Individualism — The Expressive Voice and the Unconscious

  • Christopher Crouch


In his writings in the decades after the Second World War, the American critic Clement Greenberg legitimised the ascendancy of American Abstract Expressionist painting through an argument which emphasised the formal, ‘abstract’ aspect of art-making at the expense of pictorial content. This was not only a consequence of the practices that we have examined in the previous chapter, but also a particular reading of them. We will be returning to his arguments in a following chapter, but it is a good example of how the interpretation of cultural history can be selective, and can often exclude many things which happen, simply by deciding that they are unimportant. In emphasising the development of the picture surface, of the use of colour and material, formalist critics like Greenberg do two things. They take early Modernist paintings out of their social and ideological context, and further neglect another aspect of Modernism, that of figuration and pictorial content. The figurative and narrative element in picture-making has become increasingly important in contemporary practice, and has its parallels with other aspects of contemporary design practice, where visual signs are often used to convey much information about the role of the object.


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© Christopher Crouch 1999

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  • Christopher Crouch

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