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Art and culture critical essays clement greenberg pdf

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Culture clement essays pdf and critical art greenberg

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Книги на Google Play – Antinomies of Art and Culture

Antinomies of Art and Culture – Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity

In this landmark collection, world-renowned theorists, artists, critics, and curators explore new ways of conceiving the present and understanding art and culture in relation to it. They revisit from fresh perspectives key issues regarding modernity and postmodernity, including the relationship between art and broader social and political currents, as well as important questions about temporality and change. They also reflect on whether or not broad categories and terms such as modernity, postmodernity, globalization, and decolonization are still relevant or useful. Including twenty essays and seventy-seven images, Antinomies of Art and Culture is a wide-ranging yet incisive inquiry into how to understand, describe, and represent what it is to live in the contemporary moment.

In the volume’s introduction the theorist Terry Smith argues that predictions that postmodernity would emerge as a global successor to modernity have not materialized as anticipated. Smith suggests that the various situations of decolonized Africa, post-Soviet Europe, contemporary China, the conflicted Middle East, and an uncertain United States might be better characterized in terms of their “contemporaneity,” a concept which captures the frictions of the present while denying the inevitability of all currently competing universalisms. Essays range from Antonio Negri’s analysis of contemporaneity in light of the concept of multitude to Okwui Enwezor’s argument that the entire world is now in a postcolonial constellation, and from Rosalind Krauss’s defense of artistic modernism to Jonathan Hay’s characterization of contemporary developments in terms of doubled and even para-modernities. The volume’s centerpiece is a sequence of photographs from Zoe Leonard’s Analogue project. Depicting used clothing, both as it is bundled for shipment in Brooklyn and as it is displayed for sale on the streets of Uganda, the sequence is part of a striking visual record of new cultural forms and economies emerging as others are left behind.

Contributors. Monica Amor, Nancy Condee, Okwui Enwezor, Boris Groys, Jonathan Hay, Wu Hung, Geeta Kapur, Rosalind Krauss, Bruno Latour, Zoe Leonard, Lev Manovich, James Meyer, Gao Minglu, Helen Molesworth, Antonio Negri, Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Nikos Papastergiadis, Colin Richards, Suely Rolnik, Terry Smith, McKenzie Wark

Terry Smith is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and a visiting professor in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney. He is the author of several books including The Architecture of Aftermath and Making the Modern: Industry, Art, and Design in America .

Okwui Enwezor is Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has curated numerous art exhibitions, including the 2nd Seville Biennial of Contemporary Art, Documenta 11 (Kassel, 1998–2002), and Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography at the International Center of Photography in New York, where he serves as Adjunct Curator.

Nancy Condee is Director of the Graduate Program for Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of The Imperial Trace: Recent Russian Cinema (forthcoming) and editor of Soviet Hieroglyphics: Visual Culture in Late-Twentieth-Century Russia.

The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 3: Affirmations and Refusals, 1950-1956, Greenberg, O Brian

The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 3

Editorial Note
Introduction by John O'Brian

1. An Essay on Paul Klee
2. Review of Exhibitions of van Gogh and Alfred Maurer
3. Introduction to an Exhibition of Arnold Friedman
4. Renoir and the Picturesque
5. The Seeing Eye: Review of Landscape Painting by Kenneth Clark and Landscape, Portrait, Still-Life by Max J. Friedlander
6. Foreword to a Group Exhibition at the Kootz Gallery
7. The Venetian Line
8. Two Reconsiderations
9. Religion and the Intellectuals: A Symposium
10. The Art of China: Review of The Principles of Chinese Painting by George Rowley
11. Advertisement for an Exhibition of Franz Kline at the Egan Gallery
12. Self-Hatred and Jewish Chauvinism: Some Reflections on "Positive ]ewishness"
13. Foreword to an Exhibition of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Maurer
14. The European View of American Art
15. Realism and Beyond: Review of The History of Modern Painting from Picasso to Surrealism by Maurice Raynal et al. Pierre-Auguste Renoir by Walter Pach, Vincent van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro, and El Greco by Leo Bronstein
16. T. S. Eliot: The Criticism, The Poetry

17. Chaim Soutine
18. Letters Concerning J. Alvarez del Vayo's Column in The Nation
19. Cezanne and the Unity of Modern Art
20. Review of Gustave Courbet by Gerstle Mack
21. Review of The Social History of Art by Arnold Hauser

22. "Feeling Is All"
23. Jackson Pollock's New Style
24. Cross-Breeding of Modern Sculpture
25. Cezanne: Gateway to Contemporary Painting I
26. Foreword to an Exhibition of Jackson Pollock

27. Foreword to a Group Exhibition at the Stable Gallery
28. Foreword to an Exhibition of Willem de Kooning
29. The Plight of Our Culture
30. Independence of Folk Art: Review of Folk Art in Europe by Helmut Bossert
31. Symposium: Is the French Avant-Garde Overrated?
32. Two of the Moderns: Review of Chagall by Jacques Lassaigne and Soutine by Raymond Cogniat

