Assignment 7

Cotton’s chapter of If This is Art on The Photography as Contemporary Art gave me a look at contemporary photography in a new light.  I would daresay a more enlightened light.  I enjoy photography as a medium; I think that it can be used to such great dramatic effect.  It can easily elicit emotions and power and verve like other art forms can, but I never truly thought about its origins.  I never really thought about where contemporary photography came from.

Cotton’s chapter showed me that.  It taught me things that I didn’t know.  I liked how she moved about different people and techniques from different times and cultures.  What fascinated me was the connection with contemporary photography and performance art.  How the two mediums went hand-in-hand.   When I think about performance art, my first instinct is to make a comparison not with photography but with videography because of course the artists or the videographer wants to capture the performance’s movements.  Not so, it  seems.  I hadn’t known the pursuit of finding a moment in performance art or the photo itself being a performance art as being the onus behind the start of contemporary photography.

I like this notion, however.  It makes sense.  Many a time photography is itself a performance of its own.  Photography has its own choreography.  It’s not what it once was.  Photography is not something that just logs a moment.  The moment’s manipulation, as well as the photo’s manipulation, is just as important to creating the desired effect and message that the photographer wanted to portray.  The subject becomes just as important as the photographer, especially in their capturing that moment.  There to me lies the elegance in contemporary photography.  That photographers do, in fact, choreograph the intended result is just elegant to me.  It shows a care that’s involved just as much as the care that one can find in a painting.  Even when a photographer chooses not to be involved.  S/he is still making a decision that seeks out that (or those) moment(s).  I enjoyed learning from whence this grew. It makes me look at photography in a whole new light.


Assignment 6

We watched a PBS film on William Kentridge called William Kentridge: Anything is Possible. I had heard of Kentridge when I traveled to South African in 2008. I saw him perform I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine at the South African National Gallery; coming across a film about him gave me further insights into him as an artist and to his other works and methods.
I must say that for me, his most intriguing works are his animations. I will not limit that to his films. He has a way of playing with light and reflection and mechanics. Be that the mechanics of our bodies or the mechanical objects. In the film, he placed a stereoscope over above two prints. The stereoscope then, with the use of its mirror, made a 3D image of the two prints he presented, transforming them. He talked about the eye. He’s quite fascinated with the human and how we see. How human beings physically perceive the world. I found it and still find it incredible that he speaks about three-dimensionality being an illusion since it’s simply a function of our brains. I disagree with that sentiment. We know that our world exists in three dimensions. Our brain has adapted to perceive the world as it is, though it’s amalgamation of the two images each eye receives into a 3D picture is in itself an illusion.
To see how he uses tromp l’oeil is incredible on film and up close. In one work he uses a reflective spinning cylinder to show a film on a rotating flat surface. The film projected onto the cylinder and its reflection casts onto the flat rotating surface so that you can see the image like one views a film on a regular screen, but you can experience all in that moment the illusions made from the different sources and see the variables that come into play just to show the film in a way that we treat as “normal” for viewing. It’s a great way to look at how perception really does work and the mechanics that are involved.

Kentridge does a lot of work (films, animations, operas, tapestries, painting, etc), but I think mechanics is what lies at his core. He always seems to want to show just how in particular the body is in its mechanics and how that relates to mechanical objects. How we can use those objects to reflect our experience; to experience how we experience naturally. He does it in a subtle way which I think many a times flies over the heads of most viewers.

Assignment 5

Jan Svankmayer’s forays into surreal animations especially stop-motion animation were quite cool. It was nice to learn about a filmmaker in Europe outside of other surrealists that you’re usually taught about in art history class. Usually one recalls Salvador Dali or Max Ernst, and surrealism, when taught in that setting shows you those artists who began the movement, not artists who continue the movement today as Svankmayer does. His art shows how stop motion – what we commonly in the US think of as cartoony or for children – can have such adult, political, and prescient ideas and points-of-view.

One of the benefits in seeing this film about his work is the show of technique he uses and his background as a puppeteer. He takes such everyday objects and without a lot of hoopla and special effects, he transforms them into characters. The two steaks gained such personification without their personifying traits being so on-the-nose as to have a face or limbs like his decaying fruit and vegetable girl. The subtle movements and humor even next to seriousness shows a depth that goes far beyond the Claymation fare one usually thinks of when seeing a stop-motion film.

I liked how political his work was. How contemptible it was of communism and the Czech Republic’s communist past especially in his exhorting former political leaders. In that he uses nightmarish images especially the bloody pig’s head and intestines to juxtapose it against the footage of the old Czech leaders who were tyrants. The criticism is blatant, and it is shocking to me that it occurred at a time when there were and very well may still be many a political powerful person who was dead set against the views and outright criticism that Svankmayer gives. His work is powerful in such seemingly simplistic ways.

