Unreal Nature

March 3, 2015

Hindsight Would Only Tell Me Lies

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… When I started writing literary criticism, art criticism, I wasn’t all that aware that you couldn’t explain a verdict of taste. I maybe thought I could.

This is taken from a 1978 James Faure Walker interview with Clement Greenberg, found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

[ … ]

… aesthetics is, I think, useful in telling you what you can’t say about art, warning you that what you’re saying at a certain point is not about the art as art, but about the art as something else. I harp on that “art as art,” art qua art, and then art as something else: as a document, as a revelation, as a sign of the times, and so forth.

This is where so much criticism fails, it doesn’t talk about the art as art?

The difficulty of art criticism is to generate words and stay relevant. The trouble with art criticism, especially of late, is it’s too much loaded with culture.

[ … ]

One point where you reach this limit of discourse is content. You found that whatever you said about it you could always say something different. This is where a lot of your critics are dissatisfied, they want to know more.

Right.

But you’ve said that depth of content is equivalent to quality, and you’ve spoken of range of feeling, the way, for example, the surfaces in Matisse breathe. Couldn’t you go beyond that, without necessarily going into depth psychology, and explore that kind of feeling further?

Maybe some other person can, but I’m reluctant. So much I’ve read that deals purportedly with the content of art has struck me as not necessarily attaching to the art under discussion. So much of it could attach to an infinite variety of art.

[ … ]

Are you sometimes seduced by color?

You make mistakes, you like something too much. Usually my mistakes are not liking something enough. You can’t account for it simply by saying it’s this element. I used to be seduced by painterly painting, brushy, free. I remember how some of the late Vlamincks got me, done with a palette knife. I used to overrate them some. But I still don’t dismiss them today. I’ve been reproached often for wanting to jettison all the big questions about art: criteria, content, so forth. I say I’m not interested, and then people say, “You’re being evasive, or lazy, or arrogant.” I’m not interested because I don’t think these questions relevant; we can’t get anywhere dealing with them. Young people will raise the questions, thinking they can be answered, and I know that when I was younger I thought they could be.

How did you come to realize they couldn’t?

I don’t remember. Hindsight would only tell me lies. When I started writing literary criticism, art criticism, I wasn’t all that aware that you couldn’t explain a verdict of taste. I maybe thought I could.

-Julie

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