Exercise 2.4 Point of View

For a picture of your own choice say how the image indicates a point of view for the spectator and say why you think the effect is rare in the cinema but common in photography. Does the painting or photograph represent eye-contact between someone in the picture and ourselves. What films have you seen where characters treat the camera as another person.

My chosen picture is Gustave Caillbotte’s 1877 painting The Gardeners.  I chose this painting because the spectator’s position can be readily determined from a series of clues (see fig. 1).

Figure 1.  Analysis of spectators position in Gustave Caillbotte’s 1877 painting The Gardeners

Establishing the spectator’s physical position / point of view

The first two rows of plants on the left of the painting recede into the distance (dashed pink lines) – the first row converges to the right, and the second row converges to the left, and they meet at the horizon (blue line).  The heads of the gardeners are aligned with the horizon – the same as the spectator’s eye-level – which tells us the spectator is on the same plane, or ground, as the two gardeners.

If the rows are extrapolated out of the picture then, using the convention of linear perspective, we can determine that the spectator is situated equidistant between these lines, somewhere on a line perpendicular to the vanishing point (yellow line), and must be off of the canvas.

To get an approximation of position off the canvas, we might measure the regular spacing of the plants to the right, extrapolating lines towards the spectator’s position (red dashed lines).

From this point of view all the action, where the gardeners are working, is happening in the right half of our vision.

Another point of view 

It’s difficult to see if the gardener in the middle ground is looking at us, the spectator, but for the sake of this analysis let’s say he is.

Sturken and Cartwright say:

‘… viewing is a multimodal activity involving a range of active elements besides the individual who looks and the image at which he or she looks. The viewer is interpellated – that is, hailed – by images in the field.’  [1: 103]

They go on to say in their analysis of Foucault’s book The Order of Things (in which Foucault analyses Diego Velázquez’s 1656 painting Las Meninas):

‘… the look of the spectator is always constituted in a field of looks, including “looks” that emanate from objects … . The depiction of people who look out of the painting and toward the position of the spectator makes literal the proposition that any image or object interpellates the human subject who looks at it with a look back.’ [1: 104]

So, in Caillbotte’s painting, it can be said that the spectator is being interpellated (hailed) by the gaze of the gardener – the spectator is now made to know that he or she exists as part of a broader dynamic with the painting – and the spectator knows, consciously or subconsciously, that he or she is part of an other point of view.

In Photography and Cinema

In photography it is common for a subject to be looking directly at the spectator, as part of the allure of photography is to capture personal moments with friends and family.  If we tell someone we will take a photo of them then they are likely expecting to look at the camera, and say “cheese” or some such inane phrase.

However in the cinema, a character looking directly into the camera, and therefore at the spectator, happens rarely – and when it does it ‘s often to offer a view of what a character is seeing for a brief moment, often when the character is experiencing some unusual visual effect – like they are hallucinating or they have been attacked or awaking from a hospital operation and their vision is impaired, or perhaps seeing people, ghosts or objects that other characters in the movie cannot see.

It is rare for a character in a movie to engage directly with the audience and when it does happen it is usually to express a narrative. Termed ‘Breaking the 4th Wall’, the breaking of the imaginary wall between the movie and the audience, the technique is often used when a character wants to tell the spectator their thoughts and feelings.  I have seen this used in the films Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Shirley Valentine, and also TV series such as House of Cards, and Miranda Hart’s ‘Miranda‘ situation comedy.

But looking beyond a purely narrative interaction between character and spectator, I tried to find a film where a character treats the camera as another character in a story.  The most obvious is Blair Witch Project where all the action is witnessed through the lens of a video camera being used by the main character.

So why are there very few movies where the characters permanently interact with the camera as if it were another character in the story?  I believe it it has do with the lack of identification, and lack of emotional ownership of an off-screen character by the spectator.   Sturken & Cartwright pose some interesting questions about how we relate to people in images:

‘… do we experience the person in the image or on the screen as an object of our desire – that is, do we identify with the apprehending look of the camera and admire the imaged human subject as an other whose image we might enjoy and consume in fantasies of touch and interaction?  Or do we fantasize ourselves in the place of the person on the canvas or screen? Perhaps we are identifying with the body on the screen – for example imaging ourselves wearing the same clothes or interacting in the same social world in which they appear.’  [1: 122]

So when the physical appearance of a character is missing, or is brief (perhaps by the spectator seeing the character in a mirror), I think the spectator will find it challenging to emotionally engage with it as a believable character for any length of time. The movie would need to find some innovative ways to overcome this problem, and in Blair Witch Project I think is was probably compensated by the suspense and the ‘reality’ style in which it was filmed.

