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Of Authentic and Realistic Works of ArtIn the post-9/11 era that we now find ourselves in, everything must be thrown open to question, to debate. This goes especially for the arts, and specifically for my own field: The Visual Arts. There are two major concerns/problems that I see as center-stage in the on-going debate as to what art is, and what purposes art serves. (If not center-stage, then at least a major actor in the drama called "art".) Two essays that caught my attention were those by Nelson Goodman and Linda Nochlin. A brief review of the "problem" is in order. The two parts of the problem are: Should we be concerned about forgeries in an age when reproductions are common? And what is the role of realism in a world that is surrounded by the ultra-real images that are manufactured using computers and other technology.
Autographic vs AllographicThe first part was prompted by the recent theft of Edvard Munch's "The Scream". The fact that there are four versions of this painting, makes one pause as to think, "Well, at least we have the other two". This was triggered in my re-reading Nelson Goodman's essay on "autographic" vs "allographic" art forms. According to my "reading" of Goodman, an "autographic" art form would be something like a painting or a sculpture. That is, there is (assumed) inherent "value" in the original work of art. This is to be true, even if a fake (forgery) is so good that it would take microscopic or chemical analysis to determine one from the other. In terms of "allographic" art, Goodman gives the example of print. The prints are "pulled" from a plate and are as such "copies" of the plate. The idea here is (as I interpret it), that the plate is the *autographic* art form, and the prints pulled are the *allographic* forms -- copies. Of course, this begs the question of "editioning". In theory (and according to "proper" practise), each print should be signed by the original artist, the edition should be numbered, and the plate should be "struck"; ie, marked in some matter to denote a difference, by which any successive prints could be identified from the first edition. (Full striking of the plate, means that the plate is cut into at lest two parts, or otherwise rendered un-usuable for further prints; there is a long, and sordid history of this with *collectors*). Another allographic form, is that of a score of a work of music. For example, if we have a copy of a Mozart piece of music (eg, "The Marriage of Figaro"), then a copy does not matter, the original manuscript (MS) is the autographic work. And copies are intended to be perfect copies of the original, so that the *performance* can be an allographic "copy" of the original (autographic) "work". The problem with music in this sense, continues far a-field from the visual arts; eg, the various problems in traditional notation as applied to jazz, led Charles Mingus to hold a workshop to adapt musical notation. This problem becomse totally manifest in the case of either classical forms (eg, ballet), or in the case of more modern works; ie, performance, happenings, installations, etc..
Ceramics & PrintmakingEven if we contain ourselves to the visual arts, we see the problem of autographic vs allographic as we wander through the various art forms. In the case of ceramics (hand-thrown or rope-built) of "sets". For example, a tea set is (in some cases), intended to be made in identical pieces. [Please suspend comments about the so-called "intentionalist" fallacy until later.] Each cup is intended to be identical to the others. Of course, the uncertainty of fire-ing, glazes, etc., means that this is rarely the case. One approach is to make an large number of cups, then after all is done, choose the set that most looks like each other. It might (for example) be the case to make 20 cups, and find one *set* of 8 that are "identical", and another set of 6 that are "identical", and the remaining ones are right off. This is similar to the problem of editioning a print. Even if all goes well, the chances of each successive print being part of the edition are questionable. This is esp. true in the case of multiple plat prints, multiple colour prints, etc. Common practice is to take the prints that most closely resemble each other and call *that* the edition. For example, 40 3-color prints are pulled, and of those 18 are judged to be effectively "identical" and then numbered 1/18 thru 18/18. Of course, such practices are never carried out (this is merely a theoretical discussion of "something" called "common practice"; whenever *cololectors* are involved, litigattion is sure to follow. Again, we have been begging the question of "identical" as well. And thus, return to Goodman's original idea of "how good a fake" and "Why is the authentic work of value, if forgeries can be so perfect?" (His article outlines even more ides that would take us far a-field, and far be it for me to *ever* digress ;)
The Role of the New RealismJust as for the ceramist intent of making a perfect tea set, the modern realists are intent on mimicing the photograph; ie, making the perfect photo via paint. As Nochlin points out, the context of the modern painter is dependent upon our modern world;. As she points out, "... Instead of using photographs, Pearlstein has, as far as possible, transformed himself into a camera, and has assimilated many of the many of the characteristics normally associated with photography, such as arbitrary cropping, the close-up, and radical disjunction of scale, to his painting style." [Realism Now, Nochlin, P5.] Another relevant that she states: "The act of perception is itself total, condition both in its mode and in its content by time, place, and concrete situation. While it may be willfully objective -- and realists have traditionally tried to divest themselves of personal and cultural impedimenta -- it can not occur in a vacuum; it is this that makes the new realism so new and so completely of our time. Courbet's nudes could never have looked like Pearlstein's or Beal's or Leslie's How could they, since they were painted before the invention of the close-up, the flood lamp, or phenomenology Laderman's West Side Highway landscpae could never have been painted by Pisarro, even though both were scrupulously recording visual facts, not merely because the West Side Highway did not exist when and where Pisarro was painting, but because Picturamic Postcard Vues and concepts like alienation and distancing were unavailable as well. [Loc Cit, P6] Thus, far from "merely" being photgraphic, some realists envisage a painting as if taken through a Camera Obscura that in fact gives us more than a mere camera could. My favrorite example of this is Alice Neel. Of what need have she for ultra-realistic photgraphic form, when she captures the essence far more effectively? And what are we to make of Cindy Sherman's manufactured realities? Somewhere in there, must lie some "truth".
