Archives for category: postmodernism

 Image

                              “I  heard [Picasso] complain about how all the people who came

 to see him and saw him give new life to old bits of tulle and cardboard,

 string and corrugated metal, crumpled rags from the garbage can

thought they were doing him a favour to bring him remnants of splendid

 fabric to make pictures out of. He didn’t want them, he wanted

the true refuse of human life something poor, dirty, and contemptible.”

Louis Aragon (Spies, 2000:13)

Robert Hughes writes that the tradition of modern sculpture, with its welded and assembled sheets of metal and its open and constructed form, was derived from a small guitar that Picasso made in 1912 (Hughes, www.time.com ).Picasso radically expanded the techniques and materials used in sculpture during the twentieth century. Besides using bronze, plaster and wood, he employed found objects and the ‘fetishism that arises from the inexplicable and the overlooked’ (Spies, 2000:13). His penchant for violating convention set in motion the combination of found objects, an ironic approach to functional value, and a presentation of discarded pieces of consumer culture which have become inherent in artistic practice today. This essay will concentrate on describing the particular use of materials in Picasso’s work and how they have determined its outcome by assessing particular sculptures done throughout his lifetime.

In 1912 Georges Braque (1882-1963), Picasso’s partner in the initial development of Cubism, was continually trying to adapt craft techniques to Cubism. Contrasting with the nineteenth century attitude which saw craftsmanship as secondary, an appreciation of craftsmanship was common to both Braque and Picasso, allowing them to manipulate and experiment with many types of materials (Spies,

2000: 17). Along with cut-out templates, Braque used sand and plaster mixed with paint to create a relief surface. By the time he had shown these new works to Picasso they had become three-dimensional. He had been assembling sculptural objects together, using paper and cardboard, and then painting and drawing over them. Braque conducted these experiments as a way of assessing their ability for creating illusion (Walther, 1986:207). Picasso then began making paper collages of his own and, when exploring the illusion of spatial values, began making three-dimensional work. These guitars were crudely made out of cardboard and left uncoloured.

By 1914 Picasso had used the cut-out elements of the cardboard Guitar to make one out of sheet metal. A constructive and additive procedure was the profoundly innovative characteristic of these sculptures, along with the use of such foreign materials as sheet metal, wire and stovepipe pieces. These constructivist works were based upon new principles in which the material played the primary role. With his sheet metal Guitar 1914, Picasso had also broken with tradition by using ‘found objects’, in this case a stove pipe to represent the hole of the guitar. The introduction of these new materials meant that he was able to show the negative void in sculptural form, thereby increasing the means by which sculpture could express its three-dimensionality (Markus, www.tau.ac.il). The flat sheets of metal acted as planes as well as lines, thus defining the form and also containing the negative space. Wire and nails represented the strings while pins held the whole piece together. Finally, to unify the work, Picasso painted the whole piece a muted brown in accordance with the principles of Analytical Cubism.

 Image

Guitar,1914, sheet metal and wire, Museum of Modern Art

After concentrating on the three-dimensional possibilities of applied set and costume design, Picasso returned to sculpture around 1928. Motivated by the desire to create a monument for the poet Guillame Apollinaire, he turned to Apollinaire’s own description for a monument of the dead poet Croniamantal in La Poete Assasine, ‘a statue of nothing, of a void…’ (Spies, 2000:117). Through this description Picasso wanted to realise the opposite of the nineteenth century idea of ‘the monument’ and, like his work with the Guitar, describe the reversal of volume. After viewing the sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, which was also exploring the negative void, Picasso’s sketchbooks began to feature points and lines based upon star constellations. He gave four of these drawings to his friend Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942), who was a sculptor and proficient metal worker. Picasso envisaged scaffolding; ‘these sculptures of poles and antennae executed on a large scale, in pylons of iron or some other material’ (Spies, 2000:118).

Gonzalez executed four maquettes in reduced scale which were fashioned out of thin iron wire. The resulting sculptures successfully conveyed the immaterial spatial quality that Picasso had visualized, playing abstract form against representational, spatial against graphic with line and space both being juxtaposed. The iron rods represent material volume, yet at the same time have the illusion of two-dimensionality. They can be interpreted as outlining the figure and also outlining the air which is invisible, therefore achieving a ‘monument of nothingness’ (Walther, 1986:342). These maquettes were rejected by the monument’s selection committee as being too radical and were not realised in large-scale versions until 1962. The materiality that Picasso had conceived and Gonzalez executed became particularly important for future sculptors, such as Alexander Calder, who concentrated on welded metal structures.

Image

 Project for a Monument to Guillame Apollinaire, 1962, painted steel, Museum of Modern Art

Picasso continued his exploration of metal in his sketchbooks and also through his association with Gonzalez, whose welding techniques enabled Picasso to radicalize his forms and compositions. Welding, soldering and smelting allowed him to use iron wire, scrap metal and flat metal planes to create more ambitious and complex works. Already being aware of some extraordinary ethnological artworks made of metal in the TrocaderoMuseum in Paris, Picasso produced six large pieces of work with Gonzalez in the period between 1929 and 1931. The most complex of these was Woman in a Garden (1929), a piece which Gonzalez did not execute from sketches but which Picasso improvised from elements, such as a table body, to create the sculpture. This work is an assemblage rather than a construction and is also rather contradictory to the craft of metalwork itself through its use of unreconstructed scrap. It is a dynamic and rhythmic structure of line and gesture described by arts writer Werner Hoffmann as: ‘The piecing together of formal elements… rods and planes collide with injurious sharpness…’ (Spies, 2000:137). As with the iron wire works, Picasso’s concern was with transparency, with the lines in the work being paramount.

It was reported by the critic Andre Salmon that Picasso was highly amused by this form of work and enjoyed rummaging in the scrap heap for iron to perfect it.  Also, the Surrealist Andre Breton noted Picasso’s freedom in handling the material: ‘He even sought out the perishable and ephemeral for its own sake…’ (Spies, 2000:138). The assembled elements of the sculpture were then intentionally joined in a coarse and visible way, avoiding technical perfection, which lends it a quality of post-modernist self-reflexivity. Afterward Picasso painted the whole piece white to give it the appearance of uniformity. As the work had been designed for outside, a later bronze version was cast and welded by Picasso, which the critic Grace Glueck describes as being a ‘wild and compelling’ open-form assemblage that suggests both a woman and a garden fused in a poetic vision (www.nytimes.com).

