Biography

BASIC BIO

A native of Manhattan with a progressive background, Piri Halasz earned her Phi Beta Kappa key while majoring in English literature at Barnard. She then worked at Time magazine for six years as a researcher, primarily in business news, and for another six years as a writer.

As a writer on Time, she dealt with many subjects, including obituaries, celebrity gossip, books, life styles and world affairs, though almost no women were allowed to write for the magazine during that period.

Most notably, she became the first woman in living memory to write a cover story for the magazine, and not just any cover: it was the famous (or notorious) one on “Swinging London.” As a byproduct, she was invited by Coward McCann to write A Swinger’s Guide to London .

Following the London cover, Halasz was assigned to the Art page for Time. After two-and-a-half years of covering that subject, she decided she loved it more than she loved Time, quit, and went back to graduate school.

She took her PhD in art history from Columbia University, and has taught at Columbia, Hunter College, C. W. Post Center/​Long Island University, Molloy College on Long Island, and Bethany College in West Virginia.

She has also published more than two hundred hard-copy articles, primarily on art, in The New York Times (New Jersey supplement), Smithsonian Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, ARTnews, NYArts, Archives of American Art Journal, and elsewhere.

Her online column/​newsletter of art criticism and comment, From the Mayor’s Doorstep, commenced publication in 1996. Since that time, she has also contributed to artcritical.com, Observer.com and a gathering of the tribes (online edition).

In 2009, Halasz published A Memoir of Creativity: abstract painting, politics & the media, 1956-2008, a book which utilizes this background to introduce a radical theory regarding abstract painting. For further information on the book & this theory, see separate section below.

Dr. Halasz is on facebook & Linked-In. She also belongs to the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), College Art Association, National Coalition of Independent Scholars, Mensa, Time-Life Alumni Association, and Editorial Freelancers Association.

She lives and works in Manhattan, where she enjoys theater, movies, charades, and bridge.

ABSTRACT PAINTING & MULTIREFERENTIAL IMAGERY

Dr. Halasz introduced her theory of multireferential imagery with the September 1983 issue of Arts Magazine, in an article entitled, "Abstract Painting in General; Friedel Dzubas in Particular."

She revised and expanded these original ideas in A Memoir of Creativity.

In essence, she argues that abstract painting is not non-representational, as most people think, but instead a new form of representation. The abstract image in a painting is ambiguous or “multi-referential,” but not haphazardly so.

Instead, it represents a combination of forms that the artist has seen in the external world, stored in her or his memory, and synthesized onto the picture plane (without realizing that s/​he was doing so).

Viewers will be reminded of different objects by this ambiguous image, most often depending on how her or his viewing experience corresponds to that of the artist.

Obviously, this correspondence will be greatest among viewers who are alive when the artist is, and whose surroundings correspond most nearly to those of the artist, but no one perception is the ONLY right one, and all have some validity (if only to the second degree, meaning when the viewer is reminded of something that can at best be similar to what the artist would have seen).

Not all abstract art is equally multireferential, but to the extent that individual works may be, Dr. Halasz argues that they remain the most radical form of the visual arts that we have.

All the other, supposedly more "radical" art forms that have come along since & that she knows of -- including pop art, conceptual art, most video and all performance art -- represent lapses back into the "uni-referential" -- meaning works of art that in one way or another are as figurative as traditional representation, with only one prevailing idea to each image or element in the individual work.

Since Dr. Halasz introduced multireferential imagery in 1983, she has met with incomprehension and/​or resentment from many quarters. On a surface level, this appears to have much to do with the fact that her theory undermines the claims of so many supposedly more "radical" art forms to be as "radical" as their large and admiring public would like to think they are.

On the other hand, many observers far less (or not at all) committed to these popular art forms, and sometimes admirers of the same kinds of abstract art that she admires, still have difficulty with the theory -- either difficulty in grasping it or difficulty in accepting it (two different things).

The biggest problem appears to be the idea that the image on the picture plane represents something that the artist has seen, so that the image is in fact conveying a picture of something to the viewer (or sometimes, conveying different pictures to different viewers).

Somehow the idea that communication actually takes place between the abstract artist and the viewer is one that many observers can't face.

Another problem seems to be that an awful lot of people simply don't like ambiguity -- they have a deep underlying need to have everything reduced to the clear and simple.

