Monday, 19 December 2011

Result on DPP

Letter received today saying that I had passed. 2 down 5 to go!.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

DPP Assignment 5 - Tutors response

Positive feedback on the final assignment and have sent everything off for assessment. Time of crossed fingers and hope.

I am now starting on Photography 2 - Landscape. In order to keep the blog simple and uncluttered I have created a new blog at so future posting will appear there.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Visual Studies 1 - Understanding Visual Culture - The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction

I was unable to find a copy of the BBC programme so I was left with just the book. When I am presented with two views, the second of which states that many of the ideas were taken from the first, I always feel uneasy because of a sense of being guided to a particular conclusion. That in some way there is a fear that if I am offered an alternative view I will be enticed to stray from the true course. I am also aware that there is a world of difference between the written word and a television documentary even if they are the product of the same 'author'. Television engages the senses of sound and sight whilst the tone of the narrator and the background music, if there be such, impacts on our emotions inviting us to join the narrator in his version of the world.

Both Benjamin and Berger have a particular view of the world which they see as the unthinking masses; the ruling elite (that changes in form through time but remains in a position to structure the thinking of the masses to see the world as it is as the only ideal way for it to exist); and a very few rationalist intellectuals, a group to which they belong, who can see the world as it really is and only through them can the masses be brought into the sunlit uplands of the truly free. I do not subscribe to this view in its entirety not least the idea of 'unthinking masses'. The  depressing world of Berger and Benjamin where we all sit in front of the television accepting what is put before us without question and awareness is nonsensical. That we have no discrimination and cannot appreciate the differences in the world around us is undermined by many events in history most recently by the riots that hit many of our major cities recently. The Arab Spring that hasstarted change in the Middle East is further evidence that the masses do not happily accept the view of the world forced upon by the ruling classes. I readily acknowledge that too often one despot is all too often replaced by another albeit in a different disguise.

For me the most telling argument against Berger and Benjamin is their apparent willingness to ignore the individuality of humans. I would argue that our experience of the arts, in whatever form, cannot be lumped into a limited number of types. Every experience is unique. We are the product of 'nature' and 'nurture' and as that combination is unique to the individual what we 'see' will be different. Although superficially we may behave in a particular way on entering, say a museum or a religious building, because of perceived social norms, what we experience and how we react to particular stimuli will be unique to us. You only have to sit in an Art Gallery and listen to the comments of your fellow visitors to realise how different we are.

As I was unable to find a copy of the BBC programme I searched the internet to see if there was a critique of the programme written by someone whose views were different to those of Berger. I found what I wanted in The Australian Journal of Media and Culture vol.2 no 2 (1989) Performance Theory Australia eds Brian Shoesmith & Alec McHoul.  The particular article was written by Jan Bruck & John Docker  and is entitled  Puritanic rationalism: Jon Berger's Ways of Seeing and media and culture studies.  Describing Berger's approach as supporting puritanic rationalism the authors find 'spectacular' the absence of ethnography in Ways of Seeing. I would recommend anyone to read this article in full as a counter-argument to the pronouncements of Berger.

We are asked to consider whether a work of art removed from its original site grows or diminishes in meaning. I am left wondering - what is the original site? Clearly the art work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel if removed and placed elsewhere (if this was possible) would be diminished. The work depends upon its location because the contours of the ceiling are an integral part of the work. Can this be the case with an oil on a flat piece of canvas in its frame. When created by the artist was he aware of its final resting place and used that knowledge to imbue the painting with meaning? It is possible that this was the case in some work but probably not in most cases. Da Vinci could not have envisaged that the Mona Lisa would be displayed in the Louvre in Paris. Certainly he could not have foreseen its present location with its attendant security and lighting measures. Is the Mona Lisa now devoid of the meaning that Da Vinci wished for it. We cannot know, although from a personal point of view when I visited the Louvre I found the experience of seeing the Mona Lisa as an anti-climax - it had none of the impact I expected.

The next question "Does familiarity breed contempt" has no real meaning because it is not apparent to what it is referring. I would agree that familiarity leads to an acceptance bordering on an inability to see what is before us. Whether it leads to contempt rather than simple boredom depends upon the 'value' the viewer has ascribed to the product.

