Barnett Newman professed that a beholder's encounter with his paintings was like meeting another person for the first time. He believed the experience produced the conditions for apprehending an ethical relationship that would entail both the individual's achievement of his or her own understanding of “self” and his or her acknowledgment of another individual. But it would be their mutual recognition of separateness as the condition of possibility for communication — for sharing worlds — that would ground the ethical relationship between them. Not just interested in matters of theory, the artist was also specific about the modes of spatial experience that he intended his canvases to inaugurate for a beholder. A detailed phenomenological account of how, in particular cases, the perceptual effects of Newman's paintings are created, both technically and artistically, helps to develop the implications, for his ethics of relationship, of what he called his “sense of space.” This article focuses on major paintings (particularly Vir Heroicus Sublimis and The Wild) in order to ground an interpretation of the perceptual effects of Newman's works.

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