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: [Accessed 18 April  2017]


Reality on Wikipedia,

Reality: The Definition on New Scientist,

Social Constructionism on Wikipedia,

Social Reality on Wikipedia,

What is Reality? on Psychology Today,

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. 

Exercise 1.4 Digital Art

What do you understand by the phrase ‘digital art’?
List the possible meanings and indicate the one that you consider the most viable.

In this blog I first explore some meanings of the phrase ‘digital art’, and then move to exploring the terms ‘digital’ and ‘digital technology’. I then propose the most viable meaning and test the meaning against various forms of art scenarios and discuss a couple of cross-over areas where non-digital art meets digital technology.

Possible meanings of the phrase ‘digital art’

According to the Digital Art entry in Wikipedia [1]:

‘Digital art is an artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as an essential part of the creative or presentation process.’

According to the Oxford Dictionary [4] digital art is:

‘Art created or modified using a computer or other digital medium.’

According to the art terms listed on the Tate Gallery web site [5]:

‘… art that is made or presented using digital technology.’

The Austin Museum of Digital Art (AMODA) defines digital art (according to their web site [2]) as:

‘art that uses digital technology in any of three ways: as the product, as the process, or as the subject.’

An article by Lauren Tresp at the Chicago School of Media Theory [3] examines the three ways of the AMODA definition:

product: ‘a work that, in its final stage, must be viewed on a digital platform, as in a computer or some other electronic coding apparatus.’, and cites examples as video art, video game art, virtual reality, and Internet art.

process: ‘a work that is created through a digital medium, such as computer software. […] These forms are created at the digital level […] but could be printed out and represented materially.’. She cites examples such as algorithmic art, computer painting, computer-generated animation, and art generated within online communities such as Second Life.

subject: ‘refers to any medium of art production, traditional, performance, or otherwise, that refers to digital technology in its subject matter.’ She says ‘A book about social networking falls into this category, although the book itself is not digital.’

I think AMODA’s definition seeks to be inclusive of all aspects of digital technology where it touches art.  In fact they justify their definition (again on the web site [2]) as follows:

‘This definition is intended not to exclude, but to encompass as much creative output in a coherent vision. We seek to expand the public’s definition of digital art – and our own – in order to address the far-reaching impact of digital technology on art, on the world and on ourselves.’

Tresp provides some useful insight into the AMODA definition, but I take issue with her example illustrating digital art as a subject:  I don’t think a book about social networking per se qualifies as digital art. I own many technology books, and I don’t classify them as part of the digital artworld just because they refer to a technology which might possibly be used to host art as a product, or be used to generate art as a process.

However, there is one key sentence in Tresp’s article that I like: her succinct definition of digital art:

‘… digital art is art that could not otherwise exist without digital technology.’

But I feel this it too simple, and doesn’t take account of how essential the use of digital technology has been in creating a piece of art.

What is digital or digital technology

To describe the term ‘digital’, or ‘digital technology’, I refer to a definition on the web site [7]:

Digital describes electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive. Positive is expressed or represented by the number 1 and non-positive by the number 0. Thus, data transmitted or stored with digital technology is expressed as a string of 0’s and 1’s.

 This is the binary number system.  It is the basis for every piece of digital information in common use today.
Digital technology is in contrast to analogue technology:

‘Prior to digital technology, electronic transmission was limited to analog technology, which conveys data as electronic signals of varying frequency or amplitude that are added to carrier waves of a given frequency. Broadcast and phone transmission has conventionally used analog technology.’ [7]

Digital technology needs a processor in order to function or to make sense of the binary data – the integrated circuit (or microchip) – and the microchip needs software in order to perform logical operations on the binary data.  Ubiquitous examples of digital technology used in pursuit of visual art are computers, digital cameras, mobile phones, tablets, digital TVs, projectors, computer monitors and printers.


Which meaning is most viable when describing the phrase ‘digital art’?

I have explored the meaning of the word ‘digital’, and the term ‘digital technology’. As for the meaning of the word ‘art’ I am avoiding a discussion of it here, and simply consider it as a creative work from which people will experience some emotion.

In my opinion, the most viable meaning for the phrase ‘digital art’ is the one given in the Digital Art page on Wikipedia [1]:

‘Digital art is an artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as an essential part of the creative or presentation process.’

The meaning works well for music / sound art and other forms of non-visual art, but as this course is about visual culture I will constrain my thoughts to visual forms of art.

Unlike other meanings, it address art as an artifact (‘an artistic work’) or as a process (‘a practice’). So this meaning allows me to say that I make artefacts of digital art and that I practice as a digital artist.

It specifically states the use of digital technology in making the art, which is absolutely fundamental to the concept and is common in most definitions of the phrase; but unlike other definitions it states that the use of the technology must be an essential part of the process which allows us to qualify the work based on the relative importance of the use of digital technology in creating or presenting the work.

And finally, the Wikipedia meaning constrains digital art to ‘the creative or presentation process’ which avoids my concern with AMODA’s definition that digital art can be a subject (as discussed above).

