… Guston never erased the sign that gave his creations life …
… Chief among the lessons Guston still has to teach is the necessity of constantly messing up the tidy models of artistic “progress” that aesthetic ideologues and tastemakers keep handing down from on high. Of greater importance, however, is the example Guston set of the imaginative and critical freedom available to artists who explore, put to the test, and make their own the widest range of possibilities within their grasp at any given moment (choosing a negative “existentialist” formulation to articulate a quixotically positive ambition, Guston titled two essays of 1965 “Piero della Francesca: The Impossibility of Painting” and “Faith, Hope and Impossibility”), as well as the opportunities available to those who fully account for and put to use the sharper contradictions of their character and of their time.
[line break added] Guston was never an autobiographical painter per se, nor was he a “history painter” in the traditional sense of that term. Yet his work breathes — and sometimes gasps and wheezes — lived experience, and he crammed more of it into a relatively short span than most of his generation while often seeming to be ahead or behind the pack. But just how ahead of or behind his time was Guston during any given period of his career, just how out of step?
… The critical reception and historical accounts of postwar American art have long been and seem forever fated to be bound to patently false chronologies and dubious determinisms. Accordingly, Guston remains assured a place as the indispensable piece of the puzzle that never fits, the perpetual exception to the rule. When it comes to aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) lawgivers, he is, by example, among the ever-vigorous spoilers who renew faith in individual intuition just when it seems that professional and public consensus has swept the field, and especially when — as is now occurring — academics try to co-opt his achievement in order to contain dissent and reinforce orthodoxy.
[line break added] Guston was always more interested in the act of painting than in the vogue for action painting and, later on, was more committed to telling stories than he ever would have been worrying over “the problematics of narrativity and/or performativity,” to borrow bits of currently fashionable critical jargon.
… the essential truth is that at just the moment when midcentury academic modernists in North America were declaring painting dead or, shy of that, dismissing it as culturally and politically retrograde, a leading member of a former avant-garde approaching the end of its tether abruptly changed course and gave painting fresh things to do and, by means of painting, gave his country a jarring wakeup call.
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… unlike the legendary sixteenth-century Rabbi Low of Prague, who conjured up the first golem, Guston never erased the sign that gave his creations life, so that to this day they quiver and will forever continue to quiver with a raucous, soulful, and altogether uncanny vitality.