Clement Greenberg Essay Abstract Expressionism

But Pop reversed this flow, suggesting a redemption of the low by the high.

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Also, are these painters being placed into the historical context of Greenberg’s formalist strictures in order to make them a safer bet in the marketplace?

It seems to me that the current situation is not about available options, as Schwabsky suggests, which span a wide range of possibilities, or about a critic channeling Greenberg’s legacy and identifying the next viable tendency in art.

Where the painter still tried to indicate real objects their shapes flatten and spread in the dense, two-dimensional atmosphere.

A vibrating tension is set up as the objects struggle to maintain their volume against the tendency of the real picture plane to re-assert its material flatness and crush them to silhouettes.

In his introductory essay to Vitamin P, a survey of contemporary painting first published by Phaidon in 2002, the poet and critic Barry Schwabsky takes pains to point out the variety of stylistic positions available to a contemporary painter.

In doing so, Schwabsky suggests that there is no single identifying characteristic that would disqualify a contemporary painting from critical consideration today. In my opinion, however, the receptivity that Schwabsky claims for painting is not actually an accurate characterization of the current situation, where success is generally judged by an artist’s standing in the marketplace.In his attempt to extend the shopworn formalist doctrine of historical progress, Rubinstein paradoxically chose an ahistorical argument that fails to recognize that the “unfinished” work of art — after being touted in one way or another for the past 150 years, since Claude Monet painted “Impression, Sunrise” (1872) – had long ago passed from being an innovative possibility to being the go-to standard.Haven’t such reactionary choices become predictable and constraining – a set of familiar, easily mimicked gestures? Are Rubinstein’s mimickers imitating the first mimickers?We know that the author of "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" was no fan of mass culture, nor of the "middlebrow" poetry and fiction published in journals like the New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post.Kitsch, in Greenberg's sense of the word, denoted a watering down of modernist innovations, a pilfering of the high by the low.While there are many factors that have contributed to the current situation — where painting is marginalized in a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways — the roots of it go back to Clement Greenberg and his 1939 essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” With this text, Greenberg began to develop his brand of formalist theory regarding innovative modern art and to advance the concept of art’s historical progress.And while it is easy to say that Greenberg is no longer as relevant and that formalist theory and its doctrinaire condemnation of subjectivity, subject matter, relational composition, drawing, and spatiality are no longer regarded as dominant, it seems to me that his formulations continue to be a powerful presence in one guise or another.Mimicking casualness or employing a machine or fabricators to make one’s work — as many critical darlings are busy doing — might be this generation’s way of shucking responsibility.Previous generations of artists, critics and curators bought into a constricted definition of what art could be, believing that history had brought them to an inevitable endgame and that any aesthetic alternative was spurious at best.Greenberg’s Formalist theory was understandably attractive to younger critics and art historians because he seemed to be turning art history into a scientific method, with a variety of materially verifiable ways by which one could evaluate art.In doing so, he is claiming to be objective rather than subjective.


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