Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Forum - art, ideology and politics

On Friday, I went to see the Archibald Exhibition at the Sydney Art Gallery. This is one of three linked prizes. The others are the Wynne and Sulman Prizes.  The links will carry you through to the finalists for each prize. That way you can study them without visiting the Gallery, although for those in Sydney a visit would be worthwhile.

This one of the finalists in the Archibald Prize, Sophia Hewson's Delivered.
This self-portrait was based on a performance that we did in Melbourne. It was intentionally public, fast and cheaply documented, to reference the methods of pornography,’ says Sophia Hewson. 
‘I was using my body in this work to try to open up a dialogue on female self-objectification (when a woman intentionally sexually objectifies herself). Sometimes I think self-objectification can be constructive. It can be used to claim back ownership of the body or to assert: “I can exhibit my sexuality without it amounting to my sexual availability”. 
‘Other times I think it can reflect the way the patriarchal value system has been internalised. But I don’t feel you can expect a woman, who has unconsciously internalised “male” values, to see herself as a space where something has been lost. A new identity needs to be forged. 
‘I’m interested in this because I’m struggling with it myself. I have difficulty navigating the contradictions and differentiating between internal and external influences, but I see self-portraiture as a potent site for negotiating identity.’

I selected the painting because it was one of a number of entries where the artist described her or his work in explicitly  ideological terms. In this context, the main themes were feminism, followed about equally by Aboriginal dispossession and the environment. In some cases such as Sophie's the expression was personal, in others more generalised.

This is Louis Pratt's King Coal. The description reads:
This work is anthropomorphised coal. The title King Coal is from a novel by Upton Sinclair that describes the abysmal working conditions in the coal mining industry in the western United States during the early 20th century. 
Coal is an important issue for Australia. It has helped us enjoy the quality of life we have today and will continue to do so for some time. But a future with coal will lead to environmental disaster. The overwhelming majority of scientists agree we are at a tipping point for the use of fossil fuels. To continue will irreparably poison our atmosphere. 
My work depicts an arrogant character unwilling to change and unaware of his impending doom.

I have no problems with any of this, but it also created a funny reaction in my mind. When I read the descriptions, I found myself asking the question did the work achieve the artist's objective? This is a very different question from do I like it or is it a good piece of art? In Sophie's case I felt no, in Louis' case probably yes. In all, I would have been better off forming my views of the piece and then and only then reading the artist's description.

This leads me to today's forum topic.How do you judge art? What is or should be the relationship between art, ideology and politics?  As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like!


My Observations said...

In my mind and in official definition ART "is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power".

Once say, a painting, expresses views it becomes a tool to convince. Then it is a form of agitation and I have problems to put it in a category of pure art. One could even call it a propaganda. This is not beautiful so according to the above definition is not art.

I am aware of some weakness of my logical deduction, but there is something instinctive in me that protests against ideology or politics in art.

Jim Belshaw said...

I find it all very complicated, AC. Consider the commissioned religious art, say Florence. Or on monumental, the Palace of Culture and Science. Is it just the case that the purpose doesn't matter so much as the later perspectives, that that is when art comes into its own? My problem was the conflict between two questions, the art v the purpose of the art. Perhaps that doesn't matter?

Evan said...

I think art makes poor propaganda and vice versa.

It is the meaning we discover that is convincing, being told what to think (even by good art) isn't convincing.

The other side of the story is that I think most of us encounter the issues we care about often first through art. Theatre or novels or perhaps video or painting.

Evan said...

Robert Pirsig's definition of art: Anything done with high quality.

2 tanners said...

One of the killers of art is the so-called "artistic statement", a piece of text by the artist about their work. You are not allowed to enter competitions without it and so the art is never left to speak for itself. Try attaching a wanky statement to the Sistine Chapel about 'my religious and artistic studies morphing into an ecclesiastically celebrated effort to somehow denote the importance of man to Godhead and vice-versa' or some similar rubbish. No, it is there. Admire it. And find your own meaning.