List of Images

Figure 1.  Analysis of spectators position in Gustave Caillbotte’s 1877 painting The Gardeners, includes a painting by Caillbotte, G. (1875-77) The Gardeners [oil on canvas] 117 x 90 cm At: private collection. https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustave-caillebotte/the-gardeners-1877 (Accessed 5 August 2017)


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


Artyfactory.com, Perspective in art: https://www.artyfactory.com/perspective_drawing/perspective_8.html

Backstage.com, Breaking the 4th wall: https://www.backstage.com/news/14-films-famously-break-fourth-wall/

Chicago School of Media Theory, Interpellation: https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/interpellation/

Wikipedia, The Fourth Wall: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall

Wikipedia, Psychoanalytic film theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoanalytic_film_theory


Main research during this part of the course

  • Revisiting chapter 3 of Sturken and Cartwright Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture as my main source of guidance in the subject of spectatorship and the gaze.
  • Studying and deconstructing Martin Jay’s paper Scopic Regimes of Modernity, Vision & Visuality (not cited in the final answer to this exercise)
  • A study of Breaking the 4th wall and basics of Psychoanalytic Film Theory



These are my deconstruction notes of Martin Jay’s paper Scopic Regimes of Modernity, Vision & Visuality, Bay Press 1988.  Much of the text is verbatim, but rearranged or paraphrased to make my understanding easier.  As it turned out, I didn’t use any of this paper to answer the questions in Exercise 2.4 Point of View, however I felt it was important to understand the idea of “scopic regimes”. My own questions / clarifications are in orange italics.

The paper is available on line: http://beauty.gmu.edu/AVT307/AVT307-001/martin%20jay%20vision%20and%20visuality%20copy.pdf

Modern era since the Renaissance and scientific revolution dominated by sight more so than premodern and post modern – ocularcentric – due to printing aided by telescope and microscope.

The visual has been dominant in Western culture, writings of e.g:

  • “the mirror of nature” metaphor – Richard Rorty
  • surveillance – Michel Foucault
  • the spectacle – Guy Debord

“scopic regime” termed by Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema (1982), page 61.  The scopic regime of modernity may be characterised by a differentiation of visual subcultures.

Scopic Regime: Cartesian Perspectivalism

This is the dominant visual model of the modern era: Renaissance notions of perspective and Cartesian ideas [Cartesian: relating to Descartes and his ideas.] of subjective rationality in philosophy. It succeeded in becoming so because it best expressed the “natural ” experience of sight valued by the scientific world view. This is illustrated by writings of:

William Ivins Jr in Art and Geometry (1946) “the history of art during the five hundred years that have elapsed since Alberti wrote has been little more than the story of the slow diffusion of his ideas through the artists and peoples of Europe”

Richard Rorty in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) “in the Cartesian model the intellect inspects entities modelled on retinal images … In Descartes’ conception – the one that became the basis for ‘modern’ epistemology – it is representations which are in the ‘mind’.”

Most important characteristics of Cartesian Perspectivalism:

Linear perspective, invented by Brunelleschi and theoretically interpreted by Alberti. A rough consensus has emerged: Linear perspective came to symbolize a harmony between the mathematical regularities in optics and God’s will.  This grew out of the late medieval fascination with the metaphysical implications of light (as divine lux rather than perceived lumen).  This new concept of space had become geometrically isotropic, rectilinear, abstract and uniform.

The 3D rationalised space of perspectival vision could be rendered on a 2D surface by following the transformational rules in Alberti’s De Pittura and later by Viator, Dürer, et.al.  – the basic device being the use of symmetrical visual pyramids or cones.

