Subjectivity

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  • As we saw last week Modernism gathered pace from about 1850 with Realism. One of the main tropes of Modernism was that it proposed new forms of art on the grounds that these are more appropriate to the present time, so in that sense we saw that modernism cancharacterised by its constant innovation. We saw too that Modern art has often been driven by various social and political agendas. These were often utopian, and modernism was in general associated with ideal visions of human life and society and a belief in progress.
  • Today we will expand upon our understanding of Modernism and Modernity as beingdefined against notions of traditionoverarching theme was emancipationnew and challenging, disrupting the status quo
  • Todays lecture will concentrate on the introduction of subjectivity within Modern art, and, as we will see, this reflects a broader exploration of the Western concern with self and our own subjectivity.
  • If, as the title of this lecture states, there was a shift towards subjectivity, then it is important to consider some of the reasons why this was this case. An important factor was that it was no longer important to represent a subject realistically since the invention of photography and cameras becoming increasingly had made this function of art obsolete.With the ever more available access to cameras and photography, artists were challenged by the idea that photography could do something what art never was able to do — it was perceived of as actually being capable of capturing things “as they really were”, thus removing any subjectivity the artist might put into their work. They considered that there really was an “objective” world that a photograph could capture free of any interpretation. (Something we would now dispute)And then an interesting thing happened — within 50 years art became all aboutsubjectivity in almost every domain in which art could be expressed, from music to architecture. So,within 50 years of the widespread use of photography, art gave up any pretense of being “objective” at all, and instead threw itself into the power of the subjective experience. Realism continued on (and is still used today), but it was no longer the avantgarde, cutting-edge expression.Artists were no longer merely skillful delineators of the visible world, they were now the creators of, and guides to, a completely new realm. The impressionist movement can be seen in part as a reaction by artists to the newly established medium of photography. The taking of fixed or still images challenged painters by providing a new medium with which to capture reality. Initially photography's presence seemed to undermine the artist's depiction of nature and their ability to mirror reality. Both portrait and landscape paintings were deemed somewhat deficient and lacking in truth as photography produced lifelike images much more efficiently and reliably.
  • As a starting point, if we take subjectivism to be the belief that reality is not a firm absolute, but a fluid, plastic, indeterminate realm, which can be altered, in whole or in part, by the consciousness of the perceiver, then it follows that the subjectivist denies that there is any such thing as “the truth” on a given question.Art began exploring this very idea of subjectivity,which unfolded as the German philosopher Nietzsche talked about the death of god and the brutality of religion, Marx questioned the very foundations of Western culture, Freud discussed our hidden agendas, Einstein described how space and time were non-absolute, and more and more artists and philosophers came to see the shadowy side of the Industrial Revolution — child labour, working conditions that seemed to turn free men into near-slaves, appalling environmental ruin, the stratification of society. As a consequence, Modernism as a movement rejected the fixed and absolute aesthetic value of Realism, but it also assumed its own singular truth — the truth and the power of subjective experience. These developments challenged observers and critics, but also expanded the range of artistic expression available.
  • Subjectivity: Turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness.A trend towards the subjective, experiential, self-referential perspective of the artists. Modernism championed the power of the artist's subjectivity over Realism's objectivity, believing aesthetic value was something subjective inside the artist, who could touch in with that experience and find a beauty whose power and insight could easily blow apart conventional ideas about what art was “supposed to” be. The power of art moved inward, from being “out there” in the world to being “inside” of the artist's own subjective experience. The same was happening in philosophy, in political theory, in economics, in the formulation of psychology, and in many other areas of human study.
  • Form and structure being cast aside if they impeded the implementation of intensely personal vision.
