Wednesday, 30 December 2009

‘Turner and The Masters’ at the Tate Britain

My dad inquired with me the content of the ‘Turner and The Masters’ exhibition before I came to view it; rightly pointing out that Rembrandt (the featured artist he knew most of) was practising in a whole different century to Turner. Turner, 1775-1851, is a relative contemporary compared to some the artists he has been aligned along the picture rail with. The curators were surely voicing a quite particular opinion, for it is unusual for a retrospect revolving around Turner, to spread over as long a period.

Are these ‘other’ works simply background or context? Partly, they speak of the battle Turner had with his art to reach bars set by the ruling governance of art - felt to be the Royal Academy. Or, are they works that serve to elevate Turner’s as masterpieces? - Such bias would not be unexpected in favour of the Englishman for this exhibition has been found at the Tate Britain. Or is a further comment being made? On view simultaneously as though synchronised, is the Turner Prize; suggesting that the quest of the modern British artist, is to become the new Turner.

Do I think that Turner could be one of the greatest amongst the masters? Have I today seen a painting that to me rivals Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride? What is it that determines a great artist? Is it one: a few stunning paintings that alone can bring recognition – such as that above mentioned portrait of a couple and Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Or, is it a body of work that collectively proves the strength of a great creator? For which I would say Van Gogh can be categorised. Eugenie Scrase ‘s final piece for the Saatchi gallery Trunkated Trunk was good, (isn’t it uncanny though that her surname is a homophone for Eugene disgrace?); but Matt Clark was consistently good and industrious, and so for this I was glad he was awarded some recognition…

I saw a wider ranging Turner, in style, confidence and in subject. Subjects of genre scenes and religious tales, were narrated by the as not being pursued for long, after the discovery that these subjects were not his forte. It was only the latter pieces that made him worthy of being possibly one of the most loved artists. There were five paintings that struck me as the work of an artistic genius, distinct as Turner and in a separate echelon to his contemporaries, and rivals from the written-of past. These were nearly all found in the final room and include the populous Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842, which displays his artistic Romantic drama; and competence at capturing times, settings and lights that warm more than our eyes but our bellies.

In format and by title, you would presume that the curator’s aim was to crown Turner as the ultimate artist. Yet, in the mainly battlefields formed with the abutting of paintings, (like would have been seen at the Royal Academy in his own day – and this is what is being simulated), I often decided I much preferred or admired the work that was not Turner’s. Most obvious, was this in his genres painting, when he was pitted against his contemporaries David Wilkie and David Teniers. In the landscapes of Venice, the Venetian Canaletto was, generally agreed, the best. Turner’s lacked excitement, real accuracy, which could abolish disapproval from lack of excitement, and thus anything of real interest. However, the later painting, Venice from the Porch of the Madonna Della Salute, 1835 is a masterpiece from Turner. The stunning way the gondolier hovers over the water, as though its oarsman is levitating both ends in a crisp layer of air. It is on par, with Canletto’s precise technique, though most would probably favour Turner’s more textural style that would is commonly viewed freer and less pedantic.

My favourite works from the exhibition were Rembrandt’s, as I remain exhilarated from my experience of his works in Amsterdam in November. That said, I cannot doubt the innovative brushwork, and believe his most matured style is in many paintings unrivalled.

‘Turner and The Masters’ is at the Tate Britain until 31 January 2010

Monday, 28 December 2009

‘How It Is’ – The Black Box by Miroslaw Balka

We cannot produce a new visual style, or definition. Only, artists can encroach upon a previously-seen painting/sculpture/instillation/other, with a new perception. A new reason for creating it. A new culmination of ideas.


The idea alone of any artwork of 2009 – if we see an artwork as comprising of just one – is unlikely to be original. However, each person ever to have existed, is unparalleled. And so the originality lies in the artist. It is thus the unique selection of motivations and inspiration that will be just this. It is this reason that when I see the ‘Turners and the Masters’ exhibition and write a critique, my output is unique, based upon my unique vision and decision of where to look and for how long; my unique selection of reading, viewing and absorbing of others’ opinions that shapes mine; and unique episodes of life that provide associations that can relate to my experience.


Concept, and the expression of it through language, is what make this black box different enough from a standard worldy experience, to a work of art. The artist relates the darkness to his knowledge of Plato’s ‘Allegory of a Cave,’ and this was spoken of as a blatant reference that the audience will instinctively recognise. I rightly, as not to altar or shape my perception due to it, read the accompanying text afterwards. Yet I did not consider such comparison to Plato, even though I am familiar with this philosophical allegoric tale. When within the carrier, all I was concerned with was where to go; and that time lapse that I am not fond of while I waited impatiently for my eyes to adjust to the darkness; and I, through Art College, have a trained artist mind. – I look at work aiming to understand, or consider beyond my initial understanding, to what the artist may have conceived or wanted me to conceive.


The annotation has instigated the loss of the intention, which was of ‘universal art.’ This purposefully large construction (13 metres tall and 30 metres long) is in a purposefully open-plan Turbine Hall, so that it can be a piece of public art. It is exactly about the sensation I outlined in the insecurities of darkness, and not outside references. It is non-referential – like the work of Anish Kapoor, unlike the work of Turner – so that it is intentionally accessible, to the everyday public. And in this case words again, and an artist’s flamboyancy ruins its paucity in character - The box’s complete humility. Nothing needs be said.