The transparent window that was the canvas in Alberti’s famous metaphor could also be understood as the flat mirror reflecting the geometricalized space of the scene depicted back onto the no less geometricalized space radiating out from the viewing eye.

“Founding Perception” of the Cartesian Perspectivalism tradition – coined by Norman Bryson in Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (1983).  The idea that the scene was conceived in the manner of a lone eye looking through a peephole at the scene in front of it – a static, unblinking and fixated eye – reduced to one “point of view”, rather than dynamic, moving with “saccadic” jumps from one focal point to another.  It followed the logic of the Gaze rather than the Glance.

A couple of implications from this visual order:

  • The abstract coldness of the perspectival gaze meant the withdrawal of the painter’s emotional entanglements with the objects depicted. The gap between spectator and spectacle widened.  The moment of ‘erotic projection’ in vision (re: St. Augustine’s “ocular desire”) was lost as the bodies (presence) of the painter and viewer are forgotten.
  • It also fostered de-narrativization or de-textualization – the quantitatively conceptualised space became more interesting to the artist than the qualitatively differentiated subjects painted within it – the rendering of the scene became an end in itself. According to Bryson in his book Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime (1981)  This “diminution of the discursive function of painting” (telling a story to the masses) meant the increasing autonomy of the image from any extrinsic purpose, religious or otherwise.  The effect of realism was consequently enhanced as canvases were filled with more and more information unrelated to any narrative or textural function.

Cartesian Perspectivalism was in league with with a scientific world view which no longer read the world as divine text. It saw it as a mathematically regular spatio-temporal order filled with natural objects that could only be observed by the dispassionate eye of the neutral researcher.

Michael Kubovy terms “robustness of perspective” . Renaissance canvases could be successfully viewed from more than the imagined apex of the beholders visual pyramid.

The subject position in the Cartesian perspectivalist epistemology is problematic:  For the monocular eye at the apex of the beholders pyramid could be construed as transcendental and universal – exactly the same for any human viewer occupying the same point in time and space, or contingent, solely dependent on the particular, individual vision of distinct beholders, with their own concrete relations to the scene in front of them.  When the former [the subject ??] was explicitly transformed into the latter [beholder ??], the relativistic implications of perspectivalism could be easily drawn.  [… as in the subject gazing from the canvas, into the eyes of the beholder?]

Scopic Regime: The Art of Describing (Italian Renaissance art versus C16th Dutch art)

The term Art of Describing was coined by Svetlana Alpers in her book The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, (1983, University of Chicago Press). 

Italian art in art history has occluded a ‘second tradition’ in 17th century Dutch art. Italian Renaissance art, for all it’s fascination with perspective, held fast to a storytelling function (narrative art) – in which human figures performed significant actions based on the texts of poets.

Dutch art, in contrast, suppresses narrative and textual reference in favour of description and visual surface.  It emphasised the existence of a world of objects depicted on the flat canvas, a world indifferent to the beholder’s position in front of it – a world not entirely contained within the frame but seems to extend beyond it.  The frames around Dutch pictures are arbitrary and without the totalising function they serve in Italian art.

If there is a model for Dutch art, it is the map with it’s unapologetically flat surface and its willingness to include words as well as objects in its visual space.

Alpers posits the oppositions between Art of Describing versus Cartesian Perspectivalism:

  • attention to many small things – versus – a few large ones;
  • light reflected off objects – versus – objects modelled by light and shadow
  • deals with the surface of objects (colour and texture) – versus – placement in a legible space
  • an unframed image – versus – a clearly framed image
  • no clearly situated viewer – versus – a clearly situated viewer

Dutch art savours the particularity of visual experience and resists the temptation to allegorise or typologise what it sees, a temptation to which Italian art succumbs.

Alpers notes :

Although the grid that Ptolemy proposed, and those that Mercator later imposed, share the mathematical uniformity of the Renaissance perspective grid, they do not share the positioned viewer, the frame, and the definition of the picture as a window through which an external viewer looks. On these account the Ptolemaic grid, indeed cartographic grids in general, must be distinguished from, not confused with, the perspectival grid. The projection is, one might say, viewed from nowhere. Nor is it looked through. It assumes a flat working surface.