In the mid ‘30s Picasso began a more extensive use of mechanically textured surfaces. Form played a secondary role to clear textures, such as the flowing parallel folds of corrugated cardboard representing the fluting of early Greek sculptures. Woman With Leaves (1934) contrasts these corrugated cardboard pleats in the lower body with vegetal veining of elm leaves pressed into fresh plaster. The surface of the sculpture consists almost entirely of adopted textures. Picasso considered this work to be one of his great achievements (Withers, 1975:72). Subsequently, the combinations of objects and materials began to play an ever more important role with the free interpretation of sculptural form and quotation from reality allowing a simple integration of real elements.

A good example of this is Head of a Bull(1942) which is the most famous of Picasso’s reproduced sculptural works. By achieving the simplest mode of sculptural expression, the coupling together of two unaltered bicycle parts, Picasso intended that the elements of the work should not be isolated by the consciousness. He understood that the process of assembling these ‘ready made’ works could be undone to become the functional objects again; that the functional value never completely disappears. Roland Penrose wrote that Picasso’s bull, though initially humorous, through its combination of material can also create a metamorphosis which can challenge our sense of reality (Green, 1985:73). A new viewer experiences Picasso’s synthetic illumination in reverse after realising that the sculpture is constructed of two visually and functionally separated bicycle parts. The material unity is completed through the process of bronzing.

However, Picasso says that the danger of the unifying nature of the bronze material is that the viewer may only see the ‘bull’s head and no longer the saddle and the handlebars rendering the work uninteresting’ (Green, 1985:71). The work needs the optical illusion of the metaphorical tension created between the two objects and the aesthetic image they create. Picasso anticipated a further stage in which the sculpture could be reduced again to its separated state and be reused in its original function (Green, 1985:72). By taking something that is rubbish and using it in an unexpected way is the visual renewal which Picasso made to twentieth century art. This approach could be associated with the period of war and its ‘characteristic peddling and use of scraps’ (Spies, 2001:216). Rubbish, garbage and scrap gained increasing importance in his sculptural work.

 Image

Bull’s Head 1943
Handlebars and seat of a bicycle

Picasso’s sculptural activity was often confined to sketch models. These were an experimental approach to materials to try and force expression from formless and contentless elements. They were works influenced by ethnographical pieces such as masks from the Belgian Congo in which found objects are arranged together. Also ancient Gallo-Roman coins were another influence in his clay-moulded reliefs. This may have been due to the Surrealist interest in the metaphorical importance of objects. Whereas Marcel Duchamp was also interested in tiny works such as these and saving them in a suitcase (Spies, 2000:220), Picasso was interested in these reduced models because of their ‘intimacy and concealment’ (Spies, 2000:221). His paper pieces were not cut but torn; sometimes mouths or eyes were burned in with a cigarette. The paper was sometimes folded to create a spatial effect. Pebbles, bones, pieces of wood and tiny tin caps became birds, fish, foxes, goats, vultures, masks, children’s faces, death heads, cigars and nit combs embellished with a pair of lovemaking lice. They anticipated the sheet metal sculptures that would come in the 1950s and 1960s.

Picasso also produced sculptures whose appearance was mostly dependent upon materials that had a particular form or statement. His work was always grounded in the representational, and in pieces such as Woman with Baby Carriage 1950 he used a wide variety of different pieces of metal, such as bits from a real pram, but also cake pans and a stove plate, modelled in clay, which he then stuck together not leaving any doubt as to the fragmentary nature of the elements which had formed the sculpture. In his She –Goat 1950 he went about the assemblage in a different manner, only looking for materials that he would need to form the image that he envisaged. The sculpture consists of materials such as a wicker basket, palm leaves, bits of metal tube, flower pots and pieces of china, but these are no longer recognizable having been stuck together underneath a layer of plaster. Goat Skull and Bottle 1954 was also created from a number of found materials such as bicycle handlebars and large bolts for the eyes. The goat’s head is covered in a layer of corrugated cardboard that gives a textural direction of the hair; nails are used for the tufts in the ears and also for the rays of light emanating from the candle nestled in the bottle. Again the sculpture was unified by casting in bronze but he also painted it in shades of grey that matched the sombre palette of his post-war years. As in his other sculptures, the found elements never quite give up their original identities (www.moma.org).

 Image

Goat Skull and Bottle. 1951, Painted Bronze, Museum of ModernArt, N.Y.

Picasso also used wood from crates, sofa feet, broomsticks, painting stretchers and sometimes an easel. Therefore these constructions and assemblages were largely determined by the materials used. In 1912 he had begun composing guitars using the same visual values in wood, cardboard and sheet metal. Further on, in the stage sculptures proposed for the ballet Parade1917, his sketches depict the use of boards and wooden elements. The Bathers 1956 with their clearly demarcated rectangular bodies are further investigations into these designs. Lines were carved and burned-in to convey a formal appearance along with a red and black paint transparently applied by rubbing. On the child’s face small wooden pegs are fixed to the disc of the head. The sculptures of this period were made of thin planes referencing painting in their near flatness.

Although Picasso was mainly recognized as a painter in his lifetime, perhaps it was because his sculptures were generally confined to his own collection that gave him the audacity to consider the ephemeral and unusual as material. Although the influence of primitivism and the inspiration of artists from such places Central Africa and Oceania must also attest to his ready acceptance of found materials. Moreover, he obviously did not feel the constraints of having to consider the durability of many of his sculptures, yet when he did he ironically resorted to the tradition of bronze casting. It was the bronzing of these ephemeral works which can unfortunately relegate some of them to quaintness, through the loss of the surprise of their materiality. This was an unfortunate result as artists such as Marcel Duchamp never felt the inclination to unify their sculptures through this process and the use of such materials were philosophically important to the work. However, it is generally accepted that Picasso’s sculptures are ‘among the most radical, thought-changing artworks of the modern period’ (Dickerman, www.moma.org).

