Exercise 2.2 Kitsch

Describe the features in each of these paintings that you think correspond to Greenberg’s view that kitsch ‘imitates the effects of art’. in other words how has the artist made the painting look artistic – as if for a sophisticated taste.

In his 1939 paper Avant-Garde and Kitsch [1: 546], Greenberg wrote ‘If avant-garde imitates the processes of art, kitsch … imitates its effects’ .

According to the course notes (p53), ‘One way of putting this is to say avant-garde art is authentic because it depends on its own means, but kitsch is second hand because it depends on art.’

The course cites works by Vladimir Tretchikoff and Jack Vetriano, ‘both look artistic – ‘imitating the effects of art’ – but both seem composed of fake sentiments’.

In his paper, Greenberg, compares how an ‘ignorant Russian peasant’ might appreciate art compared to that of a ‘cultivated spectator’. He examines how such people might interpret paintings such as those by Repin in contrast to paintings by Picasso.

To put Greenberg’s analysis in context, I searched for a painting by Repin, and while I initially searched under the prolific works of Ilya Repin (1844 – 1930 Russian), I found a painting which fits well with Greenberg’s description in a painting by his son Juri (or Yuri) Repin (1877 – 1954) called Battle of Yalu River (fig 1).

Figure 1.  Battle of Yalu River (1914) Juri Repin

Then I searched for an example painting which might fit Greenberg’s argument from the works of Picasso. and chose his 1920 painting Woman sitting in an Armchair (fig. 2)

Figure 2.  Woman sitting in an Armchair (1920) Pablo Picasso

Greenberg sums up his analysis saying [1: 546]:

‘Ultimately, it can be said that the cultivated spectator derives the same values from Picasso that the peasant gets from Repin, since what the latter enjoys in Repin is somehow art too, on however low a scale, and he is sent to look at pictures by the same instincts that send the cultivated spectator.

But the ultimate values which the cultivated spectator derives from Picasso are derived at a second remove, as the result of reflection upon the immediate impression left by the plastic values. It is only then that the recognizable, the miraculous and the sympathetic enter. They are not immediately or externally present in Picasso’s painting, but must be projected into it by the spectator sensitive enough to react sufficiently to plastic qualities. They belong to the “reflected” effect. In Repin, on the other hand, the “reflected” effect has already been included in the picture, ready for the spectator’s unreflective enjoyment. Where Picasso paints cause, Repin paints effect. Repin predigests art for the spectator and spares him effort, provides him with a short cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art. Repin, or kitsch, is synthetic art.’

So, turning to the pictures in question for this exercise, I think I should look for aspects of the painting which offer obvious sentiment, which is the ‘predigested’ or synthetic art

The Chinese Girl (1950) Vladimir Tretchikoff

Figure 3.  The Chinese Girl (1950) Vladimir Tretchikoff

I think the overwhelming sentiment is one of peace and serenity.  The pose in which the hands are hidden in the folds of the sleeve suggests to us she has little to say – she doesn’t show us anything, or point to anything, or express any emotion through the clasping of hands – she keeps her gestures hidden, at peace in perhaps the way a nun, or a priest, would fold their hands into her sleeves while contemplating or listening to someone.

The gaze of the girl appearing to be down and to our right, not looking at us (in contrast to so many pin-up posters of the 50’s) – it’s a submissive or reflective pose – it doesn’t challenge us to engage with her.  I wonder if we should turn to images of The Virgin Mary (fig. 3) to see if there are any parallels.

Figure 4. Painting of The Virgin Mary

Perhaps there is a connection between images of the Virgin Mary, and the peace and salvation which she apparently offers to Christian believers, which ties into the painting of The Chinese Girl. Perhaps Tretchikoff really does pull on a range of sentiments offered by popular religious images of the Virgin Mary.

The Chinese Girl is not a religious painting, but it does offer the image of a glamorous woman – someone from the Orient, a place seen to the working classes in the 50’s and 60’s as a relatively unknown and mysterious world.  Tretchikoff has exaggerated the colour of her skin to make her appear unusual, and complemented her skin tones with fabulous oriental clothes with colourful and intricate design, where yellows dominates. According to the web site Psychological Properties of Colours [http://www.colour-affects.co.uk/]:

The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating […] the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is the strongest colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism.

I think Tretchikoff contributes fake sentiments by choosing to paint the garment yellow, and to make the colour reflection onto the chin and cheekbones, to give her an air of self confidence and optimistic feminism.

And we see that she is in some way Westernised – by the coiffured hair and bright red lipstick. She is someone who is using products of the flowering consumerism of the 50’s – adopting a fashionable style of the young women of countries in which this image became popular (UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa).

As Tretchikoff’s biographer, Boris Gorelik, claimed in an article for the Independent on-line web site in 2013 when addressing the question about why The Chinese Girl prints became so popular [3]:

 ‘I think they matched people’s expectations of the exotic,’ … ‘In the 1950s and ’60s, people wanted to travel to foreign lands. Like rock musicians, who have a certain period when what they do matches popular taste – this is what happened with Tretchikoff. Somehow, he reflected their hopes and aspirations.’


Do you leave footprints in the Sand? (2002) Andrew Hewkin

Figure 4.  Do you leave footprints in the Sand? (2002) Andrew Hewkin

The sentiment coming from this painting is about holidaying or living in a beautiful place, perhaps being that woman in the painting, or having a relationship with that woman.  People attracted to this image might find hope in their dreams to escape the drudgery of everyday work for a brief escape to the sun.  Perhaps the title of the painting gives us a clue, it asks whether we go on holidays in such beautiful places – do you leave footprints in the sand?