The final question "Has Benjamin's 'aura' been removed by the postcard?" invites the simple answer 'No'.  The term 'aura' has been given a specific meaning by Benjamin and although he would argue that the ability to reproduce a piece of art countless times removes the aura of the original I do not agree with his argument. Again experience suggests that when people believe that they are in the presence of an original their behaviour changes as though the painting and what it represents has some magical quality that reaches out to them in a way that only an original can.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Visual Studies 1 - Understanding Visual Culture

Sent off my first assignment today - Interaction of the media. I am not totally convinced that I knew what I was doing so look forward to my tutor's comments with interest. I found the module difficult despite some experience of philosophy and its strange use of language.

Will now move on to the second module in the hope that I see the light and start to make sene of the Course material.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Visual Culture - the flaneur

The text of the Course material seems strangely at odds with the material I have been able to find.  Not least the statement  "The increase in leisure and disposable income comes alongside the development of the department store and shopping as an activity". Whilst there must be a question mark over whether the increase in disposable income was evenly spread across the classes and consequent leisure time the development of the department store was seen by Walter Benjamin as bringing about the end of flanerie. He held the belief that the flaneur was specific to the arcades of 19th Century Paris with the covered streets and the crowds that they attracted providing the best environment for the appearance of the flaneur. Whilst the department store is a natural progression from the arcade the environment is not conducive to the needs of the flaneur. The arcades offer an area that is both public (the area external to the shops) and private (the shops themselves). In the department store there is no such division.

Despite this view of Benjamin's the term remains in use as a shorthand description (with all the difficulties of such use) of the the man (less frequently a woman) who whilst strolling through the urban environment is consciously aware of the changes that can be experienced from street to street and from building to building. The modern equivalent is the street photographer who wanders, apparently aimlessly, camera at the ready to capture anything that attracts and holds his attention, however fleeting the event. One well known photographer, Jay Eiszel, has spent most of his career strolling the streets of New York with his camera taking images often of the same area but where he sees the interaction of the passing people with the buildings that is unique in some way that may only be the effect of a momentary change in light or reflection in a glass fronted building.

The wider audience for art brought about by the increase in disposable income across a broader range of classes offers the artist the opportunity to at least be able to support himself. Presumably this allowed him greater time to 'think'. Benjamin quotes from the Larousse Dictionary of 1872  "the greater part of men of genius were great flaneurs... Often it is at the time when the artist or the poet seems the least occupied in their work, that they are plunged the deepest." It has always been part of the artists 'facade' that he is not being idle or wasting his time but engaged in deep consideration of his next great piece of art. If there is any truth in this then being seen and acting as a flaneur can only add to the quality and quantity of his output.  It is a separate argument whether this possible increase would benefit the wider society.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Visual Culture: UVC - Photography: the new reality

Brik makes a series of statements that point up what he sees as the main differences between painting and photography. Having opened his article by stating that photography pushes painting aside and that painting resists this pushing he declares that this is how the battle must be interpreted. Clearly he sees painting as a dying art telling the reader that life cannot be represented in a painting having assigned to the painter the duty to change reality and that failure to make this change makes the painter a bad copyist. Having made it clear where he thinks the future lies the rest of the article lauds the photographer. He does however have a warning for the photographer who pursues his dream of creating a 'painterly' effect in his photographs so that they look like reproductions of paintings. Such activity Brik sees as destroying the craft of the photographer taking away the basis of his 'social importance'.

In declaring the demise of painting Brik echoes the view of Paul Delaroche (1797 - 1856) who, on seeing his first daguerreotype (an early type of photograph), declared "from today painting is dead" (there is no evidence that he ever made this remark). As of the present time both were wrong. Photography has not replaced painting and it could be argued the sheer volume of photographic images that bombard our senses every day has, by contrast, given paintings an air of uniqueness and being of another more leisurely and more desirable world. We can sit in the Art Gallery and lose ourselves in a painting whereas the reality of the photograph guides us towards similar experiences in our own lives that may or may not be pleasant.

