Greenberg 1981 Intermedia

Greenberg 1981 Intermedia
Greenberg 1981 Intermedia
Greenberg 1981 Intermedia
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    INTERM EDI CLEMENT GREEN ERGThe scene of visual art has been invaded more and more, lateIy, by other mediums than those of painting or sculpture.By scene I mean galleries and museums and the art press.Now these welcome performance art, installation art, sound art,video, dance, and mime; also words, written and spoken; andsundry ways of making poetical, political, informational, quasiphilosophical, quasi-psychological, quasi-sociological points.The printed page, the stage, the concert hall, the literaryrecital platform haven t been nearly so hospitabie to the incursions of mediums not originally proper to themselves. It s true:drama, opera, and dance are of their nature intermedia ormultimedia. But words, sounds, movement and mime are respectively primary in these art forms; in each case the overriding, all-embracing mediums, those on which t ste cum-attention is focused. This isn t true, or hardly so, with intermedia in galleries or museums. The Happenings of yearsback already showed that. They happened in the context orsetting of visual art, and most of the people taking part had todo mainly with visual art, yet they exhibited hardly anything thatwas actually visual art as such.Hardly any of the creators or agents of intermedia startedout as actors, musicians, dancers, or writers, let alone as poets,philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, or polit ical thinkers;not even as interior decorators let alone architects. They almostall started out as painters or sculptors, or at least more in theneighborhood of these arts than any other. (The exceptions areonlyexceptions.)There s nothing necessarily wrong in all this. Good art, greatart can come from anywhere. Means don t matter, only results.The question of value or quality doesn t concern me here andnow. What does is the why: why the scene, area, field of attention of the visual arts (excepting architecture, for good reason)should now be so open, sa much more hospitabie to extraneousmediums than any of the other scenes of art.A good part of the explanation has to do, I feel, with thespecial and large place that painting (not sculpture or architecture) takes up in the whole spectrum of Modernism. It was painting that was first compelled, in the mid-19th century, to innovate and experiment in technical, material, utterly formaiways. It was painting that had earliest in the course of Modernism to dig into its mechanisms. That was in the beginning ofthe 1860s, with Manet (and him alone). None of the other arts ontheir way to Modernism had that early to dig into their own entraiIs. Certainly not sculpture, not music, not dance, not evenliterature. Whitman s free verse, Gerard Manley Hopkins newmetrics are discussable here. 50 are Mallarm s liberties withword order and syntax, and maybe grammar toa. But none ofthese affected the medium of verse as radically as Manet andthen the Impressionists affected the medium of pictorial art.Flaubert and Baudelaire don t pertain in this respect: it wastheir matter, not their farm that scandalized. (The same mightbe said of Mallarm, almost, whose versif ication stayed sa tradi

    tional at bottom.) In music Debussy broke with the melodicand ~armonic conventions of the 18th and 19th centuries nearIy thlrty years after Manet had done the equivalent in painting.Dance had to wait till a decade into this century before becoming free. It was only in 1912, with Picasso s first bas-reliefconstructions, that sculpture Iiberated itself from the monolith; and only around the same time did Brancusi s insistence onthe compact monolith rid sculpture of its obligation to lifelikeness.

    50 it was painting that in the beginning profiled itself as theModernist, the avant-garde art par excellence (Gautier, thatforerunner, glimpsed that.) In the latter 19th century paintingwas what startled most, and kept on startling most. (No valuejudgment here.) In the first decades of our own century it continued to be the cutting edge of the new. See how poets andeven composers in Paris invoked Cubist painting for their ownnewnesses. And so at the same time, if more indirectly, did theinitiators of Modernist architecture.By and large the situation hasn t changed since then. Sculpture of the constructivist kind that came out of Picasso s