The loose fitting garments give us a hint of the outline of her body, and an exposure of her right breast – there’s a sense of airiness, an escape from the heat – an allure and seduction. We can’t see her face, we can’t see her expression – she is anonymous and chic. We might imagine ourselves as this woman, or imagine ourselves being in these beautiful stylish surroundings meeting such a person.

The sentiment is obvious, no ‘second reading’ is needed – it sends us immediately to a place of our summer holiday – maybe we have been there before, or it’s a dream to come, but either way by owning this poster we can dream it will come true, and ultimately see whether we leave footprints in the sand.


General Research into Kitsch

Avant-garde art concerns itself with the process and materials of art, and art which requires thought and interpretation by an audience educated in interpreting the clues and symbols contained therein.

Kitsch is mass produced art – available as posters, or in magazines – art which is easy, requires no thought, which is pre-digested or synthesised.

According to Sturken and Cartwright [3: 57], ‘The term Kitsch formerly referred to images and objects that are trite, cheaply sentimental and formulaic.  Kitsch is associated with mass-produced objects that offer cheap or gaudy versions of classical beauty …’.

I searched the web for classic examples of Kitsch.  First is the lava lamp which is generally though of as a kitsch object, but where is the ‘predigested’ sentiment in this object?  I guess it’s the fascination of seeing globs of acid colour ascending and descending, reminiscent of the psychedelic images emerging from the hippy culture of the time.  I can see how it can later become kitsch to those who reflect back sentimentally on times they might perceive as better, when their own lava lamp graced their bedside table.

Figure 5. The Lava Lamp

In the 1990’s the popularity of the lava lamp had a resurgence.  According to Sturken and Cartwright [3: 57]:

‘Certain objects formerly deemed “tasteless” of just silly, the everyday artefacts of the everyday middle-class or working-class consumer, were given new value over time precisely because they had become iconic artefacts of a past era.   The educated connoisseur can collect and display hese now-valuable artefacts to demonstrate engagement in the culture of lowbrow aesthetics.’

And then there are the china figurines which some people used to collect – prancing horses, wide eyed dogs, and cute kitties in a variety of clichéd poses.  The sentiments are obvious, with an inward ‘aawww – that’s cute’, quickly giving way to a yawn.  But I guess certain people never tired from needing to own such objects of extreme kitsch.

Figure 6. Cute kitty figurines

Solomon wrote in his paper On Kitsch and Sentimentality [4: 5]:

‘Kitsch and sentimentality provoke excessive or immature expressions of emotion. It is true that kitsch is calculated to evoke our emotions, especially those emotions that are best expressed by that limp vocabulary that seems embarrassingly restricted to such adjectives as “cute” and “pretty” or that even more humiliating, drawn-out downward intoned “Aaaaah” that seems inappropriate even in Stuckeys’ – Stuckeys was a US roadside convenience store selling candy, novelties, food, fuel.

It is also true that the emotions provoked by kitsch tend to be unsophisticated and even child-like (as opposed to childish). But is the charge that kitsch provokes too much of these affectionate emotions, or that it provokes them at all? And when the critics of sentimentality call an emotion “immature” or “naive” are they really contrasting it with more mature and knowledgeable emotions or are they, again, dismissing emotions as such?’

Some of the best known paintings produced as posters in the 1960’s were made by J.H Lynch, two of the most famous being Tina in 1961 (fig. 7), and Nymph produced sometime before 1965 (fig. 8).

Figure 7.  Tina (1961) J.H Lynch

Figure 8.  Nymph (before 1965) J.H Lynch

All his women look at us directly, challenging us to look at them in various states of undress with backdrops of some dark forest, or mediterranean village.  The only sentiment is that of allure and seduction – the idea that these women exist somewhere in foreign lands.  It appears to have been acceptable art in working-class homes of the 60’s.  The art is poor, and the sentiment crass.

Athena posters were all the rage from the 1970’s. Stephen Pearson’s 1972 poster Wings of Love (fig. 11) is a popular Athena kitsch image from my childhood. It uses the graceful shape of a swan as a metaphor for love, and the man and woman taking their place like a biblical Adam and Eve, watching the eternal setting sun.  The negative shape bounded by the swan’s neck and wing on which the man stands makes the form of a heart shape, and the woman observes her object of love, following the direction of the swan’s head to her beau, while he contemplates the sunset. I think there are many contrived sentiments here which must make it a kitsch classic.

Figure 9. Wings of Love (1972) Stephen Pearson

Which leads me back to Solomon’s 1991 paper On Kitsch and Sentimentality in which he discussed how a seemingly perfect painting can be seen as kitsch, and uses William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1900 painting A Childhood Idyl as an example (fig. 10).

Figure 10.  A Childhood Idyll (1900) William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Solomon says [4, 3-4]:

‘Being moved by one’s emotions, in contrast to paying attention to the more formal and refined aspects of a work of art, is at best a distraction, if not a “dead give-away” that one is having a “cheap” emotional experience instead of a cultivated aesthetic response.  High-class kitsch may well be “perfect” in its form and composition: the academic painters were often masters of their craft. Thus the accusation that a work is kitsch is based not on lack of form or aesthetic merit but on the presence of a particularly provocative emotional content. (The best art, by contrast, eschews emotional content altogether)’.

