Note/Thought - Thought Dump by Ally McGinn

I keep three repositories of thoughts and notes, physical sketchbooks (which are used/turned into an edited sketchbook) voice memo’s (which are typed up and amalgamated into relevant writings - statements, presentations, reflections, research etc) and an online document that I can edit anywhere.

The following notes/statements are taken from the online document. Titled ‘Reflective Thoughts’ I usually make some form of note once a day. These thoughts are important to the practice, and in understanding the effects research is having on my thinking.

I could separate these into separate blog posts, and for the purposes of accurately recording the dates of theory, I plan to in future. For now, a selected grouping of recent interesting thoughts, with links to research and reflective thinking.


10th November

Objects in time.

The object is a constant where time is motion. The object pauses the moment?


12th November

Revealing thought through process.


16th November

The limits of knowledge.

We know something by first defining its edges, its limits.


17th November

Writing what I know.

I write things down, and then I know them.


My practice shows that art is a way of looking in that the practice is a form of perception, that is subverted to form new conversations.
This perceptual practice becomes a lot closer to the way a viewer interacts with the work. I see something and ask how it is art, or how I can define it as such.
An example of this is an idea i had to include a ‘For Sale’ sign in my space (an idea I’m not sure ill act upon). The inspiration for this came from driving home, I saw a for sale sign that had fallen over in the road and I wondered what it would mean to bring that into my work. That inspiration was incidental to my functional drive.
This is another example of the ways we notice things that are abnormal. And in this case an object whose function has been altered, it's purpose undone.

Reflection - often when I find I'm stuck in the studio, a natural part of the daily rhythm, I drive home and think about the work and the world and I find new things I want to explore, new questions I want to ask.



20th November

Bit of a bad night again, I'm exhausted and ill. It's not a good mix.

If I aim for progress too much I'll jump right over the point.


Idea - the title and description are shown on the wall, with the images of the artworks (with no other information) reproduced in a catalogue.


A Kierkegaard quote that I need to look into more is that people tend to be “subjective with themselves and objective with others” where we should be striving for the opposite. That is the state of despair that Kierkegaard suggests that we all live in. One of the main types of despair that people fall into, according to Kierkegaard, is one where you tie your sense of yourself, of the value of yourself, into something external that we have no true control over. Which is really interesting.


Analysis Paralysis - fantastic title name.


21st November

Expansion and contraction seem to be key terms in the practice, that recur in theory. The balance of the two is key to a sustainable practice.


22nd November

Descriptions, opinions and interpretations.


An idea - ‘Art in the 22nd century’ - then there is nothing on the wall. The inevitable future of art?


23rd November

The threads on the wall. Because there are 14 it becomes about the screws, and their location in relation to one another, more than about the canvas string.

The inclusion of frames is because it is about framing and the way we frame art in different ways.

Maybe these are two works of art.


28th November

The act of occupying space


The act of organisation makes things smaller, makes them fit. (Glove fitting into pocket)


29th November

Installation implies a single whole but I think my work can be compartmentalised into individual pieces.


Potentiality is by definition, transitory. It is forever in the future, and can never be guaranteed.


Communicative transactions.

Artist and viewer cooperate in a mutually beneficial transaction.


What do they think I'm doing? Where do they think I'm coming from? To try to figure that out I need to try to see things from their shoes, to take a step back from the work and understand where they think I'm coming from. With my kind of work, that is a big consideration. People trying to understand what I'm thinking.


Maybe my method is reflection and perception.


30th November

Art cannot be contained within words.

Art shows us ways to see everything as images, decipherable and beautiful for their complexity.


If we can go as far as we can see, and understand as far as we can see, then what really matters in the case of movement and development, is a change in perspective.


2nd December

We should not think of the past as fact that cannot be changed. It is changed, everything we continue to do builds upon and alters the context of, what has come before. So the past can be changed by actions, and perceptions of the present.


3rd December

Life in Context: Context in Life.

Everything can be described as knowledge. Context is knowledge (specified). Everything has context.

Context is even at the heart of the nature: nurture debate. The two cannot be undone or separated because they are together. Both exist in a single person, who we are, and cannot be distanced.

