ‘All ornament should be treated as suspect. I feel that a really civilized person would as soon tattoo his body as cover the form of a good work of art with meaningless ornament. Legitimate ornament I conceive as something like mascara and lipstick -something applied with discretion to make more precise the outlines of an already existing beauty.’

Adolf Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime,’ 1908: ‘The child is amoral. To our eyes, the Papuan is too. The Papuan kills his enemies and eats them. He is not a criminal. But when modern man kills someone and eats him he is either a criminal or a degenerate. The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his paddles, in short everything he can lay hands on. He is not a criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons in which eighty per cent of the inmates show tattoos. The tattooed who are not in prison are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If someone who is tattooed dies at liberty, it means he has died a few years before committing a murder.’

Meyer Schapiro, ‘The Social Bases of Art,’ 1936: ‘A woman of this class [upper] is essentially an artist, like the painters whom she might patronize. Her daily life is filled with aesthetic choices; she buys clothes, ornaments, furniture, house decorations; she is constantly re-arranging herself as an aesthetic object.’

Kasimir Malevich, ‘Supremacist manifesto Unovis,’ 1924: ‘we don’t want to be like those Negroes upon whom English culture bestowed the umbrella and top hat, and we don’t want our wives to run around naked like savages in the garb of Venus!’

Iwan Bloch, The Sexual Life of our Time, 1908: ‘[woman] possesses a greater interest in her immediate environment, in the finished product, in the decorative, the individual, and the concrete; man, on the other hand, exhibits a preference for the more remote, for that which is in process of construction or growth, for the useful, the general, and the abstract.’

Leo Tolstoy, ‘What is Art?’ 1898: ‘Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out.’

Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant-garde and Kitsch,’ 1939: ‘It will be objected that such art for the masses as folk art was developed under rudimentary conditions of production - and that a good deal of folk art is on a high level. Yes, it is — but folk art is not Athene, and it’s Athene whom we want: formal culture with its infinity of aspects, its luxuriance, its large comprehension.’

H. W. Janson, History of Art, 1962: ‘for the applied arts are more deeply enmeshed in our everyday lives and thus cater to a far wider public than do painting and sculpture, their purpose, as the name suggests, is to beautify the useful, an important and honourable one, no doubt, but of a lesser order than art pure and simple.’

Amédée Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art, 1931: ‘If we go on allowing the minor arts to think themselves the equal of Great Art, we shall soon be hail fellow to all sorts of domestic furniture. Each to his place! The decorators to the big shops, the artists on the next floor up, several floors up, as high as possible, on the pinnacles, higher even. For the time being, however, they sometimes do meet on the landings, the decorators having mounted at their heels, and numerous artists having come down on their hunkers.’

Le Corbusier (Pierre Jeanneret) and Amédée Ozenfant, ‘On Cubism,’ 1918: (quoted in Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art): ‘There is a hierarchy in the arts: decorative art at the bottom, and the human form at the top.’ ‘Because we are men.’

Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence, 1953: ‘The design of the carpet is wholly abstract; not so its color. Perhaps we shall soon discover that the sole reason why we call this art “decorative” is that for us it has no history, no hierarchy, no meaning. Color reproduction may well lead us to review our ideas on this subject and rescue the masterwork from the North African bazaar as Negro sculpture has been rescued from the curio- shop; in other words, liberate Islam from the odium of “backwardness” and assign its due place (a minor one, not because the carpet never portrays Man, but because it does not express him) to this last manifestation of the undying East.’

Barnett Newman, ‘The Ideographic Picture,’ 1947 (on the Kwakiutl artist): ‘The abstract shape he used, his entire plastic language, was directed by a ritualistic will towards metaphysical understanding. The everyday realities he left to the toymakers; the pleasant play of non-objective pattern to the women basket weavers.’

Ursula Meyer, Conceptual Art, 1972: ‘In the same sense that science is for scientists and philosophy is for philosophers, art is for artists.’

Joseph Kosuth, ‘Introductory Note by the American Editor,’ 1970: ‘In a sense, then, art has become as “serious as science or philosophy” which doesn’t have audiences either.’

Camille Mauclair, ‘La Réforme de l’art décoratif en France’ (on the Impressionists), 1896: ‘Decorative art has as its aesthetic and for its effect not to make one think of man, but of an order of things arranged by him: it is a descriptive and deforming art, a grouping of spectacles the essence of which is to be seen.’

Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception, 1954: ‘Paintings or sculpture are self-contained statements about the nature of human existence in all its essential aspects. An ornament presented as a work of art becomes a fool’s paradise, in which tragedy and discord are ignored and an easy peace reigns.’

Hilton Kramer, ‘The Splendors and Chill of Islamic Art,’ 1975: ‘for those of us who seek in art something besides a bath of pleasurable sensation, so much of what it [the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic wing] houses is, frankly so alien to the expectations of Western sensibility.’ ‘Perhaps with the passage of time, Islamic art will come to look less alien to us than it does today. I frankly doubt it – there are too many fundamental differences of spirit to be overcome.’ ‘there is small place indeed given to what looms so large in the Western imagination: the individualization of experience.’

