Experience and Experimental Writing:
Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses

By , (Trinity University), , and (Johns Hopkins University)

Consider looking at that cursive “c” through a microscope, the edges of the dried ink branching out in irregular furrows into the fabric of the paper. Could Dickinson mean that? Could any human mean that? Would ever more powerful microscopes uncover more and more layers of meaning? It made sense to me to think the answers here should be “no.”

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Modernism, Theatricality, and Objecthood

The imperative to establish an artistic medium means that the artist herself must somehow assume the authority to determine and declare how her work is to count for us, determine as just what medium of art it is to confront its specific possibilities of success and failure. In art, as well as in ordinary speech and gesture, possibilities of meaning and expression exist only insofar as there are answers to the criterial questions of what sort of thing is the subject of expression here, what speech, what action, what medium of expression.

Male Torso (ca. 480-470; marble; Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Authors and Authority
On Art, Objects, and Presence

How do we know what counts as true to art, of “art as such”? Take a parallel case: In the sixteenth century, arguments over what counts as Scripture raised the question of precisely what makes something Scripture. What can count as proof—for one cannot ask the author, and certainly not the Author? The key here is the experience of finding oneself in (absorbed by) what has a claim to be art—or in this case in what claims to be Scripture. “Art as such” gives this: art is thus never primarily representation.

EisensteinDrawing

Missed Connections

Thinking in this way, we might recast Fried’s wonder about why modernist artists went to the cinema. Perhaps they were not (just) seeking refuge from the burdens of the seriousness of their work; perhaps they saw in the cinema a range of different ways of negotiating the same questions about the relation of artwork to beholder that they were themselves preoccupied with. On this view, cinema does not stand apart from Fried’s modernist history; it continues that history by other means.

CaroTable

The Stakes of Modernist Acknowledgment

By (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)

It is important to recognize, when reading his critique of literalist sensibility in “Art and Objecthood,” that his view of literalness and contingency is not that these should be abolished from artworks (as though that could ever be possible! Mallarmé reminds us that it’s not), but that the literal and contingent properties of a work should be acknowledged and incorporated into it, creating an intimate and non-arbitrary relation between a work’s literal conditions and its configuration, between its situation and its syntax. The problem is not literalness, but what one does with it.

DouglasGordonThroughALookingGlass

Art and Objecthood
Fried against Fried

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). All this is exactly that willed indifference that Fried evokes through Diderot in Absorption and Theatricality, in which painting must seek the “superior fiction” of not being beheld, just as the actor must ignore the audience in front of them (and this effect of will applies in Diderot—this is the important point—whether there is an actual audience or not).

Bladen Sculpture

A Marginal Note on “Art and Objecthood”

“Art and Objecthood” reminds us that the past is a foreign country, as the (now) quite obscure British author L.P. Hartley was the first to say. It belongs to an era in which Artforum was full of writing about art, and where the question of whether what was being discussed was worth considering as—or, as Fried’s essay asks, even was—art, was thought to be important. There could be no hint in the essay, or of any thing or of the artists to which it refers, of the anthropological haze moist with sanctimony that has since descended, obscuring and diluting questions having to do with aesthetic judgment while seeking to wash them away altogether.

sugimoto-akron-civic-ohio-1980-hirshhorn

The Temporal Fried

By (Yeshiva University)

From 1967 to the present, no other writer has so systematically thought through the history and effects of artistic temporality. This accomplishment necessarily binds together his art criticism and his art history, and it allows us to see another layer of significance to the legacy of “Art and Objecthood” fifty years after its publication.

Blank Unstretched Canvas 25 x 30 cm - 10 x 12 inch

Footnote Number 6: Art and Objectness

In footnote number 6, however, he directly addresses Greenberg’s axiom, and the specific condition of painting. There is a sense in it of an intuitive recognition that for the enterprise of modern painting, Greenberg had the cart before the horse. We know the horse is in front of the cart because the pulling function of the horse is attached to the steering mechanism of the carriage. Greenberg, in this instance, like Joshua Reynolds, seemed more concerned with the status of the carriage, that is, painting as an Art, than with its use-function. What we can glean from Fried is that flatness and the delimitation of flatness is a functional mechanism of the art of painting, and was, at the time, steering the direction that painting was going in.

nighthighway

“Art and Objecthood” Word by Word

By (Ohio State University)

No one likes to be taken seriously when they are speaking lightly. And nobody likes to be told they are not serious when they believe they are. But the encounters staged around the various remarks quoted in “Art and Objecthood” are not exactly either of these: the question of seriousness is not being raised by Fried in the face of what the artists have said but is presented as already there in what they say—and as unheard there by them.

