In the 1960s, famous photographers such as Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander captured many images of anonymous drivers in classic cars cruising down large interstate highways. The images are iconic for the way they coin an era in American society reaping the rewards and high life from a burgeoning capitalistic post-war economy. To many, they also seem to represent a condition, or mentality, of observing a bygone era fade as we head furlong into a new one. Society was on the cusp: in the blink of an eye Americans saw an episode of its collective consciousness.
In the 1960s, in art as in business, people in the West preached of the immanence of a moment, a perpetual “now.” A French post-war photographer, Henri-Cartier Bresson, coined the term the “decisive moment” in photography. This pervasive aesthetic describes an intuitive feeling of rightness about something. When the shudder clicks, the photographer captures the very heart and character of something.
To look at Friedlander's photograph, we can see something of this "rightness” of the photographer’s eye in a very instant. “God Bless America” appears like something of a phantom of another moment of time, or a ruin of collective memory. The rear view mirror captures the photographer’s eye and fingers and camera as if to poise his “eye” in the picture. This "eye" of the lens also appears at the heart of the blind spot of the mirror. In this temporal now, the camera demands of Friedlander and his viewer a that consciousness is “shot through” with a kind of intelligence of perception.
Strategy in business demands this appraisal of time. In a business landscape of constant change and unpredictability, intelligence demands the ability to intuit answers and not only calculate them. It demands we find our blind spots in a temporal landscape of fast change. In this landscape of art and business, art critics described something of an “episode” of taste, or an episode of consciousness. The momentousness of this event or “episode” of taste hearkens a glimpse straight into the “eye.”
Art critic Michael Fried described the very essence of what he called a “literalist” aesthetic of Minimalist art in terms strikingly comparable to post-war economics. Minimal art is strikingly real, and our encounter with it is extremely confrontational. It’s simple and has a deadpan character. Most importantly, it exists for us in a time continuum, which is part of our reality, rather than in an illusory world separate from us. In his essay “Art and Objecthood” he described Tony Smith’s comparison of driving along the New Jersey Turnpike at night with no lights nor shoulder markings. This experience capture the infinite permuatational aesthetic of literalist art. Time approaches and recedes. We are infinitely caught between the two in presence.
The literalist art of which Fried speaks, i.e., non-art, theatrical, and situational, etc., offers an encounter with an object that makes our thoughts consciously explicit. The preoccupation with time is a preoccupation with consciousness, of the temporal "I" or "eye." We are beholders of a drama and of time. We experience our temporal selves, of time both passing and to come, and things, writes Fried, both simultaneously approaching and receding. We apprehend our object in a time continuum of consciousness.
Just as Friedlander captures a glimpse of America in a sweeping moment of time, so too do we see how Minimalist sculpture makes the viewer aware of that duree of time and awareness that make up consciousness. Fried mentions Tony Smith's famous Die, a sculpture for whose literal meaning we can make to be one of two dice to play a game, or death. There are no holes marking the sides to count by. Rather we are faced with the harsh patina on the steel uniformly on all sides, its form reduced to a mental gestalt in our minds. It is a sculpture that is absolute, deadfast, and obdurate -- the exact confrontational character of which Fried speaks of. This redundant industrial aesthetic seems mimic the Ford model of production, then the leading paradigm of the industrial economy.
Friedlander’s “eye” sees “God Bless America,” a dictum as pervading and conflicted then as it is in our times. Smith’s Die is a universal form, equally enduring, sometimes ominous and foreboding, but nonetheless real. The two artists teach us from their own moment in time the importance of arresting that vision as an near eidetic from in our subconscious. Both artists teach us something of endings and how as they pass through consciousness, we take them in istantanteously. We grasp them as real because they have this explicitness of Fried's "literal" art.
Situated upon a long antequated paradigm of art and its reception, 1960s art suddenly redefined our experience of it. Since then, the art spectator is no longer a passive recipient who indulges in optical pleasure alone. We think. Art redefined itself as an encounter. In the instant of a moment, we are like Friedlander's photographer in a car at once taking in something and also being aware of ourselves. Minimalist sculpture addresses the endurability but also simultaneously exhaustibility of the industrialized model of standardization. Still today in our own era, in the U.S. or anywhere aroud the globalized world, encounters in art and busiess are about situating ourselves in that nexus of time between past and present where we are conscious of ourselves in the context of the "now," whether domestic or in the global sphere.
What is the "Now?" Since the 1960s, contemporary art has invested the observer with the power of incredible potential. Most importantly, it surfaces in our minds in a temporal continuum. This art also implies we are part of the experience of it. What our eyes and senses teach us draw from what is known and unknown, visible and invisible, and implicit and explicit. It beseeches the use of language rather than demands ineffability. When we wrest insight from our blind spots, we discover that pivotal point. We move from the present with a past hinging upon it towards a future of opportunity, built upon but also freed from the past. Contemporary art is about the incipient character of the moment. It's about self-actualization and potential.