Anonymous said...

Be interested to read MyOb's view of this artwork:

Also, I think 'Sophie' is actually 'Sophia' who is off on a Residency in the US of A where "Her preliminary research will include traveling to the Polygamous Mormon community in Hildale, and interviewing street preachers and pornography actors in Los Angeles".

Also#2 I very much agree with tanners' comment re "artistic statement"s. They must be handed a Book Of Meaningless Expressions along with their first scrap of paint or canvas, I think.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you for that correction, kvd. I have corrected the piece.

We do use that broader definition sometimes in common speech, Evan, when we speak of someone being an artist at something. Another example would be Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Laughed at your comment, 2t. Pope to artist: "Why do you want to do this? Artist to Pope: "I badly need the money and you are prepared to pay!"

I, too, would be interests in MyOb's views. That was an interesting painting with an understandable description. Here I don't agree with Evan that art makes poor propaganda. It's been used for that purpose down the ages. I should know but can't remember when art for arts sake first emerged.

My Observations said...

I thought that the commissioned sacral art will be picked as a weak side of my argument. But I there are plenty very poor paintings and sculptures created years ago and they did not mature into a true art or beauty.

The Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is not in my mind an example of good architecture, One likes it because one got use to it, similarly to liking old, ugly, comfortable shoe. The socialist realism might be classified as art but I think it would be difficult to find examples of paintings or sculptures from this era that I would find beautiful. The messages of art from the times are crude. The form may be at times a different matter.

Quite a find, kvd. I may not be objective here, as Fangor’s type of art reminds me of gloomy part of Polish history. His painting is an example of a crude message for silly masses. This was propaganda and the artist was pragmatic creating to please communistic leaders. Some of his posters are not bad though.

Anonymous said...

Thank you MyOb (and notice how I have, at your request, elevated you from a condiment to a bookkeeping program :) but do you not also see a sort of reverse propaganda intimated by how closely the lady on the left is clutching her purse? I'm thinking to protect it from expropriation for the good of the workers :)


Evan said...

Arts for arts sake came to prominence in the 19th century and most especially the Victorian. Though it was probably part of the discussion in some sense since the Renaissance with its sense of the artist as individual - quite different to someone like Chaucer.

I very much agree with 2t about 'artistic statements'. Could we ban the use of 'explore' from them do we think? I look forward to the day when a novel is asked to submit a painting to accompany their novels' submission for a prize.

2 tanners said...

Art has always had meaning. In that sense, to the best of our knowledge, art for art's sake probably first arose as cave paintings. It wasn't like the hunters needed encouragement or the prey was going to come in, read it and think, 'Oh, probably time to die now'. If it was as an act of devotion, well, I'm back to the Sistine Chapel and thousands of years of earlier works.

Not sure if the Greek and Egyptians didn't include simply records of daily life without devotional aspects. I'm pretty sure I'd include much Chinese art, particularly nature art, in that class. But I possess profound ignorance in much of this.

On a separate note, to Evan, I'd include the words 'synergy' (I stuck them together), 'realisation' (I made it), 'deconstruction' (analysis, or alternatively I pulled it apart), 'viewpoint' (you're too stupid to see, so I'll look for you), 'post-modern' (no, I don't know what it means either but my statement is too short) and many others on your list of banned words.

Evan said...

I endorse that list 2t

Anonymous said...

tanners I thought the cave paintings were decided to be the cave dwellers' attempt to 'capture the spirit' of that which they hunted - much like some tribes' distrust of early photography? Anyways, whatevs.

It is a very interesting subject that Jim puts up, and is something I have wrestled with over the years: "why do I like this, and not that?" sort of thing. Both Evan and the bookkeeper put up definitions, but I'm really not sure such is possible in a general sense; 'art' means different things to different people, based upon so many other factors which make up their personal world view. Even pornography was at one time only defined by the phrase "but I know it when I see it". And how does one reconcile one's appreciation of a work of art when it becomes known that the artist was a despicable person elsewise? Me, I think the art produced should be appreciated free of that understandable human prejudice, but that is just me.

