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Clement Greenberg’s essay “Modernist Painting” (1960) is the most concise summary of the ideas that Greenberg had been developing in his criticism since 1939. It is a remarkable yet peculiar piece of writing—a broad, sweeping summary of art history, from the Old Masters onward, that doubles as a pronouncement on how the art of his current moment should be evaluated. Greenberg describes the essence of modernism as “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” This proposition has been highly influential, even for those artists, historians, and critics who have found his judgments— particularly the criterion of “flatness” in painting—to be constraining or reductive.
For your final assignment, please read “Modernist Painting” (available via Courseworks) and identify an aspect of Greenberg’s argument, big or small, that you believe can be contradicted or complicated by artworks and issues we have discussed in this class. That is, marshal an argument against Clement Greenberg. In place of broad generalizations, build your case by analyzing specific works of art. Over the course of your argument, you should discuss:
1) Greenberg’s “Modernist Painting.”
2) At least three works we have discussed in class (or related works available on the Art Humanities website, or currently on view at the Met or MoMA). At least one work should be from the twentieth century, and at least one work should be from prior to the twentieth century.
3) At least one additional article from any unit of the class.
In the Assignments folder of Courseworks, you will find a copy of these instructions, a PDF of “Modernist Painting,” and PDFs of the Powerpoints from every Art Hum unit from Goya onward. If there are other artworks you faintly recall from class but now cannot locate, feel free to email me.
Please include in your paper images of the works you bring up, and be sure to list the works’ artist, title, and year. Cite your sources conscientiously and consistently (MLA, Chicago, etc.). This is not a research paper, but if you do draw on outside resources, please make sure they are scholarly in nature (i.e. published by peer-review journals, university presses, etc.).
The paper should be short but concise (1250 − 1500 words). Your paper will be graded for:
1) Structure (the clarity of your writing and organization of your argument);
2) Visual Analysis (your ability to connect your argument to specific observations);
3) Relevant References (your selection of artworks and articles relevant to your argument); and
4) Command of Material (the degree to which your discussion demonstrates an understanding of the artworks, articles, and general themes that have been covered in this course).
Clement Greenberg’s essay “Modernist Painting” (1960) is the most concise summary of the ideas that Greenberg had been developing in his criticism since 1939. It is a remarkable yet peculiar piece of writing—a broad, sweeping summary of art history, from the Old Masters onward, that doubles as a pronouncement on how the art of his current moment should be evaluated.