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The context of medium specificity: From Riegl to Greenberg

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By the mid-1960s the notion of medium specificity had come to define that which was most insular and protectionist about painting, with the idea of medium specificity entirely synonymous with the formalist criticism of Clement Greenberg. As such, the richness of the term, and its historical situatedness, was lost behind a particular defence of the virtues of modernist painting. This article attempts to draw out the history and nuances of medium specificity: to trace its development within an extended body of speculation ‐ commonly termed formalist ‐ in order to re-open a discussion, too often sidestepped within contemporary discourse, as to the relationship that exists between the work of art and that which the work of art can claim to bear witness to.
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Keywords: Alois Riegl; Clement Greenberg; content; formalism; haptic and optic; material; medium specificity; style

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000093780819Leeds Arts University

Publication date: October 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Journal of Contemporary Painting responds to the territory and practice of contemporary painting in its broadest sense, viewing painting as a context for discussion, exploring its sphere of history and influence, rather than as a medium specific debate. The JCP combines a thematic approach with an open call, each issue opening up and problematising pressing concerns in contemporary painting.

    As well as contributions to current debates on contemporary art, a particular feature of the Journal of Contemporary Painting is the publication of archival or newly translated texts alongside current responsive articles, based on the premise that contemporary painting cannot be understood without reflecting on its history. Dedication to understanding the nature and forms of painting research has also led to the inclusions of an original visual essay for every edition. Additionally we respond to current exhibitions, books and symposia, nationally and internationally, in our reviews section.

    Our aim is to be responsive to current debates in painting and related art practices, drawing from a wide geographical field and across discipline boundaries to provide a discursive space in which a range of subject specialisms can be brought to bear on the culture of painting. We are particularly interested in writing emerging from practice-based research as well as from academics working in different disciplines.

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