Art and Today

Art & Today (Eleanor Heartney, Phaidon Press Ltd, 2008) is a large tome of writing on contemporary art and we were asked to choose one chapter to read which we felt most aligned to in terms of our art practice.

I began by reading the chapter Art & Nature and Technology because of my interest in the landscape.

When I read the following quote (from page 169) I was inspired to reread Affluenza by Oliver James.

“They recognize that these are tools that may be employed for good or ill upon our bodies and our natural environment. And in fact, the fate of these two essential entities are entwined, for we are, as Pollock once said in a very different context, nature, and we separate ourselves from it at our peril. In keeping with this recognition, artists today sound warnings about the arrogant privileging of human desires over the wellbeing of the natural world, and about reckless tinkering with the human body, whose outcome no one can predict. Most are aware that technology and science, like the evils of Pandora’s Box, cannot be retrieved once they have been released upon the world, and thus often use their lessons to solve the very problems they have created.”

My carnivorous chair ‘As You Were…’, although it is not created as Bio art does have some element of the ‘warping of nature for our own means’ about it. However, I didn’t feel that my work really aligned with any of the artists or movements in this chapter. The only things I found familiar with this chapter was my love of the Landscape and IT (as opposed to technology as a whole) and the above excerpt. I’m interested in the theme of tampering with the body and nature – but only from a perspective of how that affects wellbeing and mental health – how we still feel discontent after we have made ‘adjustments’, ultimately leading to depression and poor mental health.

My other leanings towards this chapter were because it featured Rebecca Horn, who was an influence on the previous module (1.4) and particularly on my last piece – the collar titled ‘Chin Up’. But beyond the sections on the warped development of nature, I felt I had little affiliation with this chapter.

I then went on to look at the Art & Identity chapter. I can align myself with the statement on P242:

“… They demanded that the art world open itself to artists form groups and backgrounds that had previously been swept to the margins.”

On P243 it talks of the introduction of feminine materials and craft methods to draw attention to particular backgrounds or to distinguish it from male art. The identity this chapter discusses seems to be around skin color, cultural backgrounds and gender (including homosexuality). There is very little about mental health or emotions in this chapter – mental health seems to be a taboo of identity, though it clearly aligns with this area. Even Mary Kelly’s ‘Post Partum’ is about gender identity and is included in this chapter, rather than being about time or documenting life.

I found there was very little in this chapter that spoke to me either.

Tracey Emin’s ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’ is an example of documentation and recording of life and this appears in the Art & Popular Culture chapter. I initially read this because I felt that ‘As You Were…’ aligned to this chapter because it was kitsch, cute and had many pop-art qualities. But my later work about mess and ‘creatively tidying’ does not align to this chapter and there is no mention of colour in this chapter either.

I decided to see if colour or emotion were included in the index and in which chapter they might appear. Colour and colour-imaging appears in the Art & Abstraction chapter, so I decided to look at this one too. From my most recent work and how I intend to progress my work, THIS chapter most closely aligns with my work (although I would not have initially thought so from the title).

P66: “It is regarded alternately as an expression of the individual psyche and a set of conventions that mock true individuality. Some critics argue that abstraction probes the essence of nature, others that it reflects the artifice of the urban world, yet others that it explores a secret world of private feeling. For some it is a harbinger of spiritual truth.”

I have been trying to probe the essence of nature in the landscapes I previously photographed and subsequently created work from. I’ve been trying to pin down the colours in nature that enhance my mood; that give me joy. Colours that make me feel happy and enriched. P66:

“…artists reduced art to basic colors and forms. [Kazimir] Malevich, for instance, referred to the square as ‘the face of new art’ and the basic component of ‘world building’. He embraced a vision of art that he dubbed Suprematism, which expressed his hope that art would lead people from the materialistic embrace of acquisition and accumulation to a dematerialised realm of pure feeling.”

Interestingly this sounds like a remedy to all the discontent we feel in the modern world (such as those I found and investigated in Affluenza). Our constant striving to attain and gain things and our subsequent lack of joy when we do achieve these goals (because we now need something new to make us even better) causes mass dissatisfaction with our lives. Our search for joy (when it is materialistic) becomes an endless treadmill of empty goals. Our satisfaction with life would be much better if we disregarded all the materialist goals we think will make us happier and instead strive to find enjoyment and satisfaction through simpler things.

P66: “Mondrian employed geometry to related ends. His compositions of horizontal and vertical lines forming rectangles and squares filled with primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, were meant to create a state of equilibrium in harmony with the rhythm of the universe.”

Many of the iPad drawings I have made create a simplified and spacious view of mess and they do remind me of Kandinsky’s ‘Cossacks’ (1910-11).

P66: [Arthur] “Dove took his inspiration from the unseen energies of life and growth found in the natural world. Beginning from landscape, he evolved a style in which objects melted away, leaving him, as he noted, with the subjective recollection of ‘certain sensations [remembered] purely through their form and color’.

I have been striving (but struggling) to do abstractions from the landscape which evoke mood and feelings of wellbeing since I began the course. Until now, I was not able to find a route to move away from the literal into abstraction.

P67 Pop art grew out of Abstraction as a backlash and “brought back representation with a vengeance.”

