Assignment five: What is reality?

This assignment is intended to explore issues surrounding the ‘real’ in contemporary society. I decided to analyse these issues with reference to photographic portraiture using the title ‘Reality and the Photographic Portrait’. This is in fact the theme that I plan to adopt for my final photography course ‘Your Own Portfolio (YOP)’. I took the opportunity to carry out research for this assignment which will have value for my photographic work. It has turned out to be a very useful project giving me lots of ideas to pursue.

Richard Brilliant suggests that a portrait’s success ‘depends on [the artist’s] ability to manifest the peculiarities of appearance and character in a manner that is both accessible and satisfactory to the viewer’. He goes on to suggest that the nature of the artist’s response is affected by three questions: ‘What do I (you, he she, we, or they) look like?’, ‘What am I (you, she, he etc.) like?’ and ‘Who am I (you, etc.)?’. I used these questions as a means of organising my analysis for this essay and I am also planning to use it for structuring my photographic investigation for YOP.

My essay can be read here:

Reality and the Photographic Portrait

And my tutor’s feedback, which was very positive here:

416177. Greenough. 5

This is the last post I will be making in this blog about the UVC course which I have now officially completed. I will miss the mental stimulus that it has provided. I plan to look out for some short courses which will help me keep my learning development in critical studies going. I was interested in the short courses at the Courtauld Institute which my fellow OCA student Vicki is attending but the dates did not fit with my other plans. I am also aware of courses run by The Photographer’s Gallery. I will probably post my learning from any future courses on my main blog http://photo-graph.org .

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Understanding Visual Culture course. I did it for ‘fun’ and it was fun in a way. A better description might be ‘challenging’. Given time constraints and having to prioritise my photographic work (which is to be submitted for assessment) I am not sure I did the course full justice. There are still many ‘grey’ areas in my understanding of some of the issues the course tackled. What I did get from the course more than anything was a great overview of the range of issues which need to be considered in the Critical Analysis of Visual Culture. I now have a good overview of the subject, if not a detailed understanding across the board. It also taught me what kind of questions to ask. I would like to thank my tutor Dr Pauline Rose, who was very patient when my assignments took a lot longer than expected and who always gave very comprehensive and constructive feedback.

Onwards to Photography 3: Your Own Portfolio my final course for my degree.

Advertisements

Assignment four: Visualising the ‘other’

Assignment Four of the Understanding Visual Culture course requires the student to choose one or more topics covered in Part four: Looking and Subjectivity and to write a formal academic essay critiquing a chosen text in terms of these topics. My essay focuses on Richard Dyer’s ideas on ‘whiteness’ and Laura Mulvey’s thoughts on ‘gendering the gaze’. My chosen text is the 1956 film Forbidden Planet directed by Fred M Wilcox. The stars of the film are Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen.  The characters and plot of the film are thought by many to be based on Shakespeare’s Tempest.  It was the first science fiction film to be based entirely on another planet away from Earth. On its release it failed to capture the imagination of audiences but now it is a cult classic, and is seen as a precursor to many subsequent science fiction films.

Francis and robot Robbie - key characters from the film Forbidden Planet

Francis and robot Robbie – key characters from the film Forbidden Planet

My text can be found here:

Forbidden Planet Text

And my tutor’s feedback is here:

Tutor Feedback Assignment Four

Assignment three: Decoding advertisements

As I will not be submitting my work on this course for assessment, I have not been particularly vigilant when it comes to posting my work on this blog. I have decided to bring the blog mostly up to date by posting details of the assignments I have completed and the response of my tutor to my work.

This post covers Assignment three which involved choosing a current advertisement or advertising campaign and drawing on the work of Barthes and others undertake a structural analysis to show how it derives and conveys its meaning. I chose the advertisement for ‘Compare the Meerkat.com’ as my subject matter.

Compare the Market.Com Advertisement

Compare the Market.Com Advertisement

Here is my submission to my tutor.

