This is a marvelous book. It is very small, consists of a brief introduction, followed by 39 plates and commentary. Greenberg's writing is lucid. Greenberg was a partisan of Pollock (over de Kooning), an advocate of action-painting, and of the view (expressed also by Motherwell with regard to Pollock) that the *process* of painting was far more important than the subject-matter.
The move in modern painting (according to Greenberg) consisted not so much in a "flight" from the realistic representation of nature, as in a growing rejection of the illusion of depth. Painters became more interested in color as such and in shape as such -- and therefore ignored the gradations and shadings -- which flattened their paintings. This, in turn, served to emphasize the decorative, or abstract elements of painting.
The reason for this shift was that interest had begun to shift from the object to the artist's response (and to the intensity of that response) to the object -- in other words, the deepening subjectivism inherent in modernity and modernism. Since I see colors and shapes (black and grey, in the case of Manet; or more vivid colors in the case of Gauguin or Matisse)…, let me at least paint those. The material world outside my canvas can take care of herself. (Most of this is from Greenberg; some of it, my interpretation of Greenberg).
This causes each object to have more of its own weight, so to speak -- rather than fitting into the pattern and perspective of the whole. Thus (Gombrich), objects are viewed in their most characteristic aspect -- profile, or frontally -- regardless of the particular angle or attitude they might have "in nature". Again, foreshortening is sacrificed to design. This too shows a characteristic feature of modernism -- namely, fragmentation.
I have always suspected that this particular aspect was partially the result of urbanization. If you live inside of a city, if you are raised inside of a city -- the landscapes you see -- the horizon -- is never fluid or curved or organic…, but is always jagged and fragmented -- and this affects the development of the mind within.
(For this notion of the manner in which the architectural environment enters and forms or fashions the 'soul', see Plato's Republic, Bk. III. Plato's insight is valid, even if his 'metaphysics' is not.)
Red Studio. 1911. MoMA
I chose this painting because, if you look closely, you'll see that the painting is not as flat as it appears at first sight, as the depth is diagrammed in linear perspective -- quite effectively. In fact, there is plenty of the "other" Matisse in this volume..., the Matisse that loved representation.
La Méditation: après le bain. 1920. Private collection
Study of a Woman. 1936. Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Here is the book: http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/matissebook.html