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Formalist Art Critic Clement Greenberg

Formalist critic Clement Greenberg was arguably the most influential critic of the post-1945 period. It as Greenberg who popularized the term "modernism" and who applied the term to a wide variety of artistic practices and types of representation. Greenberg set out a definition of "advanced" art as art that progressed from greater to lesser complexity. He wrote,

The essence of Modernism lies . . . in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself. . . . What had to be exhibited and made explicit was that which was unique and irreducible not only in art in general but also in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through the operations peculiar to itself, the effects peculiar and exclusive to itself (Stiles and Selz 2).

Greenberg demonstrates that in part, formalism was a means of explaining the value of nonrepresentational works which could not be easily associated with a social meaning. Greenberg found that a recognizable image adds conceptual meaning to a picture, but that the fusion of conceptual with aesthetic meaning does not affect the quality of the work. He would find that in an earlier era free-standing pictorial and sculptural art, as distinct from decoration, was wholly identified with the representational, the figurative, and the descriptive. The shift to nonrepresentational art caused many to question whether something was not being lost and whether even the best abstract painting did not leave the viewer a little dissatisfied, but Greenberg set out to explain why this was not so and indicated that the work itself offered its own explanation. He said that each medium was to become self-referential, "divested of all extraneous elements including narrative and illusion, and able to move from abstraction to universal essence" (Stiles and Selz 2). Greenberg's approach definition can be seen as an element defining Modernism as a theory of the teleology of art,...

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Formalist Art Critic Clement Greenberg. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:27, November 29, 2021, from