Project- Leisure Time and Consumerism- flâneur

The Modern World

By convention, aspects of the modern world may be split into 3 categories. Modernization consists of the technological and scientific advances which were occurring; Modernity was a more subjective cultural and social description of the experience of life under these changes; and Modernism was a way of seeking answers as to why the world had become the way it was (Harrison and Wood, 2003: 128). This small discussion around the idea of flâneur will involve all three categories.

Modern times

When do we consider modern times to begin? I like the following definition: modern times are ‘the circumstances and ideas of the present age’ (Free dictionary, 2003). This allows for a rolling idea of the modern, and is in no way inconsistent with the three definitions above, which are all relative. This discussion starts in the early 19th Century with the development of the Arcades of Paris , and finishes upon the death of the philosopher and thinker Walter Benjamin (1892-1940).

The Paris Arcades

These were developed in the 1820-30’s, and represented a technological and architectural advance in relation to the phenomenon of increasing leisure time and consumerism in 19th Century Paris. They were formed by widening the streets, converting buildings into shops, and installing glass and iron frameworks to cover the arcades and provide shelter and comfort for the shoppers. They were lit by gas lamps, heated, and provided cafes too. Although they were soon superceded by larger buildings and the development of the Department Store, these arcades were the beginnings of the comfortable shopping experience which we know today, developed for an increasing bourgeoisie and consumer society in 19th Century Paris (Woodward, 2007).

The philosopher Walter Benjamin famously used these arcades to investigate and grapple with ideas of modernity. His ‘Paris Arcades’ was a massive and complex project which was left unfinished at his death. The project nevertheless popularised these arcades and helped lead to their preservation in the 1970-80s (Woodward, 2007).

The Flâneur and his relationship to 19th C Paris

The flâneur was a popular concept in 19th Century Paris. The poet Charles Baudelaire described it well in his book ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. A flâneur was someone ‘dominated, if ever anyone was, by an insatiable passion, that of seeing and feeling’, and who was ‘to be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world’. Most importantly, he was ‘looking for that indefinable something we may be allowed to call ‘modernity’ and sought to ‘extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory.’  (Baudelaire (no date) cited in Birkerts, 1982(1983))

Walter Benjamin’s flâneur

Baudelaire’s flâneur was specific to 19th C Paris. During Walter Benjamin’s later investigations on this subject he saw that the demise of the flâneur was correlated with the progress of Modern times. He appropriated the idea of flâneur in an expanded form, and it became a motif in his writings (Birkets, 1982 (1983)). As well as suiting his style of working which involved collecting and commenting on topics, the idea may also have allowed him to understand and legitimise himself, as his life had also included failure, lack of acceptance and a sense of social isolation (he had no wife and family for example) (Birkets, 1982 (1983)).

Benjamin’s flâneur was a collector of all types of phenomena and sensory details, not just fashion. The apparent idleness of the flâneur was contrary to the modern ideas of work and industry (Birkets, 1982 (1983)), but he believed that this idleness was necessary to perceive the truth. Interestingly, I recently had a conversation with a friend where I discussed that I had down-sized my full-time job in order to develop other working opportunities. He quoted the following

‘It is  necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant.’
James D. Watson (Co-discovered the      structure of DNA with Francis Crick) (izquotes, 2017)

Some of the ideas concerning modern society and ones relation to one’s own Modern life, which I will discuss later, were very much behind my sense of anxiety at the down-size, but my friend’s insightful comment gave me considerable optimism, and helped me through some uncertainty.

Benjamin believed that the truth has been scattered into pieces by modern life and that it could ultimately be pieced together by the flâneur (Birkets, 1982 (1983)). His biographer said that ‘he was concerned with the correlation between a street scene, a speculation on the stock exchange, a poem, a thought….’ (Hannah Arendt 1968, cited in Birkets, 1982 (1983)) .

Birkets describes Benjamin’s flâneur as a medium through which the external is captured and made sense of, in terms of both history and truth (Birkets, 1982 (1983). However he admits that Benjamin’s flâneur is not totally passive, and that there is an implied ability to discriminate which ‘pieces’ relate to one another and how they relate to the truth. This is perhaps a warning that Benjamin’s ultimate goal, that flâneur allowed one to give up intellectuality and simply feel the truth, was flawed Birkets, 1982 (1983) . Benjamin’s friend, the Marxist Theodor Adorno, criticised areas of the Arcades when he read it, telling Benjamin that the proposed correlation between the detail and the structure, using Marxist methods, was not rigorous and lacked causal explanations Birkets, 1982 (1983). Birket suggests that this was because Benjamin was too ‘atuned to the singular sensory details……’ Birkets, 1982 (1983).

Focussing on the modern once more, Benjamin thought that experiencing modern life was akin to experiencing and surviving a series of ‘shocks’ and that the price may be ‘the disintegration of aura in the experience of shock (Benjamin (no date) cited in Birkets, 1982 (1983). ‘Aura’ was central to Benjamin’s thought- it is found when we perceive the world in a way in which the world can perceive us too, and it guarantees an authentic experience. To get an aura of the past, involuntary memory was crucial. This memory, unlike voluntary, was independent of habit and personal projection Birkets, 1982 (1983) – it seems to be more visceral and less contrived.

Flâneur and the mental life

Benjamin was not alone with his ideas about the shock of modern life, and its stifling of the aura and of ultimate truth. The sociologist and philosopher George Simmel (1858-1918) believed that the problem with modern life was that the metropolis changes so frequently. The sights, sounds, stimuli, and the feelings we have as a reaction to them make it hard for us as individuals to maintain our identity (Simmel, 2003:132). This concept seems to mirror Benjamin’s ‘shock of the modern’. Simmel extolled that modern man becomes a subject of the modern world in so many ways (just think of our working lives both now and then, where he has punctuality, exactness, expectation, and discipline thrust upon him). This sense of being a subject reduces the life which one feels in oneself, which Simmel counters is a more instinctive and sometimes irrational process (Simmel, 2003:133).

Simmel proposes that modern man develops a protective reaction to the overstimulation, which he calls Blasé, which both prevents proper discrimination in an observer, and also causes us to depersonalise within our relations with our ever increasing numbers of neighbours and contacts. This depersonalisation is also clearly seen within the anonymity of the mechanisms of economic trade (Simmel, 2003:132). Simmel described the result of ‘the preponderance of what one may call the ‘objective spirit’ over the ‘subjective’ spirit’ in modern culture -that modern man has a ferocious ‘urge for the most individual personal existence’(Simmel, 2003:135). Both Simmel and Benjamin seem to agree that modern life has short-circuited our emotional systems such that we can no longer see the truth within ourselves or in our history- and that a change is needed.

Modern times and Modern art

In the latter part of the 19th and the start of the 20th Century, the art world was changing in a drastic manner, so drastically that it was almost turning in on itself. At this time Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) discussed Expressionist art, using the term broadly as a turning away from Impressionism (Bahr, 2003:117). This art included the Cubists (such as Picasso and Braques), the Futurists (founded by Marinetti), and the Blue Reiter (including Kandinsky and Marc).

This revolution in art (Modernist art?) was described by Bahr in very similar terms to those of Benjamin’s updated flâneur and Simmel’s urge for something more individual. He believed that modern man was in battle with machines and modernity, and that ‘man cries out for his soul’ (Bahr, 2003:119). Not just that- but that ‘Art too joins in…. she cries to the spirit’ (Bahr, 2003:119). This was Expressionism. He proposed that real art was not the Impressionist’s seeing and recording of a natural sensation (an illusion of nature), but precisely the opposite. To the Expressionists, art was the recording of anything that nature did not admit- and that yes they too painted what they ‘saw’– but they did not see as the Impressionists did (Bahr, 2003:117).


In your BLOG…..

How art changed in response to the Modern world (and ideas behind the flâneur)

So in the last part of the 19th Century and the beginnings of the 20th Century we have a sea-change in how artists see and paint the world around them. This might be condensed by saying that this was the beginning of Modern art as we know it today.

In the latter part of the 1800’s Van Gogh painted quickly, and outdoors, and produced canvasses which were completely dominated by his own feelings, and his mental state, which was frequently either manic or depressed. He never sold a painting in his lifetime. In the early 20th Century the German Expressionists were represented by both Die Brücke, and the Blue Reiter groups. Die Brücke responded to the modern world and established art, with a programme which hailed that ‘Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with directness and authenticity belongs to us’ (Kirchner, 2003: 65). These painters were interested in expressing themselves rather than concentrating on the subject. They were completely against the classical art establishment, and had an interest in primitive art, religious art, woodcuts, and (like Van Gogh) art from the Eastern world. The second branch of German expressionism Der Blaue Reiter group included Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Marc was interested in the spiritual and mystical character of the natural world- in response to the modern, the technical and the urban (Harrison and Wood, 2003: 93).

In contrast to the more idealist response to Modernity, extolled by Benjamin, Simmel, Bahr, and importantly, Henri Bergson, the Futurist movement was excited and full of admiration for the Modern world. They based Futurism on a manifesto containing a weird and wonderful story about a group of friends who are involved in a car crash, but are changed irrevocably by the experience, and come to worship all things Modern- cars, factories, speed, machines (Harrison and Wood, 2003: 128-9). These Modern ideas were revered by the group who painted pictures of cars, trains, (and the occasional dog), and suggested their characteristics in paint (such as speed and rotation).



Arendt, H (1968), ‘Illuminations’ in Walter Benjamin, Flâneur: A Flanerie [online] at URL: (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Bahr, H (2003) ‘from Expressionism 1916’ in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (ed.). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 116-121

Baudelaire, C (no date) ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ In Walter Benjamin, Flâneur: A Flanerie [online] at URL: (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Benjamin, W (no date) ‘On some motifs in Baudelaire’ in Walter Benjamin, Flâneur: A Flanerie [online] at : (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Birkerts, S. (1982 (1983)) Walter Benjamin, Flâneur: A Flanerie [online] at (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Free dictionary, 2003 Modern times (defn) [online] at “”>modern times</a> (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (1993). ‘The Idea of the Modern World-Introduction’ In Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (ed.s). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 127-131

Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (2003) Introduction to ‘The ‘’Savages’’ of Germany’ and ‘Two Pictures’ in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (ed.). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 93-95

Izquotes (2017) ‘It’s necessary to be slightly underemployed…’ [online] At (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)

Kirchner, E (2003) ‘Programme of the Brucke 1906’ in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (ed.). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 65-66

Simmel, G (2003) ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ 1902-3 in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (ed.). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 132-136

Woodward, R. (2007) Making a Pilgrimage to Cathedrals of Commerce. [Online] at htp:// (accessed on Feb 7th 2017)



Project- Photography: the new reality

Project: Photography: the new realityNew media

Modernism occurred within the context of urbanisation and industrialisation in the late 19th Century. Photography, film, developments in printing, and mass production of images fundamentally affected the way artists thought and worked (Haveland, 2009:29).



