I hope Monday was not too stressful for you at school, it wasn’t too good at work, but now work is over and I turn to my true passion and write about art. My true passion is not writing about art but actually experimenting with brushes and paints but sometimes it is necessary to do the hard yards to appreciate fully the enjoyment of creation.
Clement Greenberg is not one of my favourite critics, whilst I can appreciate the support he gave to the Abstract Expressionists, he did so in his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch at the expense of the Russian artist Ilya Repin. Perhaps Repin’s is most famous for his masterwork, Reply of Zaporozhian Cossacks, which is not without a sense of inbuilt humour if you read the actual reply. In another of his now famous postscripts, written 30 years after the event, perhaps when he was no longer in the pay of the CIA, Greenberg admitted to not knowing who Repin was.
By its very nature, art is tribal, back in the fifties Greenberg belonged to the CIA tribe, but for me his treachery to true art was hard to forgive, so it was with some trepidation that I approached the essay Modernist Painting.
There are no paintings by Greenberg as far as I know, so he is not an artist, an artist would naturally by more sympathetic to the artists of the past, he admits in the piece that he is not a philosopher he styles himself as a critic, a mocker and decrier of journalists, he first delivered the essay as a speech on the radio network Voice of America, which is of course a normal method of delivery for a journalist.
Having established what Greenberg is, or rather what he deems himself not to be, it is now possible to examine his essay in his own terms, in his postscript he supplies some of his own terms of reference, “That I regard flatness and the inclosing of flatness not just as the limiting conditions of pictorial art, but as criteria of aesthetic quality in pictorial art; that the further a work advances the self-definition of an art, the better that work is bound to be. The philosopher or art historian who can envision me — or anyone at all — arriving at aesthetic judgments in this way reads shockingly more into himself or herself than into my article.”
Terry Fenton who as well as bring a critic, actually paints pictures, commented “The essay is notable for its illuminating (and largely undeveloped) observations about the nature and history of pictures, let alone Greenberg’s mid-life perception of the character and importance of the avant-garde. If the theory has a weakness, it lies with the centrality of pictorial art, which it seems to fit modernism like a glove.”
I have read Greemberg’s essay several times and I could spend a lifetime contesting Greenberg’s definitions of art of the past, but I would probably attract the attention of the CIA which understandably I am loath to do. Suffice to say that I am not in total agreement with the conclusions drawn by a Greenberg, whatever class of species he determines himself to be.
Perhaps in my own practice I am too true to the traditions of the pastseking a formula for a work that is easy on the eye. In his illustrations and my examination of his illustrations perhaps I need to be more conscious of breaking the rules in my practice.
Be lucky for the rest of the week
My love as always