Archive for the ‘ G ’ Category


Dates: 1909-1994

Nationality: American

Clement Greenberg (January 16, 1909 – May 7, 1994) was an influential American art critic closely associated with Modern art in the United States. In particular, he promoted the abstract expressionist movement and was among the first critics to praise the work of painter Jackson Pollock.

Greenberg was a graduate of Syracuse University who first made his name as an art critic with his essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” first published in the journal Partisan Review in 1939. In this article Greenberg claimed that avant-garde and Modernist art was a means to resist the leveling of culture produced by capitalist propaganda. Greenberg appropriated the German word ‘kitsch’ to describe this consumerism, though its connotations have since changed to a more affirmative notion of left-over materials of capitalist culture. Modern art, like philosophy, explored the conditions under which we experience and understand the world. It does not simply provide information about it in the manner of an illustratively accurate depiction of the world. “Avant Garde and Kitsch” was also a politically motivated essay in part a response to the destruction and repression of Modernist Art in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and its replacement with state ordained styles of “Aryan” art and “Socialist realism.”

In December 1950, he joined the CIA-fronted American Committee for Cultural Freedom. Greenberg believed Modernism provided a critical commentary on experience. It was constantly changing to adapt to kitsch pseudo-culture, which was itself always developing. In the years after World War II, Greenberg pushed the position that the best avant-garde artists were emerging in America rather than Europe. Particularly, he championed Jackson Pollock as the greatest painter of his generation, commemorating the artist’s “all-over” gestural canvases. In the 1955 essay “American-Type Painting” Greenberg promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, as the next stage in Modernist art, arguing that these painters were moving towards greater emphasis on the ‘flatness’ of the picture plane.

Greenberg helped to articulate a concept of medium specificity. It posited that there were inherent qualities that “mediums” could be driven to. Sometimes this is understood to mean that paintings should be “flat,” in keeping with their physical two-dimensionality. This is of course in contrast with the illusion of depth commonly found in pre-twentieth century painting.

In Greenberg’s conception abstract painting was high art. Greenberg’s view that, after the war, the United States had become the guardian of ‘advanced art’ was taken up in some quarters as a reason for using Abstract Expressionism as the basis for Cultural Propaganda exercises. He praised similar movements abroad and, after the success of the Painters Eleven exhibition in 1956 with the American Abstract Artists at New York’s Riverside Gallery, he travelled to Toronto to see the group’s work in 1957. He was particularly impressed by the potential of painters William Ronald and Jack Bush, and later developed a close friendship with Bush. Greenberg saw Bush’s post-Painters Eleven work as a clear manifestation of the shift from abstract expressionism to Color Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction, a shift he had called for in most of his critical writings of the period.

Greenberg expressed mixed feelings about pop art. On the one hand he expressed that pop art partook of a trend toward “openness and clarity as against the turgidities of second generation Abstract Expressionism.” But on the other hand Greenberg expressed that pop art did not “really challenge taste on more than a superficial level.”

Through the 1960s Greenberg remained an influential figure on a younger generation of critics including Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Greenberg’s antagonism to ‘Postmodernist’ theories and socially engaged movements in art caused him to lose influence amongst both artists and art critics. Such was Greenberg’s influence as an art critic that Tom Wolfe in his 1975 book The Painted Word identified Greenberg as one of the “kings of cultureburg”, alongside Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg. Wolfe contended that these critics influence was too great on the world of art.

Eventually, Greenberg was concerned that some Abstract Expressionism had been “reduced to a set of mannerisms” and increasingly looked to a new set of artists who abandoned such elements as subject matter, connection with the artist, and definite brush strokes. Greenberg suggested this process attained a level of ‘purity’ (a word he only used in quotes) that would reveal the truthfulness of the canvas, and the two-dimensional aspects of the space (flatness). Greenberg coined the term “Post-Painterly Abstraction” to distinguish it from Abstract Expressionism, or Painterly Abstraction, as Greenberg preferred to call it. Post-Painterly Abstraction was a term given to a myriad of abstract art that reacted against gestural abstraction of second-generation Abstract Expressionists. Among the dominant trends in the Post-Painterly Abstraction are Hard-Edged Painters such as Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella who explored relationships between tightly ruled shapes and edges, in Stella’s case, between the shapes depicted on the surface and the literal shape of the support and Color-Field Painters such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, who stained first Magna then water-based acrylic paints into unprimed canvas, exploring tactile and optical aspects of large, vivid fields of pure, open color. The line between these movements is tenuous, however as artists such as Kenneth Noland utilized aspects of both movements in his art. Post-Painterly Abstraction is generally seen as continuing the Modernist dialectic of self-criticism.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Clement Greenberg’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 October 2010, 22:57 UTC, <>


Dates: 1906-1998

Nationality: American

Henry Nelson Goodman (August 7, 1906– November 25, 1998) was an American philosopher, known for his work on counterfactuals, mereology, the problem of induction, irrealism and aesthetics. Goodman graduated from Harvard University in 1928. During the 1930s, he ran an art gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, while studying for a Harvard Ph.D. in philosophy, which he completed in 1941. His experience as an art dealer helps explain his later turn towards aesthetics, where he became better known than in logic and analytic philosophy.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Nelson Goodman’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 December 2010, 10:06 UTC, <>

Most of Goodman’s aesthetics is contained in his Languages of Art (which he republished, with slight variations, in a second edition in 1976), although what is there presented is clarified, expanded, and sometimes corrected in later essays. As its subtitle, An Approach to a General Theory of Symbols, indicates, this is a book with bearings not only on art issues, but on a general understanding of symbols, linguistic and non-linguistic, in the sciences as well as in ordinary life. Indeed, Languages of Art has, amongst its merits, that of having broken, in a non-superficial and fruitful way, the divide between art and science. Goodman’s general view is that we use symbols in our perceiving, understanding, constructing the worlds of our experience: the different sciences and the different arts equally contribute to the enterprise of understanding the world. As in his works in epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of language, Goodman’s approach is often unorthodox and groundbreaking, and yet never in a way that fails to be refreshing and suggestive of future developments (some of those developments were pursued by Goodman himself in later essays and, most notably, in his last book, co-authored with Catherine Elgin, Reconceptions in Philosophy and Other Arts and Sciences [1988]).

