Project 4-2: The Mirror Phase

Read the article by Jacques Lacan entitled The Mirror-Phase as Formative of the Function of the I on pps 620 – 624 of Art in Theory 1900 – 2000 making notes.

Notes on the Mirror-Phase

Lacan’s notion of the Mirror-Phase (or stage) is derived from Freud’s theories of narcissism and studies of child psychology and development. It refers to the period in which the ego is formed in childhood.

Lacan reworked Freud’s developmental model the basis for this being their agreement that infants have no sense of self or identity between themselves and their mother – that is, between Self and Other. Like Freud, he proposed three stages of development from child to adult:

Freud – oral, anal, phallic.

Lacan – Real, Imaginary, Symbolic.

During the Real stage all of the babies needs are satisfied, there is no absence, loss or lack. Between 6-18 months the baby begins to distinguish between the body and everything else in the world. The idea of the ‘Other’ results from the realisation that it is separate from the mother. This creates anxiety and loss – the baby shifts from having needs to having demands which cannot be satisfied with objects. The baby has the mistaken sense of itself as a whole person when recognising their image in a mirror. This creates the ego and sense of self – the mirror stage is also the realm of the Imaginary. Our sense of Self is built by misidentifying with the mirror image – a perfect self with no insufficiency or ego ideal. Following the mirror stage when the baby has formulated a sense of otherness, they enter the Symbolic which is the realm of culture and language. As humans become speaking subjects they designate themselves by the ‘I’ that was discovered in the Imaginary. They must obey the laws and rules of language which Lacan terms the ‘law-of-the-father.’ A notion which links to Freud’s theories of Oedipus, Electra and castration complexes. (D’Alleva, 2012: 96-7)

The mirror-phase was also based on studies carried out by Henri Wallon in the 1930s which compared the reaction of young children on seeing their reflection with that of chimpanzees. The humans were fascinated while the chimpanzees were uninterested which led Wallon to conclude that the babies had recognized the image in the mirror as their actual selves. (Buchanan, 2010: 322)

Lacan proposed that between the ages of 6-18 months, by looking at their own mirror image, babies began to build their ego and become self aware. However, the infant mistakenly sees itself as independent and apart from others in the world despite lacking motor coordination and skills: they see both the ideal ‘I’ and ideal ego, they recognise their image as both ‘me’ and not ‘me’, both themselves and different – a split in recognition that forms both the basis of alienation and at the same time pushes them to grow. The mirror-phase offers both self-recognition coupled with misrecognition and self fragmentation – it is not about the mirror as a reflection of the self but about the mirror as the constitutional element in the construction of the self. (Sturken and Cartwright (2009: 101, 212, 449)

For Chandler the mirror-phase is the defining moment of the Imaginary – the private, psychic realm where the construction of the self is initiated by visual images reflected back by an other with whom we identify. We see our mirror image and this induces a strong, defined illusion of a coherent and self governing personal identity. This also marks the child’s emergence from a matriarchal state of nature to a patriarchal order of culture. (Chandler, 2008: 93)

Eagleton states that we both recognise and identify with our mirror reflection (it is part of ourselves) and also find it alien (not ourselves.) Therefore, the image the child sees in the mirror is an alienated one – a misrecognition that is a pleasing unity not experienced in their own body. Lacan sees the Imaginary as a realm of images where we make identifications but also misconceive and misrecognise ourselves through this very act. As a child grows they continue to make such imaginary identifications continuing to build their ego which Lacan sees as the narcissistic process whereby we bolster a fictive sense of selfhood by finding something in he world with which we can identify. (Eagleton, 1996: 142-3)

Lacan was associated with the Surrealist movement. Find two examples of Surrealist work that might have echoes of the mirror phase and annotate them to show how.

My selections here are from painters associated with surrealism who have both produced work that literally features a mirror and appear to draw inspiration from the notion of the mirror-phase.

mirror-1939

Paul Delvaux: ‘The Mirror’ (1939)

 

A woman sits in a room facing a mirror, however, her apparent reflection does not represent the scene in front of the mirror – it shows a naked with an outdoor scene behind her. The woman in the foreground with her back to us seems to be of wealthy means – she is wearing an expensive looking gown, her seat is ornate and padded which echoes the ornate gilt frame of the mirror she is facing. Strangely, the wall paper in the room in which she is seated is peeling and the ceiling seems in a state of disrepair, the floor is also bare floorboards. We assume the figure in the mirror is a reflection of the seated woman because her pose is the same, however, her nakedness indicates this is an imagined view we are witnessing. A small section of the room, the bare floorboards and peeling wall paper can be seen in the mirror and behind this is an outdoor scene showing a row of trees, one tree standing alone and to the side, and buildings in the background. This again appears to be imagined because the scene covers what appears to be the back wall of the room.

One reading of this scene could be that the reflected image is the woman’s idealised or unconscious view of herself. If we do not take the poor condition of the room’s interior as literal this could represent her inner feelings towards the apparent trappings of her status in society – the dress she wears could also be a symbol of this so being naked could be either the freedom she longs for or the uninhibited way she views herself outside of the trappings of her life. Conversely, the decay of the room could represent the woman’s real life or mental state with the idealised reflection being her own incorrect perceptions. The lone tree in the background seems to be significant and could back up the notion of freedom or difference as it appears to be the same as the others in the row and yet stands apart. This could represent the woman – on the surface the same as anyone else, and yet underneath different and separate. The lack of clothing could merely be a metaphor for the masks of conformity that we use to comply with societal convention.

 

magritte-dangerous-liaisons

René Magritte: ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ (1936)

A woman is shown holding a large mirror over her torso – she appears to be naked. She is standing straight on, the mirror covers from the top of her legs to her head which is tilted down and to the side, her eyes are closed. The reflection in the mirror appears to be of the same woman because the style and colour of her hair and skin tone matches. Clearly this cannot be the case however, a fact that is driven home by the body in the reflection standing at a different angle and being a different perspective. The figure in the mirror is standing to the side with buttocks facing the viewer, one breast is visible with the arms held underneath across the chest.

