Audio: Michael Fried’s A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (on Caravaggio)

Richard Neer (Art History, University of Chicago) has kindly sent us word that audio recordings of Michael Fried’s 2002 A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, on Caravaggio, which have since been published by Princeton University Press as The Moment of Caravaggio, are available for free online. Below are links to recordings of the individual talks. Enjoy! And many thanks to Richard for the tip.

PODCASTS: The Moment of Caravaggio

Michael Fried, J. R. Herbert Boone Professor and director of the Humanities Center, The Johns Hopkins University. In a series of six lectures, Professor Michael Fried offers a compelling account of what he calls “the internal structure of the pictorial act” in the revolutionary art of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

A New Type of Self-Portrait
Listen | iTunes | RSS (51:56 mins.)

Immersion and Specularity
Listen | iTunes | RSS (50:38 mins.)

The Invention of Absorption
Listen | iTunes | RSS (53:20 mins.)

Absorption and Address 
Listen | iTunes | RSS (50:54 mins.)

Severed Representations
Listen | iTunes | RSS (55:43 mins.)

Painting and Violence
Listen | iTunes | RSS (51:33 mins.)

Forthcoming book: Michael Fried’s “Four Honest Outlaws”

We’ve just learned that Michael Fried (Johns Hopkins University) has a new book coming out next April, from Yale University Press. Entitled Four Honest Outlaws, it looks wonderful, and we wanted to be sure our readers knew of it. To visit the publisher’s webpage for the book, please click here.

Here is the press’ description of the forthcoming volume:

In this strongly argued and characteristically original book, Michael Fried considers the work of four contemporary artists–video artist and photographer Anri Sala, sculptor Charles Ray, painter Joseph Marioni, and video artist and intervener in movies Douglas Gordon. He shows how their respective projects are best understood as engaging in a variety of ways with some of the core themes and issues associated with high modernism, and indeed with its prehistory in French painting and art criticism from Diderot on. Four Honest Outlaws thus continues the author’s exploration of the critical and philosophical territory opened up by his earlier book, the magisterial Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. It presents a vision of the most important contemporary art as not only not repudiating modernism in the name of postmodernism in any of the latter’s many forms and manifestations, but also actually as committed to dialectically renewing certain crucial qualities and values that modernism and premodernism brought to the fore, above all those of presentness and anti-theatricality.

Four Honest Outlaws takes its title from a line in a Bob Dylan song, “To live outside the law you must be honest,” meaning in this case that each of the four artists has found his own unsanctioned path to extraordinary accomplishment, in part by defying the ordinary norms and expectations of the contemporary art world. Filled with stunning images throughout and accompanied by a DVD illustrating works by Sala and Gordon discussed in its pages, Four Honest Outlaws is sure to provoke controversy even as it makes a dramatic bid to further transform the terms in which the art of the present should be understood.

Michael Fried: The Moment of Caravaggio

[Note 8/7/10: I’ve just learned that this book will be released earlier than expected, likely later this month; the publisher has already begun to ship advance copies — and the book, which I was able to flip through very quickly yesterday, looks gorgeous! — BR]

We’ve just learned that Princeton University Press will publish, this October, Michael Fried’s new book, The Moment of Caravaggio (based on Prof. Fried’s A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts delivered at the National Gallery of Art). It looks absolutely terrific, and we wanted to let you all know. To visit the publisher’s webpage for the book, please click here. To order a copy from Amazon, click here.

(While waiting for this book to come out, you might want to read or re-read Fried’s 1997 Critical Inquiry essay, “Thoughts on Caravaggio,” which we believe was his first piece of writing on Caravaggio’s art. To access that essay, please click here.)

