Ideology and Iconoclasm: The Image in Mid-twentieth- century American Art Criticism

By Jorge Miguel Benitez.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The American critic Clement Greenberg promoted abstraction as an essential part of historical progress. His counterpart, Harold Rosenberg, defended abstraction as a legitimate and important means to artistic ends, but one that was not necessarily better than other approaches. These intellectuals clashed in the 1950s over two views of art and the images that still inform the artistic discourse. By 1960, the arrival of pop art seemed to have brought back the image in a significant way. Yet Greenberg’s critical outlook continued to be taught in art schools as a form of high modernist academicism well into the 1980s. Postmodernism appears to have settled the issue in favor of Duchamp-inspired freedom. This paper will analyze the roots of Greenberg’s ideological stance, Rosenberg’s more open-ended outlook, and the effects of the ensuing polemic on the understanding of the image since the days of abstract expressionism.

Keywords: Abstraction, Puritanism, Marxism, Iconoclasm, Ideology, Criticism, Aesthetics, Duchamp, Greenberg, Rosenberg

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.37-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 748.625KB).

Jorge Miguel Benitez

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA

Jorge Benitez holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University where he currently teaches drawing, art theory, and the history of visual communications. His theoretical interests derive from an earlier career in advertising, as well as his fluency in French and Spanish. He developed an interest in the conflict between words and images in the 1990s when Americans began to describe their national divisions as a “culture war”. He currently participates in regional and international exhibitions, and his work is represented in corporate collections and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.