One reading of this image is that the woman is using the mirror to protect her modesty, which could be backed up by the coy cocking of her head to one side. What we see in the reflection is our projection of what we imagine beneath, a fantasy extended by the more provocative posing. The closed eyes could also suggest that we are witnessing the imagined self perception of the woman represented as a dream state. This could either be a projection of her inner feelings of sensuality, an idealised image of herself,  regret at feeling repressed (backed up by covering herself with the mirror) or, her response to objectification. Potentially however, the reflection is not a manifestation of the woman holding the mirror’s subconscious at all, but, the reflected imaginings of the (male?) viewer. The reflection could be the fulfilment of the viewers wish that the woman holding the mirror would be less repressed and more sexually confident or the projection of masculine fantasies of female sexualisation – the reflection of the woman is provocative (brazenly so?) despite evidence that the woman holding the mirror (reality?) is not like this.

It is interesting that both artists here have chosen to represent female nudity in their paintings – as men do they have the right to explore notions of the female sexual subconscious? It is true that the female nude is an established artistic convention but to extend this objectification to female inner thoughts seems to be somewhat presumptuous.

Find two examples of the way the contemporary  media  make  use  of  Lacan’s ideas and show how.

Willamson (1995) makes some interesting observations about Lacan’s notion if the mirror-phase and how this relates to advertising. She states that advertisements alienate our identity in constituting us as one of the objects in an exchange that we ourselves must make, thereby appropriating form us an image which gives us back our own ‘value’. Advertisements dangle before us an image of an Other; but invite us to be the Same. This capitalizes on our regressive tendency toward the Ego-ideal.

I have chosen two advertisements which deal with body image in very different ways:

beach-body-ad

This advertisement for Protein World weight loss powder caused controversy because of its depiction of what critics saw as an unrealistic and potentially damaging projection of unrealistic body image. The advert invites the viewer to identify recognise the representation of the ideal physique, slim and toned,  as something attainable through the use of the advertised weight loss product. The further connotation is that this type of physique is the only body type that is acceptable for wearing beach wear, anything else being inferior. What we recognise is a reflection of our imperfections rather than the ideal which is represented – the aim being that we use the advertised product as a way of achieving this. Although complaints to the UK advertising watchdog deemed that the advert did not violate advertising guidelines it was met with much criticism in both the press and more directly by members of the public with billboards being vandalised on the London underground and in New York.

anorexia-ad

This still from an advert to promote awareness of eating disorders (available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJuAGbsPu4w) is a powerful take on how the self can be distorted in a negative way. The ad depicts a teenage girl in her underwear looking at herself in the mirror. She is of typical body shape and by no means overweight yet focusses on what she her believes to be imperfections, at one point pulling at her side which is more like skin than fat. At the end of the advert, the camera pulls back and shows a painfully thin girl from the back. We are confronted with the fact that the images we have been viewing are the girl’s perception of herself rather than reality – the final shot shown here of the thin and normal girl together powerfully demonstrates how our view of self can be perverted into a negative and destructive one rather than ideal.

Thoughts…

I have made a conscious effort here to gain the information I need for the project rather than getting obsessed with too much detail. For example, looking at the mirror-phase could easily open up into something much broader…self, other, ego, id, superego, the gaze etc. etc. Some of this I note are topics to be studied in further exercises.

I started doing quite a bit of reading about surrealism before also stopping myself and trying the approach of looking at works and making selections based on what seemed to fit the topic of the mirror-phase. This proved more difficult than I thought as the general art history books I own did not really have what I wanted and a google image search resulted in a great deal of results – many of which where not relevant. I always look at present and past student blogs when working on a project, and on this occasion found the images I eventually chose via former UVC student Keith Greenough: https://keithguvc.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/project-the-mirror-phase/ I did have a number of other images that I considered including but kept coming back to these as they seemed to encapsulate what I understood by the mirror-phase. I have asked for some support from art history students via the OCA student forum with recommendations of websites and books they use for general art history research. The advise gained here will hopefully help with subsequent projects.

Bibliography:

Buchanan, I (2010) Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory. New York: Oxford University Press inc.

Chandler, D. (2008) The Basics: Semiotics. Oxford: Routledge.

D’Alleva, A (2012) Methods and Theories of Art History (2nd Ed.) London: Laurence King Publishing

Eagleton, T. (1996) Literary theory: An introduction. (2nd ed.) Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers

Evans, J. and Hall, S. (eds.) (1999) Visual Culture: The Reader. London: Sage

Foster, H. et al. (2012) Art since 1900: Modernism * Antimodernism * Postmodernism. (2nd ed.) London: Thames & Hudson.

Lacan, J. ‘The mirror-phase as formative of the function of the I’ pps. 620-624 Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) (2002) Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell.

Macey, D. (2000) The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory London: Penguin books

Minsky, R. (1995) Psychoanalysis and gender: An introductory reader. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Murray, C. (ed.) (2002) Key writers on art: The twentieth century. New York: Taylor & Francis

Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) The Basics: Art History. Oxford: Routledge.

De Botton, A. (2016) PSYCHOTHERAPY – Jacques Lacan.  Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OnhOXq7m4w&list=PLwxNMb28XmpcpxBm1RoGRx4mVKNRIrKkG&index=7 [Accessed on 6 September 2016]

Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Sweney, M. (2016) ‘Protein world’s “beach body ready” ads do not objectify women, says watchdog’ In: The Guardian Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jul/01/protein-world-beach-body-ready-ads-asa [Accessed on 10 September 2016]

Williamson, J. (1995) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars.

Zizek, S. (2006) How to Read Lacan. London: Granta.

 

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Project 3-4: Author? What Author?

Read Michel Foucault’s essay ‘What is an author?’ in ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000’ and Roland Barthes ‘The death of the author’ in ‘Image, Music, Text’ and make notes before answering the following questions.

