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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
and Kitsch, first published in the journal
Partisan Review 1939. In this article he claimed
that avant-garde and
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."
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,
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.