33. Some Advantages of Provincialism
34. Master Leger
35. Foreword to a Group Exhibition at the Kootz Gallery
36. Review of The Art and Architecture of India by Benjamin Rowland, Painting in Britain by E. K. Waterhouse, Art and Architecture in France by Anthony Blunt, and Architecture in Britain by John Summerson
37. The Very Old Masters
38. Foreword to a Exhibition of Adolph Gottlieb
39. The Sculpture ofJacques Lipchitz
40. Abstract and Representational

41. Autobiographical Statement
42. Color in Madrid and from Amsterdam: Review of Art Treasures ofthe Prado Museum by Harry B. Wehle, and Rembrandt by Ludwig Munz
43. Review of The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient by Henri Frankfort, Painting in Britain: The Middle Ages by Margaret Rickert, and The Art and Architecture of Russia by George Heard Hamilton
44. The Jewishness of Franz Kafka: Some Sources of His Particular Vision
45. How Good is Kafka? A Critical Exchange with F. R. Leavis
46. "American-Type" Painting
47. A Critical Exchange with Fairfield Porter on "'American-Type' Painting"
48. Introduction to an Exhibition of Hans Hofmann
49. Lautrec's Art: Review of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Sketches in Colour by Hanspeter Landolt and H. de Toulouse-Lautrec: One Hundred Ten Unpublished Drawings by Arthur W. and M. Roland O. Heintzelman
50. Review of Piero della Francesca and The Arch of Constantine. both by Bernard Berenson
51. Polemic Against Modern Art: Review of The Demon of Progress in the Arts by Wyndham Lewis
52. Foreword to the Tenth Anniversary Exhibition of the Betty Parsons Gallery
53. Impress of Impressionism: Review of Impressionism by Jean Leymarie
54. Methods of the Master: Review of Leonardo's Treatise on Painting. annotated by A. Philip McMahon
55. Review of Four Steps Toward Modern Art by Lionello Venturi
56. American Stereotypes: Review of Cousins and Strangers: Comments on America by Commonwealth Fund Fellows from Britain, 1946-1952 edited by S. Gorley Putt
57. Roundness Isn't All: Review of The Art of Sculpture by Herbert Read
58. Picasso as Revolutionary: Review of Picasso by Frank Elgar and Robert Maillard
59. David Smith

Hilton Kramer | The New Criterion

With the publication of the first two volumes of Clement Greenberg's Collected Essays and Criticism, we are at last on our way to having a comprehensive edition of the most important body of art criticism produced by an American writer in this century. The two volumes now available—Perceptions and Judgments, 1939-1944 and Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949—bring together for the first time Mr. Greenberg's critical writings from the decade in which he emerged as the most informed and articulate champion of the New York School as well as one of our most trenchant analysts of the modern cultural scene.

For more information, or to order this book, please visit

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Clement Greenberg - Dictionary of Art Historians