  • Monet painted this picture of the sun seen through mist at the harbour of Le Havre when he was staying there in the spring of 1872. A sketch quickly executed to catch the atmospheric moment, it was catalogued as Impression: Sunrisewhen it was exhibited in 1874 in the first exhibition of the group. The word `Impression' was not so unusual that it had never before been applied to works of art but the scoffing newspaper article by Louis Leroy in Le Charivari which coined the word Impressionists as a general description of the exhibitors added a new term to the critical vocabulary that was to become historic. It was first adopted by the artists themselves for their third group exhibition in 1877, though some disliked the label. It was dropped from two of the subsequent exhibitions as a result of disagreements but otherwise defied suppression. Monet's Impression was not in itself a work that need be regarded as the essential criterion of Impressionism, vivid sketch though it is. There are many works before and after that represent the aims and achievements of the movement more fully.Many Impressionists painted pleasant scenes of middle class urban life, extolling the leisure time that the industrial revolution had won for middle class society. TheImpressionists set out to be “true to nature,” a phrase that became their rallying cry. When Renoir and Monet went out into the countryside in search of subjects to paint, they carried their oil colors, canvas, and brushes with them so that they could stand outside and paint, rather than in a studio.
  • In this sense the Impressionist painters confronted nature in a very different way from their predecessors. Their new language not only changed traditional conventions, it overturned the very way of seeing the world and challenged the human relationship with reality. The artists did not record nature as static and unchanging but sought to reflect its constant movement and natural pulse. In a rejection of the age-old principles of academic painting - stillness, symmetry, order, and cleanliness - they cast aside the distinction between foreground and background; the frontal illumination needed for chiaroscuro; the sharpness of outline; the balance of mass and colour; and the solidity of form. They abandoned the three principles of illusion: line, perspective, and the artificial light of academic painting. This apparent lack of respect angered the public and critics alike. Instead of depicting subjects substantively and definitively, the Impressionists adopted a looser style that was lively and immediate and in a continual process of change
  • Impressionism was a radical and deliberate break with classical art forms, and it set the pace for many of the styles of the twentieth century. The world of the Impressionists was an entirely subjective one. They were not concerned with painting what was (the objective world), but what they experienced (the subjective world). The Impressionists were the first group of artists to self-consciously challenge the Western view of objective reality.
  • Impressionists purposely went against the realism of the 1800’s.  They were young, rebellious, and very anti-establishment.  They chose everyday life as their subject matter, working from real life more than with models and props. Their subjects were often people caught in action, not posed.Concentrating on relaying the immediate visual effect of the world around them, using bold brush strokes and contrasts of colour, the artists initially drew heavy criticism for their perceived naive and trivial approach to art.Under the strong influence of the Impressionists, the classical painting of landscapes became more ethereal and misty. Unreal shadows and contrived dark tones were now eliminated, and the paint lost the compact density characteristic of CourbetThe subject matter varied from Monet's landscapes to Renoir's boulevards of bustling Paris life and Degas' delicate ballerinas, but all pertained to capture the impression of the moment.
  • From the late 1880's, public perception gradually changed and the Impressionists received reverence, paving the way for their followers Gauguin, Seurat and Van Gogh.Impressionism became seminal to various movements in painting which followed, including Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.
  • The impressionist paintings that once were seen as so revolutionary but now, perhaps, to our image saturated culture today, seem rather twee and kitsch. Just fuzzy pleasant pictures of 19th century Parisian bourgeois life and dotted pastel landscapes.Have a look at the landscape by Monet for starters. Why exactly is this work revolutionary?It’s all blurry and the technique for reproducing the image follows an understanding of,what was then, the new science of, photography.
