Model citizens and perfect strangers: American painting and its different modes of address, 1958-1965
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Artworks made in New York between 1958 and 1965, the heyday of color-field painting, minimalism and pop art, comprise different responses to the perceived crisis embroiling advanced art at the time --namely, the threat of misinterpretation posed by a rapidly expanding consumer audience. It is possible to see the general concern over art's relation to its audience in terms of a crisis of metaphor; pivotal innovations during this period, especially in painting, mark a move beyond metaphor in search of alternative modes of address. These different modes can be characterized using the categories provided by rhetorical analysis, in particular the schema of the four master tropes as proposed by Kenneth Burke and Hayden White. For example, color-field painting can be thought of as synecdochic, minimalism as metonymic, and pop as ironic. All three offer strategies to ward off misappropriation: the first by disallowing any interpretive leeway, by shoring up all space between viewer and painting so that the encounter seems to happen within "eyesight alone," in the intimate proximity and instant of looking; the second involves giving the artworks over to viewing while also steeling them against it, so that only obdurate surface and irrefutable fact is presented; and the third involves artworks that advance more than one meaning, thus undercutting the authority of any one over another. By 1965 interchange between these modes comes to a halt, as arguments emerge that make differences between artistic viewpoints into stark polarities. Naming abusive acts of viewing each required an interpretative act of its own, which proved the self-same poetic essence of art to be a construction, one needing the advocacy and arguments of rhetoric.