Anyway, I looked up a few quotes about the subject of 'what is art', and I like this one by one of our more modern and profound influences: "paintings are like women, you'll never enjoy them if you try to understand them"


ps attributed to Freddy Mercury :)
pps agree with tanners' seeming reverence for the Sistine Chapel. I dunno what 'great art' is, but I knew it when I saw it.

Jim Belshaw said...

Although we have't attracted new commenters, something I like. this is a very interesting discussion. I can't comment now, but will come back tonight. Maybe some more comments?

Anonymous said...

Well ok, if you wish Jim. So let's concentrate our thoughts upon Sophie [Sophia] Hewson:

Sophia’s practice incorporates painting, installation, sculpture, performance work and video

- multi-skilled. Sometime soon she will hit upon a paying gig. Or maybe write a book, possibly titled "Concentrate Upon Your Crotch: And Red Knickers Helps" - on a grant, of course.

She intentionally falsifies moments of spiritual revelation to create the sensation of ‘faith not found’

- shorthand for "we're not quite sure what she's on about, because she's not yet quite sure what she's on about, but hey - knickers! - or hey - unintentional!"

She also explores female self-objectification, asking the question ‘is the visual objectification of the female body inherently patriarchal?’

- not that anyone else has ever 'explored' the same theme since, oh I don't know - possibly Nefertiti. So it's bound to be a fresh insight you have.

Sophia has had several solo exhibitions including Dy Dykrenore, which featured a large scale ice sculpture with an imbedded kangaroo spine

- as you would, but it's actually the wombat shit outside my back door that irritates.

and Delivered [internalising the pervert/or re-building the body psyche] where she hung for several hours covered in black glitter.

- as you do. I felt the same way on the red rattler back to Sutherland, many many times.

Sophia was selected by Art Collector Magazine as one of Australia’s 50 Most Collectable Artists

- except you can't collect her "frozen kangaroo spine" or her "hanging" from the ceiling because (1) it melted and (2) you'd need to feed her, I expect. (Don't laugh; we all do thru grants and awards) But NOTE: I do have a supply of frozen wombat shit if anybody is interested...

And all this with the profound insight granted/gained by a 20-something year old! I have shirts and jumpers older than that.


Jim Belshaw said...

Multiple comments from me. I am breaking them up a bit. Thanks, Evan for the comment on art for arts sake. I followed that up with Wikipedia - I hadn't actually realised how recent it was, that phrase. I haven't checked, but my memory is that the idea of art as beauty emerged earlier, with similar manifestations in poetry and gardening.

And 2t, most of the cave paintings seem to have very specific meanings.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that AC's point about things not maturing into true art is well taken, and goes to my point about the importance of time and perspective. However, I'm not totally sure about the point on beauty. There are paintings that I find striking, that are good art, some of Picasso's stuff comes to mind that cannot really be classified as beautiful.

Perspective is important. You can understand AC's point on the communist "realism" style. However, someone without that context may find the stuff attractive or, at least interesting.

2t, laughed at you word guide. kvd, where did you find those descriptions on Sophia's work?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jim


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd Appreciated.

2 tanners said...

My point, Jim, was that all art has meaning, and therefore "art for art's sake" could be applied equally to cave paintings and to Sophia Hewson's work. One of them speaks to me much more than the other, but that's just me.

Art for beauty's sake alone is a different kettle of fish (to me) than art for art's sake.

Jim Belshaw said...

Point noted, 2t. It goes to the distinction between the creator and the observer.

My Observations said...

It was a very interesting and stimulating discussion. Thank you, Jim, for opening such a tricky subject.I have been thinking about art a lot as the result of it. I do not agree with myself in all I have written like with the definition. It was not mine but I accepted it at the time. On reflection, I do not. I may write my own post on the subject, I'll see.

Jim Belshaw said...

It was a good discussion, AC. Look forward to your companion post.