Notes on surface: toward a genealogy of flatness – David Joselit

Notes on surface: toward a genealogy of flatness – David Joselit

Art History, Vol.23, No.1, March 2000, pp.19-34

In “Notes on Surface, Towards a Genealogy of Flatness,” David Joselit presents an intriguing concept in claiming that flatness of surface creates depth in psychological meaning, and that it stimulates visual interpretative responses from the viewer of abstract art. Through theoretical discourse and observation, Joselit shows how the work produced by the abstract artists, as in Jackson Pollack’s “Autumn Rhythms,” 1950, fig.23, pg.297, can evoke psychological meaning of great depth through surface manipulation of paint and studio debris. The art critic Clement Greenberg’s formalist ideas and statements supported this concept but only to a certain degree. Again Greenberg’s concern was with the characteristics of the surface of the painting, not with the hidden psychological meaning. Joselit says that “Greenberg employed an analytic, formalist approach in the service of abstraction. He followed the modernist literary tradition of T.S. Eliot and the New Criticism, with the focus on the object.” 21 Pollack’s chaotic yet controlled style through exterior manipulation challenges Greenberg’s theory by introducing a deeper emotional psychological meaning, going beyond seeing the surface as object only.

 

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