The meaning works for all forms of art where the art is created using only digital technology, examples being:

  • traditional digital painting, where an artist creates a work of art using a computer program and a form of input tool, like a stylus.
  • user generated art on massive multi-user virtual reality internet sites such as Second Life.
  • movies created using machinima art, being amateur movies created wholly from computer generated imagery derived from video game technology.
  • Algorithmic art, being computer generated art derived from mathematical equations – such as the creation of fractal images.

When considering a cross-over between analogue and digital technologies we need to consider how essential the digital component has been in the creation of the art, and I discuss two themes, firstly the use of traditional film photography versus digital photography, and then movies viewed on analogue TV versus digital TV.

If I could make a photograph using either a traditional film camera or with a digital camera, the fact that I choose to use a digital camera does not make the art a piece of digital art – I could achieve the same results with the film camera. However, if I apply certain artistic features which are only available in digital cameras then it could be categorised as digital art if the artistic feature was an essential part of the creative process. And likewise, if I take my photograph created on a traditional film camera and modify it using image editing software then it can become digital art providing the changes are essential to the final image and the facility for making those changes are only available in digital editing software (so, for instance, simply using the ‘crop’ function to reduce the size of an image would not make it digital art because a guillotine can do precisely the same job on a the physical photograph).

A piece of movie art (e.g a 1950’s movie) created before the advent of digital technology and made using traditional film does not morph into digital art simply because I use my digital TV to watch it. The digital TV is not an essential part of the presentation process because the movie can just as easily be viewed on an analogue TV. However, a movie which relies on digital technology such as computer generated imagery (CGI) to produce an essential part of it’s work can be classified as digital art and if it is watched on a traditional analogue TV it does not lose it’s classification as digital art.  However, I recognise that because movie production now generally use digital cameras, and digital TVs are the norm in the homes of the developed world, the scale and format of movies and TV programs created today are unlikely to retain their visual quality when viewed on analogue TVs.

So, as in many areas of art, it appears the phrase ‘digital art’ has a number of areas where there is blurring of boundaries as to what constitutes digital art – no doubt it will continue to evolve as digital technology itself evolves.











Main research during this part of the course



Exercise 1.3 Art and Other Things

In what sense could the following be works of art?
1. A Dyson vacuum cleaner
2. Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland
3. The Nazca lines

To answer each of these questions I rely primarily on the 1974 essay by George Dickie, What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis [1], and refer to Arthur C. Danto’s  1964 essay The Artworld [2] where needed.

Dickie explains that there are ‘at least three distinct senses of “work of art”:

  • primary or classificatory sense – ‘indicates that a thing belongs to a certain category of artifacts’;
  • secondary or derivative sense – ‘if the [object] shared a number of properties with some paradigm work of art’ – e.g. a piece of driftwood which looks like Brancusi’s Bird in Space; and
  • evaluative sense – ‘the shared properties were found to be valuable by the speaker’ (the speaker being the person who is declaring something a work of art) – e.g.  “Sally’s cake is a work of art”.

When it comes to evaluating whether something is a work of art in the primary or classificatory sense, I use Dickie’s definition of “work of art”:

‘A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).’

Dyson vacuum cleaner

A Dyson vacuum cleaner is a mass produced consumer item – millions have been produced by the Dyson factory.  The question here is, can one of these millions of items be considered a work of art?

To explore the classificatory sense I turn to Dickie’s definition of a “work of art”. The Dyson is an artifact – it has been created by humans (or maybe a robot under human control), so number (1) in the definition is satisfied.   In examining point (2) of the definition we need to determine whether it’s an item which can be appreciated which, in Dickie’s terms’, is something like “in experiencing the qualities of a thing one finds them worthy or valuable” and to paraphrase Dickie, he does in fact say that he thinks all objects have some aspects which can be appreciated, so the Dyson is indeed a candidate for appreciation.  Now all it takes is for someone in the artworld to propose it as candidate for appreciation for it to become a work of art in the classificatory sense.  It is a similar proposition to the art of Duchamp and his “readymades” when he exhibited a bottle rack, a snow shovel and a urinal as art.

To explore the derivative sense, I’m not sure this sense applies.  The Dyson in the photograph has a rather organic form and perhaps it could share the same qualities as some other work of art, but I’m not convinced I can reach a conclusion as to its derivative sense.

In an evaluative sense, it is very possible that someone in the world has had, or will have, an opinion that the Dyson is a work of art, due to the aesthetics of its organic form and use of transparent and coloured opaque materials which, at it’s launch, was a radical departure from the design of traditional vacuum cleaners.


Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland

The method used by Tenniel to create the illustrations are detailed on the web site [5]:

‘According to Rodney Engen, Tenniel’s biographer, his method for creating the illustrations of the Alice books was the same as the method he used for Punch, namely preliminary pencil drawings, further drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’ to simulate the wood engraver’s line, then transference to the wood-block by the use of tracing paper. Then the drawings were engraved to the highest standards, in this instance by the Dalziel Brothers’.

In a classificatory sense, the illustrations are artefacts as the preliminary drawings have been created by Tenniel and the engravings were created by the Dalziel Brothers, so number (1) in Dickie’s definition of “work of art” is satisfied.  The illustrations have been afforded the status of candidate for appreciation by virtue of the publisher including them in the book, because surely if the publisher did not think them worthy of appreciation then they would not have been included.  And because a book publisher is part of the artworld (and in Dickie’s terms is a member of the ‘core personnel’ of the artworld) it appears that all requirements of Dickie’s definition are satisfied.

