Art in a Minor Mode
Clement Greenberg's 1950 essay on Paul Klee is a preemptive strike at contemporary misinterpretations of modernism as monumental. As in his later essay on Modernist Painting's self-reflexivity, Greenberg adopts as an epigram a quote from Kant: "...the beautiful may be small”. And like his Frankfurt School contemporaries, Greenberg exemplified a new phenomenon in which ‘minor’ forms of art were not only beginning to take root, but needed to be encouraged, and encouraged specifically by Marxist art critics. Since there is evidence of contemporary interest in ‘minor art’, from Deleuze’s writing on Kafka, the Art Since 1900 textbook about (), to ‘peripheral painting’, and even in experimental music in the ‘lowercase’ microsound music of Bernhard Günter or Richard Chartier, this essay aims to return to a recent moment wherein critics for the first time in history seriously considered small artworks and were even forced to defend them in increasingly philosophical, sometimes complicated ways. For instance, Trotsky found himself needing to defend lyric poetry against the Proletkult; Adorno defended lyric poetry against both National Socialism and certain strains of Avant-Gardism, as well as Webern’s extremely abbreviatedcompositions against grander compositional systems like Stockhausen’s. Why did they defend these works? They defended them in part because they themselves were good Bourgeois subjects with refined taste, and also because they were good Marxists who knew that Bourgeois culture was not something to be smashed but instead fulfilled. And in the process of fulfillment, changed. They also defended these artworks in order to preserve a diminishing faculty of critique in the face of an emerging culture of censorship and impatience. But most importantly, they were in a position to develop theories of these works beyond mere defense, and out of a sense of symptomology—they knew these works were symptomatic in that they were vestiges amongst moderns. This also meant that the conditions were ripe for immanent critique. What would happen if, for the first time in history, something from the previous era were not entirely destroyed and forgotten, but co-existed with the new? It might be called a critique of the quixotic.
Greenberg’s thesis in his Klee essay is that self-reflexive modernism and idiosyncratic, personal meditations are not mutually antagonistic, but unified in exemplary fashion by Klee. However, like Benjamin and Adorno’s notion of “exemplary but not a model”, Greenberg's theory of Klee's minor form does not mean that his painting can be a model for forthcoming art, or the basis for mechanically reproducing an avant-garde style. On the contrary, what makes Klee's art so modern is its inimitable meditative quality that seems to persist from an unfulfilled past. Klee’s personality has an objective character in the work. Greenberg offers up as a counterexample the development of Cubism as an art form accommodated to Picasso's "lordly talent”, and its “public style” which could passively be reproduced by the Picasso school of painting. Klee, on the other hand, is an artist "of smaller scope whose personality frees rather than oppresses or challenges those influenced by him...so far hardly any of the products of the Klee school have been able to develop beyond an original first statement". What is valuable about Klee's intimate paintings is not that his art is passively reproducible, but that it thwarts easy assimilation because it is so hermetically and lyrically developed. In assessing this "personal lyricism", Greenberg does not capitulate to a theory of 'pure art’ or art-for-art’s-sake. Instead it shares Adorno's conviction that it is society which "hardens off" its constituent antitheses, which now reside in the very development of a seemingly irreconcilable bourgeois individualism that is in the process of withering away. Metaphorically, the bourgeois artwork is “hardened off” the way a weed is hardened off by the gardener’s (failed) attempts to eradicate it from the garden. The ‘folk’ aspect may be a vestige from the past, but it is changed by coming under the rubric of modernity. Moreover, it is an individualism that hasoverrun all of society and paradoxically obscures the individual. Paradoxically, it could even be said that art in general exists in a minor mode today because it has been so successful. Bourgeois individualism has then not yet overcome society or become heroic, but is doomed to be part of the age-old struggle of the “vanquished” anonymous:
If Benjamin observed that history had been hitherto written from the standpoint of the victor and needed to be written from that of the vanquished, then it should be added that while knowledge must indeed represent the baleful linearity of the succession of victory and defeat, it must at the same time turn to whatever does not vanish in such a dynamic, and remains by the wayside – to a certain degree, the cast-off materials and blind spots, which escaped dialectics. It is the essence of what is vanquished to appear inessential, dispensable, whimsical in its powerlessness. What transcends the ruling society is not merely the potentiality developed by the latter, but equally that which does not fit into the historical laws of movement.
