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Questions for Casualists


Tatiana Berg, Face, 2013, oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches.

Contributed by Sharon Butler / This weekend at Hyperallergic Thomas Micchelli reviews Dying on Stage: New Painting in New York, the Garis & Hahn exhibition curated by Kyle Chayka that was inspired by  “The New Casualists, a 2011 essay I published in The Brooklyn Rail. Noting that much of the work in the show veers into representational territory and freely quotes from art history, Micchelli asks the following questions:

What does the process of reinvestigation say about the notion of freedom that Casualism is supposed to embody?

To what extent does intuition come into play, and where do convention and conditioning intrude? Does reality need to be forced through a cultural filter in order to be understood? Should past frameworks be scavenged for tools to compartmentalize and analyze direct experience?

Is it possible for “studied, passive-aggressive incompleteness” to address complex structures and extra-visual ideas?

Is Casualism’s state of incompleteness, which is the flip side of unfettered freedom (if there is no limit to choice, all choices are necessarily limited), a conclusive metaphor or something we need to get beyond? …But how much weight will this fresh visual argot be able to carry? What structures will it rely upon in order to avoid dissipation and arbitrariness?

Which of these two visions — the unchecked or the purposely restricted  — makes more sense for our time? Which is more honest, and which is self-deceiving?

In conclusion, Micchelli writes that:

Casualism, with its humble anti-heroics, acts as a necessary corrective to the overblown production values that have carried away most of the market’s high end as well as the lion’s share of media attention….In that way it resembles the “Vow of Chastitytaken by the Dogme 95 group of mostly Danish directors who resolved to strip filmmaking down to its essentials. Dogme 95 was too limiting to last, ultimately interfering with the creative process it was meant to nurture. Casualism will also run its course, but, like Dogme, its call for directness, spontaneity and self-effacement will leave its mark.

I agree completely. Artists working in a Casualist mode have already begun to move on. For ambitious artists (i.e. artists who want to make culturally meaningful work, not those who want to succeed in the art market), the Casualist approach may be too reductive. Personally, I’ve been looking at overworking as a companion strategy to the post-optimistic, underworked approach of Casualism. What happens when you won’t give up, working on a painting long past the obvious point of resolution? Note: This is harder than it sounds.

And: Stay tuned for details about “Dense Surveillance,” my solo show at the expansive  Fine Arts Gallery of Westchester Community College, opening in September…


Related posts:
Sharon Butler: Precisionist Casual @ Pocket Utopia
Reader response to “Abstract Painting: The New Casualists”
Claude Viallat: Exploring Casualist abstraction in 1960s France



  1. "Personally, I've been looking at overworking as the antidote to the Casualist approach. What happens when you keep working on a painting long past the obvious point of resolution? Note: This is harder than it sounds."

    I am fascinated by this concept as well! It is extremely hard to keep the work alive that way, but the dense richness that can possibly occur is so exciting.

  2. Overworking as an intention will cause the casualist to spend more time on each painting perhaps. I like the casualist notion of simplicity and the lack of heavy handedness in this kind of work.

  3. I have recently come across your writing on Casualism, and I am finding it intriguing.

    The concept and the writing is a bit dense for me to fully digest and comprehend. My gut feeling when looking at the associated art works is that I love this form of expression and this approach to art making.

    I also feel this form of expression or exploration is not totally new. As an absolute fan of Picasso, his tireless exploration with different and new medium, creating limitless invention of amusing forms, is what I am seeing in Casualist works.

    Hence, I do not agree with Micchelli's conclusion about this approach to art creation being too-limiting, or ultimately-interfering-with-creative-process.

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