THE GIANT AMONG sculptors of the late 20th Century, Sir Anthony Caro rose to prominence in the '60s with the encouragement of Greenberg and welcomed the latter's presence in his studio for four decades. Caro has openly acknowledged his debt to Greenberg throughout and -- unlike some of his contemporaries -- appears to have survived it intact. And with good reason: Caro is one of the most prolific and accomplished artists since Picasso, and -- like Picasso -- has had a profound influence upon his younger contemporaries. Since the '60s contemporary sculpture has proceeded in the shadow of Caro.
Greenberg brought something to the studio that was unprecedented (and often maligned -- it gave rise to the shibboleth that he told artists what to paint.) As Caro points out it was anything but dictatorial: Greenberg had the rare ability to see essence of an artist's conception, helping him not only to discover it, but to clarify it and follow it up. I suyspect that his practice here was influenced by his experience of psychoanalysis as well as his practice as a literary editor. In fact, he brought the practice of editing into the visual arts, the last refuge of the unfettered "genius."
ALMOST EVERYTHING THAT is written nowadays about Clement Greenberg is on the subject of either his writing or his personality. His contribution in the studio is scarcely mentioned, but for artists who benefited from his visits this was probably the most significant aspect of what he did.
He had an extraordinary clarity of eye as well as the highest of standards. In fact I would say that his eye was the nearest to infallible I have ever come across. His love of painting and sculpture was such that he would appreciate -- and criticise if need be -- whatever art was in front of him, without respect for accepted taste. I have even been with him at the National Gallery when he identified a shortcoming in a Rembrandt painting. Clem would see work by an unknown contemporary and address it with just the same honesty.
In the studio he had enormous empathy with what the artist was trying to do. He looked at art with the eye of a painter or sculptor, from the inside rather than coming to the work from outside. I imagine this was much the same as the way Ezra Pound criticised or edited T S Eliot's poetry. Artists work in an obsessive way: Clem's eye was like a beam of light which lit up the problem areas of a painting or sculpture and brought new possibilities.
He was extremely generous with his time and energy, always
prepared to make studio visits. Towards the end of his life, he
was still willing to travel far afield when artists asked him
to look at their work, to Western Canada or to Europe. Every summer
from 1982 onwards he took the time to come for several days to
the Triangle Workshop in upstate New York to critique the artists'
work in the studios. He did not want artists' talk about theory,
simply he addressed what he saw in front of him. Rather than listening
to what artists wanted to do, he would say 'make it, then we will
have a look'. He always put out, no matter how exhausting, always
found something within himself to give the painter or sculptor,
so that they came away having received help and feeling hopeful.
He once told me that when Pollock and Lee Krasner came with him
to an artist's studio and stayed silent throughout the visit,
he rebuked them. He felt that one should never leave an artist's
studio without finding something useful to say, something to give
encouragement, to open a path. I remember him on one occasion
visiting a painter whose work was quite lacking in originality;
he spotted a small piece painted naturally, unselfconsciously,
and said: 'That's good why not go that way?'
When Clem came to London he would come to the studio and we would spend a day pulling out work. He wanted to be taken by surprise. He would turn away until the sculpture had been placed ready for him to look at. He trusted his first take. He would say 'yes' or 'that part overstates it -- it doesn't need that' or 'it's too grounded, try it at a different angle'. I would mark the work accordingly and after he had left go through each piece again. Almost every one of his suggestions turned out to be spot on.
A sculptor or painter is working in the dark when making art that is very new -- that is the adventure -- and does not quite know what he or she has done. Clem provided a focus. He would look at a work and say 'you're onto something best to let it cook'. Because of the intensity of his response, his delight at seeing something fresh and unexpected, and his understanding of where we were going, he gave us direction and confidence.
In making this kind of studio visit he was unique among critics. Thankfully such interaction between artists and critics is becoming less uncommon now, at any rate in the US and Canada. Clem has sometimes been criticised for going to the studios; people seem to feel that the role of the critic begins when the finished work is on display. The artists who experienced Clem in the studio would certainly not agree. He knew how art is made, what the process involves -- how a real artist thinks and works, that the process is very practical, not literary or theoretical. Of course there is a time for art to be made in isolation, but there is also a time when it helps to have an outside eye come and look at what one has done. Sometimes I see a show of an artist's work which is just failing to hit the mark and I find myself wishing Clem were around to help.
-- Anthony Caro, Nov. 2000