‘What makes Bouguereau kitsch?  What makes it bad art? From an aesthetic point of view it is the “perverse perfection” that is so offensive and cloying, the absence of any interpretive ambiguity or dissonance on the part of the viewer, but most important (for our purposes) it is the manipulation of emotion, the evocation of “cheap”, “false” emotions than makes this otherwise “perfect” painting perverse.’

And with this in mind, I refer back to Pearson’s Wings of Love, a painting which appears perfectly executed, but indeed it is offensive and cloying, it’s just an overload of cheap emotions for uneducated consumption.

I want to end this reseach by going back to Greenberg where he discusses what I think is being classified as Totalitarian Kitsch. In his paper [1: 548] Greenberg talks about how totalitarian regimes need to use kitsch rather than avant-garde as a method to promote their propaganda, he says:

‘The main trouble with avant-garde art and literature, from the point of view of fascists and Stalinists, is not that they are too critical, but that they are too ‘innocent’, that it is too difficult to inject effective propaganda into them, that kitsch is more pliable to this end. Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the ‘soul’ of the people. Should the official culture be one superior to the general mass-level, there would be a danger of isolation.’

This sort of kitsch tries to engender a love, or sympathy, for the ruling classes.  It use the same basic principles of projecting a simple emotion – love for country and patriotism.

Figure 11. Example of totalitarian kitsch


Reflecting on this exercise

Kitsch images have come into our lives one way or another, and I found the journey rediscovering some of the kitsch images of my youth quite entertaining.  However while researching the subject I find again it is difficult to put my arms around the boundaries of the subject. I would never have thought that the Bouguereau painting in figure 10 would be classified as kitsch – and similar paintings by other of the great masters are thereby also classified as kitsch.


List of Images

Figure 1.  Repin, J (1914) Battle of Yalu River [oil on canvas] At: Primorye State Picture Gallery, Russia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Yalu_River_by_Repin.jpg (Accessed 20 July 2017)

Figure 2.  Picasso, P (1920) Woman sitting in an armchair [oil on canvas] 89 x 130 cm At:  https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/woman-sitting-in-an-armchair-1920 (Accessed 20 July 2017)

Figure 3. Tretchikoff (1950) The Chinese Girl [oil and charcoal on canvas] At: Private collection http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/chinese-girl-the-mona-lisa-of-kitsch-8537467.html (Accessed 20 July 2017)

Figure 4. Hewkin, A. (2002) Do you leave footprints in the Sand? [on-line] https://fineartamerica.com/featured/do-you-leave-footprints-in-the-sand-andrew-hewkin.html (Accessed 20 July 2017)

Figure 5. The Lava Lamp, montage and advert

Figure 6. Cute kitty figurines

Figure 7. Lynch, J.H (1961) Tina [poster on-line] http://www.jhlynch.org/ (Accessed 23 July 2017)

Figure 8. Lynch, J.H (1961) Nymph [poster on-line] http://www.jhlynch.org/ (Accessed 23 July 2017)

Figure 9.Pearson, S. (1972) Wings of Love [poster on-line] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/nov/15/athena-posters-miranda-sawyer  (Accessed 23 July 2017)

Figure 10.  Bouguereau, W.A (1900) A Childhood Idyll [oil on canvas] 102 x 130 cm At: Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, USA  https://www.wikiart.org/en/william-adolphe-bouguereau/a-childhood-idyll-1900 (Accessed 18 July 2017)

Figure 11. Example of totalitarian kistch [on-line] https://pervegalit.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/more-totalitarian-kitsch/  (Accessed 23 July 2017)


[1] Greenberg, C. (1939) Avant-Garde and Kitsch first published in Partisan Review, New York, VI, no. 5, Fall 1939, pp. 34-49. Extracts for this exercise taken from Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (2003) Art in Theory 1900-2000, 2nd Ed., Oxford, England, Blackwell Publishing.

[2] Bell, M. (2013) Chinese Girl: The Mona Lisa of Kitsch [on-line] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/chinese-girl-the-mona-lisa-of-kitsch-8537467.html (Accessed 20 July 2017)

[3] Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture – 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

[4] Solomon C. (1991) On Kitsch and Sentimentality published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Winter, 1991), pp. 1-14. Wiley. Extracts for this exercise taken from paper published on Scribd by Wiley-Blackwell publishers.



Agent Lynch: How I Fell in Love with Tina [on-line] http://agentlynch.com/2010/03/30/how-i-fell-in-love-with-tina/

BBC News: Lava lamp creators mark 50 years of 1960s [on-line] icon: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-23754303

Vladimir Tretchikoff [on-line] http://www.fineartandyou.com/2015/04/vladimir-tretchikoff-vladimir.html

Queens of Vintage: Mysterious girl: Tina and the art of J.H Lynch [on-line]  http://www.queensofvintage.com/mysterious-girl-tina-and-the-art-of-j-h-lynch/

Jones, J on The Guardian on-line: Kitsch art: love it or loathe it? [on-line] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/jan/28/kitsch-art-love-loathe-jonathan-jones

Chinese Girl on Wilipedia [on-line] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Girl

Jones B on CNN on-line: ‘Mona Lisa of Kitsch  – World’s most reproduced painting sells for $1.5 Million  [on-line] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/19/world/europe/kitsch-mona-lisa-auction-tretchikoff/index.html

Sawyer, M on The Guardian on-line A Temple to Athena [on-line] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/nov/15/athena-posters-miranda-sawyer

J-H Lynch Mysterious Artist [on-line] http://www.jhlynch.org/

Martin Eder’s Erotic Kitsch Nightmares (NSFW) [on-line] http://beautifuldecay.com/2012/05/23/martin-eders-erotic-kitsch-nightmares-nsfw/

Cuban Art News – Kitsch, Eroticism, and Bad Taste in Havana [on-line] http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/kitsch_eroticism_and_bad_taste_in_havana-222/2099

Martin Eder [on-line] http://www.martineder.com/martin_eder_paintings2004.html


Main research during this part of the course

  • Studying Greenberg’s 1939 paper ‘Avant-garde and Kitsch’.
  • Studying Robert C Solomon’s 1991 paper ‘On Kitsch and Sentimentality’, available on Scribd.
  • Continued my general reading on the subject of visual culture using Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture, chapters 6 and 7.
  • Reading Post Modernism for Beginners.
  • Tried to start re-reading Monochrome and the Blank Canvas.