Here is Princeton University Press’ description of the forthcoming book:

This is a groundbreaking examination of one of the most important artists in the Western tradition by one of the leading art historians and critics of the past half-century. In his first extended consideration of the Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610), Michael Fried offers a transformative account of the artist’s revolutionary achievement. Based on the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts delivered at the National Gallery of Art, The Moment of Caravaggio displays Fried’s unique combination of interpretive brilliance, historical seriousness, and theoretical sophistication, providing sustained and unexpected readings of a wide range of major works, from the early Boy Bitten by a Lizard to the late Martyrdom of Saint Ursula. And with close to 200 color images, The Moment of Caravaggio is as richly illustrated as it is closely argued. The result is an electrifying new perspective on a crucial episode in the history of European painting.

Focusing on the emergence of the full-blown “gallery picture” in Rome during the last decade of the sixteenth century and the first decades of the seventeenth, Fried draws forth an expansive argument, one that leads to a radically revisionist account of Caravaggio’s relation to the self-portrait; of the role of extreme violence in his art, as epitomized by scenes of decapitation; and of the deep structure of his epoch-defining realism. Fried also gives considerable attention to the art of Caravaggio’s great rival, Annibale Carracci, as well as to the work of Caravaggio’s followers, including Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Bartolomeo Manfredi, and Valentin de Boulogne.

Richard Neer: “Connoisseurship and the Stakes of Style”

The Getty kouros. Greek statue of the sixth century b.c.e., or modern forgery. J. Paul Getty Museum.

“Connoisseurship and the Stakes of Style,” an essay by Richard Neer (Art History, University of Chicago) is not new — it was published in 2005 in Critical Inquiry — but in case I’m not the only one who overlooked it when it first came out, I wanted to recommend it here, since I think it will be of particular interest to readers of this blog. It’s primary topic is connoisseurship, but it explores the underlying existential “stakes” of the truly fierce art historical debates about connoisseurship by drawing deeply on the works of Wittgenstein and Cavell. I think the way Neer engages with both OLP thinkers will intrigue, and excite, many of you.

Thanks to my friend, Rob Chodat, for recommending this essay to me.

To access Neer’s essay, please click here.

To give you a sense of what the article is like, here are its first two paragraphs, and below that, a PDF excerpt from Neer’s extended discussion of Wittgenstein (Cavell features elsewhere in the piece):

A distinctive feature of both art history and archaeology is a commitment to the evidence of style: that is, to connoisseurship, defined as the attribution of artifacts to particular hands, or times, or places. Critics of both disciplines often dismiss this practice out of hand, labeling it a mere discursive conceit or, worse, a reactionary fetishization of origins. Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the ill repute in which connoisseurship now stands among all but the most hidebound archaeologists and art historians; it has been the defining scapegoat of both disciplines for the last twenty years and more. Old‐guard connoisseurs usually respond with more indignation than argument, and the grating mandarinism of their pronouncements does not help matters. In this debate (such as it is) the one side declares connoisseurship to be the idol of reaction, and the other enthusiastically (appallingly) agrees.

One result of this situation has been a relative neglect of stylistics in recent historiographic work. Disciplinary heroes like Erwin Panofsky, Aloïs Riegl, and Aby Warburg are far better known today than the nineteenth‐century connoisseur Giovanni Morelli; yet the latter has had arguably the greater influence on the day‐to‐day practice of scholarship. More importantly, however, the combination of polemic and neglect has obscured the considerable theoretical interest of connoisseurship. The commitment to style is in fact exemplary of what might be called a worldly formalism—one that takes seriously what Paul de Man termed “the prosaic materiality of the letter.” To be sure, this commitment is routinely disavowed, a fact that, as will become clear, is both inevitable and symptomatic. But it is time to look again at this linchpin of art‐historical and archaeological method. What is involved (what is at stake?) in the attribution of an artifact to a particular hand, or place, or time? The present essay is designed to defend the study of style in general, and of connoisseurship in particular, from its friends as well as its enemies. At issue are not the criteria invoked to justify any particular attribution, but the criteria invoked to justify the application of any standards of evidence whatsoever to an attribution. It is about attribution as such.

