In the first phase of his career (1939-1948), Greenberg was a Trotskyite socialist with an interest in the social and psychological background of the artist and in theories of the medium, especially Hans Hofmann's.
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg, art critic (born at New York, NY, 16 Jan 1909; died there 7 May 1994). Greenberg graduated in literature from Syracuse University (1930), taught himself Latin and German, began to work as a United States customs clerk (1937) and then to publish political and cultural commentary in Partisan Review and The Nation.
In the first phase of his career (1939-1948), Greenberg was a Trotskyite socialist with an interest in the social and psychological background of the artist and in theories of the medium, especially Hans Hofmann's. He became known as an early, articulate champion of Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb and David Smith.
Subsequently Greenberg increasingly relied on his interpretation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790), emphasizing almost exclusively aesthetic judgment, visual syntax and the relations of each new generation of artists to its artistic forebears. Greenberg consistently admired such formal properties as a "hard-won unity," but argued that art criticism can never have precise criteria for judgment, in part because artistic "content remains indefinable, unparaphrasable, undiscussable."
His interpretation of "Modernist Painting" (1961) with its definition of "optical" (i.e., indeterminate) space became the governing concept in discussion of artistic modernism throughout the English-speaking world.
Greenberg went to Toronto at the suggestion of Jock MACDONALD and William RONALD in June, 1957. His studio visits there were a decisive benefit to Macdonald and to Jack BUSH, who were stimulated by his praise, encouragement to work in more personal ways, and who were exhorted to "cauterize the infectious influence" of excessive admiration for New York art and artists.
In 1962 Greenberg was guest critic at the EMMA LAKE ARTISTS' WORKSHOPS, where he introduced the work of Morris Louis, Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland to a Canadian audience, stimulated Andrew Hudson as a critic, and had a significant impact on painters Kenneth LOCHHEAD, Dorothy KNOWLES and Ernest LINDNER. In numerous later visits to Edmonton, Saskatoon and Toronto he stimulated various artists with his workshop criticism. He was the principal model for critics Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin.
Greenberg became an extraordinarily controversial figure, widely reviled as authoritarian, élitist, and exclusionary by such artists as Ronald Bloore, and praised by many others as a great eye, a defender of high artistic standards, a stimulus to creativity and a generous entrée to art abroad.
Joan Murray, "Canadian Artists on Greenberg," Painters Eleven in Retrospect (1979).