Context is at the heart of what it means to be human. It can be said that to be human is to contextualise. We cannot ‘be’ without something to ‘be’ in. The thing we are ‘beings’ in, is our context and is therefore indiscriminate from ‘being’ itself.


The Experiential Turn.

Shows that one of the purposes of art can be a grounding into the experiential moment, for the distanced person that is the modern human.

Everyday life distances is from the things we really want to be doing and the people that we really are.


6th December

Art is always relational and contextual, we cannot get away from those things


Artists refuse to take anything for granted.


Bringing something into focus so that you can then go on to talk about it - as a description of art?


7th December

Relational sentences.

Further impetus for the idea of sentence structure as maths - Once you put two things together they speak to each other.


Philosophy and art are intrinsically related and yet vastly different.


“Often wrong but never in doubt” an old, anecdotal, military saying. It means that once you have decided on the best logical decision you shouldn’t doubt yourself and should continue with purpose.


They are philosophical works, I haven't really noted that enough. That is part of what they do - a philosophical exploration.


They create opportunities to explore.


Research - Meaning/Taste - Family Resemblance and Beetles in Boxes by Ally McGinn

In researching taste, aesthetics and attempting to understand what art is, i've come upon the term ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ a few times. These are the conditions for determining a definition. If both can be defined with regards to a certain subject (A for example) then through the exploration of necessary and sufficient conditions we will be able to find all the things that are ‘A’ by excluding the things that aren't ‘A’. (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

Wittgenstein disagreed with this rigid stance. Using the example of games he shows that there are always things that don't fit the definition. We recognise what games are not through the definition of them, or at least not always, but through the experience of hearing the ways other people use the word, which leads us to an understanding of what Wittgenstein called a ‘family resemblance’. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein saw language as a living thing, and therefore as subject to the ‘change in variation’. Meaning, according to Wittgenstein, is reliant on use, in that whatever meaning we use is one that is ‘right’. Meaning can be local, we share meaning with those close to us, and have our own meanings for those words based on our own lives. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein suggests a thought experiment, an extension of the ‘private language argument’. In it he asks us to pretend that we each have a box, we all describe the thing inside the box as a beetle, and yet we cannot ever know what is inside other people's boxes. Whether the thing inside the box actually is what we think of as a beetle or is something else the word ‘beetle’, in this instance, becomes both a word to describe what is inside the box and the implication of a small creature with six legs. (Floyd, 2006)

In this experiment the box can be seen as a metaphor for our brains. A pertinent example of this would be our interpretation of colour. We all, mostly, agree on the standard definitions of colour, but the argument becomes more obvious when colours get specific. Working in an art institution for nearly five years I've regularly heard disagreements about colours, and we have no real way of knowing that what we see as green is what someone else is seeing. Pain is another obvious example, while there are obviously degrees of pain we have no reliable way of comparing our pain to that of another.

Words, or more accurately their meaning, operate in the same way. How often have any of us said something that someone has taken the wrong way. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that we all have.

It isn't that much more of a leap to suggest that images are the same. As much of the research on this blog has shown, images, and by extension other artworks, have meaning that is integral to their existence. That meaning only exists when interpreted by a human, and those interpretations come through the reading of information. That information can be digital, visual, auditory, tactile or any number of sensory inputs. To define art as simply something beautiful or enjoyable on a basic level denies our own intelligence, and our capability to interpret information.

Art, it could therefore be argued, contains, disseminates, and encourages the transfer of information. While there are many artworks whose information revolves around beauty, or the weirder sensory experience, there are many others that require a form of data processing, or interaction, from the viewer. If nothing else it's clear that is more information to be explored than we realise.

I would argue that one of the purposes of art is to highlight that processing potential in regards to the world around us, and other areas of daily life.

The reading of art encourages a creative thinking process, which can be applied to the world beyond the art gallery.

There is a reason we can nominate the everyday as art, I would argue that this is because these objects have an element of inherent meaning attached to them. The nomination of them as ‘Art’ is a common activity, but maybe it is enough to think of them as art, or see them as art, at an individual level. We bring the meaning to the work, so can we bring it to other things just by imagining it.

