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Untitled

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2013;309(10):955. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.176792.
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Untitled, 1960 (cover) by the American painter Clyfford Still (1904-1980) is approximately 9 feet tall and 13 feet wide, the size of a generous bay window, but it looks as though it was cropped from an even larger canvas before it was completed—the vertically oriented strips of color are cut off at the edges, and there are streaks of bare canvas in the interior of the painting. The chopped, “unfinished” appearance raises questions about the painter's intent. In 1960 it was a striking addition to Still's body of work, but the format was familiar because he had been painting variations on a theme of color strips for many years. Critics, collectors, and publicists never tired of asking him what his paintings were all about, and he always gave the same answer: you must decide for yourself. The more persistently he was asked for a blanket explanation, the more stubbornly he refused to provide one. In a statement from an exhibition catalog, Still thumbed his nose at the art establishment by encouraging viewers to think for themselves: “From the most ancient times the artist has been expected to perpetuate the values of his contemporaries. . . . The observer usually will see what his fears and hopes and learning teach him to see. But if he can escape these demands that hold up a mirror to himself, then perhaps some of these implications of the work may be felt.” (Harrison C, Wood P, eds. Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Malden, MA: Blackwell; 2003:588-589.)

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Clyfford Still (1904-1980), Untitled, 1960, American. Oil on canvas. 287 × 396.2 cm. Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (http://www.sfmoma.org/), San Francisco, California; gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson. © Clyfford Still Estate, PH-174, 2013.

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