Part I: Using the questions in the Munro article, go through the two pieces of criticism by Greenberg and Rosenberg and write answers for each question posed by Munro.
In Greenberg’s “Towards a Newer Laocoon,” the work being criticized seemed to be art in general, and the struggle between all different types of art to become the dominant art form relative to its period. For the most part, Greenberg discusses avant-garde painting, and how it had and continue to has a purity that elevates itself above most art forms. He claims that there are no greater justifications for depicting nature in art than there are in creating abstract art itself. In his evidence, he cites Lessing’s 1760-era Laokoon as a work which demonstrated both theoretical and practical “confusion of the arts,” and how most people in that era were confused by the apparent lack of merit in plastic art. Greenberg claims that avant-garde art needed to escape from ideas. The audience for these effects are those people who have ignored the relative merit of painting in lieu of the written word. The critic does not claim to have experienced these effects or observe them in others. The overall criticism seems to be explanatory, evaluating each type of art period and major art style, as well as their major attributes, impressing more personal opinion in his estimations of their validity. Due to the critic’s preference for painted and sculpted art, he tends to be disparaging toward the written word. The overall lack of a good, concise thesis hurts the criticism immensely, but the stream-of-consciousness nature of the movement from point to point makes for an interesting read. Overall, it is a good barometer for the value of the avant-garde across all forms of art, but in the end it does not translate well to a good criticism.
In Rosenberg’s “The American Action Painters,” the very idea of American modern art is criticized as a movement. Overall, Rosenberg criticizes modern art as not having an audience or a purpose, just being art for the same of art. At the same time, it is abstract enough that it is meant to educate about life, as opposed to other painters of the past. Applying normal forms of art criticism to these paintings (philosophy, relation to works of the past) is useless, as modern art is created without these forms. This has the effect of teaching the audience about the author and the time itself, irrespective of the past. Members of modern society who may or may not have experience with art history are welcome to experience the effects of modern art.
The critic does not claim to have experienced these effects, but he does imply that others have experienced them, as otherwise he would not be able to demonstrate that they have occurred. The thinking demonstrated in this criticism tends to move towards modern art in its relation to previous movements, as well as the inherent confusion that can occur when these modern works are not connected to the past. The critic sees the necessity to remove modern art principles from Renaissance or Baroque principles, as the emotions that bring out their subjects arise independently of art history.
The criticism is fairly strong from a conversational point of view, but it presents quite a bit of name-dropping without many examples of what constitutes modern art (or even other art forms); it is difficult to get a frame of reference for their criticism. However, it is indeed sharply written, in an immediate, stream of consciousness manner that speaks to the reader in a naturalistic way. All in all, it is an interesting read into art criticism, though the points could be a bit stronger.
Part II: Using the information from that process, write a short text that compares and contrasts the essays by Greenberg and Rosenberg.
In Greenberg’s and Rosenberg’s texts, both of them call for the analysis of varying types of modern art, weighing them against art criticism theories and the work of previous artists from the periods that came before them. Both essays are written fairly vaguely, which tends to happen when speaking in art theory – Greenberg talks about the avant-garde in a general sense across all spectrums of art, while Rosenberg merely compares American modern art and its principles to visual art movements of the past. Greenberg discuses the importance of each kind of art (music, literature, painting) while lamenting that visual arts seems to have taken a back seat to literature, and that the avant-garde has its own reason for being there. Rosenberg demonstrates an understanding of modern art, and his thesis is that modern art needs to focus on greater comprehension rather than empty showmanship.
In my estimation, the Rosenberg text, due to its specificity and more manageable premise, gets the point across more clearly. The Greenberg text is an interesting primer on the avant-garde and its place in art, but its thesis is relatively unclear, and its language is much more alienating than the Rosenberg text. Rosenberg writes in a much more immediate manner, speaking naturally to the reader about the intricacies of modern art, and why it necessitates having no real theory or historical backing behind it. His writing style is just as immediate as the art style he is referencing, which makes the message come across much more effectively.
Given my reading of these two pieces of criticism, it is clear that the work tends to be much more interesting and educational when the author decides upon a clear thesis for argument as opposed to just a rote exploration of the factors involved, like Greenberg did.
Part III: Finally, critique Munro and report on how well it worked as a learning tool and a tool for intellectual discovery by answering these questions:
When using the Munro checklist for evaluating these two criticisms, there were many things I discovered. The checklist was very helpful for attempting to understand the context of the writing, as well as explore the details of the arguments and their complexities. However, there are instances in which the questions are difficult to answer, due to the vagueness or brevity of the work itself. If I were to pick some of the most important questions, they would be the ones regarding the main evaluative or affective terms applied to the text, as well as the arguments, evidences and standards the critic uses to evaluate the work. This provides the central point for discussion, as we now know what exactly the critic is trying to say. I feel that the ones relating to the critic him or herself are the least important, as it should be necessary to remove the author from the work, eliminating all prior bias and agenda, and allow the work to speak on its own. A strong work will not need all that previous information in order to make its point.
If I were to modify any of the questions, I would either dramatically change or omit the one that asks if the critic himself claims to have experienced the effects of the work, as it seemed to be the least applicable to the two criticisms that I evaluated. They were more or less presented as a third-person narrative, though there were often the references to the author themselves right at the very end. However, they were not pervasive enough to justify bringing the critic’s overall agenda into the equation when criticizing the work. Apart from the questions regarding the critic’s background and context, I believe that the Munro checklist provides a very comprehensive and detailed way to assess the complexities, points and validity of a given critical work.