Abstract Sublime

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A term coined c.1960 by the American art historian Robert Rosenblum (1927–2006) to characterize the feelings of vastness and solitude suggested by certain Abstract Expressionist paintings, for example those of Newman, Rothko, and Still. Newman had earlier used the word ‘sublime’ in connection with his own work (‘The Sublime is Now’, Tiger's Eye, December 1948). Rosenblum first used the term ‘Abstract Sublime’ in print as the title of an article in the February 1961 issue of Art News, and two years later Lawrence Alloway coined the term ‘American Sublime’ to describe the same quality (‘The American Sublime’, Living Arts, June 1963). Rosenblum developed his ideas at book length in Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko (1975), in which he related Abstract Expressionism to a wider western tradition of the Romantic landscape. In 1994 David Sylvester referred to the ‘cosmic grandeur’ of Newman, the ‘cosmic energy’ of Pollock, and the ‘cosmic pathos’ of Rothko.

Subjects: Art.

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