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Barnett Newman and the Aquarian “Zip”NewmanImage

Barnett Newman was one of the great pioneers of American modern art. The painting pictured here (titled Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?), is typical of his style. It seems simple enough, just flat areas of color interrupted by straight lines of contrasting color, which Newman called “zips”. But Barnett Newman was a Sun sign Aquarian, and nothing is ever simple where Aquarius is concerned. (Click here to see a horoscope for Barnett Newman charted for noon.)

Aquarius people are drawn to big ideas, big causes and big projects. They need to have something in their life that has universal importance; that has the potential of lifting up the whole of humanity. For Aquarius, voting for the right person on Election Day isn’t a matter of personal choice, it is a moral necessity. Recycling that soda can isn’t a matter of convenience; it’s the salvation of humanity.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Barnett Newman saw his seemingly “simple” paintings as a way of saving the world. Newman felt that by reducing painting to its most elemental means, color and line, he could pull art free from the clashing passions and dangerous sentimentality that had so long clouded the judgment of humanity. He felt that he was providing a new means of cultural discussion in which the light of the intellect would predominate. (Click here to see a gallery of Newman’s work.)

There’s a story told about Barnett Newman’s first one man show. Some his fellow artists threw a party for Newman after the exhibition. Before Newman arrived at the party Elaine de Kooning, the wife of Willem de Kooning, decide to play a joke. She got a couple of the guys to mount a ping pong table to the wall. Then they all waited for Barnett to show up.

Of course, the green ping pong table with the white line down the middle looked a lot like the painting Newman was exhibiting. Newman saw this as soon as he joined the party. But he didn’t laugh. He broke down in tears.

Aquarius people are not without a sense of humor, but when it comes to their big ideas, they are always dead serious. I’m sure that Barnett Newman could have joked about a lot of things that evening, but not about his painting and the grand mission their represented.

Not everyone appreciates Barnett Newman’s artwork. His paintings and sculptures are just too devoid of human emotion to hold their interest. And most of us wouldn’t want to live in the world they describe, a world of pure intellect. We like our passions and our sentiment, as confusing and dangerous as they might be. But that doesn’t make Newman’s Aquarian statement any less valuable.

For Aquarius the process of thinking up these big ideas and living according to exalted principles isn’t so much about remaking the world. It is about showing the world that there are alternatives. Aquarius reminds us that there are ways of thinking, ways of doing things, that are radically different from the comfortable ruts we trudge every day. Sure, we might not like all of those alternatives, and there will be a few that just won’t work in any reality. But there will always some that cause us to pause, to reconsider, and maybe even change our way of living.

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