Text: Photography versus Painting. By Osip Brik (1888-1945).

Photography constantly tries to push painting to one side, with painting resisting the action. This process began with the invention of the camera and will end when photography finally displaces painting completely. This sentence seems somewhat tautological at first glance; it seems to say it will only end when it ends. On reflection the author may wish to suggest that the battle will be all or nothing, and that whichever wins, the victory will be absolute.

Photographers say that photography is quicker, cheaper and more precise than painting, and painting cannot rival the photograph for faithful reproduction. Photography moved from portraits through other genres like landscape and genre pictures. Its popularity prompted painters to fight back.

Painting could never be cheaper or faster than photography, so painters built their battle around the claim that painting is more precise. For example, paintings, unlike photos, are coloured. The author then clearly states for the first time, what he thinks about the debate, and where he stands on it; that ‘painters were wrong, and many are still wrong today’ (Brik, 2003:471).

The author admits that humans see in colour, and that painters use colours to reproduce the objects around them, but these colours are not identical to those in nature, because the artist’s media have a ‘different effect on our eyes than the rays of light which give diverse colours to objects’ (Brik, 2003:471). This sentence seems clumsily written (or is it clumsily translated?); he seems to equate colours in media with rays of light transmitted by real objects. This does not compare ‘like with like’. I think there is an argument to be had, but it should compare the rays of light transmitted from real objects with those transmitted from artists’ media. A second argument pertinent here, is that photography when compared to painting, is the product made when light from the object hits the photosensitive paper- there is a direct physical connection, which is missing from the communication of objects via painting. This ‘indexical nature’ of the photograph (Evans, 1993:13) makes it more real than a painting, in this sense at least.

It strikes me at this point that this article is written in a less complex style than many previous articles, and it is more easily understood, but somewhat less sophisticated (so far) in argument and language.

The author then becomes a little more precise saying that the quality and quantity of the colours coming from a palette can never match those of real objects (more precise still would have been an argument involving hue, saturation and possibly tonal value). Photographs cannot reproduce real colours exactly, but at least they do not ‘falsify’ them. This argument seems a little flawed too. It is known that photographs do not accurately represent either the colour or the tonal values within a real scene. Thus black and white photography pushes the natural tonal values of a scene towards the two extremes of light and dark, and colour photography overemphasises the hues blue and red (Albers, 2013:13-14). On the one hand, Brik’s monochromatic photograph seems to falsify the colours, by omitting them and representing them with tonal values, and on the other, these values themselves are distorted from reality.

Returning to the painter, he explains that they do not hold reproduction of reality as the ultimate goal, and realise that ‘painterly colouring’ is more than just reproduction of colours in real objects (Brik, 2003:471). In fact painters, he expands, see their job as using the images of nature to give them ideas which they expand upon and change during the painting process- otherwise they (not Brik) feel they will be merely copyists – like photographers. This argument seems consistent with the view of traditional academic or classical painting held by modernist painters – that they must create using the ideas of reality-and that to simply mimic nature is unacceptable (Malevich,2003:173; Matisse, 2003:72; Schevchenko, 2003:100 ).

At this point I became a little confused again about just where the author stands on the issues. However, rereading the text it is clear that he is on the side of the photographers, but that when he discusses the painter’s ideas, he often discusses them favourably, through their own voice (not his). This communicates an ambivalence of feeling which may be deliberate.

The author then continues, that painters do have a different task to photographers; that photographers ‘reproduce nature’ whilst painters create paintings from reality. This function of painting has been declared since the mid 19th Century in progressive movements such as Impressionism, Cubism and Suprematism, amongst others. Note however that if here the Impressionists are cited as modern re-creators of reality, this classification is not universal, and other writers and painters have considered them just the opposite, producing a ‘superficial realism’….’where even more than with Courbet , the retina predominates over the brain;’ (Gleizes and Metzinger, 2003: 194-5).

Brik now introduces a new painting movement in Soviet Russia. The AKhRR (the Association of Visual Artists of Revolutionary Russia) is striving to return to the idea of reproduction of reality in it’s paintings. The reasons for this are: because it is a time of revolution, and these important times need to be recorded realistically, because many artists using the painterly style found it difficult to sell their work, and that there are many less cultured buyers who do not differentiate between an exact reproduction and an approximation. Brik feels that the AKhRR are foolish to attempt to resurrect ‘so-called painterly realism’ (Brik, 2003:472), because although not perfect, photography will triumph completely over reality painting, if not now, certainly in the future.

He reiterates the photograph’s strengths (cheap, quick and precise) and states that these make it socially more important. Despite this photographers do not think of themselves as important- rather, as inferior artisans when compared to the painterly artists. Brik lists the practices (rituals?) of the painterly society, which reinforce the idea (ideology?) that painting is art, but that photography is ‘merely an insignificant craft’ (Brik, 2003:472). These include exhibitions, catalogues, lengthy analysis of paintings, and the accoutrements of cultured events.

Brik now flips to his own ‘anti-painting’ voice. Photographer’s who try to make realistic photos painterly destroy their craft and reduce its social importance. Understandably, painters follow this path because they seek the recognition given to painters, but Brik strongly believes that they must not attempt to play painters at their own aesthetic game- but to take them on via the defining characteristics of their own medium- the photograph’s faithful reproduction of everyday reality.

This journey is not an easy one, as no artistic theory of photography exists, other than a few tips on technique, and how to make a photograph more painterly. However, some painters have left the discipline of painting, and taken up the challenge of photography, and have even produced results.

Brik believes that if photographers communicate with each other, about their experiences, and fight against painterly photographic technique, a new theory of ‘the art of photography’ is possible (Brik, 2003:473). Like a ‘poacher-turned gamekeeper’, the former painters are best placed to create artistic photography. One such former painter is A. M. Rodchenko, who is now a photographer, producing experimental work. Knowledge of him will help photographers to develop as a profession.

Other questions arising from the piece:

What were the technical characteristics of photography at this time? Monochrome colour , Black and white? How was the camera made?

Brik does not say much about the painter’s counter-attack- what did it entail?

Is this less sophisticated language and argument? Or just translation effects?

How well does the distinction between painting and photography fit the characteristics of Althusser’s ideology?

How important were paintings and photographs in the Russian revolution and Soviet Russia ?



In your Blog

Do you think that Brik’s article points to a practice that was taken up by photographers or other artists to any great extent?

Photography is definitely a practice which became, and still is massively popular in the world. The scholar Nicholas Mirzoeff admits that he and many others were wrong to predict the fall of photography in the 1990’s, and that ‘precisely the reverse has happened with the quantity and significance of photography being greater than ever before (Mirzoeff, 2013:3). The evolution of affordable and easy-to- use cameras has progressed from Brik’s time, through black and white to colour, and from complicated machines and processes, through instamatic cameras, sophisticated digital cameras, and mobile phones, many of which will have a camera built in. This technological age allows the execution and sharing of pictures in seconds. Personal photographs can be uploaded into virtual spaces such as the cloud, instagram, and facebook, and shared with hundreds of people. Because of these modes of sharing and storing pictures, we live in a world which is more dominated by personal images than we have ever known. In 2014 the Independent reported that the number of hand held gadgets (overwhelmingly mobile phones) had increased from nought to 7.2 billion in 30 years- though interestingly, more than half of the world’s people do not have one (Davies Boren, 2014). In the third quarter of 2016, Facebook, driven largely by shared photographs and text, had reached 1.79 billion monthly active users (Statista, 2008).

Photography has proved massively popular as a tool for sociological recording, from amateur family snapshot albums, through Facebook galleries, and including the work of professional photographers (the paparazzi and famous war photographers to name just two genres). The ubiquity of cameras has meant that not just professional, but even amateur still or moving pictures can prove highly socially important. Just as Brik foresaw that the photograph would help record the reality of revolutionary events in USSR, the ubiquity of mobile phones has allowed and facilitated revolutions globally in the 21 st Century.

The ‘’Arab Spring’’ of 2011 comprised a wave of revolutions against dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East, and was closely aligned to the ‘Occupy’ movement which sought to highlight the social inequalities in the world. Downtrodden people began to see more clearly the social and political situations they were enduring, and organised revolutions to escape.The media, including social media, Facebook, and at it’s centre the photograph, was fundamental to this process, both allowing people to see the reality of their own situation, and by allowing the outside world to see the situation through media broadcasting.

Additionally, there are daily media examples of self-recorded, or by-stander recorded images of socially and politically important events such as controversial police shootings, or the close-up images of disasters such as the 9/11 disaster in New York, or the 7/7 train explosions in London. These relations of photography to political and military power struggles, are discussed in ‘Introduction: For Critical Visuality Studies’ (Mirzoeff, 2013). The author claims that a key part of these studies is identifying ‘who claims to control the authority to look’, who ‘is willing to claim the right to look’, and ‘the demand to look on that which authority holds to be out of sight’ (Mirzoeff, 2013).

As Brik wished, the practice of photography has become widespread and socially important. It has also become an artistic discipline in it’s own right, worthy of scholarly analysis and discourse, exhibitions, and artistic and critical respect. Fine art photography is also bought and sold for high prices rivalling paintings in the international art markets. These developments are clearly shown in a criticism of the work of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (Mercer, 1993). Whilst the author is severely critical of the underlying racial fetishism shown in his work ‘Black Males’, he acknowledges that Mapplethorpe has become a star in the eyes of ‘journalists, critics, curators and collectors’ (Mercer, 1993:435). The author discusses the technical skill, thought, and artistry behind these photographs at length, saying the artists ‘characteristic signature (is), the pursuit of perfection in photographic technique’. The price of Mapplethorpe’s photos in the International market in art photography is described as ‘exorbitant’.

