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No Horse In Particular

Post #1307 • March 4, 2009, 8:05 AM • 31 Comments

Robert Fraher, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, sent in this interactive piece that considers a few different aspects of abstraction in an interesting way. Flash required.




March 4, 2009, 10:22 AM

Not sure this is so much art, as a photoshop and programming manipulation. I used to do some of the same kind of thing to demonstrate image and graphics programming. Or maybe I just don't get it.



March 4, 2009, 10:28 AM

Jan, yes, I don't know of any so-called abstractionists who proceeded or proceed along the lines of subtracting elements from representations.



March 4, 2009, 7:04 PM

I think it's an interesting analysis for its own sake.



March 4, 2009, 7:19 PM

I think you are wrong, Tim, but I may not understand what you mean



March 4, 2009, 8:03 PM

Opie, I have understood that the idea with the AEs (and I know I'm generalizing here) was to see whether an arrangement of visual elements could have impact, make an impression, etc. In other words, they were betting that, in a picture, the arrangement of those visual elements is what is active upon the viewer, and not the literal, anecdotal, etc. trappings.



March 4, 2009, 8:22 PM

So, those artists did not paint reduced representations, but fresh presentations of arrangements of shapes, colors, lines, patterns, etc. for their own sake, and devised as such, rather than derived from any kind of representation.



March 4, 2009, 9:50 PM

But other artists did: Stuart Davis, David Park, Georgia O'Keefe...



March 4, 2009, 10:12 PM

Yes, Franklin, and your examples place me in mind of F. Porter, Alex Katz, even K. Herring, Roy Lichtenstein if I wanted to stretch things. So, in terms of my understanding, these could be considered more abstractionist than the so-called Abstract Expressionists, though I think of them more as stylized representationalists. A semantic thing.



March 4, 2009, 10:18 PM

And the Cubists did, and lots of other artists. And my paintings, and those of others, are nominally abstract but suggest figures all the time, which reverses the process. It is just all a matter of degree



March 4, 2009, 10:28 PM

At risk of being tedious, I would say it's a matter of approach.



March 4, 2009, 10:40 PM

"fresh presentations of arrangements of shapes, colors, lines, patterns, etc. for their own sake, and devised as such..."

I don't know what that means. The supermatists, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, all of their paintings were connected to the visible world in some way, the world of representation, whatever you want to call it. The human mind can't start from nothing, a mythical tabula rasa, where lines and colors and shapes float free from all the things experienced by human consciousness.

Anyone who dismisses Obama this early on in his presidency made up his mind about him the moment McCain lost.

Let the bullets fly...



March 4, 2009, 11:18 PM

Eag, it seems to me that the AEs happened upon arrangements which meant "something" to them, which they couldn't label any more than anyone else. If a painting works, it does so for reasons other than anything obvious. I think it's impossible to word or label the "perfume" of any painting, representational or not. I entertain the idea that the AEs wanted only that "perfume" to occupy their works, nothing else.



March 5, 2009, 12:45 AM

I just read this excellent article on representation, and I now realize that my relativistic approach does not hold up.


Chris Rywalt

March 5, 2009, 8:38 AM

Wow, EAG, thanks for making my eyes glaze over. If I ever have trouble falling asleep, I know what to read now.



March 5, 2009, 8:46 AM

Ha ha ha! Forget Ambien, get yourself a pet art theorist.



March 5, 2009, 8:46 AM

Chris, yes, I fell asleep at my computer trying to read that. I kept thinking as I was nodding off, "Yes, but how do I use this?" Eag, if you really managed to get through that article, you're a better man than I.



March 5, 2009, 8:58 AM

I got through it twice! I think it clarified things for me with regards to applying the term representation too loosely. The article argues against relativism in the sense that the author believes that the boundaries between representation and expression should not be completely dissolved because the term representation will no longer have a clear cut meaning.

"The issue at stake in any discussion of representation in art history or aesthetics is the assumed nature of this external denoted reality and of particular concern is the unanswered problem of subjectivity. Can denotation in art apply logically to non-public psychological internal states in the way in which it can apply, for example, to non-existent but represented entities such as unicorns or centaurs? If representation encompasses all modes of picturing and if it is extended to include reference of any kind to objective as well as subjective experience, the term becomes an open concept in the broadest sense with no posited necessary and sufficient conditions for its correct usage. With all boundaries completely dissolved, the distinctions between representation and expression, between illusionism and abstraction, become confused and perhaps nullified."



March 5, 2009, 9:20 AM

Isn't it more or less easy to discern whether, for instance, in a painting, the artist's intent was expressive regardless of whether the image is representational?



