Clement Greenberg on Modernist Painting Analytical Essay

Clement Greenberg on Modernist Painting
An analysis of Clement Greenberg's text "Modernist Painting".
# 154166 | 866 words | 1 source | 2014 | LB
Published on Apr 21, 2015 in Art (Artists) , Art (History) , Art (Painting)

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Clement Greenberg was an American art critic, famous for his work on modern art in the mid-20th century. A major supporter of abstract modernism, he pioneered the movement and helped it develop by writing numerous essays tackling the core elements of this movement. One of his most influential texts, "Modernist Painting", written in 1961, found in the 4th volume of "The Collected Essays and Criticism", tackles this movement head on and allows us to ask, how does Greenberg present modernist art in his text?. In order to answer this question, Greenberg begins by defining late Modernism and stating its specificities, explaining each one along the way, and then moves on to defend this movement by explaining its relation to other methods and eras of pictorial art.

From the Paper:

"Greenberg starts by defining modernism, stating that it spawned from the mid-19th century to his present and represented a sort of self-criticism that shaped ideologies and the world,saying that its essence would lie in "the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself--not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence" (p85). The art critic believes that the philosopher Emanuel Kant was at the heart of this impulse of self-criticism, as he chose to "criticize from the inside"p(85), and thus, "a more rational justification had begun to be demanded of every formal activity" p(85).
"And so, according to Greenberg, a "rational justification" of art becomes mandatory since it "looked as though it was going to be assimilated to entertainment, pure and simple" (p86). This rational justification stated that for an art to be considered modern, it requires it to strip down "any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art" (p86). As a result of this self-justification, this art form achieves greater specialization and security.This purification of art depends on the specificity of the medium, meaning the characteristics its works share with no other form of art. These limitations that were once regarded as negative factors came to be regarded as positive factors. The flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment and many other specificities became fundamental formodernists. Moreover, Greenberg points out that "the ineluctable flatness of the surface" is more fundamental than anything else in defining pictorial art as modernist since it is the only parameter that is completely unique to art. Furthermore, Greenberg defines the limitations of pictorial art and explains that the further back these limitations are pushed, the more explicitly they have to be observed. Using Mondrian's painting as an example, he explains that a Modernist painting's flatness can never be an absolute flatness, since a single brush stroke creates a new dimension in the painting, a dimension that is different than that of the "Old masters", it is one that can only be travelled through using the eyes."

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