Bibliography:

Dickerman, L., http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/exhibitions.php?id=8722&ref=calendar  Retrieved: August 10, 2008

Glueck, G., 1982, Art View: Picasso Revolutionized Sculpture Too, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F02E6D81038F935A1575AC0A964948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=allRetrieved: August 7, 2008

Glueck, G., Art: Gonzalez Survey, A Sculptor’s Reshaping, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406E3DB1439F932A25750C0A965948260 Retrieved: August 7, 2008

Green, J., Picasso’s Visual Metaphors, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 19, No.4 (Winter, 1985) pp.61-76, University of Illinois Press

Hughes, R., www.time.com/time/time100/artists/profile/picasso.html Retrieved: July 14, 2008

Markus, R. Picasso’s Guitar 1912: The transition from Analytical to Synthetic Cubism, www.tau.ac.il?arts/projects/PUB/assaph-art?assaph2?articles_assaph?13Markus.pdf Retrieved: August 5 2008

McCully, M.,  Picasso Painter/Sculptor. London, Tate Gallery, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 136, No. 1094 (May, 1994), pp. 326-328

Morisset, V., http://www.centrepompidou.fr/education/ressources/ENS-Picasso-EN/ENS-Picasso-EN.html#image09  Retrieved: August 15, 2008

Spies, W, 2000, Picasso: The Sculptures, Hatje Cantz Publishers, Stuttgart

Walther, I, 1986, Pablo Picasso, Benedkt Taschen Verlag, Bonn

Withers, J., The Artistic Collaboration of Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez, Art Journal Vol.35 No. 2 (Winter 1975-76) pp. 107-114, College Art Association

Withers, J., Review: Werner Spies: Sculpture By Picasso, Art Journal Vol. 35 No.1 (Autumn 1975) pp.70-72, College Art Association

 

 

 

Image

Nils Holtug argues for the Value of Existence View which makes ‘the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence’ (p.370). Derek Parfit and John Broome argue against this view by stating that it is incoherent. Parfit argues that causing someone to exist cannot be better for a person because the alternative would not have been worse. Broome argues that it can never be true that it is better for a person to exist than to not exist because if she had not existed there would not have been a ‘her’ to have been worse off.

The argument set out by Parfit and Broome is called the Metaphysical Argument and it relies upon two premises. The first premise makes the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist and entails that it is worse (or better) to not exist than to exist. The second premise is that it cannot be worse (or better) to not exist. The first claim, Holtug states, is based upon the logic of ‘betterness’ relation, and the second premise is based upon the metaphysical principle called The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. This means that an individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist.

This principle can be disputed. Broome’s argument relies upon the point that if a person does not exist then it is impossible for any properties to be attached to her. Holtug contends that the logic of betterness relation that the argument relies upon assumes that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. To explore the logical properties of the betterness relation, Holtug considers the following definition:

1)      y is worse for S than x, if and only of x is better for S than y.

If (1) states that existence if better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non existence is better (or worse) for her. The latter part seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist. According to this principle we cannot claim that existence is better for her than non-existence because this implies that non-existence is worse for her than existence. So Holtug reassesses the argument with the proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

Can the truth of P be established without ascribing to Jeremy positive properties in a possible world in which he does not exist? Holtug claims that P can be established by appeal to a preference that Jeremy has in an actual world in which he exists. Existence may be preferable for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value, whereas his non-existence had no value. Holtug insists that this is compatible with The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle; it is better to have a surplus of values than no value. The Metaphysical Argument is not preserved because the Value of Existence View does not rely upon someone existing for the possibility of them benefiting from existence.

  • Holtug, Nils. “On the value of coming into existence” Journal of Ethics , 5:4 , 2001 , 361-384

Ronald Dworkin points to a distinction between reasons people wish for their lives to go one way or another. One set of reasons he calls experiential preferences and the other set of reasons are critical interests. Experiential preferences are those things that we find enjoyable in life. They also can entail things that are painful or bad experiences but, within limits, these kinds of experiences do not make our whole life worse. Critical interests, Dworkin asserts, are those that people find are essential to their understanding of what constitutes a good life.

Experiential interests are not frivolous and critical interests profound, Dworkin states, it is just that critical interests are important to the aspirations of our lives. In his view, we need to establish the distinction between these two interests in order to understand how people should be treated. It is not difficult to understand why we care about our experiential interests as it is natural to prefer pleasure to pain. But it is more difficult to understand why people should care about their critical interests. Therefore, Dworkin contends that we need an intellectual explanation of how our critical interests connect with the larger beliefs that we have about life.

Critical interests are bound in what Dworkin calls the integrity of our lives; the capacity we have to autonomously structure our lives to contain the right experiences and achievements. Integrity is similar to dignity, which is why we think someone has little self-respect if they have acted perversely for gain or the avoidance of trouble. It is important to understand that one may be mistaken in the decisions one makes for understanding the idea of critical interests. For Dworkin, this is essential to the basic distinction between critical and experiential interests.

In using such a distinction to consider whether death is in the best interests for someone with dementia, Dworkin thinks that we must consider what was important in that person’s life; what was their life narrative. Someone who has dementia may have more to gain through pleasant experience for several years before they die a natural death and to kill oneself through the fear of a lack of experiential interests is probably wrong.  However, Dworkin argues, it is critical interests that matter when we wish to consider how one might die. If people think that they will be living in degrading conditions through being fully dependent then they may wish to choose to die. Therefore Dworkin asserts that these decisions based upon their critical interests before they were afflicted should be taken into account when considering how an advanced dementia patient may not wish to live.

Rebecca Dresser objects to Dworkin’s differentiation between experiential and critical interests on the grounds that it is possible that people do not draw a sharp line between these interests. In the circumstances of dementia, Dresser says, Dworkin fails to consider that critical interests become less important and experiential interests more so, just as they may for people who are brain damaged or intellectually disabled. Dresser states that people who seem happy and contented although they may be suffering from dementia, will experience clear harm from a decision that purports to advance the critical interests that they may no longer care about.

  • Dworkin, Ronald. “Dying and living” in Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion and Euthanasia , Dworkin, Ronald , 1993 , 179-217
  • Dresser, Rebecca. “Dworkin on dementia: Elegant theory, questionable policy” in Bioethics: An anthology , Kuhse, Helga Singer, Peter , 1999 , 312-320

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qfo7TjwRwXI&feature=youtu.be

“In a world that is really turned upside down, the true is a moment of the false.”

Guy Debord 1968

Visual culture is defined as the way visual texts can be understood and deployed, especially in the Western tradition of art (Schirato & Webb, 2004: 105). Consumer culture is one of the ‘symbolic embodied and experiential aspects of acquisition behaviour’ (Arnold & Thompson, 2005:871). Both cultures work together within the global advertising industry to create an environment that is false and fragmented (Debord, 2002: 6). This essay will discuss the argument that visual culture is consumer culture by referring to two visual texts that are based upon specific commodity signs. The first is a work of art created for the Reebok Corporation that reifies the Reebok running shoe. The second is a work of art created as a foil for such commodity signification. With these texts I contend that consumer culture uses visual culture to authorize itself as an embodiment of power.