Assignment 4

I agree with the sentiments of the article, a Whole Ball of Wax. Art can and has changed the world. It changes how people think and perceive the world, themselves, and problems that they can encounter. Art can teach one needed skills, some necessary and some not, but truly what skills are unnecessary. Necessity, I would think like beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Art is a necessary as far as humans animals are concerned. There isn’t a time in human history that we can perceive that art did not occur. You have to think about it. Paleolithic art exists. Our art goes back to cave paintings and actually that’s only the art we have that survived all this time. Think about the many works of art that did not survive nature and its powerful erasing.

I like that they touch upon Descartes. I have always had a problem with the posit: I think; therefore I am. In this article they site Milan Kundera who said, “I experience; therefore I am”. I have my own interpretation of that but it agrees with the notion of experience because I think that life is made up the collective perception of the Earth’s ecosystem (that would include all plants and animals and life on Earth). We experience each other and ourselves. I think the posit should be “We experience; therefore, we are”.

There’s a collective nature to art. It’s inescapable and maybe at one point in our history – that is Western history – art for us was more of a tool instead of simply aesthetic and beauty and appreciation. I think we came to see it as a tool because humans became the center of the universe and there is and was a whole enlightenment movement about seeing the world and the universe as this grand machine that just worked perfect. We made life into a machination which would mean it’s made up of parts that each have a function. Art had to be described and explained in a functional sense. Abstraction blew those notions aside abjectly when applied to specific works but not wholly. Like the authors I think it’s sometimes foolish to understand art, especially if it’s essence is not one of understanding just one of experience.

Assignment 2


Marina Abramovic is a New York-based performance artist who started her career in the early 70s. She’s been an active artist since and is self-described as the “grandmother of performance art”. Her work explores the relationship between the performer and the viewer, endurance, the body’s limits, and the mind’s possibilities.

Breathing In and Out
breath in and out

The Artist Is Present, 2010
the artist is present

Abramovic is one of my favorite performance artists. What I like about her work the most is the amount of stock she gives to the notion that the artists is as much a commodity as the artwork itself, especially since the artist is the artwork. Her feats of endurance to show the viewer, more so non-artists, in a very literal sense the amount of time, effort, and energy that an artist can invest in one piece. I think this is significant because we exist in a time where acquiring art is not difficult and sometimes people don’t understand the value artists give to their work. When someone sees what Abramovic experiences to convey her work, then I think it puts a less rhetorical method about which artists value their work and how one can see through her actions the amount of time and energy it may have taken for a painting, etching or drawing, and why such values may not be overinflated.

Mathew Cerletty is a painter from Wisconsin know for his figurative work and more recently his decorative abstractions and representations of interiors. He emerged on the New York art scene in the early 2000s with eerie detailed portraits with subjects placed on vividly patterned backgrounds. As his work continued he turned to painting environments and logos of consumerism into his own dreamworld.

Birthday Boy, 2003
birthday boy
The Bath, 2002
the bath

Cerletty’s figures are creepy and seem to hold a sadness-in-pause. It’s as if he gathered his subjects in a moment of being quite forlorn and without any hope. He pays nice attention to detail in his patterns, and that’s especially more reflective in his later works. You can see how his attention to the patterns became a focus in his paintings especially as they began to grow to be as big and just as stately as the figure. Like in Birthday Boy above, something about the ribbon’s wrapping around the man’s neck is just as pleasing as the lines on his pillow and the lines of the ribbons themselves. The environment he foments is intriguing.

Assignment 1

It was nice to see that we looked at John Cage in this class firstly as an example of an artist who does the unconventional.  I know of him because of his music.  Having studied piano and clarinet as a kid and a teenager (and a bit with the piano still as an adult), John Cage cropped up when my fascination with minimalist music began.  It started with Philip glass for me, and then I sought out other composers who explored music in similar ways.

Philip Glass was a composer who used music like repeating patterns that had no particular goal or phrasal quality that told you a “musical narrative”.  Many of his early works just “were”.  The sound of the music was almost like what was happening in the moment rather than telling a musical story.  Once I found John Cage and 4’33”, I was amazed, and it helped me make sense of the two composers.  John Cage was very concerned, especially with 4’33”, sounds in the now — in the moment.  That performance is one that could never be replicated since it depends on the ambient noise of where and when it is performed.  Everytime it’s experienced that experience only lasts in the moment.  That is what I loved about Philip Glass’s minimalist music and other composers like Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, and John Cage.  It was a liberating and mind blowing way to experience a “classical” composition for me.

My two rules:

Do fail.  You should.  It’s okay.  Don’t let it stop you, though.

Good work brings joy.  Even painful work brings joy.  Joy in accomplishment.  Joy in effort.