OCA weekender bulletin: Getting the most from your tutor.

I read the article : ‘Getting the most from your tutor’ by Bryan.

In summary :

·        The student/tutor relationship is not as easy as in a typical university

·        Look to see if you can attend a study trip by your tutor-in order to meet them in person

·        It is courteous to let your tutor know your assignment dates, or any delays so they can plan their workload

·        Always label logs/blogs clearly, and make them easy to navigate for your tutor.

·        Thank your tutor for their reports (which have taken some time to produce)

·        Go through your report in your Log//Blog to maximise it’s learning potential

·        Look up any artists which have been recommended  as learning material

·        Be enthusiastic about the broader subject area as a whole

·        Refer to old reports, which shows you are learning from them.

 My reflections upon my last tutor:

I did find the relationship difficult, as I did not properly commit to the module. My assignments were generally submitted eratically, and had no schedule.  My learning log was criticised for its lack of clarity, which means it was difficult to follow. I did thank my tutor for her feedback and go through her reports thoroughly, but lost enthusiasm towards the end of the module because my reports were critical. I researched the artists which she recommended in order to consolidate my learning. However during the module I lost enthusiasm and always struggled to engage properly with the broader painting subject as a whole. Overall it was not therefore surprising that my relationship with my last tutor was a bit distant. For my next module I will try to  remedy the situation and improve the student/tutor relationship.


OCA bulletin: A finger on the pulse of illustration

I read the OCA weekender bulletin, and chose one interesting article to consider and summarise.

1. A finger on the pulse of illustration :by Jo Davies • 29 August 2016 

 The author says that illustration is not an easily defined practice- though some think it is.

Although traditional briefs such as children’s illustration exist, there are also many other spheres, such as projection, ceramic painting, and video game/ virtual reality contexts, and these are in no way marginal pursuits.

 Illustration cannot be defined by the response to another’s brief either, as many illustrators pursue their own creative practice to complement their illustration briefs, or self-publish and market their own work- which blurs the boundary between illustration and Fine art.

Although making millions in illustration is not common, the author also says that the preconception that illustration is often just a ‘cottage industry’ (t shirt printing, small scale arts fairs etc…) is also a misrepresentation. Illustration can be BIG BUSINESS, and many illustrators make a living out of it, or as part of a portfolio career.  

There are many new technologies and formats used by illustrators, as well as traditional ones, and Illustrators are making significant cultural contributions and altering the way we look at the world.

Modernism, Structuralism, Post-modernism, Post-structuralism.

I read the OCA broad introduction to the following terms, and wrote a synopsis.
1) Modernism: An early 20th C movement which grew out of the ideas of Freud and Marx, and was concerned with the development and improvement of the human, in mind and body. It covered both artistic, literary, social, and philosophical areas, and included movements such as Cubism and Dadaism. Its essential foundations are Marx and Engels criticism of Capatilism, ‘Das Kapital’. It also encompasses change, and the experience of the urban society.
2) Structuralism: This movement, straddling Modernism and post-Modernism, told that the meaning of anything was in the object’s structure, and includes the study of semiotics , where meanings are distilled from objects.
3) Post-structuralism: This took the search for meaning outside of the given object.
4) Post-Modernism: This idea was that the meaning of an object was to be found outside of the object not within. Meaning was connected to the viewer, their relationships, and the society in which they live.

Project-Fetishising the object of your eye


Article: The scoptophilic instinct and identification : by Otto Fenichel

P327 The Visual Culture Reader


Para 1

Readers are in some way devouring the text unconsciously  …..(Strachey)

The text is not always clear- the sentences are too complex… eg line 8 ‘another conclusion which…..’….. what are oral incorporation tendencies?? – perhaps it would be clearer if reading in the original article.

Reading may be incorporating things into our egos, and may involve losing other things at the same time.

Some may gain erotic feelings through eating, some through reading, (and some do both together)


Looking as devouring: eg.  The wolf and little red Riding hood, lots of other examples.


In magic ‘looking’ can equate to devouring…. or rendering someone defenceless or paralysed by a look  (the vampire’s gaze on his victim)


Dracula hypnotises a victim (Dracula, 1957)



Also snakes and their victims, hypnotists and their ‘victims’,

Freud says the eye often symbolises the penis.

But often the eye is unmistakably acting as a mouth……

Andersen’s (Hans Christian ?) story of the tinderbox involves the eye as a symbol of the erection.

The eye is both actively sadistic and passively receptive of the ‘victim’.

Para 4

The eye can act in games, by placing a spell of imitation eg. in the jungle book Kaa the snake makes the monkeys imitate his dance … and they dance into his mouth!

Can i think other examples of imitative magic??

In the  60’s horror ‘The Sorcerers’ with Boris Karloff and Ian Ogilvy…’ the old couple use a machine to hypnotise a young man, and can see and feel all he does, and can direct his actions!!!


