After Modernism; Constellation term 2

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‘Accent Grave’, Franz Kline 1955

After myself and the rest of my group ended up missing the original lecture, believing it was at 3 in the afternoon, Jonathan Clarkson then went on to kindly redo the talk, which both intrigued and inspired me.

It was a fascinating lecture; a collection of theories about race and the relevance of art within the Cold War era, as well as the ensuing boom that Abstract Expressionism found. I was unaware of America’s decision to push A.E. as a sign of cultural and economic growth, but it makes an awful lot of sense in the context of the situation. I was also entranced by the question; ‘Is art Popular or Elitist, and how do we measure which is better?’ We were faced with two images; one of the ‘Mona Lisa’ with a large crowd around it, and another of a Clyfford Still painting, with a sole viewer observing the piece without the many ‘security measures’ that obscures the Mona Lisa.

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The fascinating thing was that depending on the person you asked, you would receive a different response. However, the resounding answer within the art sense in our lecture was that the Clyfford Still ‘experience’ was far superior to the aspect of seeing the Mona Lisa, which was more about telling others you had seen it, rather than the majesty of the actual work. Popularity seems to be the poison that reduces a piece’s value.

Another fascinating concept within the lecture was that of Clement Greenberg and his opinions on ‘Formalism’, which he deemed ‘the ultimate path to painting’s development and eventual perfection’. The basic idea of the philosophy is this; we must keep reducing more and more until the medium of painting achieves a ‘pure’ form, albeit not even classed as a painting at all. There is one fatal flaw with this theory, and that is that there is a point where we cannot reduce the ‘painting’ any more, but Greenberg believed that this would never come, claiming that it would continue ‘indefinitely’. Greenberg’s definitions of a painting are thus;

-Two Dimensionality.

-The Rectangular shape of the support.

-The Properties of the Pigment.

But then where can this go? As seen above in Franz Kline’s ‘Accent Grave’, there is not much else we can do with this ‘reduction of a painting’ (even though I find the piece absolutely beautiful, and believe it achieves this reduced theorem), as if Greenberg’s own philosophy was in fact a foray into denial of the continued movement of art. I find it an interesting concept, and this aspect of ‘purity’ is something that I would definitely like to pursue further.

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