Do you find any resonances with Brik’s ideas in contemporary discussions of photography and painting ?

Find and annotate two examples of images that demonstrate the impact of photography on painting. How do these images acknowledge the shift in visual culture that came about with the advent of photography


Carole Bezanken

Carole Benzaken is one of the contemporary artists listed in the book Vitamin P: Painting. The text tells us that she is primarily a painter and is interested in the question of abstraction v representation. This has been a central theme in Art since the mid 19th Century, and Brik acknowledges this debate through his discussion of realism v painterliness (Brik, 2003). This artist allows herself to work between both environments, and takes no ideological stance (unlike most Modernists). Benzaken is also interested in the techniques of photography and painting, often and often integrates both in the same painting. She often uses several styles within a painting showing the range of ‘painterliness’, and often uses photos as the starting point of her work.She is particularly interested in collective public events, such as the funeral of Diana princess of Wales, or busy public scenes such as urban life in LA, and her work focuses on ‘looking and seeing’(Dailey, 2002:40).

Figure 1. La BreaNight, 2002.


  1. The background scene is quite abstract. Is it a busy road with car lights and streetlights at night ( a very photographic scene), or just abstract shapes and colours (a more painterly scene)?
  2. The style is very free and impressionistic, suggesting lack of focus (like an unfocussed photo?).
  3. Within this background we have several circular formats- in the traditional position of the ‘subject’. Except, rather than a main painting subject, the artist has presented several subjects- suggestive of photography not painting (we might even call them ‘snapshots’).
  4. These snapshots are painted in a less painterly, more realistic manner, more representative of the photograph than painting, and are urbanesque, containing buildings and people
  5. Some contain images of sport and musical performances (suggestive of crowd events)-highly ‘photographic’ but less common in paintings.
  6. Compositionally this piece is rather modern- it seems balanced, but in the manner of an exploding planet leaving swirls and vortices in its wake- very different to the compositional techniques of the painter’s at this time.


Merlin Carpenter

David Bussel gives the following thoughts on this contemporary painter, in the book Vitamin P. His work is sceptical to art history and the problems of image making today. He is interested in Painting, authorship, commodity fetishism, translating from photos onto an abstract ground, and the relationship of modernism to technology. He enjoys playing in-jokes with references in paintings, believing these to allow an ‘emptying-out of the signifier’ which allows ‘freeing up (of) meaning and possibility’ (Bussel, 2002:58).

Figure 2. Chairs (1999-2000).


  1. The main subjects are a car and a half dressed woman- typical commodity items in the 21st Century- probably copied from advertising photographs, which are the sine qua non of the modern photographic image. They seem to be painted, but in a more realist, less gestural style than the background, perhaps because they are iconic photographic images. There is little perspective between the two main subjects (reinforcing the modern).
  2. The background is rather complex, looks somewhat like a ‘classical’ painting ( like a Claude landscape). It is less focussed and painted more gesturally (more painterly) than the main subjects. It is a typical painterly genre and incudes painterly compositional ideas such as linear and aerial perspective. It is also Modern however- as it contains modern motor cars.
  3.  The incongruous positioning of the subjects on the background inevitably questions what relationships the two could have in the viewer’s mind. Relationships about importance, subjects, background, message coding, and ideas about Classical and Modern.
      • How much is the woman’s body equivalent to a classical ‘nude’, or to a modern ‘commodity’, is there much difference?
      • The same could be said for the car- is it a form of transport or just a commodity to be bought and sold?
      • The background is more complex, gestural, than the woman-car –cap trio. Does this imply that it is more delicate and important (suggested by the signifier technique) or less important (suggested by the signifier position in the background) than the subject trio?
      • Many of these suggestions hinge around the ambiguity within the language of these images. One may interpret them in several ways



Figure 1. Benzaken, C. (2002) La Brea Night [acrylic on canvas], at

_0/WKoFQDbZRqQ/s1600/bubble+2.jpg (accessed on 11 December 2016).

Figure 2. Carpenter, M (1999-2000). Chairs  [Acrylic on canvas] at (accessed on 11 December 2016).



Albers, J. (2013) The interaction of Colour 4th edition. New Haven and London. Yale University Press.

Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p317-324

Barthes, R (1993). ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Brik, O. (1993). ‘Photography versus Painting 1926’. In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 470-473

Bussel, D. (2003). ‘Merlin Carpenter’  in Vitamin P . Breuvart, V (ed.). London. Phaidon Press. p58-61

Dailey, M. (2003). ‘Carole Benzaken’ in Vitamin P . Breuvart, V (ed.). London. Phaidon Press. p40-41

Davies Boren, Z. (2014). ‘There are officially more mobile devices than people in the world’ in The Independent [online] at [accessed on 10th December 2016].

Evans, J. (1993). Introduction to ‘Rhetorics of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 11-21

Gleizes, A. and Metzinger, J (2003). ‘from Cubism 1912’ In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p.190-194

Haveland, P. (2009) Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Madrigal, A.C (2011). ‘The Story Behind Last Night’s Iconic Photo From the Egyptian Protests’ in The Atlantic [online] at on 10th December 2016].

Malevich, K.(2003) . ‘From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. 1915-16’. In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p.171-173.

Matisse, H.(2003). ‘‘Notes of a Painter’ 1908’. in Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 69-75

Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’. In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.    p435-448

Mirzoeff, N. (2013). ‘Introduction: for Critical Visuality Studies’ In The Visual Culture Reader. Mirzoeff, N (ed). Routledge, OXON. pⅨⅩⅩ- ⅩⅩⅩⅧ.

Schevchenko, A (2003). ‘‘Neo-Primitivism’ 1913’ in Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 99-102

Statista (2008). ‘Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 3rd quarter 2016 (in millions)’ [online] at /[accessed on 10th December 2016].


Project : Ideology and Interpretation

Summary: The OCA guide

Alienation: Marx conceived that the working class was alienated from the totality of  the product of his labour. Groups and individuals become alienated. William Morris introduced the idea of workshop production in Arts and Crafts partly as a response to this.

Hegemony: Antonio Gramsci introduced the idea of Hegemony, as the control exercised by the ruling classes over the working classes, via their confidence and position in the production system.

Ideology: Marx used the term critically for ideas only without any empirical evidence, but later began to change the use to mean a system of philosophy, economics and power. Idealism (Utopianism) is different. Althusser changed the classical Marxist view of society by saying that the Arts had some influence on it (he was a Structuralist).

False Consciousness:  is the state of the working class in thinking they have similar interests to the ruling class. This is due to self delusion but also the influence of the dominant ideology.

(Haveland, 2009:25)



Text: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Althusser defines ideology in his initial thesis as ‘a ‘‘representation’’ of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their existence’ (Althusser,1993:317). He goes on to discuss 2 important aspects of ideology-it’s structure and function, which I think of as what and why it is.  Several ideologies (religion, justice, duty…) are cited, and we are told that these are understood by some (eg. Non believers-in the case of religion) to be imaginary or illusion/allusion, but which can be interpreted to show the underlying reality.  The ‘interpretation’ by ‘non believer’s’ allows that the imaginary illusion represents the actual world of men. Althusser then reposes the what and why question by asking why is the relationship of man to his world/society set up as this imaginary ideology, and what the nature of the imaginariness is.

Althusser’s second thesis states that ‘Ideology has a material existence’, and he remarks that Ideological State Apparatuses exist to subject the ideology of the people to the ruling ideology. Additionally ideology is always present in an apparatus and how it functions. Whilst the existence of the ideology is not material (like something we can see or touch), it is material in the sense that it is rooted in material things. This then leads the author to deduce that the imaginary relation of the people to their world/society/class and production relationships is real too.

I agree with this idea that an imaginary thing is to some extent real. It seems to be accepting that words can be used to define ideas, and that words can be imbued with subtle shades of meaning (is this semantics or semiology?), which allows for subtle arguments and conclusions. Is this deduction or induction in process? I think the author defines his basis, using words like  ideas, ideology, practice etc  and then draws out further meaning, statements, and structure  based on this; which therefore implies an Inductive argument. (Deduction = working from the general to the specific, and Induction is working from the specific to the general (Trochim, 2006).

In the case of the individual subject, Althusser posits that the ideas which his own consciousness freely accepts, require him to behave in a certain way, practice according to his own ideology’s particular ISA’s, and that not to do these things is ‘wicked’ ie he must ‘act according to his ideas’ (Althusser, 1993: 319).  Even if he does not do these things it is not because he has no belief in the ideology, but that he does not conform to the good of the imaginary scheme-rather to the bad/wicked in it.

As I understand it Althusser has thus attempted to extend the Ideology has a material existence’, and he remarks that Ideological State Apparatuses exist to subject the ideology of the people to the ruling ideology In a final clarification of the different material manifestations of this imaginary belief, the author suggests that the individual’s  imaginary ideas are made material through his material acts, which are themselves subsumed into the  larger material concepts of practice-ritual- and the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) of his belief system.

Althusser now (rather arbitrarily?) says that the word ideas has disappeared from the system, whilst other words remain (eg. beliefs, subjects), and new words have appeared (eg. practice, ritual, ISAs) (Althusser, 1993:319). Although the arguments here are subtle and difficult, the author uses plenty of highly illuminating concrete examples throughout, which clarify the argument for the reader.  I can easily visualise how these word lists might be used to label the individual constituents within the framework of a church mass, for example.

Due to the complexity of the language and argument here, many of the conclusions almost seem like arbitrary word trickery! The only way to discount this would be to read and reread the passage carefully, in order to follow and ascertain that the argument is logical and fair given the assumptions (this is an inductive argument). My lack of experience of following this style of argument makes it difficult to follow.  My difficulties and my  assumption of a certain amount of arbitrariness and trickery is most likely due to the vague and narrow definition I preconceive of the important words eg idea, belief, etc… These words seem almost identical to me, but for the purposes of the argument here they are not, and must be, mutually exclusive -otherwise how can one drop out but the other survive? On closer inspection the word idea here implies a free consciousness, whereas belief implies an enslaved agreement with a set of material acts. Perhaps this argument could be rewritten  in the alternative language of mathematics and set theory?

