Are You Looking for in Love?
Robert Indiana's "LOVE"
By Ken Kimmelman
in the 1960's, I first saw Robert Indiana's "Love," it really took me, as it did people across America -- it was the design
for the biggest selling US postage stamp ever issued and also the best-selling
Christmas card ever put out by the Museum of Modern Art. The more I have
looked at it the more I am moved. I feel this is an important work of art.
his great 15 Questions "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" Eli Siegel
describes these opposites, which I think are central to the beauty of this
AND ENERGY. Is
there in painting an effect which arises from the being together of repose
and energy in the artist's mind? -- can both repose and energy
be seen in a painting's line and color, plane and volume, surface and depth,
detail and composition? -- and is the true effect of a good painting on
the spectator one that makes at once for repose and energy, calmness and
intensity, serenity and stir?
has us look at love in a new way as he gives the word a new form, an abstract
composition - arranging the letters in a square, which shows that sweeping
thing, love, to be orderly, neat, and reposeful. But the way he tilts that "O"
offsets the neatness, giving "LOVE" motion and dynamism, and also something
at once humorous and a little yearning. And that vermilion red is so intense
it jumps out at you. The blue and green -- cool colors -- have a deep, calming
effect, yet because of their brilliance and contrast with the red, they
clash, making for such vibrancy, optical jump, even as they also get along.
the kind philosophy Mr. Siegel founded has enabled me to see what makes
a work of art beautiful, and also to see that art has what people everywhere
are looking for in their lives, and in love. "All beauty," he writes, "is
a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are
going after in ourselves." And the opposites central in Robert Indiana's
silk-screen print, repose and energy, are, I have learned,
crucial in love itself.
the time I first saw this work I was confused and pained about love. On
the one hand I wanted a woman to be lively and energetic. But then, I would
try to make a cozy, quiet nest with her, away from the hurly-burly, often-confusing
world. And when I was in my "Rip Van Winkle" periods, which came on at
least once a day, I would be very annoyed if a woman tried to get me out
of it. Then, in 1966 I began to learn what I was really hoping for in love;
in an Aesthetic Realism lesson Mr. Siegel explained to me:
thing is, if you're going to choose a person to be the person you're going
to see most often, you want to feel that what you're looking for will be
met by her. We have to know what we're looking for....The thing that
we're looking for is more repose and more energy from another person; which
means that we want to get a greater sense of form, composition, and we'd
also like to feel that we're being encouraged or incited even. Any
time you're looking for something, when you see it deeply you'll find it's
a oneness of opposites.
thrilling to learn that what I was hoping for in love was a true, aesthetic
relation of the opposites of repose and energy -- and this is what every
successful work of art has! Lucy Lippard, in her book Pop Art, writes: "Despite his...purist style, Indiana is an out-and-out romantic." I agree!
example, in the work we are looking at, by placing these letters on top
of each other, Indiana stirs them up: each letter is in a new relation -- they all join where they wouldn't have if they were side by side. But
they also "get a greater sense of form." The vertical stem of the L
and the E are like firm pillars and the horizontal foot of the L
and the top of the E are like a bridge spanning the width of the
picture, giving the picture an architectural solidity. But there is nothing
fixed and rigid about it. You feel it is alive with motion -- the picture
dances. The diagonals are dramatic. The V leading up to the L
and the O make for energy.
at that O! [Detail 1] It
has delighted and surprised people, and I see it as crucial to the meaning
and beauty of this composition. It looks so relaxed, comfortably resting
on top of the E, against the L and edge of the picture as
the other letters form a right angle supporting it.[Detail
2] It is resting -- but it also looks like it
is ready to roll out of the picture. And the L, while it seems to
tenderly support the O, also seems to criticize it. The foot of
the L looks like it is giving the O a little kick, setting it in
motion. As Mr. Siegel said to me, in love, "We'd to like to feel that we're
being encouraged or incited, even."
that I wanted to learn from a woman and not be falsely soothed by her,
gave me new hope about love - and this is what I feel in my marriage to
Marcia Rackow, an Aesthetic Realism consultant and artist. Her wide knowledge
and lively, critical imagination have inspired me and given my life greater
motion and greater composition.
every love relation, explains Aesthetic Realism, "there is...a third partner....That
partner is the world as a whole....The purpose of love is to feel closely
one with things as a whole" (Self and World, p. 171).Men and women
have used each other to shut out the world, and then they come to resent
each other, because our greatest desire and the real purpose of love, is
to like the world. In Aesthetic Realism Consultations my colleagues and
I have asked a man: "As you put your arms around a woman, are you holding
the world in your arms too?"
this work, Indiana shows the world is present in the very midst of love.
When we look at words, we usually don't think about the spaces within the
letters, just as when we look at a person we don't see that the qualities
of the world are in that person. But see how the shapes within these letters
and the spaces between them are beautiful, distinct forms? And because
of that square composition, we see that these shapes that are not the letters,
actually define them! And because the colors are flat, placed on the same
plane, you can't say what is background and what is foreground. Does Indiana
show that love is inseparable from "the third partner," the world? He does!
that is why even while the composition is so compressed -- the letters are
so close and on top of each other right up to the edge of the picture --
you don't feel anything claustrophobic or smothering, as two people often
do in love. Through the depth of the blue and the brightness of the green,
the colors of earth and sky, we feel a sense of space, height, distance,
airiness, as we also feel the warmth, intimacy of love through the vivid
red letters touching each other. We feel at once "calmness and intensity,
serenity and stir."
Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism taught me how art, life, and love
are akin, each having an aesthetic structure, each for the purpose of liking
the world. This great, kind, knowledge is what every person is looking
Ken Kimmelman is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and Aesthetic Realism consultant whose public service films The Heart Knows Better and What Does a Person Deserve? are being shown nationwide.