Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2015


For Hans Hofmann and Clement Greenberg, flatness--more specifically, “re-created flatness,” a term Greenberg adopted after hearing it used in the painter’s important 1938– 39 lectures--became a key term in their accounts of pictorial meaning. In this paper, I articulate what is significant about that idea and draw out its implications for understanding what Hofmann meant by artistic expression. Ultimately, I suggest that the concept of re-created flatness, and its pictorial realization, implies or entails a certain view of expression: namely, that what is expressed by an artwork is the artist’s meaning (in contradistinction to the arbitrary meanings that may be imputed to her work by a viewer). This paper has three principle objectives. First, I overview Hofmann’s unpublished writings and lectures on aesthetics. So far, the critical analysis and evaluation of these materials have had little visibility in modernist studies. I aim not only to contribute a more specific account of Hofmann’s concepts as they were introduced through his program of aesthetic education but also to situate them in a wider intellectual and critical context. Second, I interpret the significance of those ideas for modernist criticism by focusing especially on the concept of re-created flatness as it appears in the writings of both Hofmann and Greenberg. Finally, I hope to demonstrate that Hofmann’s closely associated notions of flatness, depth, and the picture plane are deeply implicated in the issue of modernist painting’s autonomy, especially as formulated by Greenberg.

Publication Information

The Journal of Aesthetic Education