Notes on ‘Death of the author’ by Roland Barthes

In ‘Death of the author’, Bathes is concerned with questions of authority and power between author and reader – there is no ultimate authorial meaning for readers to uncover in a text. Advocated critical and analytical reading of texts taking into account historical contexts and positions as a means of showing how the authority of the author as primary producer of a literary text is a myth. Texts are produced in the act of reading, drawing on the cultural and political perspectives of the reader – never fully according to the intentions of the author. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009: 52-53)

The creator of a text should not have the monopoly on its interpretation as other readings are equally tenable. (Pooke and Newall, 2008: 169)

The death of the author leads to the birth of the reader – a texts unity lies not in it’s origin but it’s destination. Context for the reader is key as this constitutes a frame through which they interpret a text. (Chandler, 2008: 200)

The author is traditionally evoked as the origin and explanation of a text, however, the idea of the author is tyrannical as it encloses a text within a single meaning. The death of the author signals the liberation of the reader as they no longer have to accept a single meaning enshrined on the biography of the author. (Macey, 2000: 83-84)

Barthes argument has three strands:

  1. When an author creates a character and gives it a voice, they cease to be the one speaking.
  2. All writing is simply words on a page, therefore, it is the language itself that speaks not the author. (A fundamental premise of structuralism.)
  3. All writing is quotation. (Buchanan, 2010: 110-111)

“The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centred in the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions.” (Barthes, 1977: 143)

“The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it…the voice of a single person, the author, ‘confiding’ in us” (Barthes, 1977: 143)

“The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes, 1977: 146)

“Once the author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile.” (Barthes, 1977: 147)

“a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.” (Barthes, 1977: 148)

“to give writing it’s future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the Author.” (Barthes, 1977: 148)

Notes on ‘What is and author?’ by Michel Foucault

Explores the notion of a historically variable author-function defined by a variety of discourses and institutions. The emergence of the author-function is a relatively recent occurrence, for example, ancient epics do not have authors in the modern sense of the word. (Macey, 2000: 84)

The concept of the author did not always exist, and although it will probably pass out of relevance it is not exactly dead. The term ‘author-function’ is used rather than author – this is linked to the idea that an author/producer must stand behind any given image/text. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009: 53)

“The coming into being of the notion of ‘author’ constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy and the sciences.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 949)

“The author-function is…characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses within a society.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 950)

“We are used to thinking that the author is so different from all other men, and so transcendent with regard to all languages that, as soon as he speaks, meaning begins to proliferate, to proliferate indefinitely.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 952)

“if we are accustomed to presenting the author as a genius, as a perpetual surging of invention, it is because, in reality, we make him function in exactly the opposite fashion.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 953)

“The author is…the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 953)

“as our society changes…the author-function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemic texts will once again function according to another mode, but with a system of constraint – one which will no longer be the author, but which will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002: 953)

Look at the work of Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman or another artist whose work seems either to be derived from a reading of the two articles you’ve read or whose work is better explained in the light of them.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman became famous in the early 1980s for ‘Untitled Film Stills’; a series of 69 black and white photographs in which the artist appears herself in “a frequently banal yet charged moment that might be a still form a film.” (Badger, 2001: 165)  The work references Hollywood and European cinema of the 1950/60s, a significant time for Sherman as this was when she was growing up and becoming aware of movies and television. The series evokes genres such as film noir and the French new wave; directors like Hitchcock and Antonioni; stars like Brigitte Bardot, Simone Signoret and Sophia Loren. However, the series is non specific and requires prior knowledge of the genre conventions Sherman is appropriating in order to be successful – as Badger (2001: 165) observes, this is a vital part of the series post modern credentials: we are not only required to recognize that we are viewing a scene from a film but also to appreciate and decode Sherman’s work through our shared knowledge of the still and moving images that enter our lives.

For Cotton, (2004: 192) the series is a prime exemplar of post modern art photography: in the series Sherman is both artist and model – both observer and observed. Yet, these images are neither self portraits or about a particular film star or character, rather, ironic and deliberate imitations or simulations of a type. Sherman’s work examines image and identity through the route of visual pleasure: for the viewer satisfaction is derived from developing narratives for the ambiguous scenes depicted.

Sturken and Cartwright (2009: 322) argue that this is an example of a post modern artist working reflexively – that is the work is based on self awareness and immersion in everyday, popular culture. Sherman is also responding to contemporary feminist discourse that challenged representations, the male gaze and structures of identification:

“Sherman’s compositions reflexively pose questions for viewers about spectatorship, identification, the female body image and the appropriation of the gaze by the woman photographer as her own subject.”

Another important distinction that makes ‘Untitled Film Stills’ post modern is that Sherman offers this feminist critique through visual practice rather than the written word as offered by feminist film critics of the same period. Although the series can be read as a critique it also ironically shows Sherman’s pleasurable engagement in the nostalgic fantasy images she creates in the series.

In ‘Art Since 1900’ (2012: 47-8), Foster et al make the connection between the Sherman’s work and the ideas of Barthes and Foucault. More accurately they assert how critics versed in post-structuralist theory reflected in the mirrors of Sherman’s photographs, creating an endlessly retreating horizon of quotation from which the ‘real’ author disappears. This is all well and good, but in her introduction to ‘Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills’ (2003: 12) she states:

“I didn’t think of what I was doing as political: to me it was a way to make the best out of what I liked to do privately, which was dress up.”

And

“It wasn’t about dressing up to look like mom, or Doris Day, it was just fun to look different. It had nothing to do with dissatisfaction, or fantasizing about being another person; it was instinctive.”

If you take these comments at face value, and it is unlikely having recently graduated from art school that Sherman was unaware of the cultural discourse of the time, these comments only go to further validate the notion of the death of the author – whether Sherman intended her work to have any of the connotations that were bestowed upon it is irrelevant, after all: “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.” (Barthes, 1977: 148)

Sherrie Levine

Sherrie Levine is part of what was termed the ‘pictures generation’ of artists and participated in the ‘Pictures’ exhibition of 1977 curated by Douglas Crimp. These artists can be described as characteristically postmodern and share a resistance to modernist ideas of purity and individuality. Common concerns are the ideological role of photographic representation, issues of gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and, the changing dynamic of cultural politics. (Pooke and Newall, 2008: 183)

Levine’s work relies heavily on appropriation – predominately photographing other artists work and presenting this in a gallery setting without manipulation. With ‘After Walker Evans’ Levine presented a series of copies of photographs Walker Evans made during his participation in the FSA documentary project during the American depression. Levine raises questions about the ethics concerning copies and originals, issues of authenticity and image ownership, the value of photography through display in a contemporary fine art gallery and how historical records are viewed by different era’s. (These historical images of abject poverty were originally presented in the era of Reganomics.) (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009: 208-9)

Levine’s work is best explained as questioning and critique. Themes explored are: the idea of the original, (which is the real work of art? The Copy or original?) the male artist as master, the value of images (the aura placed on art by museums, galleries and the art market) and questions of reproduction, the artist as sole creator of a unique work.

