It is not enough for painting to die on its own terms yet again, it needs to be murdered.Painting has always been the fetish medium of art history, as poetry is of literary history, and cinema of media studies. And modern abstract painting has been the fetish object of painting’s history, the specific style, genre, or tradition (the difficulty of naming it is part of the point) in which painting is supposed to find its essential nature.
In the 20th century, Modernists thinkers generally agreed on Gustave Courbet as the one of the very first modernist avant-guarde (even if they didn’t at all agree on why). Clement Greenberg argued that "A new flatness begins to to appear in Courbet’s painting, and an equally new attention to every inch of canvas, regardless of its relation to the ‘centers of interest.’" He saw Courbet's painting in terms of formalist innovation. For Meyer Schapiro, Greenberg's nemesis, modernity was a social flattening:
Courbet's political radicalism, his relations with Proudhon and his part in the commune seem to be secondary to his goal as an artist; but they are characteristic of his personality with it's provincial and plebeian self-consciousness in Paris of an age of great social struggles. His feelings of superiority as an artist were justified for him by his indigenous relation to the masses.
"It could stand, that flatness, as an analogue of the 'popular' - something therefore conceived as plain, workmanlike, and emphatic. Or it could signify 'modernity,' with flatness meant to conjure up the mere two dimensions of posters, labels, fashion prints, and photographs. Equally, unbrokeness of surface could be seen - by Cezanne for instance - as standing for the truth of seeing, the actual form of our knowledge of things. And that very claim was repeatedly felt, by artist and audience, to be some kind of aggression on the latter: fatness appeared as a barrier to the ordinary bourgeois' wish to enter a picture and dream, to have a space apart from life in which the mind would be free to make its own connections."
Jackson Pollack dripping, Frank Stella brushing, Richard Serra splashing.The term oil painting refers to more than a technique. It defines an art form... When oil paint was first used - at the beginning of the fifteenth century in Northern Europe - for painting pictures of a new character, this character was somewhat inhibited by the survival of various medieval artistic conventions. The oil painting did not establish its own norms, its own ways of seeing until the sixteenth century.
Greenberg for example did not support Frank Stella, but the logic system and the privilege it gave to flatness as a pictorial essence or norm provided the conceptual framework within which Stella’s first decade of production was understood and, widely, acclaimed.