The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves


In psychoanalysis the ‘magic gesture’ is the symptom we want other people to do

(to us ????- what about masturbation?).

Para 5

Looking as identifying- children seeing their parents having sex.

Para 6

Looking glass (mirror PH? ) magic and folklore. Mirrors often used here

They change the relationship between the ego and the non-ego… (not sure what this means practically yet).

My examples of mirrors/mirror like objects in films

Dorian Grey Represents the ageing of Dorian because Dorian thinks Beauty is the only thing worth  its place.
Hammer House of Horrror- The Guardian of the Abyss A scrying glass is central to the action
The  king who must look for a magic mirror in order to improve his health To find the new him, he must work on his life,(gets up early every day, and goes to bed early) and after this all mirrors are magical- they show him rejuvenated!
The Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. a mirror, which, according to Albus Dumbledore, shows the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”-Harry sees his parents alive again with him.
Mirror of Galadriell-in the Lord of the Rings. Shows images of far off places and times.


ⅠⅠ.         The scoptophilic instinct is a natural part of sexual instinct- we go from looking to doing the sex act. As in life in general, the eye/sight may be the most important sense in sexual forepleasure.

The visual scoptophilic desire can be repressed, and can cause psychoses such as viewing the world through other senses or concepts.

The object of the instinct is to look at the sexual object and share in its experience.

‘Scoptophilic perverts’ : are defined as wanting to look and thereby share the experience of another couple. He says that these people generally do it in a homosexual sense.

Is watching Pornography Scoptophilic- i think so, and  you want to share the experience- in my case with the woman and without the man .

Looking  as destroying or consuming is also part of the scoptophilic instinct, as in sadism.

ⅠⅠⅠ.  Defn:  Pregenital – pertaining to the early stages of psychosexual development (oral and anal), before the genitals have become the dominant influence on sexual behavior.

Sentence 1 is very complicated !

Incorporation is like ‘’I wish what i see to enter into me’’

This entrance can be through several portals,  skin, lungs, oral, and also the eye.

Is the desire to incorporate a seen object/s the same as the desire to experience the object/s ?

Can things be incorporated through the eye?

Empathy, introjections and identification are related, but i m not clear how!

The arguments in this essay are complex (language, concepts, length of sentences), and consequential , so if you cannot grasp one argument, the next tends to be difficult.

Ⅳ        Para2

Looking for sexual gratification is more staring and fixed and active than ordinary looking

The author gives us no evidence for this, and even says that it can be argued that it’s no more active than ordinary worldly looking experiences (Freud thought this too).

It’s stated that libidinal seeing is the same as ordinary seeing, but is perhaps more intense and has a stronger motor element.

All this seems quite woollArty and little evidence is quoted (compare the article on Modernist painting by Clement Greenberg). As a biologist I struggle to understand the complex quasi biological language- what would others do??! Eg. ‘ the stronger motor component’ presumably means that more  afferent and efferent motor neurones  are firing eg. to the genitals, lips, etc??? But he does not make this clear. The next sentence seems to clarify that seeing in a sexual (or any archaic/primitive sense) is associated with motility (movement?), more than ordinary seeing, but that any seeing cannot be separated from a host of other bodily activities.

A primitive seeing joins up the quadruplet of stimulus- body- thought- active response quite tightly, whereas more sophisticated/later ideas of seeing tend to break this down into separate components such as thoughts/ideas/perception/behaviours.

So primitive thinking is less complex (more motile?), but this less complex way of seeing is said to exist somewhere in or behind more complex seeing also.

Full seeing/perception involves both the sense organs, but also the identification of the object (perhaps as something external to our own body?)

Linking perception to introjections (incorporating or experiencing the seen) is attempted- that introjection is like a primitive seeing where the perception and motility is bound tightly. So libidinal ( ie archaic) perception tends to introject the image, reducing the ‘thoughts/ideas’, and increasing the concept of a more overwhelming and physical experience.

I don’t agree with the penultimate sentence:  line 7 p333, I think the stimuli to the nose (particles) are no more real than the stimuli to sight or hearing (light and sound rays) when it comes to sex!…or perhaps they are- there are arguments both ways. The small particles make up the sex partner’s body (eg sweat particles, secretion particles), but the light and sound waves are as physical as the smell particles, but admittedly they are waves transmitted through air, and don’t exist on the body like smells do.

Ⅵ        Freud recognises the eye as a phallic symbol and ‘to be blinded is to be castrated’.

Definition- Tertium comparationis (Latin = the third [part] of the comparison) is the quality that two things which are being compared have in common. It is the point of comparison which prompted the author of the comparison in question to liken someone or something to someone or something else in the first place.

The eye is similar to the phallus as it is noble and vulnerable. Additionally  ideas of introjections may reinforce the symbolism.

One female patient dreamt of men with normal upper bodies but stone legs and belly- thereby repressing the visualisation of men’s genitals as a child

To be turned to stone by visualising something terrible (eg.  Medusa’s head), is to view the woman’s genitals, and to be castrated by doing so.