Assignment 3 Decoding Advertisements

My tutor’s response was quite positive…It turned out that Alexander the Meerkat is her favourite advertising character!

Greenough, 416177, Ass. 3 feedback

Assignment Two: the displaced image

I am long overdue posting my latest work on the blog… I have now completed assignment two and received feedback from my tutor. The work was regarded as ‘competent’ by my tutor which is I believe a fair assessment. I questioned myself whether I had put my heart and soul into the work and I think I might have done better. I completed most of the work quite quickly and then had a significant time lapse before finishing it off. As a result I lost my flow. My tutor also recommended that I make specific references to my sources from within the text which I will do from now on. She also provided very valuable insight into the work of the artists which I had selected. An overview of the work I submitted is set out below.

Introduction 

This assignment is about exploring the ways in which artists and designers use the work of others in their own art and the effects that this has on the understanding of meaning. 

The scope of the assignment required that I find three examples of work in which the work of others is incorporated and three examples where the work appropriates copies or references everyday objects and reuses them as works of fine art. 

For the former I have selected the following works: 

  • The Artist’s Studio – The Dance by Roy Lichtenstein
  • Canal Zone Invitation by Richard Prince
  • Fountain, after Marcel Duchamp by Sherrie Levine 

In the case of work appropriating/referencing everyday objects I  selected: 

  • Costermonger’s Barrow II 1991 by Michael Landy
  • Bed by Robert Rauschenberg
  • Delores James 1962 by John Chamberlain 

Reflections on the Annotations 

What is abundantly clear from my review of the selected works is that there are many ways in which other works of art and everyday objects can be used and referenced within other works of art. 

In the case of Lichtenstein, he references several other works by both himself and Matisse in creating The Artist’s Studio – the Dance. His work however is not a straight copy. It is consistent with his broader style, which is comic book in appearance. My take on this is that by referencing works thought of as ‘high’ art he was raising questions about the elitism of the art world, although Lichtenstein’s own view on this is far from clear. 

Richard Prince’s work is based on appropriated photographs from a French photographer Patrick Cariou.  Prince, in his own words, ‘[doesn’t] really makes comments with any of [his] work’. This is perhaps why he was insufficiently persuasive to win a court case brought by Cariou for copyright infringement. The judge found in favour of Cariou because Prince’s work was not in her opinion sufficiently transformative. Prince’s appeal has been lodged and the outcome will be known soon. Personally I think it is possible that Prince was adapting Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians to comment on broader issues of race and identity in society. A less charitable view however might be that he was taking shortcuts to exploit a gullible art market. 

Sherrie Levine’s use of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain as a basis for her own work is curious. In the past Levine has appropriated works by other artists as a means of challenging Modernist notions of artistic originality. The choice of Duchamp’s work is however seems a strange one as Duchamp and the Dadaists were also challenging the prevailing assumptions about what constitutes art through their ‘anti-art’ movement.  Is Levine now challenging Duchamp’s challenge?

Landy’s Costermonger’s Barrow literally presents an everyday object as a work of art. It seems to reference earlier works by Duchamp and other Dadaists from the earliest 20th century. It may also be referring to modern capitalist society’s  ‘mindless overproduction of material goods’, to quote Jean Tiguely, an artist who has been a great influence on Landy. 

Rauschenberg used his bed as if it were a ‘canvas’ to produce a work of art. Rauschenberg presents his work, as art rather than anti-art, but also expresses the view that art has ‘everything to do with life’. I find his work intriguing as the unmade bed in itself, with its dirty sheets and indentation, raises many questions in the mind of the viewer. 

Chamberlain simply seems to have used scrap from old cars as ‘art supplies’ to produce what he intended as expressionistic pieces. By presenting them in a gallery setting, sometimes mounted on the wall the materials suggest new meanings far from their original purpose. 

