It seeks to declare and occupy a position — one that can be formulated in words, and in fact has been formulated by some of its leading practitioners. From its inception, literaiist 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. Its seriousness is vouched for by the fact that it is in relation both to modernist painting and modernist sculpture that literaiist art defines or locates the position it aspires to occupy. This, I suggest, is what makes what it declares something that deserves to be called a position.
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It seeks to declare and occupy a position — one that can be formulated in words, and in fact has been formulated by some of its leading practitioners. From its inception, literaiist 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.
Its seriousness is vouched for by the fact that it is in relation both to modernist painting and modernist sculpture that literaiist art defines or locates the position it aspires to occupy.
This, I suggest, is what makes what it declares something that deserves to be called a position. Specifically, literaiist art conceives of itself as neither one nor the other; on the contrary, it is motivated by specific reservations, or worse, about both; and it aspires, perhaps not exactly, or not immediately, to displace them, but in any case to establish itself as an independent art on a footing with either.
The literaiist case against painting rests mainly on two counts: the relational character of almost all painting; and the ubiquitousness, indeed the virtual inescapability, of pictorial illusion.
The use of shaped rather than rectangular supports can, from the literaiist point of view, merely prolong the agony. The obvious response is to give up working on a single plane in favor of three dimensions. Judd, for example, seems to think of what he calls Specific Objects as something other than sculpture, while Robert Morris conceives of his own unmistakably literaiist work as resuming the lapsed tradition of Constructivist sculpture established by Tatlin, Rodchenko, Gabo, Pevsner, and Vantongerloo.
But this and other disagreements are less important than the views Judd and Morris hold in common. The space corresponds. The thing is to be able to work and do different things and yet not break up the wholeness that a piece has. To me the piece with the brass and the five verticals is above all that shape. The shape is the object: at any rate, what secures the wholeness of the object is the singleness of the shape. II Shape has also been central to the most important painting of the past several years.
In several recent essays I have tried to show how, in the work of Noland, Olitski, and Stella, a conflict has gradually emerged between shape as a fundamental property of objects and shape as a medium of painting. Roughly, the success or failure of a given painting has come to depend on its ability to hold or stamp itself out or compel conviction as shape — that, or somehow to stave off or elude the question of whether or not it does so.
What is at stake in this conflict is whether the paintings or objects in question are experienced as paintings or as objects: and what decides their identity as painting is their confronting of the demand that they hold as shapes.
Otherwise they are experienced as nothing more than objects. This can be summed up by saying that modernist painting has come to find it imperative that it defeat or suspend its own objecthood, and that the crucial factor in this undertaking is shape, but shape that must belong to painting — it must be pictorial, not, or not merely, literal.
Whereas literalist art stakes everything on shape as a given property of objects, if not, indeed, as a kind of object in its own right. It aspires, not to defeat or suspend its own objecthood, but on the contrary to discover and project objecthood as such. Furthermore, what non-art means today, and has meant for several years, is fairly specific. Still, no matter how simple the object may be, there remain the relations and interrelations of surface, contour, and spatial interval.
Minimal works are readable as art, as almost anything is today — including a door, a table, or a blank sheet of paper. Yet it would seem that a kind of art nearer the condition of non-art could not be envisaged or ideated at this moment.
In fact, from the perspective of recent modernist painting, the literalist position evinces a sensibility not simply alien but antithetical to its own: as though, from that perspective, the demands of art and the conditions of objecthood are in direct conflict. Here the question arises: What is it about objecthood as projected and hypostatized by the literalists that makes it, if only from the perspective of recent modernist painting, antithetical to art?
III The answer I want to propose is this: the literalist espousal of objecthood amounts to nothing other than a plea for a new genre of theatre; and theatre is now the negation of art. Literalist sensibility is theatrical because, to begin with, it is concerned with the actual circumstances in which the beholder encounters literalist work. Morris makes this explicit. It is intensified also by the large scale of much literalist work [. However, it is just this distance between object and subject that creates a more extended situation, because physical participation becomes necessary.
It is, one might say, precisely this distancing that makes the beholder a subject and the piece in question … an object. None of this, Morris maintains, indicates a lack of interest in the object itself. But the concerns now are for more control of. Control is necessary if the variables of object, light, space, body, are to function.
The object has not become less important. It has merely become less self-important. 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. On the contrary, for something to be perceived at all is for it to be perceived as part of that situation. Everything counts — not as part of the object, but as part of the situation in which its objecthood is established and on which that objecthood at least partly depends.
