Comments on: Objectivity and Art Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: John Pollard Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:17:14 +0000 It is good to read something about the theory of looking and judging art that is both philosophical and very practical. Of course when you start talking about subjective/objective, reason/emotion, you are going to run into some well known philosophical problems but rather than chuck these concepts away I think it is best to think long and hard about what they mean and how we can use them in a way that helps with our own search for truths in art. I am, of course, assuming there is such a thing as ‘truth’.

What makes up good arguments for truth, whether that is in the world of science, ethics or art? I’d argue for a notion of some kind of ‘co-creativity’ in exploring the creating/finding of ‘truth’, that is open to change and revision.

Part of this process of making judgements, whether in science or art, involves a rigorous questioning and exploration (of self and others), and dialogue. I think it would be good to think more about how we all judge a work of art, specifically its visual quality. That is, a reflection on what we are thinking and feeling (phenomenological description?) as we look at a work of art. This may help us to understand ourselves more clearly and help challenge our own, and other’s, blind spots. But this is a demanding thing to ask as we have to be open about our subjective processes and leave open the possibility we are wrong on some points. This uncertainty is debilitating and anxiety provoking and why we all tend to fall into certainties.

I don’t think I have the confidence in objective truth that Robin has: as if it is something that we could all grasp if only…… if only what? I wouldn’t either want to ban talking about ‘stuff’ outside of the work if it’s interesting and meaningful. It’s just that this ‘stuff’ shouldn’t impact too much on the judgment of visual quality.

Although Robin mentions that science too depends upon “feelings and hunches and leaps of imagination for its progression” he doesn’t perhaps acknowledge that one main difference is in testability: there is something tangible, physical, open to questioning and retesting in the sciences that is quite different than judging a work of art. Taste comes to mind (in itself a distasteful concept) when judging art, but science?

The last point I would question is that abstract art has not delivered the “profundity and sublimity ” that figurative painting has? Well, it has for me.

Great essay.

By: Peter Stott Wed, 29 Jan 2014 00:05:56 +0000 For visual art to progress then the human condition needs to be taken into account i.e. 99% of form representation in images is unavailable to the recipient psyche for want of being beyond ordinary cognition, this ‘what can be seen’ needs to be ammended to take into account the relative paucity of human ‘image-form perception’. If one doesn’t accept this blindness as the starting point then there’s no hope for the future.

By: Terry Ryall Thu, 23 Jan 2014 18:45:34 +0000 As far as I’m aware there is no evidence that supports the view that Duchamp’s urinal was made for the specific purpose that it should be experienced as sculpture. It’s hard to imagine that such an objective was on his agenda. I’m not sure that Duchamp was ever really able to articulate the true nature of his ready-mades. He saw their purpose as presenting a challenge to prevailing tastes and orthodoxies and ‘Fountain’ and the general concept of the ready-made went on to become enormously influential-quite an achievement for what Alan Pocaro justifiably describes as a “stunt”.
The merits or otherwise of his influence continue, in one form or another, to be a source of debate. I just wonder however whether it is a little too easy to dismiss Duchamp entirely as having no meaningful influence on the development of abstract sculpture. Much constructed abstract sculpture incorporates ready-made, often very physically and visually seductive components-bits of steel girders, machine parts, fabricators’ off-cuts etc. Surely Duchamp deserves at least some credit for making such work possible by expanding ideas about what sculpture can be in terms of its identity as an object (even if, as seems likely, that was never his intention). I appreciate the strong desire that Robin Greenwood and others now have to escape that ‘object-ness’ but perhaps it will come to be seen as an important and necessary stage in the evolution of abstract sculpture, an honourable part of its history.

By: Robin Greenwood Wed, 22 Jan 2014 22:29:37 +0000 Until the next one…

By: Alan Pocaro Wed, 22 Jan 2014 22:18:43 +0000 Really, the pleasure is all mine. I was just thinking about how nice it would be if the mainstream art publications eschewed their celebrity worship and engaged with issues this deeply. And then I caught myself: the “mainstream” art publications are dead; as is the hegemony of a few well placed talking heads in New York, L.A, London, Paris, et. al. The future belongs to sites like Abstract Critical and those willing to engage in the serious debate they foster.

Until the next one.

By: Robin Greenwood Wed, 22 Jan 2014 18:55:46 +0000 I’m going to be pedantic again: how does a Styrofoam cup differ from the urinal? They are both readymades.

You are right, though, we cannot agree, and I’m not much interested in a definition of sculpture that includes any old rubbish. It is important in my world to live by what you think is good, so my “definition” of sculpture focusses on what I think strongly contributes something positive to the discipline and then compares everything with that, including what other people think is good, provided those people know what they are talking about. It’s an endless debate, and I think of it, rightly or wrongly, as a quest for some degree of objectivity.

But I think this bit of the debate goes nowhere. Many thanks, Alan, because it helped me work out stuff I hadn’t thought through to this extent before.

By: Alan Pocaro Wed, 22 Jan 2014 15:23:08 +0000 Duchamp’s “Fountain” is an unmodified utilitarian object created for the exclusive purpose of receiving and disposing of urine. Turning it upside-down and placing it on pedestal does not meet the precondition that it be “sufficiently transformed”. The thesis I’ve outlined specifically excludes stunts like that, as it does any found or minimally altered object.

I’d also like to mention that besides my description of Tara Donavan’s exhibition as “remarkable” I have never, in the course of this conversation, indicated whether or not I think any of the artists we’ve discussed are any good, of if like their work in any way. You seem to want to have an argument about taste, I’m trying to outline a practical limitation to a cultural-aesthetic framework for sculpture.