In ‘Art since 1900’, Levine’s practice is described as an “act of piracy” (Foster et al, 2012: 48) which questions the authorial status of the image makers. The argument is made that the ‘original’ images that Levine appropriates are themselves “involved in an unconscious but inevitable borrowing from the great library of images…that have already educated our eyes.” (Foster et al, 2012: 48) The examples given are Edward Weston’s photograph of the nude torso of his son Neil which bears a debt to Greek classical sculpture. By fusing her own status as author with that of Weston’s, Levine goes beyond challenging copyright to addressing Weston’s very claim on originality. The male nude is one of the most culturally disseminated in western culture: originating in Greek classicism, the model for endless roman copies and seen through the prism of the post-Renaissance world as decapitated, armless fragments and cut off torso that has come to symbolise the body’s rhythmic wholeness. The ‘author’ of this image is therefore “dazzlingly multiple”: nameless antique sculptors, archaeologists, museum curators and even modern advertisers:

“It is this perspective that Levine’s violation of Weston’s “authorship” opens his work, setting up a long line of claimants to this privilege and making a mockery of the very idea of Weston himself as the image’s origin.” (Foster et al, 2012: 625)

Levine is arguing that appropriation has always been endemic in the fine arts, the implication being that photography merely makes this appropriation easier.

If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s ‘aura’ left?

I suspect that Barthes and Foucault are in agreement with Benjamin about the aura, in some ways the essays are an extension of his argument about the removal of privilege from works of art. However, for me these essays share the similar issue that they are written from a particular ideological perspective about what the authors aspire the world to look like. The realities of capitalist society however mean that the aura of a work of art as well as the assertion of authorship is a reality driven primarily by the economic workings of the market. The theories exist as interesting discourse and help us gain sense of the world around us and arts relationship within it.

In ‘Art since 1900’ the argument is made that appropriation artists such as Sherrie Levine belong to a generation where the ideas of Benjamin are second nature. The ‘Pictures’ artists attempted to demystify the idea of the aesthetic original and the idea of the authentic photographic print at a time when the fine art photography market was growing. A truth that is counter to Benjamin’s claim that the aesthetic magic an artwork possesses would be invalidated by the very nature of photography.

“Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the idea of whether photography is an art. The primary question of whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art – was not raised.” (Foster et al, 2012: 625)

Does any of this explain or validate the unregulated nature of the internet?

I can see a connection between the utopic aspirations of Foucault, Barthes and Benjamin and the ‘so -called’ unregulated internet. The ideal for the internet age is that everyone not only has access to boundless information, but also has the ability to create their own content and engage in multiple discourse. The reality however is that the internet is a potentially bewildering area to navigate. It is true there is unlimited information but reliability and relevance are real concerns. The way most of us use the internet is very much guided by huge corporations like Google and Facebook, the rules these outlets operate by, and which we become complicit in, may not be overt – but are certainly not free or unregulated. The recent scandals of internet surveillance brought to light by Edward Snowdon and others proves that anyone believing the web is a place of absolute freedom of expression is simply wrong.

It is not governments that particularly regulate internet content however – it is the general public. Examples of this are demonstrated by Jon Ronson in his book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ which explores how the lives of normal people can be destroyed by reaction to an ill-judged social media confession or clumsy tweet: a kind of “vicious mob rule.” For example, Justine Sacco who had her life ruined after tweeting a poor taste joke about the racial politics of AIDS in Africa. After posting her ‘joke’ to her 170 twitter followers she boarded a plane and found after her 11 hour flight the tweet was the number one trending topic around the world and reaction was rabidly negative. She lost her job, was subjected to rape and death threats and spent the next year unemployed, depressed and virtually house bound. Ronson likens this treatment to the Stasi: “we have created a surveillance society where we are always looking for clues to our neighbours’ inner evil…” (Adams, 2015) The suggestion here is that the intention of the author is unimportant – only the reaction of the reader matters. A view that chimes with Barthes and Foucault’s assertions, if not the spirit, of the death of the author.

Ironically, by showing empathy for Sacco via Twitter, Ronson himself became a target for online abuse and was branded a racist. And yet, as testified by the Arab spring, WikiLeaks and the recent documenting and sharing on social media of police brutality against black people in the US, it is clear that the internet can give a voice to the voiceless. This use, which is important and powerful contrasts sharply with the witch hunts, with an air of quiet resignation Ronson observes: “We are now turning into a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.” (Ronson, 2016)

Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creators intent at the time of making?

This is an interesting question that both feeds into the notion of the death of the author and the idea of the Emperor’s new clothes. Barthes and Foucault argue that it is the reading taken from a text that is important – the intention of the creator is irrelevant. This is an appealing idea, but, taken to it’s logical conclusion runs the risk of finding meaning where there is none. On the other hand – does this matter? The introduction to ‘The Complete Untitled Film Stills’ Cindy Sherman talks of her motivation being dressing up and nostalgia for the films of the 1950/60s that she grew up with. As a recent graduate of art school I find it difficult to believe that she was not familiar with the work of Barthes and Foucault, it is possible however that these were not in her mind consciously as she worked on ‘Untitled film stills.’

It is also entirely possible for an artist to produce work that is filled with intended meaning that is missed by the audience. Sherrie Levine could be an example of this, I would imagine an enormous amount of people being unengaged and even angered at her work. While notions of copyright can be picked upon, it is unlikely that the casual observer would pickup on the critique of the myth of authorial originality. So, while it may be legitimate to say that with the death of the author every reader is entitled to an opinion about a text, this does not mean all readers conclusions are equally valid. The elitism and reliance on a high degree of cultural awareness that is connected with this sort of post modern art seems to me to alienate many, a kind of in joke for academics not intended to be accessible to the general population.

