A quote from Alfred Kazin’s "New York: The Writer in the Powerhouse."


Unsere ist eine optische Zeit read the sign over the ruins of postwar Cologne. “Ours is a visual period.” The irony was not intentional. At the same time in New York, abstract expressionism made the city “the capital of modern art.” This international favorite in no small degree was rooted in the rediscovery of their native land, New York, by many painters of immigrant stock, who had been radicals and children of the Depression, but now throbbed in expansive postwar New York to the violent colorfulness of New York streets and sky. “Action painting” was inspirational in its sense of newfound power, its typical New York aggressiveness. The idea is “to fuck up the canvas,” said the critic Harold Rosenberg. He explained that “Action painting, like the new atomic physics, has the power to release trapped energy, to set great forces at work at liberty for good and evil.” The new painting was wonderful in the subversive colors and rhythms that breathed the variety and excitement of New York, a town where native sons notoriously gape in wonder and feel like recent arrivals. It was even more wonderful in the cachet of expensiveness it soon acquired. Long before environmental art sought to loop hillsides together, the new painting became favorite images on executive walls, the nonpareil example of ostentatious investment and consumption for the newly rich. Who identified with painters because they were newly rich.

By contrast, much of the poetry of the same period turns out to be very pale. It had become easy to write, for as Freud didn’t have to say, internal consciousness, unlike the external world, is always on tap.

–Alfred Kazin, “New York: The Writer in the Powerhouse,” New York Review of Books, October 10, 1985