However we need to consider the question about whether the reproduced image is an original work of art. Dickie believes that with respect to paintings a work of art needs to be original; copies of an original painting are not works of art.  So if the same logic can be applied to drawings and illustrations then the original ‘drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’ illustrations might be classified as works of art while the printed reproductions might not.

But is the engraving plate a work of art?  Firstly, the image engraved is a mirror image of the resulting printed image, and secondly, the Dalziel Brothers were not working as artists when transferring the image from the drawings to the engraving plate.  So the engraving fails Dickie’s definition of a work of art.  The engraving plate is purely a technical means of reproduction.

The prints produced from the engraving plates are made by a printer, and not by someone working in the capacity of an artist.  The printer contributes no artistic talent into the process.  So, in Dickie’s terms, the reproduced images are not works of art.

Walter Benjamin proposes in his paper ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ [6] that modern technologies for image reproduction produce images which have no original – referring primarily to photography and film making.  I don’t think Benjamin alters my thoughts that the ‘drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’  are the candidate works of art in this case.

In exploring a derivative sense, I don’t think the works are derived from another visual form of art, but they are derived from the imaginings of the story in the book.

In an evaluative sense, I believe most, if not all, viewers of the illustrations will initially evaluate them to see how the pictures tell parts of the story, and then as a secondary step to move on to evaluate them as works of art which they may find (consciously or subconsciously) aesthetically pleasing.


The Nazca lines

First some background on the Nazca lines from Wikipedia [3]:

‘Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE. The figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes, such as trees and flowers.’

The Nazca lines are created by removing a layer of dark coloured stones to reveal a lighter layer of stones which produces a strong contrast in the tone of the lines.

In a classificatory sense, the Nazca lines are artifacts because they were created by the Nazca people, so number (1) in Dickie’s definition of “work of art” is satisfied. Next I want to determine whether they were created to be appreciated.  Some theories suggested that the lines could only be seen from space which led to many theories about them being alien landing strips or some sort of extra-terrestrial signals, but according to Katherine Reece in Grounding the Nasca Balloon, In the Hall of Ma’at [3]:

“It is incorrect to say that the lines cannot be seen from the ground. They are visible from atop the surrounding foothills. The credit for the discovery of the lines goes to Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe who spotted them when hiking through the foothills in 1927.”

So it is thought they were created by humans to be seen by humans.

The Nazca had no writing so symbols take on more significance, so perhaps the Nazca Lines created simply as symbols to inform and not meant to impart everything that we in the modern western world take from appreciation of art.  But if they were created as symbols to inform as opposed to art then why create them in such a grand scale?   I suggest the grand scale indicates they were created to be appreciated.

So now I need to determine whether someone in an artworld has proposed them as candidates for artwork. Was there an artworld (or atmosphere of art) when the Nazca lines were created?

According to the Khan Academy [4]:

‘The Nasca people are … famous for their polychrome pottery, which shares some of the same subjects that appear in the Nasca Geoglyphs. Remains of Nasca pottery left as offerings have been found in and near the geoglyphs, cementing the connection between the geoglyphs and the Nasca people.’

Because of the proliferation of other forms of Nazca art I conclude there was an established, but maybe primitive, artworld and the artists of the Nazca Lines were part of the artworld.  By creating their art in the open air the artists have proposed the lines as candidate art. So I believe all elements of Dickie’s definition of “work of art” can be seen to have been satisfied.

To explore the derivative sense, I don’t believe this sense applies to the Nazca Lines.

In an evaluative sense, the Nazca people may have appreciated the geoglyphs as art, because they appear to have an established history of producing a variety of artefacts which would qualify as art, such as their polychromatic pottery.



[1] Dickie, G. (1974). What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis in Art and the Aesthetic. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press At: (Accessed 29 March 2017)

[2] Danto, A.C (1964). The Artworld from The Journal of Philosophy, volume 61, issue 19.  Journal of Philosophy Inc.  At: (Accessed 31 March 2017)




[6] Benjamin, J. (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. New York: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, V, no. 1


Main research during this part of the course

  • Studied the 1964 paper The Artworld by Arthur C Danto – notes made in the Contextual Research section below.
  • Studied the 1974 paper What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis by George Dickie – notes made in the Contextual Research section below.
  • Studied the 1936 paper The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin, as published in the book Art in Theory 1900-2000 (pp 520-527), C Harrison & P Wood, Blackwell Publishing.
  • Watched a discussion on Khan Academy regarding Brancusi Bird in Space as this was referenced in Dickie’s paper.
  • Watched a discussion regarding R. Rauchenberg’s Bed on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Floor Cake – on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks – on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Bedroom Ensemble – on web site of National Gallery of Canada
  • Read part of the analysis of Roger Fry on
  • Read the Khan Academy article on Nasca Geoglyphs

Contextual Research for this exercise

In this section I record some of my detailed notes from papers read for this exercise.

My notes from The Artworld by Arthur C. Danto published in 1964.

