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?


Casey Klahn said...

I always balk at these lists that try to hew a new path, but treat art history as if the old scheme didn't work. I need Classic(with Romans as well as the Greeks) and Renaissance periods. I need the Modernists.

Beauty? I have agreed that art can exist without beauty, but I reject the dialectic treatment where art with beauty is anathema.

So done with Post Modernism. So. done.

My new thoughts are about exploring the place of skill in art.


Unknown said...

Hi Casey, thanks for your comment. I, too, have trouble with revisionist timelines for the sake of rationalization. However, I'm always willing to review it through a different lens. My work first stems from concept formulation and the executed work to express that concept is where I gain skills. I do agree with Danto about the importance of the idea.

Dan Kent said...

Honestly, I don't understand Freeland's need in each book to justify and support "contemporary artists who create work using blood, urine, maggots.." etc. (Of course I haven't read the books - but have only followed your summaries so my thoughts on the matter may be discounted accordingly.)

I certainly understand the idea of prioritizing idea over aesthetics. I've gone to some lengths to try to understand contemporary art so emphasizing, and am still on this journey. At this point I get it intellectually (sometimes), but a piece or installation does not touch my heart when there is a complete and utter absence of a sense of aesthetics. I've tried, really I have..

Sorry about my absence. Much happening in the non-virtual world lately that has been disruptive to my art, my blogging and my blog visits.

Unknown said...

Nice to hear from you, Dan! I have the same problem trying to keep up with blogging and have been absent too often. In any case, I share your sentiments both about the author and aesthetics. Thank you!

Ken Goldman said...

Hi Kathy,

My comment here may be a bit esoteric to non-surfing readers of yours but as a long time artist and surfer, I found it fascinating - especially after reading your blog entry about Warhol's place in defining Art.

An article from Hydrodynamica Blog will take you back in time when a local surfing legend (friend of mine) and progressive surfboard designer Carl Ekstom, actually met Warhol who bought one of his boards because he said it was a piece of art to him and even said he could get Carl into a Museum. This was at the beginning of the march towards the "anything can be art" movement. Warhol ended up using Carl's board in a movie that hypothesized that "all surfers are repressed homosexuals".
My thought: Anyone can make a theory about anything. Yes, in context of breakthroughs, I think, beautiful or not, anything can be called art. Still, it all seems a bit like mental word games to me and an excuse to write a book or make a weird movie.

Sorry this comment is so long. Go directly to the link below, scroll down and watch a video of Carl E. talking about his meeting with Warhol and read everything else about Carl's experience there. Classic!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ekstrom, Warhol, San Diego Surf

Notes from Hydrodynamica Blog/San Diego Surf Warhol excursion 2008.

Ekstrom on Warhol 1968

Unknown said...

I find this topic very interesting and a representation of where our society has headed in the world of art. In a society of "anything goes and everything is art" has led the artist down a long, lonely and confusing path. I believe art has formal design just as a car has formal design, not only visual but functional.

I also find it interesting that as a society we are suppose to accept everything as art because "i say so" when we are sueing companies for manufacturing and installing unsafe parts into their cars. Why are the industry standards on automobiles more stringent than art?

I believe everything of "beauty" has formal design. The content in art of horror isn't so much the focus for me.

Artists have been painting battlefield images all throughout history. However, the "masterpiece" had formal design, and in turn, beauty. Throwing anything horrific or pretty on a canvas does not earn the respect, nor should it, of a John Singer Sargent painting.

Henri Cartier Bresson has been considered one of the five greatest artist of the 20th century. His combination of intuition, sensitivity, and his expertise in geometry (meaning Dynamic Symmetry) has allowed him to create 100's of masterpieces, where most photographers are lucky to end up with 5-10 in their career. And he used a toy camera.

Makes you say "hmmm"....