What I have learned from this assignment is that there are many ways in which other art works and everyday objects can be referenced in one’s art. In all the examples I reviewed the original work or object takes on a new significance or meaning. That said interpretation of meaning is in itself problematic. Most of the artists I reviewed have been reluctant to clarify their intentions. Most likely this is because it is now generally accepted that viewers attribute meaning to works of art based on their own background and experiences and that they will also be influenced by the context within which they are viewing or experiencing the work. However, at the same time this reluctance to spell out how the artist has transformed the original work or object is raising interesting questions over copyright for works involving the appropriation of art.

PDF files of the annotations can be found here:

Rauschenberg bed

Prince Canal Zone

Lichtenstein artists studio

Fountain Sherrie Levine

Costamonger annotation

Chamberlain Dolores James

Assignment one: the interaction of media

Introduction 

This assignment is an investigation of how artists since the beginning of the 20th century have been influenced by new media, such as photography, film, television etc rather than traditional painting. I have analysed works by the following three artists to consider this question:

Thomas Demand

Richard Prince

Chuck Close

Each is discussed below.

Thomas Demand 

Thomas Demand was born in 1964 in Munich. He studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and Goldsmiths College in London. He originally trained as a sculptor but has developed a photographic practice involving the construction of life-size models out of paper and cardboard. (Guggenheim, 2011)

The work I have chosen to study is Demand’s Corridor, 1995 Chromogenic process print with diasec. 183.5 x 270 cm. (below)

Corridor, 1995 Chromogenic process print with diasec. 183.5 x 270 cm by Thomas Demand

The work is a photograph of a paper model sculpted by Demand. The model is based on an original photograph, culled from the media. He most often chooses banal, yet historically relevant, photographs as his source material. Corridor for example represents the corridor outside the apartment of the American mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. When constructing the model, he carefully removes traces of human intervention in the scene. The finished sculpture is photographed using a large format camera and then destroyed.

On the face of it the work is a banal photograph of a corridor in a building. However when one looks closer something seems wrong. Everything looks too clean. There are no traces of human activity. There are points of detail missing – no switches on the light fittings and no handles on the doors. So just what is it that we are seeing? This is the question that Demand is posing. His work challenges our perceptions of the reality. The work of art is three times removed from the original scene it depicts. It is a photograph of a sculpture of a photograph.

He is also questioning how an artist is able to express their intentions through different forms of visual representation. In an interview with Alexander Kluge Demand comments  ‘You can walk around a sculpture as often as you like, and with photographs – mine are very large so that, as with the sculptures, you can also walk around them – you have a moment and my particular angle of vision. My tyrannical condition, as it were, is that I prescribe your vision’ (Kluge, 2006). Essentially what Demand is saying is that by photographing his sculptures he is not only able to insist upon what we see but also how we see it. By so doing he makes his artistic intention absolutely clear.

Richard Prince 

Richard Prince was born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone, then a United States territory. He moved to Boston in 1954. In 1973, after applying to the San Francisco Art Institute without success, he moved to New York, where he became familiar with Conceptual art. Working in the Time-Life Building as a preparer of magazine clippings, he became aware of the possibilities of advertising imagery and began to use this as the basis of his art. (Rosenberg, 2005)

One of his best-known works is Untitled (Cowboy), 1989 Chromogenic print 50 x 70 in. (127 x 177.8 cm). (below). What Prince did was to “re-photograph” an advertisement for Marlboro Lights, but removed the picture of the cigarette pack, the advertising copy (“The spirit of Marlboro in a low tar cigarette”), and the Surgeon General’s health warning. He produced a gallery-sized print of the photograph and represented it as a unique piece of art.

Untitled (Cowboy), 1989 Chromogenic print 50 x 70 in. (127 x 177.8 cm) by Richard Prince

In some senses Prince’s work references earlier work by Andy Warhol who produced images of boxes and cans of consumer goods. It is essentially a conceptual piece commenting on how the advertising industry hijacks and even creates American myths to sell consumer products. Prince believes his work is about photography and how photography is used. In a 1992 interview Prince stated ‘I mean I still think it was about how photography and certain media representations are like the Antichrist. It gets me angry, some of these representations, the way that media manipulates and doesn’t tell the whole story’. (Whitney, 1992).

