Unreal Nature

February 24, 2015

Sorting Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… character will decide.

This is from ‘Four Scottish Painters’ (1977) found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

The artist goes toward maturity through a succession of acts of taste, decisions of taste. In the course of these he comes to terms with the art preceding him, and crucially with the art immediately preceding him. Doing this, he begins to decide just how ambitious he’ll be. The ones who’ve turned out the best artists (or writers or composers or performers) have usually been those — or among those — able to sort out the best, or enough of the best, in the art immediately preceding them. The sorting out is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the unfolding of their art.

Sorting out, discriminating the best, means rejecting the less than best (it can even mean rejecting, for yourself, what’s good but not good enough to be the best). Sometimes the rejecting comes before anything else — as I think it did in Manet’s case (his revulsion at the “stews and gravies,” at the dull, neutralized color he saw in most of the painting being done around him when he was starting out in the 1850s, was crucial to the development of his originality; the revulsion led to his more positive acts of taste).

… The painters at hand aren’t slavish to their main influences. They add something; that’s why they’re noticeable. Nor are they all of a piece. What they have most in common, aside from the abstractness of their art and the New American influence, is their level, the level of their quality (which comes only in part from that influence). Otherwise they go their separate ways — not too separate, but separate enough.

All I ask is that they keep going. They’re young, they haven’t done enough yet; the highness of their aspiration, of their sense of quality, is still a promise that has to be fulfilled. I’ve just said that they’d added something already, but they’ll have to add still more. They’ll have to maintain their isolation from the current scene, and that’s a challenge to character more than anything else. The art scene has, as it looks, become more formidable than ever, now that avant-gardism has become the affair of officials — directors, curators, ministers of culture, art councils — as well as of art dealers, collectors, bohemians, critics, let alone aggressive artists (I remember when aggressiveness couldn’t belong to anything but the authentic avant-garde). So character will decide.

-Julie

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