This is an art blog based in Europe, primarily Switzerland, but with much about the US and elsewhere. With the changes in blogging and social media, it is now a more public storage for articles connected to discussions occurring primarily on facebook and the like.
(Site in English und Deutsch)
Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.
A blast from the past. A friend on Facebook, Marc Fisher, wanted to read this, it came in the 80s before the internet was anything. So I scanned my bad photocopies in. An exciting time in experimental New Music and in Chicago. First as whole vertical jpeg, then each page follows separately, 4 of them, hopefully making it easier to read and / or print out.
EAR Magazine East, Nov. Dec. Jan. 82-83, New Music Chicago
"Report from Middle Ear" by Mark Staff Brandl and Th. Emil Homerin
The new Dr Great Art podcast, Episode 47, "The Braid Model of Art
History." The future art might is not posthistorical, but rather
polyhistorical, plurogenic (multistrand), not monogenic (single strand).
There are various models and/or master narratives of art history, from
the immensely limited discussion of the traditional narrow canon to
timorous avoidance of any timeline due to postmodern guilt, treating
artworks as mere stand-ins for particular ideologies. The late art critic
John Perreault and I have created a new, more transparent model: the
Braid, or Braided Rope. See additional content for an image of the Braid
Model. Link to podcast: http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-47-braid-model-of-art-… Link to mentioned artwork version of the braid: http://traffic.libsyn.com/drgreata…/Brandl_Braid_18_pdf.pdf… #arthistory#braidmodel#MetaphorM
Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 47th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today my Artecdote concerns something most near and dear to my artistic heart: The Braided Rope Model of Art History.
As I am doing this and podcasting it the first time, it is around January 1st, the New Year. Thoughts turn to time and its passage.
There are various models and /or master narratives of art history --- which, by the way, are NOT the same thing, a common logical error of identification made by Postmodernist thinkers! See my Dr Great Art podcast number 27, "Models are Not Master Narratives."
Most are teleological, meaning they assume and predict some ultimate goal to art and postulate a development of art aimed at that goal.
As I began applying my theory of central trope, metaphor(m), to various artists and artworks, in my PhD dissertation and elsewhere, I asked myself how it could also be employed to consider broader questions. One outcome of this speculation was a chapter, where I used metaphor(m) to address painting as a whole, the novel as a whole and Christian Doelker's notion of the extended text. Then, I asked myself what a model of art history itself could look like if I treated the standard timeline as an artwork of sorts, and attempted to create a new one which would embody a central trope incorporating a contemporary conception of history while retaining heuristic use as a learning device. The mere hubris of challenging traditional and current models of art history and endeavoring to construct a new one is highly agonistic. Once again, I feel this is Bloomian, yet not Oedipal. I am not aiming to utterly dismiss the timeline, as some have done, as I discuss below. In a dialogical fashion I am answering back to the calls of the models of art history now in use, trying to improve upon them by shaping a new and better trope for understanding the discipline.
Art history, like anything else, has its own history, as well as the history of teaching it. And it has a history of trying to understand it. Trying to create models that help understand it. I delved into this deeply in chapter nine of my dissertation, and in a presentation to the CAA, the American and International Art Historians' Association, so if you want more, both of those are online. I will dwell on only my final creation here.
Much of art history has unfortunately become limited to discussion of the traditional narrow canon, or, worse, abstract and feckless conceptualizing about so-called conditions for judgment, timorous avoidance of any timeline due to postmodern guilt, treating artworks as mere stand-ins for particular ideologies. There is the standard straight line with a misty beginning and no idea of an end. There are the terrible Peak or "End of Art" timelines of Vasari (Michelangelo), the ancient Greeks (Hegel), the pendulum of Wölfflin, the End of Art in Realism for Gombrich, or in self-philosophy for Danto (Warhol and Duchamp), and so on. Or the Postmodernist avoidance of any model, seeing art as simply symptoms of an illness everywhere and doing desultory psychoanalysis, making the critic and curator simultaneously king and prosecuting attorney.
To make a long story shorter for podcasting, I sought a workable model that also had a bit of self-doubt, questioning, and possible expansion and alteration intrinsic to it. Using metaphor(m) to transform the model. Weighing heavily on my mind was the fact that practicing artists with completed degrees, in addition to beginning students, had been repeatedly approaching me requesting that I conduct some sort of remedial continuing education class in general art history --- something which turned into my first Dr Great Art Performance-Lecture, the entire history of art in an hour and a half.
After much study, analysis and debate, both with others and myself, came the real work: proposing a solution for the problems I critiqued. This began with the contemplation of models for the history of comics and the concomitant comparison of them to those in the history of fine art, which brought up the question, what kind of model could I create? What form would this take if it incorporated history as I have described it, characterized by ruptures; simultaneous paths; aspects coming in and out of focus; hidden roads; ignored elements; mainstream currents; discontinuities where a path ends, yet begins again later; non-teleological — and yet with forms of development, not a static mass; where there is indeed historical change, movement and direction.