P68 Abstraction today is very ‘impure’. It mixes organic and industrial forms and uses modern and traditional craft techniques in sculptural works, such as those by Richard Deacon and Martin Puryear.

Painter Brice Marden, P68: “Yet while he has explored both gestural and geometric approaches to abstraction, his underlying motivations bear little relationship to those of early modernists. Marden’s monochromes have thick, waxy surfaces and their colors are always a response to a particular place or a personal memory. He avoids primary colors and instead uses soft shades of gray, green or tan that reflect nature, evoking evening mist, early spring grass, or the light of Greece, where he has spent summers since the 1970s.”

The above could easily describe one of my daily colour palettes. At present I am not interested in geometry or gestures – just colour – but feel these concerns may come in to play later.

Many artists base their abstractions on observation and memory (Mangold and Marden) and often reference nature. The layering of Terry Winters’ images are also similar to the abstracts from my ‘Simplification’ series.

Abstraction can also be about texture and surface as well as colour and can explore the above in one colour only – such as Ad Reinhardt’s ‘Abstract Painting‘ (1963) which I saw at the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at MoMA in New York.

P77: Robert Ryman: “…rejects all metaphor, insisting that his is a realist. ‘With realism there is no picture,’ he notes. ‘There is no story. And there is no myth. And there is no illusion, above all. So lines are real, and the space is real, the surface is real and there is an interaction between the painting and the wall plane, unlike with abstraction and representation.”

Op Art is commonly known in the design world (and by my colleagues at work) – particularly the work of Bridget Riley because (p80): “During its heyday in the 1960s, Op Art was associated with design more than fine art. … Op Art features pulsing moiré effects, color contrasts adjusted to create afterimages and distortion of perspective, and other forms of optical illusion.”

P80: “The most influential Op artist is likely Bridget Riley. Her paintings of mathematically constructed patterns, like High Sky 2, 1992, are designed to force the eye to continually adjust its focus. Riley has said that she wants to create a space in which ‘the mind’s eye, or rather, the eye’s mind’ could move about.”

P82: “Appearing in the early 1980s, Bleckner’s works were originally taken as ironic dismissals or parodies of the Op Art sensibility, … the painting’s shimmering luminosity removes it from the realm of irony and situates it instead in the realm of spirituality, opticality, and beauty. With these expressive works, Taaffe and Bleckner reinvigorate the notion that art should aspire to beauty, an idea that at times seems to have become almost as disreputable as Op Art itself.”

The disreputable nature of Op Art comes from it’s associations with psychedelia and drug-taking from the 70s.

P84: [Polly] “Apfelbaum’s sculptural installation also evoke the image of a painting bursting out into space. In her work, paint is replaced by felt, crepe paper, pom-poms, and fabric cut into shapes such as ovals, floral dingbats or shamrocks. In Big Bubbles, 2000, oblong crosses of synthetic velvet, placed in radiating clusters on the floor, produce an eye-popping cracked carpet. Sometimes the colors in these works gradually shift in line as they travel across the floor. At other times they create a field of stripes. And at still others, the colors spread out to form mandala-like patterns, or mime the garish gaiety of floral wallpaper.”

I could definitely see my work progressing in this sort of direction, by applying my colour palettes to pattern through installation and inhabiting space.

Organic abstraction has moved on. P84 “Hidden harmonies of the cosmos or the underlying rhythms of nature are no longer at issue, as artists today tend to regard their organic forms as surface decorations or contingent details borrowed from nature, historical ornament, or the everyday world.”

The grid and minimalistic work of artists such as Sarah Morris and her piece ‘Midtown-Manhatten Dew’, 1999, are very graphical (i.e. graphic design in nature). I like the exploration of these patterns and tessalations with colour.

P88: “Morris places her brightly colored grids in illusionistic space, pulling the viewer deep into rigidly structured rectilinear spaces that could not be more removed from the natural world. These works are painting in clashing hues of household gloss paint, further distancing them from nature. In their jazzy motion and sharp edges they feel like heirs to Mondrian’s New York-inspired paintings, notably Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43. Like Mondrian, Morris translates the energy of the city into paintings that capture the distinctive rhythms of urban life.”

P91: “Along with the grid, stripes were once a favored motif of formalists seeking to emphasize the flatness and objective shape of the canvas.”

Sean Scully rejects the idea that stripes create a sense of ‘intellectual order’ believing instead that they “illustrate messy reality”. He takes his inspiration from life: ” … stripes of gaily colored beach umbrellas, rows of pillars or barred windows, and the shadows that fall from stands of trees.”  He doesn’t use precise edges and instead uses uneven ones that blend into one another. “The compositions take on a crazy-quilt quality as patches of horizontal and vertical stripes of various colors and sizes butt up against each other.” Some patches are 3-d relief. “Scully’s muted colors come from nature – the rich tones of the earth, the shimmer of the sea, the convergence of cloud and sky – imparting to the stripe a certain human and natural quality that seems light years away from the stark regularity of Minimalism.”

P91: “The revolution initiated by the likes of Mondrian and Kandinsky has yielded a generation of artists who feel completely comfortable with the language of abstraction but no longer feel the need to make absolutist distinctions between the visible and invisible or to choose between representation and abstraction. Instead, they embrace opposing tendencies as necessary tools for any exploration of a complex world.”


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