"The concentric square format is about as neutral and as simple as you can get," Stella notes. "It's just a powerful pictorial image. It's so good that you can use it, abuse it, and even work against it to the point of ignoring it. It has a strength that's almost indestructible - at least for me. It's one of those givens, and it's very hard for me not to paint it. It is a successful picture before you start, and it's pretty hard to blow it."
The mammoth 1974 Concentric Squares, whose titles Stella sees as evoking "the notion of the critic" (and as referring particularly to Michael Fried's interest in Diderot), share with all the earlier Concentric Squares a systematic use of both color and value scales. Systematic sequences were abstracted from the hues of the color wheel, and a division of the gray scale was made to correspond to it in number. Usually, each of these systems was used alone to constitute a picture (as in the hue sequence of Bijoux Indiscrets and the value series of Sight Gag, but sometimes Stella juxtaposed the hue and gray-value sequences in a rectangle composed of contiguous square fields (as in Le Rêve de d'Alembert). There was, of course, no real (i.e., optical or scientific) correspondence between two sequences. In the "double concentric" pictures, the values of the successive hues did not directly correspond to the values of the gray bands that constituted their mirror- image counterpart. What the eye did distinguish, however, was the commonality of their progressive sequence--a sequence so obvious that it seemed to have been done "by the numbers."
According to Stella:
"The effect of doing it "by the numbers," so to say, gave me a kind of guide in my work as a whole. Everything else, everything that was freer and less sequential, had to be at least as good--and that would be no mean achievement. The Concentric Squares created a pretty high, pretty tough pictorial standard. Their simple, rather humbling effect--almost a numbing power--became a sort of "control" against which my increasing tendency in the seventies to be extravagant could be measured" (W. Rubin, Frank Stella, exh. cat., Museum of Modern art, New York, 1987, pp. 43-48).