The Laws of Nature

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paradigms and Purposes

Occam's Razor
watercolor on paper
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
prints and cards are available,
see link above
Book Review

Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Cynthia Freeland

Chapter 2: Paradigms and purposes

Moving right along at my present pace, which seems to match that of a snail, I’ll tackle Chapter 2. The opening sentence is a real attention grabber: contemporary artists who create work using blood, urine, maggots, and plastic surgery are successors of past artists who took sex, violence, and war as their subjects. Really? Is the correlation actually that close?

Freeland needs to find a theory that applies to these works. In this chapter, she devotes the next five sections to five periods in art ranging from fifth-century BCE Athens to Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box in 1964. Here’s a very brief synopsis of the evolution of “what is art?” according to Freeland:

1.      Greeks – art is an imitation of nature or of human life and action, including tragedy.

2.      Chartres and medieval aesthetics – art and Gothic cathedrals (the repository of art) must emulate the characteristic of beauty which is a property of God. The three key principles of  gothic cathedrals: proportion, light and allegory.

3.      Versailles and Kant – The Greek classical motif is revisited at Versailles in architecture, craftsmanship, and gardens. Kant emphasized the idea of “purposeviness without purpose.”

4.      Richard Wagner– his opera Parsifal celebrates suffering; the rebirth of the tragedy in art.

5.      Andy Warhol – his Brillo Boxdemonstrated that anything can be a work of art, given the right situation and theory. Art that embodies meaning becomes the new norm.

So, it appears that Warhol and his avid supporter, noted critic Arthur Danto, opened Pandora’s Box (although I might argue that Duchamp did it first). Most everything is art now, and most everything hangs in our museums of contemporary art.  Beauty is no longer required.

I’ve spent time reflecting upon this idea and can agree intellectually, but not emotionally. When I create art, no matter what the overarching concept for it, I still try to make it aesthetically pleasing. I’m enthralled with design and color. Yes, I begin with a concept and it’s not always a pleasing thought, but the art that expresses it is usually something beautiful to look at.

So, the question for me is not whether it’s art, but whether I want to paint it and look at it.

How about you?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's your emotional range?

Book Review

Kirschhoff's First Law
watercolor 26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS

Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Cynthia Freeland
Chapter 1: Conclusion
After presenting the case of Serrano and his precursor Goya, Freeland moves us toward concluding statements by pointing out that a lot of recent art work incorporates horror. I would agree. My trips to the galleries and museums of New York City gave me insight into this. Quite frankly, sometimes I understood it but mostly I wondered about the motivations of the artists.  It’s kind of like viewing Hollywood’s high-body-count movies (HBC’s).  After awhile you wonder what is the point?
So, this chapter in Freeland’s book interests me. She begins by trying to help us understand horror in art through the lenses of two competing theories:  1) art as communal ritual, and 2) aesthetic theory a la Kant and Hume.  The first theory doesn’t explain this trend, and the second only marginally.
Freeland writes: By pointing back to works of an important artist from the past, Goya, I have argued that contemporary ugly or shocking art like Serrano’s has clear precedents in the Western European canon. Art includes not just works of formal beauty to be enjoyed by people with ‘taste’, or works with beauty and uplifting moral messages, but also works that are ugly and disturbing, with a shatteringly negative moral content.
This means that Freeland will next discuss content. My favorite subject!
The questions I have for those of you who wish to comment are: What is your reaction to horror in works of art and do you incorporate it in your own work? Do you concern yourself with conveying feelings other than pleasant ones in your art? What is the emotional range of your self expression?