This video lecture was focused on how we research work using the internet. Online we often see work without any understanding of context. We will look at images of different qualities often without any details of scale, media, titles or dates. This makes it difficult to know what we are looking at.
Thomas Schutte (b. 1954)
We first listened to Adrian Searle of the Guardian who made an audio recording about a later exhibition Big Buildings Models and views, Bonn Germany. Searle was really positive about all the work, feels that Schutte is an artist who is free. Searle prefers the siting of the 4th plinth piece in the exhibition without all the noise and dirt of trafalgar square. I found it challenging to listen to the information without images. I looked up some of the work but it still felt rather disconnected.
We then heard about written critiques of the Model for a Hotel piece from Time Out’s Ossian Ward and Richard Dormont for the Daily Telegraph
These had conflicting views, Ward found the proposal too similar to the model and indeed appears to have an issue with the idea of a work of art being a proposal. Dormont on the other hand marvelled at the apparent weightlessness of the heavy monument. These differences were partially because of the actual piece but also reflect the writers and journals’ philosophy and attitude to art.
Kiki Smith (b.1954)
Kiki Smith is a contemporary of Schute’s but is based in the states. We heard some biographical details and listened to interpretations of Kiki Smith’s work over a period of time and asked whether her work has changed so much or is it being interpreted differently. Dr Rogers posed the question of whether it is ever possible to get a fixed picture of an artist’s work. I feel that it is impossible and not necessarily desirable. She further questioned how important biographical details are in understanding an artist’s work. I feel its can be helpful but in a quite limited way.
Bourgeois is an artist whose biography famously relates very clearly to her work. Considered by many as the mother of confessional art it often seems her work depends on the understanding of her childhood. We were presented with 3 sources. The first was an anonymous obituary in the Daily Telegraph which acknowledges her career as a mature artist having been relatively less known in mid life owing to the rise of abstract expressionism in the USA where she was living. We then looked at another article by Richard Dormont also in the Daily Telegraph which criticized the reliance on biography and suggested that, in addition to being more famous as a celebrity and for her biography than for the work, the work has little meaning without the biographical details for interpretation. Then we heard from Siri Hustvedt writing in The Guardian who tackles this problem but with more emphasis on ourselves as viewers who need to work on interpreting the work beyond the biographical details and recognising how challenging that is. They seem to agree that the work being merely autobiographical is a problem, however there is a disagreement as to whether there is more in the work. Again this is, as with Thomas Schutte, the journalists own philosophical view point and often that of the media which employs them. For Thomas Schutte it was about the nature of monuments and whether art can be a proposal. Here it is more about our role as an audience about interpreting the work.
Bobby Baker (b.1953)
The work of Bobby Baker deals with domestic life and often the tension with this and work outside the home. Much of her work is performance based using food. She believes that the domestic sphere can and does influence the world outside and international affairs. In 2009 after a period recovering from mental health issues, the welcome institute published her book of drawings that she had made in a day care centre as a diary. This could be seen as a very different way of biography feeding into the work. The nature of the work, it’s process and intentions are clearly completely different.
The Turner Prize
This prize has had a highly charged relationship with the press for many years. Dr Rogers asks whether the Turner Prize is still cutting edge. It has attracted much media attention and we need to acknowledge the politics of the press. Here she suggests that the political beliefs of the newspapers will determine their position on many issues relating to art.
The stuckists are a group of figurative painters who have regularly protested against the Turner Prize and the Tate. They claim that 1000s of painters are better than the work in the Turner Prize. They also suggest that the British YBA generation are part of the establishment as they are sponsored by the labour party and Charles Saatchi. Although the Stuckists are often not taken very seriously within the art world we heard how sometimes they have relevant points to make. For example the journalist Andrew Marr pointed out that the British YBA generation are difficult to be seen as subversive or avant garde as they are sponsored by the labour party and Charles Saatchi. In the same broadcast, Neville Brody says he agrees with their point that everyone should have equal rights to study art and design regardless of financial situation. The stuckists also called out attention to the Tate’s unethical purchasing of a Chris Ofili work for a large sum whilst he was a trustee a purchase that was later taken up by the charities commission. Therefore maybe we should listen to sources who might initially seem to be of little credibility.
Dr Rogers showed gave us an extensive list of types of resources we could consider in our research. This was really useful, what really made me think was how we should try sources that were not obvious and which generally had ideologies we were not in sympathy with.
Dr Rogers then posed the following questions:
In what way do artist’s biographies inform or detract from the viewers experience of the work?
I feel that in general biographical details only help when the artist has used their personal story in a relatively direct way in their work and, even when this is true, they can only ever be one factor in interpreting the work. The work should not be judged based on the biography but it may help to understand certain aspects of it’s meaning. For example, the work of Louise Bourgeois has a heavy presence and in extremely powerful regardless of her biography. I remember seeing an exhibition of hers at the Reina Sofia when I barely knew who she was, regardless of this the work was extremely powerful and I don’t think it relied merely on biography. In my teaching practice I feel my students tend towards biographical detail and it is largely unhelpful. Perhaps I am unusual as I do not have so much curiosity about personal details and I find many of them largely irrelevant. I do not think Bourgeois work is successful because of her biography I think it is what she has made of that experience. The Bobby Baker example is completely different. One needs to know why it was made. The work only exists because of her biography. It is a brave move to make it public and I think the process and function of that work is completely different, it acts in a totally different way upon us.
What are the implications of Ward’s assertion that ¨all art is a form of proposition and therefore anything is possible¨
I feel that to a certain extent all art is a form of proposition provided you see interpret proposition in an open way. What it proposes could be anything from this is how aspects of the world might be to more propositions which are more about form. I have a problem understanding why that might be a problem: if I think of western art history it could all be seen that way. Maybe some non western traditions have such different purpose they would not be seen as propositions by their makers communities but by me from the outside they could be. With regards to the ‘anything is possible’ part of the statement I wonder why this is so contentious, we are not talking about quality as this can vary regardless of media. There are plenty of bad paintings around. Maybe it is because we are worried about the criteria for judging new media.
If you had to choose one source would it be the artists own words or a piece of art criticism?
Ideally both or more sources are necessary to get a bigger picture but it depends a lot on the political position and the character of the critics and artists. We are all biased. Some sources are more informed and balanced. If I had to choose I think it would depend how much sympathy I felt with the artist – if there was a trust in them I would choose their bias if I were less sympathetic I would possibly choose the critic especially if I could choose one who were either relatively unbiased or their bias coincided with my own. In the end I think I always have to go back to the work.