Available at


‘… art, insofar as it is mirrorlike, reveals us to ourselves.’   (Hamlet and Socrates – speaking of art as a mirror held up to nature.)

Imitation Theory of Art (IT) – explains ‘a great many phenomena connected with the causation and evaluation of artworks, bringing a surprising unity into a complex domain’.  According to Danto,this is Socratic theory.

In terms of IT, when post-impressionist paintings emerged ‘it was impossible to accept these as art unless inept art’.  […] ‘So to get them accepted as art … required not so much a revolution in taste as a theoretical revision of rather considerable proportions, involving not only the artistic enfranchisement of these objects, but an emphasis upon newly significant features of accepted artworks, so that quite different accounts of their status as artworks would now have to be given’.

‘… the artists in question were to be understood not as unsuccessfully imitating real forms but as successfully creating new ones, quite as real as the forms which the older art had been thought, in its best examples, to be credibly imitating.’  Danto goes on to quote Fry, which leads me to a side investigation into Fry.  Comments from Roger Fry on

‘In his introduction to the catalogue of the second Post-Impressionist exhibition [reprinted in Vision and Design as ‘The French Post-Impressionists’] Fry summed up the connection between art as the formal expression of the imaginative life and the work of the moderns. ‘These artists’, he wrote, referring to the followers of Cézanne, “do not seek to give what can, after all, be but a pale reflex of actual appearance, but to arouse the conviction of a new and definite reality. They do not seek to imitate form, but to create form; not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life. By that I mean that they wish to make images which by the clearness of their logical structure, and by their closely-knit unity of texture, shall appeal to our disinterested and contemplative imagination with something of the same vividness as the things of actual life appeal to our practical activities. In fact, they aim not at illusion but at reality. ” [p. 167]’.

Back to Danto:  This Reality Theory … ‘(RT) furnished a whole new mode of looking at painting, old and new.’.  Danto then goes on to explain that the crude drawings of Van Gogh and Cézanne, the dislocation of form from contour in Roualt and Dufy, arbitrary colour panes of Gauguin and the Fauves ‘… so many ways at drawing attention to the fact that these were non-imitations, specifically intended not to deceive.’  They occupy ‘a freshly opened area between real objects and real facsimiles of real objects and thereby, non-facsimiles.

Danto goes on to explain how works by Roy Lichtenstein, when photographed is indiscernible from a photo of a ‘counter-part panel from Steve Canyon’ (American cartoon character) … ‘… but the photograph fails to capture the scale and hence is an inaccurate reproduction …’.  Lichtensteins are not imitations but new entities.

Danto explores the work of Jasper Johns, noting that ‘his objects cannot be imitations, for they have the remarkable property that any intended copy of a member of this class of objects is automatically a member of the class itself, so that these objects are logically inimitable.’ (‘inimitable’ = so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique). ‘Thus, a copy of a numeral just is that numeral, a painting of 3 is a 3 made in paint.’  He then refers to Johns’ flag paintings and target paintings which have this same quality.

In introducing the question ‘what makes art’, Danto talks about Rauchenberg’s wall hanging bed and Oldenberg’s rhomboid bed, and introduces the term ‘Testadura’ into his thesis, being a person who is naïve … ‘a plain speaker and a noted philistine’, being the counter of someone who understands art theory.

Not knowing anything of Rauchenberg or Oldenberg, I investigated as follows:


Danto considers whether a piece of art can be reduced to it’s components, as in Rauchenberg’s bed … made from an original found object (the bed), and paint.   The paint is part of the object. It is ‘a complex object fabricated out of a bed and some paintstreaks: a paint-bed’.

Danto then talks about the ‘is‘ of artistic identification.  The use of the word ‘is’ ‘in accordance with which a child, shown a circle and a triangle and asked which is him and which his sister, will point to the triangle saying “That is me” …’.

Danto considers how a simple picture can be interpreted in different ways, considering how Newton’s First Law and Third Law might be represented in the same picture comprising a single line across the middle of a canvas.

‘We cannot help [Testadura] until he has mastered the is of artistic identification and so constitutes it a work of art. If he cannot achieve this, he will never look upon artworks: he will be like a child who see sticks as sticks.’

So why might an artist appreciate pure abstractions as art, while Testadura doesn’t see art (e.g a painted white canvas with a single black line painted across it)? It lies in the fact that the … ‘artist has returned to the physicality of paint through an atmosphere compounded by art theories and the history of recent and remote painting, elements of which he is trying to refine out of his own work: and as a consequence of this his work belongs in this atmosphere and is part of this history.  He has achieved abstraction through rejection of artistic identifications returning to the real world from which such identification removes us (he thinks).’

‘To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry [descry = to catch sight of something] – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of a history of art: an artworld’.


Danto investigates Warhol’s Brillo box art, boxes made of wood to look like cardboard. He paraphrases a critic in the Times ‘if one may make the facsimile of a human being out of bronze, why not make the facsimile of a Brillo carton out of plywood?’.