Loss of motion and power signifies death/castration /loss of the penis. As the sight viewed is often a staring eye, it is symbolic of a devouring woman’s genitals.

How has the eye achieved an oral (devouring) significance? Probably through the idea of  the eye as a penis.. and by extension a vagina, and by extension a mouth.

Being turned to stone standing for immobility, can be a ‘representation through the opposite’ (Freud), and symbolises the experience of a child seeing the intense movement of his parent’s copulation (the primal scene), and being helpless to its enormity of physical/emotional power. Also the anxious paralysis of breath and muscles would feel like being turned to stone.

Also turned to stone- were Job and his family. This was because one is forbidden to  identify/experience GOD. The bible says thou shalt not view a graven image either.

Also similar to being turned to stone is viewing a stone body (eg. The guest of stone in ‘Don Juan’), where the power is transmitted from the viewer- to the viewed.

Research : the stone guest represents heaven, and is so annoyed with don juan’s behaviour that heaven sends a peal of lightning to consume and kill him http://www.theatrehistory.com/french/donjuan001.html).

The moon is often found in patients to represent a ‘dead man’ , and that one cannot help look, but should be punished for it. It resembles the eye of the hypnotist/snake, and forces somnambulists to walk in a particular way. It is a face, an eye, a primal scene, a scotophilic (libidinal) object.

These ideas lead to the act of looking as being equal to the act of identification, which will finally lead us to the effects of shock and traumas, and our inability to cope with excess and excitement.

Ⅷ      The idea of someone who paints a picture or takes a photo (with the eye), as being magic, and taking something bodily from the object is well known, for example in primitive man or native Americans. Here the eye acts as an organ which robs/bites/removes. X-ray pictures act as an eye that really does look into our bodies, and some patients have developed anxieties around having photos taken or x-rays.

Many people resent and become anxious of having their photo taken, others revel in it ( eg. The selfie, Facebook posts). Is this due to this idea ? I have always thought those people are anxious because they are less photogenic than the others, and do not fear losing something (except by extension their own self esteem when viewing the post ).

The idea of ocular interjection and having one’s genitals bitten off may be part of many people’s shameful thoughts.

Ⅸ   The idea that myopia may be caused by someone  using the eyes for erotogenic reasons too much is common. So the eyes of a scotophilic person may change and not function for normal vision.  It s thought that there’s no beneficial reason for the eye not to focus properly on far away objects ( ie. From the evolutionary model).  Perhaps  myopia is caused by changes in the muscles and tissues of the eye of a scotophilic person , due to the mechanical actions of  over-looking. Perhaps the straining of the eye to incorporate the libidinal image causes this change?

As in much of this article, there is no scientific evidence quoted so the reader does not really know if this is pure hypothesis, or in some way based in fact).Perhaps the evidence exists within the bibliography literature-in which case would citations be more effective for his argument?



Article : Fetishism   Sigmund Freud , p324-326,  Visual Culture: a reader

Para 1 -Fetish ‘eases their erotic life’, and is not necessarily accompanied  by suffering or harm to the men.

Para 2-   the fetish is always the same substitute- for a specific penis- the penis which was important in childhood and lost in adulthood – the penis the boy thought his mum had, but then realised she had not.

What are the reasons (…’familiar to us’) why the boy does nt want to lose the belief in his mum s penis???

Para 3 –     The boy refuses to believe his mum does nt have one, because if she has lost her’s he may lose his penis (and balls?). This is of great psychological  dread for him J. Repression of this thought is a reasonable alternative. He says that there is a sort of unconscious compromise between knowing the mum has, and has not got a penis, and in German its called Verleugnung (Disavowal)

The fetish is the substitute and becomes intensely interesting due to the power of the idea of castration, but there is also always an aversion to the real female genitals.

The fetish is like a protection from castration, but it also allows him , undetected , to obtain sexual pleasure, where normal men have to do complicated things lie wooing/romancing for the same result.

Para 4-      The organs/objects which replace the penis, may be connected with the penis , but also may not. It s as if sometimes the last memory before the idea of castration is held as the memory/fetish, as in a traumatic loss of memory of an event.

In the case of two fetishists, they had ‘scotomized’ the deaths of their fathers- but although the death  was ‘repressed ‘ in one train of thought, other thoughts had accepted the death…. ie the compromise.

Freud thinks if the death ( or any thought ??? ) was repressed  absolutely, this would cause a psychosis.

It makes me want to ask the question do i have any fetishes???? Briefly,  I ve never consciously thought of the castration ideas above. A lot of my sexuality is built around women and their bodies, and I m not scared of their genitals. I do have a very close relationship with my mum, and a distant one from my dad when he was alive. I also came to sex late in my mid twenties.

Objects or ideas which I might classify as my fetish???? I know  what i obsess about – sex, being loved, being found attractive, improving my skills in artistic subjects like art and music, but can these be explained as fetish??

