Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark

Article excerpt

Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark Jonathan Harris. London: Routledge, 2005.

For the past two decades, discussions of the role of aesthetic value or evaluation in art criticism have been increasingly displaced by the growth of the interdisciplinary field of inquiry known as visual studies. Antihierarchical in its relationship to high art, visual studies emerged in the late 1980s as a challenge to previous considerations of the role of art, theory, and history. While a welcome departure from the conservative tendencies present in many of the traditional practices of art history, visual studies shunted aside questions concerning value and evaluation in art in favor of a more inclusive approach to the visual that downplayed such outmoded concerns. The new book by Jonathan Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark, reframes the consideration of value and evaluation in the context of three of the most important writers on these concepts in the last sixty years. It is no surprise for Harris to analyze the question of value in relationship to the work of the modernist art critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried but Harris' book splices the critical dialogue between those two in order to insert one of their most important interlocutors, the art historian T. J. Clark (considered one of the most important figures in the development of social, as well as the "new," art history).

Clark's inclusion in this discussion highlights how much his work fundamentally departs from the work of Fried and Greenberg but, more importantly from Harris' perspective, and also demonstrates that what the three writers share: "fundamentally, is a belief that criticism (that is, saying what art is good or bad, and why), theory (i.e., mobilizing 'first principles' about the nature of the world, and how it may be understood), and history (i. …