He asks ‘why the Brillo people cannot manufacture art and why Warhol cannot but make artworks’, and presents a number of interesting observations.  Finally, though he concludes:

What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain theory of art, It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is […]. Of course, without the theory, one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting. It could not have been art fifty years ago. […] The world has to be ready for certain things, the artworld no less than the real one.  It is the role of artistic theories … to make the artworld, and art, possible, It would, I should think, never have occurred to the painters of Lascaux that they were producing art on those walls. Not unless there were neolithic aestheticians.’


Danto states … ‘the Brillo box of the artworld is the Brillo box of the real one, separated by the is of artistic identification.’

The remaining theories in this chapter are quite unintelligible to me, so I finish my notes on Danto’s paper here.


My notes from the study of the 1974 paper by George Dickie, What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis by George Dickie

The paper is available from:

Dickie – PREFACE

Dickie acknowledges Imitation Theory which I take is the same as Danto’s use of the term, but Dickie also uses the term Expression Theory of art which ‘broke the domination of imitation theory’.  I presume Expression Theory is the same as Danto’s Reality Theory – but it may be different.

Dickie – CHAPTER I

Dickie explains that there are ‘at least three distinct senses of “work of art”:

  • primary or classificatory sense – ‘indicates that a thing belongs to a certain category of artifacts’.
  • secondary or derivative sense – ‘if the [object] shared a number of properties with some paradigm work of art’ – e.g. a piece of driftwood which looks like Brancusi’s Bird in Space.
  • evaluative sense – ‘the shared properties were found to be valuable by the speaker’ (the speaker being the person who is declaring something a work of art) – e.g.  “Sally’s cake is a work of art”.


Dickie claims that ‘it is now clear that artifactuality is a necessary condition … of the primary sense of art’ (Weitz and others have denied this).

Dickie makes reference to Danto’s article ‘The Artworld’, and uses the term ‘artworld’ in the same way being ‘the broad social institution in which works of art have their place’, and that when he calls the artworld an institution he is saying it’s an established practice (rather than a legal or quasi-legal entity).

Dickie identifies the Dadaist painting and sculpture movement as most easily revealing the institutional essence of art:

‘Duchamp and friends conferred the status of art on “ready-mades” (urinals, hatracks, snow shovels, and the like), and when we reflect on their deeds we can take note of a kind of human action which has until now gone unnoticed and unappreciated – the action of conferring the status of art’.

‘When […], the objects are bizarre, as those of the Dadaists are, our attention is forced away from the objects’ obvious properties to a consideration of the objects in their social context. As works of art Duchamp’s “ready-mades” may not be worth much, but as examples of art they are very valuable for art theory.’

Dickie defines the term “work of art” as:

‘A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).’

The second condition has four interconnecting notions:

Notion 1 – acting on behalf of an institution
Dickie refers to the artworld – the core personnel being identified as including artists (e.g painters, writers, composers) producers, museum directors, museum-goers, theatre-goers, newspaper reporters, critics, art historians, art theorists, art philosophers, and others.  He identifies the minimum core personnel as being artists (who create), presenters (who present) and goers (who appreciate).

Notion 2 – conferring of status

‘An artifact can acquire the status of candidate for appreciation within the social system called “the artworld”.’

‘a number of persons are required to make up the social institution of the artworld, but only one person is required to act on behalf of the artworld and to confer the status of candidate for appreciation.  In fact, many works of art are seen only by one person – the one who creates them – but they are still art.’

Dickie discusses the difference between the act by Duchamp of entering his Fountain work (comprising a urinal)  into an art show and that of a plumbing salesman laying out plumbing wares for display.  Duchamp’s work is art because ‘… Duchamp’s action took place within the institutional setting of the artworld and the plumbing salesman’s action took place outside of it’.

Dickie also states that naming an object strengthens the idea that it is a work of art, even if the name is “Untitled“.

Notion 3 – being a candidate
‘A member of the artworld confers the status of candidate for appreciation. ‘

‘not every aspect of a work is included in the candidacy for appreciation; for example, the colour of the back of a painting.’

Notion 4 – appreciation.
‘All that is meant by “appreciation” in the definition is something like “in experiencing the qualities of a thing one finds them worthy or valuable”, and this meaning applies quite generally both inside and outside the domain of art.’

Dickie considers whether there is anything which cannot be appreciated, and concludes ‘it seems unlikely to me that any object would not have some quality which is appreciable …’.


Dickie considers whether natural objects, such as driftwood, can become works of art in the classificatory sense.  He thinks they can if someone takes it home and hangs it on a wall, or enter it into an exhibition.They would become artifactualized without the use of tools: ‘ – artifactuality is conferred on the object rather than worked on it.’

Dickie considerers whether art produced by chimpanzees are works of art, and decides that it depends on what’s done with them.  For example, when they were displayed in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago they would not be art, but if they had been displayed at the Chicago Art Institute then they would have been art.  He says:

‘A great deal depends upon the institutional setting: one institutional setting is congenial to conferring the status of art and the other is not.’

Dickie believes that the chimpanzee would not be able to conceive of being part of the artworld, and therefore would be unable to confer the status of art.  The paintings would be the art of the person who is responsible for them being exhibited. ‘Art is a concept which necessarily involves human intentionality’.

