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  • 1. Greenberg vs RosenbergArt  109A:    Contemporary  Art  Westchester  Community  College  Fall  2012  
  • 2. Greenberg vsRosenbergLeading critics of postwar AmericanartDivergent ways of interpretingAbstract Expressionism Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery Harold Rosenberg Image source:
  • 3. FormalismEmphasis on formal elements: line,form, colorWork of art is valued for its form,rather than its content Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  • 4. Formalism “[A] work of art . . . is worth looking at primarily because it presents a composition or organization of color, line, light and shade. . . since resemblance to nature is at best superfluous and at worst distracting, it might as well be eliminated.” Alfred Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 1936“Let me confess: I hold my mindand my work free from anyassociation foreign to the act of Carl Mydans, Alfred Barr, 1953 Hans Hoffman in his studio, 1957 LIFEpainting”Hans Hoffmann
  • 5. FormalismAbstraction is superior to realismbecause the focus is on form ratherthan content“Whereas one tends to see what is inan Old Master before seeing it as apicture, one sees a Modernist paintingas a picture first.”Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 6. FormalismPollock has managed to“In these worksfree line not only from its function ofrepresenting objects in the world, butalso from its task of describing ourbounding shapes or figures, whetherabstract or representational, on thesurface of the canvas. In a paintingsuch as “Number One” there is only apictorial field so homogenous overalland devoid both of recognizable objectsand of abstract shapes that I want tocall it ‘optical’ . . . . Pollock’s field isoptical because it addresses itself toeyesight alone. The materiality of hispigment is rendered sheerly visual, andthe result is a new kind of space – if itstill makes sense to call it space – inwhich conditions of seeing prevail ratherthan one in which objects exist, flatshapes are juxtaposed or physicalevents transpire.”Michael Fried, “Jackson Pollock” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 7. Non-FormalismEmphasis on meaning/content“Non-formalist critics tend tofocus on issues like the artistspersonal beliefs and/or thecontext in which a work wasproduced. If there is oneunifying belief among 20th-century non-formalist artcritics, it is that art is anorganic process in which theartists emotional state is laidbare by the final product.” Harold Rosenberg Image source:
  • 8. RosenbergEmphasis on painting as “act”“The act of painting isinseparable from thebiography of the artist”Harold Rosenberg, “The American ActionPainters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  • 9. Rosenberg“What was to go on the canvas wasnot a picture but an event.”Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters”“In this gesturing with materials theesthetic, too, has beensubordinated . . . . What mattersalways is the revelation contained inthe act.”Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  • 10. RosenbergRosenberg considered the formalelements to be irrelevant:“The critic who goes on judging interms of schools, styles, form, as ifthe painter were still concerned withproducing a certain kind of object (thework of art), instead of living on thecanvas, is bound to seem a stranger.”Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source:
  • 11. Rosenberg“Form, color, composition, drawing,are auxiliaries, any one of which—orpractically all, as has been attempted,logically, with unpainted canvases—can be dispensed with. What mattersalways is the revelation contained inthe act.”Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source:
  • 12. Test YourUnderstandingFormalist or Non-Formalist “Painting isn’t just the visual thing that reaches your retina – it’s what is behind and in it. I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things our or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it – drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.” Willem de Kooning
  • 13. Test YourUnderstandingFormalist or Non-Formalist “You might as well get one thing straight . . . I am not an abstractionist . . . not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else . . . I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on” Mark Rothko
  • 14. Test YourUnderstandingFormalist or Non-Formalist “One of [Ellsworth] Kelly’s preoccupations has been to explore the tension in our perceptions of volume and plane, foreground and background. He uses perceptual ambiguities and optical effects to force us to acknowledge their simultaneous presence and recognize the play between them.”
