Using Paint: Abstraction of Realism and Representation in Works by Robert Ryman and Susan Rothenberg

Plan Author

  • Ashley Gray, 2013

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Tutorial: Continuation of exploring texture and sculptural forms using clay and other materials
  • Tutorial: Plan writing tutorial – Artist Paper: Susan Rothenberg; Art Seminar Critique
  • Tutorial: Transformation of the ordinary through play of light, texture, and focus

Project Description

Through painting and ceramics, an investigation on how ordinary objects are transformed by light, texture, and focus.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Elizabeth Meyersohn, Professor of Fine Arts, Smith College


From the Renaissance to the mid-19th century, Western Art was almost entirely focused on creating accurate representations of reality. The rise of abstract art changed this, allowing visual artists to begin exploring the more fundamental aspects of their craft. Instead of using paint, shapes, and lines to construct a realistic image, abstract artists considered these “building blocks” to be ends in themselves, with their own meanings and expressive qualities. This Plan examines how abstract artists Robert Ryman and Susan Rothenberg explored these fundamental forms, and includes an exhibition of works in oil, charcoal, and ceramic by the author.

Robert Ryman’s paintings focus on the expressive qualities of paint itself. Rather than using it as a medium to depict a scene or person, Ryman challenges viewers to perceive the paint as the primary subject matter. To strengthen his artistic goals, Ryman often used only white paint in his works, removing any possible color associations the viewer may have. Susan Rothenberg, by contrast, uses color and shape to alter depictions of reality. Her works often feature a minimalist depiction of a horse, the outline of which has been divided by various colors and lines. Seen together, her horse paintings explore how viewers maintain their perception of an object across varying levels of abstraction.


“Letting materials and marks be just as visually dominant as the forms and shadows they suggest creates a balance between mark making and suggested forms as subject matter.”

“Reducing the painting to its presentation of paint as a material removed both figurative representation and illusionistic depth from Ryman’s work; instead, his paintings focused on the possibilities and subtleties of how to show and use paint on different surfaces.”


“For me, Plan meant great tutorials, many late nights working in the studio, and a successful gallery exhibit at the end.”