A Point of ClarificationIn trying to keep with the spirit of Nochlin's idea of realism (ie, photo realism, or at least renaissance-style realism), I will now extend this to mean *any* image that is clearly recognizable in terms of the "cultural database". I do this in light of the intenet where-by almost any information in human history can be called up by the touch of a button. Thus, even though we might see the blotchiness of Warhol's Dollar Signs, I tend to think of it as realism (if only slightly so). There is not much chance of one mistaking the work for an imaginative snake image, or a type-o-graphic "s" of some sort; it is clearly a dollar sign. In fact this, brings up an interesting side-bar. What is the nature of "realism" when applied to "type" or even geometric figures? If we take a letter S Then what are we mkae of: S ? If we follow this track, much further we might be tempted to say that the "role" of realism in the modern era is to achieve more easily something that might not be easily realised by actual photographic techniques. This is especially true of *computer generated* images; we will speak more about this in a later essay. Actually, whether an image IS realistic "enough" is again made moot, by the fact that a "copy of sufficient quuality" can be considered a forgery of the original art work. Thus, we might have a Pearlstein work, and then a very good forgery. (Taking into account, as does Goodman, that it would take a person skilled in forgery as well as one who is well grounded in the artist's work; eg, brush stroke, thickness of paint, use of masking, the *order* in which the colors are laid down, etc) It is also important to note that it is the purpose of book publishers to come as close as possible to faithfully "forging" copies of the original work; we, refer to this as "publishing", since it is the *intent* of the book publisher to inform, not to deceive. Naturally, unless textured reproductions are made the flat surface clearly demarks the image from the original -- or so we assume! (Again an interesting side-bar on a ink-jet printer that uses oil or acrylic paint and creates a topographically as well as chromatically faithful "copy" of a work of art). But, alas; I digress.
Forward into the PastWhen Pablo Picasso painted "Guernica", he stated that art could never again just be decoration. The work also made plain that all of this "cubism stuff" could be brought to deliver a message just as elloquent and direct as Francisco Goya's "The Third of May, 1808". It was at this point that "mere" cubism crossed over from being a style into the realm of the "drawerly" way of art; ie, into the realm of one of the simplest of visual arts and certainly one of the most ancient. Thus, with repetition, emphasizes the all-encompasing image that we in the "modern" world are in-undated with. Thus, where-as Goya reveals to us the horrors of war by showing us different people and their actions and re-actions, Warhol (eg, in "The Tuna Fish Disasters") makes the same *concept* of personal loss and death even more personal and direct. Thus, allographic images are combined into a unique autographic work. This is to be expected, since the "tea set" is of the same nature; the "set" as a whole being the autographic object. Both in purely visual art, as well as performance and film, is this concept of repetition important. It establishes a "feel", by which the entire work is then held together more completely by the fact that we "know" that repetition is being used. For example, in Aronofski's movie, Pi, the use of exactly the same sound/film clip where "Max" (Sean Gillete) taking pills to stave off an on-coming migrane headache, create a continuity similar to Samuel Beckett's use of the circularity of dialog and circumstance in Waiting for Godot are used to build the struggle between hope and hope-lessnes. In both cases, the allographic components can be seen, and they are combined to create the autographic work. It is important to re-note that each "allographic" component is in fact an *instance* of an autographic "thing". Thus, as Didi keeps checking his hat for lice or something and then saying, "Nothing to be done" -- that autographic element is cast over and over into various allographic bits -- separated only what has come before. And as Beckette makes clear: The repeition oF TIME is un-ending, that no one in the play has any idea of what time it is. Time being only marked by "before sunset" or "after sunset".
