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 borrows from its devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themesconverts them into a system and discards the rest.
Richard Buckham, reading from Clem Greenberg's polemic in 1939, 'Avant Garde and the Kitsch'.
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.Last week it was John Berger's 1970s book and TV programs, Ways of Seeing, which inspired this series. And in reaction to this pop kitsch, Greenberg argued that the so-called avant garde were producing art for art's sake which talked only to themselves and to the cultural elite.Our John Coltrane jazz theme is most appropriate for today's Exhibit A, the New York art critic Clement Greenberg. And so begin his arguments in the essay 'The Avant Garde and the Kitsch.'[Reading from 'The Avant Garde and the Kitsch, by Clement Greenberg] Losing their taste for the folk culture whose background was the countryside and discovering a new capacity for boredom at the same time, the new urban masses set up a pressure on society to provide them with the culture fit for their own consumption.It was not trying to make some general kind of art.[Reading from 'The Avant Garde and the Kitsch, by Clement Greenberg] 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: art for art's sake and pure poetry appeared.And subject matter, or content, becomes something to be avoided like the plague.He was accused of manipulating reputations, and of telling artists what to paint. Never utopian in his ideas about the value of art, he once said in a radio broadcast, 'I say if you have to choose between life and happiness or art, remember always to choose life and happiness.Art solves nothing, either for the artist himself or for those who receive his art.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.Art shouldnt be overrated.' Julie Copeland: Welcome to Exhibit A on Radio National's Sunday Morning. And if you've seen the biopic about Jackson Pollock, you'll realise that the art critic was very much part of that New York generation that produced abstract expressionism.I'm Julie Copeland with the fifth in our series on art books and writing which have changed the way we see and understand the visual arts. We look out the window here and say, wow, look at that And is the age of industrialism over? And he saw Pollock's personal tragedy; his drinking, violence, his early death in a car crash, as a metaphor for the disasters of American life where people, alienated from real culture, were being forced to life off kitsch cultureoff faked sensations which were turned out mechanically.