Exercise 2.1 Barr Extended

Make your own copy of Barr’s chart and extend it up to the year 2000 by including movements such as Pop Art. In a separate column list major events in politics and culture that you think have had some bearing on the kind of art practiced at the time.

If the three images below are shown correctly, they should show a composite image of my extended chart using conventions similar to those that Alfred Barr used in his ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ diagram.

My prime source for information of the main art movements was brilliant web site TheArtStory.org.   I was able to read about each art movement, and attempt to establish how art movements influenced each other.

While Barr included the start date of a movement in his chart, I also added the approximate end date of a movement – it’s interesting to see how long a movement remains active.


I will not comment on particular art movements here – the diagram should speak for itself (and it took around 12 hours to produce).  I think as the years pass, all sorts of influences of previous art movements contribute to the contemporary art of the time, and different people will have different views on how one movement or artist influences another.



Exercise 2.0 The Modern in Painting and Sculpture

Find two paintings and one sculpture, each of which appears concerned with modernity, modernism and modernisation.  Indicate the relevant features on annotated reproductions.

In my selection I chose subjects which are ‘of their time’ – meaning that they are making observations of modernity as being experienced at the time they were created.


La Gare Saint Lazare (1877) by Claude Monet

My annotation of Claude Monet’s 1877 painting La Gare Saint Lazare (fig. 1) identifies artefacts of Modernism. We see how mechanisation from steam trains has created the concept of a railway station, clearly set near a populous urban centre, with attendant passengers and workers.

Figure 1, Annotation of Claude Monet’s 1877 painting La Gare Saint Lazare.


Rails:  receding from the foreground into the distance tells us of the railway infrastructure which has grown across the industrialised world, which allows modernity to grow and prosper.

Railway workers: a key component of modernism is the coming together of people into urban hubs, working in companies and organisations which didn’t exist before modernism.

Passengers:  Modernism gave rise to the concept of commuting and tourism.

Soot and grime: Monet’s painting gives us the impression of soot and grime pervading within the station, the by-product of mechanisation.

Lights:  The invention of public lighting (gas and electric) within the urban environment came about with the period of Modernism.

Steam: The by-product of the steam train, symbolic of the newly found power of mechanisation, which at the same time provides an extraordinary sense of atmosphere to any railway scene.  The steam gives a sense of movement and life, of growth and expansion, telling us the train is moving towards and to the right of us.

Trains: The giant mechanical beasts borne from the Industrial Revolution which haul the people, products and materials from which the artefacts of Modernism – urbanisation, consumerism and consumption – would quickly flourish.

Apartment buildings: In the Parisian style, beautiful apartment buildings likely to be inhabited by the rich, who could afford to live in Paris, and their servants.

Glass roof:  Perhaps a sign of real advancement in technology – to have a vast expanse of glass covering the station roof, allowing light into into every corner.


Mon Portrait – In the green Bugatti (1929) by Tamara de Lempicka

De Lempicka creates her portrait (fig. 2) in oil paint. Her composition captures a fleeting glimpse of her in the car, possibly moving,  possibly stationary.  What makes this image important to modernism is that it was produced for the cover image of the German fashion magazine Die Dame, – magazines are important artefacts in promoting consumerism and consumption.

Figure 2, Annotation of Tamara De Lempicka’s 1929 painting Mon Portrait – in the green Bugatti

Bugatti: A symbol of money, power, speed, luxury and excess.

Shaped metal and clean lines: A sign of established mass production.

De Lempicka looking at us: she is expressionless, looking at us without recognition as we are one in a crowd of people she may observe from her car.  She is anonymous, and we are anonymous.  Just individuals in the modernist crowd.

Expensive clothing and make-up: Consumerism – De Lempicka wants to look good while driving, promoting an image of beauty, and wealth.

Driving gloves and driving cap: Driving appears to be a habitual activity for De Lempicka, she has the right clothing for driving fast and appears to be comfortable dressed as such.  She projects an air of mastery in the male dominated world of fast cars.

“I have control”: Her hand on the steering wheel shows she’s in control, she has the power and is projecting this power to the viewer by the way she positions herself at the wheel. She is a free liberated woman.


News sculpture (1938 – 1940) by Isamu Noguchi 

The News sculpture was created by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi over the period 1938 to 1940 for a competition to produce a sculpture to adorn the front of the Associated Press building at 50, Rockefeller Center, New York.   Noguchi created this work in stainless steel, 22 feet high, 17 feet wide and weighing over 10 tons [1].

Figure 3, Annotation of Isamu Noguchi’s 1940 sculpture, News

In this sculpture we see five journalists collecting and recording the news, by use of camera, notepad, teletype and telephone.  A fifth journalist simply seems to be looking and listening – he has no piece of technology that we can see.

