John Barrell reviews ‘Absorption and Theatricality’ by Michael Fried · LRB 2 AprilThe reason for arguing such a point was precisely to throw the distinction between narrative and spectacle into question, to point out that narrative and spectacle are intertwined in complex ways, so that dividing them as polar opposites is ultimately a reductive and unproductive project for film studies. Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account? Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
Absorption and Theatricality
A family listening as their father reads them the Bible; a philosopher poring over a book; an artist, who turns his back on us as he draws; a secretary absorbed in taking dictation, and another absorbed instead in listening to the figure who dictates; a sleeping hermit. In proportion as the picture thus excludes the fictive spectator, it gives the actual spectator a greater access to the world of the painting, which becomes the more real precisely because it has apparently not been painted to be observed, but simply is , independent of the observer. In the s, a renewed importance was ascribed, by Diderot in particular, to the doctrines of the hierarchy of genres and the supremacy of history-painting: these doctrines were not advanced, Fried argues, in a new spirit of conservatism which would have denied the achievements of Chardin and Greuze in the previous decade, but because Diderot saw that the representation of heroic action, in a history painting whose compositional unity established the causal necessity of every expression, gesture and attitude within a group of figures, was the most likely form of painting to preserve the illusion that the beholder was not there; and thus, paradoxically, to secure his emotional involvement in the action he beheld. This is an exhilarating book, and it will be intriguing to see how the exponents of the approaches it criticises will absorb, or recover from, the insights it offers. For my part, I will be intrigued to see whether Fried will feel he needs to modify his argument to take account of the kind of criticisms I am about to make. Where I find Fried less than convincing is where he insists on seeing as separate moral and ontological concerns of French painting that seem to me largely inseparable.
Fried's contribution to art historical discourse involved the debate over the origins and development of modernism. Along with Fried, this debate's interlocutors include other theorists and critics such as Clement Greenberg , T. Clark , and Rosalind Krauss. Since the early s, he has also been close to philosopher Stanley Cavell. Fried describes his early career in the introduction to Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews , an anthology of his art criticism in the 60s and 70s.
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.
Michael Fried has returned to the distinction between "absorption" and "theatricality" in all of his art historical work since he first introduced the dyad in to illuminate the dynamics of the relationship between painting and beholder in eighteenth-century French painting and the critical writings of Denis Diderot. Fried shows that in the s Jean-Baptiste Greuze inherits from Simeon Chardinthe value of absorption and transforms it into something new and nearly unrecognizable. Fried helps us see with clarity the connection between an artwork's handling of being-seen and its ontological force in the work of the contemporary photographer Jeff Wall. In Absorption and Theatricality Fried imagines that an artwork can secure the beholder's interest by dramatizing that it is not concerned with his presence at all, so that it works hard to foreground its active indifference and lack of consideration for him. Search all titles. Search all titles Search all collections. Your Account Logout.