Compelling Conviction vs. Directing Traffic

Posted: March 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

If Michael Fried argues, in “Art and Objecthood” (1967), that the very best abstract formalist paintings and sculptures of the day are absolutely authoritative, in their own right and on their own terms, and stand in no need whatsoever of public approval or applause, . . .

Morris Louis
#11 (1961)

Jules Olitski
Tin Lizzie Green (1964)

Frank Stella
Black Series II (1967)

Yellow Swing 1965 by Sir Anthony Caro born 1924

Sir Anthony Caro
Yellow Swing (1965)

. . . what, then, would Fried want us to make of the ‘music’ of John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich?

And, further, what would Fried want us to think of ‘sculptures’ such as those of Richard Serra?

Richard Serra
Tilted Arc (1981)


  1. aurorasmps says:

    Is today’s minimalism the same as the literalist/formalist/minimalist art of those days? There is a different feel to the modern day minimalist art (which has been quite trendy recently) compared to the abstract formalist paintings.

    • Trends come, go, and return. Minimalism today draws heavily and avowedly from the minimalism of the 60. However, Minimalism was hardly the end of the line, even if Fried had tried to convince others that such was indeed the case. We could only say so much today in the little time we had, and I intend to return to these matters. What I will try to suggest after the break is that much of the the major art of the 80s emerged from out of Minimalism, though with significant modifications. Within recent years, the dominant art movement seems to have been Conceptualism. While different from Minimalism, there are certain similarities which I will explain in class. The principle of these, however, will be the attempt of art no longer to stand entirely on its own intrinsic qualities and merits, but rather to be valid only to the extent that it can manipulate the mind and body of its audience. It’s this solicitude, or undisguised aggression, toward the audience which causes Fried to speak out so powerfully against Theater.

      One last point, for the sake of clarity. It should be noted that the Louis, Stella, and Olitsky paintings above, along with the sculpture of Sir Anthony Caro, are not examples of Minimalism – at least not according to Fried. Instead, they are attempt to keep painting and sculpture alive and relevant in the face of the emergence of Pop and Minimalism. Examples of Minimalist artist to which Friend would object are Tony Smith, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, and Carl Andre. I will post image of their work now.

      I hope all this helps.

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