Althusser clarifies his argument saying that ideas (as defined spiritually) have been replaced with a set of objects thus;

Ideas (spiritual/freely accepted)–beliefs–actions—practice—ritual–ISA–ideology of ISA

and that crucially, the nature of the existence actually flows from Right to left (beliefs are determined by the system of ideology), and not left to Right (beliefs inform all the consecutive concepts-ending with ideology). By now the underlying argument has become much clearer

Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects

There follows a rather complicated and subtle section, from which I understand that according to the clarification summarised above, ideology is determined by the subject alone, and that the category/actions of the subject determine the category of the ideology.  Another useful clarification is now made –that we exist as subjects of ideology (which is obvious) to the same extent as the concept of an elephant exists in the word ‘elephant’- which Althusser calls the ‘elementary ideological effect’ (Althusser, 1993:320).

The ideological recognition function is clarified by an example of the dual  meaning within the words ‘’it’s me’’ uttered from behind a door. As I understand this example the voice  is the voice of X (and it is the person of X), clarified only as the person (X) when you open the door to them. We are recognised as individual/ subject in the same way as ‘its me’ is a voice which may not be specific to a person, but is a part of a bigger subject of a specific person.

Althusser continues ; Ideology acts or functions on individuals by interpellation, rather like the exclamation ‘Hey you! acts on (by interpellation)  an individual, (who becomes a subject when he thus turns round showing it was he who was hailed-not another). This rather complicated argument then states that by analogy the ‘hey you’ scene acts both inside the street/outside ideology and also outside the street/inside ideology and that everything that takes place within ideology can also take place without ideology. The subtle and complex language used in this section can be appreciated by the following statement

‘one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says ‘’I am ideological.’’ (Althusser,1993:321)

Another concrete example of an analogous example follows. That humans are already subjects before they are born (its assumed that it will be a happy day, they will be a boy or girl, be given a form of  first name according to this, and that they will take the paternal surname, and that once born they are subjects of a system which expects them to develop as sexual subjects in set ways, and into adults through education etc.

Here again words seem to be used in complicated ways with many shades of meaning. Is it possible to think of words here in the same way as we do during semiological arguments? Althusser suggests this is so by stating earlier that we are subjects, and this is obvious, in the same way as we know that a word can both ‘name a thing’ and ‘have a meaning’(Althusser, 1993:320). If we take an analysis of a bunch of roses given to represent passion (Barthes, 1993:52), Barthes analyses the language through the use of the roses (the signifier), passion (the signified), and roses given with passion in mind (the sign). He suggests that the rose and passion exist beforehand, and they are both united to give the sign. Barthes states that there are ‘functional implications’ between the 3 semiological terms, which seems to me to make them useful tools in the analysis of ideology.

With this in mind my attempt to analyse the relationships between the words given in Althusser’s next  example of ‘Christian Religious ideology’(Althusser, 1993:321) might proceed as follows.  Peter is an individual-the signifier, a Christian is one who believes in God and the Church-the ideology – here labelled the signified, and Peter the Christian, is the subject (the sign) -who is at the centre of a specular relationship with God. These words seem somehow to have taken on different amounts of carrying capacity for ideas, which may loosely equate with semiological terms?

I would like at this point to broaden the scope of ideology, from the examples given within this essay to other ideologies. The two ‘ism’s’ colonialism, and racism,  may be less  obvious ideologies, but they do fit Althusser’s definition of the word.

The first example comes in a brilliant discussion of Alexander Von Humboldt travels in South America in the late 18th – early 19th Century, and the reinvention of the continent for his European readers, through dramatic travel writings and descriptions which concentrate on  the dramatic untamed power of the plains, mountains and lakes of this continent (Pratt,1993). The author intelligently argues that Van Humboldt’s approach to his description of the continent for his European readers is not informed solely by the Romantic ideology (spiritual aesthetics, industrialism, occult forces and scientific developments etc.).  Instead, we must recognise that the factors at work within this Romantic style ‘were conditioned by a particular historical and ideological juncture, and particular relations of power and privilege’ (Pratt,1993:430), and were rooted firmly in Spanish colonial infrastructure.

Kobena Mercer’s sophisticated  discussion of  racism in the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (Mercer, 1993), seems to suggest that it has aspects of ideology. The author discusses the stereotyped way that Mapplethorpe photographs black male nudes.  He suggests that aspects of the practice of Mapplethorpe’s photography ‘facilitate the imaginary projection of certain racial and sexual fantasies about the black male body’ (Mercer, 1993:436). These include subjects being uniformly nude, and having no other context, suggesting stereotypical anxiety about white male sexuality and black male hyper-sexuality.

In Mercer’s discussion we meet ideas as acts/practice, and an ‘imaginary projection’ of reality, so I feel that an alternative way of stating the charge is that the artist is accused of being what Althusser would call the subject of racist ideology. The idea of a fixity imposed by the white man’s stereotypical view of the black male image is also discussed, and could correspond to Althusser’s idea  that ideology corresponds to  ‘imaginary distortion’ of reality (Althusser, 1993:318). Fixity is also central to the ‘idealogical construction of otherness’ (Bhabba cited in  Mercer, 1993) which is important to colonialism, and presumably to many other prejudices.

To return to Althusser’s essay, he next develops the idea of ‘subjects’ of ideology further. Through the example of the Christian religious world  Althuusser lists the many interpellations/callings which religious subjects are subjected to  as individuals (this seems to be important to the argument, though why can’t they be god’s children ie a group?) by GOD. These include- the things you must practice (rituals etc), that you will be saved, will go to heaven (or hell), and the wide range of doctrinal and behavioural ideas they must accept. Althusser says that all this ‘‘procedure’ to set up Christian religious subjects’’ implies the strange fact that there must be a ‘Unique,  Absolute  ‘Other subject’ ie. God…’ (Althusser,1993:322)

The concept of a speculary (mirror like) relationship is then described. In all Ideologies, the subject is interpellated (called) through a Unique and Absolute Subject (ie the structure is mirrored), and also ensures its function (doubly speculary?). Althusser describes a quadruple system of interpellation where the individual is interpellated as a subject, is subjected to the Subject, is universally recognised (by Subject, other subjects, and themselves), and is guaranteed ‘OK ness’ if they comply. This ensures that individuals work at their assigned practice, with obedience to the Subject, and with a sense that this is OK.

I found the final discussion on the subject rather difficult to understand fully.  Its possible that rereading the text and relating the ideas to other examples of ideologies (concerning sex, social status etc…) may help me to understand this better.



In your BLOG…….

Althusser’s take on Marxist Literature has a strong bearing on contemporary attitudes to the way the viewer, reader, or spectator becomes the subject.

How does Althusser’s structuralism show here?

The free dictionary defines structuralism as

‘ A method of analyzing phenomena, as in anthropology, linguistics, psychology, or literature, chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental components of the phenomena in a system of binary opposition and examining how the elemental components are combined to make larger units’   (The Free Dictionary (2016))

The structuralism probably explains some of my difficulty in following the argument- I am unused to the method.  Althusser has looked into the structure of the language and the meaning of the words in order to come up with the final theses.  The first thesis is stated ‘ideology is a ‘representation’  of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real  conditions of existence’, and Althusser begins to execute a route towards its justification (I have made bold important words).

Althusser begins to prove that each of the terms/words in this thesis are reasonable, by deconstructing it.

  1. Ideology is similar to world outlook (more similar than  dissimilar) (step 1 of the  breakdown)
  2. We admit world outlooks are largely imaginary (an illusion) (do not correspond to reality) (step 2 of the breakdown)
  3. But we admit that these imaginary illusions can however be interpreted to discover the reality behind them (they allude to the reality of the world). (step 3)

Conclusion: ideology (outlook) does not correspond to reality but does allude to it.


By looking at the words, and by comparing them with their opposites, and seeing which is more rational, Althusser seems to justify the words and therefore the thesis. The method is not totally clear to me, but the basics are visible.  He builds up the thesis by examining what is meant by the individual words (the meanings they carry).

Structuralism therefore adds some specific theory to help me overcome my previously more vague understanding. I thought  his argument was in some way inductive (and he does seem to define thesis by analysis of the meaning of smaller words)  and connected to the subtle meanings of the words ( the meaning of the words is connected to their relationship to one another), and a little arbitrary (representing my lack of knowledge of the method!)


What does Althusser mean by Ideology?

Althusser gives us many broad statements of the word/concept, and perhaps the most succinct corresponds to thesis 1 (see above). However, the more sophisticated breakdown of the term includes

  1. Interpellation of individual subjects
  2. Subjection of subject to a Unique other Subject
  3. Recognition of subject by subject, subject and Subject, and subject of himself
  4. A feeling that things are really like this, and will be ok if a subject plays by the rules

and the involvement of  Acts, rituals, and idealogical state apparatuses within Ideology.



Is there in your view an area of visual culture where this idea may seem to act in an overt way? Find examples and make notes on them.

The Hollywood film industry seems to overtly satisfy the conditions of an Ideology. It interpellates its subjects by asking them if they want to be involved, via adverts which are big and glossy and glamorous (huge billboards, TV adverts etc). The moving picture ads are formulaic, often showing exciting, multiple edited clips, with plenty of emotion, flashing lights, drama, explosions, noise, often winding up into an orgasmic ending –followed by  a calmer finish with the films details and roll  call. One is attracted to the film through its story, its stars, director, or its ‘look’ and becomes the subject of the Hollywood machine for the price of cinema entry.

The unique Subject can be considered the Hollywood star or dream. It consists of actors and directors who are outrageously famous, rich, brave, clever, sexy, good etc, such as Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in the film Allied (Fig 1.). They are a distillation of ‘the perfect being’ and as such are a unique entity. We gladly subject ourselves to their glamour and fame. According to Althusser’s plan subjects recognise each other and themselves; we all enjoy going to the cinema (it is  in some ways an iconic venue), and we enjoy it because of the atmosphere we get which can’t be  matched by home viewing. The movie stars recognise us as subjects, when they discuss their latest films for us on TV talk shows, or through their endorsement of their official fanclub or website.  We carry out our cinema  ideology through the acts and rituals of  inviting a date to the cinema, queing for tickets, buying supplementary  fizzy drinks, popcorn and burgers, and the gigantic multiplex cinema is the main Ideological state apparatus.  Hollywood films often have distinctly predictable endings, consisting of heroic rescues, heroic retribution, or heroic consummation of  romances (compare to the smaller budget independent films which often have edgier content and more artistic vision). This is the dream sold to the subjects, and we believe that this is how the world is (at least for the duration of the film-or until we get through to next weekend and the next film). Because we believe in the story and people in the film our lives are made better, we are hopeful, and happy, and everything is OK.