  • In the past Manet has been included in the all-embracing term of Impressionism, but his art is Realist rather than Impressionist. It was Manet's attitude that influenced the group of younger painters who subsequently became known as the Impressionists. Manet took Courbet's realism one step further, so blurring the boundary between objectivity and subjectivity that painting has never recovered from his quiet revolution. After Impressionism, art can never return to a dependence upon a world that exists "out there" apart from the individual artist.Hebroke new ground by defying traditional techniques of representation and by choosing subjects from the events and circumstances of his own time. This was because it used a new vocabulary that didn’t follow the rules of painting which had been established in the Renaissance. Underpinning this new vocabulary was the assertion that a painting is a painting, not an illusion of reality. Unlike in the Renaissance where discoveries such as perspective were implemented to make a 2D surface appear 3D and this continued right up to this pointThis work, exhibited in 1863 at the Salon of the Refused, not only aroused the hostility of critics but importantly it evoked the enthusiasm of the young painters who later formed the nucleus of the Impressionist group
  • The Impressionists remained realists in the sense that they remained true to their sensations of the object, although they ignored many of the old conventions for representing the object “out there.” But truthfulness for the Impressionists lay in their personal and subjective sensations not in the “exact” reproduction of an object for its own sake. The objectivity of things existing outside and beyond the artist no longer mattered as much as it once did. The significance of “outside” objects became irrelevant. Concern for representing an object faded, while concern for representing the subjective grew. The focus on subjectivity intensified because artists became more concerned with the independent expression of the individual. Reality became what the individual saw. With Impressionism, the meaning of realism was transformed into subjective realism, and the subjectivity of modem art was born.The Impressionists relaxed the boundary between subject and background so that the effect of an Impressionist painting often resembles a snapshot, a part of a larger reality captured as if by chance. Photography was gaining popularity, and as cameras became more portable, photographs became more candid. Photography inspired Impressionists to represent momentary action, not only in the fleeting lights of a landscape, but in the day-to-day lives of people.The development of Impressionism can be considered partly as a reaction by artists to the challenge presented by photography, which seemed to devalue the artist's skill in reproducing reality. Both portrait and landscape paintings were deemed somewhat deficient and lacking in truth as photography "produced lifelike images much more efficiently and reliably”.In spite of this, photography actually inspired artists to pursue other means of artistic expression, and rather than competing with photography to emulate reality, artists focused "on the one thing they could inevitably do better than the photograph—by further developing into an art form its very subjectivity in the conception of the image, the very subjectivity that photography eliminated". The Impressionists sought to express their perceptions of nature, rather than create exacting representations. This allowed artists to depict subjectively what they saw with their "tacit imperatives of taste and conscience". Photography encouraged painters to exploit aspects of the painting medium, like colour, which photography then lacked; "the Impressionists were the first to consciously offer a subjective alternative to the photograph".Truthfulness for the Impressionists lay in their personal and subjective sensations not in the “exact” reproduction of an object for its own sake. The objectivity of things existing outside and beyond the artist no longer mattered as much as it once did. Concern for representing an object faded, while concern for representing the subjective grew. The focus on subjectivity intensified because artists became more concerned with the independent expression of the individual. Reality became what the individual saw. With Impressionism, the meaning of realism was transformed into subjective realism, and the subjectivity of modem art was born.
  • So what were the aims and achievements of impressionism?It has been suggested that impressionism was a ‘primitive’ way of looking at the world, that impressionists chose to ‘forget’ their optical art school training and – line, perspective, colour – and paint ‘simply as they saw’Has been regarded as vivid glimpses of emotion and emotionally charged objects that represent only the artist’s own subjectivity – not the object itselfIt has been suggested that impressionists eliminated cultural influence (particularly artistic conventions), but that it is not wholly possible since no one can completely escape culture influence
  • It has been asserted that impressionism does not allow cultural conventions to rule their art and that they made a conscious effort to render the object as it actually appears at a specific momentIt has been argued that impressionism represents the artist’s subjectivity, but does not simply represent the artist’s emotional response to an object – instead, subject and object are linked, and their relationship is uniquely contextualised , a individual experience that connects subject, object, and surrounding circumstances in an interdependent event
  • In Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-82). When the painting was first exhibited, many objected to the inaccurate mirror. The mirror shows that the barmaid is serving the man with the beard, whose view we inhabit from our side of the reflection. Somehow, we have managed to grasp his impression of this moment in time, to be placed in his position exactly, to become him, quite literally.The reflection is not right: the mirror should reflect the viewer/customer and the barmaid from a different angle, and, furthermore, some of the bottles that should clearly be reflected are not painted in the mirror image. Thanks to this device, we are given a panoramic vision of the interior. What we see is not the result of realistic observation but the artist's deliberate use of false perspectives. This painting is central to the understanding of subjectivity and images and their valuation. The Monet landscapes, while reflecting the nature of their picturing, of their imaginingdo not refer explicitly to the viewing subject. The Manet barmaid does. She is staring at the customer. But who is the real customer of this exchange? You are the customer. Manet depicts this fact in the painting. Looking at it, we enter a virtual world of the image, and the girl’s represented subjectivity in turn situates our subjectivity-within-her-representation. What it truly means to be viewers of the Painting.This is where it gets interesting, you, as the viewer, are captivated by this girl’s gaze. Captivated by the artist’s act. With this work Manet asks us, where does the painting begin and end? Actually, the painting is a communication act that situates both you and the girl: you and the girl are equal players within this image. Thus, we are not passive viewers determining an absolute judgement, “you” are very much a player in the image. Manet has understood the meaning of selfhood: it is to be situated in negotation with other subjects within modes of representation.
