CLEMENT GREENBERG TOWARDS A NEWER LAOKOON PDF

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Een aanrader gezien de enorme hoeveelheid artikelen en de kleine prijs die je daarvoor betaald. Greenberg thus clearly signals his concern with a longstanding question in aesthetics: is the existence of limits serving to distinguish between the various arts also a condition of the possibility of value within them?

Purists make extravagant claims for art, because usually they value it much more than an one else does. For the same reason they are much more solicitous about it. A great deal of purism is the translation of an extreme solicitude, an anxiousness as to the fate of art, a concern for its identity. We must respect this.

It is quite easy to show that abstract art like every other cultural phenomenon reflects the social and other circumstances of the age in which its creators live, and that there is nothing inside art itself, disconnected from history, which compels it to go in one direction or another. Here the purist does not have to support his position with metaphysical pretentions. And when he insists on doing so, those of us who admit the merits of abstract art without accepting its claims in full must offer our own explanation for its present supremacy.

Discussion as to purity in art and, bound up with it, the attempts to establish the differences between the various arts are not idle.

There has been, is, and will be, such a thing as a confusion of the arts. I There can be, I believe, such a thing as a dominant art form; this was what literature had become in Europe by the 17th century. The dominant art in turn tries itself to absorb the functions of the others.

A confusion of the arts results, by which the subservient ones are perverted and distorted; they are forced to deny their own nature in an effort to attain the effects of the dominant art. However, the subservient arts can only be mishandled in this way when they have reached such a degree of technical facility as to enable them to pretend to conceal their mediums.

In other words, the artist must have gained such power over his material as to annihilate it seemingly in favor of illusion. Aside from the fact that in its nature it is the art furthest removed from imitation, the possibilities of music had not been explored sufficiently to enable it to strive for illusionist effects.

But painting and sculpture, the arts of illusion par excellence, had by that time achieved such facility as to make them infinitely susceptible to the temptation to emulate the effects, not only of illusion, but of other arts.

Not only could painting imitate sculpture, and sculpture, painting, but both could attempt to reproduce the effects of literature. And it was for the effects of literature that 17th and 18th century painting strained most of all. Literature, for a number of reasons, had won the upper hand, and the plastic arts — especially in the form of easel painting and statuary — tried to win admission to its domain.

Although this does not account completely for the decline of those arts during this period, it seems to have been the form of that decline. Decline it was, compared to what had taken place in Italy, Flanders, Spain and Germany the century before.

And the very level of greatness sinks by comparison to the work of the past. All emphasis is taken away from the medium and transferred to subject matter. III Romanticism was the last great tendency following directly from bourgeois society that was able to inspire and stimulate the profoundly responsible artist — the artist conscious of certain inflexible obligations to the standards of his craft.

By Romanticism had exhausted itself. After that the impulse, although indeed it had to originate in bourgeois society, could only come in the guise of a denial of that society, as a turning away from it. It is interested in, and feels itself responsible to, only the values of art; and, given society as it is, has an organic sense of what is good and what is bad for art.

As the first and most important item upon its agenda, the avant-garde saw the necessity of an escape from ideas, which were infecting the arts with the ideological struggles of society.

Ideas came to mean subject matter in general. This meant a new and greater emphasis upon form, and it also involved the assertion of the arts as independent vocations, disciplines and crafts, absolutely autonomous, and entitled to respect for their own sakes, and not merely as vessels of communication. It is easy to recognize this variant, but rather difficult to expose its motivation. Tendencies go in opposite directions, and cross-purposes meet. But tying everything together is the fact that in the end cross-purposes indeed do meet.

Since art was the only validity left, what better subject was there for each art than the procedures and effects of some other art? Impressionist painting, with its progressions and rhythmic suffusions of color, with its moods and atmospheres, was arriving at effects to which the Impressionists themselves gave the terms of Romantic music.

It was the art which the other avant—garde arts envied most, and whose effects they tried hardest to imitate. And what it was looking for. An imitative painting can be described in terms of non-visual identities, a piece of music cannot, whether it attempts to imitate or not, The effects of music are the effects, essentially, of pure form; those of painting and poetry are too often accidental to the formal natures of these arts. The emphasis, therefore, was to be on the physical, the sensorial.

The latest confusion of the arts was the result of a mistaken conception of music as the only immediately sensuous art. V Guiding themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, by a notion of purity derived from the example of music, the avant—garde arts have in the last fifty Years achieved a purity and a radical delimitation of their fields of activity for which there is no previous example in the history of culture.

Purity in art consists in the acceptance, willing acceptance, of the limitations of the medium of the specific art.

The arts, then, have been hunted back to their mediums, and there they have been isolated, concentrated and defined. It is by virtue of its medium that each art is unique and strictly itself. To restore the identity of an art the opacity of its medium must be emphasized. Emphasize the medium and its difficulties, and at once the purely plastic, the proper, values of visual art come to the fore.

Overpower the medium to the point where all sense of its resistance disappears, and the adventitious uses of art become more important. Sculpture, on its side, emphasizes the resistance of its material to the efforts of the artist to ply it into shapes uncharacteristic of stone, metal, wood, etc. Painting abandons chiaroscuro and shaded modeling. Brush strokes are often defined for their own sake. Under the influence of the square shape of the canvas, forms tend to become geometrical — and simplified, because simplification is also at part of the instinctive accommodation to the medium.

But most important of all, the picture plane itself grows shallower and shallower, flattening out and pressing together the fictive planes of depth until they meet as one upon the real and material plane which is the actual surface of the canvas; where they lie side by side or interlocked or transparently imposed upon each other. A vibrating tension is set up as the objects struggle to maintain their volume against the tendency of the real picture plane to re-assert its material flatness and crush them to silhouettes.

In a further stage realistic space cracks and splinters into flat planes which come forward, parallel to the plane surface. The destruction of realistic pictorial space, and with it, that of the object, was accomplished by means of the travesty that was cubism. The cubist painter eliminated color because, consciously or unconsciously, he was parodying, in order to destroy, the academic methods of achieving volume and depth, which are shading and perspective, and as such have little to do with color in the common sense of the word, The cubist used these same methods to break the canvas into a multiplicity of subtle recessive planes, which seem to shift and fade into infinite depths and yet insist on returning to the surface of the canvas.

As we gaze at a cubist painting of the last phase we witness the birth and death of three—dimensional pictorial space. And as in painting the pristine flatness of the stretched canvas constantly struggles to overcome every other element, so in sculpture the stone figure appears to be on the point of relapsing into the original monolith, and the cast seems to narrow and smooth itself back to the original molten stream from which it was poured, or tries to remember the texture and plasticity of the clay in which it was first worked out.

Artists like Hans Arp, who begin as painters, escape eventually from the prison of the single plane by painting on wood or plaster and using molds or carpentry to raise and lower planes. They go, in other words, from painting to colored bas-relief, and finally — so far must they fly in order to return to three dimensionality without at the same time risking the illusion — they become sculptors and create objects in the round, through which they can free their feelings for movement and direction from the increasing ascetic geometry of pure painting.

Except in the case of Arp and one or two others, the sculpture of most of these metamorphosed painters is rather unsculptural, stemming as it does from the discipline of painting. It uses color, fragile and intricate shapes and a variety of materials. VI I find that I have offered no other explanation for the present superiority of abstract art than its historical justification.

So what I have written has turned out to be an historical apology for abstract art. My own experience of art has forced me to accept most of the standards of taste from which abstract art has derived, but I do not maintain that they are the only valid standards through eternity.

I find them simply the most valid ones at this given moment. I have no doubt that they will be replaced in the future by other standards, which will be perhaps more inclusive than any possible now. And even now they do not exclude all other possible criteria. I am still able to enjoy a Rembrandt more for its expressive qualities than for its achievement of abstract values — as rich as it may be in them.

It suffices to say that there is nothing in the nature of abstract art which compels it to be so. The imperative comes from history, from the age in conjunction with a particular moment reached in a particular tradition of art. This conjunction holds the artist in a vise from which at the present moment he can escape only by surrendering his ambition and returning to a stale past.

Where to? I do not know. Yet it seems to me that the wish to return to the imitation of nature in art has been given no more justification than the desire of certain partisans of abstract art to legislate it into permanency. Clement Greenberg b. Facebook Twitter Tumblr Pinterest.

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Towards a Newer Laocoon

Writing a good essay isn't easy and it's the fruit of hard work. You can get help from essay writing. Check out, please DigitalEssay. Thursday, September 17, Towards a Newer Laocoon. The essay titled "Towards a Newer Laocoon," explains the author's view of his time period.

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