Yet another problem, to the extent that "memory" can be equated to the Freudian unconscious, is the same problem that Freud also encountered--namely that few people are willing to admit that they aren't in complete control of themselves, and that there are parts of their own psyches which keep them from doing whatever it is that they think they want to be doing, and -- even worse --make them do what they don't want to do.

It is largely this type of resistance that, in Dr. Halasz's opinion, has led to the current popular opinion that all of Freud's ideas are ridiculously out-of-date and should be altogether ignored in favor of neuroscience.

She is perfectly willing to admit that a) Freud wasn't perfect and b) that neuroscience has the potential to explain mental processes with more scientific exactitude than he ever could.

However, from what she has seen so far, this potential is still very far from being realized.

She also has confidence that, with the aid of scientists like Dr. Mark Solms, who are committed to establishing a neurological basis for Freud's theories, in time even those neuroscientists most hostile to Freud will come to accept his ideas as largely if not entirely true (or at the very least, true in the context of his own era--he was, after all, very much a man of his own time).

SOCIOECONOMIC & POLITICAL THINKING

After years of being unable to make as much headway with her own theory of multireferential imagery as she felt it deserved, Dr.Halasz decided that her best chance of enabling more people to grasp and accept it was to tell how she developed it from many personal and professional experiences.

That is how A Memoir of Creativity came into being in its final form, but while writing it, she also found herself re-creating a political and social context not only for her theory but for all the art that she had encountered.

Thus the book incorporates much historical detail, often perceived through the mass-media environment that chronicled so much of this history initially.

It offers a few fresh (though doubtless very unpopular) thoughts about how the three most influential print media dealing with international news in the 1960s -- Time, Newsweek and the New York Times -- covered Vietnam and the protest against it.

It offers an explanation for the course of recent art history based in non-Freudian psychology as well as socioeconomic factors, and it closes with a startling insight into the American electorate of the 21st century, an insight originally developed in the wake of 9/​11.

This last insight she calls "the disenfranchised left."

In brief, Halasz argues that the rightward drift in U.S. politics since 1950 can be explained by the occupational shift in the work force, with the proportional rise of the white-collar population, which is constitutionally more likely to identify and sympathize with the wealthier classes (even if it isn't wealthy itself), and the proportional decline of the blue-collar population, which is more likely to recognize its true (and more adversarial) relationship to the upper classes.

In 1950, 40 percent of the U.S. work force was white-collar (managerial, professional, sales, technical and clerical) and 60 percent was blue-collar or blue-collar type jobs and farmers. In 2000, this proportion was exactly reversed, and the ratio has undoubtedly become far more lopsided in the decade since.

RECEPTION

A Memoir of Creativity has met with a large number of very encouraging personal responses, and even some sympathetic published reviews, posted here

Although these reviews, on the whole, don't evince too much sympathy with or even understanding of multireferential imagery, it does seem to have made some headway without them.

Dr. Halasz has noted how one scholar-curator, John Elderfield, made reference to "generalized allusions to the external world" in his 2013 exhibition catalog for Gagosian on "Painted on 21st Street: Helen Frankenthaler from 1950 to 1959" (discussed, along with two other suggestive exhibition catalogs, in the January 19, 2014 posting at this website).

She has also noted how Karen Wilkin, in a press release for the 2014 exhibition of sculpture at Lori Bookstein by Willard Boepple, and presumably also in the book on Boepple by her published on the same occasion, made reference to constructi0ns which "at once evoke industrial artifacts and creatures able to move under their own power." This is a good example of multireferential imagery, and mentioned as such in the December 8, 2014, posting at this website.

Dr. Halasz has no doubt that other scholars and critics may have also introduced similar ideas in recent years, most likely when dealing with artists she wasn't particularly interested in, and hence appearing in books or articles with which she is not familiar.

However, she conducted an exhaustive search for such similarities in articles & books published by scholars and critics prior to 1983 while preparing A Memoir of Creativity. Although even then, she found a good deal of interest in the "subject matter" of abstraction, plus miscellaneous references to "the unconscious" and "ambiguity," she didn't find anybody who had put them all together the way that she had (see pages 300-302 of the book, and its attendant footnote, pages 467-468).

In other words, she believes that her ideas, while pretty revolutionary in 1983, have become more widespread with the passage of time. Whether or not her own writing has played any role in this, she has no idea.