Fig. 3. Le Corbusier, Pessac before and after (in Boudon)

Why Architecture Matters as Art as Never Before:
Le Corbusier, Tony Smith and the Problem of Use

By (Emory University)

The real problem here is not the gap between intent and reaction, but rather with the simple fact that whether or not a building is actually used in the way the architect wishes, it is always made for a user. One could of course build structures exclusively for friends or for oneself but that feels more like an exemplification of the problem than a solution to it. There is no real possibility of fictionally or on any other level of not acknowledging the beholder/user, they are present at the conception and the realization of the work.

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This Cannot Be Real
"Art and Objecthood" at 50

By (Case Western Reserve University)

It’s important to note that the word “conviction,” Fried’s keyword for the effect produced by the successful painting, is an ambivalent term in his criticism. Sometimes the word refers to a judgment of value, or quality, defined loosely as the capacity of a given work to stand comparison with valued earlier masterpieces. But in “Art and Objecthood,” and at other key moments in his criticism—“Caro’s Abstractness,” for instance—“conviction” refers to the specific experience of the suspension of objecthood.

Fig. 8. Official poster, 1969 rerelease of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The ultimate trip” or the unfinished NJ Turnpike

Art and Surrogate Personhood

By (Southern Methodist University)

Whereas, on Fried’s account, such theatricality and coercion by objects is a scenario to avoid, both 2001 film and novel presume the inevitability of spectacle and objecthood. They embrace the theatrical condition of their 1968-modernity as their 2001-future. It might even be the case that Kubrick was attempting to turn the entirety of his film into the experience of a minimalist object in a manner entirely congruent with Fried’s account.

DuBois

Du Bois and the “Wages of Whiteness”
What He Meant, What He Didn’t, and, Besides, It Shouldn’t Matter for Our Politics Anyway

By (University of Pennsylvania)

Since the emergence of what has been known as “whiteness studies” in the early 1990s, proponents of the view that the white working class in the United States rejects a class-based politics in favor of commitment to white supremacy have cited W.E.B. Du Bois’s reference in Black Reconstruction In America to a “psychological wage” that whiteness offers as supporting that view and, by extension, the necessity that combating racism and white supremacy takes priority over struggle against capitalist inequality.

trump-in-hard-hat

“I believe Trump like I believed Obama!”
A case study of two working-class “Latino” Trump voters: my parents

By (University of Hawai‘i – West O‘ahu)

It might be a huge stretch for some anti-racists to view Trump voters as something other than “deplorables,” or, rich, white, racists—but, the hope with this case study is that we might stop and reflect on who gains when we write off not just half the country but a large portion of the working class as racists.

tony-mazzocchi

Mazzocchi and the Moment

By (University of Pennsylvania)

The most immediate challenge we face now is to prepare for what is going to be the political equivalent of a street fight that we’ll have to wage between now and at least 2018 just to preserve space for getting onto the offensive against the horrors likely to come at us from Trump, the Republican congress, and random Brown Shirt elements Trump’s victory has emboldened. At the same time, however, we need to reflect on the extent to which progressive practice has absorbed the ideological premises of left-neoliberalism.

Issue #22: “Art and Objecthood” at Fifty
Part Two

For fifty years, Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” has set the terms for the discussion of minimalism, or as he prefers to call it, literalism.  More than just a commentary on a controversial set of works that challenged and largely eclipsed high modernism, “Art and Objecthood” has itself remained the subject of intense debate since it was first published in Artforum.  It raises questions about the nature of art, of experience, of criticism, and of the relation of history to all of the above.  For some of us, partisans as well as opponents of Fried’s views, “Art and Objecthood” is inevitable–a challenge that cannot be avoided.  The essays and appreciations gathered in this issue offer variety.  They are by “Art and Objecthood”‘s admirers, if not partisans, and suggest the breadth of ways its challenge can be felt and met.  Fried’s battle with minimalism may be a topic for art historical study, but we are not finished reading “Art and Objecthood” yet.  The discussion continues here.

