Modernist Painting by Clement Greenberg

Posted on by Ben Hodson

When looking at the subject of modernism you cannot ignore the seminal work “Modernist Painting” by Clement Greenberg. Throughout my education I have read the essay severl times and have only just started to understand the importance of the work. 

Greenberg was an important art writer and defender of modernism, he established the notion of a painting being a two dimensional, flat surface with which the creator interacts to make an object in its own right. He argues “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticise the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Greenberg C.  In basic terms a painting being a painting, not what it depicts. “Painting” itself becomes the subject of the work and a synthesis between content and form.  The further you push this idea, you ultimately end up with the painting becoming an autonomous object.  Although it has a relationship with the real world - what it depicts is essentially a lie.