Two Essays by Ibram Lassaw

“On Inventing Our Own Art” was first published in American Abstract Artists, 1938 (Yearbook).“The Early Years, Part 1” was published in American Abstract Artists: The Early Years, exhibition catalog, Sid Deutsch Gallery, NY, 1980.

Ibram Laassaw was a founding member of American Abstract Artists. He served as president from 1946 – 1949, participated in three print portfolios and remained an active member throughout his life.

Two Essays by Ibram Lassaw

Reproduced with Permission from Denise Lassaw / Ibram Lassaw Foundation

On Inventing Our Own Art

The contemporary artist who work in the various plastic media is becoming aware of the unlimited and hitherto undreamed of possibilities in art. In order to penetrate this vast new world we must abandon most of the traditional experiences. The significant art expression of the various cultures in the history of man is greatly appreciated by the artists and interested layman; nevertheless the present day artist must, in a sense, work as though the art of the past has never existed; as though we invented art.

The crystallized concepts of the terms “sculpture” and “painting” are dissolving. It has always been considered a function of these plastic arts to describe appearances of people, houses, historical and religious events and subjects, and almost all scenes occurring in the life of man. Up till now narration has also been considered a necessary and integral part of art expression.

Until the invention of printing on a mass scale, and development of photography, painting and sculpture were the only means of conveying ideas (outside of speech) to the millions of people who were completely illiterate. Now photography and the cinema have been brought to such a high state of perfection that painting cannot hope to compete with them in either description or story telling. Stripped of these superimposed task, the underlying structure of art becomes clear. Colors and forms alone have a greater power to move man emotionally and psychologically. It becomes more and more apparent that art has something more and something much greater to offer.

In view of these developments, artists are beginning to realize the limitations of time-honored laws of art, so-called, and even the various media. It seems that each of the many cultures of the past had grown and developed an art expression peculiar to itself. Our own age, in some ways o completely different from all past times and at the same time so eclectic of our heritage, is now forming a new viewpoint of art.

Many people are now learning that we cannot produce an art of our own by continuing to borrow styles and ways of working that came from such different physical, philosophical and psychological world environments as the past shows. It is like trying to transplant a tree after tearing it out of the soil without its roots.

Certain artists have abandoned traditional pigment painting and solid, static sculpture. They feel that the important thing for art is to be alive, to be full of suggestion and possibilities, to enlarge our sensibility and to intensify experience. They are experimenting in the great fields opened up by the growth of modern physics, electricity and machinery and are influenced by the recent discoveries in psychology and psychoanalysis. In these searches our baggage of traditional values in a hindrance. “Facts long amassed, patiently juxtaposed, avariciously preserved, are suspect. they bear the stigma of prudence, of conformism, of constancy, of slowness,” writes Gaston Bachelard.

The new attitude that is being formed as a result of these searches in concerned with the invention of objects affecting man psychologically by means of physical phenomena. It is a new form of magic. The artist no longer feels that he is “representing reality,” he is actually making reality. Direct sensual experience is more real than living in the midst of symbols, slogans, worn-out plots, clichés- more real than political-oratorical art. Reality is something stranger and greater than merely photographic rendering can show. Jean Cocteau has very aptly said in his film “Le Sang d’un Poete”: “A plaster cast is exactly like the original except in everything.” We must make originals. All aesthetic phenomena produced by artists belong to the field of art, whether they fit into the former concepts and definitions or not. A work of art must work.

Ibram Lassaw
for American Abstract Artists, 1938


The Early Years, Part 1

It is becoming impossible to think of nature as “something out there” as though there is a duality—man and nature. The million billion atoms of our being that perform the miraculous work of human consciousness are the same atoms that make up the landscape. The working of the human mind is as much a part of nature as the environment. The atoms feel and think and create, love and hate and respond to other masses of atoms in the form of human beings. Each atom is in reciprocal relationship with every other atom. Everyone is ecologically related to the rest of the universe. We are becoming more and more conscious of this relationship. Whitehead expresses this thought, “In the darkness beyond, there ever looms the vague mass, which is the universe begetting us.” Abstract art, as a manifestation of human mind, cannot be thought of as divorced from nature.

Ibram Lassaw, 1980