Like the characters in Jack Kerouac's celebrated novel "On the Road", the Beat artists refused to settle down. But their movement wasn't necessarily from town to town, but from genre to genre. They cut transversal lines across the arts, gathering influences,... [more]
Like the characters in Jack Kerouac's celebrated novel "On the Road", the Beat artists refused to settle down. But their movement wasn't necessarily from town to town, but from genre to genre. They cut transversal lines across the arts, gathering influences, ideas, materials, emotions, mannerisms, moods, and madness from anything and everything they encountered. From the bawdy pit of uncultured America to the high art sensibility of European bohemia, from Eastern mysticism to Western alcoholism, spirituality to profanity, the Beats blended together a bit of everything. They were the exemplars of the heterogeneousness that is America.
The movement began in San Francisco during the 1950s, stirred up by the culture of poetry and jazz that was brewing in cafes and bars all around North Beach. Known mostly as a literary movement, the Beats boasted visual artists as well, including Jay Defeo, Bruce Connor, and Wallace Berman. What drew these artists together was less a similarity of method than an affinity of mood, a tangling together of ebullience, bombast, and contemplation. They showed an affirmative, incessantly experimental approach to life and to art. They were explicitly anti-academic, eschewing disciplines and formal techniques while promoting spontaneity and individual expression.
This is not to say that they weren't seriously devoted to their art. Jay Defeo, for example, spent more than five years on a single painting, the gargantuan "Rose," which she created out of more than a ton of lead paint lathered on with her hands. She spent the next five years recovering from the damage this laborious process did to her health.
Although the Beat movement was American through and through, one of its most innovative originators was a British man named Brion Gysin. Gysin embodied the eclectic approach the Beats would subsequently come to define; he practiced everything from painting to lithograph to writing to tape-recording.
His tape-recording experiments in particular were the impetus for the work of William Burroughs, who translated them into his obscure cut-up approach to literature. Burroughs spliced together recorded voices, newspaper and magazine articles, and his own writing to form a collage of convoluted prose that tore up the fabric of language and forced it to stammer in oddly prophetic ways.
But if the Beat writers still carry potency into the present, the visual artists associated with the same movement have sunk into relative obscurity. Their refusal to settle down into particular schools, disciplines, and genres has apparently filtered them out of the art canon. [show less]