But is it art? Session 2

Last week, I wrote about session 1, with Dr. Patricia Briggs, from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was about expressionism, abstractionism, the progression towards minimalism. This session, she continued to move forward in time to help us understand contemporary art. I took many more notes. Again, all mistakes below are mine.

Dr. Briggs started with putting forth Donald Judd as a great example of minimalism. His work shows the minimalist view that art is about expression, not self-expression. It’s a radical outside of human-ness. She again talked about Duchamp, where his art was not of the artist’s touch and hand. She gave the example of in his welded pieces, he gave a welder instruction on construction.

She referenced again action painting like Pollock and Gutai, where painting is about a trace of performance. This happened at about the same time as performance art got big. At the Walker, there are some Yves Klein body prints — naked female torsos printed onto paper. This is art that is an outcome of an activity.

Now, the aesthetic and anti-aesthetic tradition have been opposing each other in the 20th century. The anti-aesthetic tradition is Dada, conceptualism, sometimes surrealism (which can have a foot in both camps). Dada is the anti-art, that the beauty shown, if any, is convulsive beauty, the beauty of the abject, decay, beauty that hurts. Dada includes making collages as art — something common now, but not then. Making art of trash (found objects/modified found objects), art that goes out to the masses using low art, popular art such as mass media, photography. The function is to uncover those things that you usually don’t think about.

Dr. Briggs talked about Raushenberg, who was influenced by Duchamp — and Merce Cunningham (dance choreographer who felt that dance should be more real than artificial ballet) and John Cage (a pianist who would sit at a piano and let the sound of the audience be the piece). Raushenberg painted a field of white, and the shadow you cast over the piece became part of it. And if it got dirty, an assistant repainted it. Rauschenberg had a piece that was erasing a piece of art that de Kooning drew. She said it took him weeks to erase, that this was a collaboration between the artists, and that de Kooning drew something that would be hard to erase. He progresses to assemblages (vs. collages); her example was Bed, made up of his quilt and pillow, altered. The canvas is a flat tabletop, you put stuff on it, and the viewer processes it.

Neo-Dada uses expressionist paintbrush strokes, sometimes puts it next to collages, found objects, junk. These expressionist paintbrush strokes are ironic, not expressionist. Warhol was next on the neo-Dada agenda, about his appropriation of images to create art of the world. She talked about his Marilyn Monroe images — they’re not about Marilyn, they’re about how the Hollywood machine makes puppets out of people, objectifying people. Dr. Briggs said what’s brilliant about Warhol is that we like to look at it, unlike many other Dada and neo-Dada artists.

Using multiple texts is very post-modern. There’s no difference between high art and advertising. Multiple objects are pulled together, not necessarily to make a narrative. Many post-modern artists appropriate images from many contexts. Sherrie Levine is the apex of this, where she literally photographs other photographs, other paintings, and puts her name on it. This is commentary on originality (there is nothing new under the sun), authority of ownership, a very post-modern thought. To post-modern artists, the author is dead, all speaking is quotation, you can’t own an idea. Other issues explored by post-modern artists is exploration of the body, and not pretty poses. It’s a shift to art that doesn’t show the human body as a beautiful aesthetic, but physically clumsy things with vulnerabilities and openings. Racial identity is another theme explored, art about people who don’t have a voice.

At the Walker (the location of the next and last session), there is a lot of minimalism. This is not where you go to find craft, beauty, to find something that makes you feel good. Dr. Briggs is going to show us some of her favorite works. I’ll let you know what they are….

Session 3

7 thoughts on “But is it art? Session 2”

  1. Pollock guided the paint with his hand…Duchamp guided the welder with his words. Not that different.

    Trying to remember the state of war or peace and what sort of civil unrest were going on when Dadaism started…WWI maybe? The last time the world was a place of isolated rural communities?

  2. Good comparison! There certainly are artists who have others who complete the process, who execute their design. In the bead world, Madelyn Ricks does her gallery work, but her line work is done by others. David Chatt has a beading assistant. Both design it themselves. For whatever (illogical?) reason, it’s easier for me to understand sculpture-by-proxy than painting-by-proxy.

    Wikipedia says, during WWI in Switzerland, peaking 1916-1920. And, that it was the starting point of performance art, as well as a protest against the bourgeois interests that they felt started the war (and other reasons too). I heard the word “bourgeois” SO many times during these two sessions!

  3. Makes sense…WWI was the end of the old pastoral world, Europe was rearranged along political lines instead of according to tribes and languages. Time for art to get political instead of religious. Paris was full of ex patriots making weird art, Georgia O’Keefe was painting giant scary flowers here… History and Art History were all stirred up, never to turn back.

  4. One of the things Dr. Briggs said is that it used to be “what does it mean to be an artist.” Now, being an artist is “producing your own meaning.” And if you’re looking at a minimalist work, it’s up to you to make your own meaning? I think that’s the gist.

    Painting was more pastoral too. It’ll be interesting (for someone else) to see what “sticks” of contemporary art in 100 years. And what’s next.

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  6. I wonder if there will be any commentary in the future Art History about how the internet has made art more of the people. It’s easier to get published than ever before… and how ‘women’s work’ has become more respected (thinking art quilts and fiber arts here)

  7. The connectedness of the world has definitely changed, and I think the internet deserves mention.

    There have been news articles about getting published in academia, how, in some instances, publishing online is gaining credibility as the required publishing towards tenure. It’s just interesting! Just a couple years ago, I bet that wasn’t happening.

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