With respect to art in particular and to symbolic activities in general, Goodman advocates a form of cognitivism: by using symbols we discover (indeed we build) the worlds we live in, and the interest we have in symbols—artworks amongst them—is distinctively cognitive. Indeed, to Goodman, aesthetics is but a branch of epistemology. Paintings, sculptures, musical sonatas, dance pieces, etc. are all entities composed of symbols, which possess different functions and bear different relations with the worlds they refer to. Hence, artworks require interpretation and interpreting them amounts to understanding what they refer to, in which way, and within which systems of rules.

Since symbolizing is for Goodman the same as referring, it must also be emphasized, first, that reference has, in his view, different modes, and, second, that something is a symbol, and is a symbol of a given kind, only within a symbol system of that kind, a system governed by the syntactical and semantic rules distinctive of symbols of that kind. Of course, natural languages are examples of symbol systems, but there are many other, non-linguistic systems: pictorial, gestural, diagrammatic, etc.

Giovannelli, Alessandro, “Goodman’s Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>


Dates: 1900-2002

Nationality: German

Hans-Georg Gadamer (February 11, 1900 – March 13, 2002) was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus, Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode). Gadamer was born in Marburg, Germany, as the son of a pharmaceutical chemistry professor who later also served as the rector of the university there. He resisted his father’s urging to take up the natural sciences and became more and more interested in the humanities. He grew up and studied philosophy in Breslau under Richard Hönigswald, but soon moved back to Marburg to study with the Neo-Kantian philosophers Paul Natorp and Nicolai Hartmann. He defended his dissertation in 1922.

Shortly thereafter, Gadamer visited Freiburg and began studying with Martin Heidegger, who was then a promising young scholar who had not yet received a professorship. He and Heidegger became close, and when Heidegger received a position at Marburg, Gadamer followed him there, where he became one of a group of students such as Leo Strauss, Karl Löwith, and Hannah Arendt. It was Heidegger’s influence that gave Gadamer’s thought its distinctive cast and led him away from the earlier neo-Kantian influences of Natorp and Hartmann.

Gadamer habilitated in 1929 and spent most of the early 1930s lecturing in Marburg. Unlike Heidegger, Gadamer was anti-Nazi, although he was not politically active during the Third Reich. He did not receive a paid position during the Nazi years and never entered the Party; only towards the end of the War did he receive an appointment at Leipzig. In 1946, he was found by the American occupation forces to be untainted by Nazism and named rector of the university. Communist East Germany was no more to Gadamer’s liking than the Third Reich, and he left for West Germany, accepting first a position in Frankfurt am Main and then the succession of Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg in 1949. He remained in this position, as emeritus, until his death in 2002 at the age of 102.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Hans-Georg Gadamer’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 November 2010, 08:25 UTC, <>

As Gadamer saw it, aesthetic theory had, largely under the influence of Kant, become alienated from the actual experience of art—the response to art had become abstracted and ‘aestheticised’—while aesthetic judgment had become purely a matter of taste, and so of subjective response. Similarly, under the influence of the ‘scientific’ historiography of such as Ranke, together with the romantic hermeneutics associated with Schleiermacher and others, the desire for objectivity had led to the separation of historical understanding from the contemporary situation that motivates it, and to a conception of historical method as based in the reconstruction of the subjective experiences of the author—a reconstruction that, as Hegel made clear, is surely impossible (see Gadamer, 1989b, 164-9).

By turning back to the direct experience of art, and to the concept of truth as prior and partial disclosure, Gadamer was able to develop an alternative to subjectivism that also connected with the ideas of dialogue and practical wisdom taken from Plato and Aristotle, and of hermeneutical situatedness taken from the early Heidegger. Just as the artwork is taken as central and determining in the experience of art, so is understanding similarly determined by the matter to be understood; as the experience of art reveals, not in spite of, but precisely because of the way it also conceals, so understanding is possible, not in spite of, but precisely because of its prior involvement. In Gadamer’s developed work, the concept of ‘play’ (Spiel) has an important role here. Gadamer takes play as the basic clue to the ontological structure of art, emphasizing the way in which play is not a form of disengaged, disinterested exercise of subjectivity, but is rather something that has its own order and structure to which one is given over. The structure of play has obvious affinities with all of the other concepts at issue here—of dialogue, phronesis, the hermeneutical situation, the truth of art. Indeed, one can take all of these ideas as providing slightly different elaborations of what is essentially the same basic conception of understanding—one that takes our finitude, that is, our prior involvement and partiality, not as a barrier to understanding, but rather as its enabling condition. It is this conception that is worked out in detail in Truth and Method.

Malpas, Jeff, “Hans-Georg Gadamer”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>


Dates: 1880-1945

Origin: United States

Key Artists: Aubrey Beardsley

The American “golden age of illustration” lasted from the 1880s until shortly after World War I (although the active career of several later “golden age” illustrators went on for another few decades). As in Europe a few decades earlier, newspapers, mass market magazines, and illustrated books had become the dominant media of public consumption. Improvements in printing technology freed illustrators to experiment with color and new rendering techniques. A small group of illustrators in this time became rich and famous. The imagery they created was a portrait of American aspirations of the time.

Wikipedia contributors. “Illustration.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. <;

Aubrey Beardsley