The individual in this instance is a vestige maintained by mass psychology from within the status quo, which retains something of its formation in the leftovers that is now formalized asan individual ‘mode'. From within status-quo culture, dominated by the far noises of motorbikes, and the thoughtless churning out of highly engineered artworks there is adisplacement of progress into the personal lyric. It is developed into something like a reservoir of contemplation, a garden of weeds, meaning a surplus field of unusable experiences. Art is always anticipatory in the sense that this reservoir of contemplation might one day be used, but on the other hand expressing that it cannot be used in the current social situation. A social situation in which art and reflection is a surplus material like—or maybe unlike—any other in Capitalism.
In considering Klee, Greenberg has fully absorbed a key element of Trotsky's earlier letter to The Partisan Review, which declared that "personal lyrics of the very smallest scope have a right to exist within the new art. Moreover, the new man cannot be formed without a new lyric poetry. But to create it, the poet himself must feel the world in new way". Greenberg's theory of modernist painting is a development of Trotsky's protest against proletarian culture on the grounds that the "new art", constructing the "new man" would flourish out of something like bourgeois intimacy that was paradoxically stifled by bourgeois thought. That is, it wouldn't reject or resist bourgeois life, but fulfill that candid intimacy that bourgeois art could merely point to in private experience. Modern paintings, naturally extending to AbEx paintings, then are not "great" in the nationalistic History Painting tradition, but instead the perfection of a "private lyricism" which was always embryonic in history, and yet seemed to come to fruition in the intimacy of bourgeois art.
A passage analyzes Klee's "light, tender, thin—un-modern" color application that is not "opaque or solid (modern)". His colors "create a faraway, ambiguous glow". From today's viewpoint, Greenberg's modernism appears confusing— it looks like he arguing against Klee, because he is not sufficiently modern. Instead he reconceptualizes modernism: from a reproducible style, to the liberation of personal idiosyncracies. In this light, Towards A Newer Laocoon must then be understood not as the competition of art forms, but as the origin of mutually constitutive artistic differences brought to full completion. The "new art" might not be art at all, in its traditional mediums, but individuality exceptionally crystallized out of the bourgeois mediums.
Greenberg's, as well as Adorno's theory of art emerges out of the social ideas of transition inherent in Trotsky's Literature and Revolution. In his writing on culture, Trotsky proclaimed that artists cannot adhere to the identities of class politics, because those are transitional and non-identical, but also a means of completing what the past could not, try as it might: "Please write about anything you can think of!".
"will grant all rights to lyrics, because the new man will love in a better and stronger way than did the old people, and he will think about the problems of birth and death. The new art will revive all the old forms, which arose in the course of the development of the creative spirit. The disintegration and decline of these forms are not absolute, that is, they do not mean that these forms are absolutely incompatible with the spirit of the new age. All that is necessary is for the poet of the new epoch to re-think in a new way the thoughts of mankind, and to re-feel its feelings.”
In this philosophy of modernism, there can be no model of a 'minor art', like Klee's, as something positive and new in the way we think today, but rather new insofar as realizing the sedimentation of what was never fully "felt" in history. Exemplary though Klee's "meditative", minor canvases are, they can not be positivized as a 'modern' style, or as a model for a "minor genre" because the modern category of the 'new' never resided in imitation, but a practice of fulfillment or completion. Greenberg's dormant theory of 'minor form' and personal lyricism also emerges towards the end of the essay, when he qualifies Trotsky's bald provocation that art is a "protest against reality" with the phrase, "far from being a protest against the world as it is, his art is an attempt to make himself more comfortable within it”. This emerges in a time when the world has literally become protestant, and dissatisfied with the ideals it takes for granted.