Greenberg, Clement "R. H. Torres" pseudonym

Place born: Bronx, NY

Place died: New York, NY

Early and seminal art critic of the New York School of painting, particularly for the work of Jackson Pollock. Greenberg's parents were Joseph Greenberg (1884-1977) and Dora Brodwin (Greenberg) (1888-1925), Russian immigrants who successfully operated clothing stores, factories and real estate in the Bronx, NY. He grew up in the Bronx except for the period 1914-1915 when the family lived in Norfolk, VA. In later years, his parents would be the model for what Greenberg saw as philistine American attitudes toward art. After briefly studying art at the Art Students League in New York City in 1925, he entered Syracuse University after his mother's early death, graduating with a B.A. in literature in 1930. The Depression now in its height, Greenberg worked for clothing stores owned by this father in St. Louis. He taught himself German, which led to a job translating German books. He moved to California to manage stores there. There he met a wealthy 26-year-old divorcee named Edwina "Toady" Ewing (b.1908) whom he married in 1934 in San Francisco. Greenberg joined the U.S. Customs Service in New York and divorced Ewing, both in 1936. He dabbled in writing cultural criticism around 1937, embracing a Marxist approach, and contributing essays to the Partisan Review. the mouthpiece for a group known as the New York Intellectuals. At Lee Krasner's suggestion, he attended the lectures of Hans Hofmann, the German ex-patriot artist responsible for forming the thought of many of the future Abstract Expressionists. An early article on criticism in the magazine, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" in 1939 demonstrated an interest in social conditions for creating the art. The following year he became editor of the Partisan Review. Greenberg contributed a regular column on art for the Nation beginning in 1942 (though 1949). He was the foremost spokesperson for modernism during the war years. His art theory was drawn almost exclusively from Hans Hofmann's notion of the dissolution of subject. As such, he attacked art movements containing subject matter, such as Surrealism (Nation. 1942), as reversing the trend of abstraction. Other artists receiving his animadversion during the 1940's included Mondrian and Kandinsky. In 1942, Krasner introduced Greenberg to Jackson Pollock, her future husband, and Greenberg thereafter championed the artist's career. Greenberg joined the Army Air Force at the height of World War II in 1943, but was discharged for psychological reasons, and resumed editing and writing. He entered a year affair with the writer Mary McCarthy (1912-1989). He joined the journal Commentary as associate editor in 1945 (through 1957). Greenberg published a book on Joan Miró in 1948. Around this time, he changed his approach to art criticism, abandoning Trotskyite aesthetics for Kantian (formal) criteria for art. He championed the Abstract Expressionist artists, whom he helped publicize through exhibitions he mounted largely for the Kootz Gallery, under the direction of Samuel Kootz. in New York. The first of these was the show, co-curated with Columbia art historian Meyer Schapiro. "Talent" in 1950, featuring Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Franz Kline, Alfred Leslie, and Larry Rivers. Greenberg taught at Black Mountain College, the progressive North Carolina arts school in 1950, delivering lectures on "The Development of Modernist Painting and Sculpture from Their Origins to the Present Time." His esthetics deeply affected, among other students, the artist Kenneth Noland. The same year, 1950, he met the painter Helen Frankenthaler and the two lived together for a number of years. A 1952 show on Pollock at Bennington College was the first of a number of shows curated by Greenberg at that college venue. Greenberg, through the journal Artforum. became major vehicle advancing Abstract Expressionism; his authority as a tastemaker, according to the art historian Robert Rosenblum. was "papal" (Newman). Greenberg published a monograph on Matisse in 1953. A show "Emerging Talent" at the Kootz Gallery, featuring Morris Louis, Noland, and Philip Perlstein, was mounted in 1954. He delivered the Ryerson Lecture at Yale University in 1954, "Abstract and Representational." Another seminal article, "'American Type' Painting," appeared in 1955. Greenberg married Janice Elaine Van Horne in 1956. He formally advised the New York art gallery French and Company between 1958 and 1960. In 1958, too, he delivered the Christian Gauss Seminar in Criticism at Princeton. His next art history book, on Hans Hofmann, appeared in 1961, along with Art and Culture. his collected criticism. Greenberg's insistence on esthetic standards--rigid categories into which movements like Pop Art and minimalism did not fit, began to estrange him from his public. When it became clear his pronouncements against these art styles was being ignored, he tapered off writing in the early 1960's. He taught at Bennington College in 1962 (and again in 1971), curated a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1964 organized around his term "Post Painterly Abstraction." By the late 1960's, however, Greenberg's formalistic-approach to painting, his evaluative art criticism--not to mention his acerbic style and his distain of newer art forms--increasingly alienated him from the mainstream art world. Art history was adopting a pluralism of art trends and an avoidance of the concept of "style" which Greenberg could not relinquish. His writing was attacked as myopic and elitist. In 1977 and 1980 he served as the executor for the estates of Bush and Smith, executing his duties again controversially. Greenberg died in New York in 1994 from complications of emphysema. A major conference on his writing was held in New York the following year. He never completed a monograph on his primary interest, Jackson Pollock. His papers are held at the Archives of American Art and the Getty Research Center.

Greenberg's formalism (so associated with his writing that it is sometimes referred to as "Greenbergian Formalism") was a blend of his reading of Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), Hofmann’s theories of painting, the writing of the 19th-century esthete Walter Pater and the work of the British Bloomsbury formalist Roger Fry. Greenberg argued that esthetic judgments are intuitive ("involuntary") and irrational since they cannot be proven (Complaints of an Art Critic. 1967). His fellow art critic Barbara Rose quipped that Greenberg had trouble finding artists exceptional enough to bear the mantle he bestowed. He emphasized that Abstract Expressionism's flat, two-dimensional quality was the movement's importance to art history. Modern painting, Greenberg asserted, was evolving toward ridding itself of Renaissance pictorial illusion, adding that the public's initial revulsion toward Abstract Expressionist art of the 1940's was a "symptom of cultural and even moral decay." By likening this work to the old masters, Greenberg argued it was equal to the best European modern art. Anathema to his theory was art with narrative content, which came under his particular derision. Pop art, and that of Roy Lichtenstein in particular, was disparaged by him. Greenberg was fond of employing vague terminology such as "viable essence" to describe the artists whom he appreciated. In addition to promoting the art of William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Pollock, he created the term "Post Painterly Abstractionists" to characterize and define the Color-field style of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitiski. His criticism was so powerful, some artists (Noland for example) actually admitted changing their directions to fit Greenberg's approval. A newer generation of art historians, such as T. J. Clark. Michael Fried. and Rosalind Krauss incorporated elements of Greenberg's approach into their own methodology. His writing was lampooned, though not very insightfully, by Tom Wolfe (b. 1930) in his book The Painted Word (1975).

