Thinking Through Art
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Thinking Through Art

Reflections on Art as Research

Katy Macleod, Lin Holdridge, Katy Macleod

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eBook - ePub

Thinking Through Art

Reflections on Art as Research

Katy Macleod, Lin Holdridge, Katy Macleod

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About This Book

The book uses twenty-eight pictures which have never before been seen outside the artists' universities

The journal articles are all by eminent scholars, artists, philosophers, art historians and cultural theorists

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2013
ISBN
9781136746208
Edition
1
Topic
Arte
Subtopic
Arte general
Part 1
Introduction to Part 1
Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge
The chapters in this first part of the book provide a discursive space within which the active contemplation of art can take place. The philosophers, cultural historians and artists writing here seek to enrich current understanding of the specificity of art and its various processes, because it is these which characterise Thinking Through Art. Each of the contributors to this part is actively engaged with doctoral art practice, and is fully conversant with the specificities of art both in this research context and in a variety of contexts which brings with them a wider application for art. They view the act of contemplating art, that which is interpretative action, as potentially shaping our conscious worlds. Such action might rupture foundational assumptions about what is ‘real’ and how we become conscious of that which is real. The writers here exemplify art’s potential to open up possibilities for thought and action. Art is viewed as an active force within our cultural domains and it is this which has determined contributors’ interest in examining how art might be more effectively understood within the research cultures of the university.
Chapter 1, ‘Art and theoria’ by Nicholas Davey, pursues ways in which art theory could be rethought as theoria, a hermeneutic notion which offers a richly appropriate means of addressing art’s subject matter. He views art practice and theory as ‘mutually engaged’. Within this context, he presents and argues through three aspects of art which could be said to lend themselves to such mutual engagement: first, that art addresses us, the viewer. It is through this address that we might view possibilities for ourselves such as ‘shared meanings’, a sharing which opens out possibilities beyond our own experience of the specific subject matters of art: ‘Far from condemning our experience of art as subjective, hermeneutics contends that aesthetic experience opens us to a greater objectivity’ (p. 23).
The second aspect is that art has distinct subject matters, and the third, that art is fundamentally dialogic. This dialogical aspect of art is identified as art’s ‘endless’ conversations (and possibilities), which are ‘already underway’. Davey offers a definition here of theoria not as theory, but as an agent which puts artists ‘in touch’ with formative processes such as the historical and cultural. The intention is not to ‘overdetermine’ art, but to more fully understand, and draw closer to, an appropriate experience of its intellectual and material character.
Theoria, in Davey’s view, offers the possibility of disinterested contemplation which is ‘actively engaged’. It is also a mode of practice, and works with aesthetics to aid the ‘emergence’ of what is encountered as art. He puts forward a cogent case for theoria to respond in hermeneutic terms to the specificities of art and its inexhaustive possibilities for interpretation and that which has not yet been conceived. It opens up a reflective space in the tension between thinking and making to enrich the possibilities for art’s subject matter.
Chapter 2, ‘Interrupting the artist: theory, practice and topology in Sartre’s aesthetics’ by Clive Cazeaux, argues the connection between conceptual judgement and aesthetic experience through the phenomenological tradition within recent continental philosophy. Cazeaux views phenomenology as offering important lines of inquiry into writing and into our condition as beings, ‘immersed in’ and ‘actively engaged with’ the world. He asserts that conceptual judgement and aesthetic experience are conjoined through the consideration of a concept which is active in ‘bringing to light’ new aesthetic possibilities. He refuses the deeply rooted splitting of theory from practice; of the verbal from the visual, the objective from the subjective in pursuit of the conceptual/aesthetic. He reconciles thinking on aesthetics by David Hume and Immanuel Kant and refutes the separation of art from theory, and from words, within modernist thought. He employs continental aesthetics to identify concepts with experience. Immanuel