Sir Thomas Arnold, Painting in Islam, 1928: ‘the painter was apparently willing to spend hours of work upon the delicate veining of the leaves of a tree . . . but it does not seem to have occurred to him to devote the same pains and effort on the countenances of his human figures . . . he appears to have been satisfied with the beautiful decorative effect he achieved.’

André Malraux, The Voices of Silence, 1953: ‘The limits (if the decorative can be precisely defined only in an age of humanistic art.’ ‘It was the individualization of destiny, this involuntary or unwitting imprint of his private drama on every man’s face, that prevented Western art from becoming like Byzantine mosaics always transcendent, or like Buddhist sculpture obsessed with unity.’ ‘How could an Egyptian, an Assyrian or a Buddhist have shown his god nailed to a ‘ cross, without ruining his style?’

Aldous Huxley on Pollock’s Cathedral, 1947: ‘It seems like a panel for a wallpaper which is repeated indefinitely around the wall.’

Wyndham Lewis, ‘Picasso’ (on Minotauromachy), 1940: ‘this confused, feeble, profusely decorated, romantic carpet.’

The Times of London critic on Whistler, 1878: ‘that these pictures only come one step nearer [to fine art] than a delicately tinted wallpaper.’

Hans Sedlmayr, Art in Crisis: The Lost Center, 1948: ‘With Matisse, the human form was to have no more significance than a pattern on a wallpaper . . .’

Dr Albert C. Barnes and Violette de Mazia, The Art of Cézanne, 1939: ‘Pattern, in Cézanne an instrument strictly subordinated to the expression of values inherent in the real world, becomes in cubism the entire aesthetic content, and this degradation of form leaves cubistic painting with no claim to any status higher than decoration.’

Albert Gleizes, ‘Opinion’ (on Cubism), 1913: ‘There is a certain imitative coefficient by which we may verify the legitimacy of our discoveries, avoid reducing the picture merely to the ornamental value of an arabesque or an Oriental carpet, and obtain an infinite variety which would otherwise be impossible.’

Wassily Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, 1912: ‘If we begin at once to break the bonds that bind us to nature and to devote ourselves purely to combinations of pure color and independent form, we shall produce works which are mere geometric decoration, resembling something like a necktie or a carpet.’

Ad Reinhardt, ‘There is Just One Painting,’ 1966: ‘There is just one art history, one art evolution, one art progress. There is just one aesthetics, just one art idea, one art meaning, just one principle, one force. There is just one truth in art, one form, one change, one secrecy.’

Amédée Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art, 1931: ‘Purism is not an aesthetic, but a sort of super-aesthetic in the same way that the League of Nations is a superstate.’

Erich Mendelsohn, ‘The Problem of a New Architecture,’ 1919: ‘The simultaneous process of revolutionary political decisions and radical changes in human relationships in economy and science and religion and art give belief in the new form, an a, priori right to exercise control, and provide a justifiable basis for a rebirth amidst the misery produced by world-historical disaster.’ Adolf Hitler, speech inaugurating the ‘Great Exhibition of German Art,’ 1937: ‘I have come to the final inalterable decision to clean house, just as I have done in the domain of political confusion . . .’ ‘National-Socialist Germany, however, wants again a "German Art," and this art shall and will be of eternal value, as are all truly creative values of a people. . . .’

Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘Work Song,’ 1896: ‘I’LL THINK AS I’LL ACT
AS I AM!
NO DEED IN FASHION FOR SHAM
NOR FOR FAME E’ER MAN MADE
SHEATH THE NAKED WHITE BLADE
MY ACT AS BECOMETH A MAN
MY ACT
ACTS THAT BECOMETH THE MAN’



Willem de Kooning, ‘What Abstract Art Means to Me,’ 1951: ‘One of the most striking of abstract art’s appearance is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.’

Ad Reinhardt, ‘There is Just One Painting,’ 1966: ‘There is just one art history, one art evolution, one art progress. There is just one aesthetics, just one art idea, one art meaning, just one principle, one force. There is just one truth in art, one form, one change, one secrecy.’

Guillaume Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters, 1913: ‘To insist on purity is to baptize instinct, to humanize art, and to deify personality.’

David Hume, ‘Of National Characters’ (on Africans), 1748: ‘There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.’

Meyer Schapiro, ‘The Social Bases of Art,’ 1936:‘A woman of this class [upper] is essentially an artist, like the painters whom she might patronize. Her daily life is filled with aesthetic choices; she buys clothes, ornaments, furniture, house decorations; she is constantly re-arranging herself as an aesthetic object.’

An Art Movement Unapologetic About Love and Pleasure

Artists of the Pattern and Decoration movement expanded our perceptions around what is worthy of being called art.