  • The Postimpressionists elevated their subjective impression over objective reality, and changed the 20th century attitude toward art.They painted with intense and unnatural colors applied in large, flat areas. They chose colors primarily for their emotive rather than their representational qualities. They exaggerated form and shape, and emphasized the subjective rather than objective qualities of the visible world.“As philosophy had moved from unity to a fragmentation, this fragmentation was carried into the field of painting. The fragmentation shown in Post Impressionist paintings was parallel to the loss of hope for a unity of knowledge in philosophy. It was not just a new technique in painting. It expressed a new worldview.”
  • The Cubists abandoned conventional perspective and fragmented the world into intersecting geometric planes, representing the world simultaneously from different viewpoints. They violated the physical laws of nature and discarded a consistent light source.The Cubists expressed a worldview of radical subjectivity and individual relativism; the only thing real to the Cubists was their own mind.Cubism is painting at its most self-conscious. Cubism is painting slowing down--and sometimes stopping--in order to think about itself, to reflect on materials and techniques, on strategies of representation. Cubist paintings therefore come to us with the imperative that we also slow down, stop and look and think--think about the myriad unexamined rules and conventions that determine how we 'see' paintings (and everything else in the world). Cubism is subjectivity cubed. The subjectivities of artist and viewer ideally collide and collude in the interpretation of the work.
  • A form of 'primitive' art was one of the main influences in the birth of Cubism in that it encouraged Picasso, both on an intellectual level and by its formal, abstract properties, to take stock afresh of traditional pictorial values.The Cubists were determined to shake free from the conventions that had governed Western painting for the preceding five centuries.Their vision was conceptual and intellectual rather than physical and sensory.
  • Modernism placed subjectivity at the core of its values. But Modernism, like Realism, also assumed that the artists' subjectivity was absolute and that it was real Postmodern thinkers took the next logical step, or the next logical differentiation, and took this idea to its conclusion: there was no truth “out there”, but there also was no truth “inside” either — truth was constructed by culture and imposed on people. There was no singular “truth” that all of us should know — objective or subjective.
  • Subjectivity

    1. 1. Modernism in Art: An Introduction Week 3Introducing Subjectivity: From Impressionism to Cubism
    2. 2. Modernity and Modernism• defined against notions of tradition• overarching theme was emancipation• new and challenging, disrupting the status quo Picasso Guernica (1937)
    3. 3. From Impressionism to CubismImpressionism is a derivative ofRealism, but was primarilyconcerned with how the artistsaw an object, rather than whatis seen. Cubism is a kind of Realism. It is a conceptual approach to realism in art, which aims to depict the world as it is and not as it seems.
    4. 4. Towards Subjectivity It was no longer important to represent a subject realistically since the invention of photography and cameras becoming increasingly had made this function of art obsoleteCourbet "View from the Window at LePoor Woman of the Village Gras" (circa 1826)Joseph(1866) Nicéphore Niépce.
    5. 5. Subjectivism Subjectivism is the belief that reality is not a firm absolute, but a fluid, plastic, indeterminate realm, which can be altered, in whole or in part, by the consciousness of the perceiver. The subjectivist denies that there is any such thing as ―the truth‖ on a given question, the truth, which corresponds to the facts.
    6. 6. Subjectivity Turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness. A trend towards the subjective, experiential, self-referential perspective of the artists.
    7. 7. Subjectivity Form and structure being cast aside if they impeded the implementation of intensely personal vision.
