Ad Reinhardt’s 12 Rules of Pure Art: Part 1

rules of pure art by ad reinhardtArtist Ad Reinhardt lectured and wrote extensively on art during his lifetime. He was a major influence on conceptual art, minimal art and monochrome painting. Ad Reinhardt was most famous for his “black” or “ultimate” paintings. In one of Reinhardt’s famous art lectures he gave his “12 Rules of Pure Art”.

In this article we are going to give a brief overview of Reinhardt’s rules in a two part overview. Today, we cover the first 6 rules. In part 2, we will conclude the overview with the last 6 rules of pure art.

Almost 60 years ago in 1957 Ad Reinhardt took up the subject of contemporary abstraction and crafted twelve rules for artists to follow in order to achieve true “purity in art”. Similarly found in some of Reinhardt’s most famous paintings, purity in art is reached by applying rules such as no forms, no texture, no color, nothing but pure blackness, to create pure art.

1) No Texture

Reinhardt felt that the use of texture is naturalistic, mechanical and had a “vulgar quality”. Pure art was to be created without techniques such as palette-knifing, canvas-stabbing, pigment-textures or impasto. No accidents or automatism. “Action-techniques are unintelligent and to be avoided.”

2) No brushwork or calligraphy

Reinhardt felt that hand-writing, hand-working and hand-jerking were in poor taste and that they revealed something too personal.  Rule #2 states not to use signatures or any type of trademarking. “Brushwork should be invisible.” 

3) No sketching or drawing

No lines or outlines. No shading or streaking. No sketching or drawing beforehand. He felt that everything, where to begin and where to end, should be worked out in the Artist’s mind before even starting. “In painting, the idea should exist in the mind before the brush is taken up.”

4) No forms 

Reinhardt believed that the finest art has no shape. No shape meaning no figures, no spheres, no cubes, no cones, no cylinders, and no volume or mass in the artwork. In describing his rule #4 to use no form he said, “No shape or substance.”

5) No design 

Reinhardt said that “Design is everywhere” . Staying true to the rest of his academy of art, the use of designs to create art would not be true creation at all. Instead of using a predetermined design, look for pure designs all around you.

6) No colors 

Reinhardt said “Color blinds.”  He felt that colors were only an aspect of something; a surface appearance and as such, was not true to pure art. As colors were only the surface of the art, he felt they were only a “distracting embellishment”.

Reinhardt said do not use white, as white is a color. He felt the color white was “antiseptic and not artistic, appropriate and pleasing for kitchen fixtures, and hardly the medium for expressing truth and beauty.” 

About Ad Reinhardt  

Adolph “Ad” Frederick Reinhardt was an abstract painter from New York. He was a member of the American Abstract Artists and was a part of the movement centered on the Betty Parsons Gallery that became known as abstract expressionism.

Join us next week when we go over the last 6 rules in Reinhardt’s 12 Rules of Pure Art.