The divided nature of fetishism is shown in many cases. Sometimes the division  (ie. that women are both castrated and not castrated)  can be seen within the Fetish object . Or the division can  be seen in the treatment of the fetish, eg by treating it with both affection and hostility.

How does this relate to the idea of a fetish in African or primitive cultures? Are they the same root??

How is the Fetish used in Hammer house of Horror’s ‘Charlie Boy’ ?


scotomize: In Psychology Psychiatry: to avoid or deny (an undesirable fact or reality) through the creation of a mental ‘blind spot’.

Scoptophilia or Scotophilia:  (Psychiatry) the condition or act of gaining sexual pleasure from openly looking at sex organs or acts

Fetish (free online dictionary) This broadens the definition from the specific Freudian definition.

  1. An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.
  2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality.
  3. Something, such as a material object or nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.
  4. An abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.




The OCA Visual Culture Guide  P20.

My Notes:

Phenomenology: an idea  that effected 20th C artists and philosophers enormously.

‘The unprejudiced descriptive study of whatever appears to consciousness, precisely in the manner in which it so appears’ Martin Heidigger.

This seems a world away from the two articles I ve just read- they seem to explain the observations ad infinitum, in a complicated way.

He advocated re-looking at the world without any suppositions. His ideas were incorporated by Sartre, De Beauvoir, Derrida.



In your BLOG…


How does what you have read help your understanding of why and how we look at things in a ritualised way – for instance going to an art gallery?

Here are some examples of what we may choose to look at in our everyday lives: the art gallery, TV, people and their dress/appearance, the cinema, and the natural environment.   Looking, like reading, may function to incorporate new thoughts in our mind, and also remove old ones. In this sense it is logical that in the stressful 21 st Century life we lead, we might choose to watch so much evening TV, or to go to the cinemas or art galleries in our relaxation time.  It may allow us to replace those ideas which have built up during the working day ( ideas which are often negative, competitive, and anxiety  prone), to be replaced by more healthier thoughts about culture, beauty, comedy, or compassion and love.  Even drama and horror, if viewed vicariously, may allow us to think ‘at least it’s not happening to me’, and to breathe out psychologically.

The idea of devouring images may allow us , in a similar way, to let off emotional ‘steam’ by giving us a feeling of being relatively free, and relatively powerful- whether it be looking at images  of  beautiful landscapes in a gallery (freedom to travel), a glamorous film (freedom to find  people attractive both physically and emotionally), or the freedom to  devour tasty food (in the glut of baking and cooking shows that are currently on air) instead of the Findus ready meal  we know we have in the freezer for dinner.

Perhaps when we move through a busy crowd and notice how men and women are dressed, how they wear their hair, or the way they walk, we are driven by the strong scoptophilic instinct  to be viewing these  people as potential sexual partners. We scan to find those we pass with who we want to experience the intimacy of sex.  A small admission here, that I frequently scan a crowd and enjoy the sight of attractive people – I have no partner so this is probably natural. For those who have   partners, the scoptophilic observation  may allow them to identify and experience a little intimacy  with a stranger. This in turn might allow them to  keep faithful to the (less exciting)  current and/or stable relationship. It may also work the other way though- and tip someone towards infidelity by offering a glimpse of a more exciting lifestyle.

  1. Do the articles suggest to you reasons for staring at someone being at best bad manners and at worst threatening ?

If we stare at someone we are looking intensely. We know that sight is the most powerful sense through which we approach our world and life, and that the scoptophilic (or libidinal) instinct is chiefly made up of visual looking. Also being an archaic form of looking, the scoptophilic stare is potentially latent within a stare which we feel is more refined and less primitive. But if we have it wrong, and have mistaken our intentions, the scoptophilic stare is a necessary prelude to any sexual encounters, and by priming us with ‘forepleasure’ naturally leads (in ontological terms) to sex with the object of desire. So when we stare at someone we must be aware of how complex and powerful,  aggressive, unwanted (or wanted), or dangerous, the act may be in the scoptophilic sense!

Leaving to one  side the scoptophilic issues, nor are we simply on the beginning of a look which could lead us psychologically to expect physical sex. When we stare hard we may equate this to devouring the person (who we instantly make a passive victim) with our eye, and arguably thus our (metaphorical? – psychological?)  mouth, or our vagina, or our penis. Women too,  may stare with their eye  functioning as  a missing (Freudian) penis and not their vagina- and have erotic thoughts of having sex with a partner as ‘the man’).

It does not end there.  By our stare we are also in danger of the hypnotic stare, which  ultimately renders the person  powerless, and immotile. If we decide, we may further incorporate the imitative stare and invite the object to follow our lead and execute any motions which we perform. This obviously leaves them at the mercy of our actions, or unwittingly  instrumental in  any nefarious motions which we may want them to do to others  or ourselves. This active sadistic stare will also be accompanied by a tacit passive request for the victim to look at us, become fascinated, and thus potentially to be the  perpetrator  of  harm or crimes (as well as the victim of them).