Research into consumer culture shows that many people’s lives in consumer society are constructed around multiple realities, and consumption is used to experience these realities which are linked to fantasies, invocative desires and aesthetics (Arnold & Thompson, 2005: 875).The process of reification in consumer culture is where a commodity is attributed with human qualities, becoming an entity that ‘thinks’, ‘is sexy’, or ‘alive’ (Pugliese, 2011). This is important when advertising a product’s life enhancing qualities, the message being that if you consume the product you will improve your life (Pugliese, 2011). Reebok’s uses fantasy and reification to advertise its latest running shoe range advertising it as pioneering and ‘whose graphic, crenelated sole not only reduces muscle fatigue but transfers energy back into the runner’s stride…’ (Wallpaper Magazine, 2011). They are referred to as ‘eye catching’ and supposedly have inspired an exhibition of artworks (2011).

 http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok

Capitalism celebrates the individual through an illusion created by advertising (Pugliese, 2011). This illusion of individualism relies upon the contradictory mass production and distribution of goods rather than the individual and handmade. From the nineteenth century, where shopping became a recreation, to the late twentieth century where shopping promised self-fulfilment and self-realisation, it is this ‘therapeutic ethos’ to which advertisers appeal (Pugliese, 2011). They do this by promising glamour, wealth, prestige and allure (Pugliese, 2011). Art provides a means for this type of advertising because it provides the associated authority of high culture (Schirato and Webb, 2004:107) . Contemporary art as opposed to advertising has a tendency for obscurity that implies a required knowledge or literacy to understand it (2004:107). To combine the two visual cultures together, as Reebok has done, implies the exclusivity and elitism not of a top athlete but of an international contemporary artist, thereby creating the illusion for the consumer of individual accomplishment and self-realisation.

Advertising does not need to sell the image of a product or even mention the company name as long as a well-recognised logo is attached to the advertisement (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001:239). These logos are called commodity signs or signifiers. They do not sell the consumer the products functionality or quality, they sell the products style (2001: 239). These commodity signs infer the value of the commodity until this signifying value becomes more important than the commodity itself (Pugliese, 2011). Brand logos, such as Reebok designer running shoes or Apple computers and phones, compete with other similar commodities for their signs to be recognised across the globe (Pugliese, 2011). The commodity signs become hierarchical within themselves with Reebok running shoe inferring more social value than another generic or cheaper brand (Pugliese, 2011).

In the “Society of the Spectacle” Guy Debord argues that the global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (Debord, 2002:8). The notion of social value being inferred by a commodity sign goes to the heart of Guy Debord’s notion of the ‘spectacle’, which is the visual deception that creates a world view produced by the technologies of mass media (2002: 6). The images of the Spectacle create a visually deceptive culture that provide the motivations for hypnotic behaviour (2002: 8). Jean Baudrillard continues this notion by asserting that consumer culture has become a form of simulation (Sturken & Cartwright 2001: 153). Baudrillard’s notion of simulation is when signs of the real are substituted for the real (Felluga, 2011). He states that this has caused the contemporary consumer society to be unable to discriminate between nature and artifice, or what is real and what is unreal or simulated (Felluga, 2011).

For Karl Marx, commodity became associated with class structure with the commodity itself being alienated from its system of production (Noble, 2008:101). Marx described this as ‘commodity fetishism’ where the commodity is just an object in a shop rather than having any association with its means if production (2008:101). Through this objectification there is no longer any means to see the system of exploitation that has gone into the product (2008:101). The advent of an increasingly globalised world has meant that the exploitation of many workers remains hidden in poor nations and through the commodity this exploitation becomes part of everyday life (2008:102). By being alienated from its means of production, commodity fetishism is able to infer value upon a product through conferring value and prestige upon the consumer (Pugliese, 2011). This is done through the elitism of expense, if only a few can possess it this signifies affluence, good taste and refinement (Pugliese, 2011).

The commodity signification of hierarchical branding is shown at its zenith when a brand name seeks to equate itself with something that is considered high culture and elitist. This is seen in the recent collaboration of Reebok with various contemporary international artists. Reebok invited various contemporary designers, architects and artists to come up with concepts that would create one-off artworks inspired by the Reebok design (Wallpaper-Reebok Exhibition, 2011). This lends to Reebok the authority of contemporary art and lends to the various participants the global notoriety of the Reebok brand. The pictured work is one by the French artist Ora Ito who took the imprint of the base of a Reebok shoe and created a wall-mounted sculpture made from “Hi-Macs”, an acrylic material made from wood chips and toxic resin. This infers upon the running shoe images of the consumer being socially-influential and trend setting. The sculpture’s clean whiteness completely erases any connection of the product with the production of the shoe by a third world workforce. Commodity fetishism, as Marx called it, eliminates any responsibility between the product and the producer (Debord, 2002:9).

 http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382

The products of the spectacle, from computers and shoes to cars, are designed to isolate and create the ‘lonely crowd’ (Debord, 2002:10). Spectators are only linked by their vision of the spectacle which keeps them from each other (2002:10). The more the spectator views the spectacle the more they are alienated, the less they live and the more they need. Their gestures become the puppet gestures of the spectacle (2002: 30). The economy of the globalised world has totally subjugated humanity to itself and the spectacle which sustains it (2002: 7). This global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (2002:7). No longer is it sufficient to be someone, but to be fulfilled through having possessions. This idea of possessions has then shifted from having to appearing so that prestige comes from appearance (2002:7). The appearance of the commodity sign, such as the Reebok logo, gives the elitism of expense and exclusivity which signifies ‘affluence, good taste and refinement’ (Pugliese, 2011). The prestige of appearance inferred by the commodity sign is one of the dominant modes of visuality (Pugliese, 2011).

 

Nicholas Georgouras, Stick People, 2007

 The dominant mode of visuality is one that occupies a position of cultural power and authority, such as the media or a corporation. Through this, a power attempts to control meanings related to an object or image (Pugliese, 2011).  However, these visual meanings can be contested and changed (Pugliese, 2011). Through the targeting of commodity fetishism and commodity signs consumer culture can be subverted. This is called ‘culture jamming’ (Pugliese, 2011). Culture jamming sabotages advertising campaigns and parodies logos to expose the exploitation of the commodity’s producers and ridicule its promises (Pugliese, 2011). The artist Nicholas Georgouras’ group sculpture of Stick People (2007) attempts to emphasise how commodity signs become more important than the product. Being made of recycled wood and plastic tags, each of the sculptures is alienated from the other and focussed on their position in the spectacle. Each of their positions is a puppet gesture parodying the modelling gestures for each product for which the plastic tag is the commodity sign. Consumers of such products become mere extensions of the product, something to which the product can attach itself. This process of dehumanisation is what Debord calls the commodification of society (Debord, 2002: 12).

