The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Dumbfounded (1991)

New York Times, July 21, 1991. Letter to the editor.


Misunderstood All Around

To the Editor:

In her article about Clement Greenberg ["Catching Up With the High Priest of Criticism," June 23], Deborah Solomon says that no American art critic has been more influential. I would add that no art critic, or writer of any kind, has been more thoroughly misunderstood.

Even Ms. Solomon is not immune to this. She writes, for example, that Mr. Greenberg formulated "lofty theories," whereas he is not in the least theoretical; that he can be seen as "laying down the laws of painting," whereas he always has insisted that there are no laws, only intuitive judgment. Phrases like "high priest" and "the Moses of the art world" set the tone. A curator from the Museum of Modern Art is quoted in defiance of Mr. Greenberg's so-called established order, when in fact Mr. Greenberg is about as anti-establishment as you can get. If Mr. Greenberg is establishment he wouldn't be continuously attacked by the establishment.

The reason Mr. Greenberg remains such a thorn in the side of the art establishment is that he set a standard of true observation skillfully written out in plain language that makes everything else look bad. They can't fight that, so they get him wrong and then take issue with their own misconceptions. Most people don't know any better, and this gives Mr. Greenberg his bad reputation.

Furthermore, Mr. Greenberg takes no pains to protect his reputation, except to correct specific errors of fact that appear in print. He won't appease, and he won't watch what he says. His quotes in the article are typically forthright and irritating. Irritating, that is, unless you appreciate straight talk, and like to see the art establishment get poked.

Department of Art and Art History,
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Fla.