In this sense staring is at best an imposition on the object, and at worst, can involve psychological aspects of physical and sexual abuse.  This analysis would appear to warn against the strong interaction of staring at a stranger, in a public place-Be careful how you stare…..



Be careful how you stare……

  1. Can you make any suggestions as to the need for some people to avidly watch television?

As  previously  stated, watching TV in general, may allow us to incorporate less anxious thoughts into our mind, replacing those from stressful days at the office, trips out with the mother-in –law, or visiting the bank manager.  In more specific terms, we may watch a horror or drama on TV, because of the ability of our eye to allow us to feel like we are directing the action, or are the hero (the imitative look). Or, working in reverse, perhaps we may feel like we are thus empowered to take control of our own lives- not necessarily by shooting , fighting, loving, and copulating, in extremis, but in smaller ways such as applying for a promotion,  asking a friend out to dinner, or taking the kids on an adventure holiday.





Perhaps TV with it s vast range of programmes, and all its emotional  range (from miserable, dirty, shameful, to joyous, exciting and loving), is simply the best and easiest way that we can enjoy a fetish in our everyday lives.  The range of emotions we experience are thus reflecting our range of emotions connected to the idea of our mothers castration, and the threat of our own (this idea can be applied to both men and women).  Perhaps the TV is so ubiquitous that it was always an accompaniament to the psychological traumas we had about sex/castration etc when we were young. Those thoughts in adulthood may be repressed  by us, but our mind may relive them by focussing on the memory which immediately preceded  the trauma- ie. Watching or hearing the television.

The television may represent an eye looking at us, and lead us to be hypnotised by it, and perhaps achieve some psychological rest from the busy day, or perhaps we view it as looking upon us and being receptive to us- and thus giving us some extra justification in our difficult and anxious existences. Watching the television in the sense of a latent  archaic/‘scoptophilic’  look, allows us to tightly bind together the TV image and our thoughts and responses (to incorporate or introject or identify the visual image?). This sense of looking is more visceral and exciting, and it s like we are really there alongside all the images w are seeing. The power of this for escaping our humdrum lives is obvious.

To mention but one more possibility, if the eye is a Phallic symbol, as Freud suggested, then  watching TV for a few hours  on an evening is like stimulating our genitals, and is both pleasuring, and also  relaxing.  We can even do it together as a family, and the hidden nature of the symbolism rids it of any sense of shame or embarrassment.

  1. What visual fetishes have you noticed in everyday life-your own or others’?

The extract from Freud neatly allows us to generalise the idea of an object fetish. They are basically substitutes for the child’s mother’s absent phallus, but need not be sexual objects themselves. Due to the mind’s ability to think  about lots of things at once, and it s power to try and protect us from trauma, a fetish could be literally anything that the mind was thinking about at some time before or immediately before the thought of castration occurs. Note though that this definition still ties the reason for the fetish as being explicitly related to the trauma of Castration.  The idea of a fetish as substitute object for any other  concept ( such as that quoted in the handbook- where a city dweller replaces his lack of countryside for paintings of the countryside),  is a broader definition, and is not discussed in either article.

That being said, my fetishes may include

  • Pug dogs, because I find them cute, and attractive, but they are not as difficult to talk to as women.
  • My job as a vet (one visual associated object may be my stethoscope, or my  clinic smock) because, it represents an attractive job to the general population, and thus may (as in all these discussion, the may is debatable) make me attractive and lovable to people.
  • My interest in art, music, history, singing, and the piano (visual objects include books-specific and general, my piano, an intense desire for a GRAND piano), because it may make me appear to be a cultured and sensitive person
  1. Why are people so keen to display wedding photos or family portraits?

The reasons for this may be many-fold. The photo may represent part/or the whole of the photographed person/s, as taken by the camera. So a picture of a dead spouse may remind the viewer of the physical or emotional attributes of their lost spouse. The photo of a young adult on the wall of a parent’s house- reminding them of his/her presence, helps them cope with the sense of loss which they feel now he s gone to university. The photo reminds them of his physical presence. The familiar ‘graduation photo’ represents pride in their child, but must represent (academic) achievement too. The reminder of the achievement passes to all who see the photo- but it is hoped that the achievement does not actively drain away from the graduate as their image is observed on the wall, as more primitive men might have thought.  The owner of a photo of a celebrity in a magazine may be symbolising his power over the subject. This may be a power to take or gain some of their esteem, or wealth, or power, or to take their body-or have the subject take his/her body in a sexual way (the devouring eye).





Project- Modernist art: the critic speaks

Project: Modernist Art: The critic speaks.

