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The Art Story Homepage Critics Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg Photo

Clement Greenberg

Art Historian and Critic

Born: January 16, 1909 - New York, NY

Died: May 7, 1994 - New York, NY

Clement Greenberg Timeline

"Where the Old Masters created an illusion of space into which one could imagine walking, the illusion created by a Modernist is one into which one can look, can travel through, only with the eye."

Summary of Clement Greenberg

Clement Greenberg was probably the single most influential art critic in the 20th century. Although he is most closely associated with his support for Abstract Expressionism, and in particular Jackson Pollock, his views closely shaped the work of many other artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland. His attention to the formal properties of art - color, line, space and so forth - his rigorous approach to criticism, and his understanding of the development of modern art - although they have all been challenged - have influenced generations of critics and historians.

Key Ideas

Clement Greenberg introduced a wealth of ideas into discussion of 20th-century art, elaborating and refining notions such as "kitsch," the "easel picture," and pictorial "flatness," and inventing concepts such as that of the "allover" paint surface and "optical space."
Strongly associated with his support for Abstract Expressionism, Greenberg fervently believed in the necessity of abstract art as a means to resist the intrusion of politics and commerce into art.
Although he championed what is often regarded as avant-garde art, Greenberg saw modern art as an unfolding tradition, and by the end of his career he found himself attacking what many others saw as avant-garde art - Pop and Neo-Dada - against the values he held dear in earlier modern art.
Clement Greenberg Photo

Greenberg was born in the Bronx, the eldest of four children. His parents were first-generation Jewish Lithuanian immigrants who lived briefly in Norfolk, Virginia, but kept New York City their permanent home.

Analysis Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important and connected to Clement Greenberg. Here we both overview Clement Greenberg's approach and connections to this art, and highlight ideas on the greatest achievements by the artists and artworks below.

Piet Mondrian: Composition in Brown and Gray (1913)
Artwork Images Google images

Composition in Brown and Gray (1913)

Artist: Piet Mondrian

Artwork description & Analysis: This early painting by Piet Mondrian is a wonderful precursor to abstraction. It's also a strong example of what Greenberg considers the avant-garde, or the opposite of kitsch. Here, Mondrian is playing with space, color and shapes in a new way, and therefore avoids painting something that is predictable. According to Greenberg, something like Composition in Brown and Gray is daring and esoteric (avant-garde), not mechanical or formulaic (kitsch).

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Norman Rockwell: The Saturday Evening Post cover, 11/18/22 (1922)
Artwork Images Google images

The Saturday Evening Post cover, 11/18/22 (1922)

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Artwork description & Analysis: Norman Rockwell's work is best known for his many cover illustrations - all depicting snippets of American life - on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. It best represents the kind of art that Greenberg identifies as kitsch or ersatz culture; a piece of popular, commercial art, or better yet, a product of the industrial revolution, devised to sell something. According to Greenberg, art of this type doesn't even want the viewer's time, just money. But Greenberg doesn't believe that kitsch is necessarily bad; at least, he claims, kitsch is honest.

Ink and pencil on paper - The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Georges Braque: Man with a Guitar (1911)
Artwork Images Google images

Man with a Guitar (1911)

Artist: Georges Braque

Artwork description & Analysis: In his essay "Collage," Greenberg considers the issue of flatness, or rather, of how Picasso and Braque obsessed over space and dimension in their Cubist collage works. In Georges Braque's Man with a Guitar, Greenberg points out that the canvas' flatness isn't something Braque tries to hide; instead, he uses various shapes and trompe-l'oeil (an optical illusion of three dimensionality, in this case the tassel-and-stud in the upper-left-hand margin), in order to emphasize the surface flatness. According to Greenberg, Braque is using collage to expose the illusion of depth and to ultimately depict the absolute flatness of the picture surface. This directness in foregrounding the constraints of the picture plane is a signature element of both abstract and representational art.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Clement Greenberg Artwork and Analysis:

Jackson Pollock: Number 1 (1948) Hans Hofmann: The Gate (1959-60) Willem de Kooning: Woman and Bicycle (1952-53)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Clement Greenberg
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Clement Greenberg
Artists, Friends, Movements
Clement Greenberg
Interactive chart with Clement Greenberg's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences


Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Claude MonetClaude Monet
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque

Personal Contacts

Charles DickensCharles Dickens
T.S. EliotT.S. Eliot
Bertolt BrechtBertolt Brecht
Theodor AdornoTheodor Adorno
William Butler YeatsWilliam Butler Yeats


Influences on Artist
Influences on Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Years Worked: 1939 - 1964
Influenced by Clement Greenberg
Influenced by Artist


Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
Jack BushJack Bush
Frank StellaFrank Stella
Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland

Personal Contacts

Meyer SchapiroMeyer Schapiro
Leo SteinbergLeo Steinberg
Michael FriedMichael Fried
Robert HughesRobert Hughes
Robert RosenblumRobert Rosenblum


Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Hard-edge PaintingHard-edge Painting

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Critic Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 01 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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