My preferred answer to this question relies on the truth that as individuals we all have a greatly differing perspective on life and our experience can have a dramatic effect on our responses. My personal way of approaching a text is with an open mind and the realisation that there is rarely a definitive reading, there are many possible conclusions available, and it is possible for many of these to be valid at the same time.

Bibliography:

Adams, T. (2015) ‘Jon Ronson: ‘Time and again on Twitter we act like the thing we purport to hate’’ The Guardian, 14th December 2015 [accessed online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/dec/13/jon-ronson-shame-bullying-twitter-social-media [Accessed June 2016]

Barthes R. The death of the author pps. 142-148 Barthes, R. (1977) Image, Music, Text, London: Fontana Press.

Badger, G. (2001) The genius of photography: How photography has changed our lives. London: Quadrille Publishing.

Buchanan, I (2010) Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory. New York: Oxford University Press inc.

Chandler, D. (2008) The Basics: Semiotics. Oxford: Routledge.

Cotton, C. (2004) The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Evans, J. and Hall, S. (eds.) (1999) Visual Culture: The Reader. London: Sage

Foster, H. et al. (2012) Art since 1900: Modernism * Antimodernism * Postmodernism. (2nd ed.) London: Thames & Hudson.

Foucault M. What is an Author pps. 949-953 Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) (2002) Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell.

Macey, D. (2000) The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory London: Penguin books

Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) The Basics: Art History. Oxford: Routledge.

Ronson, J. (2015) So you’ve been publicly shamed. United Kingdom: Pan MacMillan.

Ronson, J. (2016) Jon Ronson: How the online hate mob set its sights on me.The Guardian, 28th January 2016 Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/dec/20/social-media-twitter-online-shame [Accessed June 2016]

Sherman, C. et al. (2003) Cindy Sherman: The complete untitled film stills. New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.

Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press

 

Project 1-6: Photography: The New Reality

This project requires reading the essay ‘Photography Versus Painting’ by Osip Brik in ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000’ (Ed. Harrison and Wood) before considering the following questions:

 Do you think that Brik’s article points to a practice that was taken up by photographers or other artists to any great extent?

 Although Brik’s article was written in 1926, nearly 100 years since the earliest surviving photograph by Nicéphore Niépce, he makes a passionate argument as to why photography is an important art form while acknowledging it is still in its infancy. As a Russian Constructivist Brik would have been concerned with art that serves a political and social purpose as well as art’s relationship with the industrial. As a Leninist living in post-revolutionary Russia the ties between art and the ruling classes would have informed his thinking; he recognises how the cost of photography is accessible to everyone, unlike painting, “The cheapest painting is more expensive than the most expensive photograph.” For me, there is a real sense of purpose and urgency to his words along with a belief that photography can form part of social betterment.

For Brik, there is no contest in the battle between art and photography, “Photography pushes painting aside. Painting resists and is determined not to capitulate.” The advantages of photography over painting, “precision, speed [and] cheapness”, mean that painters cannot compete with the “faithful reproduction” that photography can produce. Despite this, the counter attack by painters was centred on photography’s inferior realism to painting because it was black and white. For Brik this argument is flawed in that painters can only approximate the colours of nature: “However much the painter tries s/he cannot go beyond the narrow limits of the palette.” He hints that accurate colour photography is yet to come while dismissing the lack of realism argument with the aside that at least photography does not falsify like painting by giving an object the wrong colours.

For Brik, photography’s difference to painting should be total. Photographers should concern themselves with how a subject looks while “The painter not only has the right to change reality, it is virtually his duty to do so.” he cites artistic movements that have emerged from the mid nineteenth century as proof of this, impressionism, cubism, suprematism, each of which makes a decisive divide between photography and painting. Although he cannot resist disparaging painting again, “The photographer captures life and the painter makes pictures.”

Despite all of his assertions that photography is superior to painting, Brik admits that photography is not yet fully mature as an art form. This is due to photographers not realising their social importance and regarding themselves as humble artisans practicing an “insignificant craft.” The reason for this is that artists are free to make work of anything that they please rather than to commission. (Although I think he is presenting an idealised version of what it is to be an artist here.) The importance of their work is compounded by important exhibitions which are regarded as cultural events. He explains that this is why some photographers try to mimic this style by employing painterly effects, a reference to the pictorialist school of photography. Brik believes however that photographers will attain the social recognition enjoyed by painters by creating their own aesthetic: “The photographer must show that it is not just life ordered according to aesthetic laws which is impressive, but also vivid, everyday life itself as it is transfixed in a technically perfect photograph.” He acknowledges that a new theory of the art of photography is in its infancy but cites photographers like Alexander Rodchenko who understand it’s “mission, aims and development.”

There is much in Brik’s article that I agree with – that photography is a an art form and is separate from painting, that it has the ability to recreate reality more closely than traditional art and that photography can be important politically and socially. He rightly asserts that photography will move away from pictorialism into more realistic modes although today there are many different photographic styles. Because the article is a polemic which does not give any room for multiple view points only the assertion of Brik’s argument, I also have a number of concerns: Brik suggests that there can be only painting or photography when clearly they can coexist side by side. It is quite common today for artists to work in many different media so clearly this is untrue and many exhibitions feature both photography and painting. Brik also completely accepts the view that photography is a faithful representation of reality, a position that although it has some truth has been widely discounted today, or at least approached with caution.

 Do you find any resonances with Brik’s ideas in contemporary discussions of photography and painting?