I read Art in Theory 1900-2000 pp773-9: Clement Greenberg’s Modernist Painting. (Reading 1, and Reading 2) completed

Response to the article as a whole:

Its a very complex article to read, but I enjoyed it. It felt like I was really exercising my brain by analysing a complex argument and even after 2 readings there were bits which were a little difficult to understand.  However I think I’v e got most of the main ideas now, and understand the writer’s  thoughts and what he wants to say to me.  The text is packed full of difficult ideas- mainly I think due to the subtlety of the arguments (and its explanatory examples, and distinctions), and also because of my lack of familiarity of reading this type of complex writing.

Some of  the ideas  are very difficult and I’m not sure I have made the right conclusion eg. that Modernist ainting is defined by distilling the essence of painting ie elements within painting that are not shown in other arts, but that these other elements do still exist in modernist painting (which is clearly true). Also that even in Modernism, as in  all  art,  Aesthetic Quality is the ultimate  final  property on which to judge, and  that the search for Purity, does not cause aesthetic quality, but that it has coincided with it.

The piece seems to be written by a man who is very skilled in writing and thought, and the argument is presented clearly, slowly, and with good examples to back up or clarify the points made. He seems deeply committed to Modernist art, and art throughout the ages, and he wants to enlighten the reader about what is, and what it’s not. He is at pains to explain to the reader why he thinks that the ideas within Modernism do not make it any more weird or less acceptable than any other period of pictorial art.

Unfamiliar language, and language used in an unfamiliar way:

  • Kantian self-criticism: Kant was the first philosopher to criticise logic using logical elements, so generally this term means self-criticism of a discipline using elements of that discipline.
  • Dialectical tension: Dialectic is the process of arriving at truth through argument (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dialectic), so this term means the difficulties/contradictions within that argument.
  • Illusionist painting: I am more familiar with terms like figurative, realistic and representational than ‘illusionist’, which seems to be used here in the same context.
  • Verisimilitude: The quality of appearing true or real
  • Pictorial art: This seems to mean ‘paintings’ in this context
  • Sculptural painting: Sculptural is defined as relating to the working in sculpture or relief ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sculptural ) whilst the same site’s Thesaurus entry allows ‘relating to sculpture’. In this latter context sculptural painting seems to mean painting which contains elements which suggest 3 D space (such as modelling/form/perspective).
  • Aesthetic consistency: I am unsure what this means within the sentence it is found in (see ‘Difficult sentences’)
  • Subversive tending or intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/subversive)

In general the author uses clear language, and relies on complex argument, rather than complex words. It s not that I don’t understand the words, but that I struggle to follow the intracacies of some of the arguments. I also have a couple of doubts about the consistency of a few of the sentences/terms.

Words and Phrases of special Importance

  • Self-critical
  • Modernist
  • That which was unique and irreducible
  • Limitations of painting
  • Flatness
  • The only and necessary way
  • Representation…. does not abate the uniqueness of pictorial art /All recognisable entities exist in free space (paradox within this argument? I  can see that he later says that its the Association that abates the flatness of pictorial art, but I construe association to be inextricably linked to the word Representation. On the other hand,   perhaps representation and recognisability of an object are not bound together . For example if one man represents an object, and another views it but does not associate anything from it. If an alien ( or a baby?) saw Matisse’s ‘Snail’, and had never seen animals, this would be to him a picture which is ‘pure’ in Greenberg’s eyes. If an adult saw it, and read the title, it would not be ‘Pure’ because the association has destroyed this purity. .
  • Some of the greatest feats of Western painting came ………to suppress and dispel the sculptural
  • Thus by the middle of the 19th C all ambitious tendencies in painting were converging …..in an anti-sculptural direction.
  • Modernism…….made it more conscious of itself
  • Risks have been taken with these, not only for the sake of new expression, but…………to exhibit them more clearly as norms
  • The more……..the norms of a discipline become defined, the less apt they are to permit liberties
  • ………I have had to simplify and exaggerate
  • The first mark made on a surface destroys its flatness
  • Actually that consistency promises nothing in the way of aesthetic quality
  • Self criticism of Modernist art………..has been altogether a question of practice…. and never a topic of theory.
  • The immediate aims of Modernist artists remain individual before anything else
  • Modern art develops out of the past without gap or break.
  • Modernist art has been able to dispense with them ( factors thought to be essential to the making and experiencing of art) and yet continue to provide the experience of art in all its essentials.
  • Most of the things written about contemporary art belong to journalism rather than criticism properly speaking.
  • Without the past of art, and without the need and compulsion to maintain past standards, such a thing as Modernist art would not exist.

Difficult sentences:

‘…effort…to suppress and dispel the sculptural’ I understand the point here, but don’t know enough about the previous four centuries to understand the techniques used to do this.

I m not sure how much we can say that in Manet and the impressionists the question  was  ‘ purely optical as against optical experience modified or revised  by tactile associations’…. surely they  commented on Parisian society, their love of nature etc using non optical methods as well??

‘the further back these limits are pushed, the more explicitly they have to be observed’ a very difficult sentence to clearly grasp in context.

I am not sure I agree about the distinction between the 3 D space created by the old masters, being completely different to the ‘strictly optical third dimension’ of a modernist painting. Surely Modernists like Picasso and Matisse allude to 3D spaces we might consider walking through sometimes?