Here, Klee shares an orientation to "the closed, cautious world of the modern aesthete … admitted piecemeal” with contemporaneous short prose by Robert Walser, with whom he is sometimes compared, and who is likewise infamous in part due to the characteristics of neutral Switzerland from where he emanates. Klee's "comfortability" within the world is akin to Walser's "joy of the convalescent"—to use Benjamin's description—that plods along the urban landscape loving and emphasizing every little minor thing in digressive detail, faceless amidst the crowds. For Benjamin, Walser was the persistence of the old in a new social situation that transforms the meaning of the old—Walser's convalescent joy in an austere social situation is akin to Don Quixote's chivalry, which sparks friction with a new social order in which he is useless. And yet, like Don Quixote, Walser's "joy" is forged as a new experiential category specifically because its hypothetical reconciliation with the social order becomes something synthetic. Newness doesn't change the future alone, but the meaning of the past. In simply persisting, Walser's idling is joyous because it is residual, and tramplike, refuses to die in a social anti-social order that is antagonistic to what it preserves. Walser's idling, perhaps unprecedented, comes to full fruition in the modernity which preserves it, but that also has no use for it, as something like a surplus of intuition. "Convalescent joy" is neither usable nor killable, and both are criteria of the social domination inherent in 'progress' that demands individual sacrifice for the greater ‘good’.
In Adorno and Horkheimer's dialectic of enlightenment, progress demands that something must die in order for there to be something new. Artworks don't consciously deny this in themselves on principle, but their mere persistence expresses that progress as domination does not completely subsume them. An archaic but hardly hitherto expressed type of joy takes part in the "loving" that Trotsky describes of the new art, in the sense that loving the world with a sort of genuine candor is on the one hand unnatural and discouraged in rational society, not to mention entirely inappropriate (how could one authentically love a state of domination?). But on the other hand rational society has no use, or even conceptual framework to acknowledge personal lyrical expression, and so it simply persists and compiles as an unusable reminder of how things might otherwise be. Trotsky's theory emphasizes modern recognition of the available material of history sedimented in the present—of what might in an ideal world be obvious to use but which has appeal to us specifically in its disuse, which is ostensibly present for future societies. This is perhaps the meaning of Benjamin's understanding of Kafka's phrase, "there is an infinite amount of hope, but not for us". Overproduction has developed in tandem with a form of subjectivity that lags behind it. To Adorno, the strangest thing about modern society is that it is a myth that people are self-absorbed—in truth people do not act in their own self-interest, but are narcissists. The poet is exemplary in surmounting this situation, not in resisting it, only because the artist has an objective character. The previously hermetic personality is publicly exposed. Like Greenberg's Klee, the poet is a rare occurrence of someone who is able to overcome narcissism—which is a truncation of subjectivity in that it affirms the contempt and cynicism that is everywhere ingrained in culture that resists itself. Something like a 'convalescent joy' emerges. In Lyric Poetry and Society, Adorno describes this joy as it occurs in a poem by Mörike.
“An image promising that sort of joy which a traveller can still find on the right day in southern German Villages, presents itself to the reader, but without the least compromise to the hackneyed idyll of village life, to half-timbered houses and quaint glass-rounded windows. The poem evokes a feeling of warmth and coziness in narrow corners, and at the same time it remains a work of elevated style, not disfigured by mere comfort and Gemütlichkeit. It does not sentimentally praise narrow simplicity at the cost of a broader view, nor the bliss of ignorance.”
