Clement Greenberg

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Clement Greenberg (January 16, 1909 - May 7, 1994) was an influential American art critic closely associated with the abstract art movement in the United States. In particular, he promoted the Abstract Expressionist movement and had close ties with the painter Jackson Pollock.


[edit] Kitsch

Greenberg was a graduate of Syracuse University who first made his name as an art critic with his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch, published in 1939. In this article Greenberg claimed that avant-garde and Modernist art was a means to resist the leveling of culture produced by capitalist propaganda. Greenberg appropriated the German word 'kitsch' to describe this consumerism, though its connotations have since changed to a more affirmative notion of left-over materials of capitalist culture. Modern art, like philosophy, explored the conditions under which we experience and understand the world. It does not simply provide information about it in the manner of an illustratively accurate depiction of the world. "Avant Garde and Kitsch" was also a politically motivated essay in part a response to the destruction and repression of Modernist Art in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and its replacement with state ordained styles of "Aryan" art and 'Socialist Realism'.

[edit] After Abstract Expressionism

Greenberg believed Modernism provided a critical commentary on experience. It was constantly changing to adapt to kitsch pseudo-culture, which was itself always developing. In the years after World War II, Greenberg came to believe that the best avant-garde artists were emerging in America rather than Europe. Particularly, he championed Jackson Pollock as the greatest painter of his generation, commemorating the artist's "all-over" gestural canvases. In the 1955 essay "American-Type Painting" Greenberg promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, as the next stage in Modernist art, arguing that these painters were moving towards greater emphasis on the 'flatness' of the picture plane. Stressing this flatness separated their art from the Old Masters, who considered flatness an obtrusive hurdle in painting, and introduced a method of self-criticism that transported abstract painting from decorative 'wallpaper patterns' to high art. Greenberg's view that after the war the United States had become the guardian of 'advanced art' was taken up in some quarters as a reason for using Abstract Expressionism as the basis for Cultural Propaganda exercises. He praised similar movements abroad and, after the success of the Painters Eleven exhibition in 1956 with the American Abstract Artists at New York's Riverside Gallery, he travelled to Toronto to see the group's work in 1957. He was particularly marked by the potential of painters William Ronald and Jack Bush, and later developed a close friendship with Bush. Greenberg saw Bush's post-Painters Eleven work as a clear manifestation of the shift from abstract expressionism to Color Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction, a shift he had called for in most of his critical writings of the period.

Greenberg's views led him to reject the Pop Art of the 1960s, a trend clearly influenced by kitsch culture. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Greenberg remained an influential figure on a younger generation of critics including Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Greenberg's antagonism to 'Postmodernist' theories and socially engaged movements in art caused a backlash amongst both artists and art historians which came to be known as "Clembashing."

[edit] Post-painterly abstraction

Eventually, Greenberg was concerned that some Abstract Expressionism had been "reduced to a set of mannerisms" and increasingly looked to a new set of artists who abandoned such elements as subject matter, connection with the artist, and definite brush strokes. Greenberg suggested this process attained a level of 'purity' (a word he only used in quotes) that would reveal the truthfulness of the canvas, and the two-dimensional aspects of the space (flatness). Greenberg coined the term "Post-Painterly Abstraction" to distinguish it from Abstract Expressionism, or Painterly Abstraction, as Greenberg preferred to call it. Post-Painterly Abstraction reacted against gestural abstraction and branched into two sects, the Hard-Edged Painters such as Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella who explored relationships within shapes and edges, and Color-Field Painters such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, who poured diluted paint onto the unprimed canvas to explore aspects of pure, fluid color.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Greenberg, Clement. Late Writings. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  • Greenberg, Clement. A Critic's Collection. Portland: Portland Art Museum, 2001.
  • Greenberg, Clement. Homemade Esthetics: Observations on Art and Taste. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Rubenfeld, Florence. Clement Greenberg: A Life. Scribner, 1997.

[edit] External links

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Clement Greenberg

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