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Clement Greenberg Photo

Clement Greenberg Artworks

Art Historian and Critic

Born: January 16, 1909 - New York, NY
Died: May 7, 1994 - New York, NY

Ideas and Analysis by Clement Greenberg of Important Artists and Artworks

Composition in Brown and Gray (1913)

Artist: Piet Mondrian

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

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

Artist: Norman Rockwell

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

Man with a Guitar (1911)

Artist: Georges Braque

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

Number 1 (1948)

Artist: Jackson Pollock

Greenberg wrote of Jackson Pollock's Number 1, "Beneath the apparent monotony of its surface composition it reveals a sumptuous variety of design and incident." Number 1, and essentially any Pollock painting that employed his signature drip method, is a prime example of everything Greenberg loved about the avant-garde. Number 1 is a work of art that is profoundly original, with no clear historical reference point, but still has faint traces of the Western tradition, founded in the works of Cézanne and Picasso, among others. When Greenberg wrote that "all profoundly original art looks ugly at first," he may very well have had Pollock's Number 1 in mind.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

The Gate (1959-60)

Artist: Hans Hofmann

Hans Hofmann's The Gate is a well-known piece of Color Field Painting, a style that was highly regarded by Greenberg for its ability to strategically deploy color throughout the canvas. Hofmann (as well as other artists like Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock) uses color here to stretch the boundaries of the painting to the point where colors are broken only by the physical limitations of the canvas itself. It was this technique that first brought Greenberg to compare Color Field Painting to the works of Claude Monet, whose style of painting was quite different from Color Field and abstractions, but nonetheless applied color just as liberally on his canvases.

Oil on canvas - The Guggenheim Museum, New York

Woman and Bicycle (1952-53)

Artist: Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning's Woman series provided a test case of the value of abstraction for Greenberg, and the value of fusing abstraction with representation. Although he never directly criticized de Kooning's return to figuration, his silence on the matter was enough to suggest his disapproval. Unlike some, Greenberg did not believe that figuration necessarily added more to art; suggestions of figures would not necessarily enrich a predominantly abstract picture. He addressed the matter in his 1954 essay "Abstract, Representational, and so forth.": "More and less in art do not depend on how many varieties of significance are present, but on the intensity and depth of such significances."

Oil on canvas - The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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