Clement Greenberg: Modernist Painting
Summarized by Szu-Hsien Lee
I. Modernism is something about self-criticism.
Modernism is something about self-criticism. It grows up from the criticism of the Enlightenment. The enlightenment criticizes from the outside, the way criticism in its accepted sense does; Modernism criticizes from the inside, through the procedures themselves of that which is being criticized. In other words, the essence of Modernism lies in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself.
Modernist art is also something about to be unique, pure, and independent. It has to demonstrate itself in its own right and not t be obtained from any other kind of activity. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered 'pure', and in its 'purity''; find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. 'Purity' meant self-definition, and the enterprise of self-criticism in the arts became one of self-definition with a vengeance.
Kant is the first modernist because he is the first to criticize the means itself of criticism. However, in terms of artist, Monet is the first Modernist. He only used the limitation of painting, flatness, the only condition that painting shares with no other art, in a unique way then made it become positive. He achieved autonomy which in an anti-sculptural three- dimensional direction.
We tend to see what is in an old master before we see the picture itself, but we are in a manner to see a modernist picture as a picture itself first. Unlike realistic or naturalistic art dissembling the medium, using art to conceal art. Modernism uses art to call attention to art itself. This is modernism
imposes it as the only and necessary way of seeing any kind of picture.
II. Modernism cannot be separated from the past.
Kantian self-criticism has founds its fullest expression in science than that in philosophy. When it began to be applied in art, it was brought closer to scientific method than ever before. That visual art should confine itself exclusively to what is given in visual experience, and make no reference to anything given in any other order of experience, is a notion whose only justification lies in scientific consistency. However, this kind of consistency promises nothing in the way of
Modernist art may mean a revolution, and unraveling of tradition, but it also means its further evolution. It continues the past without gap or break, and wherever it may end up it will never cease being intelligible in terms of the past. Art is continuity. Lacking the past of art, and the need and compulsion to maintain its standards of excellence, Modernist art would lack both substance and justification. The things that get written about Modernist art should not only contribute to that belongs to journalism, but rather to criticism or art history.