His approach to criticism is closely linked with that of his mentor, the late Clement Greenberg, who Fried first encountered while an undergraduate at Princeton. Abstract Expressionism, color field painting, as opposed to a specific painting by Pollock or Rothko. If art becomes nothing more than a cultural event, then it adversely compromises the way in which art can be appreciated; reactions will be conditioned by surrounding socio-historic circumstance, which will avoid consideration of the artwork as an independent entity. Fried believed that great art is an untangling of historical forces, the result of a Hegelian dialectic or a synthesis of many different points in history all coming together to form something new and original. Fried was highly critical of art critics and historians who asserted themselves as objective observers of art, which is to say, most of them.

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The meaning of "objecthood" then depends on the meaning of the word "object. How is it that some objects can be classified with, or viewed with special significance at the exclusion of all other objects?

More specifically, under what conditions are objects declared art objects, and under what conditions do they remain mere objects? The term does work in his essay "Art and Objecthood" by containing the anti-theses of art. Fried is able to set up a system of valuation that valorizes objects in the world, which by nature of their properties defy the condition of being an object We will go on to discuss, the condition of being an object as presenting spatial continuity with the surrounding world.

Art objects are composed with an internal coherence and therefore are seem autonomous from the surrounding world. Literalist art is work that acknowledges or foregrounds its status as merely object, or its objecthood. With this polemical connotation "objecthood" has duplicitous meaning in that "object" can also be defined as, "A statement thrown in or introduced in opposition; an objection" OED.

In this light minimalist art is cast as an anomaly or flagrant deviation from the normal conditions of art. Their classification is dependent on whether they exhibit the qualities of banal objects or are constituted to elide these qualities. The classification plays out primarily in terms of shape. This makes good sense because shape is defined as "External form or contour; that quality of a material object or geometrical figure which depends on constant relations of position and proportionate distance among all the points composing its outline or its external surface " OED.

The picture plane as the residence of shape, depicted shape, has the ability to hold a shape that is not "merely literal" or not object, by the fact that the picture plane has the potential to be a coordinate plane that is autonomous from the world. In order to fulfill this aspiration the support--the physical object that is the painting hanging from a wall in a building--cannot be the shape the dominates the experience of its contents. Fried analyzes minimalist art as art that "seeks to occupy a position" in the world.

As apposed to art, literalism wants shape to only be considered in the domain of the world. It only "seeks to occupy a position in the world " [1]. The picture plane on the other hand can contain shapes. Significantly, the picture plane contains shapes that the viewer apprehends, but does not necessarily have to perceive them in his actual spatial environment. The distinction between the two can also be seen in terms of syntax. Unlike art, the gestalt of objecthood necessitates that the only meaningful relationship is between the thing and the surrounding space.

The viewer is made conscious that they are the critical factor in the situation; the objects relate to them and for them. In art Fried claims, "all meaning is in the syntax. They seek their meaning from one another. These elements, if they form compositional relationships that seem to have an underlying logic or order to them, present themselves to the viewer as self-sufficient and internally purposeful.

The viewer is drawn to the compositional unity of the piece, not the unitary object confronting them. Although Fried is writing specifically about art and in the context of art related dialogues, he relies on more general discussions about objects and phenomenology.

In order to see how Fried is able to claim that there can be a distinction between the perception of objects and the perception of art we need to examine how the perception of art and objects are thought of philosophically.

Descartes, writing in Latin, uses the word corpus, meaning body , to denote material things or the objects of the world. Descartes conceives of body or bodies as all composed of the same elementary substance.

Thus bodies become associated with externality. This polar conceptualization leads Descartes to conclude that bodies are in their essence, indistinguishable from the world, the external, and thus are indistinguishable from length, breath, and depth.

Thus for Descartes anything which is perceived and has three dimensionality is an object. Descartes would agree with Fried that objecthood is the ability to "occupy a position. The argument could be challenged by arguments about whether the literal shape is noticeable, but anyone who operated within the strict Cartesian dichotomy would never grant something actually in the world, status as anything other than a mere body, or object.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty breaks down Descartes system of binaries and conceptualizes the self and bodies as thoroughly intermeshed and indistinguishable, especially with respect to the body. Paintings represent a set of objects that do just this.

