Monday, November 10, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt six)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

Nobody was immune to theory any longer. Pollock would say things like “Cézanne didn’t create theories. They’re after the fact.” He was only whistling “Dixie.” The fact was that theories—Greenberg’s—about Pollock—were beginning to affect Pollock. Greenberg hadn’t created Pollock’s reputation, but he was its curator, custodian, brass polisher, and repairman, and he was terrific at it. With each new article Greenberg edged Pollock’s status a little higher, from “among the strongest” American abstract artists ever to “the strongest painter of his generation” in America to “the most powerful painter in contemporary America” to a neck-and-neck competition with John Marin (John Marin!) for the title of “the greatest American painter of the twentieth century.” To the few remaining dissidents, Uptown or Downtown, who still pulled long faces and said Pollock’s work looked terribly “muddy” or “chaotic” or simply “ugly,” Greenberg had a marvelous comeback: but of course!—“all profoundly original art looks ugly at first.” Well… yes! That’s… right! In an age of avant-gardism, when practically everybody in Cultureberg could remember some new ism which he “hadn’t gotten” at first, this Greenberg dictum seemed to be a pivotal insight of Modernism, the golden aperçu. To COLLECTORS, curators, and even some dealers, new work that looked genuinely ugly … began to take on a strange new glow …

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