Highbrow Art Criticism Blogging on Roth Brothers

I was bored and a bit lonely on Saturday afternoon and I had no interest in Skins-Seahawks so I went to the east building of the National Gallery which is the one that has the 20th century art. I was looking at one of the big classic Jackson Pollocks (it's called Lavender something) and I got up really close to look at the places where the paint is applied so thickly that it piles up in three-dimensional mounds. This made me think that maybe Clement Greenberg got something wrong in his championing of Pollock. Unless I'm misrembering (which is possible because its been a while since i read all that stuff) CG's whole thing with the abstract expressionists was that they emphasized what is most essential about the medium of painting - that is, its flat, two-dimensional quality. He liked it because -- unlike, say, cubism, and certainly unlike Duchampian-style conceptual art -- it wasn't trying to be anything other than painting. But part of the cool thing about pretty much all of JP's iconic-style drip paintings is how he heaps the paint up to make these mounds and ridges. Which couldn't be further from 2-dimensional.

I feel like I must be getting CG wrong here, because you don't get to be the most influential art critic in the history of modernism without looking pretty closely at the paintings you're writing about. But I do remember that the whole 2-dimensional thing was kind of key to his thinking about the abstract expressionists. So what's the deal?

On a related note, I remember that when I studied this stuff in like the mid-90's, we were vaguely encouraged to disdain Greenbergian formalism (and particularly the work of this guy Michael Fried, who was kind of an intellectual fellow traveler to Greenberg) as naive and apolitical. I remember reading an essay by Fried from the 50s or 60s and being almost unable to contain my white-hot hatred for his reactionary conception of what art should and shouldn't do. Luce Irigaray (who for a while i thought was named Lucy Rigaray) and Julia Kristeva and those other post-modern ones were the cool kids. But it'd be interesting to see if that's still how it's taught, now that the whole post-modernist/post-structuralist moment seems to be over.