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3.2 greenberg vs rosenberg

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2.5 figurative art 1950s
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3.2 greenberg vs rosenberg

  1. 1. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Art  109A:    Contemporary  Art   Westchester  Community  College   Fall  2012  
  2. 2. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Leading critics of postwar American art Divergent ways of interpreting Abstract Expressionism Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  3. 3. Formalism Emphasis on formal elements: line, form, color Work of art is valued for its form, rather than its content Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  4. 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 mind and my work free from any association foreign to the act of Carl Mydans, Alfred Barr, 1953 Hans Hoffman in his studio, 1957 LIFE painting” Hans Hoffmann
  5. 5. Formalism Abstraction is superior to realism because the focus is on form rather than content “Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture, one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.” Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  6. 6. FormalismPollock has managed to “In these works free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing our bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas. In a painting such as “Number One” there is only a pictorial field so homogenous overall and devoid both of recognizable objects and of abstract shapes that I want to call it ‘optical’ . . . . Pollock’s field is optical because it addresses itself to eyesight alone. The materiality of his pigment is rendered sheerly visual, and the result is a new kind of space – if it still makes sense to call it space – in which conditions of seeing prevail rather than one in which objects exist, flat shapes are juxtaposed or physical events transpire.” Michael Fried, “Jackson Pollock” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  7. 7. Non-Formalism Emphasis on meaning/content “Non-formalist critics tend to focus on issues like the artist's personal beliefs and/or the context in which a work was produced. If there is one unifying belief among 20th- century non-formalist art critics, it is that art is an organic process in which the artist's emotional state is laid bare by the final product.” Theartstory.org Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  8. 8. Rosenberg Emphasis on painting as “act” “The act of painting is inseparable from the biography of the artist” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  9. 9. Rosenberg “What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” “In this gesturing with materials the esthetic, too, has been subordinated . . . . What matters always is the revelation contained in the act.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  10. 10. Rosenberg Rosenberg considered the formal elements to be irrelevant: “The critic who goes on judging in terms of schools, styles, form, as if the painter were still concerned with producing a certain kind of object (the work of art), instead of living on the canvas, is bound to seem a stranger.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  11. 11. Rosenberg “Form, color, composition, drawing, are auxiliaries, any one of which—or practically all, as has been attempted, logically, with unpainted canvases— can be dispensed with. What matters always is the revelation contained in the act.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  12. 12. Test Your Understanding Formalist 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. 13. Test Your Understanding Formalist 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. 14. Test Your Understanding Formalist 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. 15. Test Your Understanding Formalist 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. 16. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Divergent views on art • Formalist • Non-formalist Exhibition Catalog, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, The Jewish Museum, 2008
  17. 17. Art as Life Greenberg vs Rosenberg Art as Art These divergent views influenced the distinct paths taken by art in the 1950s/1960s • Art as art • Art as life
  18. 18. Modernist Theory Clement Greenberg’s ideas were developed in a series of essays written during the 1940s-1950s They were collected together in Art and Culture, published in 1961
  19. 19. Modernist Theory Greenberg’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: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
  20. 20. Modernist theory Greenberg believed that art evolves progressively, and that each new advance renders previous discoveries obsolete “Formalism decreed a narrowly linear progress in modernism toward a relentless purification . . . . Subject matter was irrelevant, illusion forbidden . . . .” Fineberg, p. 155 Jacket cover for the exhibition catalog for Alfred Barr’s Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, 1936
  21. 21. Modernist Theory He believed that the inevitable path of modern painting since the 19th century was towards abstraction Henri Matisse, Large Reclining Nude / The Pink Nude1935 Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1865
  22. 22. Modernist Theory The engine driving artistic evolution is self criticism “I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that began with the philosopher Kant” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
  23. 23. Modernist Theory For Greenberg, art is like philosophy It is a self reflexive activity in which art is used to investigate the nature of art Nina Katchadourian, Special Collections, from the Sorted Books Project, 1996
  24. 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 from the effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thereby each art would be rendered ‘pure,’ and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as its independence.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting
  25. 25. Modernist Theory Paintings should not tell stories because that is the domain of literature 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. 26. Modernist Theory Nor should painting try to suggest three dimensionality, since that is the domain of sculpture David Smith, Cubi XVII, 1963 Dallas Museum of Art
  27. 27. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that realistic art is an “illusion” “Realistic, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Rene Magritte, Promenades of Euclid, 1955
  28. 28. Modernist Theory In realist painting, the picture pretends to be a window when in reality it is a flat piece of canvas covered with paint
  29. 29. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that for art to be “advanced,” it had to focus on what was specific and unique to the medium itself Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
  30. 30. Modernist Theory A canvas is a flat surface, and the material of painting is paint
  31. 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 Old Master before seeing it as a picture, one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  32. 32. Modernist Theory It is therefore “self referential” and “autonomous” “Modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting -- the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of pigment -- were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors [i.e. things that had to be overcome to create a seamless illusion] . . . Modernist painting has come to regard these same limitations as positive factors that are to be acknowledged openly.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948 MOMA
  33. 33. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that through this self-critical activity, art becomes more pure “Thereby each art would be rendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
  34. 34. Modernist Theory This is what separates “art” from “kitsch” -- the vulgar products of mass culture “To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.” Clement Greenberg, Avant Garde and Kitsch
  35. 35. Post Painterly Abstraction Clement Greenberg had been an early champion of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists Hans Namuth, Clement Greenberg, 1951
  36. 36. Post Painterly Abstraction In his 1955 essay “American Type Painting” he praised Pollock’s “all over” style as the latest step in the evolution of Modernism Jackson Pollock, Shimmering Substance, 1946 Museum of Modern Art
  37. 37. Post Painterly Abstraction The “all over” style destroyed the last remnants of illusionism in painting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  38. 38. Post Painterly Abstraction But Greenberg grew impatient with Pollock’s “Gothic” personality and intensely emotional style Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  39. 39. Post Painterly Abstraction His pictures were not “pure” enough since they inevitably pointed to the process of painting and the emotional state of the artist Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948 Museum of Modern Art
  40. 40. Post Painterly Abstraction Greenberg also denounced De Kooning’s Women In addition to wallowing in the vulgarity of “kitsch,” the pictures were not “self referential” or “pure” Willem De Kooning Woman I, 1950-52 Museum of Modern Art
  41. 41. Post Painterly Abstraction In the late 1950’s Greenberg shifted allegiance to a new style of painting he called “post painterly abstraction” Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp

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