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His strategy is threefold: he studies paintings with a remarkable eye for the defining details, arguing, for example, that pictorial "facing" (the most striking and intense relationship of beholding, often associated with portraiture) is to Manet what flatness is to Impressionists; he discerns evidence of sensitivity to such details through an exhaustive reading of nineteenth-century art reviews, word by word; and he also reconstructs Manet's generational identity.
I don't want to suggest that Fried is wrong to criticize the tautological nature of much social history of art, nor the distracted, self-indulgent mood of much of what passes for postmodernist criticism; but his own project - a concerted exploration of issues of pictorialism and beholding - has become needlessly self-limiting.
Black-and-white photographs, some up to or more than a century old, and a detailed text tour through history distinguish this fascinating coffee table guide, which is surely the next best thing to traveling to the Berks County Heritage Center of Pennsylvania and beholding the Gruber Wagon Works in person.