Dickie goes on to discuss Danto’s writings in ‘Art Works and Real Things’ regarding fake and forged paintings:

‘… a painting’s being a fake prevents it from being a work of art, maintaining that originality is an analytical requirement of being a work of art. That a work of art is derivative or imitative does not … prevent it from being a work of art’.

He then considers paintings which were thought to be original but turn out to be fake – saying that they can’t lose their status as a work of art because they never were works of art.  The paintings of Van Meegeren who painted in the style of Vermeer and used a forged Vermeer signature are not works of art, but if he had used his own signature then they would be works of art.

Dickie considers that this originality clause should be part of his work of art definition, but hasn’t considered the full scope of this clause on all aspects of art – so didn’t include it.









Exercise 1.2 Theory or Not

Identify three works of art in which theory plays a decisive role, and three works of art in which theory seems absent. In 100-150 words reflect on the distinction between them.

Three works of art in which theory plays a dominant role

I will start here at an extreme end of art theory, with Kasimir Malevich’s Supremist work, and his Black Square painting made in 1915 (fig. 1).

In terms of Suprematism, Malevich’s theory is that art should be about pure feeling … “the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless” (7). In this way, Supremist philosophy has theoretical possibilities, which are then materialised in paintings as theoretical demonstrations.

This is one of Malevich’s key works as he explores how to dispense with most of the characteristics of representational art.

Figure 1.  Black square (1915) Kasimir Malevich


My second example of art where theory plays a decisive role is Le Signorine by Felice Casorati painted in 1912. Figure 2 is my photo of the painting taken from my visit at the Ca’ Pesaro museum in Venice. The painting is of the genre magic realism (or magical realism) with a multiplicity of themes including allegory, portrait, still life, iconography and symbolism.  The flattened plane, and the size of the painting (197 x 190 cm) bring the characters almost into my space as I stand before it.

Figure 2.  Le Signorine (1912) Felice Casorati

The wooden frame gives me the feeling that I am looking through a large window or doorway, the alpine tree perhaps hints to an alpine landscape and a strange world of four young ladies. Each, at their feet, has a label alluding to their character written in Italian: Dolores (pain), Violante (violent / angry), Bianca (white / snow-white?) and Gioconda (joyous), and we see how their characters are portrayed in their demeanour and facial expression; except Bianca’s character is open to multiple interpretations – portrayed nude she may be an exhibitionist, an argument perhaps strengthened by the presence of a mirror behind her reflecting the back of her thighs.   Violante is looking at Bianca, is she angry with Bianca?  Bianca and Gioconda look directly at us, engaging with us – is Gioconda smiling at us or some unsaid comment muttered between them?  And Dolores stares anxiously into the distance as if her pain removes her presence from the companionship of the other three.

Many of the girl’s possessions are strewn around to help us interpret their characters, but the most interesting has to be the turkey next to Dolores – what does a turkey signify in Italy?  I need to investigate further with my Italian friends.


My third example is the sculpture Spiral expansion of Muscles in Action created in 1912 by Italian artist Umberto Boccioni a leading artist in the Futurist movement (fig. 3).

Figure 3.  Spiral expansion of Muscles in Action (1912) Umberto Boccioni

According to (11):

‘Boccioni was intent on capturing motion in his sculptures. His aim was not to abstract the forms he was sculpting, but rather to represent their essential nature by capturing their movement through space and time.’

This particular piece appeals to me because of my interest in Cubist paintings. This is the first time I have explored examples of sculpture from these movements and this piece stands out as a brilliant work of art. I can see how the snatched glimpses of Cubism are brought together into a human form posed in such a way as to establish the body in motion – not running, but seemingly walking with purpose.


Three works of art in which theory seems absent

My first example in this category is an artwork I saw at the Ca’ Pesaro in Venice by Mel Bochner entitled 48″ Standards (#24) produced in 1969 (fig 4.).  It comprises brown rectangles of paper stapled to a wall (of about 20 metres in length and 7 metres high), with black tape and letraset indicating some measurements.

Figure 4.  48″ Standards (#24) 1969 Mel Bochner

I can clearly see and experience the texture of the materials, but I have no clue as to the theory behind this work of conceptual art.  It’s clearly 2 dimensional, unbounded (there’s no frame) except by the limits of the wall, and the texture of the paper suggests packing material, and the measurements suggest packing dimensions.  The title gives me no further understanding, except that 48″ in the title is a measurement shown on the wall.

Since viewing this work, I viewed a number of works on the web site of Bochner -> link, and explored his biography.  I am still none the wiser: I guess I just have to accept the work for what it is.


My second example in this category of art where theory seems lacking is the (in)famous pile of bricks called Equivalent VIII by Carl Andre “made” in 1966 and first displayed at The Tate Gallery in 1976.   Once again, I struggle to identify an art theory with this work.  It’s minimalist, and it exists in its environment and will impact anyone who stumbles across it – a health and safety issue: perhaps that’s really the subject of this work.  But as Andre states in an audio clip, a piece of art doesn’t need to be recognisable as anything – it can just exist (audio available on the Tate web site -> here) – but then anything can be art.  Jonathan Jones opined in the Guardian that this was the most boring controversial artwork ever.  He goes on to say:

‘Equivalent VIII is the very opposite of conceptual art. Instead of airily escaping the physical nature of art into a world of thought, it dumbly and relentlessly insists on its material reality – and nothing else. Being an arrangement of bricks is all this arrangement of bricks does or wants to do. It is brute fact. It is there. And that’s that.’

