Medium specificity  

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Page from "Letter on the Deaf and Dumb" which illustrates Denis Diderot's take on medium specificity
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Page from "Letter on the Deaf and Dumb" which illustrates Denis Diderot's take on medium specificity
This page Medium specificity is part of the medium specificity series.  Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
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This page Medium specificity is part of the medium specificity series.
Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Medium specificity is a consideration in aesthetics and art criticism. It is most closely associated with modernism, but it predates it. According to Clement Greenberg, who popularized the term in the 1960s, medium specificity holds that "purity in art consists in the acceptance ... of the limitations of the medium of the specific art" ("Towards a Newer Laocoon"). For example, in painting, literal flatness and abstraction are emphasised rather than illusionism and figuration.

As early as 1766 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in his essay "Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry" argues that "painting and poetry should be like two just and friendly neighbors, neither of whom indeed is allowed to take unseemly liberties in the heart of the other's domain".

Medium specificity suggests that a work of art can be said to be successful if it fulfills the promise contained in the medium used to bring the artwork into existence. Much debate can remain as to what a given medium best lends itself to.

Art dialogue in the post-modern period has tended to steer away from medium specificity as a particularly relevant principle.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Medium specificity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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