Michael Fried, who is also a poet, has a dense, self-questioning, fervent prose style. Somewhat perversely he has, over the last three decades - that is, since his doctoral dissertation on Manet was printed as a special issue of Artforum in 1969 - put this prose to the service of art-historical scholarship. It might have been otherwise. While still in his twenties Fried had become a leading critic of contemporary art, an occupation which may not sound very different from being an art historian, though perhaps less respectable. Yet from Baudelaire onwards, an engagement with contemporary painting has been vital to some of the greatest poets; and the best art critics, aside from those who were primarily artists, have been writers who've taken art on as a sideline. Even the rival giants of American art criticism when Fried was a young man, Harold Rosenberg and Fried's own mentor Clement Greenberg, started out wanting to be all-round literati before becoming specialists in the fine arts; but Fried, who was one of the first wave of art critics to have a PhD in art history, seems to have been the only one of that group to have been tempted, however briefly, by the older model of the writer-critic rather than the academic.
LRB 17 April 2003 | PDF Download