P&D is often discussed within the context of second wave, white feminism. In the MOCA show, Katz expands the conversation to include artists of color not generally associated with the movement who incorporated quilting into their abstractions. Al Loving, for example, reportedly moved away from hard-edge abstraction toward quilting because it made him feel closer to his Black identity, closer to home. As a child he watched in awe as his grandmother and her group of friends sewed large quilts together. With this memory in mind, in the 1970s Loving decided to cut up his paintings and sew them into uneven shapes. The results are warmer, softer, and more mysterious than his legendary geometric paintings.

Miriam Schapiro, “Heartland” (1985), acrylic and fabric on canvas, installation view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (all photos by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)
Joyce Kozloff, “Negating the Negative (An Answer to Ad Reinhard’s On Negation)” (1976) and “On Affirmation” (1976)
Installation view of Joyce Kozloff works at MOCA, Los Angeles
Miriam Schapiro with Sherry Brody, “Dollhouse” (1972)
Jane Kaufman, “Embroidered, Beaded Crazy Quilt” (1983–85)
Al Loving, “Untitled” (1975)
Pat Lasch, “Wedding Tower” (1978)
Kim MacConnel, installation view at MOCA, Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — “This is blowing my mind,” a young visitor at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) said to me, gesturing at some wall text, a two-part manifesto dating to 1976 by the artist Joyce Kozloff. In the first part, Kozloff states all she is against: “anti-pure, anti-purist, anti-puritanical, anti-minimalist, anti-post minimalist, anti-reductivist …” The list goes on (“anti-white, anti-grey, anti-grid, anti-god”) — a resounding statement against the cool aesthetic of the dominant minimalist art movement of the time. In the second part, she affirms the “personal, autobiographical, whimsical, narrative, decorative” as well as the “irrational, private,” and “messy.”

These latter adjectives describe the values of the Pattern and Decoration movement (also known as “P&D”), whose artists, working across the United States in the 1970s and ’80s, made colorful paintings, textiles, and sculptures that overflowed with texture and detail — the nightmare of a minimalist. “More is more,” the P&D artists would say.

But Anna Katz, the curator of the MOCA exhibition With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985, emphasizes that the P&D movement wasn’t an anti-minimalist movement, per se. The participants’ battle was a much grander one: against centuries’ worth of art history that had treated the decorative arts as domestic and feminine and therefore inferior. (“Decorative,” Katz writes in the catalogue, was “a dirty word, a profanity.”) In response, the P&D artists unapologetically championed the aesthetics of decorative crafts, pulling inspiration for their art from wallpaper to rugs.

“While critical, P&D is not cynical,” Katz writes, “and the gestures P&D makes are those of love and embrace.” Their art, as Kozloff espoused, was “warm, open,” and “sharing,” and made a statement. I’m reminded of the film critic Pauline Kael, who wrote critically and intelligently about the movies she loved. She showed that our enjoyment for something deserves being looked at and can offer insights into ourselves and our culture. As Susie Linfield observes, “what Kael showed is that the lover can see just as clearly, and be just as smart, as the skeptic.”

This is what I think about when I look at Miriam Schapiro’s giant sculpture of a heart composed of flowery fabric, quilt designs, and star-shaped glitter in the first room of With Pleasure. It’s a joyous, glorious object. And it’s also a piece of criticism: “Heartland” (1985) is one of Schapiro’s famous femmages (a combination of “female” and “collage”), for which she gathered fabrics, handkerchiefs, ribbon, and bits of paper from her home. “Heartland” was a way of saying that women’s work — and the private world from which it traditionally emerged — is worthy of being called art and worthy of displaying.

This is a show that makes you feel, and that wants to make you feel (still an unexpected priority in the formal museum setting). It’s a show that invites you to be at home. This is no coincidence: Home is at the root of Loving’s, Schapiro’s, and many others’ work. Pat Lasch’s exuberant, larger-than-life sculpture of a wedding cake honors her father, a pastry chef. Kim MacConnel literally staged a living room. Schapiro and Sherry Brody together built a doll house representing a woman artist’s home.

“The decorative is not strictly essential. Except that it is,” writes Katz in the show catalogue: It is most clearly essential to how we make our homes and humanize the spaces and objects of our lives, from the daily to the sacred, where the daily becomes sacred. It is a necessary unnecessary pleasure and tenet of well-being.

Today, the P&D artists would be right in step with the times, considering the renewed and enthusiastic interest in craft. There are many reasons for this recent surge, but there is something to be said for the way craftwork conveys the human hand — a kind of warmth and connection that many of us long for in this fragmented age. There is also a growing desire to be more rooted and connected to a sense of place and community. P&D artists validate these needs, since they tell us that the objects and communities they love merit contemplating.