By presenting in a large print for gallery exhibition he also forcefully demonstrates the importance of context is when photographs are read. A Marlboro advert in a magazine is easily overlooked, whereas a large photograph in a gallery commands attention.

Prince’s appropriation of photographs challenges the concepts of ownership and authorship. His work also probes how through photography the mythical status of cowboys, bikers, customized cars, and other icons have been used in the construction of American identity.

Chuck Close 

Whilst American Chuck Close is a painter, he has clearly been heavily influenced by photography. He paints in a style known as photorealism that emerged in the USA in the late 1960s. It involves the making of a work of art, which is an exact recreation of an original object (in the case of sculpture) or photograph (in the case of painting). Close has been a leading artist in this field.

Close’s Big Self Portrait (1967-1968) is one of his early works and is a prime example of photorealism. (below)

Big Self Portrait (1967-1968) by Chuck Close.

To produce this portrait he made a photograph of himself onto which he drew a grid. He transcribed the content of each element on the grid onto a much larger canvas to produce the final painting. (ThinkQuest, 2011). The grid he used for Big Self Portrait was very fine and from a distance was not apparent to the viewer. From close up however the painting becomes more abstract. In a sense when viewed close up his paintings can be compared those of the abstract expressionists whose work had no clear focal point. On the other hand the realistic nature of the paintings viewed from a distance represented a move away from the abstraction of earlier artists.

The technique applied by Close is one which dates back to the Renaissance masters and was later also adapted by contemporary billboard painters. The process is important to Close. In his own words he has ‘embedded in the work itself is all kinds of information about how it got made’. Viewers can ‘decode the process and figure out what happened’. His paintings are also very large. His view on this is that ‘the bigger they are the longer they take to walk by’, indicating that he wants his work to be studied. (Kosters, 2010)

In 1988, Close had a spinal blood clot, which left him a quadriplegic, unable to move either his legs or his arms. Over time he recovered some use of his arms, but he clearly had to develop a new way to paint. His continued in his signature style of painting portraits of heads from source photographs which he now allowed his assistants to grid off. However, he moved away from exact replication of the elements in the grid towards a technique akin to pointillism as illustrated by this detail from a recent untitled self-portrait shown below. From a distance the subjects remain clearly recognizable.

Untitled Self Portrait (detail) by Chuck Close

Close does not like the terms “photorealism” and “superrealism”. In a recent interview he stated that he has always been “interested in the artificial as the real,” and that mark making has always been important to him. In his view it is this physicality that distinguishes painting from photography. (Kosters, 2010).

References

Guggenheim. (2011) Collection Online: Thomas Demand b. 1964, Munich. The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation (SRGF). Available from:

http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/show-full/bio/?artist_name=Thomas Demand&page=1&f=Name&cr=1

Kluge, A. (2006) Thomas Demand In Conversation with Alexander Kluge. Saatchi Online.

Available from:

http://magazine.saaatchionline.com/culture/reports-from/los-angeles-reports-from/thomas_demand_in_conversation [Accessed 30 November 2011]

Rosenberg, K. (2005) Artist: Richard Prince. New York Art. Available from:

http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/11815/ [Accessed on 2 December 2011]

Whitney Museum of American Art. (1992) A Conversation with Richard Prince. American Suburb X. Available from: http//www.americansuburbx.com/2011/04/interview-conversation-with-richard.html  [Accessed on 5 December 2011)

ThinkQuest. (2011) Chuck Close (1940-present). Oracle ThinkQuest Educational Foundation. Available from: http://library.thinkquest.org/C0118063/time/close.htm [Accessed on 1 January 2012]

Kosters, B. (2010) Interview with Chuck Close. Fnews Magazine, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Available from:  http://fnewsmagazine.com/2010/05/interview-with-chuck-close/ [Accessed on 1 January 2012]