Art as action rests on the enormous assumption that the artist accepts as real only that which he is in the process of creating…The artist works in a condition of open possibility, risking, to follow Kierkegaard, the anguish of the aesthetic, which accompanies possibility lacking in reality….Each stroke had to be a decision, and was answered by a new question. By its very nature, action painting is painting in the medium of difficulties.
—  Harold Rosenberg

“The moral principle of photographic portraiture is respect for the identity of the subject. Such respect does not come naturally in a medium that can without effort produce countless unrelated likenesses of the same object. Light, of which photographs are made, can endow people and scenes with emotional associations that are completely irrelevant to them – a half-lighted face transforms every girl reading into a pensive madonna. To achieve truth, the photographer needs to curtail his resources, which means he must make photography more difficult.”

Harold Rosenberg, from his essay Introduction to Avedon’s “Portraits,” 1976

From Picasso Gorky learned: above all, keep at it. If you have no ideas, draw the model. If you have no model, copy reproductions. If you are depressed, draw; if you get drunk, go home and start a picture. If there is shooting outside the window, go on drawing. For the artist, there is only one real situation, and only one salvation: art.
—  “Arshile Gorky:  The Man, The Time, The Idea”, by Harold Rosenberg, 1962

Archives tell the stories of people’s lives—their fears and passions as well as their worldly accomplishments. You never know what personal gems you might find.

The papers of art critic Harold Rosenberg at the Getty Research Institute include this undated letter from photographer Dorothy Norman with an invitation to a gathering featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of CORE and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King—as well as James Baldwin, Aaron Copland, Ralph Ellison, Allen Ginsberg, and other luminaries—was often to be found in Norman’s New York City townhouse.

The letter refers to the sit-ins of the early 1960s that began when African American students met with violence, resistance, and arrest for ordering coffee at “whites only” lunch counters. 

Transcription of the letter

won’t you join me

Eleanor Roosevelt                      Lillian Smith
Reverend Martin Luther King     James Baldwin

to meet with
leaders of the Student Sit-Ins

who have been in jail

to create further
public support
(Congress on Racial Equity)
Reverend King’s Southern Leadership Conference
two groups
providing crucial moral leadership
in the non-violent struggle
in the South today

at my home
124 East 70th Street
Friday, February 3rd 5:30–8 P.M.

Because of the importance of the occasion, and space
limitations, the favor of an early reply will
be greatly appreciated — R.S.V.P. — Regent 7-0722


En lugar de utilizar caballete y pinceles, colocaba en el suelo el lienzo y sobre él vertía o dejaba gotear la pintura, que manipulaba después con palos u otras herramientas, e incluso a veces le daba una gran consistencia mediante la adición de arena e incluso fragmentos de vidrio.

Gracias al apoyo de algunos críticos como Harold Rosenberg, su nombre, asociado a las obras realizadas con la técnica del dripping, se convirtió en uno de los más significativos del expresionismo abstracto y de la action painting, tendencia de la que, con De Kooning, es el representante más típico y destacado. Fue además uno de los primeros artistas en eliminar de sus obras el concepto de composición y en mezclar signos caligráficos con los trazos pictóricos.

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Eyes in the Heat

To be Modern Art a work need not be either modern nor art ; it need not even be a work. A three-thousand yeur-old mask from the South Pacific qualifies as Modern and a piece of wood found on a beach becomes Art.
—  Harold Rosenberg, cité par Thierry de Duve, in Au nom de l'art, Les éditions de minuit, Paris, 1989, p. 107.