With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985 continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (250 South Grand Avenue, Downtown, Los Angeles) through May 11.

by Elisa Wouk Almino
January 22, 2020

Jane Kaufman, a fierce Second Wave feminist, pioneer of the Pattern and Decoration movement, an arts activist, and a member of the Guerrilla Girls, died of lung cancer at her home in Andes, New York, on June 2. She had just celebrated her 83rd birthday.

Although she resided for the last 17 years in the Catskills, few of her many acquaintances in the area knew of her distinguished past. They remember her instead as a vivacious, funny, terrific gardener. As Jan Albert, a close friend, said over the phone with ARTnews, “I had no idea of her serious background whatsoever” until the two really got to know each other. Albert described in an email a final gathering of friends where Kaufman, “reclined on the sofa with red flowers in her hair,” while “dirty jokes were told and songs were sung.”

A native New Yorker, Kaufman earned a BA from NYU in 1960 and an MA from Hunter College in 1965. By the early 1970s, she was exhibiting her work widely. New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art hosted her solo show “Recent Paintings” in 1971, and she participated in the 1973 Whitney Biennial. She was also among the first women to teach in the art department at Bard College, where she spent the 1972–73 academic year. In 1974, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Initially a painter, Kaufman soon began incorporating embroidery and textile elements of that she had learned from her grandmother. She became part of a group of artists who relished maximalist decorative beauty. Developed during the mid-1970s to 1980s as a deliberate contrast to Minimalism, the Pattern and Decoration movement is credited with focusing both on the contributions of women artists—though there were men in the group—and on what was traditionally, in Eurocentric contexts, considered mere “practical” endeavors, such as mending, quilt-making, and embellishment.

Joyce Kozloff, a well-known member of the Pattern and Decoration group, who knew Kaufman well during its heyday, said of Kaufman: “She was passionate about this subject, decoration, and she was fearless, too.” In 1976, Kozloff was one of 10 artists Kaufman selected to show their work at the Alessandra Gallery in New York. The exhibition, “Ten Approaches to the Decorative,” was accompanied by a document with statements from the artists. In her entry, Kaufman explained her fascination with light as a subject in itself, writing that metallic thread and bugle beads, like those sometimes used on handbags and dresses, enabled her to “make purely abstract paintings about light; ‘real’ light—reflected, not absorbed, and at the same time explore the decorative element inherent in the materials.” The pieces Kaufman showed in the exhibition were riffs on Frank Stella’s black paintings, but smaller and beaded. As she wrote, “I want them to stud the walls—to stud in the ornamental sense.”

As the Pattern and Decoration movement went out of style, Kaufman used her textile skills to upholster friends’ sofas and redirected her decorative passion to gardening. Kaufman was also active in feminist art circles, perhaps most famously the Guerrilla Girls. Eschewing an pseudonym, she was one of the few to reveal her identity. According to an email from fellow member Frida Kahlo (an alias) Kaufman had “the ability to get right to the center of an issue and the courage and the principles to confront the powers that be.”

Later in life, Kaufman continued to march and protest, sometimes with Albert. As Albert got to know more about Kaufman’s illustrious past, she joined in the artist’s delight at seeing her work recognized again in the LA MoCA exhibition “Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985” and on the cover of the accompanying catalogue. The show, curated by Anna Katz, opened in late October 2019, but closed several months early in mid-March 2020 due to the pandemic. The survey is currently on view at Bard’s Hessel Museum of Art in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, through November 28, 2021.

There, hung on one wall is the work Kaufman called her finest, Embroidered, Beaded Crazy Quilt (1983–85), its dimensions suitable for a queen-sized bed. The effect of myriad rectilinear shapes, in shades and patterns of mostly purple with some pink, combined with 16 stitched-and-beaded flowers in blue and red on black, is both oddly comforting and disturbing. There’s a sweetness to the flowers, and edginess to the cacophony of joined fabric.

According to Katz, Kaufman used more than 100 historical embroidery stitches, which she’d researched at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. She did all of the stitching and beading herself, by hand. When Katz first saw the quilt, it was hanging on the artist’s wall, where her cat was clawing it. The work is, said Katz in an interview at Bard with ARTnews, a true crazy quilt. “A crazy quilt is traditionally a quilt that’s made from scraps of leftovers. And that is a tenet, really, of women’s home economy. You use what is available. That’s also an underlying principle of decoration. You use the space that is given,” Katz explains. “And within that, you make it as beautiful, as colorful, as interesting, as compelling as you can make it.” And that sentiment could well describe Kaufman herself.

Joyce Kozloff, a well-known member of the Pattern and Decoration group, who knew Kaufman well during its heyday, said of Kaufman: “She was passionate about this subject, decoration, and she was fearless, too.”