Home Country: United States

Sources: Kramer, Hilton. "A Critic on the Side of History." Arts Magazine 37 no. 1 (1962): 60–63; Ziv, Peter G. "Clement Greenberg: A Critic's Forty-Year Challenge to the Art World." Art and Antiques September 1987; Chastain, Catherine McNickle, and O’Brian, John. "Greenberg, Clement." American National Biography ; Carpenter, Kenneth. "Greenberg, Clement." Dictionary of Art ; Kuspit, Donald B. Clement Greenberg, Art Critic. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979; Duve, Thierry de. Clement Greenberg Between the Lines. Paris: Dis Voir, 1996; Rubenfeld, Florence. Clement Greenberg: a Life. New York: Scribner, 1997; Jones, Caroline A. Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005; Marquis, Alice Goldfarb. Art Czar: the Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg: a Biography. Boston: MFA Publications, 2006; [art collection:] Wilken, Karen, and Guenther, Bruce. Clement Greenberg: a Critic’s Collection. Portland, OR: Portland Art Museum/Princeton University Press, 2001; Harris, Jonathan. Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark. New York: Routledge, 2005; [obituary:] Hernandez, Raymond. "Clement Greenberg Dies at 85, Art Critic Championed Pollock." New York Times May 8, 1994, p. 38 [contains factual errors].

Bibliography: [collected writings:] Art and Culture: Critical Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961; Morgan, Robert C. ed. Clement Greenberg: Late Writings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003; Homemade Esthetics: Observations on Art and Taste. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; [original publications:] Joan Miró. New York: Quadrangle Press, 1948 [actually, 1949]; Post Painterly Abstraction: An Exhibition Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and sponsored by the Contemporary Art Council. Los Angeles: LACMA, 1964.

Subject's name: Clement Greenberg

Greenberg: BOOKS

Clement Greenberg, Miro. New York: Quadrangle Press, 1948

His first book, subsequently disowned, but by no means negligible. Features "a memoir by Ernest Hemingway" -- Hemingway was a prescient early collector of Miro. In hindsight, Miro appears as an early synthesizer of Picasso and Matisse and a step towards the so-called "color field abstraction" which became identified with Greenberg.

Clement Greenberg, Hofmann . Paris, Georges Fall, 1961.

Despite Greenberg's admiration, Hans Hofmann remains under appreciated, too often praised as a teacher to the detriment of his art. Greenberg, quite rightly, recognized him for the great painter that he is. The text of his essay can be found on this site.

Clement Greenberg, Henri Matisse (1869- ): Abrams, Pocket Library of Great Art, New York, 1953.

Excellent, but long out of print. In addition to an introductory essay, the book contains accounts of individual paintings reproduced. As Greenberg was one of the early champions of Matisse, the book is essential and illuminating.

Greenberg, Clement, Art and Culture. critical essays. Boston. Beacon Press, 1961.

Available in paperback and ebook.

This is the essential book of Greenberg's essays -- if you read nothing else, read it. They�re revised from originals published in various magazines from the late thirties though the fifties. Despite the revisions, Greenberg came to regret some of the inclusions and judgments: he came to believe that "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" was badly flawed, that he was too harsh on Soutine, and that some of the observations he'd made about all-over painting were embarrassing. (These are a few of the regrets he mentioned to me.) The shortcomings are trivial in comparison to the insights afforded with clarity and admirable concision. A masterpiece of relevance.

Greenberg, Clement, The Collected Essays and Criticism,
Vol. 1, Perceptions and Judgments, 1939-1945
Vol. 2, Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949
Edited by John O'Brian. University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Available in paperback.

It took 15 years after the publication of Art and Culture to assemble the original texts of Greenberg's early writing. The essays range across literature and art and provide a cross-section of his taste in relation the art of the time. O'Brian's scholarship is painstaking and helpful.

Greenberg, Clement, The Collected Essays and Criticism,
Vol. 3, Affirmations and Refusals, 1950-1956
Vol. 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969
Edited by John O'Brian. University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Available in paperback.

A scholarly assemblage as above, but with an introduction marred by O'Brian's speculations about Greenberg's alignment with American foreign policy subverting his taste.

Greenberg, Clement, The Harold Letters, 1928-1943, The Making of an American Intellectual, Edited by Janice van Horne. Counterpoint, Washington, D.C. 2000.

Available in paperback and ebook.

Letters written to his friend, Harold Lazarus. An aptly titled book, reads like a novel. This far and away the best portrait of the man in print. A must read for any student of American letters.

Greenberg, Clement, Homemade Esthetics. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Janice Van Horne, Editor.
Introduction by Charles Harrison.

Available in paperback and ebook.

Referred to in his lifetime as "The Bennington Seminars" these are a series of meditations on aesthetics that occupied much of his attention in the 1980s. They present a rare combination of a person with discriminating taste who has the ability to reflect upon its nature. Required reading.

Greenberg, Clement, Clement Greenberg, Late Writings, Minnesota University Press, 2003. Edited and with introduction by Robert C. Morgan

Available in paperback.

Long awaited, this assembles most of Greenberg's writings from 1970 to 1990. Much of the book is taken up with the state and fate of modernism, artcriticism, and culture generally along with ruminations on the art of other cultures, regions, and media. The book is rounded out with the text of four interviews with Greenberg.

An exceprt from Greenberg's last interview with Saul Ostrow can be found on the University of Minnesota Press web site.

Wilkin, Karen; Guenther, Bruce, Clement Greenberg: a Critic's Collection. Portland Art Museum & Princeton University Press, 2001.