Further into the Past: InfinityIn Jackson Pollock's created for Peggy Gugenheim's long, narrow hallway. The concept of infinity is again introduced by repetition. This can again be seen in Konstantin Brancusi's infinite column. The unique autographic forms are combined allographically to create the over-all autographic form. We have to note here that the very text that you are reading is an example of this. The autographic characters are being used as allographs (orthographic symbols) to create a unique line of text; see for example, Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel. Finally, one is led (I would hope) to the in-escapable conclusion that each work of art in human history are each autographic elements (composted of allographic applications of the autographic "things" called "brush strokes", "splotches paint", and "pinches of clay", etc. And thus, all of art devolves to (as Marcel Duchamp put it almost 100 years ago) to ready-made assisted. But, now having gone through this exercise of autographic and allographic forms, we can now say: The sum toto of all art (at any given moment) is an absolutely realistic autograhic work. We then extend this to include all forgeries, copies, photo reproductions, and indeed, all art students's drawings of famous works, as well as all sketches in all sketch books to be the *now extant* "thing" called ART. (it was at this point that the some-what learned, and quite-some-what near-sighted lecturer, stepped off of his soap box, and fell face-first into a quite recently deposited load of horse hockey, and that it struck him (as he struck the horse hockey) that if only David Hockney or Philip Pearlstein had been present to "capture" the moment, that his entire thesis would have been proved, "qed" (quod erat demonstratum). -- or not, Night all, Pizo.
The Original ArticleI wrote these as reviews of the Fall, 2004, BCSA Student Art Exhibit. It was not published, no explanation given; instead, they chose to run a review of the Chucky II movie (or one of those numbers), as well as a game review. Enjoy! The role of art in the post-post-modern world has been in contention since Jackson Pollock first dripped painted down onto a canvas rather than took the “traditional brush in hand” approach. The first of three successive exhibits of student works on display in the Forum and Studio galleries strongly enter into the dialog of “What is Art for?” The art historian and philosopher Nelson Goodman questioned the role of an original work of art in the modern world. If the techniques used by forgers are so good that microscopic and chemical analysis have difficulty in discerning the original from the fake. He articulated the concepts of “autographic” and “allographic” forms of art. A painting or a sculpture is autographic, while any copy of a musical score of a piece by Beethoven is not a forgery since the music itself is allographic. Since the score itself it “merely” a means of specifying the art work itself; ie, the performance of the piece of music. In the modern, photographic, digital-enabled, web-ready world, what then is the role of life drawing, or drawing in general for that matter? For example, Priscilla Lima’s drawing of an old woman, titled “Beauty” shows us the image of a person who would hardly be considered anything but “plain” in today’s glitzy Hollywood crazed world where people spend fortunes to remake themselves into “beautiful people”. The very image screams for the portrayed woman to be sent on TV for a complete make-over. And yet, Lima’s drawing reveals a sensitivity to the person drawn that would be lost in almost any photograph. Needless to say, a make-over would erase the very character of the person portrayed. Thus art seems to break the rule: Beauty is what the majority thinks it is; or at least what TV would have us believe it is. Similarly, the “rules” are broken by the two collage pieces by Virginia Robertson (Collage Series: Fall 2004) and Rani L. Rautela (Dot Study). The pieces purport to be drawings and yet seem either disjointed as if uncertain of concept (in the case of Robertson’s piece) or almost deranged (in the case of Rautela’s piece). But, both are purely autographic pieces. Each is a unique solution to the great question of “What is Art?”; each explores the use of two dimensional space in unique ways that would perplex most people who think that “Great Art” begins and ends with the Renaissance. Each piece succeeds, simply because it IS modern; in short, it takes chances – breaks the rules. In addition the drawings and design pieces, small metals and 2-design works are included. Indeed, these works as well “break the rules”. The three- dimensionalzed versions of various Picasso drawings of women are “beautiful”, only because we are all familiar with the authentic cubist drawings by Picasso. Hence, the two-dimensional is given 3-dimensional form. Thus, far from pretending to be forgeries of Picasso’s work, they celebrate the originality of the work. Thus, passing through the stages of becoming allographic representations of Picasso’s autographic “script” and upon contemplation, are clearly autographic in their own right. And the reverse process can be seen in the work of Zoetina Veal’s (Trichosis #0) and Resi Douglas (Tranquility) where by the electric nature of line and shadow, they essentially force the two dimensional work off the picture plane and into the third dimension. Other works go even further. Ceramics (unlike sculpture) relies entirely upon the creation of unique works of art. Each piece is therefore