  • 15. Test YourUnderstandingFormalist or Non-Formalist “The chaos in Pollock’s painting seems to well up from deep within his psyche, as a kind of upsurge of primal energies, which provides the work with its authenticity. Chaos, however, not only was the result of Pollock’s individual psychology but was informed by the turbulent state of the world, which, like his adventitious process, seemed unmanageable and beyond rational control.” Irving Sandler
  • 16. Greenberg vsRosenbergDivergent views on art• Formalist• Non-formalist Exhibition Catalog, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, The Jewish Museum, 2008
  • 17. Art as LifeGreenberg vsRosenberg Art as ArtThese divergent views influencedthe distinct paths taken by art in the1950s/1960s• Art as art• Art as life
  • 18. Modernist TheoryClement Greenberg’s ideas weredeveloped in a series of essayswritten during the 1940s-1950sThey were collected together in Artand Culture, published in 1961
  • 19. Modernist TheoryGreenberg’s key ideas included: 1.  Artistic “progress” 2.  Art as a self-critical activity 3.  Medium specificity 4.  Autonomy and self-referentiality (art about art) 5.  Purity 6.  The distinction between Avant garde and Kitsch Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source:
  • 20. Modernist theoryGreenberg believed that art evolvesprogressively, and that each newadvance renders previousdiscoveries obsolete“Formalism decreed a narrowlylinear progress in modernismtoward a relentlesspurification . . . . Subject matterwas irrelevant, illusionforbidden . . . .”Fineberg, p. 155 Jacket cover for the exhibition catalog for Alfred Barr’s Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, 1936
  • 21. Modernist TheoryHe believed that the inevitable pathof modern painting since the 19thcentury was towards abstraction Henri Matisse, Large Reclining Nude / The Pink Nude1935 Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1865
  • 22. Modernist TheoryThe engine driving artistic evolutionis self criticism“I identify Modernism with the intensification, almostexacerbation, of this self-critical tendency thatbegan with the philosopher Kant”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting“The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in theuse of the characteristic methods of a discipline tocriticize the discipline itself.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan
  • 23. Modernist TheoryFor Greenberg, art is likephilosophyIt is a self reflexive activity in whichart is used to investigate the natureof art Nina Katchadourian, Special Collections, from the Sorted Books Project, 1996
  • 24. Modernist Theory Medium specificity: Greenberg believed that each of the arts should focus on what is “unique and irreducible” to the medium“The task of self criticism became to eliminate fromthe effects of each art any and every effect thatmight conceivably be borrowed from or by themedium of any other art. Thereby each art would berendered ‘pure,’ and in its ‘purity’ find the guaranteeof its standards of quality as well as itsindependence.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting
  • 25. Modernist TheoryPaintings should not tell storiesbecause that is the domain ofliterature and theater Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman, Nancy Robinette, and Jeremy S. Holm in Death of a Salesman. Photos by Scott Suchman/courtesy Arena Stage.
  • 26. Modernist TheoryNor should painting try to suggestthree dimensionality, since that isthe domain of sculpture David Smith, Cubi XVII, 1963 Dallas Museum of Art
  • 27. Modernist TheoryGreenberg believed that realistic artis an “illusion”“Realistic, illusionist art haddissembled the medium, using artto conceal art.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Rene Magritte, Promenades of Euclid, 1955
  • 28. Modernist TheoryIn realist painting, the picturepretends to be a window when inreality it is a flat piece of canvascovered with paint
  • 29. Modernist TheoryGreenberg believed that for art tobe “advanced,” it had to focus onwhat was specific and unique to themedium itself Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source:
  • 30. Modernist TheoryA canvas is a flat surface, and thematerial of painting is paint
  • 31. Modernist Theory In an abstract picture, we are made aware of the picture as paint on canvas“Whereas one tends to see what is in an OldMaster before seeing it as a picture, onesees a Modernist painting as a picture first.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 32. Modernist Theory It is therefore “self referential” and “autonomous”“Modernism used art to call attention to art.The limitations that constitute the medium ofpainting -- the flat surface, the shape of thesupport, the properties of pigment -- weretreated by the Old Masters as negativefactors [i.e. things that had to be overcometo create a seamless illusion] . . . Modernistpainting has come to regard these samelimitations as positive factors that are to beacknowledged openly.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948 MOMA
  • 33. Modernist TheoryGreenberg believed that throughthis self-critical activity, artbecomes more pure“Thereby each art would berendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’find the guarantee of its standardsof quality as well as of itsindependence.”Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan
  • 34. Modernist TheoryThis is what separates “art” from“kitsch” -- the vulgar products ofmass culture“To fill the demand of the newmarket, a new commodity wasdevised: ersatz culture, kitsch,destined for those who,insensible to the values ofgenuine culture, are hungrynevertheless for the diversionthat only culture of some sortcan provide.”Clement Greenberg, Avant Gardeand Kitsch
  • 35. Post PainterlyAbstractionClement Greenberg had been anearly champion of Jackson Pollockand the Abstract Expressionists Hans Namuth, Clement Greenberg, 1951
  • 36. Post PainterlyAbstractionIn his 1955 essay “American TypePainting” he praised Pollock’s “allover” style as the latest step in theevolution of Modernism Jackson Pollock, Shimmering Substance, 1946 Museum of Modern Art
  • 37. Post PainterlyAbstractionThe “all over” style destroyed thelast remnants of illusionism inpainting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 38. Post PainterlyAbstractionBut Greenberg grew impatient withPollock’s “Gothic” personality andintensely emotional style Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  • 39. Post PainterlyAbstractionHis pictures were not “pure” enoughsince they inevitably pointed to theprocess of painting and theemotional state of the artist Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948 Museum of Modern Art
  • 40. Post PainterlyAbstractionGreenberg also denounced DeKooning’s WomenIn addition to wallowing in thevulgarity of “kitsch,” the pictureswere not “self referential” or “pure” Willem De Kooning Woman I, 1950-52 Museum of Modern Art
  • 41. Post PainterlyAbstractionIn the late 1950’s Greenberg shiftedallegiance to a new style of paintinghe called “post painterlyabstraction” Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: