Thursday, December 29, 2011

Expunging the visible world

From an obit for Helen Frankenthaler in the WSJ:

Frankenthaler belonged to the second generation of the New York School, whose guiding light was the critic Clement Greenberg. Greenberg held that the essence of modern painting was the expunging of all references to the visible world and an emphasis on painting's purely formal elements—the flatness of the canvas support and the colors arrayed across it.

I post this just in case you're lying awake at night, wondering why "modern painting" doesn't interest me.


Nev said...

Ideas happen.

karensomethingorother said...

Is that the kind of art people who have giant white houses with 20 foot ceilings have someone buy for them so they can hang it behind their couch? It's not grabbing me.

Expunge all aspects of the world eh? It screams cop-out to me, but I'm not a fan of abstract art.

Nev said...

I always enjoy it when I hear someone talk as if the 20th century never happened. People like Frankenthaler, while perhaps not notable for the images themselves (although context is everything), nevertheless were responsible for changing our collective sensibilities. The fundamental thing is that (sorry for talking down) with the advent of photography and psychology, the depiction of "reality" was simply thrown off its pedestal.

Oh, and you couldn't hang a Rafaello behind your couch either, or install a Michaelangelo in your front hall, so the complaint about scale is just pointless.

I don't see what's wrong with the then-new idea of freeing painting from representing the physical world in a literal way. I can't imagine a world in which art simply "photographs" things. Thank god for abstraction -- it's only a problem if you feel it is violating "reality". They are not in contention for the same piece of turf.

Richard Epstein said...

But what you're describing is art-as-wallpaper. Is that what you think those artists think they are doing? And would you really describe a Vermeer, let alone a Cezanne, as photography?

P.S. If it's wallpaper, I'd rather have little cowboys on bucking broncos

karensomethingorother said...

That's the thing about art though, it surpasses the photography idea. But then, what about photography as art? It all depends in what we choose to look at, no? I'm all for colour and texture, but you just can't tell me that this:

is as talented as this:,%252520William%252520/bouguereau_william_maternal_admiration.jpg&w=1734&h=2262&ei=HVYCT-i5NKjc0QHuxPScAw&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=737&vpy=226&dur=484&hovh=256&hovw=196&tx=147&ty=165&sig=113849951510951810760&sqi=2&page=4&tbnh=201&tbnw=126&ndsp=16&ved=1t:429,r:12,s:62

even if the subject matter of the latter has become a little "quaint" thanks to collectible greeting cards and calendars.

It's not about literal scale, it's about exceeding expectation.

ultimately, it can be very subjective.

p.s. sorry about the huge links, Richard

Richard Epstein said...

Paintings aren't talented, people are; and I'm not sure you judge the product by the talent of the producer. It's hard to imagine a more talented English poet than Swinburne, but his poems are generally unsuccessful.

And, as you impliedly recognize, the Bouguereau is a piece of sentimental claptrap, however shimmeringly executed. I guess a different title -- "Simpering Motherhood," perhaps -- might have made it look ironic, but even then, I wouldn't want to have to look at it. At least the Pollock would fade into the general background after a few days. Faint praise, to be sure.

Nev said...

Temporarily dumbfounded, but also slightly, illicitly, amused that what passes for agreement may not, in fact, be a meeting of the minds at all. Have not so far been able to shorten what I have to say, and really, am hoping that the moment will simply pass. But, as an aside, RHE, funny that of all people Vermeer would be the person you'd say is not photography. Firstly, in the 1600s it did not apply, what I was saying, i.e. that with the coming of photography, painting was freed from the duty to simply represent. Secondly, Vermeer used the camera obscura, it is widely believed (see David Hockney), to get those startlingly exact perspectives, etc. He was using the technology at his disposal to get a really clear, good, image. That is a total digression, of course.

Richard Epstein said...

I don't understand why there are 7 links to this post, all of which predate it. This seems a temporal impossibility, unless Dr Who has begun reading here.