Communication lines come forward from the left side, off to the bottom right; two journalists one with notepad, the other with telephone, are aligned as if flying down these lines, suggesting to us that news is recorded and quickly transmitted, far and wide.

The five men are in close proximity to each other, projecting an image of team work and organisation – a crucial factor to the success of modern organisations.

The use of stainless steel as the medium was masterful – the original spec from the competition was to use bronze, but clearly the use of stainless steel gives an entirely different, modernist, sense to the work.


List of Images

Figure 1. Annotation of original painting by Monet, C. (1877) La Gare Saint Lazare [oil on canvas] At: Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums), Cambridge, MA, USA. https://www.wikiart.org/en/claude-monet/gare-st-lazare (Accessed 22 June 2017)

Figure 2. Annotation of original painting by Tamara de Lempicka (1929) Mon Portrait – in the green Bugatti [oil] At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/tamara-de-lempicka/portrait-in-the-green-bugatti-1925 (Accessed 23 June 2017)

Figure 3, Annotation of original sculpture by Isamu Noguchi’s (1938 – 1940) News [stainless steel] (22 x 17 ft) At: 50, Rockefeller Center, New York, USA. http://publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.it/2014/01/news-art-deco-sculpture-by-isamu-noguchi.html (Accessed 25 June 2017)


[1] https://www.rockefellercenter.com/blog/2013/11/25/all-news/


Reflection on tutor’s feedback to Part one

I was pleased with my tutor’s feedback on my Part one assignment.

Part A

He said that my comments on Tansey’s painting rose to the challenge of the innocent eye test by recognising and exploring the reflexive nature of the image.  He thought my response to the assignment was well-judged as I used good sources and treated the topic both rationally and imaginatively by using the Mr & Mrs Andrews painting vis-à-vis the spectator, effectively showing what it means to participate in the puzzle. I tested the question and thereby demonstrated critical thinking.

My tutor identified a couple of points in the painting which could have helped me interpret the painting in relation to Ruskin’s comments – which are very interesting once recognised.

Part B

My tutor thought my research on perspective was well informed, and with clear thinking I arrived at a persuasive conclusion.  He said that it would have been better to have rolled my definitions section into a regular paragraph to maintain the sense of an argument, which I appreciate and will avoid in future work.

Learning Blog / Self-evaluation

My tutor thought my self evaluation of Part one was well judged insofar as it remained focused on practical issues, and likes my formal and conversational style.

Looking ahead

Nothing leaps out as needing improvement as I move into Part two. I just need to keep up the reading and contextual research and presenting my work in the same consistent manner.



Part one self-evaluation

This is my self evaluation of Part one against the course assessment criteria.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding
Broad and comparative understanding of subject content, knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts.

I have come into this subject with little historic knowledge of the famous art critics and writers.  I had never heard of Greenberg, Searle or Danto before these studies, and I had never really read much about the concepts of what makes art, and intellectual theories of art.

I am starting to build my basic understanding of visual culture, helped mainly by my reading of Sturken and Cartwright’s book Practices of Looking – An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd ed.). This has helped me begin to understand the length and breadth of the subject, and put some context into some of the exercises I have completed in this Part one.

I am not yet able to easily call upon a breadth of learned knowledge to demonstrate my understanding, but I expect this will improve if I keep up the high level of reading required in this course.

Demonstration of research skills
Information retrieval and organisation, use of IT to assist research, ability to evaluate IT sources, the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual).

Information technology has been vital to researching the exercises, especially e-books available on Scribd. including academic specialist books and papers.  The facilities in Scribd. allow me to bookmark important sections, and to search for words and phrases, and make notes – this is an invaluable tool.

In each exercise, I try to summarise my learnings made since the previous exercise.  This helps me understand how I am learning, and also acts as a aide-memoire when I need to look back for a forgotten book or online reference.

As there are also many new words and concepts, I have also started a Glossary page on this blog so I can collect them together for my easy reference.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills
Engagement with concepts, values and debates, evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries.

I have learned many important concepts in this Part one, but sometimes it takes a lot of time to deconstruct what a writer is saying, especially when they are writing from a ‘deep’ academic standpoint.  The language is sometimes incomprehensible, but with patience and the use of a dictionary, and reading further around a subject, things become clearer.  My reading of parts of Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality took a lot of time, and a lot of ‘deconstruction’, but was worth it in the end.

In my exercises, I show some of my contextual research as notes so I remember how I came to understand some theories.

In Assignment one, Part A, which asked me to reflect on the meaning of Tansey’s painting while referring to Ruskin’s comments on the ‘innocence of the eye’, I felt that the answer appeared too simple. My challenge was to write approximately 1000 words out of the concept that the test is to see if the observing cow really sees patches of colour to form an image.  I feel my final paper concentrated too much on a theory that Tansey was commenting on how the artworld observes us as visitors to museums, rather than some sort of discussion more in tune with Ruskin’s theories.

In Assignment one, Part B, which asked me to consider if perspective was an invention or discovery, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information available, and different ways of considering perspective.  This really stretched my ability to present a paper that was in any way cohesive.  An interesting subject, but a real mind twister!

The ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills.

I hope my written form of communication is clear – I try and be concise and to present my thoughts in a coherent way to build a theory or argument.  I also try to use a formal, but conversational, style of writing.

I also hope this blog is simple, effective, and easy to navigate.