How It Is in amongst the fade of experiential, instillation art – so to judge your opinion you can only go and see how it makes you feel; and what it conjures up in your mind.


From the ‘The Unilever Series’ ‘How it is’ is in the Turbine Hall of the Tate until 5 April 2010

Saturday, 12 December 2009

No Love Lost, Damien Hirst at the Wallace Collection

I almost regret to say so, but it remains to me that in most rooms my favourite part of the Wallace Collection is the interior design - the silk wallpaper of emerald, and dusky shades between pink and plum. This truth is sustained in the two rooms in which Damien’s Hirst exhibition No Love Lost (The Blue Paintings) is hung. The beautiful sheen of the teal striped walls does not completely quiet the famous Saatchi-prodigy’s work. The wallpaper does well to compliment the works.


The collection feels like Damien trying to get it right. It doesn’t feel purposefully exploratory or experimental, just that when the first, second, and third failed, he continued, forming an oeuvre of paintings, of which none are quite resolved or wholly pleasing. In most, one aspect of the formal properties appear to fail whether it be compositional or tonally. There was one (the painting which not labelled), which expressed the anger I imagine him to have in his inability to make it correct. Finger-like marks scratch the skull’s forehead and gauge out the eyes. Yet, not only anger, but slothfulness – he was too lazy to wipe the excess on the brush so it turned into a childish foray of paint; too lazy to get more dark blue paint on the side of the skull, which is shadowed and so the result is a that impoverished stroke that I despise so much.


Enough of what I thought, what about my fellow audience, and those that have to cope with it daily? I noted that not many paused for long. If they did, I sensed it was not out of curiosity, but wanting to appear intellectual and cultural in the way E.H.Gombrich warns in his opening chapter, as many are drawn to the admiration of art because of its cultural and/or educational status alone. Not therefore were they standing still before one, out of enjoyment, awe or wonder.


For the masterpieces in the Wallace Collection that share the air, I feel Mrs Robinson’s (by Sir Joshua Reynolds) disdain as she purposefully turns her head beyond the 90 degrees required to be in profile, so that she cannot glimpse the Damien Hirst through the archway!


There is, something about Damien’s presence as an artist. It is not just that I more frequently see the works of the old and dead masters, because on this occasion I felt a threat that while stood in front of his work judging it, that he may appear in that room behind me. That he could, and would, unannounced turn up and authoritatively check over his work…for evidence of vandals, or to argue with the traditionalist who favours Rubens. This is the modern, Saatchi-birthed and nurtured, more ballsy artist. More ballsy in ambition; the finished pieces concept and appearance; and the maker’s character. Everyone wants to see his exhibition because of him, not so much his work! He is a force to be reckoned with, and for this reasons his work and the artist he represents, is successful.


No Love Lost (Blue Paintings) is at the Wallace Collection until January 24

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Matthew Collings’ 'What is Beauty?'

Rachel’s review on the BBC programme


Watching What is Beauty? narrated by art critic Matthew Collings this week, this indescribable word has once again been brought to the forefront of my mind. Like my series of What is Art, he defined beauty through measures, of which he gave ten: nature, simplicity, unity, transformation, the surroundings, animation, surprise, pattern, selection, and spontaneity.


Cynically I think, surely with subject headers based so heavily around the formal properties of art theory, everything thus can be defined as beautiful, which was not his aim. What I have learnt more than anything else, and accepted the bitter sweetness of it for an art student, is that through argument, any theme, concept or interpretation of art can be justified. One can be wholly unprepared for a crit and yet if your brain is alert, and your tutor is open minded, as they are required to be to lecture in Fine Art, anything is concludable. The formal properties in this case should be much more distinct as their purpose is to be constant, recognisable markers. Yet in his brief delineation of unity as a form of beauty, Collings put forth the argument that mosaics are examples of unity because each stone is an individual decision from the artist, combined to make an overall cohesion. I think this a little vague.


As discussed, I can’t say I agreed with all he concluded, but he did make a few very interesting points. One that captured my imagination reminisces concepts within An Artists’ Setting, and was under the theme of The Surroundings. As I concurred, Collings emphasised the negative space of an area of display – not the work itself, but the frequently white walls that enhance the work in our contemporary approach to art. Through humbling and decluttering the surroundings in order to reduce distraction away from the work, which Collings suggested could be connected to contemporary art’s commercial need. This compares to the density of pattern in the highly luxurious National Gallery and Rijksmuseum wallpapers. I will not state one is better than the other, but comment that Fragonard’s well-displayed The Swing (1767), located in one of the Wallace Collection’s upper rooms, enhances the painting by highlighting the turquoise of the fading, distancing sky and shrubbery, in this exuberant wallpaper.


