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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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.
It excludes the producer, because his integration would turn the art work into a technically mediated form of interaction. Therefore, these art forms can be seen in one line with the development of the techniques of the observer which the art historian Jonathan Crary has examined for the 19th century in physiology, art, and popular culture Cf. Crary Fried criticized minimal art from a modernist point of view, though in clear distance to his idol and teacher Greenberg.
However, his critique has been taken in the theoretical reception to pronounce certain positive definitions of the phenomenons of postmodernist art. The dichotomies Fried developed in this essay — modernism vs. The primacy of this relationship is what Fried calls theatricality , and it is by describing its character, that he develops a complete theory of aesthetic communication and artistic media, that this essay shall give a brief description of.
What lies between the arts is theatre. Fried Of course he considers them to be realized in the art works of the late modernism. Thus, the problem of theatricality affects art production and its poetics as well as art reception. It is a question of a general aesthetic sensibility, that can be either modernist or literalist and theatrical.
Rejecting the bluring of the individual arts is part of the modernist programme as it was formulated by its main critic, Clement Greenberg. Greenberg Against that, he understands modernism as a process of continous purification from everything unnecessary for the constitution of the aesthetic medium. In his narration of the permanent progress of modernism, painting is a step by step withdrawal from characteristics painting shares with other arts.
The problem was that it allowed the bare supporting material to be understood as a painting, thus enabling the minimalistic relief Cf. Meyer The essence of painting is not something irreducible. Fried , Fn 4. Fried understands this characteristic as a reaction to modernism as he conceives it, especially to its relational character, that is the fact that painting and sculpture consist of an undefinite number of distinguishable elements which are related to one another.
The whole, the gestalt of the work of art, results from the organisation of these elements or shapes. In opposition to that, the minimalist art work emphasizes the whole of the object, it has no or only a few separate parts, that are often organised in repetetive serial patterns that show no hierarchy.
For Fried, this goes along with the intention of its producers. As a result, and, contrary to modernist painting, shape as a medium of expression is no longer independent from the outer form of the art object. Shape now coincides with the object, with its physical extension.
What especially irritates Fried is the way in which the minimal art object rejects the codification of its visual elements as the modernist art work does.
It denies the flatness that Clement Greenberg has pointed out to be the essence of modernist painting. The realistic painting is aiming at an iconic relation: By gradually increasing its iconicity, the painting shares more and more characteristics of the depicted scene itself.
The paradox horizon of the iconic relation would be that the painting becomes the depicted, or — more probable — that the beholder forgets that he or she is in front of a painting and by doing so, also forgetting the code that organizes the representation. Whereas the realistic painting tends to obliterate the knowledge about its two-dimensionality, the modernist painting is interested in just those qualities the realistic painting wants to obliterate, especially the colours, the shapes, the size, and the way the shapes correspond with the rectangular plane.
Thus, it tends towards a preference of the symbolic. From the great variety of possible perception only the purely visual are selected and codified. Operating in the field of the visual code, it is the aim of the painter to explore the possible syntactic relations of the visual elements and to work on establishing these codifications. By this, the modernist painting also produces an impression of pictorial depht, because it constitutes its arthood not by such qualities as spaciousness, opacity, or extension the colour has besides its chromatic attributes.
It is just the colour as colour, not as pigment, that serves as a medium of painting. The modernist painting does not establish the illusion of a three-dimensional space behind the surface as the realistic does; but by abstracting from the qualities of the pigment, it evokes the illusion that the actual surface of the painting is behind the painting as object.
It is by denying this exclusion of the uncodified characteristics that the minimalist object discovers its objecthood. And this is accomplished by stressing those spacious and physical characteristics that the art work shares with objects of daily life. Consequently, reception includes also the situation in which the minimalistic art work is located.
As Henry M. Though as much as this situation includes the art work, it also contains the viewer. As he writes:. There is nothing within his field of vision — nothing that he takes note of in any way — that, as it were, declares its irrelevance to the situation, and therefore to the experience, in question.
Michelson , Krauss , Meyer What Fried understood as entirely theatrical was, on the other hand, judged as a proof of the embodiedness of the perceiving self. It is that understanding of minimal art which was also at work when Hal Foster defined Minimal Art in In this transformation the viewer, refused the safe, sovereign space of formal art, is cast back on the here and now.
