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Artist as AuthorAction and Intent in Late-Modernist American Painting$
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Christa Noel Robbins

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226752952

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226753003.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 May 2022

Rhetoric of Motives

Rhetoric of Motives

(p.63) 3. Rhetoric of Motives
Artist as Author

Christa Noel Robbins

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 looks at the continued significance of drawing in late-Modernist painting, analyzing Helen Frankenthaler’s analytic experiments in drawing, which she exploited as both a gestural and symbolic device. Frankenthaler, who is repeatedly discussed as the “bridge” that allowed younger artists to move beyond Abstract Expressionism, was a canny student of that school and its techniques. I show that through her early education in Modernist idioms, as well as her training in rhetorical analysis, Frankenthaler pursued a mode of painting that was an explicit exploration of what her one-time professor Kenneth Burke termed the “rhetoric of motives.” Most often discussed in the context of her “discovery” of stain painting, a technique that is celebrated for its removal of expressive authorship, I show that Frankenthaler’s work is better understood for its investigations into the viability of both gesture and symbolic representation as carriers of Modernist pictorial meaning. The paintings Frankenthaler produced in the 1950s and 1960s are best understood as critical analyses of the limits of expressive content in the wake of Abstract Expressionism’s institutional success.

Keywords:   abstract expressionism, Kenneth Burke, drawing, Helen Frankenthaler, gesture painting, late-modernist painting, motives, rhetorical analysis, stain painting, symoblism

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