Clement Greenberg’s * mystification in the face of Picasso and Braque’s invention of Cubism is analogous to a U.S. Supreme Court justice finding Marbury v Madison a big mystery. It is odd that an art critic and theorist widely hailed as the most powerful and influential of the twentieth century can be mystified by the foundations of his chosen field. Evidence of Greenberg’s mis-framing of Cubism is that he viewed Cubism as something transcendent, a higher synthesis of previous recent avante-garde art developments in painting. Cubism is a devolution from Cezanne, a Cliff’s notes, a Cezanne for Dummies, A complete idiot’s guide to Cezanne’s paradigm shattering art. Cubism is an abstract shorthand of the salient features of late Cezanne’s skewed linear perspective, the passage, the facture and the crippled drawing, strategies that conflated pictorial space and the surface of the canvas. The profound Godliness of Cezanne was inaccessible to ambitious youth in a hurry but his strategies had to be assimilated and demonstrated thus Cubism’s unpinned station point, simultaneity and constricted narrative content. Talented and ambitious young artists in Paris were not about to spend ten years in isolation in the countryside with an umbrella, a canvas stool and a box of paints in order to commune with God. They were, however, glad someone had done as much and were all happy to acknowledge the monumental achievement. Cubism was a tool for instant access to Cezanne, a shorthand, Cezanne light.It helps me to have struggled as a painter with Cubism for many years, not limited to intellectual/ literary devices only. Reading and looking are not enough to grasp Cubism fully - one must have two sets of knowledge: the theory and graphic procedures of linear perspective and experience as a painter investigating ideas of pictorial space otherwise one gets bogged down in semantics and vaporous musing - see: everything ever written about Cubism from day one until now.
* “How Picasso and Braque got to their Cubism in 1910 and proceeded thence to 1914 remains unimaginable to me” - Greenberg’s 1980 essay in Late Writings, ed. Robert C. Morgan, Janice Van Hoove, Univ. of MN Press, 2003
I owe Clement Greenberg a big posthumous thank you for selecting a suite of nine of my drawings, “Korean Airliner Disaster series” for a nationwide drawing competition in 1985. The Syracuse University “Drawing National.” This exhibit toured the nation with stops at a dozen major art museums. "The Korean Airliner Disaster" series can be seen on my art website: jimblakeart.com