Monday, March 17, 2008

Michael Fried's Question of Art and Objecthood

"The answer I want to propose is this: the literalist espousal of objecthood amounts to nothing more 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." - Michael Fried

If this is Fried's answer, what is his question? Why does he object to what he calls "objecthood," "theatricality," and "literalist" work?

In the Sally Banes text, Clement Greenberg considers realistic art an imitation of the world, and he seems to advocate this heavily. In his article "Art and Objecthood", Michael Fried refers to objecthood as "antithetical to art." Fried's argument is that modernist art's goal seems to be more about defeating theatre than participating in it, and in doing so is somewhat of a moot point.

The question that he attempts to answer in the above quote might be: "What is the purpose of literalist art, if its intent is to expose the artificiality of art and performance?" It seems to me that Fried is arguing that for literalist art to attempt to negate art and theatre, it must contradict itself and become art/theatre in the process.

"The literalist case", Fried says, "against painting rests mainly on two counts: the relational character of almost all painting, and the ubiquitousness of pictorial illusion." In other words, minimalists want to eschew art as illusion in favor of something more finite and spatially present. Fried objects to this, because he believes that doing so is simply an attempt at establishing a new form of art, which seems to defeat the purpose of trying to negate art all together.

"Theatricality" here refers to the fact that minimalist art attempts to incorporate the viewer, the audience, into the art itself. "The object, not the beholder, must remain the center or focus of the situation; but the situation itself belongs to the beholder - it is his situation." His argument against objecthood here is that once the object comes into question, so too does the beholder. If the art is, in fact, the encompassing space of the showroom or theatre venue, at what point do the object and beholder cease to be either?

1 comment:

jimbosuave said...

I think you have most of the literalist side of the equasion, but I'm not sure if you have Fried's sense of why modernist art should transcend its objecthood.

Take a glance at the Art and Objecthood guide I sent out and take another stab at distinguishing the modernist art he is advocating for and the literalist art he is arguing against.