Danto

Research - Andy Warhol by Ally McGinn

Considered one of the most glamorous figures in contemporary art. Warhol was an eccentric figure, he became infamous for his eccentric way of seeing and experiencing the world. As I find is often the case, Duchamp said it best - “What's interesting is not that somebody would want to paint twenty-seven soup cans.  What’s interesting is the mind that would conceive of painting twenty-seven soup cans.” (Tompkins, 2013)

Fascinated with commerce and celebrity Warhol bridged the gap between the art world and the art market. (Warhol, 2007)

One of the basic tenants of commercialism is the wanting of something more. The purpose of advertising and other marketing strategies are to convince the viewer that they want something they don’t have, and that they must work hard to get it. This constant desire for more lies at the heart of our materialistic society.

For Warhol, this idea was something utterly fascinating. Working both against and with the idea of commercialism, Warhol worked with everyday materials as a way of showing that the things around us are worthy of as much respect, admiration and time as those we are taught to desire more. (Warhol, 2007) The things we already have can be as interesting as the things we don’t have, and therefore want.

The most famous example would be the soup can series. (Warhol, 2007) Highlighting the simple form, elegant design, and purposeful existence.

Andy Warhol (1964)  'Campbell's Soup Can' . Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. 50.8 x 40.6 cm. 

Andy Warhol (1964) 'Campbell's Soup Can'. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. 50.8 x 40.6 cm. 

In 1964 Warhol produced ‘Brillo Box (soap pads).' (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) An accurate reproduction of a commercially available product, the boxes show his interest in the everyday commercialist world we live in.

What I find most interesting about the work is that it is the container for the commercial object that has been reproduced. The ‘viewer,' or buyer, in this case, see the cardboard ancestor of this artwork not when they are buying or using it, but when it is being shipped to the shop for them to purchase.

Acknowledging mass production, both in the making of the box and the meaning of it, the work was criticised for “capitulating to consumerism, ” (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) but that certainly wasn’t the prevailing opinion.  

Arthur Danto, an influential art critic, found Warhol’s Brillo boxes intriguing and wrote about them in an essay ‘Beyond the Brillo Box.' (Danto, 1998) In it, he surmised that it was Warhol, as the artist, that made these boxes anything more than what they were. Calling them “pretty good pieces of carpentry” (Danto, 1998) Danto speaks about them being indistinguishable from commercial brillo boxes, the only difference in them is the declaration from Warhol that they are art.

Warhol himself was a believer that anything an artist did was art, once they had become an artist. (Warhol, 2007)

It was this examination of the Brillo Boxes that led Danto to conclude; that it is the intervention of the artist and the invocation of artistic context that defines an artwork. This invocation of artistic context is what he termed, ‘The Artworld,' without which the artwork could not exist. (Danto, 1998)

Works like the box reproductions (Brillo pads were not the only source of influence in the 100 strong series that Warhol worked on) (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) blur the lines on authorship, primarily because of the way Warhol ran his practice.

Andy Warhol (1964) ' Brillo Box (Soap Pads)'.  Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on wood. 43.3 x 43.2 x 36.5 cm.

Andy Warhol (1964) 'Brillo Box (Soap Pads)'. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on wood. 43.3 x 43.2 x 36.5 cm.

Working with a team, Warhol often delegated tasks, creating a near conveyer belt for artists and technicians, all working as part of a collaborative authorship.

In the first retrospective of his work in 1968 the entrance of the gallery was filled with 500 Brillo boxes, (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) but which boxes did Warhol work on himself, or even touch? And does that even matter? The art now exists and has become an autonomous entity in its own right, with inbuilt, ever-evolving meaning and message.

Warhol often gave plans of work to be made to the manufacturer's (in this case meaning individuals) who would work away from the originator of the idea. This reproduction, authorised as it was, can be considered a controversial topic.

In answer to the above questions – aside from the point made – is that in this case none of the boxes were made by Warhol, and none of them we even made of wood. In 2007 it was revealed, by someone linked to the exhibition, that there were no wooden boxes in the show.  Short on time and money someone (an unknown entity) purchased 500 cardboard boxes, directly from the factory in New York, which were shipped to Stockholm and displayed. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010)

I have to note here that Warhol would probably love the fact that his work has been increasing in value at a higher inflation rate than gold, (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) considered the most glamorous and valuable of commodities. In 1994 they sold for £3,700 each, by 2000 one sold for £50,000, in 2006 one reached £120,000. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010)

There has since been an air of controversy surrounding the authenticity of the boxes. It is the authentication board of the Andy Warhol Foundation, which has the final say on what is and isn’t authentic. Any work authenticated by the board achieves artistic fame, and a catalogue number, those that don’t make it through the process are crudely stamped with the word ‘denied’ in red ink, defining and marking it as unwanted and useless.

