Autumn 1951 • Vol. XIII No. 4 Nonfiction |

Max Beckmann: The Iconography of the Triptychs

If we are convinced that painting is no longer a matter of the "pure eye," as artists wanted it to be in the late 19th Century, and that it cannot be a pure didactic or "instructional" instrument such as it may have been in earlier centuries, we are compelled to accept today some variation of a "presentationalist" aesthetic. The painting is "all there"; it is to be seen. But if we make the further inference that the painter is precluded from having an attitude about things in the world, or assume that his imagery loses purchase and a fundamental meaning by the fact of being artistic, we commit either an arrogance or a superficiality. We must begin to see informed meanings in at least some of the paintings of our time. The work of Max Beckmann offers an immediate and critical test of such an aesthetic. James Thrall Soby has said that his work may "one day seem to iconographers a particularly rewarding subject of research." The implication may be, thouglh I doubt that Mr. Soby wou

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