Visual culture encompasses all forms of visual media in the postmodern world (Irvine, 2011). Advertising agencies use visual culture as a communication device in all its forms. In capitalist societies, advertising is ubiquitous and pervasive. Consumer culture is veracious in its use of visual culture to establish and authorise its commodity signs and commodity fetishism. However, to state that visual culture is consumer culture would deny all the forms of visual culture that deny a capitalist society its consumer. To deny the effect of culture jamming, the effect of art forms done without thought for power or money is to deny visual culture its own legitimacy. Consumer culture is a dominant mode of visuality but it is not visual culture. Therefore, visual culture is not consumer culture.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Arnould E. J., Thompson C. J., 2005, “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT); Twenty Two Years of Consumer Research”, Journal of Consumer Research; Mar 2005; 31, 4; ABI/INFORM Global, pp. 868-877,  Retrieved from: ftp://ftp.cba.uri.edu/classes/r_dholakia/CB%20-%20Dholakia/wk%203%20gender%20consumption/Arnould_Consumer_Culture_Theory.pdf  on 3 August 2011
  2. Debord G., 1968, “Society of the Spectacle”, Trans. Ken Knabb, 2002, Treason Press, Canberra, Retrieved from: http://libcom.org/files/Society%20of%20the%20Spectacle2.pdf  on 1 August 2011
  3.  Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Baudrillard: On Simulation.” Introductory Guide to Critical          Theory. Jan 31 2011, Purdue University, Retrieved from: http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/postmodernism/modules/baudrillardsimulation.html on 14 August 2011
  4. Irvine M., 2011, “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways at Looking at All Things Visual”, Retrieved from: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/visualarts/intro-visualculture.html , on 14 August 2011
  5. Noble G., 2008 “living with things: consumption, material culture and everyday life” in Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Ed. Nicole Anderson & Katrina Schlunke, Oxford University Press Melbourne, pp. 98-113
  6. Pugliese Assoc. Professor J., 2011, Lecture 13- “Visual Culture, Consumer Culture: Fetishism and Commodity Signs”, Vision, Visuality and Everyday Life CLT120, Macquarie University
  7. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 1 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 237-261
  8. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 2 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 262-277
  9. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Visual Art & Visual Culture”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp. 105-130
  10. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Selling the Visual”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp.151-168
  11. Wallpaper Magazine Editorial: Reebok- Great Leap, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok , on 12 August 2011
  12. Wallpaper Magazine – Reebok Exhibition, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382  , on 8 August 2011

 “Hip-hop speaks true. It is all of us. Where we go, this is where hip-hop goes.”

  (BBC World Service 2011)

Hip-hop or rap music has become global. There is scarcely a country in the world where it does not feature. It has been transformed and globalized by the music industry, although its African-American origins survive through its transformation into re-localized cultural inflections. The sonic organisation of its poetics and beat is profoundly implicated in its cultural workings and the formation of identities  (Krims 2000). Hip-hop culture reveals how marginalised cultural practices can be used to challenge a dominant discourse such as globalization whilst using its techniques to proliferate.  This essay will attempt to analyse the culture of rap music and its relationship to globalisation and the Euro-American Empire.

Rap music is a good example of postmodern social theory, with its perceived resistance reflecting an African-American vernacular culture which persists as a challenge to dominant forces (Krims 2000). A music form was created from an African culture of call and response chants, the jazz rhyming of Cal Calloway in America in the 1930s, the love raps of Isaac Hayes and Barry White, as well as the militant style rapping of Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan (Parker 1999). Naturally rappers invent and reinvent their vernacular adjusting it to their own conventions and cultural style. Notably the evolution of message-oriented poetry set to a beat was formulated by the group The Last Poets in the 1970s (Parker 1999). This version of the Black Power movement invoked an accessible form of cultural message word-play set to a conga-drum which was a resistant discourse against racism and Eurocentric cultural dominance (Parker 1999).

This Eurocentric cultural dominance is prevalent in an English language dominated globalized world. This has produced a particular environment of raced individuals, mediascapes and economic environments (Schlunke 2008). Stuart Hall states that the hybridities and synchronicities that globalization has brought now reflect the contact zones of previously existing colonialism (Schlunke 2008). It has also brought new meanings to racial and ethnic identities through technologies such as the internet and world distribution of commodities which allows geographical and national boundaries to blur (Schlunke 2008). This allows oppositional cultures to American cultural domination to arise using similar resistance movements as those found in the United States (Schlunke 2008). In this particular case rap music reinforces these new cultural identities.

In his text Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity, Adam Krim states that the association of rap music with marginalized or aggrieved groups virtually guarantees its presence as a culturally identifying force in the ethnicized and gendered world of popular music  (Krim 2000). In November 2009 a show at the Yemeni Culture House in Sanaa, which fused a display of break-dancing with traditional Yemeni dagger dancing, was sold-out to Yemeni youth. The rapper Hagage Masaed, an American of Yemeni descent said: “Yemen is hungry for hip-hop. All the problems youth are facing in Yemen- there is no work- this is a way for them to release, an outlet (Kasinof 2010).  In November 2010, according to the UK’s Observer newspaper, a young Tunisian rapper or emcee by the name of El Général was the first to gain international attention for his raps related to the political unrest in his country. The lyrics of his Rais Le Bled stated: “My president, your country is dead / People eat garbage / Look at what is happening / Misery everywhere / Nowhere to sleep / I’m speaking for the people who suffer”, and were distributed across globalised media platforms such as You Tube (Fukishima 2011). 

This globalized process allows a cultural dominance of Eurocentric and American hegemony but simultaneously distributes the means in which resistance to this and other authorities are possible. This process was first brought to my attention when I listened to an interview with a young American photographer, Adam Sjoberg, who was doing a photo essay on hip-hop culture in places as politically and culturally diverse as Somalia, Uganda, Cambodia, Brazil and Korea (Sjoberg 2011). The stated aim of the projects that Sjoberg documents such as Breakdance Uganda, is to empower youth and break down social, tribal, religious and racial divisions (Breakdance Project Uganda 2010). The position of these young people is being from the immobile classes, one of the characteristics of the globalised world (Schlunke 2008). They are committed to their geography through familiar ties, traditional relationships and, most of all, the inability to move anywhere else because of their economic position (Schlunke 2008). However, the culture of rap or hip-hop transcends these geographical boundaries and allows these young people, not to just observe, but to reinforce their identities through the creation of their own rap cultures.

Each rap or hip-hop culture has its particular characteristics. These characteristics are based upon globalized racial dynamics and social/political contexts within nation states (Krim 2000). For example hip-hop culture in Yemen, which is an extremely conservative traditional society, shows a unique aspect through youth being seen to rebel against their traditional upbringing. In Uganda, most of the youth involved in hip-hop culture are poor and orphaned. They are deeply connected to the roots of hip-hop, and their raps are concerned with social injustice rather than an expression of youthful rebelliousness through break dancing (BBC World Service 2011). For the academic Karin Heim, hip-hop may have the ability to ease decades of social conflict. Her paper Beats not Bombs: Hip-Hop to create peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict investigates how artists use rap as a tool to help the people of Israel find common ground in the conflict.

