1. Richard in Chicago

    Only once have I endured Michael Fried, and that was with Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin, a large, well-illustrated volume on an underappreciated artist which is a visual treasure in spite of the dreadful writing that constitutes the bulk of the book. My guess is that one could salvage at most three pages of useable information, and only by cutting and pasting, since every sentence of Fried seems to suffer from some abnormality. You have the characteristic constructs such as Art of Embodiment, Aesthetics of Empathy, Autonomization of Sight, Time and the Everyday, and so on, none of which contribute to greater understanding, and indeed generally miss the obvious point, of the subject. (The Publishers Weekly blurb predictably calls this “sweeping scale and conceptual daring.”) Like some other highly perched critics, Fried appears to want to impress his audience with what he learned in that drawing class he once took.

    But as a picture-book for those devoted to the never-ending renewal of realism in the practice of drawing and painting, I cannot recommend this volume highly enough. It is an excellent introduction to the work of Adolph Menzel, an artist of prodigious talent and accomplishment who is too little known outside of Germany, and who represents a counter-tradition to the standard Parisian genealogy of nineteenth-century art, one that reached further east and north to include Leibl, Corinth, Zorn, Repin and Liebermann. Menzel’s pencil sketches and paintings in oil or gouache are examples of a mastery of the visible world that to my mind remains unsurpassed.

  2. Taciturn

    The question was: Does Fried like art? I guess so, since he did like Menzel. But Richard is right–“embodiment’ is as awful as “visuality.” And there is a lot of both in Fried. Maybe he just doesn’t like language?

  3. formerartstudent

    Nice to be reminded of Menzel, a great draftsman. What did Manet say about him? Something to the effect that he “was a great artist but his paintings were bad.” Funny, since Menzel had the grace not to mind. He was generous to Manet.

    True, Fried is an impenetrable read. And a self-impressed one. But he stood up for Menzel.

  4. Anne

    “When commentary on art is difficult or obscure, it is rarely about art. it is, more often than not, about the commentator: his ambitions within academia; his presumption to the status of philosopher; his will to trump great art’s ineffability with discursive pedantry. And pedantry, alas, is too often mistaken for scholarship.”

    I could not agree more! I wonder, if it’s not an “art historian” but an artist or teacher, is it just as bad? Or is that okay? Is it worse to be published and do the damage globally, or to do it in small groups of young minds who might swallow things whole, once they work hard to understand it?

  5. RobF

    Anne’s question about which is worse is interesting. Not sure it has an answer, though. Isn’t one as bad as the other? We could argue that all night and not come to a decision. What matters here, the post seems to say, is that an appreciation for the aesthetic value of art—the heart of the stuff—needs to be conveyed by someone (whether author or teacher) with an aesthetic appreciation for the sound of words vs. the sound of jargon. The issue here is the relation of sound and sense. At least, I think so. (Am I making any sense?)

  6. Oh my goodness!! Thank you for this review. For years, but especially since his Caravaggio book I have been disturbed by what Fried is allowed to get away with.

    His works are neither insightful, nor at the very least useful as a text to inspire students or the general public to look at art in a new way(let alone scholars).

    I think the problem is that when someone is around long enough, and has achieved enough letters tacked onto their name, that they become surrounded by yes men, at their academic institution and their publishers.

    I so dearly wish that Fried had a regular column online or webspace. I think he would get a rude shock to find out what a lot of people truly think about his work.

    The greatest insult was his being awarded the PROSE award for this book, even despite Andrew Graham Dixon’s superior effort on the same topic also published last year.

    Keep up the great work… love your site!

    Kind Regards
    H Niyazi

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