The controversy over the Brillo Boxes in the 1968 exhibition has since been explained. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) A rather entrepreneurial curator Pontus Hulten, twisted in the controversy throughout, had claimed to make the boxes at Warhol's request before the retrospective. It has since come to light that the fabrication of the boxes was done in 1990, three years after Warhol died.  His reasons for this have been argued and defended. A staunch critic of the consumerist art market Hulten did not need the money involved in a fraud like this. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) I hesitate to use the term fraud. As an art student, I feel a sense of freedom to speak about this controversy regarding what it means for art.

Regardless of the financial or moral implications of a ‘fraud’ like this, it brings up more questions about authenticity, providence and the falsity of the art market.

In fact, this ‘fraud’ could more accurately be considered a piece of performance art itself.

As Thomas Anderberg, a Swedish art critic, said: “I believe Hulten decided to show up the entire Warhol industry.” (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010)

The fact that the authenticity of Warhol's works is so complicated questions the validity of the entire process. In 2003 a print was denied by the foundation, even though its provenance was solid and it even had Warhols signature on the work. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) The defence for this rejection was that Warhol didn’t make the work, he only signed it. A disappointing response considering the way Warhol worked.

Who is the artist? What is the art? Does the artist have to touch the art? If the works are a series of reproductions why does it matter which one Warhol touched? The notion of artistic genius is at the forefront of the argument once more. The authentication board has defended itself by stating that its purpose is to clarify the distinctions between what he did make and what he didn’t make. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010) Personally, I think the more important consideration is why there is a difference in value between the two.

Sadly the integrity of the Warhol authenticity board has been called into question, and it faces an extended period of uncertainty. (Levy and Scott-Clark, 2010)

It doesn’t, however, negate the totality of Warhol's work; it only questions some of it.

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Warhol was someone who believed that the world could work in a better way and that the way to do that was through the clever manipulation of the truth and our understanding of the way we see the world. (Warhol, 2007)

Rather than have a studio he called his space a factory. A contradicting conversation between art and production, Warhol argued that the two are inextricably linked. (Warhol, 2007) The lesson he saw in the factory is that we can produce things, things called art, in a different way than history would suggest. Traditionally, and in general terms, art is something that is created by an individual and enjoyed by an individual. The creation of 'Art' happens on massive scales, but the commercial side of the art world means that the final position for each piece is most often eventually either disposed of or owned by a single individual.

For Warhol a way around this was reproduction.  Which explains his interest in soup cans, screen printing, and Brillo boxes.

After reading that Picasso had made 4000 masterpieces in his lifetime, Warhol decided that he would create 4000 in one day. A goal he quickly failed, he did make 500 in a month, a feat Picasso probably didn’t achieve. (Warhol, 2007) (Although that does beg the question – what is a masterpiece?)

Warhol wanted to apply the notions of commercialism and mass-production to the ‘good’ things in life. (Warhol, 2007) Things he saw as necessary to the continued development (as opposed to the current stagnation) of the human race. The issue that is in evidence through his attempted record-breaking printmaking goals, as well as other aspects of his life, is that art remains partitioned from mass production. (Warhol, 2007) That the art market exists and is the foundation for the continued existence of art is common knowledge, although still argued tremendously, it is a very different creature from mass-market commercialism, which Warhol arguably edged towards.

Warhol was interested in large-scale impact. He could be argued to be one of the most prolific artists when it came to trying different things. He tried drawing, painting, printing, audio recording, photography, sculpture, magazine editing, clothing manufacturing, advertising, band management, directing, he even planned a chat show. (Warhol, 2007)

Warhol’s legacy challenges future artists to change the world, in a mass populist way, through the medium (or message) of art.  

Reflection

The implications of Warhol's work, and perspective are far-reaching, including into my own practice.

I am a maker at heart, and it is through that production that I can question our assumptions about art and process, and hopefully inspire those questions in the viewer.

Warhol did this, extremely successfully, in his own, unique way, I can only hope to do it in mine.

Bibliography

Danto, A C. (1998) Beyond the Brillo Box: The visual arts in post-historical perspective. California: The university of California press.

Levy, A. and Scott-Clark, C. (2010) ‘Warhol’s box of tricks.’ The Guardian. [Online] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/aug/21/warhol-brillo-boxes-scandal-fraud [Accessed - 20.11.17].

Tompkins, C. (2013) Marcel Duchamp: The afternoon interviews. Brooklyn: Badlands Unlimited.

Warhol, A (2007) The Philosophy of Andy Warhol : From A and B and Back Again. St Ives : Penguin Books.

