Oral history interview with Barbara Novak, 2013 October 8-17

Novak, Barbara , b. 1929
Art historian
Active in New York, N.Y.

Size: 4 sound files (4 hr., 26 min.) digital
Transcript: 89 pages

Format: Originally recorded as 4 sound files. Duration is 4 hr., 26 min.

Collection Summary: An interview with Barbara Novak conducted 2013 October 8-17, by James McElhinney, for the Archvies of American Art, at Novak's home in Manhattan, N.Y.

Novak speaks of her early art training; learning to draw at the age of eight with help from her uncle William Kaufman and later taking art classes with Belle Icahn; Edward Melkoff; Joseph Presser; and classes at the Art Students League; becoming Expressionist in her painting; her year in Europe as a Fulbright student from Harvard University; the powerful lectures of Julius Held at Barnard College that launched her career; feeling that she devised a system by which works of art can be understood through looking closely at their physical properties and how she tries to develop the individual in her students; her time docenting at the Brooklyn Museum in the American art collection; which led her to becoming an Americanist; her book Alice's Neck and the inspiring Utah landscape; the importance of Fitz Henry Lane's work; the embodiment in American art of Pragmatism and Transcendentalism; and being led to Luminism; her books showing how to understand American culture through art; covering formal; contextual; and spiritual elements; hosting the first television show on art; Vision of Art; her husband Brian O'Doherty's background in art; the importance of nature for Cole and Durand; that common sense should be used in describing works of art; rather than assuming current events influenced the artist; her education at Harvard; Margaret Fuller and writing The Margaret-Ghost; Marcel Duchamp; Andrew Wyeth; Edward Hopper; Robert Rauschenberg; Mark Rothko; and Lee Krasner; and that the most exhilarating time intellectually for her was the 1960s with a group that included Robert Smithson; Sol LeWitt; Eva Hesse; Peter Hutchinson; Morton Feldman; Mel Bochner; and others. Barbara also recalls Mrs. Nevins; William Scharf; Paul Cormans [ph]; Marion Lawrence; Marge Shapiro; Maxim Karolick; William Goetzmann; Ann McCoy; Ben Rowland; Bart Hayes; Ted Reff; Dan Aaron; Louis Bosa; Linda Ferber; Meredith Davis; Marissa Watts; and others.

Biographical/Historical Note: Interviewee Barbara Novak (1929- ) is an art historian in New York, N.Y. Interviewer James McElhinney (1952- ) is a painter and educator in New York, N.Y.

This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

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