Assignment one – The Innocent Eye or Perspective

Part A

‘The whole technical power of painting depends on our recovery of what may be called the innocence of the eye; that is to say, of a sort of childish perception of these flat stains of colour, merely as such, without consciousness of what they signify, – as a blind man would see them if suddenly gifted with sight.’ – John Ruskin 1857

Give an interpretation of Mark Tansey’s 1981 painting The Innocent Eye Test in light of Ruskin’s words (1,000 words).

The Innocent Eye Test (1981) Mark Tansey


My work for Part A is in a PDF file – click on the link below to read:

David Bell – UVC Assignment one – Part A – The Innocent Eye Test


Part B

What are the implications of saying perspective was invented, and what are the implications of saying it was discovered. Assess these two possibilities and give reasons for the one you believe is correct (800 words)

My work for Part B is in a PDF file – click on the link below to read:

David Bell – UVC Assignment one – Part B – Perspective – Invention or Discovery


Exercise 1.5 Construction and Reality

Reflecting on Searle’s observation (below), how would you explain the difference between the construction of social reality and the social construction of reality?

Searle’s observations is:

There are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. … things like money, property, governments, and marriages. Yet many facts regarding these things are ‘objective’ facts in the sense that they are not a matter of [our] preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. (Searle, 1995, 1)


Here is the question:

How would you explain the difference between the construction of social reality and the social construction of reality?

In answer, I want to state that my interpretation of the word ‘reality’ in the term social construction of reality means the totality of all human reality.  I hope to explain that total reality is constructed from social reality (constructed from institutional facts), and a presupposed external reality (constructed by representations of brute facts), and thereby demonstrate that the construction of social reality is a composite part of the social construction of total reality.

I use Searle’s book, The Construction of Social Reality (Searle, 1995) for most of my reasoning.

Construction of social reality

I addressed some aspects of social reality in  Exercise 1.0 The Construction of Social Reality, where I note that Searle identifies ‘institutional facts’ as being:

‘… objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. … things like money, property, governments, and marriages.’

The creation of institutional facts rely on a system of language for humans to discuss and agree the ‘preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes‘ which shape each fact.

Without language, institutional facts could not exist, and it is through language and discourse that humans construct a social reality.

Social construction of external reality

Searle explains that we cannot adequately explain what is the totality of reality, as our position is that of living ‘inside’ reality.  We need various constructs of reality to define reality which, by the limited accounts I have read (see Bibliography), lead to inconclusive circular arguments.

However, Searle argues that there must be an external objective reality on which to construct a social reality, and in order to further a discussion on the nature of reality, we must presuppose an external reality, a reality created from brute facts, a reality which would still exist in the absence of all humankind.

Humans do not create external reality, we construct a representation of external reality in order to function within it. Searle uses the example of a screwdriver to illustrate this, so let us mentally lay a screwdriver before us for examination. We can describe its qualities as Searle does:

‘… it has a certain mass and a certain chemical composition. It is made partly of wood, the cells of which are composed of cellulose fibers, and also partly of metal, which is itself composed of metal alloy molecules.’

These are intrinsic qualities, and are unchanging in the sense that they exist independently of an observer or user of the object. Searle goes on to say:

‘When I describe it as a screwdriver, I am specifying a feature of the object that is observer or user relative. It is a screwdriver only because people use it as (or made it for the purpose of, or regard it as) a screwdriver.’

Searle explains that this sort of observer relative feature does not add new physical material to the object or to external reality, it simply adds a piece of objective knowledge into a representation of external reality.

It is the adoption of this knowledge by members of society that constitutes the social construction of external reality.


So what is the difference between the construction of social reality and the social construction of reality?

I understand, using Searle’s hypotheses, that the construction of social reality is made collectively by humans from institutional facts. This social reality is only a part of total reality. The other part is a presupposed external reality which humans cannot create, but who can collectively interpret by constructing a system of representation.  The social construction of reality is therefore a composite of the construction of social reality, and the construction of a representation of external reality.


Searle, J (1995) The construction of social reality. USA, The Free Press. Available from: https://www.scribd.com/read/224430184/The-Construction-of-Social-Reality [Accessed 18 April  2017]


Reality on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality

Reality: The Definition on New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528840-500-reality-the-definition/

Social Constructionism on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism

Social Reality on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_reality

What is Reality? on Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-and-the-pursuit-leadership/201510/what-is-reality

Main research during this part of the course

Reading The Construction of Social Reality by J.R Searle (1995) focussing on chapters 1 and 8, and understanding his terms of epistemic and ontological objectivity and subjectivity, intrinsic facts and observer related facts, the assignment or imposition of function and value, agentive and nonagentive functions, collective intentionality, and constitutive rules.

Contextual Research

This section contains my notes for this exercise – there may be direct copy quotes from Searle’s book, or paraphrasing or my own synopsis of a concept.  This section is not meant to be part of the answer to the exercise, it contains notes from my studies.

Deconstructing the objective-subjective distinction

Epistemic objectivity – objective knowledge – “Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam during the year 1632.”

Epistemic subjectivity – subjective knowledge – “Rembrandt is a better artist than Rubens.”

Ontologically objective – things which exist e.g – mountains

Ontologically subjective – pains, because their mode of existence depends on being felt by subjects.

We can make epistemically subjective statements about entities that are ontologically objective … the statement “Mt. Everest is more beautiful than Mt. Whitney” is about ontologically objective entities, but makes a subjective judgment about them.

We can make epistemically objective statements about entities that are ontologically subjectivethe statement “I now have a pain in my lower back” reports an epistemically objective fact (in the sense that it is made true by the existence of an actual fact that is not dependent 
on any stance, attitudes, or opinions of observers) but the actual pain has a ontologically subjective mode of existence. 