This sort of "coziness in narrow corners" is very similar to Walser's archaic provincialism finding new expressive meaning only when immersed in a new metropolitan Berlin. That is, 'intimacy' is a new category of experience constructed within new forms of mass socializing and absolute public transparency. Greenberg early on implies that Klee's aesthetic novelty was a product of this Swiss provincialism, as it emerged out of geographical and social exclusion, and then friction with French cosmopolitanism. Like Walser's or Kafka's realist, whimsical ruminations on those insignificant everyday things which are in fact constitutive of unconscious engagements with the world, Klee does this new work "from the margins". This marginal engagement was a form of consciousness itself which was always restricted by being bound to the grandiose. To Benjamin, the ability to look down at the ground was triumphant. This new practice is simply the emphasis of those 'minor' things in history that were always overlooked by "great" and generalizing consciousness necessary for social domination and the progress of the species. To Greenberg, Klee was not a “synthesist”, he “produces by intensification, not by extension or projection.” He ”works in small format, in the tradition of manuscript illumination”.
The philosophical impulse underlying this practice is the notion that grandiose thought is part of social forms of domination, and that its easier and passé to think about the world at large, and one's nexus within it as something great and transcendental. E.g. It is easier to think about utopian alternatives to current society than it is to understand why one still has to take out the trash. There is something more developmental at stake with minor ruminations than "greatness". For Greenberg, this practice allows Klee to "re-feel" those things that humans have perhaps always felt but did not know they felt—"Klee's method recapitulates the primitive history of graphic art as it developed out of aimless scrawling into the depiction of recognizable images". Art must have always been something unnameable, some extraneous but compelling activity to the distant human or neanderthal who painted on cave walls as a bewildering necessity. While it may have been unified in some way with practice, as a form of magic, that hardly means it was understood as practice in a socially objective way, and that its most local, everyday material was always divorced from concept for the sake of historical development.
Everywhere Greenberg defends the objectivity of Klee's personal lyricism against the monumentalizing consciousness that wants to bend art into compliance with mass social administration. To Trotsky, the tendency to falsely monumentalize (in Nietzschean terms) — or idolize—political leaders was already evident in mass culture, as a moment of cultural regression resulting from bad politics. This was evident even earlier with Nietzsche when he wrote ‘gayly’ about the emergence of minor art forms of French and Italian opera as a challenge to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. An analogy can be made to Greenberg, the extent to which the avant-garde as a bastion of progress itself is today falsely idolized, and the reaction to the avant-garde is a conservative way of idolizing the avant-garde. Elsewhere Greenberg has rather soberly stated that there is no decree that art must be synonymous with this social consciousness; in other words, what is paradigmatic of the 'times' is that it seems to open a unique possibility to "re-feel" other moments that could not “feel” themselves. "Feeling the world anew" and "re-feeling" the world are not mutually exclusive terms for Trotsky, Adorno, Greenberg, or Benjamin. There is a specific aesthetic strategy involved in this possibility, and it occurs before the category of ‘resistance’ to capitalist society loses it: historical emphasis. The early 20th century was able to produce such idiosyncratic, alarming, andunprecedented artworks not because of its raw imaginative utopianism, which was by that moment an obsolete criteria, but because it was able to imagine working all those techniques, strategies and so forth that had always been endemic to art production but were also overlooked. For example, AbEx painters emphasized age-old paint-mixing techniques; Ligeti or Reich’s polyphonic music was able to express polyphony in acoustical ways that its medieval inventors were not able to, because it was hitherto the imagined voice of a hypothesized god; modern literature shored up an entire human history in formal reference, as well as re-felt age-old Greek idiom. In re-feeling all these constitutive materials, the obsolete imaginative content simply withered away through an emphatic presence that was always only dormant.
