Harman on Greenberg

As is known, Graham has been blogging a good number of posts on Clement Greenberg. He mentions me on a couple of times, as in previous email correspondence, I have mentioned that – in my opinion – he is the most powerful, if not the greatest writer of the 20th Century.

And yes I do still think that. The problem of course, is that whilst he is undoubtedly influential today and will continue to remain influential for a good while yet, his work is almost-always subject to the opposing side of influential hostility. Most critics of a young age, continue to single out Greenberg/Fried/Krauss as relics of a by-gone era of oppressive authority, elitist high standards, smugness and a ‘stuffy’ purity of form. Most do not remember Greenberg’s actual project, but the stuffy-ness of being enlightened through modernist critique.

If you believe his conclusions and not his words, then no wonder. It would hard to agree with a critic that dismissed the public’s initial revulsion towards Abstract Expressionism as ‘a symptom of cultural and even modern decay‘. But again, that’s his conclusions, not his project. The important element that needs to be retained in the formalist project, is the basis for understanding how an art object works, and how it – in turn – determines subjective experience, leading to the transcending of the viewer. It is a legitimate study into the truth of artworks.

The problem with art critics, (as much as any critic in fact) is that they are trying to put into words, that which cannot be put into words. This is why Greenberg is so powerful, he had to condense the complex, confrontation of artworks in nothing more than dozen paragraphs.

How can anyone convey the truth of artworks through writing? You make the writing better and more alluring – the better the writing, the better the style – and Greenberg was all about style, both in criticism and in taste.

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