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Abstraction as image? A844 Ex. 3.3.3 - 3.3.6 inclusive

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 27 Nov 2018, 16:13

Abstraction as image? A844 Ex. 3.3.3

Conduct an online search for (I’ll put one example for each):

·       ‘Suprematist’works by Malevich from c. 1915–20

·       Dynamic Suprematism 1915-6

·       ‘Neo-plastic’ compositions by Mondrian from c. 1919–29

·       Piet Mondrian No. VI / Composition No. II (1920)

·       Abstract ‘reliefs’ by Ben Nicholson from c. 1935–40

1935 (white relief)

·       ‘Abstract Expressionist’ compositions by Jackson Pollock from c. 1947–50.

·       Number 23 (1948)

How would you describe these works, relative to those you have previously discussed?

These are clearly not ‘images of’ some recognisable object in the outside world but are rather patterns which are either regular or irregular, using geometric form or free flowing lines (Pollock). This is not to say that the artist may not intend viewers to use their images to visualise some otherwise invisible ‘abstraction’ – an idea or state of feeling or being (or part-being). The lie is given to the search for flatness by Nicholson’s reliefs. Colour may or may not be used and recognisable shapes may be entirely bounded or non-orthogonal. They can be described only with a difference, although issues of relative depth can be effect of size and colour of shapes as well as overlaps. They may be pictures of effects too, such as motion and rhythm. Titles suggest such possibilities.

Abstraction as image? A844 Ex. 3.3.4

Do you think it is legitimate to refer to such works as ‘images’ because of the various ideas which they body forth?

The ideas I had before seeing the Discussion weren’t much different from now, being innately suspicious of arguments that rest on statements like: ‘ It might be thought to be stretching the term ‘images’ too far. ‘ The idea of a term having limited stretchability means very little outside of the analogy within the metaphor of language as either being tensile or brittle. It is neither one nor the other except by agreements made about language by its users through various social mechanisms.

Hence let’s get to brass tacks. In one sense they are obviously ‘images’ if an image is something we see rather than something we hear or  smell. There is no stretching here. The writer here is confusing this meaning with that of ‘being an image of’'. In a sense we need to look at these issues through the idea of representation. Is it a representation of something visible elsewhere – a mimesis or copy – or of an abstraction (the unconscious, conflict etc.).  Or is representation merely the action of creating an image irrespective of its reference or meaning.

Abstraction as image? A844 Ex. 3.3.5

Now conduct a third online search for:

·       ‘combine paintings’ from the 1950s and 60s by Robert Rauschenberg

(Untitled c.1954), usually known as ‘The Man in a White Suit’ (Crow 2014 56ff, 68ff).  

·       silkscreen ‘paintings’ by Andy Warhol from c. 1962–68

·       Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) 1967

Taking the two sets of work by Rauschenberg and Warhol, how would you describe the status of images in them?

I think the Discussion looks so ‘abstractly’ at these interesting examples that I can’t relate  to the argument, except for the perception that Warhol makes images of ‘images’. The whole project of post-modern abstraction seems to be about how images are assembled and adapted and manipulated through interaction using colour, effect of specific media materials and their combination in 2-D or 3-D as in Untitled. Sometimes I feel the task of plotting a line of development of the image may completely undermine whatever the image has become historically (as I tried to explore in this blog about Rauschenberg with its return to issues of biography and themes like, as here, sexuality:


For me, the issue is representation as an action or performance. This action and performance also involves the viewer in bodily action, especially in combines. It may be hat art becomes an ‘image’ of itself (whatever that may mean) but it is also to allow image-making to become the issue – playing with the determined, borrowed and its transformation through looking and mobilising and adjusting to visual queerness of the image under unexpected manipulation.

Abstraction as image? A844 Ex. 3.3.6

Now conduct an online search for:

brushstroke paintings by Roy Lichtenstein from the 1960s

Brushstroke 1965

paintings by Art & Language of Portraits of V. I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock from c. 1980 

Portrait of V.I. Lenin with Cap, in the Style of Jackson Pollock III (1980

paintings by Gordon Bennett from the late 1980s/1990s, including the Triptych and Home Décor series

Home Décor series (6)

How do you think the ‘image-dimension’ works here? In fact, what is it that is being ‘imaged’?

In each case there  is a motivated extension of an interest in images (or images of images) that are manipulated by change of context – most obviously in Gordon Bennett who appears to be taking native Australian imagery and using it (by virtue of titles and arrangement in a context of commercial images used in sales practice) as parodic of home decoration. You can describe an image and then distort and thus change its relation to meanings – this foregrounds the meaning (as in Brushstroke) or in forcing the viewer to sek an image where none may be there. 

Discussion From Course

In the case of the Lichtenstein, it is an image of a painted brushstroke. But it is not just an image of any brushstroke. It is not, for example, an image of Lichtenstein painting his kitchen. As with the Rauschenberg, it is an image of Abstract Expressionist art, and all that goes with that in terms of notions of subjectivity, authenticity and self-expression. But now it becomes the sole focus. Or rather, instead of the commodified image and the unique gesture being held in tension (as in Rauschenberg), here the latter is itself collapsed into the former. The point being, of course, that here the ‘image’ is taken even further away from its source by being rendered mechanical. The mark of spontaneous creativity, the trace of modernist authenticity, is recast as the culturally typical token; recast, in fact, as ‘image’ – just as much as a singer or a film star, or a fizzy drink. Modernism is, so to speak, brought down to earth: the earth of 1960s American consumer society.

In the case of the Art & Language painting, a further political dimension is added. On the grand historical stage, the post-Second World War period was defined by the Cold War. In the propaganda war, each contending superpower had an official culture to advertise. In the case of the Soviet Union, this was a culture of social responsibility and cohesion, voiced through the official art of Socialist Realism. In the case of the USA, it was the culture of the American Dream consecrated around the free individual. One such emblematically free individual (along with the cowboy) was the modern artist. This contestation was at its most intense in the 1950s and 60s. But the first Cold War had mutated into ‘détente’ during the 1970s. By 1980, however, with the rise of the political right in Western societies, and the stagnation of the Soviet Union, a second Cold War was on the cards. Art & Language constructed a complex image by juxtaposing tokens of both artistic cultures. This is not a collage as such, rather a forcing of the two images of the contending cultures themselves into a ‘monstrous détente’: the subject matter of Soviet Socialist Realism rendered in the style of American Abstract Expressionism.

In the third case of the paintings by Gordon Bennett, an Australian Aboriginal artist, the political dimension is subject to further expansion. We are now beyond the framework of the Cold War, in a situation of deepening globalisation, marked by tensions between nation-states and multinational capital, as well as by increased attention to issues of cultural identity and the legacies of colonialism. In Bennett’s work, various tokens of ‘fine art’, ranging from perspective diagrams, to the geometric abstraction of Mondrian and the gestural abstraction of Pollock, are made to stand as images of Western culture as such. Little in the way of qualification or nuance is permitted. The erstwhile image of aesthetic transcendence or personal freedom, whatever the complexities of its actual historical relationships within the dominant cultures of Western capitalism, is here transformed into a token of Western colonialism. In effect, Western art is turned into an emblem of Western culture, which is itself regarded as client to the politics of colonialism. The quintessential symbol of Western freedom – art, ‘modern’ art included – viewed from the perspective of the colonial subject, becomes just another component in its repressive armoury.

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