For I do not look at it as I do a thing; I do not fix it in its place. My gaze wanders in it as in the halos of Being ". Descartes used the analogy of a blind man with sticks that triangulated the presence of other objects, to explain vision.

Merleau-Ponty differs, claiming that physically moving our bodies through space and perceiving our own body before us is how we establish and differentiate the world. The special category of objects, paintings, especially eludes this process, and returns the spectator for a moment to a time when the dichotomy, between subject and object, was not yet formed.

The view of a painting does not move to perceive and define the object before them. Fried implicitly takes up this line of reasoning by stressing how the viewer encounters the work.

Fried quotes Robert Morris as saying, "One is more aware than before that he himself is establishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions and under varying conditions of light and spatial contexts. Note that in the quote consciousness of the object and the self occur simultaneously.

Color being a formal property of art and a property of object is a key term in classifying art and objects. Descartes relegates color to a secondary property of reality. This allows him to construct a unitary and undifferentiated model of objects, by making shape, a spatial property, the defining characteristic.

Here we see a key problem of objects, "which properties define them? And the mobilization of what properties count as ordinary and which as artful? In terms of color the answer seems to be different for painting and sculpture. Clement Greenberg argues that an art form "through its own operations and works, [determines] the effects exclusive to itself and "narrow[s] its area of competence.

In a key passage Greenberg presents an argument comparable to Merleau-Ponty and Fried as he writes: All recognizable entities including pictures themselves exist in three-dimensional space, and the barest suggestion of a recognizable entity suffices to call up associations of that kind of space The essential norms or conventions of painting are at the same time the limiting conditions with which a picture must comply in order to be experienced as a picture.

Modernism has found that these limits can be pushed back infinitely before a picture stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object.

The status of art is not dependent on the presentation of a space disjointed from three-dimensional space, but is only such for painting because this effect is a virtue of its formal properties. It is adherence to form that makes any work other then mere object, not our perception not as Fried and Merleau-Ponty argue. Here Greenberg echoes Clive Bell, who in his Art attempts to separate art from other objects in the world.

Bell claimed that art was that which is constituted in a significant form; however, an understanding of what a significant form is relies on antecedently understood notion of art. These media that are undergoing self-analysis are likewise antecedently understood as art. By virtue of its opposition to the banality, worldliness, and gracelessness of objecthood, art takes on transcendental significance.

Other writers do not distinguish art from objects by way of arguments about perception or phenomenology, but examine the way art objects behave socially to gain their status. The fact that forms of art such as painting and sculpture must exist in one spatial location corresponds to their social and class function. They are the media of an elite aristocracy and middle class.

They do not make themselves available to mass spectatorship. However, as a Marxist he sees cult-value as historically determined and in dialectical motion. Therefore, art as a category will outlive cult-value and its spatial specificity, in the form of reproducible art.

This art, unlike art with an aura, has no specific spatial location, and is unable to be located as an object. It would be difficult to term the art of film as an object in the sense that has been discussed above. Raymond Williams starts from the premise that like all made objects, art objects are materially produced within a society. The rhetoric of art theory claims these objects are distinct from other objects because their production is defined by the "medium" in which they are constituted.

William tries to reveal the attempt to partition off art objects from other produced objects as a response by the middle class to the alienation of labor.

Therefore, there is nothing intrinsic in the object or in the experience of it that distinguishes it from the other objects produced in society. Rather it is a set of social practices that define and declare the object art. Tony Gibart.


Summary of Michael Fried

It seeks to declare and occupy a position—one which can be formulated in words, and in fact has been formulated by some of its leading practitioners. If this distinguishes it from modernist painting and sculpture on the one hand, it also marks an important difference between Minimal Art—or, as I prefer to call it, literalist art—and Pop or Op Art on the other. From its inception, literalist art has amounted to something more than an episode in the history of taste. It belongs rather to the history—almost the natural history—of sensibility; and it is not an isolated episode but the expression of a general and pervasive condition.


Michael Fried

Early career[ edit ] Fried describes his early career in the introduction to Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews , an anthology of his art criticism in the 60s and 70s. Although he majored in English at Princeton it was there that he became interested in writing art criticism. In , he wrote a letter to Clement Greenberg expressing his admiration for his writing and first met him in the Spring of that year. In Hilton Kramer offered him the post of London correspondent for the journal Arts. In the late summer of , Fried returned to the U. S, where he combined studying for a Ph.

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