"Klee's real audacity was his modesty, which accepted and accomplished the task of making an easel picture out of almost nothing." Like Walser, Klee's 'protest against reality' was his ability to surmount a tendency towards vulgar rectifications of art and society through personal lyricism. But the protest against reality was expressed not by resisting reality, but by representing and emphasizing reality's (the social order) resistance to itself. Klee's 'resistance' in Greenberg's theory of personal lyricism ought to be clarified, since everywhere Klee emphasizes the peculiarly pedestrian, in such a way that it incites difference. This could also be understood as the modern subject being an object of a natural order that wants to critique itself into transformation, but cannot do of its own volition. One simply has to notice the spontaneous accumulation of graphical symbols in Klee's small canvases; instead of 'resisting' them and making something purely abstract (in the l'art pour l'art tradition), they become 'abstract' only in the sense that they are dislodged from their conventional function through emphasizing what has always resisted being properly recognized by social domination and instrumental reason. Klee's is a form of emphatic accommodation to a seemingly mundane object, the type of accommodation denied by progress. In emphasizing what resists being emphasized, it is also the determination of a lyrical spontaneity, or impulsion of the "constellation of objects" in reality, in Adorno's terms. If thought is a spontaneity that makes relevance of the free-floating material at hand, Klee is exemplary for making these things his own, perhaps analogous to the way plants assimilate outside matter. This is not mere appropriation or bricolage of what is external, but the spontaneous assimilation of what resists being mutually assimilated and therefore transformed. This would be meaningless if it were the individual assimilation of the worldly order—in Lyric Poetry and Society Adorno noticed that the German Romantic tendency "followed a program of transfusing the collective into the individual—and as a result the individual poem tended to indulge more in a technical illusion of generality than to possess such a generality, one arising out of the poem itself". (220) Rather the assimilation is the emphasis of those antagonisms that developed together: mutual dissimulation.
The “new as the old in distress”—of the folk tradition itself as a function—is stimulated by new pressures to be something it is not. It also places the emphasis on history as the subject, and our society as the oppressive, fixed order. Modern artworks must then seem like unassimilated weeds from a distant past mutated by our intensified and rigidified environmental conditions.
The way in which the object in question is changed is through subjectivity penetrating its social hieroglyph and completing it through recognizing what is not otherwise permitted to be recognized. That is, modern abstraction is the accurate representation of something latent that was hitherto unrealized, and was always necessarily unrealizable for the sake of progress. Abstraction is a form of realizing what progress, as a fixed social order, has carefully kept out, and simultaneously on reserve for "the new human". Aesthetic, critical theory that then emerged out of Trotsky's idea of fulfilling the epochal history that is sedimented into the modern age, is the emergence of realization. In artworks this is present in the form of spontaneous lyrical digressions that are not new in the sense of raw imaginative utopianism, but in recent mutations of what always persisted as unusable to rational progress.
For Adorno's lyric poetry, this individual lyricism always bears the mark of a society which represses such forms of expression, and which are displaced into the fragmented individual. Presumably a similar idea of the personal lyric as social sublimation is endemic to Greenberg. If Greenberg's focus is on Klee as a cornerstone of AbEx (and it undoubtedly is), then AbEx is not, then, a homogenous style or idiom of personal expression, but the liberation of individual expression for the sake of a society that had always necessarily suppressed such idiosyncratic expression, and banished it to obscure niches—the newfound objectivity or publicity of the banished. It is the historical momentum of society in the image of what it has banished for epochs, and that now accumulates as something both tangibly present and unusable. The task then lies with the critical consciousness to see the blind spots. It is the critic that emerges as the potential hero, not the minor artist.
