HAROLD ROSENBERG

Dates: 1906-1978

Nationality: American

Harold Rosenberg (February 2, 1906, New York City – July 11, 1978, New York City) was an American writer, educator, philosopher and art critic. He coined the term Action Painting in 1952 for what was later to be known as abstract expressionism. The term was first employed in Rosenberg’s essay “American Action Painters” published in the December 1952 issue of ARTnews. The essay was reprinted in Rosenberg’s book The Tradition of the New in 1959. The title is itself ambiguous as it both refers to American Action Painters and American Action Painters and reveals Rosenberg’s political agenda which consisted in crediting US as the center of international culture and action painting as the most advanced of its cultural forms. This theme was already developed in a previous article “The Fall of Paris” published in Partisan Review in 1940.

Rosenberg was born in Brooklyn, educated at City College of New York and received a law degree from St. Lawrence College in 1927. Later, he often said he was “educated on the steps of the New York Public Library.” From 1938 to 1942 he was art editor for the American Guide Series produced by the Works Progress Administration. Later he was deputy chief of domestic radio in the Office of War Information and a consult for the Treasury Department and the Advertising Council of America. Later, he was professor of social thought in the art department of the University of Chicago.

Rosenberg is best known for his art criticism. Beginning in the early 1960s he became art Critic for the New Yorker magazine. His books on art theory include The Tradition of the New (1959), The Anxious Object (1964), Art Work and Packages, Art and the Actor and The De-Definition of Art. He also wrote monographs on Willem de Kooning, Saul Steinberg, and Arshile Gorky. A Marxian cultural critic, Rosenberg’s books and essays probed the ways in which evolving trends in painting, literature, politics, and popular culture disguised hidden agendas or mere hollowness.

One of Rosenberg’s most often cited essays is “The Herd of Independent Minds,” where he analyzes the trivialization of personal experience inherent both in mass culture-making and superficial political commitment in the arts. In this work, Rosenberg exposes political posturing in both the mass media and among artistic elites (for instance, he claims the so-called socially responsible poetry of Stephen Spender was actually an avoidance of responsibility masquerading as “responsible poetry.”)Rosenberg deplored the attempts at commercialization of authentic experience through techniques of psychological manipulation available to mass media producers. He wrote mockingly of mass culture’s efforts to consolidate and control the intricacies of human needs:

The more exactly he grasps, whether by instinct or through study, the existing element of sameness in people, the more successful is the mass-culture maker. Indeed, so deeply is he committed to the concept that men are alike that he may even fancy that there exists a kind of human dead center in which everyone is identical with everyone else, and that if he can hit that psychic bull’s eye he can make all mankind twitch at once.

Rosenberg was also the subject of a painting by Elaine de Kooning. Along with Clement Greenberg and Leo Steinberg, he was identified in Tom Wolfe’s 1975 book The Painted Word as one of the three “kings of Cultureburg”, so named for the enormous degree of influence their criticism exerted over the world of modern art.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Harold Rosenberg’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 November 2010, 16:40 UTC, <en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harold_Rosenberg&oldid=396532749>

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