    1912-13 bas-reliefs may have become more of the cuttingedge than painting (at the time it told Duchamp what directionto go in order to go far out ), but this only enhanced the statusof the visual as the area of the newest. (It should be noticed thatthe repudiation of the monolith, as, say, in Lipchitz s transparencies, meant a more radical, more historical break with civilized, generally urban, not just Western traditions of sculpturethan taak place with regard to the equivalent in any other of thearts under Modernism.) But painting was still to be heard from.After Pollock, and after Newman, the scene of visual art lookedstill more like the ambience of the newest in art. It began, too,as the 1960s wore along, to look like the place where anythingwent, where (to borrow the late Harold Rosenberg s expression)the tradition of the new licensed any and everythinglicensed it as it did nowhere else, not in music, certainly not inliterature, not even in dance. (It was only later on that theseother arts began to try to use similar license but without gettinganywhere near the same amount of attention.)This, the original and now long-time leadership of visual art inthe matter of Modernist newness, this is what I want to suggestas explanation of the present openness and hospitality of thevisual art scene to intermedia, multimedia, and the rest ofit. But I don t think it s the whole explanation. There has to bemore to it than that.Another part of what I surmise to be the explanation soundsrelatively trivial, but I don t think it is, really. The stage, the concert hall, the literary recital, the printed page require more orless extended attention. Drama, music, dance, Iiterature takeplace over time, not just in it. Visual art is instantaneous, oralmast sa, in its proper experiencing, which is of its unity aboveand befare anything else. (That s the case with sculpture in theround as much at bottom as with a picture: you have to walk

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    around sculpture in the round but each step gives you all you I feel that the two hypotheses I ve offered to explain theseneed to see in an instant whe~ you linger you lose something. newcomers still don t explain enough. Something more must beIt s more or less the sam~ with murals and scroll-paintings: they there, something more embracing than the early innovativenessdeliver themselves from point to point, in instants; and as with of Modernist painting on the one hand and the factor of time orround sculpture, the connecting of those instants-their flow attention span on the other; some shift, I d say, in the appreciainto one another-is instantaneous too.) It belongs to the tion of visual art by the nominally cultivated public (I mean thessence of visual art that it dismisses the factor of time by public that follows advanced art). I t hink it s a shift away fromrowding so much, against all reason, into a point or points of taste as such with respect to visual art as such (to echo Mr.ime (Iike making innumerable angels dance on the tip of a pin). Tomkins partly), a shift away from the demands of taste insofarAnd the pleasure to be gotten from the details in visual art? as they have become, or seem to have become, more taxinghat s to be considered, but it s a subordinated pleasure or with respect to visual art as such. This would account for the acatisfaction, not to be compared with what s gotten from a ceptance of still other phenomena than intermedia : of Patternisual whole, a unity.) Painting, of the new aesthetic of bad taste, and more.The virtual suppression of the time factor is another reason, I Yes, but how to account for the shift itself? The ordinary bad,uggest, why items and events are put up with in art galleries, untaxed taste obtaining since the 1850s or earlier is still with us.useums, and other places where visual art is the main thing as What s new (but no longer surprising) is that such a relativelyhey wouldn t be put up with elsewhere. In any case galleries large part of th is taste in all its unsophistication should nownd museums are to be sauntered through-you sit down only focus on avant-garde or nominally avant-garde art. But th is is ao rest. They can be escaped from as theaters and concert halls clue, not an explanation. The art boom of recent years is ann t beoTrue, Performance art et al ask for an attention span, other clue. They both lead to the fact that great, great numbersime, but it s so much easier to walk out of a gallery or museum of new people, people from rising, new social classes, newhan a theater or concert hall without seeming rude. Considera- middle classes have entered the sphere of higher culture. Andions like these seem petty, yet they count, they belong to life these people in their youthfulness identify higher culture withs lived, in which boredom can turn into anguish. Anyhow, newness, advancedness, the avant-garde. Why they do th isiven the visual-art setting, Performance art, Body art, etc., now, as new people haven t before, is still another question.on t-usually-ask for too much time, too much attention Suffice it that the authorities have come to recognize that thepan. radically newest art since Manet has been by and large the bestIn The ew Yorker of 25 May 1981, Calvin Tomkins, writing art, and they act on this recognition blindly as it were. Andbout video art, put his finger on the time factor. He said that new people go by authority. But the situation is circular:ideo art asks for the kind of concentration we are expected to those who staff authority nowadays are in effect new p