On Clement Greenberg's Formalistic Criticism
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After Abstract Expressionism, American art was not modeled after European art any more. Many critics regarded Abstract Expressionism as a quite new art separate from the past tradition of paintings. But Clement Greenberg defined it as the only heir to the tradition of the European paintings, particularly of Modernist paintings. He regarded the history of paintings as the dialectic development periodically fluctuating between the "plastic" and the "painterly". (These words are translated from Wolfflin's terms "plastisch" and "malerisch".) As for Modernism, Greenberg equates its essence with reinforcing "self-criticism". That's why, Greenberg asserts, Modernist art attempted to be a pure art, and Modernist painting increasingly emphasized "flatness.". But, in Greenberg's view, such painting cannot be flat enough to be the physical surface of the canvas ; inevitably it permit a strictly optical illusion of a third dimention. Greenberg's theory of formalism is based on Kant's aesthetics. According to Kant, aesthetic judgment is first made possible by an intuitive grasp of the formal element of the object in the world of phenomenon, and then by balanced faculties of transcendental cognition. So Greenberg attaches much importance to aesthetic intuition. But on that point, there are some problems, which I would like to investigate.
Aesthetics 43 (1), 13-23, 1992
The Japanese Society for Aesthetics