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critics Michael Fried

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. Much like Greenberg, Fried was suspicious of academics and critics who insisted on critiquing modern art within a historical and/or cultural context, instead of formally examining the work of art on its own terms. Another of Fried's notable contributions was his staunch opposition to what he observed as the lack of differentiation between the work of art itself and the experience of viewing it, a phenomenon he described as "theatricality."

Key Ideas

Fried was wary of the dangers of categorizing art as an event. When this happened, he thought, viewers don't appreciate the artwork itself, rather its broader cultural context (i.e. 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.
Fried was highly critical of art critics and historians who asserted themselves as objective observers of art, which is to say, most of them. He defined the duties of the formalist critic in the following manner: "It is.. imperative that the formalist critic bear in mind at all times that the objectivity he aspires toward can be no more than relative." This statement was fairly provocative, given the tone and writing style of the era's greatest critics, who aspired to write objectively. Fried essentially called their bluff, and argued that all critical judgments are nothing more than subjective.


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