The Other Half Part I Artwork


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The Other Half Part I Artwork

  1. 1. The Other Half:<br />An Art Historical Commentary and Visual Companion to Philosophical Aesthetics from Plato to Gadamer<br />Jake Smith<br />Part I - Artwork<br />
  2. 2. In this presentation, I will attempt to provide visual evidence and art historical commentary for the texts we have seen so far in class. Thinking abstractly about “capital-A Art” seems to me an enormously difficult task without actual images and artworks to discuss. While we have seen many images in class that try to answer this challenge, there is literally an entire world of artworks which will serve us greatly in understanding how some of these philosophers’ ideas are actually worked out, and sometimes directly challenged, in the field of (fine) art.<br />
  3. 3. How will we do this, you ask?<br />Obviously, I will provide images. It is important to note that the images I will use to talk about certain philosophers will not necessarily be of that author’s time. I feel this is appropriate because each author we have seen has made claims about art as a whole; every artist who ever lived made the same claim. Just as each philosopher’s texts fit in to the larger tradition of aesthetics, so too does each artwork have its own life in the larger tradition of art. So don’t be surprised if Plato and Duchamp go head-to-head. If you disagree with this, please offer your rebuttal.<br />I also intend to bring everyone (who actually takes the time to read this) up to speed on the major issues and themes of art history and art making, i.e. naturalism, proportion, genius, etc. (Prepare to be disappointed, folks.) This will give all of us a common ground on which to evaluate these works in relation to the texts. If anyone has any further questions about some of the ideas which crop up, I will be happy to field them.<br />
  4. 4. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some art! Let’s set the stage for Western art, shall we?<br />The oldest known artworks date back to about 30,000 BCE, and it should come as no surprise that the first object early humans chose to depict was the human body. This ivory sculpture of a human body with a feline head is an example of this early image-making.<br />In this hybridized body, we see a physical manifestation of Hegel’s geist. Emerging from the materials of uncolonized nature, this human form (which was probably a religious/magical idol) shows us the spiritual/intellectual victory of newborn human self-consciousness over the bestiality from which our species had just escaped. This imposition of the human shape onto the chaos of nature speaks directly to Hegel’s theory.<br />
  5. 5. This early stage of art, from the origins of our species up until the beginnings of civilization, is unique in its applications. Because they had no ability to communicate to a larger community, the artistic investigation of prehistoric artworks is primarily concerned with mimesis. Why did our early ancestors copy the images of the world around them? What is gained by this interaction with representations?<br />Venus of Willendorf, ca. 28,000 BCE<br />Bison from Altamira Cave, ca. 12,000 BCE<br />Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux, ca. 15,000 BCE<br />
  6. 6. It is easy to understand the challenge that prehistoric art presents to the Platonic idea of mimesis. These artworks were not created to perfectly imitate something, but, as Gadamer shows us, in their imitation, they show us something about the essence of those real objects and events. <br />And to speak of essence in the prehistoric world (or in any age, to my thinking) is to speak of magic, a thing’s existence which is beyond the quantifiable realm of sensibility. Take for instance, this “depiction” of a deer hunt from ÇatalHöyük, which dates to around 5750 BCE.<br />What we see in this painting is an attempt to express rather than describe. Look at the speed of the hunter at the top left, or the immensity of the buck in the center. We are shown qualities made manifest in form, not static reproductions of anatomically precise beings. The existence, the “real-ness” of these images is not in their faith to the sensible world, but in their communicative evocations.<br />
  7. 7. So what happens to art when representation becomes an attempt to see who can reproduce the experiences of life the “best?” At last, we have come to what I believe is the single greatest issue of art history and art making: naturalism.<br />Polykleitos,Doryphoros, or Spear Bearer, ca. 450 BCE <br />Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911<br />Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-1498<br />
  8. 8. What do we mean when we talk about naturalism? Naturalism is the attempt by artists to create realistic depictions, to show things as they are in the world. The first and most important thing to learn about naturalism is that there is no such thing as a uniform and universal naturalism. There are various ways of describing things in the real world, and it is much more appropriate to think about “naturalisms.” The majority of Western naturalist conventions are predicated on the need to accurately reproduce the experience of vision and the position of objects in space. For example, look at Raphael’s The School of Athens from 1509 – 1511.<br />Here, we are shown a two-dimensional object showing three-dimensional space. Using linear perspective and the vanishing point, the great innovation of Renaissance art, Raphael tries to trick us into believing he has recreated an actual experience in an actual space.<br />