Update: program for PAL Symposium on the Visual Arts

Video still from Anri Sala, "Long Sorrow"

Last November, we wrote (in this post) about an event that Toril Moi was planning for this March, at her new Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature (PAL) at Duke University. Planning has progressed since we first wrote about this event, and Prof. Moi has now organized what looks to be an incredibly exciting 2-day symposium on the visual arts. The schedule of talks and discussions is reproduced below. For more information about this and other events at PAL, please visit the Center’s website by clicking here.


March 4-5, 2010: PAL is privileged to be able to host an event with Fredric Jameson (Duke), Michael Fried (Johns Hopkins University) and Robert Pippin (University of Chicago), where these superb scholars will both present their work and engage in conversation about art, art history and philosophy.

March 4, 2010

2pm – 6pm: Three lectures taking place in the Nasher Art Museum Auditorium

2:00pm – Fred Jameson “Narrative bodies: storytelling painting in the baroque era”
Introduced by: Geoffrey Harpham (Director, National Humanities Center)

3:15pm – Robert Pippin “Fatalism in Film Noir: Cinematic Philosophy in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai
Introduced by: Owen Flanagan (James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Duke University)

4:30pm – Michael Fried “Anri Sala’s Long Sorrow
Introduced by: Kim Rorschach (Director of Nasher Museum of Art)

March 5th, 2010

10am – 12pm: Panel discussion with Michael Fried and Robert Pippin.
Moderated by Toril Moi and taking place in the Franklin Center room 240.

Both events are free and open to the public. Contact Leonore Miller with any questions.

PowerPoint Slideshow: for teaching Michael Fried

I’ll be teaching some of Michael Fried’s writings in one of my classes this spring, and in preparation for that, I’ve put together a brief PowerPoint slideshow that features a selection of some of the artworks he discusses in the three pieces I’m asking my students to read. I’ll be assigning his classic essay, “Art and Objecthood,” the chapter “Approaching Courbet” from his book Courbet’s Realism (it provides a great synopsis of the argument of his earlier book, Absorption and Theatricality) and his recent Critical Inquiry essay, “Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday.” Because I thought some of you would enjoy seeing the images in the presentation I put together — and with the further thought that perhaps some of you would find it useful to have this presentation (or just some of the individual slides in it) for use in your own courses — I thought I’d make it available here. To download the PowerPoint file, click here. Below is a SlideShare version of the presentation, for viewing online (click the button marked “full” to view the SlideShare show in “full screen” mode). Please note that the resolution of the PowerPoint images are higher than the SlideShare ones: SlideShare compromises quality for speed. I hope to add more images to this presentation in the future, but for now, it’s at least a start.


Review: Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde

There’s a brief review of Charles Juliet’s Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde in today’s Guardian which I thought would interest some of you. The piece is written by Nicholas Lezard and can be accessed by clicking here.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:

When Samuel Beckett and the Dutch painter Bram Van Velde met in Paris in the 1930s, both were living in abject poverty, and neither could have anticipated that—on the other side of World War II and the brutal occupation of France by the Nazis—they would each go on to be luminaries in their respective mediums: Beckett winning the Nobel Prize and becoming a bulwark of contemporary Western literature, and Van Velde holding exhibitions all over the world.

Thirty years later, a younger author at the start of his career is introduced into the company of these two great pessimists—neither of whom make cooperative interview subjects, and each of whom represents, in his own way, a radical rejection of the common languages of his art.

Itself a mixture of idolatry, deft characterization, and critical insight, Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram Van Velde is both an entertaining and insightful contribution to our understanding of the lives and thoughts of two masters.

And here is how the Guardian review begins:

In the third of Samuel Beckett’s three dialogues with Georges Duthuit, we are treated to the following exchange: Duthuit – “One moment. Are you suggesting that the painting of van Velde is inexpressive?” Beckett (a fortnight later) – “Yes.” D – “You realise the absurdity of what you advance?” B – “I hope I do.”