While this aspect of the history of curatorship may have changed, Collings interestingly related it to something unchanged in his retrospect of the history of beautiful art. This is the spiritual essence in art’s display. (I should note, that I believe this is true moreover in art generally.) Whereas churches used to house art that was designed and commissioned to be incorporated in, such as frescos and altarpieces; there is religiousness in the humble whiteness. The association in the plainness engages our mind with the emotional bareness involved in spirituality; in the in-built human response that is our desire for spirituality; and the simplicity and peace we are all so highly drawn to especially in contrast to our way of life. White is our colour for cleanliness, innocence, peace and purity, and for pure light. Inarguably he claimed that beauty was excusable in such a setting (a contemporary art gallery) because the beauty is in the sacred atmosphere created. And this is why modern art can, even if you admit it often is non-descript, ugly or visually arbitrary, be defined as beautiful. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Value of Art

A friend of mine tried to argue once that my career aspirations were unworthy and so if I were to achieve them my working life would be pointless - I hope to critique art. (This knocked me down a little, though he has always been good at challenging me for the sake of improvement – of ideals, of values, morals and of sanity.) Art, he said was essentially pointless because on a global scale it helps no one and only commercially, does it please the rich. A generalisation, yet mostly true I considered. At which point in self-defence of my desires, I attempted to argue like-wise via gross-generalisation, that his job in finance only betters the big guns and widens the poverty gap, if we again look at it on a wider, less mundane day-at-the-office scale.


Often I consider the purpose of art, and how it has changed historically. I wonder if art is truly accessible and really appreciated – or if really it is just me, and people like me. I intend in all I voice that I make art seem appealing, interesting and engaging, and this will be my life-long aim. This, I believe is worthy of commitment.


I have just begun reading a brilliantly perspective book called Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and already I am being inspired. It discusses a need for people to turn from consumerism that is wholly dissatisfying, back to social values. The author of the forward to the second edition, Vicki Robin, references the late Donella Meadows who ‘saw affluenza as the tendency to fill nonmaterial needs materially.’ To get heavy, the book itself describes affluenza as, ‘n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’


Is art part of this disease? Does it fit into the valued pleasures of life, or the unfavourably dismissed consumerism?


I think of art as a necessary luxury, and I do admit that is an oxymoron. No, my friend, art isn’t life-changing, it does not always advertise wholesome values but its purpose is like a good holiday. Life would seem disagreeable without cushioning: the coffee breaks, the time at home spent with family, and so on. For me, art is intellectual stimulation, it may for others simply be visual stimulation – and I see this as of great importance too.


Should art be free? Should I have to pay up to £12.50 to see an exhibition on Turner and the Masters? Is this not exclusive? What does this twelve pounds fifty pay for? - A booklet exploring the exhibition? It isn’t as though they are paying Turner and his friends commission. Yes, then there is the cost of restoration of the paintings; employing the staff; for transportation of works; and so we conclude everything really does cost. Yet you wouldn’t pay £12.50 to see a film, which is essentially hundreds or thousands more painting in the stills that form the moving image.


Who really depends on art paying? A few collectors who cater for millionaires’ desire to own? Yes then, viewing art should be free. I genuinely believe that even though the need appears less great when technology allows us to view almost any noted work of art online; the need for people to view art first hand to get genuinely excited and value it earnestly, remains. Critical to making art accessible is thus to make all galleries and exhibitions free is it not?


In the article ‘How we all learned to stop sneering and embrace modern art,’ Miranda Sawyer wrote for the Observer that our contemporary approach to art, which is evident in the workings of the Frieze Art Fair, is ‘a weird hybrid of commerce and curatorship.’ Although those who work high up in the art world such as the Tate’s deputy director, Alex Beard ‘flatly refuse[s] to think of art in terms of boom or bust.’ I think there is, and there needs to be more to art than monetary worth in order for really brilliant art to be created - art for joy, rather than art for cheques. I see money as a looming threat to the art of our age.



Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Second Edition is written by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor.

The article mentioned from 11 October 2009, can be found at: 

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Beauty is a Woman

My raw passion for all kinds of art and seeing them first hand is still relatively adolescent, and so when compared to some, my painting-count must be low. Though, there must also be a large number of England’s population that have never, or have not in a significant amount of time visited an art gallery. I remember being astonished that an ex-boyfriend has never been to an art gallery before dating me. He was seventeen at the time – I assumed like I, he would have been taken on a school trip at least – though I suppose not everyone was brought up in London! Had I had known I may not have taken him to the Tate Modern in order to start his education in art.


This aside, I believe I may have seen in the region of one thousand paintings in my life – one thousand that I’ve been old enough to meet the eye line of; to recollect being there; and that I have paused pensively in front of. I’ve been around the National Gallery in London several times, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, to Picasso’s museum in Barcelona, and earlier this week – Van Gogh’s museum in Amsterdam, amongst others. Yesterday, I believe I saw the most stunning painting I have ever seen in my life – ‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn.


This is the art of beauty. It is both dainty and meticulous, like Michelangelo’s work or Willem Clasesz Heda’s still lifes; and dominant. Many people have allegorised beauty into a woman – Venus for example – and I can’t think of anything more appropriate than a very classy woman to characterise the beauty of this masterpiece. She is subtle and noticeable. She cries to be looked at yet is humble and not arrogant, because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. This is true because for the full length of time I’ve been familiar with Rembrandt, I’ve loved Rembrandt. I’ve read books about him, watched documentaries on him, and even been to his house, which is now a museum, and I’ve never seen this painting before. Either that, or I’ve seen it from a far, or in passing and not been given time to notice this boldness that disguises itself as subtly.


This painting is pseudo-relief. It may not be the first of his to use impasto, but it’s the best use of this dramatic tool known to me. It’s virtuosic yet completely within control. Most people think of freedom as being ideal, but unquestioned freedom leads to anarchy. Within the confines of order is perfect freedom – that is if freedom itself can be half-hearted.