Until recently I would have said no, that the argument about whether photography could be art was over and had broadly been won. A recent pair of articles in ‘The Guardian’ however show this not to be the case. In response to a photograph (‘Phantom’ by Peter Lik) setting a new world record for the most expensive ever (it sold for $6.5m), the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones set out an argument against photography being an art form. His main thrust is against ‘Phantom’ which he sees as “derivative, sentimental in its studied romanticism, and consequently in very poor taste.” And “Lik’s photography is beauty in a slick way, but beauty is cheap if you point a camera at a grand phenomenon of nature.” Not only does he find the subject matter derivative of 100 year old painting styles he also has issue with the use of black and white which he sees as a special effect employed solely to elevate the status of the work. Indeed, Jones’ main issue is that anyone could have taken ‘Phantom’ as long as they stand in the right place, at the right time with the right piece of technology: “this hollow and overblown creation exposes the illusion that lures us all, when we’re having a good day with a good camera – the fantasy that taking a picture is the same thing as making a work of art.”

In response photography critic Sean O’Hagan argues that he could as easily dismiss all painting by using a narrow example such as the BP National Portrait Award, an “uninspiring show, a hotchpotch”, which is “mostly comprised of rather old fashioned paintings.” He chooses not to because “the ‘photography is not art’ debate is so old it’s hardly worth revisiting.” He agrees with Jones on one point however, that ‘Phantom’ is not very good, “a rather boring photograph.” However, he argues that the huge selling price shows the problems inherent in global capitalism rather than photography, “obscenely rich people with more money than sense.” He could similarly attack all contemporary art because of Hirst’s “obscene” diamond skull or Jack Vettriano but rather chooses to celebrate the great artists that take photographs and the great photographers that are artists, whose work, “sings on the gallery wall. Their work makes you look at the world in a different way.” On the subject of technology, O’Hagan asserts that digital photography has merely made it easier for people to take and disseminate photographs, “A great photographer can make a great photograph whatever the camera. A bad one will still make a bad photograph on a two grand digital camera that does everything for you. It’s about a way of seeing, not technology.”

So who wins the argument? Although I am biased towards photography myself I would still have to say O’Hagan – a lot of the success of his piece comes down to his difference in tone compared with Jones. While he appears measured in his responses and passionate about his love of photography as an art form, Jones appears spiteful and irrational. It is unclear whether his piece is a knee jerk reaction or simply provocative. It seems that it could be the latter as many commentators on the piece point out he has been an advocate for photography as an art form in the past. Still, the difficulties raised about the mechanical nature of photography, whether it is the machine or the operator that makes a great image and the fact that anyone can take a photograph are probably more commonly shared than I first thought. My suspicion is that many people who are not invested with an interest in contemporary art would prefer ‘Phantom’ over the previous most expensive photograph ever ‘Rhine II’ by Andreas Gursky. The problem though is that we equate cost with quality, and as O’Hagan observes, in this modern capitalist age of inflated prices, this is a dangerous parallel to draw.

Find and annotate two examples of images that demonstrate the impact of photography on painting. How do these images acknowledge the shift in visual culture that came about with the advent of photography?

From my research I found little concrete evidence of photography’s impact on painting, by that I mean that a lot of what I read came down the authors opinion or considered hypothesis of how artists reacted to the emergence of photography. Through my research of different art movements during photography’s initial development I came across a number of thoughts of my own which I will detail. I may be off the mark and my opinion is sure to change as my knowledge of art history improves and I become familiar with more artists, also, my ideas are contradictory in that photography both encouraged a new type of realism (rather than the presentation of an ideal) as well as provoking artists began to experiment with more abstract representations which differentiated painting from photographs.

It is difficult to say for certain whether these changes in painting are a direct result of photography or driven more by the rapid changes in society brought about by the industrial revolution. This notion of photography’s impact is also compounded by the fact that as an emerging art form it would be at least one hundred years after the first photograph before photography started to find its way as an art form.

The realism movement in art of the mid-late 19th century aimed at breaking artistic and social conventions through choice of subject matter and by attempting to show the world as they saw it. Realism was interested in challenging the accepted bourgeois notions of what art should be: the pursuit of the beautiful, moral and improving. In ‘A Bar at the Foile-Bergere’ (1882) Edouard Manet paints a young woman standing behind a bar with the customers reflected in the background. The image was controversial at the time because of the subject matter; many think the girl portrayed is a prostitute – not an accepted subject for a painting. Also the paintings style which rather than using perspective focusses the viewers attention with the distortions and omissions in the reflections of the background achieve a kind of depth of field effect – which has now become part of the language and way we understand a photograph. I think it is doubtful that this would have entered the visual language at the time Manet was painting but the comparison is interesting none the less. It also seems somewhat coincidental that a movement that aims to portray life as seen by the artist emerges at the same time that photography is invented.

The impressionist movement, originating from around 1860, could be seen as a rejection of attempting to compete with photography on the grounds of realism. Impressionists explored ways to capture light, movement and colour through their work and thus provoke a sensory reaction from the viewer. It is only since the 1970s that colour photography has overtaken black and white as the accepted norm (certainly in reference to ‘serious’ photography) so it understandable that the impressionist’s use of colour was one of the central aspects of their work and a key differentiator with photography, see Claude Monet ‘Impressions, Sunrise’ (1872). On a separate note, the early pictorialist movements in photography can be read as an attempt to follow what was happening in the art world (and an attempt to have photography accepted as an art) and appears to me to be heavily influenced by Impressionism. Edward Steichen, ‘The Pond-Moonlight’, 1904.)

As art moved into modernism, painting became less concerned with realism and more abstract,  which again can be read as a further distancing between painting and photography. Certainly a work like Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, 1907) is unrecognisable as what was understood at the time as a painting through Picasso’s use of flattened perspective and jagged shapes.

A final example of how by the beginning of the twentieth century painting and photography are now beginning to inform each other can be seen in Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2’,1912 which clearly is influenced by cubism but also references the photographic studies of motion by Eadweard Muybridge (‘Woman Walking Downstairs’, 1887.)

Thoughts…

As my main artistic interest and area of knowledge lies with photography and because of this I thought this would be an easy project to complete, the reality has been somewhat more slippery however. The difficulty has mainly come from trying to establish the relationship between painting, photography and reality as it applies to the mid-late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. It quickly became apparent to me that it is impossible to look at only painting and photography in isolation as the development of both was probably influenced far greater by the fast changing world driven by advances in science and technology and also massive shifts in society. It seems probable that any serious artist would be aware of photography as an emerging medium and that seems to be demonstrated by the examples I have given, how much so is difficult if not impossible to assess. It is not unreasonable to assume that artists may have been subconsciously influenced by photography’s development rather than actively seeking it as an influence. That photography was influenced by art seems similarly likely because of the early photographic movement of pictorialism.