Foster: Foster introduces in this quote the motif of the hic et nunc , which has proved to be one of most haunting ideas in the arts since the ies Cf Finter The phenomenological level of perception was thought to be the unbiased experience of the present in its presence, considered to exist before and beyond any communication or even signification. Much more he was pointing at what in particular makes the minimal art object theatrical.
And once he is in the room the work refuses, obstinately, to let him alone […]. Here Fried describes a weakening of the work as aesthetic category. It is not self-sufficient any longer, for it misses the properties of completeness and seclusion. As a consequence, the minimal art object is not sheltered from the dynamic activity of the beholder by its own, virtual space. This virtual space, conventionally established along with the distributional system of art, guarantees for the souvereinity and dignity of the art object as piece of art, not as object.
By abandoning its own sphere, the art work turns into an object, though a specific, outstanding one. It allows the situation to have all the semantic fullness which is rendered by the activity of the viewer.
Owens understands discourse in opposition to histoire , those two categories Emile Benveniste developed. This interplay shows the characteristics of discourse, as they were given by Benveniste, such as multi-perspectivity, and pragmatic basics, e. Benveniste But the characteristics of discourse can also be seen in the way the beholder does not confine himself to perceive only the art work, and instead opens semiosis to the situation in which this work is set.
This situation of reception can be understood as a projection of discourse from what was once within the work onto the relations that constitute the situation. Space between the subject and the object is implied in such a comparison. However, it is just this distance between object and subject that creates a more extended situation, for physical participation becomes necessary Morris More likely, all the characteristics Benveniste has given are rendered by the activity of the beholder, who, facing an art work which has nearly no differentiations within itself, has to make differentiations himself in order to produce meaning.
This is what Fried is hinting at when recurringly stating that the minimal art object distances the beholder, confronts him, refuses to let him alone. But presence is not the only mode of theatricality. The strategies, however, by which artists seek to defeat such a theatricality, vary. The object of his distaste was not exaggeration or caricature or politesse as such but the awareness of an audience, of being beheld, that they implied.
Absorption means on the one hand the organization of pictorial elements, of sight angles and emotional involvement of the depicted persons in a way that excludes the beholder as a point of reference. On the other hand, this seclusion of the depicted scene can also be accomplished by allocating to the beholder a position within the picture, thus absorbing him into the scene.
This form of imaginary entry into the depicted scene is an outstanding moment, because it makes forget the relation to the painting as object in favour of an integration into the emotional network of the depicted persons.
It is thus a good example for an iconic relation that is so perfect that it makes the beholder forget, that he is just in front of an ensemble of signs that represent the scene. More efficacious is the idea of presentness that Fried opposes to presence. The important section reads as follows:. It was read as an expression of the modernist phantasma of complete self-sufficiency of the beholding subject, which, due to forgetting the bodily relation to what is seen, in a single arrested moment becomes aware of its mastery over the site; a longing for pure visuality.
Although this arguments, as e. David Clarke Cf. Clarke has developed them, are far from being unjustified, I would like to draw attention to two points that do not fit into this critique: the temporal structure of modernism and the allusiveness of abstractness.
Even more, it can be understood as an ethics of communication that puts Fried into strong opposition to Minimalism. What is at the core of this ethics is the believe in the possibility of an absolute understanding, an understanding that is not only a successful deciphering of the message, but also the experience of the full transparency of the moment in which the art work is received.
By no means, Fried conceives aesthetic communication as a bodiless transmission of content from one mind that of the artist to another the spectator. For the minimalists, as well as for Fried, abstractness stands for quality. Fried b. The allusiveness of these sculptures is accomplished by recalling the syntax of the bodily elements of human gestures. Although Fried opposes presentness to the durational character of minimal art, he still does not locate it outside history.
Rather, these moments of instantaneousness have an outstanding function within the historical logic of modernism. Up to this point he follows Greenberg, but he does not regard them as eternal.
The artistic media are permanently subjected to the process of self-interrogation and self-renewing that constitutes modernist art. This process establishes a tradition of its own by refering to the predecessing art works in accepting their formal questions but rejecting their answers. This modernist perpetuation of its tradition through self-interrogation is thus the attempt to establish conventions that become valid for the first time in the art work explicating them.
This constitution of modernist tradition can never come to an end because its conventions are bound to the historical changes and thus need to be actualized.
Presentness is the experience of a correspondance between the conventions that are discovered in the art work and the historical moment of reception.
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
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.