The Art of Describing anticipates the visual experience of photography. Both share a number of salient features:

  • fragmentariness;
  • arbitrary frames;
  • immediacy.

Scopic Regime: Baroque

In opposition to the lucid linear, solid, fixed, planimetric, closed form of the Renaissance, the baroque was painterly, recessional, soft-focused, multiple and open, connoting the bizarre and peculiar (traits normally disdained by champions of clarity and transparency of form).

In the recent work of Christine Buci-Glucksmann (La raison baroque of 1984 and La folie du voir of 1986) it is precisely the explosive power of baroque vision that is seen as the most significant alternative to the visual style of Cartesian perspectivalism. She emphasises the rejection of the monocular geometricalisation of the Cartesian tradition, with baroque celebrating the dazzling, disorientating, ecstatic surplus of images.   She also contrasts the Dutch art of describing, with its belief in  legible surfaces and faith in material solidity of the world its paintings map, with the baroque fascination for opacity, unreadability and the indecipherability of the reality it depicts.

Baroque revels in the contradictions between surface and depth, disparaging any attempt to reduce the multiplicity of visual spaces into any one coherent essence. Baroque visual experience has a strongly tactile or haptic [haptic: based on the sense of touch] quality, which prevents it from turning into the absolute ocularcentrism of its Cartesian perspectivalist rival.

Baroque vision sought to represent the unrepresentable and, necessarily failing, produced the melancholy that Walter Benjamin in particular saw as characteristic of baroque sensibility. It was closer  to what the aesthetics called the sublime in contrast to the beautiful, because of its yearning for a presence that can never be fulfilled. Indeed, desire, in its erotic and metaphysical forms course through the baroque scopic regime.

My main closing question on Jay’s paper is: why has he not addressed Cubism and Abstract Expressionism as independent scopic regimes given that they are counter to Cartesian Perspectivalism and were such significant developments during Modernism?



These are some notes from Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture – 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. I made these verbatim while researching the subjects of scopic regimes and psychoanalytic film theory. They were not used in my final exercise but are still useful to reflect upon:

For Descartes, the world becomes known when we accurately represent it in thought, not when we experience it through the senses and not when we imagine it in our mind’s eye.  S&Cp95

Jaques Lacan: explanation of the ‘mirror phase’ of infant development of ego S&Cp101

‘… In visual theory the term spectator (the individual who looks) and spectatorship (the practice of looking) have added meanings that derive specifically from film theory. Not only is the spectator’s gaze constituted through a relationship between the subject who looks and other people, institutions, places, and objects in the world, but also the objects we contemplate may be described as the source of the look in the gaze. ‘ S&Cp102.

Christian Metz wrote “What fundamentally determines me is the look which is outside.” This means: “I” exist only insofar as I can imagine myself in a field in which I appear in light of others (objects, people) who make me apparent to myself. S&Cp102.

‘Christian Metz and other theorists who wrote about film in the 1970s generally described the process of spectatorship as follows: the viewer suspends belief in the fictional world of the film and identifies not only with specific characters in the film but also, and more importantly, with the film’s overall ideology. This occurs through identification with the position of the camera or with film characters. Identification with character or camera position puts into play fantasy structures (such as an imagined ideal family) that derive from the viewer’s unconscious.’ S&Cp120.

Part of the fascination with cinema, according to Baudry, is that the darkened theater and the conditions of watching a mirror-like screen invite the viewer to regress to a childlike state. The viewer undergoes a temporary loss of ego as he or she identifies with the powerful position of apprehending bodies on the screen, much as the infant apprehended the mirror image.  The spectator’s ego is built up through an illusory sense of owning the body on the film screen. S&Cp121.




Exercise 2.3 Utter Flatness

What would count as examples of ‘utter flatness’.  List five things an artist might do to exploit the idea.  In other words what kind of things might one put on a gallery wall that could pass for an abstract or figurative paint but also reveal themselves to be everyday objects?

