Listening to Art

12.09: Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume twelve, number nine: Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

We heard Voice of Fire in each the first five volumes: volume one number seven, volume two number nine, volume three number twelve, volume four number eleven and volume five number twelve. It is the single work heard most often in Listening to Art.

In volume one number six, the work Day One, I quoted something Newman said in Emile de Antonio’s documentary Painters Painting, transcribed in Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, edited by John O’Neill (pp. 302–308). I will quote it again.

Some twenty-two years ago in a gathering, I was asked what my painting really means in terms of society, in terms of the world, in terms of the situation. And my answer then was that if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism. Because to the extent that my painting was not an arrangement of objects, not an arrangement of spaces, not an arrangement of graphic elements, was an open painting, in the sense that it represented an open world—to that extent I thought, and I still believe, that my work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society, of an open world, not of a closed institutional world.

In volume one number seven I spoke about the history of this work in Canada, and my first experience of it. I finished:

It is huge. It is staggering. It is a profound piece, and it changed my understanding of what art is and what art can do.

And as I said in later issues:

It is always a great pleasure to revisit a favourite work of art and to experience it again and anew.

This is a painting, acrylic on canvas, 243.8 cm wide by 543.6 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman, recorded at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, on 25 August 2018.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Denton, William. “Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire.” Listening to Art 01, no. 07 (13 August 2017).

⸻. “Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire.” Listening to Art 02, no. 09 (15 March 2018).

⸻. “Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire.” Listening to Art 03, no. 12 (01 November 2018).

⸻. “Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire.” Listening to Art 04, no. 11 (13 April 2019).

⸻. “Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire.” Listening to Art 05, no. 12 (01 November 2019).

National Gallery of Canada. “Voice of Fire.” National Gallery of Canada.

O’Neill, John P., ed. Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Barnett Newman,”

⸻, s.v. “Voice of Fire,”