In Beckett’s lexicon, “inexpressive” is not derogatory. It signals, in fact, that an artist is getting to the core of what it means to be an artist – as in his often-quoted remarks about “the expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”

Bram van Velde could have been made for Beckett. He could, come to think of it, have been made by Beckett, not only in the sense that he has the characteristics of the typical Beckettian character, but in that it was as much thanks to Beckett’s private and public support as to his own talent that he was able to lift himself out of the extreme poverty which he had suffered for much of his life.

There are 30 pages of interviews with Beckett in this book; 120 pages with van Velde. However, one should not feel cheated should one be hoping to hear more from the more famous master: there is plenty about him in the conversations with van Velde. My favourite is his recollection of the time Beckett came to visit him during one of the rare periods when he – van Velde – wasn’t too unhappy with his own work. He told Beckett that he was “almost satisfied”, and Beckett replied “expressionlessly”: “There’s really no reason to be.”

“Totally thrown by this response, Bram retreated to a corner of the studio, where he sat down at the table and began to eat to cover his confusion. Meanwhile, Beckett stood motionless in the loft, fixing him with his eagle eye.” No wonder that, in the next interview, van Velde says: “Beckett? There is nobody more silent. From time to time he used to let slip a few words. But they were not encouraging.”

But they were, really. Van Velde calls Beckett an “archangel”, and his meeting with him in 1940 so fortuitous that it might well have saved his life (or his art). “When you’ve known someone like him, so many other people seem like mere robots by comparison.”

In Memoriam: Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)

Earthen Bound (1960)

The great modernist painter, Kenneth Noland, has died. To read the New York Times obituary, please click here. To visit Kenneth Noland’s official website, from which the image above was copied, please click here.

Here is an excerpt, about Noland’s modernism, from Michael Fried’s important catalog essay for the 1965 exhibition, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella:

… the development of pictorial structure in Noland’s work is far from arbitrary, and … the structure of a given painting embodies something far more urgent than a desire to achieve striking design. In fact, as regards both individual paintings and the development of his work as a whole, structure represents the crux of Noland’s response to the crisis of meaning that brought modernism into existence in the first place–a crisis which, in its present form, undergoes continual change as painters take up what seem to them the most important formal problems posed by the finest modernist painting of the recent past, and in grappling with them raise others or open up a range of formal possibilities which may be rigorously explored. Noland has seen that crisis change in the course of the past seven years largely as a result of paintings made by him during this time. But whereas many modernist painters before him had found the experience unnerving, and responded to it by ceasing to develop, Noland has been emboldened by it to exert renewed and even stepped-up criticism against his own best prior achievements. Perhaps more than any painter in the history of modernist painting, Noland has been both driven and vitalized by the awareness that the essence of modernism resides in its refusal to regard a particular formal “solution,” no matter how successful or inspired, as definitive, in the sense of allowing the painter to repeat it with minor variations indefinitely. This is tantamount to the realization that if the dialectic of modernism were to come to a halt anywhere once and for all, it would thereby betray itself; that the act of radical self-criticism on which it is founded and by which it perpetuates itself can have no end. Noland demands of his work that it constantly challenge not some abstract notion of general taste–it is hard to imagine that someone unfamiliar with modernist painting since the war would feel that his chevrons are more advanced or harder to take than his concentric circles, or vice versa–but his own sensibility and the sensibilities of those others who have been most deeply educated, influenced, and moved by his own prior work; and he makes this demand of his art and of his public not because he or they are infatuated with formal problems for their own sake, but because it is one of the prime, if tacit, convictions of modernist painting–a conviction matured out of painful experience, individual and collective–that only an art of constant formal self-criticism can bear or embody or communicate more than trivial meaning. (From Fried’s Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, pp. 235-6)