I find the term ‘aesthetic consistency’ confusing. For this argument to make sense it seems it should be replaced by the term ‘aesthetic quality’ .


In your BLOG…..


What are the author’s main arguments?

Modernism what is it? Para1 . Kant mentioned as first real Modernist

Essence of Modernism P2, Kant example 2.

Idea of criticism using the procedures of that being criticized, first in philosophy, but then in any discipline. P3

The Arts, and each art within this, is  saved from being just entertainment, by showing it has a value not obtained in other activities. This secures its area of competence.  P4 /5

Each art’s unique area was its proper area of competence, and this gives it ‘Purity’, ‘quality’ and ‘independence’.  P6

Modern art is compared to older masters, which used illusion, and were therefore less pure than modern artists. Manet is quoted as the first modernist painter, followed by the Impressionists , and Cezanne, because each drew attention to areas which are quintessentially about painting techniques.   P7

Flatness is cited as the most characteristic, and pure factor in painting, using examples of other characteristics shared by other disciplines. P8

Older painters  set up a ‘dialectical tension’ between the flatness of the support, and the space which was eluded to. Modernist painters don’t do this differently, but they make the flatness and identity of a painting primary, and the contents a secondary matter, reversing the scheme of previous times.  P9

Abstraction in itself is not necessary in modern art, but the conversion of the 3 D space is (relates to P8). He thinks Kandinsky and Mondrian were wrong about this. Representation does not destroy ‘purity’, but the associations of the things represented does.  3 dimensionality is associated with sculpture ( related closely to painting I think), so to reduce the 3D in painting increases its uniqueness with respect to sculpture.  P10

Resisting the sculptural is central to Modernist painting, but this is a continuation of the resistance of western painting to the sculptural over the previous few hundred years.  Emphasising other elements such as colour is argued as being more important in this time than sculptural 3D relief, eg.  Ingres.  P11

The impressionists and Manet turned the dichotomy between  colour and drawing into that between a purely visual experience and one which is ‘modified or revised by tactile associations’ (presumably this refers to sculptural or 3D illusions, although  it could also be interpreted as an absence of the sign/signified (ie. associations of pictures with concepts) ( see P10).  Just like Ingres became flatter than previous artists, so cubists and Cezanne became flatter than the artists they revolted against (the Impressionists). There seems to be a central evolving towards the flat.  P12

Other characteristics of pictures such as the frame, finish, texture, contrast (though not unique to painting) have also been explored and pushed about (between the very simplified to the very complicated)  in order to both help expression, and to define them as normal elements of painting, and is still continuing in abstract art ( should the author use Modernist art here to be wholly consistent? P13

Although Modernist art is frequently associated with liberties/liberation, the  process of defining and exploring particular  elements makes them a limiting condition which must be applied for a work to be a painting/picture. These elements can be pushed to the extreme, but nevertheless are ‘traditional’ in their use of the element eg. Mondrian’s reference to the frame in his modern paintings make them more traditional than Monet’s later works (the elements of these are not discussed). P14

This paragraph is important because it admits that the author has taken an extreme route in stating his examples and arguments.  However it does suggest this may be a basis for the impression that some of the authors arguments are a little spurious/paradoxical/imprecise. (for example P10). P15

Science is referred to as the ultimate Kantian subject , in that science or its disciplines are criticised by the elements which it contains, and no other. Perhaps this is an old fashioned view however- eg. Scientists (and science) can be criticised for being male-dominated and sexist, and science can often be criticised by ethical arguments (eg the science of atomic fission V the events of Nagasaki and Hiroshima).  The neo-impressionists are forgiven when they ‘flirted’ with science (quite perjorative language). However, neo impressionist works, definitely do not ‘make no reference to anything given in other orders of experience’. This particular ‘exaggeration ‘ by the author is my main difficulty.  I don’t know ANY pictures which completely exclude  non-visual  associations (even Maleevich’s Black Square  has several associations with the non visual eg. when it was first exhibited it was hung in a position which was usually associated with  Orthodox holy Icons (Graeme-Dixon, 2008, p440).  P16

The  author says that the consistent paring down of modern art to its purest elements, was not the cause of the quality of Modern art , but that it was coincidence, and that in the end aesthetic  consistency ( I think aesthetic quality is more precise), is the true basis on which to judge art. However I think a more realistic view of ‘Modern’ art (and I think the same may apply to some  ‘Modernist art’), is that the aesthetic quality of it has often been questioned (often by the non-elite) such as  Equivalent V111, 1966, by Carl Andre- the famously shocking bricks in the Tate Modern. And the truth is  and that its quality has often been judged (by elites) on the exploration and testing of just these artistic ‘methods and means’, and not its Aesthetic quality. P17