Taking Greenberg’s assertion in his 1963 paper Modernist Painting [1] that a mark on the canvas destroys the literal and utter flatness of a painting, I examined the qualities which I think is essential to painting and identified five:

  • Shape of support
  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Tone
  • Line

My analysis takes each quality in turn and tries to reveal how it exploits utter flatness in order to promote it’s own materiality.   I should note here that I treat the term ‘utter flatness’ at face value – I equate it to something which looks absolutely and completely flat – I do not treat it as a relative term (something can’t be ‘utterly flatter’ than something else).  To support my analysis, I include some of the seminal works of Modernist painting, and I also try and think how they might resemble things found in our everyday environment.

So here are five sections, starting with the quality of the shape of the painting support.


Shape of support

Utter flatness with no colour, texture, tonal variation or line allows us to concentrate on the shape of the canvas, epitomised by black square paintings.  According to Tate online [2], the architect of the Suprematist movement, Kasimir Malevich, was hailed as the first to create a black square painting, neatly called Black Square.  In his 1927 book The Non-Objective World, he wrote:

‘In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.’

Malevich’s 1913 painting has now degraded with fracturing of the surface oil paint revealing cracks of the lighter canvas beneath – it no longer represents utter flatness.  So here I show Ad Reinhardt’s similar painting (fig. 1).

Figure 1.  Abstract Painting (1963) Ad Reinhardt

Coming across a black square work on a gallery wall, we may draw parallels with looking at a window at night – like one might experience when in an interior which is so bright that the windows onto the outside world show only blackness.

According to the MoMALearning web site [3], Reinhardt created a number of black square paintings in the period 1953 to 1967. He achieved a completely smooth matte surface by a process of separating pigment from the solvent to create a concentrated paint. In this painting (fig. 1) he divided the canvas into a 3 by 3 grid of squares with slight variations of tone which only reveal themselves if the viewer is prepared to concentrate for a prolonged period on the painting.

Reinhardt believed that his Black Paintings were the absolute zero of art [4].

Exploring how the flatness of the basic square might develop, I am looking at Malevich’s 1915 painting Four Square (fig. 2) where he divides the picture plane into 4 equal squares which emphasises the overall shape of the painting support. Neither the black nor the white dominates the surface plane, one is nether in front or behind the other.

Figure 2.  Four Square (1915) K.Malevich

This may be the most basic starting point for figuration, for indeed there has to be a marking of the canvas, but because the area of black is the same as the area of white we cannot perceive a sense of depth. Our brains starts to process the visual impulse to establish a sense of depth – but in this case I think it likely that our experience of seeing flat black and white tiles, perhaps as those on a chess board, gives us the impression of utter flatness.

And nowadays we have the ubiquitous QR code which also has the sense of being flat, even if we might see some random paradolia figuration in the image (example, fig. 3).

Figure 3. Example QR code



Utter flatness can be exploited to amplify the qualities of colour, as we see in Alexander Rodchenko’s 1921 triptych Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (fig. 4).


According to the MoMA web site, Rodchenko said [5]:

‘I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it’s all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation. ‘

So how might these reveal themselves as everyday objects?  I guess we might need to look at things like painted doors in kitchen cabinets (e.g fig. 5), or refrigerator doors, or brightly coloured notice boards where one might put notes or, if metal, one might put fridge magnets.

Figure 5. Kitchen cabinets in red

I can’t really move away from monochrome paintings without looking at the famous 1959 Yves Klein Blue Monochrome (fig. 6).

Figure 6. Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 82) (1959) Yves Klein

According to the Guggenheim web site [6], ‘Klein is renowned for his almost exclusive use of a strikingly resonant, powdery ultramarine pigment, which he patented under the name “International Klein Blue,” claiming that it represented the physical manifestation of cosmic energy that, otherwise invisible, floats freely in the air.’

Moving the utter flatness of this painting one step on, I am looking at Mark Rothko’s 1952 painting called Untitled Blue, Green and Brown (fig. 7).  Here we can see how colour field painting starts to break the utter flatness, and we start to sense interaction between colours – and the mechanics of the mind start to question whether depth or figuration can be seen.

Figure 7.  Untitled Blue, Green and Brown (1952) Mark Rothko



Only with light can we really appreciate texture because it is the relative strength and direction of light which reveals the textural form. In Rauchenberg’s White Painting (fig. 8) we see three utterly flat panels, they cannot be any flatter.  It’s as if 3 side panels from a white Ikea kitchen cabinet flat pack are positioned side by side.