If I think that something I'm experiencing is Art, but never say it, is it any less Art than the painting on the wall? Does it matter that I'm an artist? Whose to say where the artwork lies?


This section was added in addition to my initial post on taste. The information here is mostly from two short sources, that inspried more thinking. Later parts of this text slip into assumptive writing, so this post is more - thoughts inspired by research.


Floyd, R. (2006) Wittgenstein : The Private Language Argument [Online] Philosophy Now. Available from:  [Accessed 03.11.17].

Janaway, C. (2006) Reading Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art: Selected texts with interactive commentary. Pondicherry: Blackwell Publishing.

Philosophy Bites (2017) ‘Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann on Disagreement About Taste’, Aesthetics Bites. [Podcast] Avaliable from: [Accessed 01.11.17].

Research - Taste - Kant, Hume, Bell and aesthetics by Ally McGinn

A term I've been considering a great deal lately is the idea of taste, and the ways we are drawn to things. Many of the works I'm drawn to conceptually, attempt to deny factors of taste, by definition. While the draw towards some form of aesthetic ‘rightness,' at least in my studio practice, continues, both consciously and subconsciously. This is a point in my studio practice that I am attempting to work through.

Taste is generally considered to be subjective; everyone likes different things. However, there is also a tendency towards a particular aesthetic quality in some works. Put in a room full of artworks many people will like similar things, and some artworks feel ‘right’ to some majority. Entirely anecdotal these two statements have been considered valid enough to debate, for centuries.

The philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant both explored the notion of taste and this disparity between the perceived truth that no taste is superior and the more visceral sense that there is some aesthetic hierarchy that is yet undefined. (Janaway, 2006)

To Hume, it could be broken down to an issue of education and experience. Taste is a skill that can be taught, leading to an eventual consensus and a universal ‘standard of taste.'

Hume believed that we are creatures more defined by our feelings than any rationality. That we are mostly guided by our feelings, to which rationality is often later used to back up the initial feeling. We reason from, rather than to our convictions. (Janaway, 2006)

Hume believed that our feelings, or passions, could be developed, taste is one of them.

I find myself very drawn to this idea, or more accurately, to the lens Hume views human beings through.

In a classic example, Hume described a taste test. Two people taste the same cask of wine; one notes a metallic note, and the other a leathery one. Both are ridiculed for their assessments until a key on a leather thong is found at the bottom of the barrel. This case highlights an important distinction, the difference between ‘bodily taste’ and ‘mental taste.' Bodily taste can be described as the objective features that we observe and use to justify our judgment of taste; the metallic or leathery notes found in the barrel are located in the wine and are not, as the people ridiculing the tasters assumed, due to the refinement of their palette or their perception of taste. (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

The critical factor, for Hume it seems, is the removal of personal preference and prejudice in the judgment of taste. The difference between ‘Is this good?’ and ‘Do I like it?’.

This is a way of understanding our ‘faculty of taste’. We must attempt to operate this faculty from an unbiased perspective, with a knowledge of sorts, and with a considered argument justifying the judgment of taste.

Hume saw the faculty of taste as defined by five key criteria;

  • Good sense
  • Delicacy/refinement of sentiment
  • Practice
  • No prejudice
  • Comparison

Hume did not assume that all viewers of artwork should be ideal critics, but more highlighted the philosophical conundrum surrounding the issue of taste. Objectivism is critical, but only when we understand our subjectivity. (Intersubjective??)

Tangential thought/link - The only accurate judgment is one, using Hume’s view, that can stand the test of time, and can be expanded into the test of culture. Moving the artwork through time and location should not change the judgment of the ideal critic, which could suggest that the ideal critic does not exist? (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

To Kant, it was more an issue of beauty. He argued that the judgment of taste is grounded in the artwork, not our perception of it. This is a complicated argument because the ingredients of beauty cannot be explained entirely, there are some things considered beautiful to most, a sunset, roses.