In 1976, Kozloff was one of 10 artists Kaufman selected to show their work at the Alessandra Gallery in New York. The exhibition, “Ten Approaches to the Decorative,” was accompanied by a document with statements from the artists. In her entry, Kaufman explained her fascination with light as a subject in itself, writing that metallic thread and bugle beads, like those sometimes used on handbags and dresses, enabled her to “make purely abstract paintings about light; ‘real’ light—reflected, not absorbed, and at the same time explore the decorative element inherent in the materials.” The pieces Kaufman showed in the exhibition were riffs on Frank Stella’s black paintings, but smaller and beaded. As she wrote, “I want them to stud the walls—to stud in the ornamental sense.”

As the Pattern and Decoration movement went out of style, Kaufman used her textile skills to upholster friends’ sofas and redirected her decorative passion to gardening.

Kaufman was also active in feminist art circles, perhaps most famously the Guerrilla Girls. Eschewing an pseudonym, she was one of the few to reveal her identity. According to an email from fellow member Frida Kahlo (an alias) Kaufman had “the ability to get right to the center of an issue and the courage and the principles to confront the powers that be.”

THE LATE 1960s saw various challenges to the iconoclastic austerities of Minimalist and Conceptual art, which were then receiving a great deal of critical attention. New alternatives included the more psychologically loaded Post-Minimalist abstraction, a broad range of painterly representation, and many other diverse, idiosyncratic, sometimes revisionist practices. (The sudden prominence of women in all this is noteworthy.) These dissenting modes included the lyrical, insouciantly impure sort of painting called Pattern and Decoration (P&D). Arguments in its favor—feminist, craft- friendly, populist, anti-Eurocentric—comprised a full liberal agenda, challenging established art-world orthodoxies.

Amy Goldin's support for Pattern and Decoration rested on several fundamental philosophical considerations: the importance of optical experience, the role of ideas in art (what do we mean by “meaning”?), art history's questionable relevance to seeing new work, and even the nature of art per se. She understood the need for serious investigation of just what pattern and decoration are and their place both in modern painting and in non-Western visual cultures. Amy Goldin: Art in a Hairshirt, Art Criticism 1964-1978, edited by the well-known P&D artist Robert Kushner, delves into all of this and more.

As a freelance critic, Goldin, who wrote regularly for Art in America as well other international publications, was adept at close readings of modern and contemporary works as well as exotica like Middle Eastern carpets. Her characterizations are illuminating, precise and at times rhapsodic. Here she is describing a Persian Sehna rug in her possession:

Goldin can gush and she can dish. Her early essays “Harold Rosenberg's Magic Circle” (1965) and “McLu- han's Message: Participate, Enjoy!” (1966) effectively take on major figures of the time. Rosenberg she considers “a menace,” saying of his bevy of pet critical concerns (history, revolution, action, the new, the artist, identity): “It drives other critics nuts. Faced with any of his imposing inconsistencies, Rosenberg immediately recognizes a paradox and leaps forward to embrace it.” She admires some of McLuhan's insights, while lamenting his lack of values: “For him, meaning is an old-fashioned concept, suitable to an age when information moved from one place to another by ox-cart. In an electric age, he says, we are more interested in effect.” In “Conceptual Art as Opera” (cowritten with Kushner in 1970), she argues:

“Manny Farber: Reforming Formalism,” an insightful 1978 discussion of Farber's abstractions, contains Goldin's complaint that “dozens of younger, weaker artists are still trying to make a name for themselves with tarted-up Minimalism—baby-talk simplicities of form combined with personalized, ‘lyrical’ elaborations of texture and surface.”

Goldin contests traditional academic discourse, typically with her own snappy Big Statements. One striking example comes from “Art in a Hairshirt,” the 1967 article that gave the book its title:

In the 1969 essay “Deep Art and Shallow Art,” Goldin asks with majuscule emphasis “WHAT IS MEANING?” Her answer is clear and uncompromising: “For most people, most of the time, meaning is something moral… Whatever it may have experienced or felt, an audience deprived of moral orientation feels deprived of meaning.”

Her critique of most art historical and art critical thinking cuts through a pervasive field of received ideas. Thus in “Conceptual Art as Opera” one finds: “The nonsensical assumption that all modern art is peculiarly intellectual (as if earlier art were peculiarly dopey) has left us totally unprepared to assess the role of ideas in art.” In the Manny Farber article, she lodges this complaint about the valuation of art and artists: “The inflation of self-propelled winners denies the communal creation of significant styles and falsifies the assessment of individual artists.” Her polemic here, a critique of the emphasis on dominant style and the attendant assumptions of historical importance, aims to account for and protest Farber's modest status:

A CONCEIT CENTRAL to Goldin's thinking is that pattern, found more universally than images, is psychologically more fundamental; it is to pictorial description as poetry is to prose. Poetry, according to her notion, preceded prose and is more deeply rooted, feeling having a deeper claim than the intellect. In her view, a crucial difference between pictorial images and decorative pattern is that the latter is seenmessentially in a process of scanning as opposed to the focused viewing appropriate to the hieratic organization of European composition. In Islamic art's various traditions of decorative pattern, she finds a stark alternative to Western visual thought, one which provides fertile ground for cultivating new esthetic values. Her influence on and support for the Pattern and Decoration artists stemmed largely from this involvement.

