Unreal Nature

February 10, 2015

To Know Better

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… any maker of better art has, aside from his competence, something to say that no one else has said or could say.

This is from ‘Seminar 6’ (1976) found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

… Formalizing art means making aesthetic experience communicable: objectifying it, making it public, instead of keeping it private or solipsistic as happens with most aesthetic experience. For aesthetic experience to be communicated it has to be submitted to conventions — or “forms” if you like — just as a language does if it’s to be understood by more than one person.

Conventions put resistances, obstacles, controls in the way of communication at the same time that they make it possible and guide it. The particular satisfactions we get from formalized art are due, in some essential part, to the sense gotten of resistances coped with by dint of choices or decisions (intuited decisions or what I call judgment decisions). Quality, the very success or goodness, of formal art derives, formally from these decisions, from their intensity and density.

… a good part of that density is generated under the pressure of the resistance offered by conventions of a medium of communication. This pressure can also act to guide and evoke and inspire; it can be an enabling as well as resistant pressure; and it guides and enables and evokes and inspires precisely by virtue of its resistance. Measure in verse and music, patterns in ballet, ordered necessities of progression in drama, prose or verse, fiction, and movies: these have empowered creation at the same time as they have constrained it — and because they have constrained it.

The conventions of art, of any art, are not immutable, of course. They get born and they die; they fade and they change out of all recognition; they get turned inside out. And there are the different historical and geographic traditions of convention. But wherever formalized art exists, conventions as such don’t disappear, however much they get transformed or replaced.

… how conventions have decayed and lapsed with the decline and extinction of a whole artistic tradition, say the Greco-Roman, is one thing; and how they have done so within a tradition that stays alive and moves beyond them is another. But in either case it happened because the conventions in question prevented certain artists from saying new things that they had to say — or else prevented them even from finding out that they had new things to say.

A tradition of art keeps itself alive by more or less constant innovation. We all know that. What we may have to know better is that some element of innovation or originality goes into all good, not to say superior, art. All good art innovates, however modestly or furtively. It innovates because any maker of better art has, aside from his competence, something to say that no one else has said or could say. Each time certain conventions or aspects of convention have to be altered in order to accommodate the better artist’s uniqueness, no matter how small that may be.

… A convention is disabling when the artist or beholder lets himself be controlled in the wrong places by that convention. It takes taste, as well as inspiration, to get that convention out of the way; inspiration alone (of which the beholder has his need too) won’t usually do it.

… Undetected, therefore uncoped with conventions remain the controlling ones. They control artist and viewer alike by permitting and inducing routine aesthetic decisions.

… what artists in the pejoratively academic sense rarely did before was try to escape in their decisions from the pressure, as such, of convention. This has been the notion of all too many would-be innovative artists in this time. [ … ] All that’s happened is that aesthetic decisions become unbelievably weightless and aesthetic results unprecedentedly empty — at least within the context of formalized art.

… [From the avant-garde] The discipline of aesthetics has received new light. In this respect it doesn’t matter that the body of art which has thrown this new light is possibly the worst and certainly the most boring formalized art known to be recorded experience. Art as such has lost the honorific status it never deserved as such; and aesthetics will never be again what it used to be.

In the meantime, genuinely innovative art, major art — the relatively small amount of it there is — goes on in this time much as before. Only now it proceeds underground so to speak, working away at the unapparent conventions and parameters of convention: coping, that is, with what hamstrings and defeats the “far-out” multitude.

-Julie

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