Fuck Clement Greenberg

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


In discussions of literature and architecture, I still come across would-be intellectuals who invoke art critic Clement Greenberg’s distinction between the avant-garde and kitsch. Of course, for such people avant-garde is doubleplusgood, while kitsch is one small step above Nazism. If you’ve never read Greenberg’s original essay, it’s worth checking out, if only for examples of the art Greenberg dismisses:

Where there is an avant-garde, generally we also find a rear-guard. True enough — simultaneously with the entrance of the avant-garde, a second new cultural phenomenon appeared in the industrial West: that thing to which the Germans give the wonderful name of Kitsch: popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc., etc.

That’s a pretty good list of the most popular and beloved American art ever created, not to mention hugely influential on world culture. Question du Jour: Why do people insist on generalizing and theorizing from their own preferences about what is “good” or “the best”? More importantly, why are others so apt to take such pronunciations seriously?



About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Art, Books Publishing and Writing, Commercial art, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Fuck Clement Greenberg

  1. lloydville says:

    I am a peaceable man, irrevocably committed to non-violence in my personal life, but when I read quotes like that from Greenberg above I want to give somebody a knuckle sandwich. It’s sort of like an Elizabethan critic airily dismissing those vulgar shows by Shakespeare playing at The Globe, on the wrong side of the river, across from the bear-baiting pit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bjk says:

    Elitists like Greenberg are pretty thin on the ground these days. Could probably use more of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. slumlord. says:

    Why do people insist on generalizing and theorizing from their own preferences about what is “good” or “the best”?

    Socialist Status signalling.

    They’re simply trying to assert their superiority over others. Sometimes this signalling is justified and other times it’s not. I reckon Greenberg was wrong on this one.

    By way of a mathematically analogy, Greenberg’s argument can be rephrased to show just how stupid it is. Lagrange transformations are what educated mathematicians “do” whilst the average Joe does algebra. Greenberg’s argument is that algebra is kitsch (with all the negative social connotations it brings) whilst advanced mathematics is part of the avant-garde. Ever here of a mathematician look at the two branches of mathematics in such a way? No, but stupidity has a hard time flourishing in the STEM majors but finds a hell of a lot of space in the Arts.

    The problem with Greenberg’s argument are its implicit priori assumptions:

    1) Firstly, that every man is capable of being an art critic. He isn’t, some people just aren’t visual gourmets.
    2) That the profession of art is always towards perfection. I.e modern art is intrinsically good.
    3) Just because the elite embrace a certain culture, everyone else should follow. i.e. the elites are self conscious of their own superiority.
    4) Elite taste is doubleplusgood whilst prole taste doubleplusbad. (Lagrange transformations good:algebra bad).

    By the way, there is some really good Nazi and Communist Kitsch out there.

    Farm Family from Kahlenberg slays American Gothic in my opinion. Now, how’s that for a doubleplusbad thought?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shelley says:

    I aim for a high Kitsch in every painting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JV says:

    “Why do people insist on generalizing and theorizing from their own preferences about what is “good” or “the best”?”

    How can one not? I mean, sure, we can be diplomatic outwardly and say things like “for me, this is…” or “my preference is…”, but what we really mean is, we think this or that is better than the other thing. We can intellectualize it as preference, but I think deep down, we just think what we like is inherently better than what we don’t like. I know I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. But even if I believe that in my heart of hearts, I don’t make a big deal about my opinions. It’s one thing to think that X work is better than Y work, it’s quite another to construct a theory or generalize about What Is Proper and Good based on my own quirky preferences.


    • LemmulLemmus says:

      That, combined with the knowledge that no declaration of taste as the right taste can be proven wrong, so one might as well go all in.


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