The thick application of the oils provides a shiny reflective surface that is lit and alive. This woman is glamourous. The painting is more than the shadow artificially created by Rembrandt; it is the shadow created by this deep protrusion of paint. The light of the painting is more than the golden highlights on his sleeve and the sheens of her pearls; it is the reflection off the paint. Like how Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors transforms into a new painting from the side, this transforms into a new abstract reincarnation – as though it openly looks forward into the future of art and the impact of Rembrandt’s experimentation.


Never have I been so passionate about one individual painting, and never have I advocated seeing paintings first hand so keenly.


‘The Jewish Bride (Isaac and Rebecca)’ c.1665 by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn is part of the permanent collection of works from the Dutch Golden Era on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

An Artist's Setting

Neither architecture or nature have impinged on me much before, especially not simultaneously.


Sat in the warmth of the indoors, I am fooled by sight into believing I am outside. I feel the space and freedom I’ve been searching for in order to create art that is a fluent and effortless expression. Content at the work I have achieved, I feel at peace and thank nature and good well-considered architecture openly.


The Kröller Müller Museum resembles the work of Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright in material and form. Often attributed back to Bauhaus ideas and forms, its assemblage is inorganic – lines are humanly straight and echoed throughout by means of exposed brick, ridged ceilings, and thick industrious black vertical beams that divide the planes of floor-to-ceiling glass. By description it would sound as though it would bicker uncontrollably with its environment of woodland and parkland. However, these polished delicate veils are all that keeps you from the beauty of autumn’s falling leaves (as opposed to falling water) and that ensuringly insulates you from November’s brisk breeze. It is only when you catch the reflection of a passing visitor that your mind takes you back to the seat on which you are sat, and the concrete on which it is placed. Had I been stood on the outer side of this sheer glass sheet, drawing this same scene I believe the outcome would have been visually colder and stiffer.


Environment is everything. My geography teacher would, throughout the four years I was taught by her, return to this point – it was her fascination and she was convinced of the theory that: a badly designed block of buildings would boost a bloke’s bad behaviour. As a result she would endeavour to persuade us at every given opportunity to sway our career paths towards town planning, architecture, or interior design. She was obsessed with space.


The contemporary artist, Gijs Frieling, winner of the Dutch ‘Cobra Art Prize Amstelveen’ and exhibiting at the Cobra Art Museum currently, said: “[I hope to] create a place for [these] reflective and performative aspects [that] visitors will inevitably feel welcomed by the space and will quietly be able to experience the entire instillation.” This is my installation – a museum in a wooded national park. This blog is my reflection, and my interrupted drawing (, rudely interrupted by my reflections,) is the performative aspect. Unfortunately I wasn’t as keen on his work as I am this, and his ideals…


Touring Amsterdam by bike, I came across a small building suspended by cantilever over the canal not far from the centre of town. This exquisite bite-sized building was not dislike David Blane’s Plexiglas case that hung over the south bank of the River Thames. It emerged with the energy and boldness of a thunderbird rocket out of the Tracy Island swimming pool. Again here there was this contrast between the bustle of life on the streets: of bikes storming along at the rate of cars, and the emptiness of the canals, which besides from the unpreventable process of precipitation, are utterly still. I could not think of a more beneficial and rewarding function for this piece of architecture than an artist studio. The affect this environment has had over the way I perform as an artist, one could only assume this is what this building is designed to be. That is, of course, if form in modern architecture, always reflects function.


This makes me understand why so many artists have moved to Paris over the last 150 years because Paris had become famous for its freedom; and moreover why Van Gogh wanted to move to the South of France and Gauguin likewise to Tahiti.


This piece of architecture can be so highly praised because despite clear contrast, it only emphasises the beauty of nature. The trees, these OAPs of nature, dwarf the single story construct. From the exterior it is no statement – it humbles itself in order to give the woodland the glory. The rich colours of fallen autumn leaves lift the limited pallet of the interior. The heavy black beams, frame the beautiful masterpiece that is nature itself. As I read, Van Gogh once stated, “These canvasses will tell you what I can’t say that I’ve considered healthy and fortifying about the countryside.”


This museum, if near Amsterdam is worth a visit. Not only for its content: Christiaan Bastiaans, Auguste Rodin, Claes Oldenburg, Henry Von-Velde, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh (to name but a few from which I have been distracted while writing this); but also its space. There is a large area covered by its foundations, of long corridors connecting a spreading mass that is like a sprawling city, or perhaps more appropriately, a dandelion redistributing its growth. I just hope it’s not too busy when you come.


The Kröller Müller museum is in Otterlo in the central Netherlands. Also mentioned was the Gijs Frieling and Paris Central exhibitions at the Cobra Art Museum in Amstelveen, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Re-presenting – some kind of conclusion

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

Rachel Eliza Guthrie


Art must be visual. It may be acoustic, and aromatic, textured and perhaps even flavoursome or moreover appeal to all our senses; but the power of art is in the visual. Art is what you can see. Yet it is not everything you can see. Art can include text, but words are not the stars of this show.  Returning to my very first itch of this discussion – the things pinning me down and restricting me from admiring all that is contemporary about/in art – is words. I refuse to praise art that cannot stand-alone and speak for itself. There is great power in art, but some modern artists are not releasing it. They are relying on explanations to engage their audience. For someone who loves the possibilities available to us in language, this should surprise you that I am willing to conclude this. Yet I refuse to claim virtuously and hyperbolically that everything is art so here I must draw the line. Art is visual, and is not text. Good art is inspiring, provoking, gripping, engaging or to cover all possibilities: generally pleasing to somebody, if it does not rely on lexemes. Especially not well-phrased philosophies, or dramatized speeches.