Heim found that Middle East hip-hop artists — like the musician Subliminal, who has been described as Israel’s Eminem, and the Arab-Israeli group DAM — are using music to condemn violence, a notion that appeals to young Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians. Like the artists themselves, Heim found these youths use hip-hop to define their religious, ethnic, and social group identities (northeastern.edu 2011).  

Krim explains how rap musical poetics change according to local requirements although retaining its original reference to its African-American origins (Krim 2000). In Edmonton, Alberta the native Cree population use rap music to articulate location and identity through its musical poetics (Krim 2000). Therefore rap or hip-hop culture is interconnected globally and locally and intersects through its history of the musical poetics of rap.

However, even though dispersed across the globe, these localized forms of rap music are structurally dependent on a world music system based upon a centralized and commercialized form which emanates from the United States through dominant ‘musical utterances’ but also contingent musical responses. It becomes a musical theory that informs the identities of other cultures (Krim 2000). The basis for this musical theory is based upon the politics of race. It is not within the parameters of ‘white’ contexts that rap music generally lies. It is a musical genre based upon racial inequality, unlike more popular forms of music that have emanated from the United States and Britain in the latter half of the twentieth century.  As Katrina Shlunke states:”… globalisation is not a single force that overwhelms us but an environment that we are all within and in which we act (Schlunke, 2008, p.185).”  For Edward Said, power is organised through ways of showing difference (Schlunke 2008). Globalised rap culture shows ways that difference can be used to empower diverse forms and be readied to turn back upon the very hegemonic powers that used globalised means to reinforce their power.

Dilip Gaonkar and Elizabeth Povinelli suggest that circulation is important to allow a matrix within which such social forms as rap culture emerge and become newly recognisable (Osuri 2008). These matrixes are made up of compatible elements with which they are linked (Osuri 2008). The dominant compatible element of rap culture is, as Edward Said describes it, being of the status of the ‘other’ (Pugilese 2008). Even in diverse societies its musicology equates it with social inequality, racism, and oppression. Said also describes the history of the lynching of black men in the United States and its associated sexual mutilation as ‘male-defined loss’ (Pugilese 2008). He equates this practice with the rape and torture by US soldiers of Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (Pugliese 2008). It is the reaction to this disempowerment; this asserted impotence that rap culture alludes to in its poetics. Elements such as the hooded youth, the menacing lyrics, the drum beat, the freedom of movement within it’s ‘breakdance’ empower its followers and allow them to reidentify themselves as individuals within their societies.

Globalisation and empires effect one’s embodiment through race and gender (Nicoll 2008). In the case of rap culture these processes also provide tools through which these meanings are challenged and disrupted (Nicoll 2008). An adverse view of rap culture uses a stereotyping of its elements in which to denigrate its form. Krim asserts that these views are usually driven by the cultural ignorance of those who wish to villainize rap based upon cultural misconceptions and racialised discourses (Krim 2000). In the chapter of her book entitled Voices from the Margins, the academic Tricia Rose states that news media attention on rap focuses on violence at concerts, gangsta rap and black nationalist lyrics (Rose 1994). Although some of these views are perpetuated through the actions of rappers themselves, rap music as a discourse brings together complex social, political and cultural issues (Rose 1994). From its beginnings rap music has articulated the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary American society (Rose 1994). This life is affected by the persisting ideological, gendered system of power that works to assert and protect the interests of white people as members of a racialised society (Nicoll 2008). Cheryl Harris explains that it is through relations to property and possessions that we can understand how whiteness builds upon the policies and practices of white racism (Nicoll 2008, p.189). This discourse persists within the globalised world; it has been exported and distributed as part of the hegemonic power of European and North American nations. Just as American rappers craft stories that reflect the fantasies, perspectives and experiences of racial marginality on America (Rose 1994), so too do the array of rappers from such diverse places as indigenous Australian rural communities, Cambodian refugee camps, and Palestinian refugee camps.

The relationship of rap music within this globalised world reflects a postmodern cultural text that represents a challenge to dominant forces. Such an environment has produced a white Euro-American dominated economic, racialised discourse, but to achieve such a discourse has also led to the distribution of a means of resistance to its dominance. Marginal or socially aggrieved groups across the globe find a means of culturally reidentifying themselves through rap culture which includes poetry, art, music and dance. It empowers disenfranchised youth and breaks down social, racial and religious divisions through the transcendence and intersection of geographical boundaries and the representation of their own stories. Therefore, the interpolation of global rap gives voice to these marginalised communities in the dominant vernacular of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Krims A., (2000), Rap music and the poetics of identity, Cambridge University Press
  2. Parker, M., (1999), An Analysis of Rap Music as the Voice of Today’s Black Youth, [Online: http://mmstudio.gannon.edu/~gabriel/parker.html ] Retrieved: 10 May 2011
  3. Schlunke, K. (2008), “empire and globalisation: the stories so far”. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press   
  4. Kasinof, L., (2010), ‘No Terrorism Please’: Yemeni Hip Hop Refrain, In: Christian Science Monitor, [Online: http://hiphopdiplomacy.org/category/middle-east/yemen/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011-05-15
  5. Fukishima, A., (2011), Arab Rappers in Solidarity with Uprisings in Middle East and North Africa, In: New America Media [Online: http://hiphopdiplomacy.org/2011/04/22/arab-rappers-in-solidarity/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011
  6. Sjoberg, A. (2011), Loose Luggage, [Online: http://looseluggage.com/luggage/tag/shake-the-dust/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011
  7. Breakdance Project Uganda, (2010) [Online: http://www.myspace.com/breakdanceprojectuganda ] Retrieved: 12 May 2011
  8.  Using hip-hop to promote peace (2011) [Online: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/stories/2011/05/hip_hop.html ] Retrieved: 12 May 2011
  9. Osuri G., (2008), beauty and the bollywood star: stories of skin colour and trasnsnational circulations of whiteness. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  10. Pugilese J., (2008), visual cultures of orientalism and empire: the abu ghraib images. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  11. Nicoll F., (2008), what’s so funny about indian casinos? comparative notes on gambling, white possession and popular culture in australia and the usa. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  12. Rose T., (1994), Black noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary America, Wesleyan University Press

 

 

In this essay I will attempt to explain the ideologies behind the two periods of art known as Modernism and Postmodernism employing the works of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Julian Schnabel (1951-). Modernism is known for its characteristic simplicity and being futuristic, whereas Postmodernism is known for its complexity and historical quotation. Kandinsky, a renowned Modernist, is considered to be the founder of abstract art and a major artist of the Expressionist movement. Schnabel is known as one of the first Post-Modernists to arise out of the 1980s and also as a Neo-Expressionist. They are ideally posed to show the ideologies of each movement because they are influential in each of their separate period’s development.

