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The Rhetoric of Literalism: Readings in American Minimal Art 1959-1966

Rahtz, Dominic (2001) The Rhetoric of Literalism: Readings in American Minimal Art 1959-1966. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.

Type of Research: Thesis
Creators: Rahtz, Dominic

The topic of this dissertation is the literalness that was attributed to Minimal works of art during the early to mid 1960s. In a general sense, this literalness, by which I mean an object- or thing-like character, was a way of defining what many critics felt to be the impersonality and lack of aesthetic quality which such works seemed to them to exhibit, though my particular focus on the terms 'literal' and 'literalism' derives from the art critic Michael Fried's negative characterization of Minimalism as anti-modernist. I interrogate the idea of literalness, arguing that it was complexly instituted in relation to other kinds of artistic meaning. I suggest that, far from being self-evident, Minimal Art7s literalness was of a 'pretended' or rhetorical kind. The main purpose of the dissertation is to demonstrate this and to inquire into certain of its consequences.

I begin with an account of the various interpretations of Minimalism from the phenomenological interpretation of the late 1960s and 1970s, to more recent, more historically conscious, interpretations. I address here certain problems which arise in understanding Minimal Art in terms of representation. Chapter 2 is concerned with an important literalist precedent, Frank Stella's early stripe paintings. Chapter 3 begins with Fried's definition of literalism, and goes on to discuss the problems in interpretation which arise from the use of the term 'literal,' particularly in terms of its opposition to the figural dimension of meaning. In the next three chapters, I discuss how the Minimalists, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, and Carl Andre, engaged with the problems of representing the literal in their art and in representing their art as literal. The final chapter speculates on the consequences that the figural character of Minimalism's literalness holds for an understanding of its practice.

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Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Wimbledon College of Arts
Date: 2001
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2023 11:10
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2024 16:12
Item ID: 19703
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/19703

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