Intrinsic features and observer-relative features

In discussing the screwdriver … Observer-relative features exist only relative to the attitudes of observers. Intrinsic features don’t give a damn about observers and exist independently of observers.

Intrinsic features of reality are those that exist independently of all mental states, except for mental states themselves, which are also intrinsic features of reality. 

In each of the following pairs, the first states an intrinsic fact about an object, and the second states an observer-relative fact about the very same object. 

1a. intrinsic: That object is a stone. 

1b. observer relative: That object is a paperweight.   (epistemically objective – objective knowledge)

2a. intrinsic: The moon causes the tides. 

2b. observer relative: The moon is beautiful tonight.   (epistemically subjective – subjective knowledge)

3a. intrinsic: Earthquakes often occur where tectonic plates meet. 

3b. observer relative: Earthquakes are bad for real estate values.  (epistemically objective – objective knowledge)

Observer-relative features are always created by the intrinsic mental phenomena of the users which like all mental phenomena is ontologically subjective (because their mode of existence depends on being felt by subjects); and the observer-relative features inherit that ontological subjectivity. But this ontological subjectivity does not prevent claims about observer-relative features from being epistemically objective. Notice that in 1b and 3b the observer-relative statement is epistemically objective; in 2b it is subjective.

‘It is a logical consequence … that for any observer-relative feature F, seeming to be F is logically prior to being F, because—appropriately understood—seeming to be F is a necessary condition of being F. If we understand this point, we are well on the road to understanding the ontology of socially created reality.’

So I take from this that on seeing a screwdriver a user will first determine that it seems like a screwdriver before it becomes a screwdriver (or not). “Oh that looks like a screwdriver, yes it is a screwdriver”.

The assignment (or imposition) of function

As far as our normal experiences of the inanimate parts of the world are concerned, we do not experience things as material objects, much less as collections of molecules. Rather, we experience a world of chairs and tables, houses and cars, lecture halls, pictures, streets, gardens, houses, and so forth.

In the case of some artifacts we build the object to serve a function. Chairs, bathtubs, and computers are obvious examples. In the case of many naturally occurring objects, such as rivers and trees, we assign a function — aesthetic, practical, and so on — to a preexisting object. We say, “That river is good to swim in,” or “That type of tree can be used for lumber.” 

Functions are never intrinsic to the physics of any phenomenon but are assigned from outside by conscious observers and users – they are always observer-relative

There’s a discussion about how we assign function to nature, using the heart as an example.

It is intrinsic to nature that the heart pumps blood. When, in addition to saying “The heart pumps blood” we say, “The function of the heart is to pump blood,” we are doing something more than recording these intrinsic facts – we are situating these facts relative to a system of values that we hold. It is intrinsic to us that we hold these values, but the attribution of these values to nature independent of us is observer relative.

Even when we discover a function in nature (e.g the function of the heart) the discovery consists in the discovery of the causal processes together with the assignment of a teleology [the belief that purpose and design are a part of … nature] to those causal processes. A whole vocabulary of success and failure is now appropriate that is not appropriate to simple brute facts of nature. We can speak of “malfunction,” “heart disease,” and better and worse hearts. We do not speak of better and worse stones, unless of course we have assigned a function to the stone. If we use the stone as a weapon or a paperweight or an objet d’art trouvé, for example, we can asses its adequacy under these functional descriptions. 

We do indeed “discover” functions in nature. But the discovery of a natural function can take place only within a set of prior assignments of value. Thus given that we already accept that for organisms there is a value in survival and reproduction, and that for a species there is a value in continued existence, we can discover that the function of the heart is to pump blood.

It is because we take it for granted in biology that life and survival are values that we can discover that the function of the heart is to pump blood. If we thought the most important value in the world was to glorify God by making thumping noises, then the function of the heart would be to make a thumping noise, and the noisier heart would be the better heart. If we valued death and extinction above all, then we would say that a function of cancer is to speed death. In these functional assignments, no new intrinsic facts are involved. As far as nature is concerned intrinsically, there are no functional facts beyond causal facts. The further assignment of function is observer relative.

Agentive function –  are instance of uses to which agents intentionally put objects. When we say, “This stone is a paperweight,” “This object is a screwdriver,” or “This is a chair,” these three functional notions mark uses to which we put objects, functions that we do not discover, and that do not occur naturally, but that are assigned relative to the practical interests of conscious agents.

Nonagentive function – functions assigned to naturally occurring objects and processes as part of a theoretical account of the phenomena in question – e.g “The heart functions to pump blood”.

A special case of agentive function – Sometimes the agentive function assigned to an object is that of standing for or representing something else. Thus, when I draw a diagram of a football play, I let certain circles stand for the quarterback, the running back, the offensive linemen, and so on. In this case, the agentive function assigned to the marks on the paper is that of representing or standing for; but because “representing” and “standing for” are just other names for intentionality, in this case we have intentionally imposed intentionality on objects and states of affairs that are not intrinsically intentional. There are names in English for the result of this type of imposition of function: They are called “meaning” or “symbolism.” Marks on the paper now have meaning in a way that a screwdriver, for example, does not have meaning, because the marks on the paper now stand for or represent objects and states of affairs independent of themselves. The most famous sorts of meaning are, of course, in language. In the use of language we impose a specific function, namely, that of representing, onto marks and sounds. 