Figure 5.  Equivalent VIII (1966) Carl Andre

In my research I was amused by the museums who had created replicas of this work, whereupon Andre had declared them forgeries.


My third, and last, example is another (in)famous installation, Fountain, by Marcel Duchamp, first displayed in 1917 (fig. 6).  According to the BBC, in 2005 this artwork was voted by 500 top artists as the most influential piece of modern artwork of all time (12).

According to TheArtStory (13):

‘After the work had been rejected by the [Society of Independent Artists] on the grounds that it was immoral, critics who championed it disputed this claim, arguing that an object was invested with new significance when selected by an artist for display’

Comprising a urinal set on a plinth with the name R. Mutt and they year 1917 painted on the side, it caused much discussion on whether this truly is a work of art.

Figure 6. Fountain (1917) Marcel Duchamp

I think this stretches the search for art theory in a similar way as Andre’s pile of bricks, except of course this found object has been altered by having the Mutt name and year painted on it.  So given this alteration then perhaps it is more worthy of a place in art than the bricks.

A side note …

I was tempted to include an example of a classical realist painting such as Claude Lorrain’s 1644 painting Landscape with shepherds as an example of a painting where theory seems lacking. However I conclude that the key theory with this style of painting is that they conform to the theories of linear and aerial perspective, prominent theories of ‘accurate’ pictorial representation in the modern age since the Renaissance. So I think I would place this example somewhere in the middle of a spectrum of art where theory plays a dominant role and art where theory seems absent.

Figure 7. Landscape with shepherds (1644) Claude Lorrain


Reflection on the distinction between art where theory plays a decisive role and where theory seems absent (100 – 150 words)

Where theory has a dominant role, the artist creates work which displays one or more accepted theories of the art world, those theories having been constructed through discourse by artists and art critics over time, and often embodied in a named movement such as Constructivism, Cubism, Impressionism, Suprematism and Futurism.

I believe that all art is based on a theory to some degree, so my choice of examples of works where theory seems absent are based on examples in which I simply don’t completely grasp the theoretical basis for the work. These are generally art works made from found objects and simply collected in some way, without modification, and proposed to be a works of art.

(116 words)


Main research during this part of the course

  • Reading the paper Modernist Painting by Clement Greenberg (notes made in notebook)
  • Investigated Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematist movement
  • Investigated Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Constructivist movement
  • Started reading The Monochrome and Blank Canvas (notes made in notebook)
  • Visited the Peggy Guggenheim and Ca’ Pesaro museums in Venice – researching concepts of theory.
  • Reading chapters 1 to 3 of Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture.
  • As a consequence of reading about Constructivism, I watched the film Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by filmmaker Dziga Vertov available on Youtube -> link

Contextual research

In this section I record some of my research initiated by this exercise.

While attempting to understand Clement Greenberg’s theory of Modernist art, my tutor pointed my towards the artists Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) and Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) as artists who Greenberg saw as theorists.  So this is my investigation into the works and theories of these artists.

Malevich and Suprematism

Wikipedia has this to say about Suprematism …

‘Suprematism … is an art movement, focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colors. It was founded by Kazimir Malevich in Russia, around 1913, and announced in Malevich’s 1915 exhibition, The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10, in St. Petersburg, where he, alongside 13 other artists, exhibited 36 works in a similar style. The term suprematism refers to an abstract art based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on visual depiction of objects.’ (6)

Malevich invented the term ‘Suprematism’ because, according to … ‘he believed that art should transcend subject matter — the truth of shape and color should reign ‘supreme’ over the image or narrative.’ (3)

Malevich’s paper on Suprematism is on at this link -> link

An often quoted phrase (it seems) is that Malevich … ‘believed in an extreme of reduction: “The object in itself is meaningless… the ideas of the conscious mind are worthless”. What he wanted was a non-objective representation, “the supremacy of pure feeling.” 

White on white

White on white (1918) Kazimir Malevich

Fig 8. White on white (1918) Kazimir Malevich

Wikipedia has this to say about White on White …

‘Malevich dispenses with most of the characteristics of representational art, with no sense of colour, depth, or volume, leaving a simple monochrome geometrical shape, not precisely symmetrical, with imprecisely defined boundaries. Although the artwork is stripped of most detail, brush strokes are evident in this painting and the artist tried to make it look as if the tilted square is coming out of the canvas. Malevich intended the painting to evoke a feeling of floating, with the colour white symbolising infinity, and the slight tilt of the square suggests movement.  (4)

Black Square

Black square (1915) Kasimir Malevich

Fig. 9  Black square (1915) Kasimir Malevich

Wikipedia has this to say about Black Square …

The work is frequently invoked by critics, historians, curators, and artists as the “zero point of painting”, referring to the painting’s historical significance as a paraphrase of a number of comments Malevich made about The Black Square in letters to his colleagues and dealers.

Malevich had made some remarks about his painting.

  • “It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.”
  • “I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation, that is, to Suprematism, to the new realism in painting – to non-objective creation.”
  • “[Black Square is meant to evoke] the experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing.”


