Ladders and Windows

Working on the ‘Marking Time’ project and feeling a bit stuck with what to do next.  I had the tracing of the shadows under the chair, the timelessness of the action of making a painting, the beauty of the autumn colours, and some amazing sunbeams.. a.k.a. Jacobs Ladders, all milling around in my head but not sure what to do with them.

So this time I painted the pattern of the shadows under the chair, using the colours of the sunbeams.  I wanted the light to shine through the tracing paper, and to be well ventilated as white spirit gives me a headache.  Ladders seemed the answer, and gave the illusion of other windows in addition to the stained glass window (frosted) I was painting.. along with other ladderesque symbolism.



Pause for 2 minutes and 43 seconds

while watching the kettle boil, for starters.  I have spent a lot of time waiting with tetchy impatience for kettles to boil in the past, but this time it was very fast.. exactly one litre of cold water from the tap.

How long did it take me to eat the 4 oysters yesterday evening.  I wish I had timed it but it was probably about the same time, especially if I exclude the pauses in between each one.  (I might have to go and buy some more to experiment.)

I planned to spend 2 minutes 43 seconds just listening to the waves and being still, and then the same amount of time thinking about my brief for college.  It didn’t work at all.  Despite the serene situation my head was full of worry and stress about how to take my brief forward.  It may not show..

sublime versus unsublime

My flip video wouldn’t work this morning, there is not much to make thoughts of the sublime disappear more quickly than frustrations with computer software.

Went for a walk in the rain..and autumnal colours, and got lost in native woodlands over the loch, and then stood by the lochside in stillness as the last of the light receded.

And now, a day later, the 2 minutes by the water is still with me, but the software strife is gone.

Globalisation Chen Zhen

Chen Zhen was a Chinese artist living in Paris from the 1980’s having decided not to return to China after the Tiannemen Square massacre in 1989.  I have found out about him through doing my research for my essay on Kimsooja.  The quotes below are from an essay by Ken Lum who interviewed Chen for the catalogue of an exhibition that took place in the Kunsthalle, Vien Austria.

Ken Lum writes “Since the emergence of identity politics in art, artists have been called upon to represent the ethnic communities of which they may be a part. The result has been the reification of essentialized ethnic identities, a model that fails to reflect the increasing degree of transnational mobility and hybrid experience that many artists working today enjoy.

…Chen’s notion of surrendering the self does not have to do with achieving transcendence, but rather with challenging us to revise our notions of identity and think of ourselves differently—to loosen the grip of individualism, with its inherent inflexibility, focus on self-affirmation and bias against collective memory.

 Salman Rushdie has written extensively on this subject:

The effect of mass migrations has been the creation of radically new types of human being: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves—because they are so defined by others—by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves.”


My Catherine was subjected to a rant from a taxi driver about Polish people coming here and taking our jobs.  This stopped abrubtly when she said “They are economic migrants like my ancestors who came here to Scotland in 1840 from from rural Ireland, where people were living in desperate poverty, hardship and starvation.”

painting #4

For anyone who travels to the West Highlands via the motorway system the road sign to Crianlarich is the one that matters: it signals the transition from boredom to bliss; a confirmation that one is headed the right way. 

I really enjoyed doing this painting, totally concentrating on the tip of the brush and the mark it was making.  I felt I had just been there for a wee while, but when I checked my watch it was past midnight.  Although the subject matter is to a certain extent about wishing time away, the experience of making it was the opposite. 

I did this for my father, he turns 80 on Sunday, and he has been doing this journey all his life.  Happy Birthday Dad.IMG_5997

Stopping and stillness / painting stress #3

Watching paint drying was very interesting.  About just concentrating on the the moment and the process, and being aware that this is all I need to be doing.  More normally I am doing several things in my head at the same time, mental chatter, meaning there is often little real focus on the task in hand.  Actually, it was not that easy to stay focused on the paint drying all the time, and there were a lot of distractions, but even so the exercise was insightful.

I took a photograph on my mobile phone of the patterns under the chair of the seat I usually sit on in church, as I see it every week when my head is bowed.  Actually, like watching paint drying, it is a time when I pause each week and am just in the moment.. if possible.. and so is a weekly interrruption to my human rantiformity.


Imitation, Formalism, Expressivism and the Sublime

Just doing a bit of catch up with what we have been covering in the lectures which have been really interesting.  Thank you Jenny.

Doing Philisophical Aesthetics I find myself oscillating between total fascination and a desire to grab some of these art crtic theorists by the throat and yell ‘its just a painting and that is that, go and get a life” at them.  The other interesting thing is the effect all this speculating about what determines the perfect ‘work of art’ is the effect it has on my own practice: a complete feeling a of total inadequacy.  However with deadlines in all directions there is no time for stopping working.