American music—from gospel, blues and jazz to New Music by Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass—has a long history of non-Western sources. Composers have used repetition, pattern, texture and instrumentation inways that depart from the European canon. Goldin, though she did not draw direct parallels, made the case for a correspondingly radical development in contemporary painting. Here her focus is on pattern as a fundamental mode of organization, but, of course, other non-Western visual regimes such as the spatial structure and composition of Japanese ukiyo-e had comparably radical effects on modern art. Perhaps for her the continuation of descriptive imagery was a limitation.

In a key essay, “Patterns, Grids and Painting” (1975), Goldin convincingly demonstrates that pattern is not defined by the repetition of a motif, as is typically thought, but by a consistency of interval between motifs. Although the motif itself need not have any semiotic value—precisely the focus of theory-oriented writers on art—pattern is not without intellectual challenge.

As with the flow of good conversation, Goldin's arguments can take you by surprise, slipping from one idea to the next unexpectedly. In “Leger Now” (1968), we read: “Leger is modern innocently and nonanalytically, by temperament, like Andy Warhol. And, like Warhol, the esthetic conventions he placidly accepts are as integral to his modern style as the violations of convention he instinctively introduces.”

In the probing essay “Matisse and Decoration: The Late Cut-Outs” (1975), Goldin seems to deflate rather than support the value of decoration, writing: “I take the ‘mereness’ of decoration to be intrinsic. Decoration is ‘mere’ because it is intellectually vapid.” She goes on to specify that decoration “requires a low level of emotional involvement and the absence of psychological tension” and, further, that it is “conceptually bland usually recognizable as an intellectual and visual cliche, inexpressive and unindividuated.” These remarks, oddly enough, are not disparaging, but a way of arguing for the principles of pattern and decoration, which serve perceptual experience and do not bear the burden of intrinsic meaning. The assertion bolsters her contention that there is something amiss, overly cerebral, in how we assign significance to art.

Here and elsewhere Susan Sontag's early and largely ignored call for a renewed orientation to art comes to mind. In the title essay of her 1966 book Against Interpretation, Sontag argued against the subordination of art to cerebration, proclaiming: “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” The tone, intellectual daring and much of the substance of Sontag's writing seem to have influenced Goldin.

This collection of 28 essays is so good that I would have welcomed more, along with some additional pictures (which range from snapshots of the author to reproductions of artworks, carpets and calligraphy). The bibliography lists many single-paragraph reviews and further essays published during Goldin's too short 15-year writing career. Had she not suc- cumbed in 1978 to cancer at age 52, would she have delved into other non-Western traditions, for example African or Far Eastern? Would she have taken an interest in contemporary non-Western art, which has since exploded onto the scene?

Along with Kushner's introductory essay, short appreciative pieces by Elizabeth Baker, Irving Sandler, Max Kozloff, Oleg Grabar, Michael Duncan, Emua Zghal, Holland Cotter and Joan Simon—an impressive roster with many A.i.N. links—are interspersed throughout the book, attesting in their various ways to Goldin's perspicacity, verbal brilliance and independence. Her writing should be widely read for its critical grace and acuity, and for the salutary and liberating effect it can have on young writers.

"The pattern keeps coagulating and dissolving, pouring itself into different shapes and sizes. [It's] impossible to follow the repeats because of the multiplicity of eddies… The whole thing set onto a stark midnight blue that goes black at the tawny borders. An incomprehensible rug, aristocratically out of its skull."

"With conceptual art, no one is expected to contemplate the object for a meaningful artistic experience—he will soon become bored. By the same token, no one is expected to spend a day meditating on the ideas. They are too simple… It is the juxtaposition, not the object or the ideas in themselves, that is the conception of conceptual art…. The lesson that art can be visually innocuous is one that conceptual art learned from Uncle Minimal, but it does him one up by making the work simpleminded as well as boring to look at."

"Unfortunately the difficult and pressing question of what art is about has been answered by making art history the subject of art—an idiotic idea thatpreserves the autonomy of art at the cost of making every other problem unsolved and unsolvable."

"For the last ten years our attention has been occupied with esthetic novelties, conceptual revisions of the natureand role of art. Our imaginations have been fired by notions of revolution, the total revision of sensibility, alternative realities, etc., so that the actual amplification and development of a visual idea has hardly been recognized at all. Our eyes have grown dull and theoretical novelties alone seem new."

The Goldin Age By Robert Berlind

In the Great Art Sweepstakes, printmakers and pattern artists share a common liability. Everyone knows that in both cases repetitive, half mechanical processes separate the artist’s conception and the final product. In an electronic age, devoting a long time to the actual labor of production seems highly questionable: is all this antlike activity really necessary? Can any freshness or daring survive so much drudgery? When simply making a thing takes so long, compulsiveness or commercialism seems a more likely impetus than the subtle ebb and flow of artistic impulse.

