Medium Specificity – what is that?

During our last tutorial, whilst talking about ‘isms’, the concept of ‘medium specificity’ came up and I didn’t understand what it was all about so I decided to investigate once I was sat at home and had time to google and ponder.

Definition – Medium Specificity

According to my old friend the OED ‘specificity’ is defined as: ‘The quality or fact of being specific in operation or effect’, or ‘being specific in character’.

It defines ‘medium’, in terms of the arts, as ‘any raw material or mode of expression used in an artistic or creative activity’.

A big book

That doesn’t help.

According to Clement Greenberg, whose name is most associated with the term, medium specificity holds that ‘the unique and proper area of competence’ for a form of art matches the ability of an artist to manipulate those features that are ‘unique to the nature’ of a particular medium.

Thinking about abstract art?

That helps a bit.

So in painting, literal flatness and abstraction are the most important element rather than creating an illusion or figuratively replicating an image.

Getting there.

In basic terms, it means that there is no point painting a figurative image. Paint is flat, the colours are flat, the canvas is flat. Medium specificity generally asks the artist to critically engage with the material of choice.

Interesting stuff. Of course this is an over-simplification of the concept of medium specificity but time has run out for more.


That clever website Wikipedia, [last accessed 22 November 2012]

The Art Story, [last accessed 22 November 2012]

The OED, [last accessed 22 November 2012]

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1 Response to Medium Specificity – what is that?

  1. Thank you for your thoughts. I was a little confused on medium specificity too.

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