Realism in photography is a tricky subject. It is probably only very recently that we have stopped believing the cliché ‘the camera never lies’ and this is only because we are now sophisticated readers of visual culture. In the early days of photography this distinction would probably not have been made, conversely however it certainly took a number of years before photography developed its own visual language (the development of the technology played a part in this)  so it would certainly have been even longer for acceptance of photography as a visual language to be made.

In short, as with all the other exercises so far, what has seemed straightforward at the beginning has become less so as my study has progressed. I feel a little less certain about the relationship between painting and photography now despite my increased knowledge, maybe this is because I recognise that I have only scratched the surface and that the relationship is an extremely complex one with many other outside influences.

Keywords and concepts for further research:

Constructivism, Factography, Reportage, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Suprematism, Social Realiam, Futurism, Bauhaus movement, Neo-Classical.

Key figures for further research:

Osip Brik, Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzy, Vladimir Mayalowsky, Vladimir Tatlin, Dziga Vertov, Varvara Stepanova, Van Doesburg, Naum Gabo, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, Charles Vantongerro, Pablo Picasso, Eduoard Manet, Marcel Duchamp, Eadward Muybridge.

Bibliography:

Brik, O. Photography versus Painting in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) (2002) Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell.

Jones, J. The $6.5m canyon: it’s the most expensive photograph ever – but it’s like a hackneyed poster in a posh hotel in The Guardian 10th December 2014

Available at http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/dec/10/most-expensive-photograph-ever-hackneyed-tasteless [accessed January 2015]

Macey, D. The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory (2000) London: Penguin books

Murray, P and L. The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists 7th Ed (1997) London: Penguin Books

O’Hagan, S. Photography is art and always will be in The Guardian 11th Decemeber 2014

Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/11/photography-is-art-sean-ohagan-jonathan-jones [accessed January 2015]

Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Project 1-1: Modernist Art: The Critic Speaks

This project requires reading the article ‘Modernist painting’ written by Clement Greenberg1 and first published in 1960. The course notes explain that one of the purposes of this exercise is to get the student used to academic writing and the language used and suggests that a number of readings would be required to ascertain meaning. I certainly found this to be true! My approach was this – I read through the article first without making any notes and then reread the piece straight away this time making little attempt to understand it as a whole but underling key passages and making notes of words used in unfamiliar ways or what appeared to be key passages. I then set about doing some more research on these which gave me a little time for the article to soak in. I then left the article for a couple of days – this was more due to circumstances rather than planning but I did find my understanding increased on my next reading, although I was still left with the feeling that there was lots of information I still had not absorbed. I was left with a long list of artists and references that I still was not fully familiar, or references that I had done some research on but knew I was only scratching the surface. For example, I did a little reading about Modernism and know I only managed to gain a rudimentary understanding, however, I understood that gaining a balance between reading around a subject while ensuring this does not become a barrier to progressing would be a fine balancing act. I therefore decided to put my thoughts down about the article at this point rather than spend more time studying further. The course notes suggest that my opinion and understanding of the article may change as I progress and more knowledge is gained so I intend to revisit this project at the end of section 1 to see how true this is.

What is Greenberg talking about in general and what are his main arguments?

Main points –

  •  Modernist art is dialectical/self questioning.
  •  Modernist art makes a virtue of the flatness of the picture plane rather than trying to hide this through three-dimensional optical illusion. It consciously makes the viewer aware that they are viewing a painting.
  •  Modernist art is a natural continuation (evolution?) of art traditions.

Although the article does not explicitly express it, I felt this was Greenberg attempting to defend Modernist art against detractors. He refers to the philosopher Kant and likens his strategy of self criticism to what separates Modernism from other movements:

 “Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic.”

 He suggests there is an intellectualism to Modernist art and, “Modernism used art to call attention to art.”

He goes to great lengths to describe what makes Modernist art different to art that has gone before, for example, ‘The Old Masters’ who he states treated what they viewed as the limitations of painting (flat surfaces, shape of support, properties of pigment) as negatives and did their best not to draw attention to them.  The Old Masters tried to preserve the “integrity of the picture plane” while the Modernists regard these limitations, particularly flatness, as positive factors:

“Flatness, two-dimensionality, was the only condition shared with no other art.”

 “Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.”

 He discusses three-dimensionality representation in art and how this relates to sculpture. He sees sculpture as quite separate from pictorial art:

 “Three-dimensionality is the province of sculpture, and for the sake of it’s own autonomy painting has had above all to divest itself of everything it might share with sculpture.”

 This has led to painting making itself abstract.

Despite rejecting the sculptural, Greenberg is at pains to show how Modernist painting sits in the history of art and that it would not have been possible without the art that went before it:

 “it continues tradition and the themes of condition, despite all appearances to the contrary.”

 And:

 “By the middle of the nineteenth century all ambitious tendencies in painting were converging (beneath there differences) in an anti-sculptural direction.”

 The phrase “all ambitious tendencies” is key in showing how highly Greenberg views Modernist art versus other styles.

The theme of flatness and Modernism making the viewer implicitly aware that they are viewing a painting is returned to:

 “Old Masters created an illusion of space into which one could imagine oneself walking, the illusion created by a Modernist is one into which one can only look, can travel through only with the eye.”

 The essay ends with an attack on art criticism, much of which Greenberg disparages as little more than journalism because each new phase of Modernism is hailed as a new epoch when, however, “expectation is disappointed” as these phases take there places in “the intelligible continuity of taste and tradition.”

The importance of Greenberg’s assertions that Modernism is a continuation of what has gone before is emphasised with the essays closing:

 “Without the past of art, and without the need and compulsion to maintain past standards of excellence, such a thing as Modernist art would be impossible.”

 Who Does he mention and what is his opinion of them?

  •  Kant, (Immanuel, 1724-1804):

Positive opinion, sees Modernism as having begun with the philosophy of Kant:

 “because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as the first real Modernist.”