Personal lyrics, and their historical momentum are "hardened off" in the same way a weed is hardened off by repeated social attempts to kill what is deemed, in theory, un-useful about them. The quality of theory thus changes material expressions. Their very constitution is so "hardened off", resilient and unusable by a (pre)history of civilization that has no 'use' for the personal lyric, and banishes it to no other activity than strengthening itself through sheer will and self-preservation. Society has made certain that art can only be for itself, and then reviles it for not being useful to society! The moment social forces try to grasp and use it, it disappears in concept. This is in part why art forms question or go against their own conceptualization. Analogously, a weed is not merely physically a weed, but that material which has been conceptually categorized as unusable for (agricultural) development. As soon as society decides to use the weed it becomes domesticated, and softens into the conceptual order of use, which always necessarily excludes what is haphazardly deemed un-useful. The weed is categorically not permitted to take part in the generality of society, even though it is indirectly formed by society in every concrete atom of its persistence. Art can be no more useful to society than the weed is to the garden. Once it is brought into the garden, the weed dissipates as a category, which is what it was in its origins. Only later did the weed turn into something with practical function, if only negatively, as theories of use changed its genetic structure over epochs. The social impoverishment of the weed is therefore also the cause of its individual strength, which is, however, unusable and unwanted. Its "unrestrained individuation" is formed by its relentless persistence within the totality that excludes it. Though always changing, artworks do so exclusively through self-reflexive reconstitution. Though they take part in renewed life and death, like the weed, there is something subterranean and archaic—the roots of the artistic impulse are always archaic; only its efflorescence changes and reconstitutes itself in response to intensified social stress. It is worth noting that the weed is far stronger and prolific than the cultivated vegetable, which is weak and socially dependent in contrast. Life and death are not of issue: even when it is cut down to size by use—social action being responsible for the misconception of it as something small or minor—it simply regenerates elsewhere.
Today, the everyday critic may contort in horror when faced bluntly with persistent modern idioms in the "minor genre”. Unwanted, small weeds. They may truthfully be perceived as obsolete, but have not been, and cannot be made to be so in practice. This persistence of the obsolete has perhaps always been the case with modern art. Modernism was not a moment of stylistic association, nor the golden age that it has now degenerated into, but rather a philosophical practice concerned with how to make use of, and build upon the unusable sedimentation of old, repressed expressions in its own moment. This is the case even even if it merely meant understanding the social significance of its uselessness to its utmost expression. The very idea that something skirts under the radar of social ‘progress’ makes people uncomfortable; weeds are killed off even when they are no direct threat to the garden. That something cannot be dominated awakens some sort of killing instinct in the viewer that is itself problematically persistent, and has ties to the same archaic impulses. Persistently tangible modern idioms, as well as many others from the past, are reminders of this unchanged and probably only deepened social dynamic, but one which has now fully dislodged from its previous function of cultural inheritance and hereditary knowledge. In this sense, the persistence of modernist idioms is not mere spiritless pastiche, as some suggest is the case with 'Neo-Modernism', but a confrontational practice that wounds contemporary subjective expectations. And this wounding or insult indicates the weakness of art in conservative times because it flies in the face of a consciousness that actually shares something with design or marketing: making the world a better place. What the persistence of minor art suggests is experience outside of a reformist consciousness that merely aims to make the prison of our society a more comfortable place.
Contemporary theory does not grasp the incomplete qualities of the past, but sees pastiche, even where there is something else latent. Contemporary theory is a theory of resisting, not of completing what always wanted to be completed. Like Klee, minor contemporary painting makes itself more "comfortable within the world" that is now flooded with modern idiom, only as a practice of emphasizing that modernist painting never wanted to be modernist painting anyway. It cloaks itself in it as a way of surviving, but that continuity with it hardly makes it the same. It’s departure, and ostensibly it’s perfection of modernist painting is achieved specifically through an exemplary 'liking' of modern art, which one must suppose is appealing to a producer as something living and not yet complete. The inability to ‘feel the world anew’, meaning to feel what is historically incomplete, is exactly not the standard of contemporary art theory. And ‘minor art’ is confrontational not in an "offensive" way—a category embedded in post-60s "subversive" politics, but specifically in that inoffensive way that is and always has been unnatural to social domination. “Klee is not subversive, he is content to live in a society which he has robbed of all earnestness”. In other words, by not being offensive and domineering, minor art offends! But also, it indicates that there is something about the ‘minor’ that is exceptionally alien, and that minor art and it’s critics are “at home in alienation”, as Horkheimer once remarked. This 'inoffensiveness' is highly cultivated in minor works, whose intimacy, candor, and impotence seems outrageous only to those who project vulgar social criteria onto art, instead of letting it whisper from within. The manifestation of marginal artworks persist as painful reminders that unfree society produces its own criticism and preconditions for change. It is this indirect critical content that is ubiquitously overlooked. It is in this sense that the personal lyric is negative activity of a society in which social conceptualization itself might begin to be understood as negative in what it leaves out, the growth of which is now stimulated, unmitigated, and unignorable—and yet it troublingly cannot be made use of to this day.