Modernist artists have developed their analysis of their art through practical painting and not through a great theorising on the subject (with a few exceptions), which seems to suggest the author dislikes an idea of modernist painters who over analyse  drily, in ivory towers.  Instead Modern artists develop their methods and evolution like all other artists in history- through individual expression, and being part of a living group, who may influence one another, but not self consciously so. Is this a little paradoxical for a discipline whose essence is to criticise its own methods using those elements unique to itself? P18

Modernism is seen as being a natural continuation of all (western?) art preceding it, and will be itself followed by other periods of artistic development.  P19

Modernism is subversive in its ability to show that not all elements thought to be essential in art , are essential in art.  It has not stopped us valuing  artists such as Leanardo, Rembrandt etc. It has even allowed us to revive other artists ( like El Greco, Vermeer). The author does not say what distinguishes these 2 categories of artists so the reasons for this are unclear. He does state that Modernism has clarified that some of these older artists were valued for the wrong reasons (again not discussed).p20

The author shows his cynicism about much of art criticism in both past and present, referring to it as journalism rather than  proper criticism. He criticises these journalists for always  behaving the same way-  it uses false claims  to attract attention- that this or that period or movement is fundamentally different than the next or previous, and that it has been liberated from its norms such that absolutely anyone, however uneducated,  can fully understand it. He refutes this, saying that each movement including Modernist painting  always turns out to be ‘in the intelligible community of taste and tradition’.  P21

A summary of the Argument

The author discusses what modernist art is and what it is not. Modernist art uses its own characteristic elements to criticise itself. This idea was first introduced by the philosopher  Kant, and reaches its apotheosis in science. It strives to find the elements which are unique to pictorial art (and found in no other discipline  eg sculpture, theatre…), so that it can be thought important in its own right, and not simply an unimportant ‘therapy’.

The author discusses at length the different elements which can be found in art, such as the association of images, the framing of images, textures, colours, an illusion of 3-dimensional space, an allusion to literature, and flatness. Flatness is stated as the purest element of modernist art. The author admits that during his argument he has used exaggeration in order to make his points- eg no picture can be truly without association once any mark is made.

Modernism attempts to isolate and highlight artistic elements, but in this respect is  not destructive or subversive . In this respect Modernism was alluded to by the old masters from 400 years ago,  when they tried to concentrate on elements like colour  in contrast to ‘drawing’ (illusionist  draftsmanship?), and by more recent painters  (Manet, the impressionist, and post impressionists).

Like all other movements and periods, Modernist art is essentially practical, and driven by artists as  doers, not theorisers.  The rigor of the investigation and manipulation of artistic elements in Modernism has come about as a coincidence-the individual artist’s creative expression is always the main driving force for the production of art. One should always judge art on Quality, and not Methods.

Modernist painting is a continuation of the past and is not fundamentally different from other art movements. It is certainly not understood properly by journalists who exaggerate, and misrepresent it, as they have all other artists/periods,  because that is just what journalists do! Like all other art, those who seek to understand it must know something about artistic traditions, and artistic elements-  it is not  open to understanding by literally anyone.


Who does he mention and what’s his opinion of them ?

Kant: A revolutionary philosopher

The impressionists: revolutionaries,

Neo-Ipressionists: Mixed feelings- ‘not altogether misguided’

Mondrian, Kandinsky: Mixed, He says they are eminent, but he says they were wrong to think that Abstraction was necessary for Modernism.

Cubists, Cezanne : revolutionaries reacting to 3D sculpturalism.

Critics: He’s very scathing , saying they are wrong in their views, and driven by shallow aims.

The Old Masters are talked of with great respect, David, Ingres, Leanardo etc….


Does he quote others and reference their work?

The author does not use any direct quotes, and references no  specific  paintings, although he references many painters, and the way in which they developed art. Perhaps it would  have been better to use some specific quotes, in order that the reader can see that others’ words can reinforce his argument. Additionally, mention of specific works (‘the last paintings of Monet’ is the most specific reference given) would allow the reader to look themselves at the pictures (or reproductions), and gain further data with which to judge the author’s argument.


My overall feelings on the article.

The article is well structured and written, and the author is clearly a great proponent of Modernist Painting. There are some very interesting and well crafted arguments, and the author is skilled at helping the reader through the text using broad examples, and building up complicated arguments.

However, as has been discussed earlier, there are some signs of the author being a little too enthusiastic, of  exaggerating, of lacking precision in words, and of lacking specific examples to  reinforce ideas, and lacking specific quotes from others who might reinforce his ideas. All these things give the impression that although a skilled writer, the author is a little defensive, and dogmatic, which lessens the readers ultimate acceptance of his argument.

I think on the whole I agree with his ideas (but not all), and many of them are very well stated. The criticisms above came about through several readings of the text, and are my attempt to balance my response to an overall very enjoyable article.  I still have some problems when assessing the aesthetic quality of Modern Paintings, and more generally ‘Modern art’ and do not necessarily agree that Modernist Painting (or Modern/contemporary  art today) is judged by aesthetic quality alone.