We are not discussing ‘the arts’ or ‘the art of cooking.’ The Arts is a way of grouping avenues of creativity, which are not necessarily visual. I have no doubt that poetry is an art, but it is not art. I do not quite understand who thought it would be good to have art as both a singular specific (I do believe, as I have argued, we must be specific about art and what it is) and a plural, non-specific, because it only provides confusion. It is interesting to consider why it is that the visual arts took on the title of art itself – I’m not quite going to suggest the visual arts are the best of the disciplines…! There is an art to cooking, like there is an art to writing. These again use the indefinite article ‘an’ rather than the definite ‘the’ of which the art I am discussing is.


From each measure – I have personally argued and concluded that: art is created by artists and designers because artists and designers compose pieces that have the purpose of being art – pieces which are of their own kind of beauty and are to be displayed.  Art is unique in number. The speciality of art is it relative rarity.


Here I will willingly let you disagree. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Function

My fascination over ‘What is Art’


One of the key reasons Hotham Court is not art is because of its purely practical purpose – to house students. It does not want to be art, and so it is not.  Its function is not to be on display. Let me exemplify with Michelangelo’s sculpture David, which had an underlying aim - to represent Florence’s republic as heroic and their defeat of Milan’s tyrant, as worthy; yet, it always had an aesthetic aim - to be on show. This was originally going to be on the top of the Florentine cathedral but so it could be more overt it has stayed in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.


I find it very hard to define art beyond the confines of the environments we see it in usually. Traditionally this would be a painting in an art gallery, and a sculpture on a plinth in a plaza. Now here is where architecture poses a problem for me in my theorem. Architecture always has a practical purpose as well as the visual one that makes it art. If it lacks this practical purpose it is instead an installation, or a monument. But when does a building become crucially ‘a piece’ of architecture? – which is that same language we use for fine art. I can only see this as an answerable question when in correlation with function. Architecture for example does not appear in one kind of setting, for example dock side like the Sydney Opera House. Also many architects work on the commercial – or practical side of design – design beyond aesthetics, for example Norman Foster’s firm designs a merry number of toilets.


In other words – art has to be art. It has to want to be art – to serve people as art. Whatever this service may be: entertainment, visual satisfaction, intellectual stimulation or soul searching – none of these are right, or wrong functions of art. Art must be consciously designed to be art. In this argument – the content and the journey to the final product may be spontaneous, even found in its finished form (ready-made), but the displaying of it, is what gives it its function. It does not need to be in an ornate frame because it may be on a much larger scale, or distributed over a much larger area – for example Jean Claude and Christo’s Wrapped Coast in Little Bay, Australia. Art is not a game of hide and seek. It is the monetary business of making, displaying, buying and selling. 

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Emotionality and Meaning

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

I’ll try not to repeat myself in relation to the article on originality, as I raise again concept, or meaning. A lecturer at a number of the London art galleries, Dr Richard Stemp, highlighted a very relevant point when I heard him speak last week. At the Tate Modern, he is regularly interrogated to the meanings of the pieces he includes in his lecturers and that he passes on his tours. At the Wallace Collection, where I found him, such interrogatives hardly ever arise. There is of course meaning to paintings where the visual is representative. Take for example the mannerist period in which nearly all works of arts were allegoric and not to be taken only at face value – this would include the later work of Michelangelo. Motives of the artist are on very few occasions left silent. The study of the history of art would not be as insightful as it is if works of art were purely to be interpreted on an exterior, aesthetic level.


Meaning as a word has connotations of emotion. To have meaning is often to have significance because of the way it makes you feel. To have meaning usually stretches beyond a base of emotions – frequently it is only put into use when referring to deep or power emotionality except that although the adjective deep or power is meant, it is omitted.


As I have been writing, I’ve had many friends share their opinions with me. One stated that the best method of distinguishing between items of art and those that are not, is through this measure alone, questioning: does the ‘object’ provoke a reaction or an emotion? If it does, it is art. Art must cause an emotional response. I find this not definitive enough.


Now I will return to my opinion on emotionality as a measure of art. To measure art on whether it causes a response and not what kind of response is good because it becomes less of a judgement on the quality of the art. However to measure it purely on whether it causes a response is like a bad experiment – it relies on too many human factors that can be sporadic and desultory.  Art is subjective because people’s footings vary so much. There are those who will weep endlessly during the film A Walk to Remember and those to which the sentimentality will little affect them.  Especially also, some look at art and they are so disinterested that their apathetic response barely surfaces.


Leading feminist art historian Linda Nochlin writes in one of her essays, ‘[the] misconception [- of] the public at large - of what art is: the naïve idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms. Art is almost never that, great art never is. The making of art involves a self-consistent language of form…the language of art is, more materially, embodied in paint and line of canvas or paper, in stone or clay or plastic or metal it is neither a sob story nor a confidential whisper.’ 