Greenberg's personal collection, now in the collection of the Portland Art Museum. The book is well put together and abundantly illustrated. Greenberg practiced what he preached when it came to art. He lived surrounded by works given by the painters and sculptors he admired. He loved art. This is some of the art he loved -- by no means all the work of famous artists.

Van Horne, Janice, A Complicated Marriage: My Life with Clement Greenberg

Available in paperback and ebook

In 1955, Janice Van Horne was a 21-year-old, na�ve Bennington College graduate on her own for the first time in New York City. At a party, she meets 46-year-old Clement Greenberg who, she is told, is "the most famous, the most important, art critic in the world!" Knowing nothing about art, she soon finds herself swept into Clem's world and the heady company of Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, David Smith, and Helen Frankenthaler, among others. Seven months later, as a new bride, Jenny and Clem spend the summer in East Hampton near Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, and she feels even more keenly like an interloper in the inner circle of the art scene. Disowned by her anti-Semitic family for marrying a Jew, her deep, loving bond with Clem would remain strong through many years, even as their relationship evolves into an open marriage.

Rubenfeld, Florence, Clement Greenberg: A Life, Scribner, 1997.

Available in paperback.

The "expos�" reviewed elsewhere in this site, often influenced by "Clembashers." Much of the "evidence" is hearsay and poorly sifted, but there are many illuminating comments.

Clement Greenberg & the Cold War by Hilton Kramer - The New Criterion

Clement Greenberg & the Cold War Share

N o art critic of our time has been the subject of more discussion than Clement Greenberg, who was born in 1909 and published the bulk of his critical writings between 1939 and 1969. Yet the nature of that discussion has at times been so contentious, not to say acrimonious, that the effect has been to obscure the virtues that made this criticism loom so large—and for so long a time—in the minds of both his admirers and his adversaries. It seems to me unlikely that the publication now of two further volumes of Mr. Greenberg’s Collected Essays and Criticism will do much to alter this situation. [1] The academy, the museums, the media, the art journals, and a good deal of the intellectual press, not to mention foundations, corporate sponsors, and the cultural agencies of government, are now in the hands of apparatchiks who have a vested interest in defending both the kind of art and the kind of writing about art that Mr. Greenberg has famously deplored, and it is not to be expected that they will surrender their animus on the present occasion.

On the contrary, opposition is likely to be intensified, for the discussion of the issues raised in Mr. Greenberg’s criticism is even more adamantly politicized today than it was in the days when he was still a regular contributor to critical opinion. In a culture now so largely dominated by ideologies of race, class, and gender, where the doctrines of multiculturalism and political correctness have consigned the concept of quality in art to the netherworld of invidious discrimination and all criticism tends to be judged according to its conformity to current political orthodoxies, even to suggest—as Mr. Greenberg’s writings invariably do—that aesthetic considerations be given priority in the evaluation of art is to invite the most categorical disapprobation.

S o rapidly has the radicalization of critical opinion accelerated in the past decade that in the seven years that have elapsed since the publication of the first two volumes of The Collected Essays and Criticism. the editor in charge of this otherwise exemplary edition of Mr. Greenberg’s writings—John O’Brian, now professor of art history at the University of British Columbia—has clearly felt obliged to abandon the politically neutral tone he brought to the presentation of the earlier volumes and to adopt a more belligerent voice for the later volumes. No doubt this is due, in part, to the shift that occurred in Mr. Greenberg’s own political views over the course of his critical career, and in even larger part to Mr. O’Brian’s disapproval of that shift.

In his early years as a critic, Mr. Greenberg was a Trotskyist—which is to say, an anti-Stalinist Marxist—yet by the end of the Forties he had already described himself as an “ex- or disabused Marxist,” and by the Fifties he had joined the ranks of the anti-Communist liberals. (Mr. O’Brian prefers to call the position of the latter “Kantian anti-Communism.”) From the perspective of the academic Marxists who came out of the Sixties, this put Mr. Greenberg on the wrong side of the Cold War, making him politically suspect if not actually retrograde, and it is more or less from that perspective that Mr. O’Brian has written his introduction to the last two volumes of The Collected Essays and Criticism.

Hence the tremendous emphasis that Mr. O’Brian places on the Cold War as the principal influence on Mr. Greenberg’s criticism in the Fifties and Sixties. The main charge is that an “acquiescence to the Pax Americana and its policies was accompanied by a corresponding shift in [Mr. Greenberg’s] stance as a cultural critic.” To support this charge, Mr. O’Brian dwells at some length on the long essay that Mr. Greenberg published in Commentary in 1953 under the title “The Plight of Our Culture,” which is now reprinted in Volume 3. This is indeed an important essay that ought to be better known. It is not only the best response to T. S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture that I know of, but also one of the most cogent analyses of the problem of democratic culture any critic has given us in the last forty years. Unfortunately, it is one of the odd features of this new edition of Mr. Greenberg’s writings that Mr. O’Brian has allowed his own political animus to distort its meaning. My guess is that he was so concerned to bring his reading of Mr. Greenberg’s later criticism into line with the political views of his friend and colleague Serge Guilbaut, the author of How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. that he scarcely noticed the degree of misrepresentation that such an effort required.