IV Furthermore, the presence of literalist art, which Greenberg was the first to analyze, is basically a theatrical effect or quality — a kind of stage presence. It is a function, not just of the obtrusiveness and, often, even aggressiveness of literalist work, but of the special complicity that that work extorts from the beholder. Something is said to have presence when it demands that the beholder take it into account, that he take it seriously — and when the fulfillment of that demand consists simply in being aware of it and, so to speak, in acting accordingly.
Certain modes of seriousness are closed to the beholder by the work itself, i. But, of course, those are hardly modes of seriousness in which most people feel at home, or that they even find tolerable. Here again the experience of being distanced by the work in question seems crucial: the beholder knows himself to stand in an indeterminate, open-ended — and unexacting — relation as subject to the impassive object on the wall or floor.
In fact, being distanced by such objects is not, I suggest, entirely unlike being distanced, or crowded, by the silent presence of another person; the experience of coming upon literalist objects unexpectedly — for example, in somewhat darkened rooms — can be strongly, if momentarily, disquieting in just this way. There are three main reasons why this is so. And third, the apparent hollowness of most literalist work — the quality of having an inside — is almost blatantly anthropomorphic.
By the same token, however, what is wrong with literalist work is not that it is anthropomorphic but that the meaning and, equally, the hiddenness of its anthropomorphism are incurably theatrical. And this Smith seems to have understood not as laying bare the essence of art, but as announcing its end. There is no suggestion that this is problematic in any way. The experience is clearly regarded by Smith as wholly accessible to everyone, not just in principle but in fact, and the question of whether or not one has really had it does not arise.
Or to put the same question another way, if the turnpike, airstrips, and drill ground are not works of art, what are they? It is as though the turnpike, airstrips, and drill ground reveal the theatrical character of literalist art, only without the object, that is, without the art itself- as though the object is needed only within a room or, perhaps, in any circumstances less extreme than these. In each of the above cases the object is, so to speak, replaced by something: for example, on the turnpike by the constant onrush of the road, the simultaneous recession of new reaches of dark pavement illumined by the onrushing headlights, the sense of the turnpike itself as something enormous, abandoned, derelict, existing for Smith alone and for those in the car with him.
This last point is important. Moreover, in each case being able to go on and on indefinitely is of the essence. What replaces the object — what does the same job of distancing or isolating the beholder, of making him a subject, that the object did in the closed room — is above all the endlessness, or objectlessness, of the approach or on-rush or perspective.
It is the explicitness, that is to say, the sheer persistence, with which the experience presents itself as directed at him from outside on the turnpike from outside the car that simultaneously makes him a subject — makes him subject — and establishes the experience itself as something like that of an object, or rather, of objecthood. By the same token, however, the imperative that modernist painting defeat or suspend its objecthood is at bottom the imperative that it defeat or suspend theatre.
I remarked earlier that objecthood has become an issue for modernist painting only within the past several years. This, however, is not to say that before the present situation came into being, paintings, or sculptures for that matter, simply were objects. The risk, even the possibility, of seeing works of art as nothing more than objects did not exist. That this possibility began to present itself around was largely the result of developments within modernist painting.
Roughly, the more nearly assimilable to objects certain advanced painting had come to seem, the more the entire history of painting since Manet could be understood — delusively, I believe — as consisting in the progressive though ultimately inadequate revelation of its essential objecthood, 5 and the more urgent became the need for modernist painting to make explicit its conventional — specifically, its pictorial — essence by defeating or suspending its own objecthood through the medium of shape.
Literalist sensibility is, therefore, a response to the same developments that have largely compelled modernist painting to undo its objecthood — more precisely, the same developments seen differently, that is, in theatrical terms, by a sensibility already theatrical, already to say the worst corrupted or perverted by theatre.
Similarly, what has compelled modernist painting to defeat or suspend its own objecthood is not just developments internal to itself, but the same general, enveloping, infectious theatricality that corrupted literalist sensibility in the first place and in the grip of which the developments in question — and modernist painting in general — are seen as nothing more than an uncompelling and presenceless kind of theatre.
It was the need to break the fingers of this grip that made objecthood an issue for modernist painting. Objecthood has also become an issue for modernist sculpture. This is true despite the fact that sculpture, being three-dimensional, resembles both ordinary objects and literalist work in a way that painting does not.