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Beauty

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

I cannot help but tie my opinions and ideas about art with beauty. As I believe art must be visual, I will rely on the visual, and the suggestions made by what I see in order to make judgements. We are all aestheticists, however our ideas of beauty are incredibly varied. Beauty like art is subjective. Moreover, art is probably subjective due to the fact that so much of people’s opinions of it is based upon their ideas of what is attractive.


There are certain works of art that when I view I hear clashing cymbals and cries of discord. As a good friend and fellow art student of mine and I were discussing: from interviews we can gather that Damien Hirst perceives his art as being beautiful. Many however would probably disagree on the account of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living AKA the shark. When you consider that a creator generally will only make what he sees as beautiful, or worthy, then it seems logical.


There are of course exceptions, like works where emotionality is key – a painting on the theme of war, for example many of Otto Dix’s distorted scenes, are intentionally aggressive, discordant, jarring and dark. I find the style of his Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden uncomfortable and displeasing. This is probably more contentious work than one unquestionably praised sculpture –Mary Magdalene in poplar wood by Donatello, of which I do not like, though I know there is nothing ‘wrong’ with it.


Let’s consider beauty in craftsmanship. Vital to my positive reaction to art, is the ease at identifying the artist’s skill and ability. This is as I actively seek ‘quality’ in artwork. While I recognise the artistry in spontaneous works, I much prefer the charm found in well-planned and crafted compositions. All artists can draw and it would be unjust to suggest that those who choose not to work within the confines of correct perspective, authentic colour choices and detailed brush-strokes; do not have the capability to do so.


Art does not have to look good to be art. This has been a changing dimension in the history of art however. For the majority of work from the Renaissance through to the long 18th Century, the 19th century and predominantly, into the 20th century - art’s main purpose has been to please the eye, to exhibit and sell and entertain the higher classes. In pre-modern times - in the Middle Ages, it could be argued - but definitely in the cases of the ancient Egyptian civilisation and before, art didn’t need to be beautiful because it was not commercial because it served purpose.                                                                                                                        


So how can we measure what art is in relation to the above? From this we probably can’t conclude much about what art is especially with the metamorphosing standards on beauty, but we can establish more about how we view art. This may be a sidetrack, but beauty is an important consideration because it is so intrinsically tied to our responses to art, which cannot be dismissed. After all, much of our judgement on objects about whether or not they constitute as art, is instinctive. 

Sunday, 27 September 2009

‘Talk about Quiet’ – Humphrey Ocean

Public lecture at the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury - 23/9


Humphrey Ocean’s lecture ‘Talk about Quiet’ was inspiration for critical and creative minds. There was something about his eloquence and wit with words that communicates with such clarity. Ocean’s well-put phrases lodge as you scurry needlessly to record them by pen. This made me ponder how it always seems to be that the best artists also make the greatest of speakers and authors. Ironically, midway through, he stated, looking himself up and down, ‘I can wave my arms and try to explain things, but I’m irrelevant and redundant,’ and this was the most resonating thought projected. Appropriately that was the concept behind the title ‘Talk about Quiet’ and is the argument I’ve introduced in my Re-Presenting art discussion - art must speak for itself. He later proclaimed, ‘the worst possible thing is language’ because we all die, and then only the art is left and not the commentary.


Humphrey was introduced as being a contemporary artist despite his deceptive timeless appearance, and use of outdated tools and materials. A man in his late 50s, Ocean interestingly made no declaration of finding inspiration from outside of his own lifetime. Many of his most recent works are of residential buildings around his home in South London. Beautiful cornices from hundreds of years gone he said he cannot relate to, but a 1960s semi-detached home, built in his lifetime, he can understand, he can connect with. Similarly with ruffs he is not bothered, because T-shirts are his standing point. He does not hide his age.


Secondly, he paints as well as thinks like a contemporary artist. Pointing up to the projection of a portrait from his new series Peggy’s Birthday, he claims his art is the nearest thing to a colour photograph demonstrating the wit of a 21st century artist. He continues: ‘…just through my eyes and not hard steel and glass.’ His interpretation of the subject – a seated figure is not an outline and inner detail, it is areas of colour only, which form a form. Also as though delirious he claimed, ‘The only difference between me and Gainsborough is that I can go 60 miles per hour and he couldn’t.’ Ocean refreshingly doesn’t refer to standards in art. I am still baffled to the inclusion of that in relation to his talk.


For me he embodies my ideas about artists and not just because he reminds me uncannily of the principle at the Ruskin, Oxford. His appearance is stereotypical – tortoiseshell wayfarers come Harry Potter spectacles; healthy dark and expressive eyebrows; a farming flat cap, despite professing his love of urban London; and a long fashion-less black coat. Furthermore, he talks of people and places as if he knows the most important, most intimately –Clyfford Still, Paul and Linda McCartney and Richard Hamilton. This did not lead me to conclude arrogance on his part because we were reminded of the description Nick Hornby gave of him - ‘almost too gentle and polite to have talent,’ which seems to me to be a strangely comic and true observation about the art industry.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Re-presenting Art - Measuring: Originality

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

As pointed out in the previous article – Hotham Court is the work of an architectural and development firm. This company produce buildings such as this like a factory. They are not original, however they are adapted for their purpose and setting. 


There must be originality in art. Firstly, in terms of quantity. I think there must be just one of something to be art. An H&M cardigan is not art, however Victor Stiebel’s ‘Day Dress’ 1947, on display at the V&A is art. It is unique in terms of number.


