The Art Story. Ways to support us. Summary of Michael Fried Michael Fried is one the most established and reputable art critics and historians alive today. 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.
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It has a status very few writings on art have, being virtually continuously cited, discussed and disputed since its original date of publication. But this is not quite right. After it, everything is the same and everything is different. Everything is the same, but only for a completely different reason. Allow us to explain. And, certainly, serious readers of Fried have taken both sides of the divide over the years.
The piece can appear as part of art history, referring to an art movement now over 50 years old and included in anthologies reprinting texts from the time, with its particular truth claims not as important as it being one of the range of responses between which the reader can presumably choose. In art history, we might say, the historian does not judge even though they have the basis to, whereas in art criticism the critic does judge even though they cannot be certain of the basis on which they do so By contrast with the pre-modern, in which conviction is not at stake, insofar as the artist can unquestioningly follow tradition, in modernism conviction is necessary because it is always a question of overthrowing a prior scepticism.
And this—this is what Fried wants the then-contemporary situation to reveal to us—has always been the case, at least since the advent of modernism. It is one that only by a great effort of conviction—of the kind Fried precisely urges in his essay—is able to be overcome. But, in fact, two things might be pointed out about this. It occurs at a particular time—hence the possibility of an art historian writing about it—and is associated with a particular form of art—hence the possibility of an art critic responding to it.
It can be situated and contextualised historically. It can be affirmed and argued for critically. The world is to be accepted; as the presentness of other minds is not to be known, but acknowledged.
Things are just as they always have been, and this dream hypothesis is not partial or incremental, taking place slowly, but total and immediate, with nothing outside of it. This doubt not only leads to its eventual overcoming by the Cogito, but is possible from the beginning only because of the Cogito. In other words—and this, needless to say, has been suggested before—doubt and the overcoming of doubt are inseparable in Descartes. Indeed, their relationship is entirely circular.
Where before there was nothing—although, again, after Descartes this is exactly what we cannot say—we now have doubt and the overcoming of doubt. It is this break—a leaving behind of previous conditions, which can now never be seen except through what takes their place—that is the true modernity in both Fried and Cavell, and it unleashes in the end not any meaningful sequence or development, anything like the recognisable chronology or stylistic progression of art history, but only a series of circular reversals or recursions, in which conviction is shown to be possible only because of doubt and doubt only because of conviction.
Or, in short—although this is not the usual sense in which this expression is used—it would consist in art approaching the condition of philosophy. And here it is not a matter of the slow shifting of taste, but rather the outcome of a certain self-contradictory logic: that the very recovery of absorption, the using of it as an artistic technique or even noting its artistic effectiveness, is enough to do away with it.
Absorption exists only in retrospect. As something that once was because we could no sooner state it than it is done away with. This is the path art history takes. Why go backwards rather than forwards in time?
For all of the art-historical and even art-critical scaffolding, he has brought about something from nothing, something that has not existed before. After it, what is is only the covering over of something else.
Appearance is no longer mere appearance, but doubled, divided, withholding something—and doubled, divided constantly, so that we cannot see what it stands in for without this being revealed as yet another appearance. It is just this split that Fried introduces into the world, and after which there is no going back because no matter how far back we go there is always the same doubling this is part of the meaning of the Caravaggio book, which sees the problematic of absorption in a period notionally before modernism and no outside because even indifference is now only an attempt to overcome a prior scepticism, that is, an effort at absorption.
As soon as the symbol arrives, there is a universe of symbols. And in which ignorance or indifference—whatever we might imagine coming before—can only be understood as feigned or put on.
Which is also to say that today we can argue against Fried only in his terms which is to say as well, as we have seen, that Fried is always arguing against himself. In the symbolic order, as Lacan makes clear, there is no outside, but there is also no inside. It is at once what scepticism stops us from accessing and is only to be seen through the perpetual failure, which is to say the perpetual overcoming of, scepticism.
It introduces a split into being and it is and in a way is not, insofar as it is this split. It is as though—the great and compelling illusion of all music-making—they were playing music that did not exist before them, as though the music and its performance were the same. It is as though, as we cut back and forth between the two performers, the conductor and the orchestra—and it is evident that footage from both the final performance and rehearsals has been used—the music takes place in a single unbroken time without it being certain in advance how it will go.
We do not see and hear at the same time, or put otherwise it looks like Moorman is merely performing—running through, almost in the sense of rehearsing—music that already exists. She is not caught inside the moment of making music, but instead stands outside of it, repeating or replaying what has been composed before her. It is neither authentic non-performance nor inauthentic performance but authenticity through performance. Rather, the actor would cry at the intensity of their acting crying, their acting carrying them away to become Real and reminding us that the Real is accessible only through such acting.
As Diderot writes there:. People come not to see tears, but to hear speeches that draw tears; because this truth of nature is out of tune with the truth of convention. You see that it is not allowable to imitate Nature, even at her best, or Truth too closely; there are limits within which we must restrict ourselves. And in so doing, it doubles and divides the world.
He has written books on a number of theoretical Baudrillard, Zizek, Deleuze and literary Borges figures. He writes mainly about Australian art, and has recently completed a "non-national" history of Australian Art, tracing Australian art's connections with that of other countries and regions.
He is currently working on a book, Stanley Cavell and the Arts, for Bloomsbury. ISSN Past Issues. Current Issue. Future Issues. The Tank. For Authors. The Board. Feature , Issue By Rex Butler.
Gregory Battcock, ed. We realise that the directness of this connection raises controversial and much-disputed interpretive issues, and has even been questioned by Fried on occasion. We can only hope that the results produced here justify such an approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , Elizabeth S.
Haldane and G. Ross New York, Dover Books, , Nonsite Issues. Poetry Art. The Tank Editorials. Complete Archive. Search for:. Editorial Board Bridget Alsdorf. Elise Archias. Jennifer Ashton. Nicholas Brown. Todd Cronan. Michael Fried. Oren Izenberg. Ruth Leys. Walter Benn Michaels. Charles Palermo. Robert Pippin. Adolph Reed, Jr. Lisa Siraganian. Kenneth Warren. Marnin Young. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email.
The emergence of a number of new art forms in the course of the development and spreading of digital media — e. The variety of new forms makes it difficult to give an overall view, let alone that a substantial definition of these new phenomenons in art studies would be even more complicated, since it remains unclear what distinguishes them from former art forms. Among the things, that are listed as characteristics of interactivity in computer-mediated environments Cf. Responsivity changes the activity of beholding in the sense that the receiver is understood as a co-author, but not suprisingly there are some doubts about this author-function.
Summary of Michael Fried
The word "objecthood," by virtue of the contained suffix, can be defined as the condition of being an object, or the object condition. 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?