Interestingly, the ideas and ethos behind Hollywood films could be thought of as very ‘white’. In an excellent dissection of the stereotypical portrayals of Whites and Blacks in the film Simba (1955), Richard Dyer highlights aspects of the film which are associated with the white characters, and contrasts them with their binary opposites which accompany the black ones (Dyer, 1993). White characteristics include modernity, reason, order, stability, light, high key lighting, highly technical editing processes, and emotional/character development of  the central character (played by Dirk Bogarde) during the course of the film. This is a complex film and analysis, and portrayal of people of colour has moved on considerably since 1955. However, in 2016 there were no black nominees for the best actor and actress at the Oscars, and black faces are still far less numerous on the silver screen. It would be interesting to analyse modern Hollywood films to see if the stereotypes of white and black were still working to some degree.

Fig.1 Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ‘Allied’ (2016)




Fig.1 Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ‘Allied’ (2016) [poster]. At (Accessed Dec 2nd  2016).



Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p317-324

Barthes, R (1993).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Bhabba, H. K. (1983) cited in Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p435-448

Dyer, R. (1993). ‘White’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p457-466.

Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’. In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p435-448

Pratt, M.L. (1993). ‘Alexander Von Humboldt and the reinvention of America’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.    p421-435.

The Free Dictionary (2016). Farlex Ltd. at accessed 2nd December 2016.

Trochim, William M (2006) . The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition. At [], accessed on 2 December 2016.

Project: Art as Commodity

Commodification of the Art or Cultural object:

The OCA handbook introduces the idea that art or any creative output is commodified by the capitalist structure, which cannot instead value it for properties such as beauty, intellect and spiritualism. Various modern artists have produced art which is more difficult to commodify in this way (Haveland, 2009:28)


Text:  The Fetishism of Commodities and the secret thereof.

The following represents a paraphrasing from Marx’s Das Kapital (1867).


Marx begins by saying that commodities are more complicated than they first appear. Yes, they are made by man to be used and perform functions, and are the products of man’s work, which is easily understood. They are fashioned in materials, and remain clearly those materials when finished (the wooden table is an example given). Marx states however, that when they are considered as commodities, they are changed ‘into something transcendent’, and that somehow in relation to all other commodities it takes on new meaning and import (Marx,1867).

This opening paragraph is quite dramatic; the text is a little imprecise and unclear (and for today’s reader, overly complicated).I have found that this style is very characteristic of some writings from our required text ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000’. Take for example Lenin’s essay on the freedom of the proletariat press ‘Party Organization and Party literature’(Lenin, 2003: 138-141) which is written in rather long and complicated sentences, which can be difficult to grasp. However, some writings seem to be written in a much clearer style, for example ‘from Expressionism’ by Hermann Bahr (2003:116-121), or ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’ by Hans Prinzhorn ( 2003:116-124).

Marx says that the commodity holds a mystery not because it has a value in its use, nor through characteristics of the way it was made (however complicated a process) because

  • this is ultimately made by an ordinary human being, and
  • the amount of effort/time expended in the making does not necessarily make it good quality
  • When man works at anything this work has a social function

This final point seems a little oddly made in the paragraph. I wonder whether Marx underestimates the power in a human being here, in order to advance his own argument. What about the mystery and power shown in the production of a Beethoven piano sonata for example?

Marx seems to think it obvious that the mystery within the commodity takes the form of the commodity itself, and that in all sorts of labour the product is essentially equal between one worker and the next (though this is refuted by his previous statements about time/effort and quality above!), and that the product of effort x time worked gives the value of the commodity, and the social relationship of the workers is seen not between themselves, but through the product. The mystery in a commodity is, to Marx, the idea of a social relationship, between the man and the object, that is revealed or contained (hidden or obvious is not made clear initially though it is developed later), by that object. He makes the analogy with viewing an object. A viewed object (analogous to the commodity) is sensed to be outside the eye (seen as a commodity form), but, there are elements of it which have been transferred imperceptibly into the organism’s being. This happens when light rays enter the eye and are transferred into chemical impulses which are interpreted by the brain. He admits that this analogy is not completely adequate, because through vision something does physically transfer (the light), whereas the social relationship perceived within a commodity is in no way physically transferred or physically within the object. In order to overcome this weakness he introduces the idea, fundamental to religion, of the physical materialisation of immaterial things. In this same way the social relationship of man to the commodity is made physical within the commodity itself. This he calls the Fetishism of the commodity.

Within Marx’s argument here, I see a parallel with the idea of the difference between the perceived and the identified (or introjected) discussed by Fenichel (1999: 331), who believes that looking is not just passively perceiving, but may involve a more physical sampling of the objects. Perhaps in this sense the social relationship within a commodity can be sampled by the viewer? Fenichel does however counter that Freud views all acts of seeing as, ultimately, the archaic way of seeing; the physical introjection (Freud, cited in Fenichel, 1999:331). It seems to me that the action of making a commodity may also be thought in terms of having a social function (ideology?) interpellated upon it, through the chain of Ideological State Apparatuses, practices, rituals, and finally acts, suggested by Althusser (1999: 317-323).

Marx continues, the producers of commodities work either alone, or as groups, but separated from other commodity producers. If the relationship of these people to the commodity is in effect contained within the commodity, the only way that the different social relationships of the groups can be summated from individuals or individual groups into the total relationship of people to the objects in society is through the act of exchange of these commodities. In fact only through exchange of the commodities can there be a true reflection of the relationship of labour between one person and another; or in other words, those relations are ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’.

Producers therefore work for two reasons. Firstly to satisfy the need of society for the useful things it needs (for the good of society), and also through exchange , to satisfy the needs of the producers, who’s labour is of equal worth to the labour of all others. Marx proposes that this idea amounts to the equalization of unequal job roles, which for the worker can only be appreciated through the abstract idea of the equal ‘value’ of the exchanged commodities (in terms of labour invested), additional to their particular utility. This is a very difficult paragraph to grasp, and seems to be both a little unclear, and a little repetitious. It is very prosaic and seems to be written with one eye on dramatic effect, rather than a thoroughly efficient communication of an idea.

At this stage of my reading I was also a little confused as to the words Marx was using and defining, and several questions were surfacing in my mind. Does Marx believe that value is more important than the utility? Did his use of the word ‘value’ equate to what we think of as the price of an article? If value is a summary of the formula effort X duration of the labour used to make it, this term already seems likely to be not wholly related to price in our non-ideal society. And how does the argument relate to wages? The corresponding idea is presumably that all labour is worth the same, given the same effort and duration. Perhaps I needed to read more of the chapter to clarify some of these points, and perhaps some would only be addressed by other chapters of the book.

Value, Marx continues, converts each product into a ‘social hieroglyphic’, which allows us to infer, and equalise between commodities, all the many different types of labours which produced them. He states that it was recently scientifically discovered (although there is no citation or reference) that the value of a commodity is simply the physical capacity of it to reflect the labour given to its production. He believes that this is a sign of development of human society, though he counters that people still judge a man’s labour by what it is he produces and how it is produced.

We now move onto a very practical argument about how we decide how much of one commodity should be exchanged for another. Marx says that this is often taken for granted within a system. This is admirably reinforced by a small personal mental exercise; my belief say, that 35 p is cheap for a can of coke, but £1.20 is expensive. These two items are very different (one is a sweet liquid having some nutrients, whereas the other is an inert metal having no utility other than for exchange).The system of exchange can be fluid though- as the amount and proportions of every commodity needed may vary due to a great many factors outside the producer’s control. For example, the many different production processes take place in relative isolation from one another (limiting communication of requirements presumably). In addition to this however, the value of commodity is also ruled by the labour time needed to make it. Thus both the requirement for and the value of the commodity (in terms of labour) are both factors which influence the proportions of commodities exchanged. This part of the argument seems to introduce the idea that equal value of labour is influenced by the factor which economists would call supply and demand.

The next paragraph begins in a very difficult style, which obscures Marx’s ideas and views. The sentences are very long, very rambling, and he attempts to define ideas and terms such as price and value. He view seems to be that the social element integral to the production of commodities is well developed historically, and that we therefore seem to concentrate now instead on the price of goods. This ignores and conceals the well developed society structured concept of value within a commodity, which Marx seems to suggest is a bad thing.   An example is given which uses a comparison between coats, boots, linen and gold, but which does not completely clarify the ideas in the paragraph. This could be due to a rather old style of language used, or perhaps a loss in translation of the work.

The next example of Robinson Crusoe seems much clearer. Because he is alone (no other labour force to complicate), and because he is on an island (where prior development has not occurred), and because it’s critical for him to determine the correct proportion of resources needed, his process of having an inventory of useful things which he owns (commodities such as stored fish, kept goats, etc…), and how many hours he expended on them (their true Marxist value), is the more obvious as a measure of value.

Marx next discusses an intermediate stage of society- a medieval one involving serf and lords. Once again the argument is a little unclear to me (is there a lost comma somewhere too, which changes the sense of a sentence?), but he appears to say that there is enough interaction of goods and services for the relationship between working society and labour expended to be visible and perceivable (there are lots of examples of goods for services and payment in kind). The social structure of work is not seen only in the final finished product.

The apotheosis of this argument would seem to me to be that if men labour on only one commodity or one job (not several), it tends towards the system whereby social relations and value is defined only by exchange –when commodities are traded. Is this why some stressed modern workers escape the rat race of one repetitive job, paid in money, to live a more visible subsistence lifestyle where the social aspect of work is more obvious?

The next example clarifies further still, and is labelled ‘common or directly associated labour’ (Marx, 1867). A peasant family is discussed, which is virtually self sufficient, each member labouring, and the amount of labour done, and any division in labour types is a reflection of the family society as well as external conditions such as weather and the seasons. This type of system produces objects of utility, which are used and highlight family structure. They are not commodities in the sense defined at the beginning of the piece.

