Greenberg and collage

Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money – not even their time.

According to Clement Greenberg, this is all that is available to the uneducated masses. The artist remains linked to clients (state or church, bank or business, public or private) by "an umbilical cord of gold". The true artist maintains traditions and promotes them but is essentially conservative, and positions himself in the dialectic of his time.

Producers of kitsch have no such ideals.

Handle with care. This is the champion of Jackson Pollock, then Post Painterly abstraction and all things flat. As with all things, Greenberg himself is now passe. 

Yet  undeniably his essay on Cubism titled "Collage" is brilliant, and for me, reinforces my suspicion that one of the major discoveries of Modernism (along with Surrealism and Fauvism) was dropped before it was explored, and remains an invitation over a century later.

 Flatness has a venerable history. The Duchess has pointed out the anti illusionism in Klimt and l'arte Nouveau and the espousal of flat design in art textbooks of the first decade of c20. Japanese influence on impressionists and realists is well documented. Puvis de Chavannes was admired for his (flat) fresco designs. By 1910 we have collage and by 1899 we have notan.

What Greenbergs essay on Collage reintroduces is the understanding that Cubism was born in and about a debate concerning illusion, reality, depth perception, pictorial space and planes......a highly technical debate, that is still open, and even more so now that academic realism has reentered the scene. Clearly, Picasso and Braque did not want to pursue Analytical Cubism further, having  Synthetic Cubism to play with. Only Gris stayed home. It is not a matter of flat v round, of illusion vs reality, of 3d perspectival systems vs a planar structure in front of the picture plane. It is an entirely new visual language that few knew how to speak, let alone listen to.

And inevitably we arrive back at kitsch. There is a kitsch version of analytical cubism, another of academic idealism. And just as reliably there are artists, dealers and buyers of such. Either blissfully unaware or diabolically opposed to the "real thing".

" Real artists" will always struggle to present. They always have. But despite the difficulties they must strive to promote not only the current commission, but a philosophy, an agenda, a code, founded on the "genuine" as opposed to .."the spurious" The contemporary Atelier movement is at the heart of this production.

Brian E Deagon

Nick Leavey