 

Research - A Note on Post-structuralism by Ally McGinn

Post-structuralism is a term I've come across in the last few years of research, yet it is one that's eluded my attempts to retain it. In an attempt to assimilate this knowledge I wanted to write a short post about this term.

Associated, but not inextricably linked, to postmodernism, post-structuralism is hard to define, another similarity to postmodernism.

At heart, post-structuralism is the focus shift from creator to audience and external meaning.

It's basic tenets are;

  • That the notion of the individual is, at heart, false. The reader is an amalgamation of external sources and influences that form an interpretation of ‘reality’ based on their perspective.

  • That the author, or artist's, the intention is irrelevant in comparison to the interpretation of the reader, the viewer.

  • And therefore, due to the perspective reliant nature of interpretation. The use of a variety of sources is vital to the ‘truth’ of a subject

Many of the theorists I have been researching are post-structuralists, including Derrida, Barthes and Foucault. I can now say I am working from a post-structuralist ideology.

This brief note covers a wider range of subjects and theorists, and should, in fact, be on my mind maps.

Research - Danto - Short Note by Ally McGinn

Danto is an extremely influential figure, I've read a few of his books. What I would normally be tempted to do here is write a few thousand words on him, his works and the implications of those works to my field. However, my list of potential blog posts is growing. So for now, as a place setting for a potentially longer text later.

Philosopher and critic Arthur Danto suggested a thinking test that is very useful in understanding the importance of context and concept in the understanding of art.

Imagine there are four seemingly identical paintings on the wall, all painted in the same, flat, red. Each is done by a different artist, but there are no real discernable visual differences between the work. However, the origins and context of each are vastly different; (1) one is a close-up painting of a red tablecloth, (2) one is a painting representing the Red Sea after the Israelites had crossed, (3) one is a pun on the communist flag, and (4) the final one is an unfinished painting that was included for it's similarities to the others, but had crucially never had the moment of nomination as art.

Each has art historical precedent, and in ’Transfiguration of the Commonplace’, where this analogy can be found, Danto describes some of the links that might be at play here. However, the links and reasons each artist chose to create their red painting are not as important as the comparison between them. (Danto, 1981)

These paintings now become vastly different simply because we understand more about them. This thought experiment serves to highlight the ontological reality of art.

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I've discussed Danto in my post about Andy Warhol, but I will add one point here; Danto is also responsible for a term I have used liberally throughout this blog, and that my grammar checker hates, the ‘Artworld’ the title of an essay by Danto after he visited the Andy Warhol exhibition of ‘Brillo Boxes’. To Danto, these boxes represented ‘the end of art’ which, rather than being a sign that art was dead, was the mark of the moment when art became anything. The important factor, to Danto, was the ‘Artworld’, the theories surrounding art and it's history, that allowed anything to be considered as art. It's historical perspective. (Danto, 1964)

''Given two things that resemble one another to any chosen degree, but one of them a work of art and the other an ordinary object, what accounts for this difference in status?'' (Danto, 1981) It is the artworld that allows two seemingly indiscernible objects to have such disparate meaning and value.

This term has been incredibly useful for me, and part of my lexicon, but I tend to forget that it's meaning isn't common knowledge, although interestingly the meaning can be understood without knowing about Danto and his epiphany.

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Danto is a prominent art critic, writing about numerous artists and exhibitions. In a text about Jasper Johns flag paintings, which I recently saw at the Royal Academy, Danto described them as ‘reverse readymades’, a term coined by Duchamp, which describes works of art that become the everyday. (Danto, 2001)

Bibliography

Danto, A C. (1998) Beyond the Brillo Box: The visual arts in post-historical perspective. California: The University of California press.

Danto, A C. (1964) ‘The Artworld’. The Journal of Philosophy, Volume (61): Pages 571-584.

Danto, A C. (2001) The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World. London: University of California Press.

Danto, A C. (1981) Transfiguration of the Commonplace. London: Harvard University Press.

Research - Meaning by Ally McGinn

Meaning in art

Dewey posited that art is a way of understanding human culture, primarily the culture in which it was created. Heidegger agrees that the study of art, and the making of it, can be a form of understanding human history and progress.

The reason is a simple one, or at least it can be. To understand a piece of art we need to understand it's context, which includes information about the world at the time of making.

When combined with the artist's intentions, the reality of the work, it's place in the wider art world and it's place in the world ‘outside’ of art, it forms a language of art, in particular that piece.

The language of art is not a literal one. It is complicated and open to interpretation. Understanding the language of art aids in the interpretation of it.

Interpretation is a difficult word, one Derrida didn't use; because, Derrida believed, it presupposes a ‘pure’ or ‘real’ interpretation, where one doesn't exist.

