Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Artist thoughts on Clement Greenberg: "Clem was full of shit"

Further to a previous post about art vs words, I came across this entertaining passage today. It's from Robert Ayers' interview with painter Lawrence Poons, which Ayres posted on his blog A Sky filled with Shooting Stars in February of last year. Though it seems Poons benefited from critic Clement Greenberg's writings in the 1960s, he makes clear in the exchange below what he thinks of Greenberg's approach.

Q [If] art is never finished, how can we tell whether it’s any good or not?

A The art that we’re talking about is never finished. It can’t be. It isn’t in its nature. When things are finished isn’t a willful thing. Is a Mondrian finished? No. But is a [Fritz] Glarner? Yeah. That’s why a Mondrian’s better. And Mondrian or Glarner, they have no control over this. Beethoven had no control over being that good. Impossible. It wasn’t his fault he was that good. And it wasn’t Pollock’s fault that he was that wonderful. So if somebody says, “Oh, that’s good!” you can’t get a swelled head because you know that if perchance it is any good, that’s almost the way it is – it’s by chance!

Almost every time I come back to one of these new pictures, I almost don’t remember it. It looks different every time. I don’t understand it. Well, I do understand it because I see it, and seeing is understanding when we’re talking about painting. There’s no gap between seeing and understanding.

Q Not everyone believes that, though. A lot of people think that words are very important to understanding painting. Clement Greenberg, for one.

A Clem was full of shit. And why? Because Clem wasn’t a painter, that’s all. Clem tried all kinds of writing. Clem wanted to be a playwright, or a poet, or a novelist, or a short story writer. But he was a writer in search of a subject. He realized that his gift was in language, but he didn’t have a subject that would utilize it without it being all phoneyed up with plots and stuff, which obviously was not his thing. So art became his subject, and then he could write. And it’s his writing that matters – whether he says black is blue or blue is black, it doesn’t matter. It’s how he puts it all together that makes it such a great read! And that’s Greenberg. If it hadn’t have been for his writing then he would have just been somebody else who liked Pollock, and there were a lot of people who liked Pollock. My God, even Pollock’s wife knew he was terrific!

I don't get the "even Pollock's wife" thing, but I find the rest of it interesting...

Archival image of Poons in the studio from Triangle Arts Trust


pixo said...

haha, I love this interview, thank you for blogging it.

It is ingenious to treat each brush stroke as a mistake. As that is one great way to remove one's ego and let the painting come together naturally.

Removing the thinking of beginning and ending, and continuing to work on a painting without remembering what it was, are all remarkable tips.

Robert Ayers said...

Hi Leah

Delighted you enjoyed Larry Poons' comments. I'd be really grateful if you could correct the spelling of my name, however. Thank you.

Leah Sandals said...

Sure thing Robert... unfortunately, the blog isn't called Unedit my Heart for nothing. Many typos slip through. Will happily fix your name, though, and sorry for the error!