Alone In A World of Objects:
Videogames, Interaction, and Late Capitalist Alienation

Is feeling good an aesthetic? We might say that feeling a kind of subjective pride is a commodified politics—an affiliation of progressive sentiment with market forces that we have seen in such ad campaigns as Oreo’s LGBTQ-positive viral advertising, a way to align politics with preferences. This preferential politics is mobilized, at least in part, by Gone Home as form and content marry to create a limited political efficacy, a reaffirmation of the player’s good politics regarding sexuality (or, conversely, a negative pleasure for the player in experiencing politics that they do not find agreeable). But while preference can produce a politics, it is difficult to imagine that “feeling good” can count as an aesthetic.

Response to Trevor Strunk

Trevor Strunk’s “Alone in a World of Objects” is a welcome and persuasive addition to the sparse literature on the aesthetics of video games. Generally, as Strunk has elsewhere argued, scholarly attempts to legitimize videogames as an object of study have appealed to the medium’s obvious connections to novels, as in the case of Anastasia Salter’s What is Your Quest? (2014), or art history, per Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell’s Videogames and Art (2007, 2014). Yet in part because of these texts’ limited artistic horizons, neither offered a clear sense of what a “videogame aesthetic” might be. Strunk’s primary contribution, here, is to lay out the foundations for asking such questions in ways that take seriously the distinctiveness of the medium.

The Reality Contract
Rope, Birdman, and the Economy of the Single-Shot Film

By (Yale University)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the history of Hollywood production mirrors the history of venture capital in the United States, as each new film presents an idiosyncratic set of risk factors, and each new production or distribution technology distorts return forecasts for a new generation of film speculators.

Issue #21: “Art and Objecthood” at Fifty
Part One

For fifty years, Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” has set the terms for the discussion of minimalism, or as he prefers to call it, literalism.  More than just a commentary on a controversial set of works that challenged and largely eclipsed high modernism, “Art and Objecthood” has itself remained the subject of intense debate since it was first published in Artforum.  It raises questions about the nature of art, of experience, of criticism, and of the relation of history to all of the above.  For some of us, partisans as well as opponents of Fried’s views, “Art and Objecthood” is inevitable–a challenge that cannot be avoided.  The essays and appreciations gathered in this issue offer variety.  They are by “Art and Objecthood”‘s admirers, if not partisans, and suggest the breadth of ways its challenge can be felt and met.  Fried’s battle with minimalism may be a topic for art historical study, but we are not finished reading “Art and Objecthood” yet.  Our next issue will continue the discussion.

Proven Objectivity

By (The Ohio State University)

Hegel believed that it was incumbent on anything that wanted to be taken seriously to “prove its object,” which is to say, to show itself to be the kind of thing that it in fact is. I am enough of a Hegelian (and a modernist) to feel that art must still “prove its object,” each work somehow making visible a claim for its existence as a work of art rather than some other sort of thing. I take it that what Fried has wanted to show us, not only in his early writings but throughout his art-historical career, is that such “objectivity” is at consequential odds with mere “objecthood,” and that both art and art history need to be clear about those stakes, at least if they hope to be taken seriously.

Michael Fried in the Studio

What am I looking or hoping for from a studio visit? A clear-eyed view of the sculpture that tells me the piece is not working or is working. Then, with luck, an explanation or theory about how it is doing what it is doing. OK, but there are visitors and there are visitors. As is true of any of Michael’s criticism, his understanding of how a work of art gets made comes first.

Ritual Protest and the Theater of Dissent

The politics that inform these actions, where not entirely opaque, are based on a semi-spiritual belief that the right recipe of symbolism, passion, and powerful visuals will inspire significant political action that will alter the course of this or that unjust policy or state of affairs. Organizers want to inspire the people who view their protest images on their phones.

A Note from “His Collaborator”

The trivial truth is that what they mean by challenging the operation of capitalist markets (i.e. massive downward redistribution) would indeed reduce racialized poverty, for the obvious reason that (as Adolph and I and millions of others keep on tiresomely repeating) precisely because black people are disproportionately poor all efforts of redistribution will disproportionately benefit them. The totally false idea is that a challenge to racial disparities gets you out from under what Reed calls “neoliberalism’s logic.” In fact, unlocking inherited inequality (racialized or not) and achieving real equality of opportunity (hence more upward mobility) is left neoliberalism’s wet dream.

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