  9. 9. Once linear perspective had been rediscovered and reperfected, it was the standard for all painting for the next 400 years. It wasn’t until artists like Cézanne and Picasso began to treat the canvas as an actual opaque object instead of a transparent window that linear perspective began to lose its grip. Cubism most perfectly obliterated the dependency on linear perspective by acknowledging that objects exist in three dimensions, and in order to paint them correctly, objects must be depicted from as many of their sides as possible. This is shown wonderfully in Jean Metzinger’sTea Time of 1911. Look at the tea cup at the bottom, which has been split in half to show its profile and its view from slightly above, or the fragmentation for the woman’s arm and face, each sliver showing a different angle of her body.<br />Metzinger succeeds in showing us a new kind of naturalism, one which embraces an object’s infinitude of perspectives, and by imitating each facet of a thing, hopes to capture the thing itself.<br />But the question for us is, why does any of this matter?<br />
  10. 10. At its heart, naturalism, which is to say mimesis, is grounded in a need to communicate using forms and space which are familiar and understandable to the most number of people. This problem did not arise until the beginnings of civilization and codified language, when communication amongst large groups of people became necessary to ensure a successful life. This semiotic need to speak universally begins the first investigations into artwork and its qualities in ancient Greece, where most scholars agree mimesis was taken to its absolute peak.<br />This image before us, the Doryphoros by Polykleitos, is one of the most famous and celebrated sculptures of ancient Greece. Its acclaim lies in its perfected use of Greek proportion. The sculptor himself wrote a lengthy treatise describing each part of this sculpture’s body as belonging to an ideal proportion. Here, Platonic form is made physically manifest. Having perfected every inch of the human male, Polykleitos established a type, or eidos, of the body. In a society like Plato’s, where incredibly lifelike statues like this one were actually painted and (sometimes) clothed , the line between the representation and the original was intentionally blurred, and it was in this society that questions of truth in imitation first began.<br />
  11. 11. What I hope I have illuminated by talking about mimesis and its context with the rise of civilization is that after art lost its “cult value,” as Benjamin describes it, its exhibition and display launched it into the realm of common interpretation. Art was no longer meant for spirits or the tribe, but belonged to anyone with eyes that could see. To believe that art can tell a lie, as Plato feared for his guardians and as Benjamin witnessed in the Third Reich, is to recognize art as communication, which is always in danger of being infected with lies. But as we shall soon see, art took matters into its own hands in the late 19th century, and in doing so, forced art into its full maturity, or ensured its ultimate destruction.<br />ThéodoreGéricault, Portrait of a Kleptomaniac, 1822<br />Statuettes of Worshippers, Sumeria, c. 2700 BCE<br />Art Workers’ Coalition, Q: And Babies?, A: And Babies., 1969<br />
  12. 12. What you see before you is the painting that, according to your perspective, saved art or ruined it forever. This painting by James McNeill Whistler from 1875 is called Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.<br />When John Ruskin, the most respected art critic of the age first saw it, he mocked it, calling it a “pot of paint [flung] in the public’s face.” Whistler (successfully) sued for libel, and his defense included a radical alteration of the priorities for art, especially painting. Demanding that subject matter be removed from the image and let the image be the only aim of the artist, Whistler changed art in ways he could never have imagined. (More on that later…)<br />
  13. 13. Wait a minute….<br />We have just demanded that art objects be devoid of any ideas, agendas, politics, religions, philosophies, and biases!<br />Do we have to believe that crap?!<br />Well, no. We don’t. But we do have to put up with it for about 80 years. So why is this so important?<br />Simply put, the liberation of images from ideas does two things: it creates the notion of “art for art’s sake,” and it jeopardizes traditional aesthetics, especially Hegel’s. Freed from concepts, art has lost its communicative ability, relying solely on emotional evocation and visual form. How does this change art as we know it?<br />
  14. 14. Well, for starters, if an image doesn’t have to have an idea behind it, then it has no need to obey the demands of naturalism. And if that happens, anything is possible. Non-objective, or abstract, art is inconceivable without Whistler, and it is with this break with representational art that we can begin to look at some of the more powerful challenges to traditional aesthetics.<br />Like this. Donald Judd’s Untitled of 1966. Minimalism is perhaps the most hostile convention to traditional aesthetics, because it completely rejects any attempt to narrate or communicate. Minimalist objects exist to exist, in the simplest state of being, whether by being positioned in a certain way, or by inhabiting a certain space. Much like the readymade which Gadamer discussed, these objects beg to be interpreted according to their tradition and their claims to artfulness, and by simply making the claim, they enter the sphere of art.<br />
  15. 15. Or we can take a look at one of the most controversial public sculptures of all time. This is Richard Serra’s Titled Arc of 1981. A site-specific piece specifically made for the plaza outside the Federal Building in Manhattan, pedestrians and tenants complained until the sculpture was taken down in 1989. It was created to force people travelling through the space to reconsider their local space as an art field, that the plaza it inhabited was just as much an artwork as the arc, and that the city the plaza inhabited was art as well, and its removal from its space had the effect of actually destroying the work of art. Minimalist architecture, with is primary concerns of space and form, allowed art to be concerned with its own problems instead of being saddled by interests and missions.<br />The Plaza with the Tilted Arc.<br />The Plaza when it was removed. (Doesn’t it feel like something is missing? So sad.)<br />
