Held presented a slide lecture at Reed College on April 10, 2003 when he was Stephen Ostrow Distinguished Visitor in the Visual Arts. The following are his introductory remarks.
Before I start I would like to make some preliminary comments about the sources of my work, which has been an on-going development for roughly 50 years.
In my view, Non-Objective and Abstract Art have a special role in describing non-Newtonian reality—a reality in which our five senses are of little use. Some of the pioneers of Abstract Art (Mondrian, Kandinsky, etc.) considered themselves new- and ultra- realists, but were referring to the unconscious and/or metaphysical world. I, by contrast, am referring to a real world as described by Einsteinian and quantum physics. The current dialogues in mathematics and physics have always exerted a poetic fascination upon me. Their descriptions of worlds I will never be able to experience, inspire and excite my imagination, just as medieval artists were inspired by Biblical tales and invented visions of Heaven and Hell which they could neither see nor experience.
Given all of this, I deeply believe, in contradiction to the general claim that Abstract Art is formal and decorative and contentless, that, it is, in fact content-centered. The basic revolution of Modern Art in the twentieth century was to separate subject-matter from content, and to claim that the content of a work of art is in the formal language of the craft itself. By this, I mean that concepts like symmetry/asymmetry, gravity/non-gravity, space/flatness, reductivism/complexity all carry philosophical implications. However, one essential ingredient must be added—plasticity—the transformation of all of the above into a plastic experience.
At a certain point in the mid-60s I came to realize that I had reduced the language as far as I wanted. I prefer to refer to this period as “reductivist” rather than “minimalist” as the word “reductivist” has a wider, historical connotation. The “reductivist” world view which was prevalent in all disciplines, was based on the belief that by reducing things to their basic essence you could capture truth and finality and the perfectibility of man.
I began to see the world as increasingly complex, contradictory, and paradoxical. This provoked my formal move away from flatness to spatial illusionism, simply to get more information into the paintings. One step led to another which began an evolutionary process which continues through to today. The structures and images that have evolved have never been conceptualized except on a larger, general plane; but the individual paintings have always been evolutionary and never pre-planned.
A note on complexity. What interests me is not that this is a complex world. That is a given. What I aspire to is to be able to transform this paradoxical, complex, and contradictory reality into a pictorial structure which could be experienced by the spectator as something harmonious and non-threatening. In other words, I would like to show that chaos with its multiplicity of choices and possibilities can be viewed as a welcoming environment.