ABSTRACT art is here to stay, and all those who've been celebrating its demise had better get used to that fact. Although the pendulum of fashion has swung dramatically from abstraction to figuration, the ideas first formulated and activated by the early modernists simply will not fade away. The style and methods that had their genesis in the vision and innovative procedures of C'ezanne, Seurat, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Mondrian, and the other advocates of pictorial structure over painterly illusion are too dynamic ever to die out. They may at present lack some of the drama and novelty they once had, and may no longer embody and foretell the artistic utopia they once promised. A few may have to be reconsidered in the light of new cultural attitudes, and then re-animated and re-directed. But a ll in all, the substance and vocabulary of abstract art remain as alive and meaningful today as during the first two decades or so of the century.
And why shouldn't they? After all, they weren't the fanciful inventions of irresponsible daubers, but the deeply felt and carefully thought-out creations of profoundly involved, caring men and women, a few of whom must be counted among the most remarkable of the past three centuries. What they produced affected not only the art of the present, but of the future as well. Because of C'ezanne, Picasso, Mondrian, and Pollock -- to name only four of the most pivotal -- painting was changed forever. No matter
how precisely ``realistic'' anyone's work may be in the 1980s -- or will be, for that matter, in the 2100s -- the artist responsible for it cannot help being aware of, and in some sense responsive to, the drastically nonrealistic art of the 20th century.
Modernism put its finger on an element in art that had always been present and acknowledged, but that hitherto had not been singled out for special attention. Every masterwork, from the most ancient to the most recent, establishes its identity and directs its energies by means of form and structure. Even a superficial examination of Michelangelo's and Rembrandt's images will reveal underlying ``abstract'' elements which, if isolated, hold up as powerful and effective expressive vehicles in their own rig ht. The crucial question, of course, is whether or not the process of separating formal elements from representational ones -- and then giving primary or exclusive emphasis to the former -- can result in a work of art, or if all it produces is merely art's skeleton, its structural scaffolding.
Modernism decided to find out, and according to most serious students of art, it has produced incontrovertible proof -- in the form of paintings and sculpture by everyone from Picasso to Stella and from Brancusi to Calder -- that a predominant or total focus on form can indeed produce art of quality and significance.
How good and how significant are still to be determined. The issue is much too close to us for an objective appraisal. What we do know is that the 1980s remain open to many forms of art. While it may be true that large numbers of young artists feel free to express themselves as realists today, it is just as true that an equally large, talented, and devoted band of beginning and emerging painters and sculptors are determined to realize their
artistic goals through some form of non-objective art.
One of the best and most interesting of the latter is Stan Gregory, a young artist from Florida now living in New York, whose warm and sensitively composed canvases identify him as a true heir to the modernist tradition of geometric abstraction and as someone with a remarkable sensitivity to the expressive and sensuous potentials of paint. Before anything else, Gregory is a good painter, a fact that is of much greater importance than his identification as one who fashions pictures out of rectangles, str aight and wavy lines, circles, flat planes, and spirals. Without that ability he would probably be little more than a doodler or decorator. With it, whatever he produces seriously is -- to one degree or another -- art.
He states his position unequivocally: ``My work deals with structure. Not design, not pictorial composition, but a search for the underlying order -- a universal and complete `rightness.' It is fundamental structure -- the interrelationship of form -- grounded in the purity of abstraction, that is my entrance into process. Abstraction is fundamental to order. Abstraction is fundamentally human. My paintings are specific and purposeful without sympathy or sentiment for hyped emotion or `expr essive' figures. . . . Form carries meaning which is solidified within the process. . . . Meaning is non-verbal and contemplative and derived from formal relationships. . . . My work is essentially an act of questioning the nature of art through a classical abstract purity that is necessary to reflect the most essential Order. It is essentially an act of faith.''
It is also extremely handsome, and serves as an island of sanity, sensibility, and tact in a world too often given over to the merely novel, and to a belief that anything that calls attention to itself is by definition good. In contrast, Gregory assumes both an aesthetic and ethical position: Art is good if it reflects the essential harmony and order of all things.