completely autographic. However, the concept of repetition presents an almost allographic question. For example, if a ceramist creates a series of pieces in a tea set. The pieces even though “hand thrown” on a wheel, are all unique. That the ceramist has tried their best to make the pieces identical (as intent, we assume), does not deny the actual uniqueness of the pieces. In the display the Studio Gallery, the ceramic works on display are all entirely unique from each other. Whether it was the intent of each artist to create autographically unique pieces (ie, clearly different from the works of other artists, or from their own work), or to create allographic copies of some other work is a question that can not be answered easily. Each piece on display carries with a heavy burden in the context of art history and the philosophy of the aesthetics. Regardless, the works captivate us with both their diversity of physical appearance, as well as their unity in the world of ceramics. For ceramics, the great “dividing distinction” is: Functional or non-Functional? But the question in terms of the “fine arts” is hardly as clear-cut as it might appear. For example, Aaron B.W. Ostrom’s “Toucan at Inguacu” ostensibly purports to be serving tray; clearly functional. However, its aesthetic decries this in the detail to which the work is approached. Surely, the simpler approach would have been to paint a picture (take a picture), laminate it to a wooden tray, and then use it as a commonplace serving tray. That this work of art might be considered “purely” functional is at best specious. On the other hand, Marilu Delgado’s “Primitive Women” purports to be a statue, about as non-functional as one might expect. Yet, clearly it could be used as a paperweight, pencil holder, or even as a doorstop. That such effronteries might offend the so-called “art loving public”, should be held off by Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the reverse ready-made; eg, he proposed using a Rembrandt as an ironing board. His most famous (or infamously held by the art loving public) ready-made was of course the urinal, turned on it’s back and titled “Fountain”. In addition the works in the Studio Gallery, the Forum Gallery exhibits photographs, digital works, prints, and watercolors. In addition there are two installed pieces by Jorge Misum; “Cornerstone” and “Peace”. The corner-installed piece (Cornerstone) echoes back to an installation piece by Joseph Beuys wherein he tossed bits of animal fat into a corner, filling the space much in the same way as Misum’s piece does. Interworking with Misum’s first piece, his ceramics instructor, Du Chau challenged Misum to introduce a piece that embodies the concept of “peace”. The fragility of the installed piece is readily apparent, whether it achieved its goal the viewer will have to decide for themselves. PART THREE The final exhibit in the fall student art show will encompass those two vast and mighty areas of art: Painting and Sculpture. For much of the art loving public, this is what “real art” is. Each student will choose their one best piece that expresses what they fill is their best work. For some, this will be a representational work that attempts to mimic the photograph. For some, the works will be completely abstract, and thus attempting to enter into the dialog of the modern. With Duchamp’s attempt to introduce a urinal as a work of sculpture, most art historians agree that this change in the dialog of art began the modern era. If we take a photograph of an assembly line making urinals, then our photograph is “mere” documentation of manufacture of functional plumbing. If, however, we take the photo so that it captures a certain “look” about the assembly line (perhaps the use of repetition, perhaps the composition of the break of space, etc). In that case, one could maintain that the photograph itself was a work of art; and therefore, not “mere” documentation. And while the works of painting are clearly autographic, what are we to make of cast sculpture? Clearly hand-wrought, one-of-a-kind sculpture (like ceramic pieces) are autographic and therefore unique works of art. But, of the casting of several pieces, what are we to say? If we “assume” that the castings are made with the direction or permission of the artist (even if the artist was not involved in the actual casting of the piece from a mold that was made at the behest of the artist), then we are faced with the apparent dilemma of deciding whether the works are autographic, or merely allographic copies and that only the original form (from which the mold was made) is the only autographic work; and hence the autographic work becomes the mold, rather than the casting. The most famous example of this problem is that of August Rodin’s statue, “The Thinker”. The original cast statue was considered obscene and destroyed. The version that exists today is the second casting. Indeed, there are several castings of Rodin’s statue “Balzac”. Without falling prey to the so-called “intentionalist fallacy”, it is clear that the reproductions reference the original work (whether it be the first casting or the mold itself). As you walk among this exhibit, let these questions of the original work, a photograph of the work, and this (written) description of the work enter into your mind. These are the kinds of thoughts that artists often entertain while creating art. This, and the questions: What IS art? Why am I doing this? And of course: Where am I going to get money to by some more cadmium yellow, deep hue paint?