Figure 8.  White Painting (three panel) (1951) Robert Rauschenberg

According to SFMOMA web site [7],

‘Rauschenberg’s primary aim was to create a painting that looked untouched by human hands, as though it had simply arrived in the world fully formed and absolutely pure.’

and noted that:

‘Rauschenberg once referred to the works as clocks, saying that if one were sensitive enough to the subtle changes on their surfaces one could tell what time it was and what the weather was like outside.’

Taking the idea that utter flatness can exploit texture a step forward, we can see in figure 9 a gessoed canvas, and we see how flatness is emphasising the textural qualities. However,  the more that texture is built up, the greater the destruction of utter flatness.

Figure 9. Example of a gessoed canvas



To see how tone exploits flatness, I turn once again to Malevich, and his 1918 painting Suprematism (fig 10).  Here we have a white painting, but with a subtle change in tone – so a very slight grey.  There appears to be no figuration or depth – we can simple appreciate patches of tone.

Figure 10.  Suprematism (1918) K. Malevich

In seeing this sort of painting in a gallery, I think it would simply remind me of an ageing process of the surface material, or perhaps a stain caused by some destructive liquid, or surface mould and damp.

We can refer back to Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting (fig. 1) for an example of subtle tones, but also Mark Rothko’s paintings are a clear choice when examining this subject.  Here is his 1958 painting Black on Maroon (fig. 11).

Figure 11. Black on Maroon (1958) Mark Rothko



I think that a line is likely to destroy the concept of utter flatness almost instantly as our attention is grabbed by the linear qualities and tries to make sense of what we are seeing. However it appears that the regularity and density of lines overcome this to a degree.

Here is Frank Stella’s 1959 painting called The Marriage of Reason and Squalor (fig. 12). It reminds me of ceramic cooking elements you can find on electric hobs – I know they are absolutely flat which may help me understand why I think this painting is utterly flat.

Figure 12. The marriage of reason and squalor (1959) Frank Stella

According to the WikiArt web site [8], this painting is …

‘… composed of black inverted parallel U-shapes containing stripes separated by thin lines of unpainted canvas. The repeated geometric pattern, in combination with the work’s lack of figuration or expressive brushwork, prompts the viewer’s recognition of it as a flat surface covered with paint, rather than a depiction of something else …’

In Barnett Newman’s 1950 painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis (fig. 13) the viewer can approach the canvas and be enveloped by the intense red, and the utter flatness of it – and then walk along the 16 ft length so their vision is rhythmically interrupted by lines. I wonder if this intensifies the sensation of utter flatness and then the sensation of encountering a line.

Figure 13.  Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950) Barnett Newman

Here we see a similarity with Rauschenberg’s White Painting (fig. 8), but this time the physical gaps between the areas of planes of utter flatness are replaced by his stripes or ‘zips’, formed by the negative spaces left by the masking tape he used to protect the area before the red was painted on. The lines gives life to the canvas – to it’s physical existence [9].



A painting is made from a combination of these five qualities.  I agree with Greenberg’s assertion that ‘a mark on the canvas destroys the literal and utter flatness’.  If we treat a ‘mark’ as a line, or a definite block of colour (which inherently has lines at its boundary), then as soon as the mark is added to a painting it is going to attract our attention, and the strength of our association with utter flatness will diminish. Using Malevich’s iconic Suprematist work of 1915 called Suprematist Composition (fig. 14) as an example, we are more interested in understanding relationships between the marks rather than the utter flatness of the yellow background.  If we remove the marks, then utter flatness will regain its authority.

Figure 14. Suprematist Composition (1915-16) Kasimir Malevich

And developing this discussion to another example, Henri Matisse’ Dance II painting (fig. 15), we now have figuration to contend with. Utter flatness is even more relegated – our attention is now subsumed by a need to understand all the other qualities of this painting. Indeed there is a ‘flattening of the picture plane’, but this is a relative term.

Figure 15.  The Dance II (1910) Henri Matisse

So this is how Modernist painting continued to develop, capitalising on the flattening of the picture plane, so we might explore the essential qualities of the art of painting.