“I n ‘The Plight of Our Culture,’” Mr. O’Brian writes, Mr. Greenberg “revoked his earlier criticism of mass-circulation magazines and their blurring of distinctions between high and low culture.” It is also claimed that “Greenberg deduced that the newly dominant culture of the middle classes had the capacity to resist dilution and adulteration by mass culture as well as produce what he still most desired: … ‘formal culture with its infinity of aspects, its luxuriance, its large comprehension.’” For Mr. O’Brian, then, “the transformation in Greenberg’s thinking was an about-face,” and “in the space of a couple of years, pessimism about the culture of modernity had given way to optimism” for purely political reasons. “Thus Greenberg’s Cold War politics and cultural optimism merged,” he writes, and this “ex- or disabused Marxist” is now said to have joined other New York intellectuals in believing that “democracy and capitalism … already were demonstrating what might be accomplished in the realm of middlebrow culture.”

All of this suggests, of course, that “The Plight of Our Culture” is a rousing, politically inspired apology for middlebrow culture, and hence a retreat from Mr. Greenberg’s vigorous defense of high culture in his classic essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” first published in 1939 and reprinted in Volume 1 of The Collected Essays and Criticism. Yet, in fact, “The Plight of Our Culture” is one of the most thoughtful and categorical indictments of middlebrow culture any American has ever given us. Far from representing an “about-face” on the imperatives of high culture, this very dour analysis of its fate under the pressures of democracy and capitalism puts a good deal of the blame for its problematic condition on the corrupting force of middlebrow culture. What does make “The Plight of Our Culture” different from “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” is its refusal to formulate its subject in orthodox Marxist terms (though Marxist thought still exerts a considerable influence on its analysis of culture) and its acknowledgment of the changes that had lately occurred in the relation of middlebrow culture to high art. [2] Yet to characterize this examination of middlebrow culture as “optimistic” requires a suspension of attention to its most salient points, if not indeed a flight of ideological fancy.

“The Plight of Our Culture” occupies some thirty pages in the new edition of Mr. Greenberg’s writings, and cannot therefore be summarized in its totality. But here, anyway, are some of the relevant passages from Mr. Greenberg’s analysis of middlebrow culture:

The liberal and fine arts of tradition, as well as its scholarship, have been “democratized” —simplified, streamlined, purged of whatever cannot be made easily accessible, and this in large measure by the same rationalizing, “processing,” and “packaging” methods by which industrialism has already made lowbrow culture a distinctive product of itself. Almost all types of knowledge and almost all forms of art are stripped, digested, synopsized, “surveyed,” or abridged. The result achieved in those who patronize this kind of capsulated culture is, perhaps, a respect for culture as such, and a kind of knowingness, but it has very little to do with higher culture as something lived.

The middlebrow in us wants the treasures of civilization for himself, but the desire is without appetite…. A sense of continuity with the past, a continuity at least of truth, of enduring relevance, belongs to a genuine culture almost by definition, but this is precisely what the middlebrow does not acquire…. He might be able to do so, eventually, by exerting humility and patience, but these he is somehow never able to muster in the face of culture. In his reading, no matter how much he wants to edify himself, he will balk at anything that sends him to the dictionary or a reference book more than once. (Curiosity without energy or tenacity is a middlebrow trait wherever and in whomever it appears.) Towards his entertainment, no matter how much he wants it to be “significant” and “worthwhile,” he will become recalcitrant if the “significance” is not labeled immediately and obviously, and if too many conditioned reflexes are left without appropriate stimuli. What the middlebrow, even more conspicuously than the lowbrow, wants most is to have his expectations filled exactly as he expects to have them filled.

Middlebrow culture, because of the way in which it is produced, consumed, and transmitted, reinforces everything else in our present civilization that promotes standardization and inhibits idiosyncrasy, temperament, and strong-mindedness; it functions as order and organization but without ordering or organizing. In principle, it cannot master and preserve fresh experience or express and form that which has not already been expressed and formed. Thus it fails, like lowbrow culture, to accomplish what is, perhaps, the most important task of culture for people who live in a changing, historical society: it cannot maintain continuity in the face of novelty, but must always forget and replace its own products.

As for the relation that obtains between high culture and middlebrow “standardization,” Mr. Greenberg can hardly be said to take an optimistic view. “High culture, however— authentic, disinterested culture—has so far suffered more than it has gained in the process,” he writes. And his characterization of popular culture doesn’t offer much of a basis for optimism, either:

At the same time lowbrow, “machine,” commercial culture is there everywhere to offer its relief to all those who find any sort of higher culture too much of an effort—lowbrow culture being powerful not only because it is “easy” and still suits the majority, but also because it has replaced folk culture as the culture of all childhood, and thereby become our “natural,” “autochthonous” culture. (And, unlike folk culture, lowbrow culture neither contributes—at least not fundamentally—to high culture nor effaces itself in its social presence.)