Kant, Herman Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre are marshalled to align sensuous experience with the conceptual to further understand their relationship. Writing is identified as particularly important in opening up such understanding; there is, as Cazeaux indicates, ‘a rupturing from experience to writing’ that is between experience and the contemplation of it. Writing can help to redefine the gap which results from such rupturing. Primarily through a close referencing of Sartrean problematics, Cazeaux presents this gap as an essential space between epistemology and the world. In this context, he presents the active interpretative experience of the artist against the ‘container logic’ of rational knowledge and epistemological certainty. He too enriches the discursive space for art to claim a particular kind of attention. It does, after all, provide a way of orientating ourselves to the conditions of being and as beings, who are actively engaged in the world.
In Chapter 3, ‘Concrete abstractions and intersemiotic translations: the legacy of Della Volpe’, Kenneth Hay argues the case for art as practical theory and theoretical practice. He views art as epistemologically equivalent to other disciplines and underlines its distinctiveness as a ‘determinate abstraction’; that is, an abstraction which is also concrete and capable of acting in the world. Moreover it provides exempla of ‘translations’ of the material world which result in new conceptualisations. Galvano Della Volpe’s thought, arising as it does from moral philosophy, philosophical logic and materialist aesthetics, presents the case for the discipline equivalence of art, while maintaining its distinctiveness. Hay also usefully employs Della Volpe’s materialist and philosophical logic in order to examine the theory/practice relationship within art. Della Volpe’s intention was to demonstrate the ‘exemplarity’ of art as a rational and material synthesis and to this end, he formulated an aesthetic of the means of expression through the C-A-C circle. This reworking of Marxist materialist logic proposes an analysis of the material world (C); from this, abstractions are formed in order to theorise this world (A). These abstractions (which are, in fact, concrete) then return to interfere with (C), which in turn, creates a new process of conceptualisation. Art is viewed here as a materialist practice which enjoys a cognitive, semantic and methodological distinctness. It employs a concrete intellectuality which should be seen as epistemologically equivalent to other disciplines. Its potential as theory can be traced through what Hay calls its translatability, through its concrete abstraction and its capacity for metaphor, most appropriately explored through film. Film reveals both the plasticity of images and a complex symbolisation, and that which Della Volpe and Hay conceive of as the form/content dialectic which is dependant upon an ideological structuring of thought. Hay argues through Della Volpe that art, in the medium of film, can be identified as a ‘renewed conceptualisation’, as that which acts in the world. This action arises from the logics of a material, rational and historically embedded practice, the ‘theorised practice’ of art.
In Chapter 4, Ken Neil explores specific ways in which art addresses the ‘real’ in ‘Repeat: entity and ground – Visual arts practice as critical differentiation’. Neil employs a close reading of theories of the real from the writings of Slavoj Žižek and Hal Foster, and most particularly, those ways in which repetition and copy in art both screens and reveals the real. In this process, art reveals ‘something of its possible traumatic status’. Neil argues for a renewed interest in the conditions of the real and through Žižek, exhorts us to reintegrate it in order to more fully understand its trauma. Foster’s reading of trauma in Andy Warhol’s Death in America serve to identify what this might mean in terms of ‘critical differentiation’ which is encountered as integral to the process of reintegration. Crucial here, is an understanding of the critical thinking of artists as a process of ‘acting through’, rather than that which is restrained or ‘held within’ the artwork. Neil asserts the particular appropriateness of critical thinking which arises from and responds to its picturing for the ‘effective and apposite reflexive analysis of the increasingly virtualised reality’. Neil makes a particular case for artists to be viewed as capable ‘to catalyse the real’.