Rodchenko and Constructivism

According to Sturken and Cartwright the Constructivists …

’emphasized the realistic aspects of showing the artwork’s materials and structural elements of form. They suggested that revolutionary artists should expose the means of production to viewers rather than hide technique and equipment from view.’ (Sturken, M & Cartwright, 2009)

According to

Constructivist art often aimed to demonstrate how materials behaved – to ask, for instance, what different properties had materials such as wood, glass, and metal. The form an artwork would take would be dictated by its materials (not the other way around, as is the case in traditional art forms, in which the artist ‘transforms’ base materials into something very different and beautiful). (8)

Russian Constructivism came out of the Bolshevic October revolution of 1917.

‘Constructivism called for a careful technical analysis of modern materials, and it was hoped that this investigation would eventually yield ideas that could be put to use in mass production, serving the ends of a modern, Communist society.’ (8)

‘Russian Constructivism was in decline by the mid 1920s, partly a victim of the Bolshevik regime’s increasing hostility to avant-garde art.’ (8)

It is interesting to see Rodchenko’s 1918 painting Non-Objective Painting No 80 as, according to, it was painted in response to Rodchenko’s encounter with Malevich’s Black Square painting.

Figure 10.  Non-Objective Painting No 80 (1918) Alexander Rodchenko

Rodchenko became famous for his photographs and photomontage work. According to the website

‘For a time [Rodchenko] was the perfect example of the committed, early Soviet era communist who believed passionately in the relevance of art to society. He embraced photography as the perfect vehicle for his staunch constructivist principles, which dictated that art should be used as an instrument for social purposes.’ (15)

According to, Rodchenko’s 1930 photograph The Staircase:

‘is one of Rodchenko’s finest photographs. Often credited with devising the key principles of modern photography, Rodchenko is praised for his use of unusual angles and perspective.’ (16)

Figure 11.  The Staircase (1930) Alexander Rodchenko


List of images

Figure 1 and 9. Malevich K (1915) Black Square [oil on linen] 79.4 x 79.4 cm At: Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA.,_1918).png (Accessed 04 Feb 2017)

Figure 2. Casorati F (1912) Le Signorine [oil on canvas] 197 x 190 cm At: Ca’ Pesaro, Venice, Italy (Photograph by David Bell, taken 11 March 2017)

Figure 3  Boccioni U (1912) Spiral expansion of muscles in action [plaster] At:,_Spiral_Expansion_of_Muscles_in_Action,_plaster,_photograph_published_in_1914.jpg (Accessed 18 March 2017)

Figure 4. Bochner M (1969) 48″ Standards (#24) [Brown paper stapled to wall, black tape and letraset] At: Ca’ Pesaro, Venice, Italy. (Photograph by David Bell taken 11 March 2017).

Figure 5.  Andre C (1966) Equivalent VIII [Firebricks] 127 x 686 x 2292 mm At: Tate Gallery, London, England (Accessed 18 March 2017)

Figure 6. Duchamp M (1917) Fountain [urinal] At: destroyed (Accessed 18 March 2017)

Figure 7.  Lorrain C (1644) Landscape with shepherds [oil on canvas] 98 × 137 cm At: Museum of Grenoble, Grenoble, France (Accessed 23 December 2016)

Figure 8. Malevich K (1918) White on white [oil on canvas] 79.5 x 79.5 cm At: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. (Accessed 04 Feb 2017)

Figure 10.  Rodchenko A (1918) Non-Objective Painting No 80 [oil on canvas] 81.9 x 79.4 cm At: Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA (Accessed 21 March 2017)

Figure 11.  Rodchenko A (1930) The Staircase [gelatin-silver print]  At: Private collection (Accessed 21 March 2017)



(1) Wikipedia, (2017). Kazimir Malevich. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 February 2017].

(2) Webmuseum Paris, (2017). Malevich, Kasimir: Suprematist Compositions. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 February 2017].

(3) The Art Story, (2017). Kazimir Malevich. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 February 2017].

(4) Wikipedia, (2017). White on White. [online] Available at:,_1918).png [Accessed 04 February 2017].

(5) Wikipedia, (2017). Black Square. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 February 2017].

(6) Wikipedia, (2017). Suprematism. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 05 February 2017].

(7) Artchive, (2017). Kazimir Malevich.  [online] Available at:  [Accessed 05 February 2017].

(8) TheArtStory, (2017). Constructivism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 March 2017].

(9) Jones, J. (2016). Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII: the most boring controversial artwork ever. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 20 March 2017].

(10) Jury, L. (2004). ‘Fountain’ most influential piece of modern art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 March 2017].

(11) IdeelArt, (2017). HERE ARE SOME BRILLIANT EXAMPLES OF CUBIST SCULPTURE. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 March 2017].

(12) BBC News, (2004). Duchamp’s urinal tops art survey. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 20 March 2017].

(13) TheArtStory, (2017). Marcel Duchamp. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2017].

(14) Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture – 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, p146.

(15) Culture24, (2008). Rodchenko’s Revolution In Photography at The Hayward Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2017].

(16) TheArtStory, (2017). Alexander Rodchenko [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2017].