You may, if you like, call this optimism or an “about-face” or—what is really implied by the charge—Cold War propaganda, but it sounds both pretty grim and pretty accurate to me, and not exactly a cheerleader’s view of either capitalism or democracy.

I t is also true that Mr. Greenberg acknowledges that “like lowbrow culture, middlebrow culture is not all of a piece,” that “the good and the bad are mixed,” and that middlebrow art “is not wholly adulteration and dilution.” This, too, strikes me as true, at least for the time in which it was written, but not to offer much solace. Really, the only thing that Mr. Greenberg found to admire in “the middlebrow’s respect for culture” was, as he wrote, that “it has worked to save the traditional facilities of culture—the printed word, the concert, lecture, museum, etc.— from that complete debauching which the movies, radio, and television have suffered under lowbrow and advertising culture.” Yet anyone reading this passage in the 1990s must be aware of how much more has been surrendered by these “traditional facilities of culture” to the demands of lowbrow, popular culture over the last forty years. But even forty years ago, when our institutions of high culture had not yet sunk to their present levels, Mr. Greenberg’s view of even this development was anything but rosy:

But doesn’t the damage still outweigh the gains [he asked], and can any amount of improvement at the lower levels compensate for deterioration at the highest, where the most authentic manifestations still have their being, where the forms and values of every other level originate—no matter how perverted subsequently—and where our experience is still most significantly and enduringly preserved?

As the passages I have quoted from “The Plight of Our Culture” attest, this is an essay that raises fundamental questions about the fate of high art in our society. They are the kind of questions, moreover, that have acquired an even greater urgency today when the middlebrow culture described by Mr. Greenberg in 1953 has been largely gutted of whatever virtues that could once be claimed for it and, for both political and commercial reasons, is now effectively supplanted by something much worse. (See, for an egregious example, Tina Brown’s New Yorker .) For Mr. O’Brian to reduce these questions to a highly simplified scenario of Cold War politics not only misrepresents the content of “The Plight of Our Culture” but renders it irrelevant to our current cultural concerns —which is, to say the least, a curious policy for the editor of these books to pursue.

What Mr. O’Brian clearly cannot forgive is that Mr. Greenberg had taken the anti-Communist side in the early stages of the Cold War, and, as he writes, “remained committed to the Cold War agenda of the U.S. government.” This is the “original sin” that for Mr. O’Brian has left an ineradicable taint upon everything that has been gathered in Volumes 3 and 4 of this Collected Essays and Criticism. right down to its last pages. For “in 1969,” he writes, in what turns out to be the closing item in Volume 4, Mr. Greenberg “conducted a lengthy interview with Lily Leino for dissemination by the U.S. Infor- mation Agency, the umbrella organization for the Voice of America.” I frankly rejoice that someone in the USIA bureaucracy had the brains to ask a writer of Mr. Greenberg’s distinction to speak on the Voice of America broadcasts, but for Mr. O’Brian it remains a mark of the writer’s contract with the Devil.

And what sort of thing was Mr. Greenberg broadcasting for the Voice of America in 1969? Recalling a period twenty-five years before “when everybody was so sure that Americans couldn’t produce art of any consequence—and that included Americans themselves,” Mr. Greenberg was, among other things, complaining that

a lot of inferior art is taken seriously all over the world. It’s a paradoxical situation when someone like Rauschenberg—who’s nowhere nearly as good as Eakins, Homer, Ryder, or the early John Sloan, or Milton Avery, not to mention Marin—is viewed a major figure because of the credit American art in general now enjoys in the world.

He also had some praise for Andrew Wyeth! But it was probably this sort of thing that Mr. O’Brian found particularly offensive:

I’ve seen some contemporary Soviet art, and as far as I can tell, art in the Soviet Union is controlled by Philistines. The same appears to be true in China and in every other place where Bolsheviks are in power. I call them Bolsheviks instead of Communists because I feel that that’s more accurate, more specific. “Socialism” in backward countries means Bolshevism—Stalinism, if you want—and that means something barbaric, because “socialism” in a backward environment becomes, among other things, an aggressive expression of backwardness.

Some of us knew that all this was perfectly true when Mr. Greenberg made his broadcast in 1969, and now all the world knows it was true. Yet because he spoke the truth under U.S. government auspices, Mr. O’Brian apparently finds it tainted. That is indeed the triumph of ideology over veracity.

T here is no question but that the Cold War played a significant role in shaping American cultural life in the decade and a half that followed the end of World War II. and that ex-radical intellectuals of Mr. Greenberg’s generation made an important contribution to the formulation of that role. I said as much more than thirty years ago when Mr. Greenberg’s first book of essays, Art and Culture. was published, and Mr. O’Brian accurately quotes me to that effect. “To understand Art and Culture is to understand a great deal about the artistic values that came out of the war and the Cold War years,” I wrote in Arts Magazine in October 1962; “to question it is to question some of the salient achievements and aesthetic beliefs of those years.”