A community of free living individuals is cited next. Here the work is similar to the Robinson Crusoe example, but on a many-person scale. Everyone undertakes work (it is not clear how much each is working in the ‘many small jobs’ model) or the ‘one job, repeated’ model), buteveryone works, and the amount of time worked is dependent on a. The need for the community for different amounts of useful products-for subsistence, and b. The amount worked by different people, in relation to their take-home of the overall subsistence. Once again the social relationships within the workplace are clear and simple.

The product/social working economy is now compared to the commodity style economy. The social economy style is associated with the East (not West), and with more primitive cultures as compared to sophisticated ones. It is associated with the worship of nature, and certain religious characteristics (but within religious sects- Christianity/Protestantism tends towards the commodity style), and also with the subjection of people (in some form of slavery presumably), and with a relatively low production rate. In the primitive cultures the system changes from social to commodity style as these communities then begin to dissolve. This discussion of religion finishes with a confusing sentence. Marx seems to suggest that return to religion would be the best way to ensure visible and obvious social relations between labour (the primitive way). However he actually says

‘’The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature’’.


The explanation could be as follows.   Although these social relations are found in religious societies as a rule, he hopes that religion can be destroyed (Marx was anti-religion), leaving its beneficial characteristic- ie. ‘perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature’(Marx,1867).

The commodity model cannot rid itself of the problem of unclear social relations between workers unless it has time over which to develop, workers who are free, and have a way of influencing the system.

After setting up the terms of the argument, and discussing the two extremes of production, Marx now begins the process of criticising the system. Perhaps this is a good illustration of a dialectical argument. He criticises the economic status quo who say that nature has a part to play in exchange value of commodities. This he believes misunderstands the fetishism of the commodity – that it reflects the labour needed to make it- and has nothing to do with nature. Also, although the fetishism within the monetary system was easily seen working behind early incarnations of bourgoise societies, it is much less obvious within the modern developed economy. In the modern world the value of gold and silver are seen as inherently and mystically high (and so too the earth- with respect to property rights) but the value of labour (underpinning everything) is not considered high!

As a final thought he says that ‘exchange value is the property of things, use value is a property of man’. And that the use value is a value found over and above the material properties itself, whilst the exchange value is only realised through exchange (Marx,1867).

Marx’s last few ideas do not completely clarify the difference between use value and exchange value. More questions surfaced in my mind. Does a loaf of bread have use value and exchange value to a starving man? Is a diamond not useful to a man s subsistence? Does it have use /exchange value? Has a £5 note use value / exchange value?

I believe that societies and economies have changed massively in the 150 years since Marx wrote this. We live in a digital and technological age, and materials now are not thought of as they would have been then. Perhaps the need to reclassify some of the materials here may contribute a little to how we understand the argument (we have new uses for many- take diamond, which now has utility (as a hard substance) as well as a mystical value of sparkliness and beauty).

Having read this piece, I am not sure fundamentally whether Marx believes that exchange value is everything? He must believe in the latter because it values PEOPLE via their work. But surely anti-capitalists such as Marx (Das Kapital is a critique of Capitalism) would say that the inherent beauty in say a diamond, or an idea, is intrinsically good?




In your blog………….

Can you see ways in which this may help us to understand the art market?

Broadly speaking there seems to me to be two art markets in the world. Publicly it is dominated by the celebrity and big money art market, with huge (some would say obscene) prices paid for artworks. On the other hand normal citizens can either buy modestly priced art which they like to look at, and place in their home, or go to see it at a museum or gallery.

Of course art markets have changed over the centuries. In medaevil times the main buyer of art was the church, and this continued into the renaissance period. Large art commissions would have been very expensive, but would have reflected the labour and materials used to produce them (their value and price were fairly similar); there was no hyper inflated art market, and few people used art for their own private use.

During the rise of the middle classes in the 17th C, feudal society began to make way for an increasingly merchant based society. Ordinary people (not royal or holy, though bourgoise) began to buy pictures to enjoy in their own homes (especially in Holland, where the genre of Still Life, and realism were very popular). These objects were increasingly bought and sold as commodities as were other signs of increasing wealth- access to foreign luxury goods and foods for example.   This Dutch art market would have been similar to today’s lesser art market in the UK/globally. There was no hyperinflation, and the objects were bought mainly for their utility – they were beautiful and interesting. Some famous examples of hyperinflation of commodities did occur in these times- such as the rise and collapse of the Dutch Tulip market, and the British ‘South Sea bubble’; but the art market reflected the value of the art and no more.

It seems that the lesser art market today is still based on utility (that a person likes to look at the art), much as in 17th C Holland. The greater market is based on the idea of a commodity for exchange-its utility is less important some would say – it is a way of making money through buying and selling art, through its exchange as a commodity. It also seems clear that within the lesser art market, the value of works of art are somewhat similar to their price (a painting which took several days may be bought for a few hundred pounds), whereas the celebrity market is made up of art whose value (the labour expended by the famous artist who made it) is much smaller than its price (the desire for man to own it and the amount of things which he will exchange for it).

Most art transactions on the news are of Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Turner’s, etc and are all about fame, high quality (Marx does not define value in terms of quality of labour), and huge prices. Last week I heard a radio programme discussing the impending auction of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen- for circa £ 5-10 million. Yes, some of the art is purchased for museums, but much is privately owned by companies or individuals , and if viewed by fewer people it’s combined utility (as a beautiful/spiritual object) must be diminished-compare a million people who see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre with a hypothetical billionaire who has a famous Picasso in his living room. However note also that extreme Modernist artists have always been dismissive of the type of classical, traditional art which filled the museums of their day; they thought it useless. The Futurists declared that ‘all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified’ (Boccionie,,2003: 150), and Malevich that ‘only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a pure work of living art’ and that more Modernist ‘intuitive creation has no utilitarian purpose’   (Malevich, 2003: 173).

These famous art works (which in the 21st Century now include the extremely Modernist, and Post-modern) are all about price and nothing about value. The price here is determined by supply and demand, and is vast multiples of its value. These artworks have a mystical price, similar to the mystical price of gold and silver which underpins economies (Marx,1867). These prices are a use value characteristic of men, but no part of the value characteristic of them as objects (Marx,1867).

In times past artists were often considered producers or craftsman; think of the builders of an Egyptian pyramid, or the many artists involved in a single painting produced in a Renaissance workshop such as Verrocchio’s, where Leanardo Da Vinci was apprenticed. In contrast art produced in the Western, Classical/Romantic/Modernist ‘developed’ societies of the last few hundred years, is made by tose considered ‘genius’ and celebrities of their day (or if not theirs- certainly ours).

The earlier artistic objects were produced in a way that the social relationships between the artists involved were clear, and were not concealed within the final work. The art of the lone genius (one thinks of Beethoven in music, and Jackson Pollock in modern art) had no corresponding visible production structure. These latter products would be considered as displaying the fetishism of commodity, and of lower value (in terms of labour hours) than the former ones (Marx,1867).

Several attempts have been made to restore both the social element of labour within art production, and the relevance of art to the masses, increasing the utility of art within an increasingly developing society. One example was the Arts and Crafts movement, led in the in the UK led by William Morris and John Ruskin (Gropius, 2003: 310). The Post-modernist movement also reacted against the idea of a single handed genius as the sole producer of works of art. They produced art which mitigated against the idea of a unique work of art with some mystic function. Artists like Andy Warhol (who started work as a Graphic artist- using art to Sell products), wanted to increase the element of the machine in art production using techniques such as Screen Printing whereby many similar products could be produced, differing only in small ways. He believed that ‘somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me’ (Warhol, 2003: 748).


Does the article go any way towards explaining the sort of work made by artists such as Jeff Koons?

Koons art has explored several ideas, subjects, and genres. He often references previous artists and styles, but using his own style- bringing together many different ideas within the same object. He frequently references ideas such as advertising, mass media, pop culture, and post-modernism/minimalism. He is overtly popular and disliked the abstract nature of modern art.

Fig1. Puppy, 1992. Jeff Koons


In the puppy, the idea of elites such as dog breeders and topiarists are set against mass market ideas and images of the puppy and flowers In this work he also references the old within the new- the idea of a classical garden as art, within a modern artwork. The gigantic size of many of his works could be a reference to the increasing size and ‘sophistication’ of society and the economy. The reference to commodities within this piece is obvious- puppies and flowers are often used on greetings cards and as nick-nacks in the gift shop, as well as being an advertising staple (Andrex loo roll puppies..). The audience is undoubtedly the masses or the working class- and the elites of the established art world are not catered for in the rather kitsch work.

Fig 2, Jeff and Ilona (Made in Heaven), Jeff Koons (1990)


This sculpture is one of a set. It seems to be a mix of the new and the old. We have a scene which reminds us of ancient classical mythology pictures involving a hero, his lover, and what looks like a cupid in the background. However, he has updated the image- he is in the scene (as artist), and his wife (an ex porn star and Italian politician).   Koons has presented an artistic object which on the surface is a mythological love scene. However this is transcended by virtue of being an object made by a famous artist, with the ensuing spotlight of attention, into an object stamped with a text of the shocking contemporary issues of Italian politics and pornography.


Find some examples of Koons’ work and read up on Koons.

Jeff Koons (b 1955) works in Painting, design, and 3-D objects/sculpture. Between 1 980-86 he spent time as a commodity broker on Wall Street. His company is called Jeff Koons Productions Inc. and he works with many assistants who produce the work which he designs- he is not physically involved with their production (Graham-Dixon, 2008).


Find 2 examples of artists who work in the same way as Koons.

Fig 3 Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917(replica 1964)


Fig 4. Double Elvis, (1963) Andy Warhol,


Fig. 5 Double Hulk Elvis Origin Train Swish   (2008) by Jeff Koons


Fig. 5 is a screen print which references the famous Warhol image ‘Double Elvis’ (fig 4). Koons has updated the image, using a comic character the Incredible Hulk. The use of a big green monster to replace one of the most famous and celebrated 20th C icons seems tongue in cheek, and the use of a comic hero is populist, and lacking bourgoise sophistication.