The modernist period emerged from the Age of Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century. There was a shift from a belief in the will of a god to the humanist theories of Descartes, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Modernism envisaged a new era in which rational thought, not religious faith, would reign supreme and bring about a new and just society. In its utopian vision, modernism was essentially an optimistic school of thought and focused on innovation and originality. In painting it really evolved during the last half of the nineteenth century with Impressionism. The Impressionist use of brushstrokes and their absorption with the surface of a painting became known by the term reflexivity. At the beginning of the twentieth century this reflexivity, combined with the obsolescence of depiction as a factor in art, heralded in the age of abstraction. The invention of photography as a documentary device meant that there was no longer a use for artists to depict a scene. The aesthetic aspects of a work of art became utmost in the artist’s mind and the illusion of reality was quickly dispensed with to aid making the aesthetic elements more powerful. This type of non-narrative painting became known as abstraction.

Wassily Kandinsky is known to have made the first completely abstract painting in 1910. Born inMoscow, he arrived inMunichin 1896. He had trained as a lawyer but recognised that his true gifts were in the world of art. At first he was influenced by the lyrical naturalism that was the trend inMunichat the time. Then he came under the influence of German Primitivism and the Fauves. At this stage his narrative painting compositions showed unity and harmony but, following the example of the Fauves, he reduced the naturalism in his art and greatly extended its expressive powers. Glowing colours and fervent brushstrokes communicated sufficiently enough for him to depend less and less on his subject matter. By 1910 he made his first innovative attempt at a completely original abstract painting. This watercolour intended to carry the works meaning directly to the spectator by using just patches of colour and gestures of the brush. It was intended that the spectator should feel his way into the composition rather than read it. (Stangos, 1994, p.40)

In 1910, Kandinsky had written a book entitled On the Spiritual in Art. His leanings towards theosophy and the occult encouraged him to turn his back on the material world and commit his art to the world of the spirit. Kandinsky sought to connect visual art to the inner life of man by turning pictorial means to spiritual urges. As arts writer Nikos Stangos states, ‘Instead of reinforcing the false values of a materialistic society, art thus used would help people to recognise their own spiritual worlds’ (Stangos, 1994, p.43). In his book, Kandinsky wrote of the avant-garde’s battle with traditional limits of artistic expression. He wanted to represent the battle between spiritual values and the materialism of contemporary society.

During the following years, Kandinsky developed his non-referential art further, using semi-improvisatory techniques to get the greatest possible immediacy. Kandinsky’s move into abstraction was not welcomed by some of his fellow artists in Munich, therefore he joined together with Franz Marc (1880-1916) and other like-minded artists to form a new group, De Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider). According to their manifesto, art was to be a vehicle of human hopes and fears all linked by a desire to find a new means of expression. In Composition VI  (1913), the surface of this large canvas is teeming with energy and, even though the individual elements are balanced, the composition is very complex and without a central focal point.

 By1921, Kandinsky was already making fewer marks than his earlier abstractions, arranging them into a more identifiable diagonal composition. In The Black Spot (1921), the forms of his earlier work, some of which can be traced back to stylised ciphers for mountains and figures have begun to develop a life of their own and have settled into a pictorial vocabulary that Kandinsky is using more sparingly at this time, and in simpler compositions.  

After spending World War 1 in revolutionary Russia, Kandinsky returned in 1922 to Germanyto help Walter Gropius with teaching at his new school, the Bauhaus in Weimar. The Bauhaus was to become famous as the school that pioneered the teaching and practice of modern industrial and architectural design. Gropius wanted to lead the Bauhaus from its concern with artistic self-expression toward “an objective involvement in socially useful design” (Stangos 1994, p.48). Kandinsky continued to teach at the Bauhaus until the school closed under harassment from the new Nazi regime in 1933. During his time at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky formulated more of his understanding of art and creativity. He published his text Point, Line to Plane as one of the Bauhaus books in 1926. It is an attempt to codify the sensual and emotional value of colours and forms so as to enable the artist to control the expressive means at his disposal. His work lost much of its impetuous character and became simplified and controlled (Stangos 1994, p.48). His teachings about form were essentially new, starting with an analysis of individual elements such as point, line and plane, and examining their relationships to each other. The circle, a symbol of perfect form and a cosmic symbol at the same time, was the focal point of his paintings of this period.

After he was dismissed from the Bauhaus, Kandinsky became an exile again, this time in Paris where he continued to work as an artist, although conditions were not originally favourable . Cubism and surrealism were in fashion, but Kandinsky continued to paint his abstractions. He died inNeuillyin 1944 of a stroke.

 Postmodernism emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century after the Punk movements of the 1970s. Change, upheaval and conflict signified the jostling for supremacy amongst the various superpowers. Counter-cultures developed within Western society as people struggled to find identity amongst all these power shifts. The clamouring for recognition by different identifying groups was seen in art as a reason to break away from the formalist dictates of modernism. Representational art along with conceptualism allowed an ‘anything goes’ mentality during the late 1970s. Abstraction was no longer the sole determiner of a work of art as it had become under the influence of art critic Clement Greenberg. Postmodernism allowed an undisciplined array of styles and it has become a widespread cultural phenomenon. As a movement it has accommodated seemingly everything in art which makes it extremely difficult to provide a clear and concrete definition of the term. (Kleiner & Mamiya 2005, p.1034)

Whereas Kandinsky can be identified as one of the first modernists of the twentieth century, Julian Schnabel can be identified as one of the first artists to be identified with post-modernist characteristics in the late twentieth century. While the modernism practised by Kandinsky looked optimistically towards the future, post-modernism is inherently cynical and irreverent. It uses parody and pastiche to reject high art forms (Sturken, 2001, p.238-239). Post-modernism relies heavily on style and image and contains a reflexive quality that shows people’s absorption in the world of simulacra. It is a world in which people live through advertising and popular media. Schnabel’s work recycles conflicting images and systems of representation. His huge panels combine images quoted from film, photographs and religious iconography on surfaces patched together from posters, rugs, driftwood and  broken crockery.                                           

