abstract art, a systems view

Juicing the Corpse and Making it Dance (via Slow Muse)

with 8 comments

I enjoyed this post about the continuing relevance of painting that I read recently, though it was written quite some time ago.

Juicing the Corpse and Making it Dance I found a terrific article about painting and its complex relationship with the contemporary art scene. It is so provocative, and it reflects many of my own beliefs about the “state of the art” (so to speak) of painting that I posted most of it on my Slow Painting blog. I don’t want to come across as a monomaniacal, logger headed defender of the ancient practice of painting, especially now when there are so many options for visual expression. Whi … Read More

via Slow Muse

I may have said before that I think ‘painting’s many deaths’ would make a good study. I like the idea in this article that painting is indeed dead and that it always has been. That’s why it continues to be relevant: the job of the painter is to make it live!


Written by Andy Parkinson

August 12, 2011 at 7:53 am

Posted in Art

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

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  1. Thanks: really enjoyed reading this!

    Rachael Pinks

    August 12, 2011 at 8:14 am

  2. It is my personal belief that contemporary art stands at an historical impasse, especially in its expression of politics. As the opportunities for revolutionary political change have dwindled, so have the prospects for genuinely revolutionary artistic innovation. Increasingly, art has struggled to deal with its own incoherence, an incoherence which has arisen historically in proportion to the accumulated antagonisms of the social order out of which it has emerged. Art and politics, which have for so long struggled in common with the utopian business of imagining another world (different from our own), have arrived at a point at which they have become untethered from the transcendental basis of their own possibility.

    I am interested in definitions of art because I believe that art today has radically called into question the idea of whether art can be defined as anything (or nothing, conversely). The attempt to classify art, in its various incarnations, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Starting, say, between the 1790s to 1825, there began a formal attempt to build philosophies of art, or aesthetics, in which different forms of art could be classified, and the ways in which the viewer/audience relates to the work of art.

    From Kant’s Critique of Judgment in the early 1790s there followed the Schlegel brothers’ inquiries into literature and drama, Schelling’s 1804 Philosophy of Art, finally culminating in Hegel’s massive Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, delivered in 1825. In this work, he announced the “death of art,” as art had culminated in terms of its social and historical importance in Antiquity, and had been thereafter superseded by the “representation” of the afterlife in post-pagan religions (Christianity, Islam, etc.). He also believed that the problem of Romantic art was precisely of the subjectivity and interiority of the artist’s expression of his emotions, which were believed to exceed the general formal laws of artistic composition in the name of passionate creation.

    This revolution in the way art was understood, both theoretically and philosophically, was in turn succeeded by a technical revolution in the creation of the daguerrotype, and subsequent photographic improvements. Here was a device that could reproduce reality with exact verisimilitude, which was moreover infinitely reproducible. This revolutionized the visual arts, which now could not possibly keep up with the precision and detail now available in cameras, since at least the 1840s. The same effect would take place later with music with the invention of the gramophone in the late 1870s. Film technology, starting from the 1890s, similarly had an effect on live theater. With all of these rapid technical revolutions, along with the prior questions of the artist’s subjectivity and art pour l’art, the basis of art came into question. What was art’s purpose? And what were its fundamental principles? These were the fundamental questions taken up by the various artistic avant-gardes, starting with romanticism, impressionism, and symbolism through expressionism, cubism, futurism, dadaism, suprematism, neoplasticism, purism, constructivism, etc. all the way down to surrealism, abstract expressionism, and finally minimalism and conceptualism.

    Hereafter, I believe, art died a sort of “second death.” The project of modernism in art, which had been its own self-transparent theoretical basis and understanding for the creation of new works, was abandoned in favor of a vaguer, more inchoate conception of the “avant-garde” as anything that was shocking or seemingly “cutting edge.” This combined with a sort of neo-Situationism in art-as-spectacle, with particular emphasis on performance art. All this can be loosely categorized as post-modern, “contemporary” art, which avoids definitions and scoffs at any attempt to derive a theoretical “systematicity” underlying their work.

    Another overlong rant. I apologize.

    Ross Wolfe

    August 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

    • Long (for a comment) maybe, over long not at all! Thanks for your very interesting survey of painting’s deaths.

      Andy Parkinson

      August 12, 2011 at 7:58 pm

      • No problem. I’m curious, though: to what extent (if any) do you agree with my overall narrative/interpretive account of the transformation of art and painting over time? If you just find it interesting but are not sure if you agree or not that’s fine too; I often find myself feeling this way after reading interesting glosses on a subject that intrigues me.

        For me the most important factors in art, at least those external to art’s purely self-referential logic of development, are socioeconomic, historical, and political. The philosophical theories of art at any given time, whether advanced by artists themselves or prominent critics, I tend to see as ideological expressions of art’s self-understanding in any given age. How do you tend to make sense of these things, Andy?

        Also, another (briefer) installment, this one almost entirely narrative, historiographical, and dramatic.

        Ross Wolfe

        August 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      • Well, I think we agree entirely about post-modernism. From previous comments that you have made I suspect that you are more positive about photography than I, unless what you are saying is that photography forced painters to redefine the purpose of painting – if that’s what you are saying then i agree with that completely. sometimes I think you are saying that photography surpassed painting and made it irrelevant. I don’t think that is so. There is something about seeing a painting that you can only get by seeing the painting. What I notice about your commitment to modernism is that it is based on a better understanding than mine on the relationship between modernism and socialism. 30 years ago, I was very convinced by Modernism in art. For me that meant Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field Painting as championed by Greenberg and Fried. You seem much closer to Suprematism and Constructivism and it is only as a result of reading your blog that I have come to appreciate that work more. However, I wonder if my understanding of it is mostly a misunderstanding. Anyway, it was later that I came to read Marx as well as anarchist writers. I became convinced by socialism and I still am. Unfortunately I was too easily influenced by anything I read. The UK Marxist art critic Peter Fuller more or less suggested that Abstract expressionism was a CIA funded activity and in response to that suggestion I dropped it altogether and stopped painting. Many years later I came back to painting and feel much less committed to modernism in the Greenbergian sense. Nevertheless you will no doubt have noticed that the work I do and the work I like has its roots there. A lot of what you say makes good sense to me and I find that agree with a lot of it. Some of it is new to me and I am thinking it through. I found Zizek on architecture (and then what he does with a lot of that later in the ending of ‘living in the end times’) very interesting and I am still formulating a response to that too.
        Am I avoiding answering your question by saying its a bit of all three responses you alluded to?

        Andy Parkinson

        August 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm

  3. Andrew, thank you for resurrecting this earlier post.

    These issues are so multifaceted and complex. Ross’ thoughtful analysis is more evidence that these issues will continue to compel, confound and surprise us all.

    There is something there in art making that I cannot name. It is the reason I get up in the morning, bike to the studio and work, alone, all day. It is furtive, lives outside of language and has continues to compell after all these years. I don’t think there is one answer but many, and it is a narrative that is dynamic and changing as we speak and write. If that sounds like a punt, it is only because I don’t know how to language this thing. Not at all.

    Deborah Barlow

    August 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    • I like that you say resurrected in relation to the post, when the title is “juicing the corpse and making it live”. Did i really do for your post what the artist is tasked with doing for painting?

      Andy Parkinson

      August 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

  4. […] wonderful colour-drenched abstract paintings, do seem a lot like celebrations of life. In a previous post I reflected on the idea that the job of the artist is to make painting live. Jane Phillips knew how […]

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