The attempt by artists to imitate the 'reality' of the photograph is matched by the photographer who strives to create something of the uniqueness of the painter. In the world of the painter this striving to imitate photography probably reaches its peak in the world of photorealism in which the artist paints a copy of a photograph using his skill to faithfully capture every line, nuance of light and colour to re-create the original image. Whilst some would claim that there is no agreement about what constitutes a great photograph the discussion normally revolves around  'laws' that have been borrowed from painting such as the 'rule of the thirds' and the 'golden mean'. Photographers attempt to use the same underlying ideas as those that guided the great painters. In a limited sense there is no difference between painting and photography and indeed both are bound by centuries of aesthetic judgements of what is seen to be good.

Perhaps the most telling element of the striving of photographers to be seen as artists can be seen in the present day output of many photographers and what can be seen in international and national exhibitions. It would seem that the more 'artistic' the style of the photograph the more likely it is to be exhibited and be awarded an accolade. The power of photographic enhancement software such as the ubiquitous 'Photoshop', with almost every imaginable effect on offer, is providing the photographer with previously unavailable chances to imitate painting. The arguments that were put by Brik continue even now and perhaps with even greater force.

It has been suggested that one of the early users of photography in the production of his paintings was Edgar Degas (1834 -1917). In the latter part of the 1880's Degas became a passionate photographer taking photographs of many of his friends. It is claimed that his paintings were often influenced by the new medium of photography with art historians believing that that the large amount of non-essential space, cropping and the placement of the figures on the canvas are evidence of the influence of photography on his work. There is no direct evidence that this is the case and like modern day arguments on the 'reality' of photographs and the amount of manipulation by the photographer opinions vary widely.

One painting that has been seen to be influenced by Degas' knowledge of photography is 'Four Dancers' painted c.1899. To the left of the image are the four dancers with the one to the extreme left of the picture cropped so that only her head and arm are seen. Of the other three dancers two of the faces are seen in profile and the third is a side view of her head. Each of their positions is different (it has been suggested that we are only seeing one dancer moving as in a sequence of images (The Collection -National Gallery of Art website). There is a large element of essentially empty space to the right and Degas has painted it so it appears slightly unfocused that would be the effect of a camera shot.

Whilst there must remain an element of doubt about the strength of the influence of photography on the later work of Degas such doubt does not exist for the work of the Photorealists. One example are the works of Rob Hefferan (1968 - ) (see his web site). An untitled image is of a painting of a female with her back to the viewer and her face half profile. Her dress is open to reveal her naked back. Beyond her is a window giving a glimpse of a garden. The level of detail in her hair is incredible as is the fabric of her dress which makes you feel as though you could stroke it. The original photograph is not good with loss of detail in a white cushion, the window frame and parts of what can be seen through the window. Hefferan has resisted the temptation to fill in the detail that has been lost and has left the blown highlights of the image white.

The Degas image demonstrates the impact of early photography where the painter has become more aware of the elements of the scene that are captured in that brief moment of time that the camera shutter has been open. There is also an awareness of the impact cropping can have on a picture and the use of 'focus' that blurs the unimportant parts of the scene concentrating the viewers attention on the key elements. Hefferan's picture has taken the photograph as its starting point and created a painting mimicking the 'realism' of the photograph thus attempting to combine the two disciplines.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Visual Culture: UVC - Art as a commodity

I was somewhat concerned to find that the required reading was not in the Course Reader! Contact with my tutor revealed that a presumed typo had been amended when there was no need. I suppose it makes a difference from the typo that has not been amended but it does make you wonder who is doing the proof reading and whether the final version issued to students is signed off by the author.

My tutor did point me in the direction of a web page that included the relevant passage but having worked my way through ten pages of Marx and noticed that there was only a requirement to read a couple of pages in the Reader  I was left with a feeling that I am not really sure what I am responding to. (Mind you this is not an uncommon feeling when I have read Marx.)

We are told that "Marx had a particular view of 'commodity' that has informed many views of the consumer society and can be seen to have an impact on the way that collectors of artworks regard the desire to collect." We are offered no evidence that this is the case and whether the use of the term "can be seen" is simply the view of the author of the Course or is a widely accepted view. We are then asked if we can see ways in which this may help us to understand the art market.

