Art Critics

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The Critics

Critics like Clement Greenberg specialize in evaluating art. His written reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites. Art collectors and patrons often utilize the advice of art professionals such as him.

Typically the art critic views art at exhibitions, galleries, museums or artists' studios.

Professional art evaluators are expected to have a keen eye for art and a thorough knowledge of art history. Knowledge, however, provides no guarantee that this professional will know if a work of art, an exhibition, or an artist will stand out in history as "great".

Many now famous and celebrated artists were not recognized by these art evaluators of their time, often because their art was in a style not yet understood or favored. Conversely, some critics, called militant critics have helped to explain and promote new art movements — Roger Fry with the Post-Impressionist movement for example.

Clement Greenberg 1909-1994

Greenberg was an influential American art evaluator closely associated with the abstract art movement in the United States.In particular, he promoted the Abstract Expressionist Movement and had close ties with the painter Jackson Pollock He was a graduate of Syracuse University who first made his name as an art critic with his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch, first published in the journal Partisan Review 1939. In this article he claimed that avant-garde and Modernist Art was a means to resist the leveling of culture produced by capitalist propaganda.

Jackson Pollock at work.

Greenberg appropriated the German word 'kitsch' to describe this consumerism, though its connotations have since changed to a more affirmative notion of left-over materials of capitalist culture. Modern art, like philosophy, explored the conditions under which we experience and understand the world. It does not simply provide information about it in the manner of an illustratively accurate depiction of the world. "Avant Garde and Kitsch" was also a politically motivated essay in part a response to the destruction and repression of Modernist Art in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and its replacement with state ordained styles of "Aryan" art and "Socialist realism."

Abstract Expressionism

He believed Modernism provided a critical commentary on experience. It was constantly changing to adapt to kitsch pseudo-culture, which was itself always developing. In the years after World War II, Greenberg came to believe that the best avant-garde artists were emerging in America rather than Europe. Particularly, he championed Jackson Pollock as the greatest painter of his generation, commemorating the artist's "all-over" gestural canvases. In the 1955 essay "American-Type Painting" Critics like Clement Greenberg promoted the work of the Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, as the next stage in Modernist art, arguing that these painters were moving towards greater emphasis on the 'flatness' of the picture plane. As part of his program to promote the principle of medium specificity in the arts, Greenberg stressed that this flatness separated their art from the Old Masters, who considered flatness an obtrusive hurdle in painting. He argued for a method of self-criticism that transported abstract painting from decorative 'wallpaper patterns' to high art.

His view that, after the war, the United States had become the guardian of 'advanced art' was taken up in some quarters as a reason for using Abstract Expressionism as the basis for Cultural Propaganda exercises. He praised similar movements abroad and, after the success of the Painters Eleven exhibition in 1956 with the American Abstract Artists at New York's Riverside Gallery, he travelled to Toronto to see the group's work in 1957. He was particularly impressed by the potential of painters William Ronald and Jack Bush, and later developed a close friendship with Bush. Greenberg saw Bush's post-Painters Eleven work as a clear manifestation of the shift from abstract expressionism to Color Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction, a shift he had called for in most of his critical writings of the period.

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