Imitation – representation – mimesis

I found this description of mimesis from the Encyclopedia Britanica.  Basically Mimesis is the greek word for imitation, but then it gets a bit more subtle.  Plato considered that real knowledge occurred in the mind, and that what is seen by the eyes is a poor representations of the mental idea, and that an art work is a representation of this poor representation.. and therefore not worth bothering with much. 

Shakepeares Hamlet says to a troop of actors the purpose of playing is “ hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” .  It is about re-presenting a scene, not just copying..

Burke,  from Stamford Dictionary quoting extracts from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (published in 1757/1759).  Burke was the first to define the Sublime as distinct from the Beautiful, previously it was thought of as ‘greatness’, and the Stamford explanation is that he did them in terms of human self-preservation and societal love:

“The beautiful is that which excites the desirable societal passion of love, the sublime that which excites the desirable self-preservative passion of astonishment (Burke 1990, 36-37, 39, 53). The objective foundations of beauty and sublimity turn out to be largely opposing: whereas the beautiful tends to the small, the smooth, the various, the delicate, the clear, and the bright, the sublime tends to the great, the uniform, the powerful, the obscure, and the somber.” Stamford Dictionary of Philosophy


 A bit about Kant (Stamford Dictionary of P)

Kant gets involved here.   In his  Critique of Pure Reason he develops his ideas on Judgement which consist of determining (in accordance with established prinicples and understanding) and reflecting (finding the universal in a given particular).  Kant also developed a theory of Aesthetic Judgement which was about judgments of beauty and the sublime.

He defines beauty, as something which causes disintested feeling of pleasure, not only in the individual but in all educated individuals, so that there is a collective response of men (not women of course)  like Kant. 

The Stamford Dof P gives Kants definition of the Sublime this opening paragraph: “Kant distinguishes two notions of the sublime: the mathematically sublime and the dynamically sublime. In the case of both notions, the experience of the sublime consists in a feeling of the superiority of our own power of reason, as a supersensible faculty, over nature”, and as this I find a bit puzzling, as I would describe the sublime as being that which inspires awe, and a feeling of personal smallness.  However then Kant explains it is where the imagination is overwhelmed, although reason can still make sense, and the best examples of such situations are in nature.


Notes on this subject are primarily from Noel Carroll’s chapter on Formalism in the Routledge Guide to Aesthetics.   Two names stand out immediately: Clement Greenberg and Clive Bell.

Clive Bell wrote an important essay on his theory of Significant Form in 1914 and this has been important for the development of 20th Century philosophical aesthetics.  Bell said we “gibber” in our appreciation of a work of art if we do not nail what are the criteria by which we judge its merits.  Well I guess that is fair enough.

In contrast to mimetic theories of art, Bell states that should not primarily be either about representation or expression.  He said the real subject of painting should be about ‘significant form’, this being ‘the striking arrangements of lines, colours, shapes, volumes, vectors and space.’ (Carroll)  Formalism was taken further:

A painting has ‘significant form’ equals the painting is an ‘art work’;

A painting does not have ‘significant form’.. it is NOT an ‘art work’. 

Clement Greenberg’s essays are available on the web, and in Modernist Painting written in 1960 in writes about how a painting is unique in being a flat object, and that a good paointing will embrace this flatness as being central to its being and the first thing the viewer will embrace.

“Realistic, naturalistic art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art; Modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting — the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment — were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Under Modernism these same limitations came to be regarded as positive factors, and were acknowledged openly.” Greenberg 1960  Greenberg  admired the work of the American Abstract Expressionists, particularly Jackson Pollack.

However later in his essay Carroll states that the difference between significant form and insignificant form has never been defined in terms of prinicples, and without this definition the phrase ‘significant form’ becomes simply a piece of jargon.  As Carroll says ” thus, obscurity lies at the hear of formalism; the theory turns out to be useless because it central term is undefined”.

Expressivism notes taken from Gordon Grahams Essay in the Routledge Guide.

Tolstoy in “What is Art?” wrote ” art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them” (Tolstoy 1930)   Graham defines expressivism as artists are inspired by emotional experiences and using their artistic skills embody their emotions in a work of art with the intention of stimulating the same emotion in an audience.  Graham mentions Manet and Van Gogh as expressionist painters.  There is a problem with this, which is the interest in the personal lives of the painters rather than the work they produce, and also the response of the audience, which must surely be an individual thing.

Bernadetto Croce wrote that art is essentially intuition and “what lends coherence and unity to intuition is intense feeling….. Not idea but intense feeling is what confers upon art the ethereal lightness of the symbol” Croce  In Croce’s definition there is no reference to art’s effect on the audience.  He also claims “that art cannot be identified with any physical embodiment; there is more to a painting than pigments on canvas, and it is in this ‘more’ that the real painting lies.’ Graham  This seems to me the opposite of formalism.

‘Croce also denies that art “has the character of conceptual knowledge” ‘.


Collingwood was another expressionism theorist and in his book Principles of Art 1938 he wrote:

“The artist’s business is to express emotions; and the only emotions he can express are those he feels, namely his own…”.