December 21, 2009

The Moral Idiot Is Tolerated...

Clement Greenberg outside Jackson Pollock's Studio, c. 1950
Photograph by Hans Namuth

Excerpts from Clement Greenberg - The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volumes 1 - 4 (writings from 1939-69), edited by John O'Brian and published by the University of Chicago Press, 1988 and 1995:

... Everybody knows more or less how to paint. Examine any picture, and you will see a good amount of knowledge and manual competence in it, if not sensitivity. And you will even see enough of that. Everybody knows what has already made painting great. But very few know, feel, or suspect what makes painting great anywhere and at any time - that it is necessary to register what the artist makes of himself and his experience in the world, not merely to record his intentions, foibles, and predilections.  The same tastes that lead one to prefer scrambled eggs to fried are not enough to furnish the content of a picture. The trouble with American art is that it substitutes pretension for ambition.

. . . . . . . . 

Life includes and is more important than art, and it judges things by their consequences.

... In any case, I am sick of the art adoration that prevails among cultured people, more in our time than in any other : that art silliness which condones almost any moral or intellectual failing on the artist's part as long as he is or seems a successful artist. It is still justifiable to demand that he be a successful human being before anything else, even if at the cost of his art. As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.

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Once again, you make your own way through art, no matter what you read, no matter what you hear. Or rather, you ought to; if you don't you're missing most of the fun. That includes changing your mind as you go along. If you don't find yourself changing your mind from time to time, then you're not really looking for yourself - and there's no use looking at art if you don't look for yourself.

. . . . . . . . 

There are, of course, more important things than art : life itself, what actually happens to you. This may sound silly, but I have to say it, given what I've heard art-silly people say all my life : I say that if you have to choose between life and happiness or art, remember always to choose life and happiness. Art solves nothing, either for the artist himself or for those who receive his art.

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