Instead of the illusion of things, we are now offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless, and exists only optically like a mirage. A characteristic sculpture by Caro consists, I want to say, in the mutual and naked juxtaposition of the I-beams, girders, cylinders, lengths of piping, sheet metal, and grill that it comprises rather than in the compound object that they compose. The mutual inflection of one element by another, rather than the identity of each, is what is crucial — though of course altering the identity of any element would be at least as drastic as altering its placement.
Rather they defeat, or allay, objecthood by imitating, not gestures exactly, but the efficacy of gesture; like certain music and poetry, they are possessed by the knowledge of the human body and how, in innumerable ways and moods, it makes meaning. This claim can be broken down into three propositions or theses: 1 The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than within theatre itself, where the need to defeat what I have been calling theatre has chiefly made itself felt as the need to establish a drastically different relation to its audience, The relevant texts are, of course, Brecht and Artaud.
For theatre has an audience — it exists for one — in a way the other arts do not; in fact, this more than anything else is what modernist sensibility finds intolerable in theatre generally.
Here it should be remarked that literalist art, too, possesses an audience, though a somewhat special one: that the beholder is confronted by literalist work within a situation that he experiences as his means that there is an important sense in which the work in question exists for him alone, even if he is not actually alone with the work at the time. There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theatre entirely — the movies.
This helps explain why movies in general, including frankly appalling ones, are acceptable to modernist sensibility whereas all but the most successful painting, sculpture, music, and poetry is not.
Because cinema escapes theatre — automatically, as it were — it provides a welcome and absorbing refuge to sensibilities at war with theatre and theatricality. Theatre is the common denominator that binds a large and seemingly disparate variety of activities to one another, and that distinguishes those activities from the radically different enterprises of the modernist arts. Here as elsewhere the question of value or level is central.
For example, a failure to register the enormous difference in quality between, say, the music of Carter and that of Cage or between the paintings of Louis and those of Rauschenberg means that the real distinctions — between music and theatre in the first instance and between painting and theatre in the second — are displaced by the illusion that the barriers between the arts are in the process of crumbling Cage and Rauschenberg being seen, correctly, as similar and that the arts themselves are at last sliding towards some kind of final, implosive, hugely desirable synthesis.
Whereas in fact the individual arts have never been more explicitly concerned with the conventions that constitute their respective essences. What lies between the arts is theatre. It is, I think, significant that in their various statements the literalists have largely avoided the issue of value or quality at the same time as they have shown considerable uncertainty as to whether or not what they are making is art. To describe their enterprise as an attempt to establish a new art does not remove the uncertainty; at most it points to its source.
Whereas within the modernist arts nothing short of conviction — specifically, the conviction that a particular painting or sculpture or poem or piece of music can or cannot support comparison with past work within that art whose quality is not in doubt — matters at all. Literalist work is often condemned — when it is condemned — for being boring. A tougher charge would be that it is merely interesting.
It is inexhaustible, however, not because of any fullness — that is the inexhaustibility of art — but because there is nothing there to exhaust. It is endless the way a road might be: if it were circular, for example.
Endlessness, being able to go on and on, even having to go on and on, is central both to the concept of interest and to that of objecthood. The literalist preoccupation with time — more precisely, with the duration of the experience — is, I suggest, paradigmatically theatrical: as though theatre confronts the beholder, and thereby isolates him, with the endlessness not just of objecthood but of time; or as though the sense which, at bottom, theatre addresses is a sense of temporality, of time both passing and to come, simultaneously approaching and receding, as if apprehended in an infinite perspective.
ART and Objecthood – Michael Fried
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.
Summary of Michael Fried
This volume contains twenty-seven pieces, including the influential introduction to the catalog for Three American Painters, the text of his book Morris Louis, and the renowned "Art and Objecthood. These are uncompromising, exciting, and impassioned writings, aware of their transformative power during a time of intense controversy about the nature of modernism and the aims and essence of advanced painting and sculpture. In a number of essays Fried contrasts the modernist enterprise with minimalist or literalist art, and, taking a position that remains provocative to this day, he argues that minimalism is essentially a genre of theater, hence artistically self-defeating. For this volume Fried has also provided an extensive introductory essay in which he discusses how he became an art critic, clarifies his intentions in his art criticism, and draws crucial distinctions between his art criticism and the art history he went on to write. The result is a book that is simply indispensable for anyone concerned with modernist painting and sculpture and the task of art criticism in our time. Table of Contents.
Art and Objecthood
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.