It may be the case that this social 'practice' of ‘thought' towards the discarded is always displaced: society is unable to form itself in its own image, but it is able to form what it doesn't want as a mirror of itself—surface reflections upon the reservoir of useless art that excludes the modern subject from penetrating its depths for fear of contamination. Aesthetic experience today is conditioned by exactly this distance, which critical theory aimed to find the appropriate expression for. Thought is absurd and misguided when it seeks to defend these minor, personal artworks, since they also thrive on the protestations against them. The defensive and offensive positions can only be a mirror-image of our own enfeebled practicality. The newly provoked difference between a dynamically indifferent art and useful life, however, begs the question of how art can be assimilated and surmount its historically mute character—or rather, not art, but that projected experience within art which has not yet been made practical except in its accumulation. It is perhaps true that certain artworks are especially amenable to social assimilation—they seem to cross into the realm of production easier than other artworks. These are not, of course, the 'good' artworks, in the sense that 'good' can only mean the most radically differentiated in their extreme advancement. Every weed rises to the the occasion of the gardener's technical advancements to keep it away; it is good only in how well it mutates. Co-development is an expression of mutual antagonism that, persisting from the first artistic impulses, cannot be assimilated by social principles alone. Still, those easily assimilable artworks that 'blur the distinctions between art and life', as the cliche goes in contemporary neo-avant-gardism, might indicate the possibility of making use of that experience in art which eludes assimilation by its very constitution. The task is to rise to the occasion of aesthetics, not vice versa—Adorno chose as material to assimilate to political practice those most challenging works—of Beckett and Schoenberg—that were most indifferent to practice, but that co-developed with it and defined its own radical terms of possibility. This was simply because the stakes were higher than they are now in reconciliation, a concept which has now been blundered by reducing it to 'blurring'—a blurry concept in itself. The problem is not that there is no 'good' art today, or that it can only be pastiche, but that art was ever only ‘self-consistent’, which has absolutely nothing to do with goodness or greatness. And the advancement of art was only significant because it was possibly a means of stimulating into its antithesis current subjective limitations regarding the use of what is inadvertently shaped by the social order, which became the culture industry.
Now, one of neo-avant-gardism’s progeny–socially engaged practices—is a major force in the culture industry that perpetuates the suppression of anything which won’t fit into mass psychology. But whereas neo-avant-gardism has recently split into two tendencies, a defense of ‘minor art’ on the one hand (e.g. Robert Storr’s support of Richard Tuttle), and social practices that have no patience for the small painting that can sold and hung, it is the case that all contemporary art falls under a broader condition of minor art. Even ambitious community projects tend towards the small, being aimed at contained communities instead of grand utopias. Now, more than ever the critic is needed which has an eye to traverse minute details on ever-diminishing scales. But what Adorno theorized was not a simple defense of small art, a riposte to philistinism, or a call-to-arms to support the small. He was saying that what should garner attention was the stuff that lay to the side of the ‘small-big’ dialectic, the stuff that is not actually worthy of the attention of philistinism. Whereas today the conversation is limited to merely defending or attacking minor art, critics like Greenberg or Adorno hoped that by critiquing the small, such insignificant things would be permitted to grow out of their small state. Considering Greenberg's Hegelian, historical theory of painting in the Laocoon essay, he would have perceived Klee's minor art as a necessary precondition for abstract expressionism, and not an end in itself. Likewise Adorno's philosophy of any minor art was a means by which the preconditions for a more truthfully social art could flourish. In other words, the means by which what would otherwise be merely aesthetic could become political.