There is the matter of mass-production to consider, as discussed in the film, ‘Mona Lisa’s Smile’ when the students at Wellesley are challenged by the invention of paint by number to achieve Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers.’ Julia Robert’s character states that the product is removing Van Gogh’s originality. As Van Gogh himself did not produce many of the same, and distribute them amongst his (few) friends and family to be sold on, Van Gogh’s work by my definition is still art.


Originality, as alluded to, has a range of semantics. The other popular one and very important to this discussion is originality in concept or idea. To clarify my definition of originality, will hopefully stop this area of discussion being clichéd or vague. For me, originality is not new completely, that would be an unfair pressure upon artists. To be original is to approach a problem differently and to bring new life. It is true and right that we associate this adjective with an individual – it is not to be unique, but it is to bring the artist’s uniqueness to it. It is a right warning that my lecturer stated today “It is a fine line between being influenced by, and being a poor imitation of a work in the canon…every artist’s work is a reaction upon the one before…you need to add to their argument.”


Finding new concepts is relatively difficult. For example Di Vinci thought about flying in the 16th century, half a millennium later the Wright brothers thought again about flying and this time did. Art is certainly being altered by technological developments. But in terms of concept, I think as humans we’ve altered little.


Of the most original works I’ve acknowledged of late, these are mostly unique in their medium, or use of media.  Land-art came from using materials in their rawest sense and setting – a tree branch and not a panel of wood. Roni Horn’s Icelandic water in test tubes and again, Marc Quinn’s blood creations.


Originality again brings interest. While I recognise that originality in thought and media is important to make art interesting, I believe only originality in number is a true measure of what art is. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Re-presenting Art - Measuring: The Name

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

Hotham Court is not art because, shallowly, it has no nametag that makes it so.  You can’t name drop or name spot. There can be none of this celebrated celebrity culture.  Hotham Court has no famous designer – It is no Zaha Hadid, or Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano.


When I am choosing a film to watch, I will always consider who is starring in it. First I will ascertain the genre and general emotional aura of the film, and then the story line for originality. The deciding factor however, will often be Brad Pitt, or Julia Roberts because they are known actors/actresses whose work as a whole has been acclaimed. Though, it is fair to say that in most of these A-listers’ careers, there will be a film, or 2, that do not reflect their reputation. As Tracey Emin is a known artist for example, all that she will create in her career will be art. It probably will matter little what it is. She is an artist, and so she creates art.


It shouldn’t be, and can’t physically begin being about the name that is attached to a work. Else, how would artists ever begin to become artists, and their work art? On account of their own work, no-one is born famous.  Despite a tradition of continuation of a business and career from one generation to another, in the West at least, anyone can embark on a career as an artist. ‘Anyone’ that is on account of their background, sex, age (to an extent) and religion.


My concluding point on this measure therefore is, not all art is created by artists with a name. Yet once a name is gained, and practitioner gains recognition or fame, all their work will be art. 

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Re-presenting Art 2

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

Before I disillusion my readers and self into thinking I may begin to answer the question ‘What is Art’, I am going to state this - It is better, or perhaps the best that I can do, to simply ask more.


Under today’s subjective standards, it is hard to argue ready-made and other pieces I would call ‘camouflaged into life’ not to be art. I would easily dismiss a cupboard, a blockbuster film, or bathrobe, because it does not fit into my categories of high art paintings, sculpture or architecture. Yet, we accept far more than this as art and exhibit it as such – for example Installation art, Earth/Land Art, Kinetic forms and Performance art.


I will clarify this concept through the case of architecture. We would accept that architecture is an art and this can be validated because it is included in the History of Art. But when is a building architecture? When are functional student halls such as Hotham Court – a block of brick flats - architecture and thus art? All the students, even the overly conceptual thinkers amongst the fine artists, would not think to consider this building Art.


How can we measure art? If we cannot define it, we must at least try to ascertain the crucial point on our continuum of the exclusive traditions of art, to everything existing, physical and visual being art. Through examples that are and are not inarguably Art, a judgement will surely be made. 

Friday, 18 September 2009

Re-Presenting Art

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ – probably the first of many articles.

Traditionalism and appreciation of beauty has, in the past, held me back from embracing ‘modern art.’ Yet I am over time becoming fascinated by seeing how art has developed and into this.  As I create art, I often feel creativity empties out of me, stolen away by a history of creativity that leaves me lacking individuality, and thus other’s interest. I look back to the turning points – to the birth of modern art in Manet’s style, and I wholly understand how dissatisfying it must have been, and it is to see the world and interpret it in the way a number of artists have prior to you.


Art is no longer an expression of love to God, or a narrative of Chinese tales. One purpose doesn’t exist alone, in fact in each painting, sculpture, building, or ‘other, many aims often exist. Welcome to the Aladdin’s cave. The artist is more present than ever. She (let’s decide) is not just a craftsman; she is the God of her creation. The artist’s ideology is the truth. She is an artist, an intellect, a philosopher, and a maker. She is as many things as her output.


Art no longer seeks to be one thing to one set of people. It is not just for the upper classes and the educated, it is in free galleries for any willing member of the public. Moreover, it is being taken onto the streets and into a widening range of settings. Art’s place in society has developed and been altered.