  16. 16. It only took so long for Minimalism to get boring and played out, and that’s when conceptual art took hold. Full disclosure: this is the one art –ism that has been bothering me throughout this class. With conceptual art, the idea is the art object, not the sensible object. How does this fly? Let’s look at some conceptual art and find out.<br />Like this. Joseph Kosuth’sOne and Three Chairs of 1965. We are presented with a picture of a chair, an actual chair, and the definition of a chair. This is classic conceptual art, and finds strong problems with and elegantly supports Hegelian aesthetics. The idea is the artwork, and in conceptual art, we see the object slowly dematerializing into thought, with the idea remaining as the object of our attention and, dare I say, beauty. Idea and object are intertwined, but the object is slowly disappearing.<br />
  17. 17. No, this is not a wine rack. This is Sol LeWitt’sOpen Modular Cube of 1966. The idea is that there are enough modules for you to imagine whatever sculpture you like inside the demarcated space. LeWitt would get to claim the rights for whatever sculpture you imagined because he provided the space in which it occurred. <br />This “imagination engine,” with its industrial design and rigid geometry, seems to be LeWitt’s appeal to Kant’s purposiveness without a purpose. Just look at it; seen from a million different perspectives, it is ordered, regular, and perfect. And within its frame, any image may come to mind. With this piece, I am also reminded of Gadamer’s emphasis on art’s disclosure of an ordering spirit. Here, LeWitt demonstrates one of the simplest ways of expressing that order without demanding that order’s form or purpose. We are allowed our own freedom in seeing someone else’s art.<br />
  18. 18. The goal of conceptual art seems clearest to me in this sculpture by Richard Long. Made in 1975, it is simply called A Line in the Himalayas. Taking lighter stones and arranging them into a single, ordered line, he leaves a human calling card on the face of the mountain. The perfectly straight line is something which does not occur in nature, and by leaving one in this harsh environment, Long appeals not to any actual convention (although there is something of a Barnett Newman zip about it) but to consciousness itself. By revealing order and making it physically manifest, Long is actually disclosing the idea, not the object.<br />The pendulum swings back and forth from ideas to objects in art through many different periods. But their connection is always present, as Hegel so famously proposed.<br />
  19. 19. Remember when I told you to get ready to be disappointed at the beginning of this presentation? Well, here is the bad news. There is no such thing as genius!<br />What is a genius to us? What is a genius to Kant? We seem to have this idea of an artist being outside the mainstream of her/his society, and that some active, invisible force compels them, almost against their will, to make generation-defining, game-changing art that ends up being hung up in museums.<br />I’m sorry if this hurts any feelings, but this is complete nonsense. Would you like some proof?<br />Remember that Warhol we saw in class last week that sold for nearly $44 million? Here is another Warhol, Green Car Crash of 1963. It sold for nearly $73 million. Here is how much effort it took: Warhol found the picture (taken by somebody else), had it reproduced on a silkscreen (by an intern), and applied it 7 times to a prepped canvas. All told, it could be made in 30 minutes. Or less. And this man is still considered the greatest American artist of all time.<br />
  20. 20. Or how about this one? This is another Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawing of 1981. One of these is at the University of Chicago Museum, one of the most prestigious art museums in the world. Here is how this works: LeWitt would come up with the design, and then create a stencil, which you, me, or anyone could buy and draw on a wall, wherever they liked. Oh, and he would still get the credit. It would still be “a Sol LeWitt,” even if you did the work.<br />Of course artwork inspires us, and it should! But why must we insist that when someone can paint or draw better than anyone else that they must be somehow beyond this world?<br />
  21. 21. David Wojnarowicz, Rimbaud in Hell, 1978 - 1979<br />What I hope you take away from this presentation is the realization that art is more than just a narrowly defined field of academic and recreational interest. Art is happening all the time, all around us. Simply put, everything is art. And when everything becomes art, everything gains a purpose.<br />Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Images to a Dead Hare, 1965<br />Kazamir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918<br />Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 2008<br />
  22. 22. We have travelled a long way in this presentation, and some of this information may seem totally confusing (my fault, not the artists’, I assure you). But if anyone has any questions, please let me know. Even though this is the one being graded for the blog, I am still considering doing another presentation on beauty. If anyone would like to see that, or would just like to talk about it, let me know! I always love to talk about art, and I find talking about artworks only enhances everyone’s understanding of them.<br />I know this presentation was a little dry, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless! Again, please let me know if you have any questions. I would be happy to help in any way I can.<br />