Case Study: Cy Twombly Doubling Down On His Idea Of Beauty

Updated: Apr 20


Cy Twombly is one of those names that every art fan has heard, but took a nap when it came to his work. Abstract paintings always seemed fraudulent to me. While I enjoy them visually, they were never more than that and after 2 minutes I was bored and onto the next one. Everyone else having profound moments of clarity. It's fair to say that maybe I am lazy, and abstract paintings were asking to much of me. Tombly's paintings have changed that for me. Since diving into his work I now hunt for abstract work. I appreciate the challenge. It is sort of a roundabout way of arriving at Cy Twombly but the route I took made me appreciate the work much more and kept me from scrolling past, so I figured I'd share it with you.


The famous generation of American artist which included Cy Twombly, Robert Rauchenberg, and Jasper Johns always seems to resonate with young artists. At the time the focus was on defiance. Breaking tradition and creating their own definition of beauty. As students and throughout their careers these artists challenged what the art world approved of. This is a trait that I really appreciate in artists and I believe we should all strive to have. However, when examining the art of that time Twombly always fell to the back for me. Out shined by Rauchenberg and Johns in my eyes. You see Rauchenberg and Johns were giving me more to work with. Combining images and marks together to help me take it in. Twombly didn't give me much. To the uninterested eye his work can seem like a good looking collection of colors in random arrangements of strokes. But now I am interested. Now I understand that my appreciation for the art of that time was rooted in the idea of defiance. None more bold than Cy Twombly.


You see Twombly was doing something special with his work. Not only was he, like his peers examining the minute details of human existence, he turned it in on the viewer. While others asked the viewer to share in an interesting external experience that they may have overlooked, Cy challenged you. He was asking you to examine an internal experience that you may have intentionally overlooked. His work doesn't make you think, it makes you feel. This was new. He faced a lot of criticism. People did not want to look at his work let alone use it as a vehicle to examine themselves. This did not deter Twombly. Instead he doubled down and planted his foot in the ground. Thank God he did. Now his catalogue of work is vast and regarded as some of the most influential collection of abstract paintings.


The painting above is one of a series, made later in the career of Cy Twombly. At first glance it is striking. The swirls take on an aggressive position thanks to the the loud red tone and the fast, wet drips of the pigment. This series is a career long evolution of Cy's obsession with the mark; the beauty in it's uniqueness and imperfections. Of course the the repetition and shape of the swirls is reminiscent of D'Nealian cursive. The handwriting we all learned in grade school. Conformity. Punishment. In the beginning it was Twombly's own iconic handwriting on all of his works. It grew more ambiguous. In arguably his most known series (commonly referred to as the blackboard series) the words changed to rows and rows of swirls. Now just an entire canvas magnifies on unidentifiable word. Aggression towards becoming unoriginal. Repeating swirls with no uniqueness. No way to lay claim to your words. Write this way. Speak this way. Think this way. Start them young and make them the same. That is how this painting feels.


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