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He felt that the very idea of thinking of art in terms of appeal to a mass audience was beside the point of what was significant in art.[archived recording of Clement Greenberg: The Metropolitan Museum is no longer easy to visit. And so we get the idea of the tendency towards, or the push towards purity, as he has called it.I remember talking with him about that and he said, well, it was not absolute and was hard to realise, but indeed it was there, and it's what kept the avant garde advancing; this kind of self-criticism of its own relation to whatever medium it was operating in, be it painting or sculpture.
'Clembashing', as it came to be known, dates from his refusual to back the new pop art, conceptual art and minimalism of the 60s -- and later, postmodernism.
Born in 1909 in the Bronx, with a Lithuanian Jewish background, politically, the young Greenberg belonged to the leftward side of humanity and in particular to American 'cultural Trotskyism'.
Belonging to the generation that produced Abstract Expressionism (he was arguably the first champion of Jackson Pollock), Greenberg saw in that artists personal tragedy a metaphor for the disasters of American life and art, in which people were alienated from real culture, were being forced to live off kitsch culture ('one of faked sensations' ...
'because it was turned out mechanically') and he was resigned to the fact that at the other extreme, the so called avant-garde had taken off in another direction which was producing art for art's sake for themselves and the cultural elite.
Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature itself cannot be reduced in whole or part into anything not itself.
Donald Kuspit: Yes, you've got to realise that Greenberg was working for Partisan Review, which was a leftist magazine, at the time.
printer friendly version Summary: The fifth in our series on art books and essays which have changed the way we see and understand the visual arts, today focusing particularly on Clement Greenberg's influential essays 'Avant-Garde and the Kitsch' (1939) and 'The Plight of Culture' (1953), both of which were republished in the 1961 Art and Culture: Critical Essays.
Arguably the most influential American art critic of the second half of the 20th century, as a champion of the post-war American abstract modernist art which flourished in the 1950s (and most particularly for his promotion of Jackson Pollock), Clement Greenberg was also the most vilified.
It has been in search of the absolute that the avant garde has arrived at 'abstract', or 'non-objective' artand poetry, too.
The avant garde poet or artist tries in effect to imitate God by creating something valid solely on its own terms.