Palimpsest—Oil by Herbert Knapp

I painted Palimpset on the kitchen floor of our apartment shortly after we moved to Manhattan in 1990. I admire many abstract expressionist paintings, but don’t like the sense of assertive “heroic nihilism” that some of them rather pretentiously project, so I decided to slip some sense into an abstract expressionist painting.

I dripped and flicked black enamel to spell out a quotation from the works of the preacher and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards:

“The being of society, as such, is conversation.”

And then I dripped and flicked across it Nietzsche’s curiously apposite lament:

“I fear we will never get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.”

As the painting developed, I added shapes and colors.

Of all the art-isms of the last century none was more evangelically touted as The Answer than abstract expression. It was the visual equivalent of Pentecostalism. I will concede the both those isms have major virtues, but I don’t think I’m the only one who cannot see either of them as The Answer.

A poem on the same subject:


We planned this picture perfect life
where time was going to stop for us
but learned to our dismay
what’s perfect has no place for us.

Perfect is a place where stories end.
There is no wisdom there, just information.
No need to wonder; no way to offend.
No conversation.

A conversation may not make much sense.
It isn’t what you learn or teach
or vow to do at great expense..
It grows from the consent of each

to each and turns mere talk to an event,
blessing us in ways unsought
as we are carried down uncharted
currents of our intertwining thought.

The poem is from the forthcoming volume of verse, Aids to Reflection by me.