Julian Schnabel was born in New Yorkin 1951. After studying art at the Universityof Houstonand participating in the Whitney Study Program from 1969-1974, Schnabel was catapulted to the status of art world superstar in the early eighties, when his career was synonymous with the revival of painting as a meaningful art form. One of the most financially successful and aggressively self-promoting artists of his generation, he was a leading figure in what came to be known as ‘neo-expressionism’. He produces paintings and prints, and his brash appropriative style combined huge scale, often garish colours and obscure textural reference. The most iconic of his works are his ‘plate paintings’ in which broken crockery is attached to a support and painted in oils. The Student of Prague (1983) draws on the imagery of Christian ritual, layering roughly hewn crucifixes over the bed of broken china vessels, and deploying structure that recalls traditional triptych alterpieces. The title also copies a German silent film of 1913 by the German expressionist director Paul Wegner.  The plate painting Self-Portrait in Andy’s Shadow (1987) demonstrates Schnabel’s frequent use of the plate surfaces for large-scale portraiture, mostly of friends and personalities in the art world. Here, Schnabel makes his own image and links it, as homage, to Andy Warhol, whose date of death is written on the surface.

The use of historical quotation, referential imagery and great reflexivity, by his use of unconventional painting materials, elicits divided responses from the art critics. Some are offended by his deliberate flouting of the conventions of ‘high art’, while others hails his work as following in the best traditions of Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack. Some feel that Schnabel’s popularity in the 1980s was synonymous with consumerism and that he exemplifies the cold commercialisation of the art world that was tied to economic boom of the era. The reviewer Ken Johnson wrote that whatever the formal virtues of Schnabel’s art there is always a reckless theatricality about it. He goes on to say that in his series of portraits of the same young blonde woman whose eyes’ have been covered by a horizontal bar of paint, there is a cliched quality in the fact that he is replicating an amateur portrait found in a thrift store (Johnson, 2005).

A retrospective exhibition in 1998 of Schnabel’s work included one of the first of the series of smashed plate paintings The Painter and the Doctors (1978). The reviewer Phyllis Braff wrote that this work generates thoughts about Schnabel’s  treatment of materials, space, scale and imagery and the way he constantly questions art practices (Braff, 1993). Another reviewer in 1989, Roberta Smith, called him ‘the master of conspicuous pictorial consumption’. He uses found artefacts, materials, words and cultural figures in his artworks. However, Roberta Smith felt that he has ‘a tendency to catapult genuine emotion into the realm of self-parodying melodrama’ (Smith, 1989). Michael Brenson wrote in 1987 that when combining an expressionist method with consuming self-consciousness and control ‘kitsch is always a danger, and the artist loves courting it’(Brenson, 1987). The curator at the Whitney Museum wrote in the 1989 catalogue that Schnabel’s work straddles modernism and post-modernism, ‘swinging between a modernist faith in painting and heroic individuality and a postmodern scepticism that mocks heroism and compels the viewer to see art first of all as performance and fiction’. The artist himself has written about his ambiguous plate paintings, ‘I wanted to make something that was exploding as much as I wanted to make something that was cohesive’. In his painting Rebirth I : (The Last View of Camilliano Cien Fuegos) he adds a pair of enormous blue eyes and a series of evenly spaced horizontal lines to a Kabuki backdrop of a cherry blossom landscape.

Whatever is thought of his work, Schnabel can be considered a ‘maximalist’ in that he throws everything at his paintings, including the kitchen sink. His Baroque tendencies seem to stem from a reaction against the arte povera movement, with their emphasis on humble materials and absence of colour. A secular Jew, Schnabel even uses Catholic iconography to match his forms and textures, such as ecclesiastical purple velvet. Although he still paints and holds regular exhibitions world wide, he is now more respected as a filmmaker. He has made the highly reviewed biographical films ‘Basquiat’ and ‘Before Night Falls’ and has recently won best film at theVenicefestival for ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’.

Kandinsky wrote: ‘Every work of art is the child of its age… [and] that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated’(Kandinsky, 1914). In my use of Kandinsky and Schnabel as examples of their periods of art, I cannot but think that each of them truly is ‘a child of their age’. They show that, through clarity, innovativeness and optimism, Modernism is to the Renaissance as Postmodernism, in its playfulness, melodrama and complexity, is to the Baroque. Kandinsky, in his studies into the abstract in art, was a major influence on the Modernist period and Schnabel, in his innovative use of historic sources and varied materials, is a major influence on the Postmodernist period.

 

References:

  1. Stangos, Nikos, 1994, From Fauvism to Postmodernism 3rd Edition, Thames andHudson
  2. Kleiner, F.S. & Mamiya, C.J.,2005,  Art Through the Ages 12th Edition, ThomsonWadsworth Press
  3. Sturken, M. & Cartwright, 2001, Practices of Looking, An Introduction to Visual Culture,OxfordUniversity Press
  4. Johnson, K., 2002, New York Times, Art in Review, April 5th
  5. Braff, P., 1993, New York Times, Art Reviews; Revealing explorations of works by two contemporary masters, August 23rd
  6. Smith, R.,1989, New York Times, Review/Art; Julian Schnabel’s mantra: Stop ruining the world, December 8th
  7. Brenson, M., 1987, New York Times, Art: Works by Julian Schnabel at the Whitney Museum, November 13th
  8. Kandinsky, W., 1914, The Art of Spiritual Harmony, Translated by Sadler, M.T.H., from Über das Geistige in der Kunst, originally published 1911

http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/kandinskytext.htm

 

Bibliography:

  1. The Art Book,1996, Phaidon Press Limited
  2. http://arts.independent.co.uk/films/features/article2591477.ece 29.10.07
  3. http://guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_works_20076_0.html  29.10.07
  4. http://broadartfoundation.org/collection/Schnabel.html  29.10.07
  5. http://moca_la.org/museum/pc_artwork_detail.php?acsnum=85.82&keywords=Julian%20Schnabel&x=0&y=0& 29.10.07
  6. Smith, R., 2003, New York Times, Art in Review, October 31st
  7. Wallach, A., 2001, New York Times, Art in Review, April 29th
  8. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9COCE7DF1739F93AA15757COA9679C8B63&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/Schnabel,%20
  9. Smith, R., 1987, New York Times, Julian Schnabel exhibition is a highlight of uptown gallery hopping, November 7th
  10. Raynor, V. 1987, New York Times, Art: In Ridgefield Conn., a ‘ post-abstract’ show  , June 26th
  11. www.russianavantgarde.com/master_pages/Master%2001%20%20Vassily%20Kandinsky.html 30.10.07
  12. http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/kandinsky 30.10.07
  13. www.rollins.edu/Foreign_Lang/Russian/kandin.html 30.10.07