Modernism in Art: An Introduction, Refelctions of a modern world


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Part 8 of Modernism in Art and Introduction. This week takes time to consider some of the important thinkers of the modern period, Marx, Benjamin, Panofsky and Adorno. By James Clegg

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  • Born Hanover. Moved to New York in 1933 when dismissed from Hamburg University, and eventually became an American citizen. (A lot of early work not translated).
  • Were we Art Historians, then we would be more interested perhaps in the distinct contributions Panofsky made in his studies of the Renaissance or Medieval art. Panofsky’s wider appeal however, comes from the broader applicability of his methodology. So influential has it been in fact that it is often quite invisible. When we looked at Picasso’s ‘La Demoiselles D’Avignon’ for example we might say that our analysis untilised the different levels of Panosky’s scheme:We identified 5 figures, and were able to take them as being female. There is a suggestion of drapery and still life. However, at this level our basic understanding of form is influenced by our familiarity with modern art so that we don’t necessarily look for its realist relationship to nature. Within the image we may also identify African masks.Within the traditional of painting we able to spot specific symbols, such as the poses of particular women as being reflections of the Venus pose used many times and suggestive of ‘purity’. The title euphemistically hints that the figures are prostitutes, leading us to remember stories perhaps of fallen women or disgrace. Nakedness is conventional in art. The colours may suggest a certain mediteranianheratage.At a deeper level, by reading more about the times and ‘primitivism’, we established that this was a summation of attitudes and fears at that time while also doubling as a radical departure for Picasso within a modern art paradigm focused upon stylistic innovation.
  • Adorno’s work was informed by Freud and he was particularly interested to diagnose the psycho-dynamics of modernity. In Fascism adorno felt that a sadomasochistic attitude was fostered where by you were taught to take orders and abuse from above while playing the role of the bully to those below, in a hierarchy.
  • For Adorno the Culture Industry, his term for mass produced popular culture, used exactly the same irrational appeals to the senses. While appealing to a more childish and playful sensibility however, Adverts reinforce the status quo. These adverts, like many, make suggestions as to how women should manage appearances. The one on the left emphases a fragile femininity, while it is the woman and not the perform who seems to be wrapped like a gift for the spectator. The one on the right shows a woman in a venus type pose. She cover’s her eyes so as not to even confront the spectator and reveal her idealised body. What Adorno saw in the attitudes fostered by advertising, as in Fascism, was a dependency. His ideas are rich in that he doesn’t think consumers are ignorant of the tricks played by advertisers or political figures, but they do come to see the situation as inevitable and see themselves and dependent upon it. [Read Stephen Cook, p.8)
  • The Enlightenment, characterised by thinkers like Francis Bacon and Gottfried Leibniz, was based upon the idea of liberation. Some of Bacon’s writings were almost utopian, giving the impression that Enlightenment naturally produced greater freedom. As you can see [quote] Adorno did not see it in these positive terms. Enlightenments’ connection to freedom seemed have been derailed. Moreover, Adorno felt that the Enlightenment was based upon a mythical conception of a total knowledge where everything pertains to a fact. Everything, in other words, becomes the same kind of thing – abstract information, not contested. In its striving for the Universal in this way the Enlightenment omits the specific, material conditions of life. For Adorno then, and here perhaps showing some Marxist influence, the Enlightenment actually fosters a situation where people cannot analyse the material conditions of life and knowledge while at the same time claiming to eradicate all mythic powers and religions. Superstitions are taken then to be an inherent part of Enlightenment, they are essentially fostered by a believe in a belief in a Universally higher state. Here, making Adorno himself a modernist, we see a different rendering of ‘truth’. ‘Truth’ isn’t the idealist and eternal, but is a ‘truth’ based upon a relization of one’s own social and political context: a ‘truth’ that the Culture Industry is so good at concealing under the fantasies and myths it perpetrates. The universal value of our times is money, exchange. Capitalism assumes that everything has a price and can be exchanged for something of ‘like’ value.
  • Modernism in Art: An Introduction, Refelctions of a modern world

