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(soft piano music) - [Voiceover] What am I looking at? - [Voiceover] You're looking at an Ad Reinhardt called Abstract Painting. It dates to 1963-- - [Voiceover] It's name is called Abstract Painting? - [Voiceover] Exactly. - [Voiceover] I see. Because you know sometimes these paintings just look like they're one color because we're looking at a computer screen. If I were to go the museum, is it the MoMA? - [Voiceover] There's a version of this at-- - [Voiceover] There's a version of, okay so what would I see if I were able to go closer to this painting, or is it literally this navy blue color? - [Voiceover] So you walk up to the painting in the museum and there is some distortion here. It would be more of a flat black when you first walked up to it. - [Voiceover] Oh, it's actually closer to black? - [Voiceover] It's closer to a kind of flat black. - [Voiceover] It has a little bit of blue in it that's why we're getting-- - [Voiceover] Right, exactly. When you first walked up to painting, you would actually see a perfect square of black and that's it, no differentiation whatsoever. You would likely, or most people, would then after a few moments walk on because that's - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] what people do in museums. - [Voiceover] Before we get into any context, and I don't know the context on this, so this goes back to the principle of a painting standing by itself versus the context making it more interesting perhaps. Just this by itself, yes, it's a big square of black. It is interesting that it's there at the museum, that someone chose to give it that recognition. Based on what I do know, it seems like also this has been done before. We looked at the Malevich. His motivations may have been very different but he had White on White. So with that said, this painting doesn't seem, just on it's own, to do a lot. - [Voiceover] Right, and in fact, this is a perfect example of a painting that really annoys people, that makes people feel like they have been hoodwinked. That their time and this precious wall space has been badly spent, but in fact, Ad Reinhardt is doing something pretty sophisticated, I think. If you had decided not to walk off, if you had decided to spend some time thinking about why in the world somebody would put this perfect square of black on the wall in the museum, you would actually start to question what you were seeing. Because, as you stare at it, you begin to wonder whether or not you're seeing something, but, "Wait it's not there." - [Voiceover] But-- - [Voiceover] And then, wait hold on, because there is this process that takes place, and it takes your eye a few minutes of really concerted looking to start to see what is there. - [Voiceover] Fair enough, but I feel like that happens with a lot of things, that if you really observe anything, not even something that someone has told you is a work of art. I have this guitar sitting behind us. If I really start to stare at that guitar, I start to see new things. I feel like that's almost true of anything, especially a big chunk of color. - [Voiceover] Fair enough, and I think you're right. If we decide to pay attention to just about anything we can enrich it's meaning, but here's something in the world whose purpose is that. It's purpose is not something else, and it is the artist asking us to really pay attention, and he does reward us. When you start to look at this closely, you start to see that there are, in fact, nine squares here. This is a grid. The squares are - [Voiceover] Yes. subtle and different colors. It's just on the edge of perception though. Even as you're recognizing this, you question whether or not what you're seeing is really there. - [Voiceover] No, you're right, I mean I can barely see it on the computer. That is interesting. This idea of creating things on the edge of perception. - [Voiceover] Then take this another level. Think about this as your eye getting used to this. It's not just your mind being focused enough to perceive it, but your eye is actually adjusting. Your pupils are dilating to be able to bring that light in. That very subtle difference in. This is a painting that is working with the biology of our body, the biology of sight, not just the perceptual qualities that are intellectual but the physical qualities of sight. - [Voiceover] I'll push back another dimension, because I'm starting to really like this painting. This, I think, belongs in a science museum. You know, in those science museums, you have these things like, "How high of the thing can you hear?" "What can you perceive?" That's what this is doing. When you look at this painting, you see just a big wall of black. You spend a little time on it. Your pupils dilate and now all of a sudden you capture more light and you start to see the shade differences. - [Voiceover] In terms of its pure perceptual quality, yes, but it's also part of an ongoing discussion of what art should be now in the mid-twentieth century. - [Voiceover] I'm not 100 percent there, but I'm starting to appreciate the why. (soft piano music)