Interpretation is dependent on perspective, and therefore is subjective. Meaning is subjective.

This can be seen in the study of semiotics, the meaning attributed to something often reaches a consensus at the basic level but each sign can contain potentially infinite signifiers, it simply depends on who is processing the sign - and more importantly who they are, how they think, what they know, and what they have experienced.

It is the combination of these factors that determines the interpretation of a sign. There are of course limits to each, but when considered as a whole the possibilities are numerous.

Semiology is the study of signs, and anything can be a sign, if seen in the ‘right’ ways.

Therefore meaning is, while limited in specifics, open in its possibilities.

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If we take it to be true that art is a form of language, then it must be true that it communicates.

The language through which art communicates is specialised, there is an ‘Artworld’, as defined by Arthur Danto, in which this art language is the native tongue.

It is a skill. One that, like many others, can be improved upon over time. At first we may need explanations to help us open our eyes to the possible meanings of an artwork, but as we learn more about the artworks and when we actively ‘look’ for the signs (or possibly ‘words’ in this analogy) the language becomes easier to see.

Semiology is a useful lens through which we can explore the language of art.

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The artist and the interpreter don't have to agree on the meaning, and often don't.

The important thing here to remember is that there is no pure meaning, we are fallible creatures and meaning is applied by humans to the reality we find, or the ideas we explore. Meaning is fallible.

In ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ by Wimsatt and Beardsley, the authors argue that the artist's meaning is irrelevant. Once the artwork is seen it the meaning given to it during it's creation no longer matters, it is what it is, and what it is will be interpreted by others.

I feel that there is a lot of evidence, at least anecdotal, that suggests that the artists cannot be seen as totally irrelevant after creation. For the very reasons seen above, to study art we need to know it's context, which includes the artists intentions. Whether or not the audience agrees is far more open. Artists also guide meaning, both during creation and after. (although in the case of after it can feel a defensive task - until a consensus is reached on the artist's status of course. Few would disagree with the artist's intentions when written on the wall of the RA for example)

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When the artist and the interpreter do disagree, it is worth remembering that interpretation is a lens. It explores at least one facet of an artwork, and rarely sees them all.

A ‘good’ interpretation could be argued to be one that explores many facets, including some of itself.

Christine Freeland describes it in this way - “A good interpretation must be grounded in reasons and evidence, and should provide a rich, complex, and illuminating way to comprehend a work of art. Sometimes an interpretation can even transform an experience of art from repugnance to appreciation and understanding.”

And so we come to the importance of meaning, or the benefits of it.

Art is an immensely broad subject, given a three letter word to describe it. No two artworks are the same, and when they appear to be they are only highlighting that very issue. The interpretation of art aids in our understanding of what it does.

These ‘things’ (artworks) do something. They exist and they have a function. That function is physical and  cerebral, and meaning is central to the cerebral process.

Whether we ‘like’ and artwork or not, ignoring the meaning in favour of our initial personal opinion misses something important about the artwork and the role of art in human society; to make us think.

Note - here the word ‘think’ is defined to include the act of actively seeing, reacting or otherwise interacting with the artwork. After all there is always an element of thinking involved.

Reflection

Writing this post has highlighted for me that we each have a methodology when we look at art. We can be said to be trying to understand that methodology, and potentially broaden it, when we open our minds to art and explore works for more than their initial ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

As a practicing artist it is also interesting to note that meaning can become clear to an artist as well as the viewer. I've known many artists who have ‘suddenly realised’ their work is about an interest they had years previously or a personal issue they didn't realise they were working through in the studio.

Meaning isn't always intended, at least consciously.

Meaning is, to quote a phrase coined by popular culture but no less appropriate, bigger on the inside.

Next post - I'd like to explore more about why we create art, and the purposes of the activity itself.

Bibliography

Danto, A C. (1964) ‘The Artworld’. The Journal of Philosophy, Volume (61): Pages 571-584.

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, J. (2005) Art as Experience. New York: Berkley publishing group.

Freeland, C. (2002) But is it Art?. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Marriner, R. (2002) ‘Derrida and the Parergon’. In: Smith, P and Wilde, C. eds. A companion to art theory. Blackwell: 349-359.

Marriner, R (2012) ‘Reframing the picture, recasting the object’. In: Heywood, I and Sandywell, B. eds. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010) ‘Heidegger’s Aesthetics’ [Online] Stanford University. Avaliable from: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger-aesthetics/. [Accessed - 13/10/17].

Wimsatt, W K and Beardsley M C. (1946) ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. The Sewanee Review, Volume, (54): Page 468-488. [Online] Available from: http://libarch.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/GenofondUA/26575/eebec50474beb95720cbb1e0b96892f5.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed 17.09.2016].