Art is indistinguishable. It is decided by the individual. No one person lays down the law, no one governance sees over all. Art has more possibilities than ever before. It that not exciting?


I have been challenged by Banksy’s recent exhibition Banksy vs. Bristol Museum – and the content, which includes the masters’ work recycled, and graffitied, and ready-made composites that make me think of him as a neo-Dadaist. But does he hate art – no, he wishes to engage in it, and add a new dimension to it. He wants to join the international discussion. He wishes to alter Art’s identity – to give her a facelift and bring new life. To raise questions and make art exciting for those who don’t think it is.


I read this week about Marc Quinn’s latest bloody creation – a sculpture of himself made of blood, which has been frozen and put on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Never do I believe artists have been so creative. Especially, in terms of media.


To evaluate art you must do more than open your eyes to art past and present. You must open you eyes to the world.  In the world there is so many possibilities and artists are reaching further. Is everything in the world able to become art? Is it art already – does it need alone a plinth and some attention? Or, does it need a concept as well?


Friday, 11 September 2009

The BP Portrait Award 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery

I never cease to be inspired by modern day representationalists. For me, a portrait that captures their sitter, and often occurs through great precision and accuracy, cannot be bettered. A landscape and a still life may speak of a desirable lifestyle, and may symbolise life in nature, or death to come, but a portrait is of life, and can bring an outline of a figure to life. As author Charles Juliet said about philanthropist Giacometti, ‘For Giacometti, reality meant, above all, fellow man. “One thing alone interests man” Pascal stated, “and that is man.” This is why we are continually fascinated by how an artist represents his fellow man. And why each year the National Portrait Gallery welcomes the best of those artists.


This exhibition is a must-see. Whether you care a little or a lot about art, and whether you know a little or a lot I can almost, not so foolishly, guarantee you will enjoy it. It speaks into the truth that seeing art first hand is always worth the journey. If you were to simply browse the website, you would pass many of the entries without pausing - they are that good.


This is the bittersweet beauty in super-realism. You need to be astounded when you can see on close inspection that these are not just nicely composed and well-lit photographs. You need to calculate the correspondence between a brushstroke and an image so alive. To begin to conclude how artists are creating the perfect balance between expression and imitation. This is beautiful art. It is not restricted; it is free to fill the outlines of a silhouette with the style of its creator. And yet it reveals the style of the sitter’s creator – God’s masterpiece.


More and more, artists are making every face into a masterpiece, into art. Individuality is being recognised and praised in art. Every emotion, state, shape and race is being shown to be beautiful and worthy of documentation. It is exemplified in the range of subjects. This exhibition repeatedly speaks of racial, cultural and sexual identity.  Though above all it speaks of art that is accessible but not basic.




BP Portrait Award 2009 is at the National Portrait Gallery until September 20


Monday, 7 September 2009

Futurism at the Tate Modern

The Futurists were, and still are a fascinating group of distinct individuals to gain even a brief insight into. The exhibition at the Tate Modern, does just this. Through relevant and perceptive comment, it not only explains who the movement were, but aligns your modern brain with their futuristic ideals.

The exhibition contains works from just 4 exhilarating years (1914-18) in the art of Italy, France, England and Russia, indicating perfectly the pace at which their ideas were progressing and the modernity of the movement.


Upon entering the first of many rectangular rooms, you immediately see the iconic sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni, which comforts all visitors that they know something of the less mainstream Futurists, and of which regulars to the Tate Modern will know from the copy displayed in the permanent collection. Leant up against the nearest wall was a board that dwarfs many of the paintings in that room, and outlines the very important Futurism Manifesto of Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, February 2009. Vital is this introduction, because the sense of these paintings is lost without their aim. I would say it is fair to conclude, that the Futurists, led by the highly politically poet Marinetti, had a mind of their own. And to establish what it is that makes them unique is to look beyond the visual, as quite literally they did.


The Futurists admire all of which interests me little. They praised man-made over God-made. They had a very masculine need for speed, weightiness and shiny metal objects - all of which do not suit my femininity. However, the way they displayed such completely abstract emotions, forces and supernatural sensations is brilliant.


Boccioni evidently understood the complex connection between the visual and his ideas, in the compelling States of the Mind. The beauty of the modern brushstroke is so sinewy here. I remain thankful to Rembrandt for what he began in his innovative impasto technique – launching a trend not to conceive the brush stroke. The force of the person at the train station is heavy. When he stays, he is being held, all of him. His environment is physically shaped by his emotional state. Boccioni sells the importance the Futurists put in the man – able and powerful. When he goes in his second triptych, his movement is swift, like a gush of wind that takes you with him. Your eyes and body follow helplessly along the aggressive lineation of all three paintings in the triptych. The artists stated so accurately, ‘[I am] seeking by intuition the sympathies and the links which exist between the exterior (concrete) scene and the interior (abstract) emotion.’


What trumps the enthralling work of the Futurists is all that accompanies it. This exhibition is deceptively not only a presentation of Futurism. As you journey on intrigued you find other great works of the time feature too and understand their need because of the great overlap. You are bombarded by the art of ‘isms’, one great minor or major movement after another. From Cubism, to Cubo-Furturism (the Russian branch of Futurism) then to Vorticism. All of which are a strong, energetic and colourful force in art, and upon the art lover.


Futurism is at the Tate Modern until September 20