    1. 1. Modernism in Art: an introduction<br />Reflections of a Modern World <br />(An Introduction to some key thinkers)<br />
    2. 2. Last Week – The Gallery<br />
    3. 3.
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    6. 6.
    7. 7.
    8. 8.
    9. 9.
    10. 10. For Max and Benjamin please go to:<br />
    11. 11. Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968)<br />“In the history of modern art history, the primary ‘event’ is undoubtedly the work of Erwin Panofsky” (Holly 1984, p.10.)<br />
    12. 12. Ekphrasis<br />
    13. 13. Key questions for Art Historians<br />Can artworks be judged objectively?<br />How much can we understand about a time period by looking at individual works of art?<br />What methods should we use when studying art?<br />
    14. 14. Francis Picabia (1921) The Cacodylic Eye<br />
    15. 15. Iconology<br />Edited from Wikipedia text at .<br />Primary or Natural Subject Matter (Pre-Iconographic): The most basic level of understanding, this stratum consists of perception of the work’s pure form. (For example, The Last Supper. If we stopped at this first stratum, such a picture could only be perceived as a painting of 13 men seated at a table. This first level is the most basic understanding of a work, devoid of any added cultural knowledge.)<br />Secondary or Conventional subject matter (Iconography): This stratum goes a step further and brings to the equation cultural knowledge. (For example, a western viewer would understand that the painting of 13 men around a table would represent The Last Supper. Similarly, seeing a representation of a haloed man with a lion could be interpreted as a depiction of St. Jerome.)<br />Tertiary or Intrinsic Meaning or Content (Iconology): This level takes into account personal, technical, and cultural history into the understanding of a work. It looks at art not as an isolated incident, but as the product of a historical environment. (“Why did the artist choose to represent The Last Supper in this way?” or “Why was St. Jerome such an important saint to the patron of this work?”)<br />
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    17. 17. Most art history prior to Panofsky focused on formal developments. In other words, art was thought about in relation to a particular style. Panofsky’s achievement was to shift attention to content and meaning.<br />Although Iconology doesn’t guarantee objectivity, Panofsky himself admitted that the deeper meaning could be imposed by the theorist and tried to add his own “correctives” (checks against source material of the time), it does open individual artworks to discussions of broader cultural influences.<br />
    18. 18. Panofsky paved the way for Semiotics, a treatment of images as a language. Semiotic would break down images in to signs and symbols, considering the cultural conditions that allow them to mean something specific in a certain time and place.<br />The Cultural Turn describes a range of academic movements related to postmodernism that argue that no meaning exists independently of a culture. Could Les Demoiselles d’Avignon have been produced at any other time or place? <br />
    19. 19. Panofsky references<br />Ferretti, Silvia (1989) Cassier, Panofsky + Warburg. USA, Yale University.<br />Holly, Michael Ann (1984) Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History. London, Cornell University Press.<br />Murray, Chris (2003) Key Writers on Art: The Twentieth Century. London, Routledge.<br />Panofsky, Erwin (1972 [1939]) Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. USA, Icon.<br />Panofsky, Erwin (1955) Meaning in the Visual Arts. New York, Doubleday Anchor Books.<br />
    20. 20. Theodor Adorno (1903-1967)<br />
    21. 21. Frankfurt School<br />The Frankfurt School refers to a group of very influential thinkers who pursued a critical re-evaluation of Marxism, primary attached to the Institute or Social Research and the University of Frankfurt. Its members include Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Theodor Adorno. Later Adorno’s student Jurgen Harbermas would become very influential and direct the school. Also associated with the school was Walter Benjamin.<br />
    22. 22. On Marx:<br />Adorno used some of the ideas refined in Marx’s work, such as the division of labour. Marx suggested that social division of labour – divisions between different groups of people as part of social control and exploitation – was often ideologically hidden under the guise of technical division of labour – certain people have to do certain things because that’s where their skills lie. Although Adorno’s writing can suggest that he was more supportive of Autonomous Art (High Art) over popular culture he still stove to understand the underlying social and economic basis for them.<br />Like many thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School, Adorno did not subscribe to the Marxian Grand Narrative that capitalism is a step on the way to greater liberation. In fact, rather than seeing the Bourgeois loosing their grip, Adorno thought that the ‘Culture Industry’ was extending social control and people’s passivity.<br />
    23. 23. Social Control<br />Adorno’s father was of Jewish decent and when the Nazi’s came to power he, like all other Jewish professors, had to give up his teaching position. He moved to Oxford, USA, in 1933. (He would return to Frankfurt in 1949.)<br />Anti-Semitism became a model for how Adorno felt authority operated in all cases. Regimes strive for universal control and in so doing exaggerate differences between people to an alarming degree, seeking to remove anything that is taken to be ‘other’. Studying the anti Jewish propaganda of the time Adorno saw that authority extended its power by appealing to subliminal appetites, the unthinking mind, and were often Illogical and incoherent on the surface. <br />For Adorno, Fascism was a key example of the development of the modern world, not a freak occurrence.<br />
    24. 24. The Culture Industry<br />
    25. 25. Because of his believe in the Authoritarian nature of the Culture Industry Adorno fundamentally disagreed with Benjamin's optimism in Mechanical Reproduction. Far from dissipating the aura of Art works, Adorno felt that mass-reproduction in fact extended the universalising tendency of Capitalism.<br />
    26. 26. Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) – written with Max Horkheimer<br />“No Universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb. It ends in the total menace which organised mankind poses to organized men...” <br />(Adorno quoted in Bernstein, Adorno 2004)<br />
    27. 27. Art?<br />“Art [for Adorno] is the emphatic assertion of what is excluded from Enlightenments‘ instrumental rationality: the claim of sensuous particularity and rational ends.” (Ibid. P.5)<br />Autonomous Art, as opposed to the culture industry, should be, in Adorno’s formulation, that which resuscitates a critical awareness in viewers. Adorno recognised that Autonomous Art was still part of society, i.e. Not truly autonomous and related economically to labour, but felt it still occupied a special position that nevertheless allowed it to comment on society. <br />
    28. 28. Adorno’s work was very much based around philosophical principles, which is why it is hard to use specific examples of visual art from his own writing. As a musician and frequent music critic he was an admirer of Schoenberg, and in fact strove to find a kind of atonal-critical-writing equivalent (making his writing hard to read). However, he seemed to support Modern Art in general, seeing it as fulfilling it’s duty to break the passivity of popular culture. This has led some postmodern critics to see him as being Elitist like Clement Greenberg, but perhaps read more carefully it actually pre-empts many postmodern concerns.<br />
    29. 29. Adorno references:<br /><ul><li>Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer (1997 [1944]) Dialectic of Enlightenment. London, Verso.
    30. 30. Adorno, Theodor (1998) The Stars down to Earth. London Routledge.
    31. 31. Adorno, Theodor (2001 [1988]) The Culture Industry. New York, Routledge.
    32. 32. Benjamin, Andrew (ed.) The Problems of Modernity: Adorno and Benjamin. London, Routledge
    33. 33. Jarvis, Simon (2002) Adorno: A Critical Inroduction. Cambridge, Polity.
    34. 34. Murray, Chris (2003) Key Writers on Art: The Twentieth Century. London, Routledge.
    35. 35. Zuidervaart, Lambert (1994) Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. London, MIT Press.</li></ul>Reading:<br />Theodor Adorno: Available at:<br />