List of images

Figure 1. Reinhardt, A. (1963) Abstract Painting [oil on canvas] 152.4 x 152.4 cm At: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, USA https://www.wikiart.org/en/ad-reinhardt/abstract-painiting-1963 (Accessed 29 July 2017)

Figure 2. Malevich K. (1915) Four Square [oil on canvas] At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/kazimir-malevich/four-square-1915 (Accessed 29 July 2017)

Figure 3. Example QR code

Figure 4.  Rodchenko, A. (1921) Triptych Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, At: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/rodchenko-popova/rodchenko-and-popova-defining-constructivism-6 (Accessed 30 July 2017)

Figure 6. Klein, Y (1959) Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB82) [dry pigment in synthetic resin on canvas, mounted on board] 92.1 x 71.8 cm At:Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA  https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/5638 (Accessed 30 July 2017)

Figure 7. Rothko, M. (1952) Untitled Blue, Green and Brown At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/mark-rothko/untitled-blue-green-and-brown-1952 (Accessed 30 July 2017)

Figure 8.  Rauschenberg, R. (1951) White Painting (three panel) At: SFMoMA, San Francisco , California, USA https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.308.A-C (Accessed 30 July 2017)

Figure 9. From Vloothuis J (June 24, 2016) [on-line] http://www.artistsnetwork.com/articles/art-demos-techniques/canvas-painting-for-beginners-johannes-vloothuis

Figure 10. Malevich, K. (1918) Suprematism At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/kazimir-malevich/suprematism-1918 (Accessed 27 July 2017)

Figure 11.  Rothko, M. (1958) Black on Maroon At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/mark-rothko/black-on-maroon-1 (Accessed 1 August 2017)

Figure 12.  Stella, F. (1959) The Marriage of Reason and Squalor [enamel on canvas] At: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, USA, https://www.wikiart.org/en/frank-stella/the-marriage-of-reason-and-squalor-1959 (Accessed 1 August 2017)

Figure 13.  Newman, B. (1950) Vir Heroicus Sublimis [oil on canvas] 513.6 x 242.2 cm At: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, New York, USA https://www.wikiart.org/en/barnett-newman/vir-heroicus-sublimis-1950

Figure 14.  Malevich, K. (1915-16) Suprematist Composition, [oil on canvas] 70 x 47 cm At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/kazimir-malevich/suprematist-composition-1915 (Accessed 29 July 2017)

Figure 15.  Matisse, H. (1910) The Dance II [oil on canvas] 260 cm × 391 cm At: The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia, https://www.wikiart.org/en/henri-matisse/dance-ii-1910 (Accessed 1 August 2017)


[1] Greenberg, C. (1995) Modernist Painting’ in C. Greenberg, Collected Essays and Criticism: Modernism with a Vengeance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Tate, Five ways to look at Malevich’s Black Square, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/five-ways-look-Malevich-Black-Square

[3] MoMA Learning, Abstract Painting Ad Reinhardt, https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/ad-reinhardt-abstract-painting-1963

[4] The ArtStory Ad Reinhardt. http://www.theartstory.org/artist-reinhardt-ad-artworks.htm#pnt_5

[5] MoMA The Death of Painting, https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1998/rodchenko/texts/death_of_painting.html

[6] Guggenheim, Yves Klein Untitled Blue Monochrome, https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/5638

[7] SFMOMA, Rauschenberg, R. (1951) White Painting (three panel) https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.308.A-C

[8] WikiArt, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, https://www.wikiart.org/en/frank-stella/the-marriage-of-reason-and-squalor-1959

[9] Khan Academy discussion on Vir Heroicus Sublimis, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qn-rXJghoU


Croddy W.S,  Aesthetics and Philosophy of Arts – Explaining Modernism, http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Aest/AestCrod.htm

The Art Story – Modern Art Concept: Flatness [on-line] http://www.theartstory.org/definition-flatness.htm

Tate – A bit of nothing (street found monochromes) http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/bit-nothing

Wikiart Tag for Monochrome https://www.wikiart.org/en/tag/monochrome

Wikipedia – Flatness – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatness_(art)


Main research during this part of the course

  • Studying Greenberg’s paper ‘Modernist Painting’.

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.