Through Žižek, Neil poses a mimetic role for art which reflects modes of repetition which could be said to meet the complex challenge for a critical differentiation of the real. This is necessary in a world which, according to Jean Baudrillard, is ‘visually obese’ and involved in endless and ‘inexorable self replication’ without resistant criticality. We have become accustomed to the ‘unvariegated, simulacral’ surface of an undifferentiated real. Its numbing presence is counterbalanced by Neil’s reconfiguration of artists from those who represent to those who act as agent to define and distinguish the real from its semblance, characterised here as ‘entity and ground’. The central exemplum explored through Žižek, is the dramatic event of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, 2001. In pursuing Žižek’s account of the event and its myriad reportings, Neil provides insight into the strange alignment of that which is real, through its reported and increasingly fictionalised copy, so that repeated copies could be seen as a ‘complex conjoining of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary’. Hence the real and its fictionalisation can each be complicit in a possible recuperation of the traumatic event. Such recuperation would be characterised as action, as ‘differentiated’ action and such action would open up critical possibilities ‘from within the very spaces of the visual replication’.
Neil refers to Andy Warhol’s series of prints depicting Death in America as significant examples of an artist’s thinking which is both engaged in figuring a contemporary and repeated event, while remaining curiously disengaged from it. However, Foster offers an analysis of Warhol’s resigned acceptance of the elusiveness of the real which returns us to the plot of determining what critical differentiation might be: it is, in this instance, a repeated mirroring of the actual event as ‘meaningless signal’ set against the possibility of a ‘significant message’ because the repeated artworks can be said to open out a ‘fissure’ between event and its signification, a fissure which could be ‘catalysed’ as critical space. Neil offers the exemplum of Warhol’s print series of traumatic events as art which might be said to recuperate the ordinary real, that which we habitually miss through familiarity, particularly if the viewer’s observation of the traumatic event is too late and therefore likely to be indifferent. However, Neil proposes that this after-the-event engagement can provoke a yearning for that which was real, had happened and incite a drive to pursue what has passed. Neil asserts an active role for the artist within current cultures:
It is the visual artist’s sympathetic magic that transfunctionalises aspects of the real through fantasy, enabling those aspects to be disclosed and perceived in a fictional mode: a mode which relies on a distinction between entity and ground and which thus avoids the fatal dangers of a flattened self-referentiality. (p. 71)
In Chapter 5, ‘The virtually new: art, consciousness and form’, Peter Dallow pursues artists’ struggles to come to terms with the social, ethical and cultural implications of being ‘present’ in the world. Dallow traces the concept of the new through modernism, how the new becomes the virtual within postmodern thought and its impact on the notion of originality: ‘The moment of originality … like the notion of the originary moment itself … seems to provide a metaphor for the sense of historically situated time itself’ (p. 75). But it is this which is ‘thought abandoned’, with the advent of postmodernism. Dallow therefore argues a more ‘reasoned’ position for postmodern thought than that which he identifies within modernist abstraction. This is complex: expressive form and aesthetic experience seem to open up the sensation of an impossible vantage point which appears to be ‘beyond reason’, but doubles back to engage critical thought. Through Sartre, Dallow sees art as not providing a mirror to reality, but a negation of it because it is the situation of the artist and ‘a particular intention of consciousness’ which is revealed. Dallow places the particular ‘point of view’ of an artist at the core of his argument. It is this which produces configurations which are not drawn from that which already exists and it is this which precipitates the viewer’s virtual positioning in the space of ‘not-knowing’: ‘the matrix of semiosis spun by the artefact, however immaterial, and its web of context, however variable, places the spectator into a virtual position of having to make an “effort after meaning”’ (p. 80).
Using the exempla of recent works by Sam Taylor-Wood, Dallow explores the positioning of the viewer within ‘an indeterminate semiotic and sensory field’ as the viewer struggles after meanings which seem to defy interpretation. However, the indeter-minancy of this relationship of viewer to artwork is not without purpose. Taylor-Wood’s work is seen as offering a space which is both absence and presence, and it is the experience of an absence which returns us to our ‘present(ness)’. In this negotiation, what Dallow views as new hybrid forms of art are crucial to the work’s aesthetic presentati...

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