Unreal Nature

December 2, 2014

Security and Order; A Wistful Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Here are the limited objectives of a safe world, where we all understand each other because we have agreed to banish disturbing questions …

This is from ‘Review of the Whitney Annual and the Exhibition Romantic Painting in America‘ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The latest “romantic” revival in paintings — paralleled by a curiously similar revival among the younger poets in England and a new interest there in Pre-Raphaelism and the literary aspects of painting in general — stands historical romanticism on its head. for it does not revolt against authority and constraints, but tries to establish a new version of security and order. The “imagination” it favors seems conservative and constant as against the “reason” it opposes, which is restless, disturbing, ever locked in struggles with the problematical. “Reason” leads to convictions, activity, politics, adventure: “imagination” to sentiment, pleasure, and certainties. The new “romanticism” gives up experiment and the assimilation of new experience in the hope of bringing art back to society, which has itself been “romantic” for quite a while in its hunger for immediate emotion and familiar forms. A nostalgia is felt for a harmony which can be found only in the past — and which the very technical achievements of past art seem to assure.

… The new “romantics” and the neo-romantics, American and otherwise, look to the past for qualities of sentiment and for formal schemes by which to assure the unity and effect of their paintings. They borrow certain innovations of pre-cubist modern art — free brushwork, high color keys — only to subordinate them to the methods and moods of mannerist, baroque, German and French romantic painting. The result is art of a decadent flavor. Only the relinquishing of the effort to conquer new experience makes possible these seductive harmonies of paint and sentiment. Here are the limited objectives of a safe world, where we all understand each other because we have agreed to banish disturbing questions or are no longer capable of recognizing them; a wistful art that confirms our reluctance to take risks. (Such refusal of new impressions and influences is a characteristic moment of every decadence. Though one keeps on looking for new sensations, they must all be of the same order.) There are thrills, of course — but never upsetting ones. It is art that has the shock of the fashionable: it creates unconventional effects by conventional means.

-Julie

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