    8. 8. Impressionism Taking their name from Claude Monets Impression, Sunrise, the Impressionists were established in Paris during the 1870s The artists did not record nature as static and unchanging but sought to reflect its constant movement and natural pulse. In a rejection of the age-old principles of academic painting - stillness, symmetry, order, and cleanlinessClaude MonetImpression, soleil levant(Impression, Sunrise) (1873)
    9. 9. The Impressionist painters confronted nature in a very different way from their predecessors. They overturned the very way of seeing the world and challenged the human relationship with reality.MonetThe Cliff at Étretat after the Storm (1885)
    10. 10. Camille le PissarroLe Boulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit (The Boulevard Montmartre atNight) (1897)
    11. 11. Pierre-Auguste Renoir Le Moulin de la Galette 1876 DegasBallet Rehearsal (1874)
    12. 12. Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
The Channel at Gravelines, E (1890) Vincent Van Gogh
View of Arles (Orchard in Bloom with Poplars) Paul Gauguin (1890)
 Tahitian Landscape 
(1893)Impressionism became seminal to variousmovements in painting which followed,including Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.
    13. 13. Subjectivity andpictorial surface wereemphasized at theexpense of illusion.
    14. 14. Manet took Courbets realism one step further, so blurring the boundary between objectivity and subjectivity that painting has never recovered from his quiet revolution. After Impressionism, art can never return to a dependence upon a world that exists "out there"Manet apart from theLe Déjeuner sur lHerbe individual artist.(1863)
    15. 15. Impressionism demonstrated that realistic representation of nature was no longer a necessary or sufficient goal in a painting.BERTHE MORISOT PAUL CÉZANNESummer day (1879) Mount Sainte-Victoire view from Lauves MARY CASSATT (1904-06) Summertime (1894)
    16. 16. What were the aims and achievements of impressionism?It has been suggested that impressionism was a ‗primitive‘ way oflooking at the world, that impressionists chose to ‗forget‘ their opticalart school training and – line, perspective, colour – and paint ‗simplyas they saw‘Has been regarded as vivid glimpses of emotion and emotionallycharged objects that represent only the artist‘s own subjectivity – notthe object itselfIt has been suggested that impressionists eliminated culturalinfluence (particularly artistic conventions), but that it is not whollypossible since no one can completely escape culture influence
    17. 17. What were the aims and achievements of impressionism?It has been asserted that Impressionism did not allow culturalconventions to rule their art and that they made a conscious effort torender the object as it actually appears at a specific momentIt has been argued that impressionism represents the artist‘ssubjectivity, but does not simply represent the artist‘s emotionalresponse to an object – instead, subject and object are linked, andtheir relationship is uniquely contextualised , a individual experiencethat connects subject, object, and surrounding circumstances in aninterdependent event
    18. 18. Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)This painting literally captivates/captures the you — in the relationbetween your position and gaze, the girl and the mirror.Manet has understood the meaning of selfhood: it is to be situatedin negotation with other subjects within modes of representation.
    19. 19. Post-Impressionism ―As philosophy had moved from unity to a fragmentation, this fragmentation was carried into the field of painting. The fragmentation shown in Post Impressionist paintings was parallel to the loss of hope for a unity of knowledge in philosophy. It was not just a new technique in painting. It expressed a new worldview.‖Van GoghStarry Night Over the Rhone (Francis Schaeffer, How Should We(1883) Then Live? Francis Schaeffer p.197)
    20. 20. ―For a century that questioned the very concept of absolute truth, Cubism created an artistic language of intentional ambiguity.‖ (Robert Rosenbloom Cubism & Twentieth Century Art, p.9)PicassoLes Demoiselles dAvignon(1907)
    21. 21. CubismCubism is a kind of Realism.It is a conceptual approachto realism in art, which aimsto depict the world as it isand not as it seems. Thiswas the "idea." Picasso Still Life with Compote and Glass (1914-15)
    22. 22. CubismThe Cubists reacted against the passion Gauguin, in an indirect fashion, was aand expressionistic violence of Van powerful influence in the formation ofGogh Cubism
    23. 23. Musée dEthnographie du Trocadero Cezanne Les cinq baigneuses (The Bathers) (1906)
    24. 24. Modernism (“subjectivity is absolute”)

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