What is so curious and distorting about Mr. O’Brian’s characterization of Mr. Greenberg’s role in this intellectual history is that he leaves the “salient achievements” of the Cold War period—which means, in this context, the Abstract Expressionist movement —unquestioned while at the same time endeavoring to reduce the “aesthetic beliefs of those years” to a purely political scenario. It is in this respect as well as others that he reveals his loyalty to the radical politics of the Sixties, with its anti-American paranoia, its sentimentalization of Marxist ideology, and its adamant refusal to acknowledge the moral superiority of American democracy over Soviet tyranny.

For what, after all, was the Cold War about if not the conflict between American (and Western) democracy and Soviet tyranny? Mr. O’Brian is not, to be sure, one of those nut cases who attempt to demonstrate that the fame and influence of Jackson Pollock was the creation of Nelson Rockefeller and John Foster Dulles and that even Harry Truman had somehow contrived to promote the interests of American abstract painting even while going through the motions of condemning it. He leaves the ideological dirty work to Serge Guilbaut and the cadres of radical art historians who have now succeeded in portraying the achievements of the New York School as nothing but a tainted product of America’s role in the Cold War. Yet what he has given us in a large part of his introduction to Volumes 3 and 4 of Mr. Greenberg’s Collected Essays and Criticism is a somewhat more respectable and respectful version of the same ideological narrative.

There is no way to understand what in 1962 I spoke of as “the salient achievements and aesthetic beliefs” of the war and the Cold War period without some acknowledgment of the lethal effects that Stalinist influence had on American art and culture in the 1930s. The Stalinist-inspired Popular Front culture of the Thirties was, in all its essentials, an irredeemably Philistine and middlebrow culture, and it laid upon the arts in this country a curse of mediocrity and sentimentality from which it did not begin to recover until the 1940s. (That is the reason why William Faulkner and Wallace Stevens were dismissed as reactionary eccentrics in the Thirties while Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton were acclaimed as geniuses.) If there is a serious criticism to be made of Mr. Greenberg’s essay “The Plight of Our Culture,” it would have to do with his failure to acknowledge the extent to which the middlebrow culture of the Forties and early Fifties had been fashioned in the Popular Front culture of the Thirties.

In its artistic and cultural interests, this was one of the things that Trotskyism set out to combat in the Thirties, and it was out of that conflict that Mr. Greenberg wrote his essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” in 1939. But even stripped of its Stalinist distortions, the Marxism of the Thirties proved to be a poor guide to what was actually happening in American art in the Forties, and it is much to Mr. Greenberg’s credit that he recognized the change for what it was. (By the same token, it is much to Mr. O’Brian’s discredit that he still doesn’t.) This was the political drama that was made manifest in virtually every area of postwar American cultural life. Whereas in the early plays of Arthur Miller, for example, you see the middlebrow senti- mentalism of the Popular Front mind re- enacted with a vengeance, in the criticism of Lionel Trilling you see the attempt to liberate literary and social thought from its corrupting influence. It is in that context that Clement Greenberg’s criticism of the Fifties and Sixties needs to be understood, and it is a sad commentary on the intellectual life of the 1990s that the editor of this fine edition of The Collected Essays and Criticism still doesn’t get it. Hence his determination to reduce every aesthetic idea, if not aesthetics itself, to a suspect political datum.

  1. Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism. edited by John O’Brian. Volume 3: Affirmations and Refusals, 1950-1956 (305 pages) and Volume 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969 (341 pages); University of Chicago Press, $29.95 each. The first two volumes in the series, Volume 1: Perceptions and Judgments, 1939-1944 (270 pages) and Volume 2: Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949 (353 pages), are still available from Chicago, in paperback only, for $16.95 each. Go back to the text.
  2. Still, there was much in “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” that did not belong to Marxism, and much, too, that is perfectly consistent with the view of high art to be found in “The Plight of Our Culture” and all the later criticism. For example: … it is true that once the avant-garde had succeded in “detaching” itself from society, it proceeded to turn around and repudiate revolutionary as well as bourgeois politics. The revolution was left inside society, a part of that welter of ideological struggle which art and poetry find so unpropitious as soon as it begins to involve those “precious” axiomatic beliefs upon which culture thus far has had to rest. Hence it developed that the true and most important function of the avant-garde was not to “experiment,” but to find a path along which it would be possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideological con- fusion and violence. Retiring from public altogether, the avant-garde poet or artist sought to maintain the high level of his art by both narrowing and raising it to the expression of an absolute in which all relativities and contradictions would be either resolved or beside the point. “Art for art’s sake” and “pure poetry” appear, and subject matter or content becomes something to be avoided like a plague.

It has been in search of the absolute that the avant-garde has arrived at “abstract” or “nonobjective” art—and poetry, too. The avant-garde poet or artist tries in effect to imitate God by creating something valid solely in its own terms, in the way nature itself is valid, in the way a landscape—not its picture—is aesthetically valid; something given. increate, independent of meanings, similars or originals. Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself. Go back to the text.

Hilton Kramer (1928-2012) was the founding editor of The New Criterion. which he started with the late Samuel Lipman in 1982.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 7. on page 4
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