What art appears to look like… as well as what it looks like does not indicate what it means. In support of this highly successful seminar, Jenny introduced quotes and images by artists who have addressed the theme of beauty. However in presenting different artworks to make this clear, Jenny referred to a trans-historical view of beauty with different forms of expression and practice.
The informal and steady influx of artworks and images alongside established artist thoughts on the subject of beauty creatively generated allusion learning within a group discussion. Lana is working on a PhD by practice at Chelsea and used this opportunity to explore in a live setting her field of research titled: The Agonistic struggle of the art object against the space in which it is installed. She began with a divisive thought regarding the workings of power by immediately asking the students during the walk to the Taylor Digital Studio in Tate Britain to please look at the signage surrounding the Tate rooms.
One could sense where this strategy was leading and yet while there was a nod towards patriarchy… this moved the attention from power to the question of what do I as a woman have as a role in contemporary art? The chronological hang of the permanent collection — a controversially discussed decision by the curator and recent departed director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis — was discussed with great attention to the successes or failings of a gallery or museum archiving history.
The inventiveness of the chronological hang was felt in one seminar to positively alter the reading of history and counter the political and social understandings that define those periods. The splitting of gender relations that Lana asked the students to perform, skillfully demonstrated through their own performances, what agonism is. The students participated in a seminar that imaginatively ignited the notion of why a range of discussions are essential to the production of art, especially given the challenge of immediate peer disconnectivity where an ongoing process of learning and development is hard to sustain.
While the word camp was discussed as an elevated intellectual term, this seminar proposed a more intimate and delicate association. Curiously, it was revealed through discussion how unfamiliar students were with the notion of camp and this led to further discussion on the subject of marginality alongside the history of LGBTQ visibility.
Terry managed to reveal new knowledge to the students through a non-hierarchical approach to discussion and through the inclusivity of discussing a marginalised field, which by association, lead to a strong sense of inclusivity within the student group, whilst also combining this with a clear and detailed history of LGBTQ studies. A key question surfaced which was whether we are living in a period of added camp? This seminar offered students the opportunity to engage with a practice that highlighted the importance of complex, thorough research and life experience.
Milena Michalski completed her masters in fine art at Chelsea in and titled her seminar: Taking shots with guns, cameras and in the dark: on research-based art practice.
In focusing on the complexity of conflict and how this is manifest politically, personally and practically as unexplained and obscured, Milena addressed several key examples of this process through artworks in video and photography. This artwork offers a critique of traditional forms of conflict representation, embedded in the photographic process of war-image production.
The photographic outcome which is a darkened exposure on paper denies the viewer the cathartic effect of the conflict as seen for example in traditional genres of war photography. It is merely indexical, just a piece of paper. Do such processes authentically question the very purpose of war and conflict as a vehicle for critical debate? As noted by Milena from the outset of her excellent seminar; what is it to be in the front line?
For me, theory belongs in my own research, a contemporary perspective into beauty. The second text I chose was from the scholar of language and ethics Elaine Scarry, she not only takes up the revival of beauty but asserts that the complaints against beauty are incoherent. She writes with such authority that beauty is innocent and that its banishment was unfair due to the fact it is entomologically linked to fairness and justice. Having chosen both texts I devised my short statement to set out my position and intentions for the seminar.
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My statement is as follows:Since Modernity and the Enlightenment the critique of beauty is fraught with cultural anxieties and political complaints against it. Some see this politicisation as a loss made good. However, can we give up on the language of visual effect, or on finding visual pleasure within an artwork, on taste! We cannot return to the beauty of the past, nor can we ignore the suspicion that it is always inevitably socially inscribed. I suggest that instead of avoiding or resisting the experience of beauty within art, like the modernist avant-garde of the past, to not see beauty as a thing or an object but as unfixed and ever changeable.
I used my statement and texts not just to declare my research interests, I also had other agendas in relation to the statement I had sent to the students. I wanted to get a reaction from them. In my opinion Beauty is a controversial subject and by presenting these seminars I hoped to gain some up-to-date knowledge on how people reacted when faced with the rejoinder of this subject and if they even feel it is worth a rejoinder. In preparation for the seminar I decided to structure it so that I had a certain amount of control over how the discussion would proceed.
I always start seminars by introducing myself and then ask the students to do the same in turn and explain what their practices are concerned with. This constitutes as a good ice breaker for the seminar to begin. I then continued with a short history of beauty; concentrating on its development through Modernism to the present. Beauty no longer stands for itself instead it stands in for objectionable conceptual frameworks. Avant-gardism took this up and recast beauty as concealing political power and hidden agendas. Beauty is no longer subjective but controversial.
Landscape Theory (The Art Seminar)
I wanted to highlight the controversy surrounding beauty and carried this through to the quotes I picked out from the texts. Finally I prepared some quotes taken from different artists on their views on beauty. With these positions I hope to emphasise that beauty is a contested category for instance Alex Katz 8 and Agnes Martin celebrate beauty whereas an artist like Robert Smithson declares aesthetics to be banal and faded.