March 5, 2009, 9:36 AM

Tortured discussions of representation vs "expression" and "abstraction" were all in the air 50 years ago. It is really a non-issue, especially by now when it has been settled that very good art can be made either way or inbetween.

It is intersting to discuss degrees of representation in terms of how they contribute to the construction of a particular painting or sculpture, but these facts, in themselves, are indifferent to the quality of the art itself.

Someone once said something to the effect that all arts tend toward the condition of music. There is something to this.



March 5, 2009, 9:50 AM

Opie, in #12, I could've substituted "music" for "perfume."
I started to use "essence," but that didn't say what "perfume" or "music" says, which gets closer to the "something" that can be done with paint which is the reason painting endures.



March 5, 2009, 9:52 AM

Today, much art tends toward the condition of advertising.



March 5, 2009, 10:18 AM

You may or may not have been aware of this Tim but Kandinsky uses perfume as a metaphor for the essence of art in Concerning the



March 5, 2009, 10:37 AM

Today, much art tends to the condition of hogshit, MC



March 5, 2009, 10:38 AM

I wasn't aware of that. Makes sense, though.



March 5, 2009, 10:41 AM

Walter Pater said it Opie. Here's Fenton expanding a bit through a discussion on Griefen...

'Music of course achieves expression in its own medium through a highly developed musical language. While painting may be poorer than music in established theory and procedure, the possibilities within it may be more open, more filled with potential. This openness in painting has led inexorably and inevitably to abstraction. Modern painters have inclined to an art that appeals directly to feeling apart from representation with its inevitable overtones, distractions, and prejudice. Of course, representation couldn't be abandoned overnight and much of value stood to be lost in the process. It was abandoned in stages and often with reluctance and regret. Artists didn't pursue abstraction for the sake of the abstruse. Far from it. They were driven to it as a kind of last resort. It was a kind of necessary purging for the sake of a deep and fundamental universality, one that was part and parcel of painting itself.'


Chris Rywalt

March 5, 2009, 10:48 AM

What turned me off early in the article is the idea, expressed by the author, that expression and representation are opposites, or "running in opposite directions," which I think is false, or anyway wacky. Also, once they used "hypostatize" I was pretty much done. If you can glean useful insights from such writing, EAG, more power to you. Maybe on a better day it'd work for me, but not today.


Chris Rywalt

March 5, 2009, 10:55 AM

Perfume is an excellent metaphor for art because it conjures up an experience lacking a lot of the "mere stimulation of the retina" garbage theorists have been throwing around for years. No one would ever talk about "mere olfactory stimulation" as if it were somehow beneath notice, and no one would claim that, for example, an odor without a theoretical foundation isn't worth smelling.

Then again, no one creates great works of art out of smells. Maybe we should. The trouble is, I find, the shorter the distance over which a sense works, the harder it is to fool. Sight is easy -- TV, photos, movies -- hearing more difficult -- radio, records, CDs -- smell very difficult -- note that magazine inserts for perfumes exist because you can't reproduce a perfume, you need the original -- and touch, well, there's a reason why prostitutes can be so expensive.

(Of course, to pick nits, all senses are eventually touch, whether photons striking the retina, esters whacking against your nose innards, or air pressure against your eardrums. Yes: That stinky smell in a public bathroom is other people's poop molecules touching your nasal passages! Ew!)


Chris Rywalt

March 5, 2009, 10:58 AM

Thinking about it, I guess chefs are olfactory artists (taste and smell being pretty much the same sense). Peter Barrett is an artist working in both painting and food.



March 5, 2009, 10:58 AM

I think the author was trying to differentiate his position from that of Goodman's. Goodman posits the notion that totally abstract work can be representational in the sense that it conveys a specific emotional state, or symbol of one. In other words he wanted to to consider subjective states representational. He wanted to completely separate representational art from denotation and the author was trying to say that there needs to be some degree of denotation for something to be representational. The author wanted to say that there should be some line drawn in the sand between subjective and objective in the sense that something should only be considered representational if it can be agreed upon by people, that conventions are used, or external reality is referenced enough so that there can be a consensus. otherwise, confusion will reign. But right at the start of the article the author states that all great art balances the two, representational and expressive.



March 5, 2009, 11:10 AM

So eag, take Delacroix. It could be said that he used representation as an incidental vehicle for expressiveness. But even though Delacroix' point, so to speak, is expression, is the result nevertheless the balance which the writer cites is the hallmark of great art?



March 5, 2009, 11:14 AM

Yeah there is no reason to drag these old sawhorses out of the aesthetics closet. Who cares anyway? I love Delacroix and his journals are really great.



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