FORWARD After the Second World War there was a strong tide of internationalism that sought to sweep away arbitrary distinctions based on nationalism. It is not surprising, then, that an artist such as Leon Polk Smith, whom I knew, and with whom I discussed aspects of contemporary art, never mentioned to me that he was, in fact, a descendent of a Cherokee family. Similarly, a few artists who are now generally grouped as "abstract expressionists" did not expressly name the origins of certain of their practices. I think, for instance, of Adolph Gottlieb who had spent a year in Tucson, Arizona in his youth, and who eventually named certain of his works "pictographs." Or of Jackson Pollock who had wandered extensively in the Southwest, and who had probably witnessed Indian demonstrations of sand painting in the desert. The word "totem" appears in several of his titled paintings. Obviously the exchanges among artists cannot be documented — they are always too fluid, too amorphous for academic labeling. If certain so-called abstract expressionist were enchanted when they saw totem poles in the Pacific Northwest landscape, their impressions were one of the myriad visual experiences that fuelled their working life. I assume that contemporary Native American artists are similarly eclectic and unselfconscious about their various resources. And that, in my view, is as it should be.
DORE ASHTON is among the world's most authoritative critics of modern and contemporary art. Ms. Ashton is the author or editor of thirty books on art and culture, including About Rothko, American Art Since 1945, The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning and Abstract Art Before Columbus. She received an M.A. from Harvard University and has won many awards and recognitions, including Guggenheim Foundation Fellowships in 1963 and 1969. Currently professor of art history at the Cooper Union in New York, in 2002, Ms. Ashton was appointed senior critic in painting/printmaking at Yale University, New Haven, CT.
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