The context of medium specificity: from Riegl to Greenberg

Palin, Tom (2020) The context of medium specificity: from Riegl to Greenberg. Journal of Contemporary Painting, 5 (2). ISSN 2052-6695


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. The Journal of Contemporary Painting (JCP) is a discursive peer-reviewed publication concerned with the practice of contemporary painting in its broadest sense. JCP treats painting as a context for discussion, exploring its sphere of influence. The Journal combines a thematic approach with an open call, each issue opening up and problematising different facets of contemporary painting. As well as contributions to current debates on contemporary art, the Journal also publishes archival texts alongside current responsive articles allowing new debates to emerge, based on the premise that the contemporary cannot be understood without a self-reflexive knowledge of history. The Journal will also work with artists and other scholars to produce original visual essays. In focusing on the territory of painting practice, JCP takes an international approach, providing a forum for the exchange of views drawn from a wide geographical field.

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