There are thousands of ‘beautiful’ paintings. (It is worth noting that there are certain ‘rules’ of beauty - including theories about symmetry, etc., but that is a tangent I won't follow here)

The point remains that Kant saw beauty (vital for taste) as intrinsic to specific objects and images. Beauty, to Kant, requires ‘purposiveness without purpose.' (Kant, 2007) For an object to be purposive, it needs to have that ‘rightness’ that some objects have.

Kant argues that we see an object as beautiful because it promotes a feeling of harmony in the viewer. The generation of feeling comes from the object, not the viewer. Therefore it is intrinsic to the beautiful object.

Kant influenced a great many critics, artists, and thinkers.  His work on art was not limited to ideas of beauty, and he certainly didn't believe that all art should be beautiful. Kant believed that for a real experience of beauty the viewer must remain distanced from the object, an uncontaminated experience (independent from purpose). (Kant, 2007)

Aesthetic judgments have a normative aspect, explained basically - we either agree or disagree with them. Kant believed that we all share a type of ‘common sense’ in which we are all constructed in the same fundamental cognitive way - if one person likes something, it should hold that another can and does as well. This is an important idea, given the prevalence of art in human culture, taste is a part of the artworld, and our shared ability to experience artworks allow these conversations to take place. (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

Edward Bullough continued Kant's aesthetic theories to say that a viewer needs a degree of ‘psychical distance’ to view an artwork. A degree of open-mindedness. He argued that the inclusion of political or sexual issues would only take away from the aesthetic experience and understanding. (Janaway, 2006)

When seen like this I would argue that both Hume and Kant can be correct. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is some element of beauty is intrinsic to the work, and aesthetic beauty can be almost universally acknowledged but the appreciation of that beauty. Moreover, the beauty found in a conceptual idea, a social statement or a witty commentary is a skill that can be honed, or expanded merely with knowledge and experience.

When thinking about taste, the physical form of the artwork is fundamental; it is the way the work is experienced. Clive Bell, an art critic, coined the term ‘significant form’ in 1914. He was talking about the combination of certain qualities that together form something that people respond to on an aesthetic level or the idea that some artworks are liked due to some underlying, and undefinable, aesthetic ‘rightness’ – Beauty - a word fraught with conflicting associations in the art world. Seen as a positive by many it is often considered unfavorable for an artist, certainly for current art students. For something to exist without needing the foundation of a well thought out context or concept, it needs to be able to rely on something else. Beauty is often the alternative. These works are art, as defined by their artistic creator, so in many ways, art can stand without context or content, but there needs to be an alternative foundation. It would be difficult to conceive of an artwork without any of it. It is worth noting here that Bell acknowledged that a critic could inform a viewer's knowledge of significant form. (Freeland, 2002)

Bell, Hume, and Kant (and others) seem to agree that to appreciate beauty the work must separate itself from other concerns. Maybe the closest we can get to that separation involves an appropriate perspective.


Regarding my practice, this research has helped highlight the importance of recognising my personal preferences in a work of art. While I've been working on my faculty of taste over the years of study, it has been more externally focused. The application of this faculty in my practice is a fundamental skill I can improve, with firmer knowledge of it I hope to be able to apply a more precise perspective to the visual ‘editing.' One free of my personal preferences - which I can already say includes a sometimes overwhelming visual aesthetic, and a tendency to lean towards an aesthetic ‘rightness,' which can be detrimental to the work.


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

Janaway, C. (2006) Reading Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art: Selected texts with interactive commentary. Pondicherry: Blackwell Publishing.

Kant, I. (2007) Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Philosophy Bites (2017) ‘Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann on Disagreement About Taste’, Aesthetics Bites. [Podcast] Available from: [Accessed 01.11.17].


The image I've used to illustrate this post can be accessed here -

Note/Thought - 'doxa' 'episteme' by Ally McGinn

Plato described ‘doxa’ as the knowledge of daily life (knowledge we ‘just know’) and ‘epitome’  as studied knowledge (knowledge worth knowing)

My studio practice is an exploration of doxa, but through that exploration (the important part being the interaction) we can gain episteme. We gain knowledge worth knowing through the perspective of art.

Could it be said that through exploring doxa it becomes episteme? Although the definitions are limited in many ways the argument could be made.