Functions may be imposed quite unconsciously, and the functions once imposed are often—so to speak—invisible. So, for example, money may simply have evolved without anyone ever thinking, “We are now imposing a new function on these objects”; and once money has evolved, people may use money to buy and sell without thinking about the logical structure of imposed function. However, for all cases of agentive function, someone must be capable of understanding what the thing is for, or the function could never be assigned. At least some of the participants in the system of exchange must understand, consciously or unconsciously, that money is to buy things with, screwdrivers are for driving screws, and so forth. If we assign a function that is totally apart from human intentions, it would have to fall in the category of nonagentive functions. Thus suppose someone says that the intended agentive function of money is to serve as a medium of exchange and a store of value, but money also serves the hidden, secret, unintended function of maintaining the system of power relationships in society. The first claim is about the intentionality of agentive function. The second claim is about nonagentive function. To see this, simply ask yourself what facts in the world would make each claim true. The first claim is made true by the intentionality with which agents use objects as money. They use it for the purpose of buying, selling, and storing value. The second claim, like the claim that the heart functions to pump blood, would be true if and only if there is a set of unintended causal relations and these serve some teleology, even if it is not a teleology shared by the speaker. 

Just to keep the terminology straight (Searle) will adopt the following conventions. 
1. Since all functions are observer relative I will speak of all functions as assigned or equivalently as imposed
2. Within the category of assigned functions some are agentive because they are matters of the use to which agents put entities, e.g., the function of bathtubs is to take baths in. 
3. Within the category of assigned functions some are nonagentive because they are naturally occurring causal processes to which we have assigned a purpose, e.g., the function of the heart is to pump blood. 
4. Within the category of agentive functions is a special category of those entities whose agentive function is to symbolize, represent, stand for, or — in general — to mean something or other. 
Collective Intentionality
Many species of animals, our own especially, have a capacity for collective intentionality. By this I mean not only that they engage in cooperative behavior, but that they share intentional states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. In addition to singular intentionality there is also collective intentionality. Obvious examples are cases where I am doing something only as part of our doing something.  If I am a violinist in an orchestra I play my part in our performance of the symphony.
Collective intentionality is a biologically primitive phenomenon.
The crucial element in collective intentionality is a sense of doing (wanting, believing, etc.) something together, and the individual intentionality that each person has is derived from the collective intentionality that they share.
By stipulation I (Searle) will henceforth use the expression “social fact” to refer to any fact involving collective intentionally. So, for example, the fact that two people are going for a walk together is a social fact
Constitutive Rules and the Distinction Between Brute and Institutional Facts 
Brute facts exist independently of any human institutions; institutional facts can exist only within human institutions. Brute facts require the institution of language in order that we can state the facts, but the brute facts themselves exist quite independently of language or of any other institution.
Regulative rules – regulate antecedently existing activities. For example, the rule “drive on the right-hand side of the road” regulates driving; but driving can exist prior to the existence of that rule.
Constitutive rules – create the very possibility of certain activities – e.g the rules of chess create the game of chess. 

Searle p232:

Carefully stated, external realism is the thesis that there is a way that things are that is independent of all representations of how things are. The thesis that there is a reality independent of our representations identifies not how things are in fact, but rather identifies a space of possibilities.

Searle p247:

Normal understanding of talk of both money and mountains requires external realism, but normal understanding of talk of money presupposes the existence of representations in a way that normal understanding of mountains does not. Money is understood as socially constructed; mountains are not understood as socially constructed. 


Searle’s treatment of a screwdriver to explain observer relative features of objects (p23, 24)

…an intrinsic feature of the object in front of me that it has a certain mass and a certain chemical composition. It is made partly of wood, the cells of which are composed of cellulose fibers, and also partly of metal, which is itself com- posed of metal alloy molecules. All these features are intrinsic. But it is also true to say of the very same object that it is a screwdriver. When I de- scribe it as a screwdriver, I am specifying a feature of the object that is ob- server or user relative. It is a screwdriver only because people use it as (or made it for the purpose of, or regard it as) a screwdriver. The existence of observer-relative features of the world does not add any new material ob- jects to reality, but it can add epistemically objective features to reality where the features in question exist relative to observers and users. It is, for example, an epistemically objective feature of this thing that it is a screwdriver, but that feature exists only relative to observers and users, and so the feature is ontologically subjective. By “observers and users” I mean to include makers, designers, owners, buyers, sellers, and anyone else whose intentionality toward the object is such that he or she regards it as a screwdriverSince the issues are important and the example is simple, I want to belabor these points a bit further. 
1. The sheer existence of the physical object in front of me does not depend on any attitudes we may take toward it. 
2. It has many features that are intrinsic in the sense that they do not depend on any attitudes of observers or users. For example, it has a certain mass and a certain chemical composition. 
3. It has other features that exist only relative to the intentionality of agents. For example, it is a screwdriver. To have a general term, I will call such features “observer relative.” Observer-relative features are ontologically subjective. 
4. Some of these ontologically subjective features are epistemically objective. For example, it isn’t just my opinion or evaluation that it is a screwdriver. It is a matter of objectively ascertainable fact that it is a screwdriver
5. Although the feature of being a screwdriver is observer relative, the feature of thinking that something is a screwdriver (treating it as a screwdriver, using it as a screwdriver, etc.) is intrinsic to the thinkers (treaters, users, etc.). Being a screwdriver is observer relative, but the features of the observers that enable them to create such observer-relative features of the world are intrinsic features of the observers.

Searle, page 25:

Intrinsic features of reality are those that exist independently of all mental states, except for mental states themselves, which are also intrinsic features of reality.