Towards a Newer Laocoon  

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Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Towards a Newer Laocoon" (1940) is an essay by Clement Greenberg, first published in the Partisan Review. The title references the text "Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry" (1766) by Lessing and "The New Laokoön" (1910) by Irving Babbitt.

"Purity in art consists in the acceptance, willing acceptance, of the limitations of the medium of the specific art"
"Shelley expressed this best when in his A Defence of Poetry he exalted poetry above the other arts because its medium came closest, as Bosanquet puts it, to being no medium at all."
"Lessing, in his Laokoon written in the 1760s, recognized the presence of a practical as well as a theoretical confusion of the arts. But he saw its ill effects exclusively in terms of literature, and his opinions on plastic art only exemplify the typical mis- conceptions of his age. He attacked the descriptive verse of poets like James Thomson as an invasion of the domain of landscape painting, but all he could find to say about painting’s invasion of poetry was to object to allegorical pictures which required an explanation, and to paintings like Titian’s Prodigal Son which incorporate "two necessarily separate points of time in one and the same picture."

See also

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