People still believe that the transformation of ordinary stuff into a unique work of art depends on the intuitive actions of the artist. A nearly hysterical insistence on that point was a distinguishing mark of Abstract Expressionism. Along with it went other ideas – contempt for “mere” craft and a charismatic version of the artistic personality. That was 35 years ago. Styles and artistic fashions have gone through a lot of changes since then, but craft continues to be déclassé. Intellectualism bypasses rationality and artists have dropped charisma only to concentrate on autobiography and selfexamination.

Recently, a group of artists interested in the possibilities of pattern staked out a position they polemically define as antisexist, antiracist, and antielitist. As alternative values they offer respect for craft, rationality, and tradition. Many of them accept decoration as a valid artistic task. Most of them reject the identification of creativity with individualism, the idea that the unique, idiosyncratic work of art is most likely to be noteworthy or satisfying. One of the earliest and most sophisticated of these pattern painters is Joyce Kozloff, who directly challenges many contemporary conventions by taking her motifs from Islamic patterns. Last year, working with master printer Judith Solodkin, she produced a series of three prints, Pictures and Borders, that highlights the issues involved in making patterns into prints.

Two independent problems arise from Kozloff’s procedures. The first involves the place of the matrix pattern in relation to the finished work: to what extent is the final image borrowed or “traditional”? The second less easily answered, questions the adequacy of the print – any print – as a decorative form.

The design components of Pictures and Borders I were drawn from David Wade’s Pattern in Islamic Art, where they appear on pages 85 and 107 as simple black and white line drawings. Changes in the proportions of the design were involuntary – the effort was to reproduce the basic patterns accurately. If we disregard color and compare the source drawings with the finished print it is immediately obvious that an almost infinite number of decisions could have been made. By varying the scale, spacing, and placement of edges, the same two patterns could be combined to yield many different images. Kozloff chose a format that stresses the verticality of the field design, then reinforced it by setting her center field slightly above the midpoint of the page, emphasizing the buoyancy of the interlace. In contrast, the borders, with their different visual weights and slightly varied placement within the colored stripe, press downward and out. Floating in space, the central pattern is free from any architectural reference.

Pictures and Borders III, with its more regularized density of pattern, refuses to give open space an active role. Here the viewer is pressed into a much closer relationship to a flatter, more wall-like pictorial surface. It’s the difference between a view and a confrontation. The most ambiguous image of the set is Pictures and Borders II, where the spacing, the border’s asymmetry along its horizontal axis, and the open texture of its pattern combine to give an unexpected solidity to the field. This print was developed in the opposite direction of Pictures and Borders I – that is, the dark colors were worked before the light ones were set down and the density of the images decreases centrifugally. In planning the series, Kozloff was trying for the most varied field/border relationships she could get.

Even this brief description shows that the character of each print is surprisingly independent of the specific patterns it uses. It also suggests that the common belief that patterns necessarily produce flat and open-ended images is utterly mistaken. Whenever a surface presents more than one pattern, none can be unequivocally identified with that surface. Moreover, each area of juxtaposed pattern is identifiable primarily as a shape, and pattern is usually subordinate to that shape. Here pattern acts as the equivalent of local color, and juxtaposed patterns do things to each other, just as adjacent colors do.

Kozloff uses her Islamic patterns in a very Western way. Her images are frequently centralized and may contain suggestions of deep space, especially in her large, compartmentalized paintings. Anyone familiar with Islamic pattern will also notice something else. Her designs are drawn from tile-work and woodwork (combining traditions from eastern and western Islam), but the richest element in her work is color, the prime resource of painters and weavers. Her color is used in a free and non-schematic manner, whereas Islamic pattern is always executed in a restricted palette. Its apparent diversity arises from changes of color relationship instead of hue. Consequently, Islamic color maintains a generally even density, while (as even black and white photographs suggest) Kozloff likes a more atmospheric, fluctuating surface. Texture and color vary independently; finely dotted and striped surfaces alternate with unbroken color. As we shall see, these richly varied surfaces have been painstakingly recreated in the printing process.

The novelty of today’s pattern artists lies in their adoption of pattern and decorative principles for the purposes of picture-making – a procedure that engenders some of the sociological complexity of Pop and entails some of the aesthetic revisions of color-field painting. Theoretically, the pattern artist’s procedures are easily legitimized, but in practical terms pattern is not all that easy to work with. It easily becomes inert, fussy, or (for people easily bored by repetition) simply mechanical.