Despite the good nature of this back-and-forth, the fact that we cannot agree upon the rather generous definintion I’ve proposed confirms my original assertion that it is a fool’s errand to think quality can be measured in any objective way absent shared cultural-aesthetic limitations and the concomitant pressures they exert upon an artist.

By: Robin Greenwood Wed, 22 Jan 2014 10:30:21 +0000 To begin, rather pedantically: you seem to have missed the phrase “As for the other conditions you posit…” in my last paragraph. Never mind.

So. Onward and upward. To ceilings, in fact, made of Styrofoam cups – do you have a thing about cups? No, Tara Donovan is not a contributor to the ongoing debate which is sculpture; she appears to make work that might at a stretch be classed as interior design. There is an exhibition opening soon at the RA in London, “Sensing Spaces”, which comprises installations by architects, which would make for a meaningful comparison to the Donovan work you cite. Her work modifies the ceiling of the gallery. It does, I suppose, look like a rather pleasant and unusual use of cups, if you like that sort of thing (I don’t), but you could not meaningfully compare and contrast it, or discuss it, in relation to any serious piece of sculpture, like say a Rodin, an African carving or a Mark Skilton. It is not, as you claim, three-dimensional (it is really a modulated 2-D surface), and nor does it have any sculptural content that I can discern. That doesn’t stop it being an interesting and unusual experience (again, if you like that sort of thing) but it does rule it out of any serious discussion about sculpture – a discussion which is of far greater moment than any attempt you or I might make to concoct a definition for sculpture that will stand the actuality of what serious people make.

Returning to the DeCoker, the fact that her cast cups fulfils your “basic preconditions” just goes to prove my last point, that any definition is more or less useless. The material, paint, is completely untransformed (into what form is the paint transformed? Into the shape of a paper cup? Mmm… big deal); it does not engage with space, actual or otherwise (it’s stuck on a shelf, for god’s sake); it most certainly does not create sculptural space or form (which I rather suspect you know little about, and that you, like many people, confuse abstract sculpture with objects); and though, as you say, it fulfils your precondition of being created “for the specific purpose that it be experienced as sculpture”, well, so what? So was Duchamp’s urinal. Now who is inconsistent?

By: Alan Pocaro Wed, 22 Jan 2014 02:57:26 +0000 There is nothing meaningless about the conditions for sculpture that I’ve outlined. To the contrary, I’m trying to advance a coherent framework that proscribes the limitations of sculpture which would enable the objective analysis you seek. If you you have another look at what I’ve written, you’ll see it excludes a great many things, while allowing for nearly unlimited possibilities within the limitations of the framework.

I’m not going to enumerate them all here but please note that “created for the expressed purpose of being experienced as sculpture” basically rules out any unmodified object manufactured for a utilitarian purpose other than specific contemplation by a human being as art. Urinals? out. Sandwiches? Out. Paper Cups? Out.

However, my thesis does not preclude an artist from using those objects as raw material, provided that they are “sufficiently transformed” in the creation of a recognizably new form. Have a look at Tara Donovan’s 2003 “Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)” It has a great deal to say about the condition of three-dimensionality, sculptural content, and visual/physical activity. And yet its made from cups. I’ve seen several shows of her work, they’re quite remarkable.

Now, DeCoker’s work may not rise to the level of Skilton’s or Donovan’s in terms of complexity, but it still fulfills the basic preconditions I’ve outline for sculpture. It is composed of a thoroughly transformed material which adopts a new form, in this case, acrylic paint. It inhabits, transforms, and is arranged to engage with actual space, and it’s created for the specific purpose that it be experienced as sculpture.

I’m not certain how you could conflate that with a food-product created for the exclusive purpose of satiating a biological need/desire. DeCoker’s cast paper cups have as much intrinsic value relative to food as any other work of art,including Skilton’s, because fundamentally they are completely different.

Now where’s that bacon butty…….?

By: Robin Greenwood Tue, 21 Jan 2014 22:30:25 +0000 I see no inconsistency. In fact, I think I have a coherent set of values. The outward limitations of abstract sculpture are unknowable and the present circumstances of how we define sculpture are dependent upon what is being made by the best practitioners. We might today define what sculpture is, and tomorrow Joe Bloggs will make something that redefines it. This happens in science, and should happen in art, but it cannot redefine it by parachuting in a daft idea. The cast paper cups are a bonkers and useless contribution to the debate, no better than a sandwich or anything else. They are only marginally and literally three-dimensional, like any other literal object in the world (or like any ‘readymade’ or assemblage of found objects.) They have absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about the condition of three-dimensionality, no sculptural content, no visual/physical activity. Compare them with, say, Mark Skilton’s recent sculpture, which are examples of the most serious contribution to the discipline in recent times, and it becomes clear. That comparison is objectively demonstrable, even hypothetically here on line, since the gulf in sculptural achievement is so huge – so the paper cups are ruled out, along with sandwiches etc., as irrelevances.

Creating ‘for the express purpose of being experienced as sculpture’ is completely meaningless. We’ve had a bellyful of people just simply naming what they do – any object – as ‘sculpture’. As for the other conditions you posit, just about any household object would fulfil those at least as fully as cast paper cups. To argue your case, you would have to prove that the cast paper cups have more intrinsic value than the sandwich, or perhaps, more than actual paper cups, from which they have no discernible difference. I challenge you to do that.