PRINT December 1967



Mr. Clement Greenberg has done me the singular honor of mentioning my name in his article in the October, 1967 Artforum. He has called me “wanton” and I must protest his easy assumption of superior virtue. He simply quotes out of context, performing a distortion which Hemingway (to whom in context the reference was clear and meaningful) would have recognized for what it is—a foul.

My essay on Franz Kline was a small attempt to proceed from accurate description of characteristics observable in his paintings to the feelings induced by those characteristics. Such attempts seem to me to be one of the important tasks of criticism which must be undertaken despite their obvious risks. It will be somewhat easier to obtain agreement upon a description of a painting than upon the feeling that flows from the qualities described. We do not need Mr. Greenberg to tell us that only an approximation is possible. Nor is this any reason for the critic simply to give up on trying to explain how what he sees is related to the way it makes him feel.

In his discussion of “subject qua subject,” (iconography) Mr. Greenberg confuses “subject” and “content.” This is a strange identification, since he makes an altogether rigid separation of the formal from the literary. One would have thought that after WöIfflin, Panofsky and Gombrich iconography and iconology could be distinguished. Granted that these are distinctions we are more accustomed to making in figurative art: They apply to abstract art as well, and are perhaps no harder to define there.

Apparently Mr. Greenberg assumes that the work of art is simply there, that its visual (“formal”) characteristics are passively received on a good old-fashioned tabula rasa and can be objectively described, while in contrast their effects are altogether personal and ineffable. But vision is an active, organizing agent, influenced by a time and the art of that time, as well as by individual experience. Naive description is never simple; it can hardly be separated from analysis which projects a structure and an organization, and which contains constant implications of emphasis, choice and judgment. One would have thought that the critic, presumably more aware of these problems than his audience, must so describe what he sees that others will see with him—and feel with him. He will partially fail, but he must try. Indeed, if the critic can never carry his audience with him along the road from analysis to feeling and quality of feeling, why pay him any mind at all? What other reason is there (except his own self-confidence) for believing him when he proclaims his instant recognition of “major” art. His simple assertion is hardly enough. One might just as well listen to the equally assured declarations of Tom, Dick or Harry, who also know what they like, or at the very least, to Hilton, Max or Larry.

—Robert Goldwater
New York City

I did not write that Dr. Goldwater was “wanton,” but that his words were. I happen to have an entire respect for Dr. Goldwater personally, and he is one of the last individuals in the art world whom I would characterize as “wanton.”

The whole sentence of Dr. Goldwater’s from which I quoted reads: “They (Kline’s compositions) confront us with an image of directed movement through an expanding space, of strength under control, of optimistic struggle of an entirely unsentimental ‘grace under pressure’.” (It is possible that the printer of the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery’s Kline catalog, from which this is taken, omitted a comma after “struggle.”)

About Dr. Goldwater’s third and fourth paragraphs: I have to ask him to re-read me without drawing unfounded inferences. The “strange identification” of “subject” with “content” is one he makes for me. Where I use the word “meaning” without quotes I attach it to “illustrated subject” or say “literary meaning as such,” precisely in order to make it clear that I am not talking about “content.” But I grant that I could have made this still clearer by explaining that literary meaning is just as much part of “form” as plastic or purely visual meaning is. On the other hand, I wish Dr. Goldwater had really explained just what the distinction between iconography and iconology had to do with what he thought I was talking about.

—Clement Greenberg
New York City

Now that we have finally gotten down to the grass tacks of comparing the lengths of one another’s murals, (Scale and the Future of Modernism, October, 1967), I diffidently offer this baby in evidence. True, it is made neither of paint nor peanut butter but it’s 22 by 317.

—Robert Sowers
Brooklyn, New York

For a research project designed to ascertain the cultural and economic effectiveness of New Deal patronage of the visual arts between 1933 and 1943, I would like to contact artists and administrators who worked in New York City and State on any of the government art projects. These projects were: The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, 1933–1934), The Treasury Section (1934–1943), The Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP, 1935–1939), and the WPA Federal Art Project (1935–1943). I am especially interested in corresponding with those who kept detailed records, diaries or letters which would provide specific data concerning the day to day operation of the projects and in any and all material and recollections which would throw light on the relationship between government and artist during the thirties.

—Francis V. O’Connor
1111 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Room 102

It is not “made up.” (See “The New York Correspondence School,” October.) At Black Mountain College, I did leave notes in the grass for snakes. Why aren’t we made up?

—Norman Solomon
Berkeley, Calif.

I am writing to correct a serious mistake in my Introduction to last year’s retrospective exhibition of the paintings of Morris Louis (The Achievement of Morris Louis, Artforum, February, 1967). I stated there that the series of paintings known as the unfurleds were painted “during the late spring and summer of 1961.” This is wrong. Louis seems to have begun painting the unfurleds in the late spring or early summer of 1960, and to have gone on painting them until some time in early 1961.

—Michael Fried
London, England