  •  The Old Masters:

Does not explicitly explain who he is referring to with this term, however, the names he mentions towards the end of the essay as ‘past masters’ could be what he means. (Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau.)

  •  Manet: (Edouard Manet, 1832-1883)

Hailed as the first Modernist painter by Greenberg:

 “by virtue of the frankness with which they declared the surfaces on which they were painted”

  •  The Impressionists:

Who followed “in Manet’s wake” and left “the eye under no doubt as to the fact that the colours used were made of real paint that came from pots and tubes.”

  •  Cezanne (Paul, 1839-1906):

Who followed the impressionists and sacrificed correctness (verisimilitude) to fit drawing to the rectangular shape of the canvas

  •  Kadinsky (Wassily, 1866-1944) and Mondrian (Piet, 1872-1944):

Calls them eminent artist but disagrees with their view that abstractness or the non figurative is in itself a necessary moment in self-criticism of figurative art.

  •  David (Jacques-Louis, 1748-1825):

18th Century painter who sought to revive sculptural painting “from the decorative flattening-out that the emphasis on colour seemed to induce.”

  •  Ingres (Jean-Auguste-Dominique, 1780-1867):

Pupil of David who executed pictures that were the flattest and least sculptural since the 14th century.

  •  Fragonard (Jean-Honore, 1732-1806):

Who David reacted against

  •  The Cubists (and Cezanne):

Reacted against Impressionism, “the Cubsit counter-revolution”

  •  Cimabue (c.1240-1302):

States Cubism was the flattest type of painting in Western art since Cimabue.

  •  Monet (Claude 1840-1926):

Suggests that once you are used to the Mondrian’s art it becomes “almost too disciplined, too convention-bound,” the last paintings of Monet are more radical despite not seeming so at first.

  •  Neo-Impressionists:

Believed they were misguided when they flirted with science but can see how they would do so since Kant’s way of thinking can be applied closely to scientific thinking.

  •  Corot (Jean-Baptiste-Camille, 1796-1875):

Disparaging in that he says he did not have fixed ideas about art (although he makes this point

  •  The Palaeolithic painter or engraver:

(Palaeolithic refers to stone age/pre historic) Unsophisticated, could disregard the norm of the frame because he made “images rather than pictures.”

  •  Uccello (Paolo, 1397-1475), Piero (della Francesca, 1415-1492), El Greco (1541-1614), Georges de la Tour (1593-1652), Vermeer (Johannes, 1632-1675):

States Modernism partly responsible for the revival of their reputations which suggests Greenberg thinks they are worthy of revival.

  •  Giotto (di Bondone, c.1266-1337):

revival not started by Modernism, hence not worthy.

  •  Leonardo (da Vinci, 1452-1519), Raphael (Sanzino da Urbino 1483-1520), Titian (Tiziano Vecelli, c.1488-1576), Rubens (Peter Paul, 1577-1640), Rembrandt (Harmenszoon van Rijn 1606-1669), Watteau (Antoine, 1684-1721):

Artists whose standing has not been lowered  by Modernism (possibly the ‘old masters referred to earlier) does state however that it is only through Modernism that these artists can be correctly appreciated.

Does he quote others and make reference to their work?

Strangely, Greenberg does not directly quote any sources in his text which seems unusual to me for an academic paper, even arrogant. Kant is the main source he uses at the beginning of the essay but he only asserts Kant’s theories rather than providing any evidence. The tone of the piece is extremely self assured – Greenberg’s arguments are presented as fact rather than opinion. No attempt is made to explain any of his sources and artists he references, in fact, only the surnames are given. Greenberg makes no concessions to the reader that does not have a wide knowledge and understanding of art history.

Is Greenberg convincing? Has he changed your mind or do you tend to agree with his arguments?

On the surface Greenberg’s arguments seem extremely convincing, however, this is from my limited knowledge of art history so is based on the forcefulness of his writing and I am not in a position to dispute. I would be interested to know if my opinion will change as I go through the course.

The idea of art being a continual, developing process seems logical to me. This is based on my knowledge of artists referencing each other in the present day. It seems strange that Greenberg does not mention advances in technology such as printing, the ability to travel as well as changes to the class system and the industrial revolution as being significant changes in the 19th and early 20th century that would have contributed to the development of artistic practices during this time. He also does not mention photography, although it is only recently that photographs have been accepted as art in their own right. I am struck by how little explanation Greenberg gives about any of the artists, artistic movements and concepts he mentions. I assume this is due to him recognising the academic audience the essay is pitched and the fact that deviations would increase the length of the article considerably.

I found his constant mentioning of flatness to be jarring, it is not a term I am fond of, although the idea that a key part of Modernist art is that it draws attention to the very fact that a painting is made on a flat surface (and to make the viewer aware that they are looking at a painting) is an intriguing one. Abstract art is something I know little about other than what I can instinctively view as aesthetically pleasing and the explanation of motives to produce it are enlightening. Further reading about Modernism however has made me realise that artists did not recognise themselves as being part of a collective school and that the label was applied by critics (particularly Greenberg) not the artists themselves.

I have spent nearly a week reading this article, doing further research and most importantly thinking about Greenberg’s intent when writing this article and trying to understand all of the meaning involved. It is extraordinary that the essay is written in such a dense way and I know I have only scratched the surface of the meaning it contains. I have learned a great deal about my study style and thought extensively about strategies I will need to employ to get the most from the course – not becoming too bogged down with the tiniest details while doing enough background reading is a particular balancing act I anticipate. It would be impossible to take in all of the references Greenberg mentions here and formulate a considered opinion and this will surely be a factor as I continue through the course.

 Keywords and concepts for research:

Paradigm, Dialectical, The Enlightenment, Modernism, Kant, Verisimilitude.

 Artists/artistic movements for further research:

Manet, Cezanne, Kadinsky, Mondrian, David, Ingres, Fragonard, Cubists/Cubism, Cimabue, Monet, Impressionists/ism, Neo-impressionists/ism, Corot, Uccello, Piero, El Greco, Georges de la Tour, Vermeer, Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau.

1 Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) (2002) Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 773-779