Postscript: Making Modern Native American Artists
The future of Indian art lies in the Indian’s ability to evolve, adjust, and adapt to the de-
mands of the present, and not upon the ability to remanipulate the past.—LLOYD
KIVA
NEW (CHEROKEE), ‘‘USING CULTURAL DIFFERENCE AS A BASIS FOR CREATIVE EXPRESSION’’
during the second world war, barnett newman and his cohort
plumbed the depths of the Primitive universal in search of authentic and universal
expression;Newman’sPrimitivismusedNativeAmericanartasaresourceandmodel
for American modernists. But by the 1950s, Indian identity had been refigured in the
rhetoric of the Termination movement, which sought to detribalize Native Ameri-
cans and hasten their integration into the national mainstream. The Terminationists
cast Native American culture as backward and out of step with the new realities of
the modern world and the challenges of competitive individualism. Native Ameri-
can cultures, they argued, limited individual liberty and prohibited Indians from
enjoying the full benefits and freedoms of American citizenship. Moreover, many
non-Indians believed that Native American art, once seen as a precious resource and
spiritual anodyne to the soulless experience of industrial modernity, had been re-
duced by modernization to a mere shadow of its former greatness.
In the new climate of consensus liberalism, the New York modernists abandoned
the Primitivism of the war years and embraced the new ethos of individualism. They
abandoned their notions of the Primitive as a resource of authenticity and the font
of universal communication, and instead located the last preserve of authenticity in
the individual psyche. In so doing, they embraced a new notion of modernist con-
sciousness as characterized by inwardness. The postwar modernists expressed their
authentic, inner selves through a process of ‘‘action painting’’ described in 1952 by
New York School critic Harold Rosenberg in terms of encounter and performance.
For the postwar New York School, action painting held the possibility of the inte-
gration of art, work, identity, and life; the traces that were left on the canvas after the
artists completed their work actually purported to offer direct and unmediated ac-
cess to the artist as an individual. Instead of a representation (of the visible world, or
of symbols of the Primitive universal), the action painting was a record and an index
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