In the selected passage Marx distinguishes between the 'value' of an article as provided by the level of expenditure of human labour (perhaps the equivalent of the 'cost' of the article to the producer as used in modern accounting) and the 'exchange value' of an article i.e the amount someone will pay in kind say by the provision of labour; by the aggregate of products that would be seen as a reasonable equivalent ( one of my products will 'buy' 10 of his products as seen in some swap shops); or, more commonly, by the tendering of accepted currency.  The latter system, that is dominant in modern society where there is no social interaction between the producer and the buyer, attempts to provide a common commodity (money) that offers a fair system for the exchange of products. That the system is far from fair is seen daily as markets in commodities are manipulated by speculators who never handle the products that they buy and sell and over which the majority of people have virtually no control.

Turning our attention to art the 'value' of art lies in the cost of the materials used and the time spent on producing the final product. Yet here we have a paradox - the cost of labour is not capable of being calculated in a meaningful way. Unless in some arbitrary fashion the 'hourly' rate of the producer is calculated and indeed the number of hours worked agreed then the cost of labour is not known. There is an exception to this and that is where the artist is not directly involved in the production providing only an idea and a 'name' such as the works of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. Presumably the actual producers i.e. the painters are paid an agreed rate that bears little relationship to the money that is made. Art therefore has no 'value' unless we ascribe to the idea of a mystical value that belongs to the genius of the artist and the level of his suffering.

Art acquires 'exchange value' when it is offered and accepted in payment for something else. Stories abound of artists paying their bar bills by offering a painting and myths abound of the long lost work by a now famous artist that were discovered in a dusty storeroom in some bar or cafe. I presume, although having no direct evidence, that this practice continues. Perhaps Wetherspoons have a company policy on the acceptance of art and legends are circulated of the manager who turned down an early Damien Hirst!. For the most part art is exchanged for currency and on occasion for a great deal of money. Again there will be (apart from the sponsorship of an artist by a wealthy patron) little social contact between the producer (artist) and the buyer. For the buyer it is simply a product. How he sees his purchase is very much a personal thing. He may appreciate it as a great work of art to which he responds emotionally. He may see it as an investment that in time will give him a good level of return. He may obtain it simply because he wants to own something that no one else has and may take this obsession to extreme lengths. He may want to demonstrate his wealth and 'taste' in an obvious way by of ostentatious display in properties he owns. It is of course be a combination of any of these things. What can be said that the reasons are as varied as there are purchasers of art and that to attempt to provide a reason applicable to all is doomed to failure.

Does Marx's views help us to understand the art market? Only insofar as it helps us to understand any market. There is nothing unique about the art market that has many characteristics of say the sale of antique cars. Products are 'advertised' as desirable and by their acquisition it is suggested that the purchaser will attain some desirable end that will set him/her apart from the crowd. Prices way beyond the 'value' will be paid because by the retention of high prices the buyers in the market reinforce how the market is regulated and, where there is an element of snobbery, ensures that the number of new entrants is kept to an elite few.

In the Journal of Contemporary Art October 1986 Koons reveals that he is an ideas person and that he turn to others, more skilled than him, to produce the final product. In a sense his works are the product of a manufactory where the relevant labour skills are brought together to create the 'idea' of one person. What is less clear is the relationship between the ideas man and the producers and whether there is an equal division of the fruits of their co-operation. I would guess not. His ideas are borrowed and on one or two occasions have been shown to be directly used. He usually obtains the legal rights to the object of his work which he makes clear comes from the 'ready-made' and 'enlarges the parameters'. His work is an exaggeration of the familiar that may have appeal to the wider world and not just to the elite art-lovers.

I cannot see how the required reading helps us to understand the work of Koons other than in the general sense of 'value' and 'exchange value'. There is no evidence in what I have been able to find that Koons was affected by these concepts.

It is stated that the work of Koons influenced the work of  Damien Hirst who produced an 18 foot version of a fourteen inch anatomical toy. Hirst also uses others to produce his ideas and there is a story that sums up the art world that one of the artists who was leaving the studio asked to be allowed to take one of Hirst's works. He suggested that she took one of her own but she declined as she wanted the 'name' that guaranteed that its 'exchange value' would be considerably higher. Perhaps what we should be examing the 'exchange value' of the artist rather than his/her works.