 List of Illustrations:

Figure 1. Koons, J. Puppy (1992) [sculpture] At: on 27th November 2016)

Figure 2 , Koons, J. Made in Heaven (1989) [Sculpture] At: on 27 November 2016)

Fig 3 Duchamp, M. Fountain (1917) [sculpture] at : (accessed on 27th November 2016)

Fig. 4 Warhol, A, Double Elvis (1963) [silkscreen print] at (accessed on 27th November 2016)

Fig. 5 Koons, J. Double Hulk Elvis Origin Train Swish (2008) [screen print] on 27th November 2016)



Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. p317-324

Boccione, U et al. (2003), ‘Futurist painting: technical manifesto ‘ in Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp150-154

Fenichel, O, (1993). ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans,J and Hall,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. p327-40

Freud (no date) cited in Fenichel,, O, (1993). ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans,J and Hall,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. Pp327-40

Graham-Dixon, A (ed.) (2008), Art: The Definitive Visual Guide, London, DK Publishing Ltd.

Gropius, W. (2003). ‘The theory and organisation of the Bauhaus’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 310-314

Haveland, P. (2009) Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Lenin, V. (2003) ‘Party Organisation and party Literature’ In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp. 138-141

Malevich, K (2003). ‘From Cubism and futurism to suprematism : The new realism in painting’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 173-183

Marx, K. [1867], The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof , from das <;, accessed 27th November 2016

Prinzhorn, H. (2003) ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp. 121-124

Warhol, A (2003). From ‘Andy warhol (1930-1987) Interview with Gene Swanson’ In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 747-749

Project- Base and Superstructure

Project: Base and Superstructure                                               29.10.16

The following notes are based on the OCA handbook.


Marxism: Haveland (2009:22-23) discusses Marxism . The idea that capitalist society is a class battle for domination between the ruling and working classes, which is dominated by the ruling classes. The battle is played out in an arena which includes the media. Das Kapital (by Marx and Engels) was a critique of capitalism, and a plan to overthrow the system. Society is best analysed via the economic relationships between Ruling and Working classes. As the working classes are the most exploited they will be the most likely to overthrow the system.


Marxist philosophy = Dialectical materialism


The political strand = historical or scientific materialism


Marxism types: various exist, eg.  Orthodox Marxism, neo Marxism,


For an Orthodox Marxist:


  • Base is the economic base (ie industry, owned by the ruling class)
  • Superstructure is everything else which is built upon this eg. services, arts, education,


Other Marxist strands tend to disagree on what constitutes the Base and Superstructure.


In late 19th C many artists and thinkers were inspired by this philosophy eg.  HG Wells, William Morris.  


Dialectical argument: not a new idea, Marx used it, and refined it, developing from Hegel’s work.


Thesis (argument for) + antithesis (argument against) = Synthesis (the best explanation /correct answer as it stands, in this time)




Media are part of the system, and cannot but reflect the ruling classes. They use frameworks which reflect the ruling class- though they may think they are unbiased. The proletariat’s ability to identify/rebel against this is limited, because they have no access to other frameworks from which to compare. 


Text: Marxist Media Theory 

Daniel Chandler discusses various aspects of Marxism and the Mass Media (Chandler, 1995)



Marxist approaches to analysing media were common in the early 80’s, and are still around today (though less common). There are no single Marxist schools of thought however. (Marxist analysers include?) Marxism theories emphasise the idea of media as a power for the ruling class status quo, whereas Liberalist theories emphasise its potential for freedom of speech (analogy between Labour and Liberal politics?).Marxist theories develop ideas as a reaction to the ‘functionalist’ theory of society which allows all elements of society to run together smoothly- Marx allows for social conflict in society. (Usually methods of analysis should allow lots of different perspectives. This allows for a dialectical  argument. ‘Its not black and white’- ‘its six of one and half a dozen of the other’).


The Pluralist view was common from the 40’s in US society (Hall,1982: cited in Chandler, 1995: p1), and says that the media is autonomous from state and political parties, allows a range of views, and that it is in an equal relationship with the audience, who can also influence the media, based on their choice to consume (Gurevitch et al. 1982, cited in Chandler 1995: p1).   In contrast Marxism thinks of the media as described above, as part of the power of the ruling elite.


(can you  think of examples in the media??Mcarthyism in the 60 s as a response to Marxist media? The Leveson report into hacking, The Sun and Hillsborough)


Base and Superstructure


Classical Marxism holds that the economy (the base) is the basis of everything- that it determines social, intellectual, and political life (superstructure). This is also called Economism, or materialism Applied to the mass media, Marxism is concerned with its ownership and control (Chandler,1995:2) Traditional views are that all types of media are determined by the economics (base) of the institutions which produce them. It s messages are therefore concerned with advertising products and ideas to the proletariat, or maximising audience numbers, thereby promoting class inequality. Institutions controlled by political or state entities are more concerned with the middle ground or concensus (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995: 2).


Can I think of examples of the ways media is controlled by economics? Rupert Murdoch monopoly on media- money gives him power to sell his views (inc. SKY which is massive! )- Conservative party political. Does this pay for the ear of politicians?. Race to the bottom- broadcasting trashy tv which appeals to mass market, so that they will consume the adverts- not educational…..adverts are for crisps, pop, beer, (cigarettes years ago)- all are harmful. Any adverts for  being kind, helping neighbours, a few asking for charity (headed by rich stars-false consciousness?).


However the economist view has been criticised, and Althussarean Marxists regard the media as relatively autonomous from the economic base, and also able to influence the base (going the wrong direction for classical Marxists). Such Marxism is termed ‘Cultural Marxism’ (ibid).


Media as a means of Production


Classical Marxists hold with the extreme idea that media is a means of economic production, and thus controlled by the ruling classes. It’s ideas are therefore designed to control the working class and deny them any counter-structure. This extreme view denies that there is any diversity of opinion in the ruling class or the media, and that the working class are unable to see any alternative views or oppose the ‘false consciousness’ that the media produces within them (Chandler, 1995: 3). 


Have changes in the modes of media in the 21 C affected /not affected the ideas here ?


Initially we had newspaper, then radio, TV, and finally Internet, TV channels are digital, and often pay per view, BBC licence. There are certainly more ways to consume media now-its everywhere, but is the media diverse/hold diverse ideas? Who decides what’s shown on BBC news? BBC salaries were criticised- eg celebrities and higher management- tends towards the view that they are the Ruling class.


What  sort of TV  empowers the  working class ? Big brother – yes or no??? Benefits Britain-yes or no? There may be arguments both ways- eg allowing  ‘normal’ people  some stardom, but are  these people  ‘normal’ or pathological? Does it promote a broken subset for us to laugh at- and  forget our oppression?




Classical Marxism states that the consciousness of beings depends on their social position, and that the dominant consciousness is therefore that of the ruling classes (the Materialist view). However, other strands believe that individual consciousness is more important (The Idealistic view) .Classical Marxists hold that the media produce a false consciousness, by sending messages (the dominant ideology) which suit the ruling classes (Chandler, 1995:4). They also conceal the economics of class struggle. Althusser thought that ideology is a force in itself, (so could be determined by ourselves?), and that it was irreducible and material (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995:4). Volosinov, stated that abstract ‘consciousness’ cannot form ideologies, but that ideologies based on the material world must form consciousness (Chandler, 1995:4).


What Marxists do you know of ? Which type are they? Paul Foot, Glasgow Marxists, John Reed (labour now), Fidel Castro,


How does Marxism relate to Communism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Leninism?. Were they all inspired by  it –did they corrupt it /change it??


Media  as amplifiers


The Marxist view of media is that they do not challenge the accepted, legitimate opinion , and therefore are working for the  ruling class. So for example the portrayal of violence – will legitimise state control of law and order, and the negative attitudes to dissidents/dissenters. Traditional Marxists like Stuart Hall, say that the media amplifies the message of powerful bodies such as the Police, the Law, the Schools,  rather than creating different frameworks or views. Additionally  the media coverage of elections dramatises and thus reinforces the idea that voting allows voters legitimate access to democracy, according to their ideology,  when in fact this is only offering the parties that the ruling class institutions want us to choose between, and not  parties which may actually help the working class to become more equal (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5).


Constitution of the subject


Marxism distinguishes the individual who is made by nature, and the subject, who is the product of societal influences (the object). Individuals are constituted by receiving positions within a society (Bennet,1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5). Althusser rejects that humans determine their consciousness through their own acts eg. Wants, ideals,  intentions. He believes they gain their consciousness through the action of society and in accepting societal roles, through institutions such as school, family, media etc. They have their social identity interpellated via Ideological State Apparatusses (ISA’s). This fits with a structuralist interpretation of the subject’s consciousness, and the Media interpellate the ideas they want the individual to imbibe in order to become a subject. Althusser did not accept that the individual could resist this interpellation, but ISA’s are not always successful (Lapsley & Westlake 1988,cited in Chandler, 1995:5). Althusserian Marxists also think of  the subject as unified, whereas he may have a range of views across a range of social discourses ( this is presumably due to more autonomy). Neo-Marxists grant the consumer more choice and autonomy when viewing the texts transmitted by the media, with the possibility of them changing the text themselves (having influence), as well as viewing the text within their own sociological framework (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5).

How are you shaped by the media? Are you typical or atypical ? Why?


Differences between Marxists.


Three different views are common. The basic Economist view is that the media controls the message which the people imbibe, and the message is controlled by the media’s economic circumstances eg. Subservience to the ruling elites (an example would be?).Halfway between is the Structuralist view (an example would be Althusser), that the media control the  message, but the people are able to see the message in the context of  their own social class and circumstances. At the far end is the culturalist view (an example would be Stuart Hall), who say that not only is the media message not completely determined by the economic base, but the message is assimilated within an individual’s consciousness and position, and that the society is diverse, and can have different views and reactions (including those who work in the media) (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995:6).


The Frankfurt School

This school was the first to attempt Marxist analysis of mass media  It included Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and they revised the economist view (Gurevitch et al. 1982,cited in Chandler,1995:7). Marcuse was very pessimistic about society and the power of the media, which precluded any individuality within either the Bourgoisie (to dictate) , or the working classes (to revolt).