Traditionally, pattern designers knew how their patterns would be used. They knew the materials in which the pattern would be executed and the use to which the final product would be put, along with the conventions and fashions of that product. All these pieces of social and technical information played a part in the patternmaker’s decisions about scale, motif, color, elaboration, etc. The test of a pattern ultimately lay in being accepted as appropriate to its purpose as fabric design, architectural detail, book illumination, etc. Moreover, the patternmaker could count on the function of the patterned object to provide the physical and social context that would underscore its meaning. The general social context provided a measure of pattern’s reinforcement or expansion of the traditional “values” of clothes, architecture, etc. When patterns are incorporated into conventional painting – Pearlstein’s nudes say, or the curtains of a Matisse still life – they depend on associational rather than denotative meaning, and convey overtones of such things as luxury, barbarism, or exoticism. Such areas serve as representations of pattern rather than as pattern itself. But the artist who chooses to make pattern his or her topic, the exclusive focus of artistic interest, cannot simply repeat the qualities of a patterned thing. That is the real cop out

Pictures of patterned tiles or textiles are likely to be boring because the original patterns have not been freshly conceived. We are unlikely to be shown anything that has not already been understood and expressed in another medium. Today the pattern artist’s problem is to give a pattern in this size, medium and form a force proper to its new embodiment. Here a new difficulty arises, for pattern has traditionally been used to embellish a given form; rarely, if ever, has it been expected to provide an experience of form in itself.

A picture or a piece of sculpture needs to be attended to individually. As Matisse said, a picture is like a book. We must approach it, take it from its shelf, and open it before it speaks to us. On the other hand, decorative objects are like flowers. We feel their presence as a perfume, even before we become aware of them. Today, prints are expected to function as art. Can they serve decorative purposes equally well?

While anything placed on a wall inevitably has some decorative quality, the smaller, darker, and more intricate the image, the less effective it is likely to be as decoration. Prints are limited in their decorative potential by their size and by the subtlety and intimacy of their sensuous appeal. That paper does have an attraction of its own is apparent in the number of artists who have recently taken to making it. Nevertheless, printed papers usually absorb light. They lack the mobility and textural variety of fabric, the gleam of metal, the glitter of glazed tile. The delights of printed paper are mostly intimate, interiorized pleasures that escape the public responsibilities of decoration. They demand the same kind of focused attention that paintings do, and for the same reason. Their internal structure is what engages us.

This is essentially true of Kozloff’s prints, which yield their decorative richness only to close and intense scrutiny. Their coloristic and textural variety were made possible by the unusual number of plates used, approximately 15 for each of the three images of the suite. Technically, the series became possible as a consequence of Solodkin’s development of a method for the flawless transfer of the drawn image to a large number of plates. Kozloff began making the drawings for the plates in July of 1976 and spent the summer working out the color separations. Her materials included four different lithographic pencils, litho crayons (for the broadest, most solid passages of color), crow-quill pens, inks, and washes. Among the 15 different colors for each plate were metallic links – gold and silver in I, silver in II. The long process of proofing these elaborate images required unusually close and protracted contact between the artist and the printer. For both of them the expenditure of time and effort would have been impossible without a CAPS grant in printmaking for $5,000 that Kozloff had been awarded in the spring of ’76. And anyone who has ever tried to work in a two-person collaboration will recognize that participants need certain moral virtues – steadiness of character, mutual respect, and an almost abnormal attachment to courtesy. In addition, large projects tend to outgrow the resources allocated to them, and the Pictures and Borders series was no exception. The economic outcome of the project cannot yet be evaluated. An edition of 50 was printed, the artist receiving 40. Artist and printer each took half the artist’s proofs. As for the abundant supply of rejected trial proofs, Kozloff promptly put them to good use in some marvelously wrought collages. Although she has worked with lithography before (at Tamarind in 1972), Kozloff is mainly a painter. She has always enjoyed the slow painstaking work involved in developing texture and detail, but the long-deferred security of actually seeing the finished product was admittedly a strain. She spoke of the emotional distance required by the process, so different from the immediate feedback of painting. Nevertheless, thanks to the ingenuity and patience of her printer, Kozloff was able to develop her lithographs in fundamentally the same way that she works out her paintings: a step-by-step elaboration of color and surface that slowly fills in a linear skeleton…..

…Most of us – artists, critics, and audiences alike – are novices in the area of pattern, for two centuries ago the traditions of the Academy divorced the minor arts from artistic seriousness. Pattern itself is an excitingly fresh idea in today’s art world, and most critical discourse is still directed at defining and defending it in principle. Moreover, ever since Minimalism we have all seen so much boring art that insensitive and mechanical treatments of pattern can seem reassuringly familiar instead of dead. A recent exhibition of pattern painting at P.S. #1 in Long Island City suggested that discriminating between banal and intelligent versions of pattern is still difficult. For these reasons, the artistic sophistication of pattern in the work of Kozloff and Zakanitch may go unnoticed. The real novelty of pattern lies far deeper than fashion. It involves a new tuning of our senses to rhythm and a new intellectual acceptance of the importance of the surfaces of things. In the process of transposing their patterns from painted to printed images, Kozloff and Zakanitch have clarified the requirements and possibilities of a still-unexplored land.