Magazine article The Nation

Clement Greenberg

Magazine article The Nation

Clement Greenberg

Article excerpt

In its August 8, 1949, issue, Life presented to its vast readership images so at odds with what even those with some knowledge of advanced painting might ever have seen, that many must have suspected a hoax of some sort - especially when the subtitle of the article asked regarding the artist Jackson Pollock, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States? " He was, so the text declared, according to "a formidably highbrow New York critic."

The formidably highbrow New York critic was, of course, Clement Greenberg, who would have been familiar indeed to readers of The Nation, where he had been art critic since 1942. Greenberg, who died on May 7, had in fact been attacked in Time in 1947 for his exalted views of Pollock, as well as for the seemingly extravagant claim that David Smith was the only major sculptor in the United States. It was perhaps for his early recognition and advocacy of artists whose achievements were in time universally acknowledged, as well as for his almost single-handed defense of what he termed "American-style painting" at a time when it was almost categorical that the School of Paris defined aesthetic modernism, that gave Greenberg his unmatched credibility. But it was the clarity, care and urgency of his critical writing, pre-eminently in the pages of this magazine, as well as his tireless efforts to come to terms with the most advanced art of his time, finding bases for making critical judgments when there was very little by way of guidance in previous critical practice, that assures him a place in the tiny canon of great art-writers, the peer of Diderot and Baudelaire.

Greenberg's official view of art criticism, that it was almost entirely a matter of visual response without any infusion of theory or knowledge, was the counterpart of the theories of painterly expression invoked to explain that style of spontaneous gesture commanded by the masters of Abstract Expressionism. …

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