The means of… communication…, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers… to the producers and, through the latter to the whole [social system]. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood… Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behaviour.


(Marcuse, 1972, cited in Bennett 1982: 43).

This group applied the term ‘culture industry’ to the wide range of media operations (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1972, cited in Bennett 1982: 31).



This French Marxist was against the essentialism of both Economism, and Humanism. He  held that the individual was shaped through ideologies which were imagined/experienced through  ISA’s- though they may mistakenly feel  they were moulded through individual choices. His views hold that the mass media interpellates  the text onto the subject, but many Marxists (see Volosinov and Gramsci) believe that the subject can affect the interpretation of  text (Chandler 1995, 8).



He rejected Economism, and also the ideological mechanism, and held that a humanist self-determining effect produced the subject’s consciousness, and this included human subjectivity (and diversity?). He thought that the ruling class was a hegemony which controlled the lower class via economics, politics, (and media communications?) However this acceptance of the dominant ideology required a willingness from the subject. This view also posited a struggle and a constant appraisal of the system, because of the disconnect between ideology and social/class circumstances Fiske 1992, cited in chandler, 1995: 8). The mass media was one way that the struggle was played out (Chandler, 1995:8).


How does censorship fit in the analysis?Is the BBC biased ? HOW?


Stuart Hall

He is a left wing (culturalist) Marxist.  He posits that the media do tend to reinforce frameworks of the ruling class, but claims their relative autonomy, and that they provide a place where the power struggle can take place.  The news is a secondary definer, which has less influence than the primary definers of state and government (Woollacott 1982: cited in Chandler 1995;9). He wrote an important analysis of how people read texts (Encoding, Decoding, 1980), where he described three levels of reading; the dominant, negotiated and  oppositional levels  are undertaken by those who  are within,  partially within , or completely outside the  dominant social culture- but he stresses that meaning is not  completely arbitrary ie. not completely  up to the reader/viewer to decide Hall, 1980, cited  in Chandler 1995:8).


Weaknesses of Marxist Interpretations

Classical Marxist interpretations (eg. Of the ‘false consciousness) have been thought of as too simple,   and denying any power to working class or the media viewer. They therefore deny us the tools to adequately analyse the subtleties within the mass media.  Sometimes they are theory based , but sometimes they have empirical evidence. Neo Marxists have attempted to refine the ideas, and allow for  diversity of thought and behaviours, and social groupings other than class, such as ethnicity and gender (Chandler, 1995:9).


Strengths of Marxist interpretations

Marxism helps us to consider the underlying value judgements and biases which may be behind  social research (ie it may not be impartial).  It helps us to understand the  inequalities of economics, and social class that may lie within a text.  Neo Marxists such as Althusser, Adorno, Hall, lets us to analyse in a more sophisticated way than classical Marxism allows. The analysis of the text and meanings of the  media are important, but Marxist theory reminds us that we still need to examine any inherent biases, such as ownership and mode of production, representation of minorities, and access to media sources (Chandler, 1995:11).

Can you analyse your favourite films from the different Marxist perspectives?


Additional research:


…….Marx and Engels identified six successive stages in a society’s development:


  • Primitive Communism, as seen in co-operative tribal societies.
  • Slave Society, which develops when the tribe becomes a city-state, and aristocracy is born.
  • Feudalism, where aristocracy is the ruling class, and merchants develop into capitalists.
  • Capitalism, where capitalists are the ruling class, and create and employ the true working class.
  • Socialism (or “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”), where the workers gain class consciousness, overthrow the capitalists and take control over the state.
  • Communism, where a classless and stateless society has evolved.


Summary: Lenin was the first to put Marxism into practice whenthe Russians overthrew a (minimally) capitalist state, and developed a socialist/communist USSR.  Stalin took over later, and Trotsky said his system was not based on Marxism. After WW 2 many states became Socialist/Communist- encouraged by USSR (with military backing)  eg. China, Eastern European countries, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Vietnam, …. All these systems collapsed, was this because Marxism is flawed?  Or because they were not properly Marxist? (Mastin,2008).



In your BLOG………


1.      What did Marx mean by Base and superstructure?

Marx categorised the Base as society’s economic means of production, which in his view were controlled only by the Ruling Class or Bourgoisie. The Superstructure was classified as all the other parts of society which were built upon this base, including social relationships, education, political systems, justice (and presumably religion-though Marx was an atheist). Marx’s view, like Orthodox (or Economist) Marxist’s in general, was that in a Capitalist society, power and influence were only exerted from the Base onto the superstructure elements, and that the relationship could not be reversed. This means that the working classes are controlled absolutely by the Ruling classes who are in charge of  the means of production.


2.      Of the different ways of looking at the subject outlined by Chandler, which makes most sense to you and why?

The various strands of  Marxism (economist, structuralist, cultural) provide different tools for  the analysis of  the complex system of Society, and more specifically the Media. This has to be a good thing, but dogmatism and absolute analyses of systems is probably best avoided.  Analysis of the Media will depend partly upon the analyser (variation of,  and biases,  in the observer), and partly  on the particular time and place being analysed (variation amongst the ‘population’ of media examples).

In discussing the media as I experience them in 21st Century UK society I think that the Economist view of classical Marxist’s has an element of truth, and is useful (to the extent that it  reminds us of the inherent danger of  believing that our perceived consciousness is our own – it may indeed be a False Consciousness.  The Economist view is too dogmatic and polarised to be useful by itself. However there are indeed aspects of the media which I interpret as veering towards a massive  power inequality between the advertisers- media companies (they are related via commerce) and the viewer/consumer. 

 The power of advertising to control what people buy, is one example. Take Payday loans which are advertised ad nauseum during commercial breaks for tv programmes targeted at a low income audience (Even the Church of England were involved in Investments in WONGA payday loans at one point!). This normalises the framework of high interest loans , which normalise and obscures the inequalities of opportunity for poorer people. The high penalties also produce more ‘cashlessness’ when the people targeted cannot pay back in time (thus making the loan company (at the ‘Base’ ) even more rich and powerful.  Adverts pleading for us to make the right choice and buy a bigger car, or a more expensive TV function in the same way due to the working classes enforced reliance on credit to achieve technological ‘goals’.

A more realistic and moderate view is that the viewer has some control over his actions as to what products he should buy, and that the adverts broadcast are under some control (increasingly so) – the companies are not at liberty to communicate any text (in a broad sense of the message) whatsoever. For example no one is physically (or psychologically?) forced to buy a new television, and the advertising standards agency which is independent of manufacturers, prevent explicit misinformation being provided in an advert. My point of view here is that of a Cultural Marxist.

In terms of television programmes and their content, I feel that the economic base manifests less power than during advertisements-and  are thus less damaging.Separating the objects of advert/programme  is useful because there are channels (such as the BBC channels, or NETFLIX) where one is not subject to advertisements, but one pays a fee to view.  This would seem healthier, more transparent, and less subject to power abuse than commercial channels (the programme content is directly linked to the fee to view, and the choice to pay the fee, not hidden within an advert).

 So if we take a relatively non political ‘blockbuster’ film ( I feel the need to qualify almost every other word, sentence and argument here- a sign that hidden meanings and symbols are rife within this subject!) , shown on BBC1, we  may be dealing with a relatively innocuous communication of the  text to the viewer.  We must still remember though that there is a whole infrastructure within the BBC (Chairman, Board, commissioning editors, presenters, director/producer to name a few) that can indirectly influence power over the viewer’s thoughts and actions. These people and structures are what Althusser would term an Institution of the State.  Althusser would say that our ideology is gained through our experience of the text (content) interpellated onto us, which make us a subject (of the BBC/the film in this instance) and  not an individual of free consciousness.

If we take the media coverage of domestic UK politics, I tend to favour an orthodox /classical Marxist   analysis. The BBC’s coverage of Westminster politics- with its dramatic concentration on inter- party strife, political misdemeanours, and a Right v Left dialectic, rather than on POLICIES, seems to transmit a false consciousness to the working class viewers. It attempts to outwardly include them in politics (they do have a vote), but conceals the fact that although Parties and Prime ministers may change, there is less evidence that the poor and under priveliged are ever helped out of their predicament, by any ruling party. This view


3.      Does your understanding of base and superstructure vary depending on whether you are looking at society in general or the media and the arts?

As discussed above, my view of mass media is that there are elements of several strands of Marxism within it, so the classic components of Base and Superstructure, and the power relationships may hold true to an extent, but not totally.  I think this is also the case with society in general. Objects in society might include political systems, education, the law and justice, and religion.

Let us take religion. Classical analysis would hold that the means of production control the church and religion. This is interesting, given the Wonga story above, but is a little far-fetched. If we take the Church of England, the ‘boss’ on earth is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He would argue that the C of E is relatively independent of ruling structures, and that the main focus of its work is on the formation of a more equal society, and of fostering altruistic values. In fact he would place religion at the Base of the Superstructure.

 However, the Church of England does have a lot of Money, Land and Power, hierarchical system of Government (inc. bishops and vicars), and occasionally corruption within it. In this respect it could be analysed as being dependent on the ruling class, and the economic base. Additionally it was formed by Henry Ⅷ as a sign of his power and dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church, which made it a tool of the most powerful man in England at this time!

What of education? Again I can see several sides of an argument.  Let’s take secondary education. The quality of education of 11-18 year olds is very much dependent on the quality of the school (the building), and the teachers, and the national curriculum, and perhaps also on parental help and guidance.  A good education is seen as perhaps the most important ingredient in doing well in society being happy, healthy, and prosperous (not just in economic terms, but that does come into it).

How much is a member of the proletariat able to influence the quality of his/his child’s education?  I would say only a little. The quality of school becomes a function of the house prices in the local area, private education is too expensive, and the national curriculum is set by the government, and influenced by teachers.  The teaching profession is in crisis, and the quality of teachers is not always as good as we’d like. So education is affected by many economic factors from the Base, and the ability of the individual to influence this is small. They do at least have a vote- if we believe that any political party’s education policy would be better.



Chandler, D. (1995). Marxist Media Theory at (accessed on 5th November 2016).

Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts  

Mastin, L. (2008). The Basics of Philosophy at (accessed 5th November 2016).












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

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 (, 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 ( ) 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 (

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 … 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.