However, no matter how much I prepared the seminars, they werealways different and I tried to be flexible in my delivery to suit the group. The first seminar I presented was to a small group so it was quite intimate. I felt like I could concentrate on each student and get more from them on their views. When I introduced the quotes from known artists I seemed to stir up more enthusiasm from the group, this may be because they could relate to the artists or may be due to the fact I included a visual of their artworks to accompany the quotes.
So, for the second seminar I decided I would allow more time on the quotes which worked better for the flow of the seminar. I did not find this to be a hindrance but it seemed to give the seminar an extra level. If I did the seminars again I would experiment with emphasising our position within the institution and maybe exploit our location further. I would ask the students to keep in mind whilst walking through the gallery how Hickey explores the banishment of beauty carried out by the intellectuals and elitists in museums and universities and how we should take beauty back.
He states that they are carrying out the assault of beauty with their position as shadow government.
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Answering the question where does art theory belong? I feel that my seminars use art theory as their foundation and it weaves itself into the whole experience of the day. I feel that the location of the seminars helped the line of enquiry the seminars took. The seminars are a productive process; I was able to evaluate my own position in relation to my research and had new views in how I could develop and go forward.
I hope the students find the seminars as useful as I do presenting them. I still feel my delivery could be stronger and I would like to find a way of making the texts more accessible in the way the artist quotes seem to be. My practice-based PhD at Chelsea College of Arts, currently titled The Agonistic struggle of the art object against the space in which it is installed , is concerned with the power relations influencing the art space and how the art object can have a more active, critical role in relation to the space.
I sought to engage the students through two short readings. The experimental platform of the PMS seminar allowed me to develop a teaching strategy for delivery that brought out the thrust of these texts as I activated and performed what I saw as the key points. Agonism is a political theory that focuses on the value of conflict - rather than harmony - within democracy and seeks to channel political conflict positively. Throughout the seminar I therefore took an agonistic approach in seeking to challenge the space we were in through our discussion and to challenge each participant to take an active part in contributing to the group.
Having completed my own MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts only two years previously, I was acutely aware of the power relations that can operate within a group learning format, such as the tendency for more vocal students to dominate and the quieter less forceful students to stay silent or only offer points of agreement.
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Likewise, I encouraged the students to embrace the PMS format where as a recent graduate I was on a more level playing field with them and that rather than acting as a voice of authority, what I said could be challenged too. I performed the power relations of the second feminist reading by instructing all women to sit in one section of the room and all men to sit wherever they wished, or wander around as they pleased.
It was interesting to discover how the groups responded to this instruction. In one group all the male members sat in solidarity with the female ones. In another they were far more aloof and in the third they challenged the idea of gender and suggested that if someone did not subscribe to either gender then I would be putting them in a difficult position with this instruction.
This led to a more engaged discussion where I was able to elaborate on the feminist position as a minority position that was not specifically female.
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In addition to the texts, I brought in the space of the Tate as a third spur for the discussion. I asked the students to reflect on the act of an art college holding a seminar in a museum institute and whether this represented a smooth transition between one and another or whether there was something more agonistic even in this exchange. But this skill is problematic because there is a difference between reading adequately and reading fluently.
To take an example from German: for five years I was on the annual review panel for Eikones, the research center in Basel. Each year we read as much of their literature as possible, and as a result I have read almost twenty volumes of Eikones conferences and monographs. English and French sources are always in the footnotes, but it is an open question how extensively some Eikones contributors engage English and French texts. It is a sensitive and unquantifiable phenomenon, but it matters because as the scholarship grows, it can develop a tradition or custom of citing books without really entering into serious dialogue with them.
The third of these skills, writing English, is the most important and also the most sensitive. I know a number of scholars who speak French as native speakers. But it is a real-life obstacle, and it produces measurable effects on entire communities of scholars. Riccardo Venturi. My first question concerns the role of painting within the realm of images, or the place of painting in image theory as it is conceived in art history and visual studies.
Is painting our model for images in general? This is an old question in France tackled for instance by Hubert Damisch and Yve-Alain Bois , recently discussed in one of the conversations you hosted at the Stone Art Theory Institute Can we assess the specificity of painting without embracing a modernist position about its medium specificity?
I have always loved this question. I love the ways it is asked. It is asked polemically: people say, why should I pay attention to painting? It is asked nostalgically: people say, de-skilling has meant that painting is largely lost. It is asked historically: people say, since the advent of multimedia and the post-medium condition, painting can no longer be a model.
It is asked in the spirit of Nietzschean recurrence: Thierry de Duve has remarked that painting dies and is resurrected every five years. I will come back to this in a moment. It was prompted by the strange fact that we had talked for several days about the nature of images, but we had not agreed whether or not paintings were an optimal example. Our seminar consisted of thirty people talking in a closed seminar from nine in the morning to six in the evening, for three or four days: a very wide range of scholars from several fields and a number of countries So, I raised the question: is painting our model?