In particular, with my notion that the future of both fine and comic art might not be posthistorical, but rather polyhistorical. I discovered online that art critic John Perreault had been making many of the same analyses and conclusions as I had been! We interwove our two linked ideas into a model: the Braid, or Braided Rope model.
A braided rope instead of a straight, single timeline
I believe we have discovered a useful metaphor(m) in the image of a braided rope: a simple, yet evocative image which allows one to teach art history as a developmental succession, yet avoid teleological inferences; to retain a core focus, yet eclipse the illusion of exclusivity; to clearly indicate that there is a wealth of art not being immediately presented in the standard survey, yet maintain a pragmatically serviceable picture.
This image incorporates history as I have described it, characterized by ruptures; simultaneous paths; aspects coming in and out of focus; hidden roads; ignored elements; mainstream currents; discontinuities where a path ends, yet begins again later; non-teleological — and yet with forms of development, not a static mass; where there is indeed historical change, movement and direction. In fact multiple directionS.
This is a highly evocative image which inspired in me a new metaphor for the timeline. I picture, in a very Wittgensteinian manner, an interwoven mass of filaments, some longer, some shorter, each a "history," each independent to an extent, yet touching on various others, some ending only to begin again farther on, all travelling nonetheless in a certain concert. We could have an art history which is plurogenic (multistrand), as opposed to all those, especially Greenberg or Danto's, monogenic (single strand) conceptions. This is an image of history as a cable of integrated stories; we have simply focused far too long on only one strand.
More thoughts on the images evoked by a braided rope. A rope can be made of various intertwining plaits of strands, sometimes even in opposite rotations, it can have strands of various thicknesses, and even have some frayed filaments, yet retain much of its tensile strength. Most of us have bodily experiences of working with thick ropes, know how they are linear, yet can be coiled, knotted and so on. All of these properties are metaphorically useful for a promising model of art history.
Let me list what I feel are a few of the strengths this metaphoric model adds to the teaching and study of art history. Following cognitive metaphor theory, it allows us to access a variety of cultural metaphors to focus on, yet critically regard, our subject. We retain something of the "CAUSES AND EFFECTS ARE LINKED OBJECTS" which dominates most standard timeline models, but it becomes only one helpful trope among many, not the central one. Metaphors of weaving and construction become more important. "IDEAS ARE CONSTRUCTED OBJECTS" comes to the fore, with its important corollaries, "The mind is a builder" and "Thinking is building/forming/shaping." We become keenly aware that our idea of art history is an object built by us, thus one that is not beyond reproach (or praise) and can be altered at any time. A braid is generally felt to be a very handmade object as well, re-establishing metaphorically the personal body-based experiences and embodied reasoning that most artists feel is too absent from art history instruction. The braid metaphor helps to thus humanize a trope that sometimes appears all too predetermined.
The various strands that form the braid are also path-like, giving us access to those foundational metaphors and their implications. "Reasoning is following a path" is one such trope. "Arguments are paths on which thought travels" is another. Both assist the viewer of such a timeline to conceive of following the strands, jumping between them, looking for hidden ones and so on as actions involving working out history itself in one's mind, placing the emphasis on personal interpretation rather than simple memorization. The braided-rope timeline still has a "mainstream" main strand, which helps anchor the students' knowledge as they first learn facts.
Oppositely, it helps to draw attention to the fact that much is occurring outside the traditional Eurocentric area of focus, such as Chinese art, which we could, and later should, study as well. The braided strands display how very much is taking place simultaneously in a variety of locations. They highlight the existence of long, unbroken lines of tradition in areas and fields that appear to have come and gone in the normal timeline, such as icon painting.
In later additions, often brought by students, hopefully it will be clearer that Africa is not just a site for so-called primitive art, that it has long and often sophisticated traditions, but also ruptures due to colonialism and wars. Supplementary strands focusing on women's handicrafts, folk, popular and vernacular culture have been added.
Transformations can be displayed, such as that from handicraft into design. It becomes clear that ideas continue on past their peaks of influence, disappearing temporarily, perhaps even ending (such as Dada), only to start up again in a new fashion later. Crossovers and mergers can be shown, such as women into the mainstream of artists, popular elements into fine art, and the like.
Comics have of course been expanded, thus I can use the same timeline, beginning where comics have their own, separate history, yet showing at what points this artform comes close to fine art, perhaps now beginning to merge with it, as photography did before.
Best of all, it is a learnable, understandable heuristic image that frankly exhibits that art history is also a question of where one is focusing ones attention.
I believe I have discovered a useful metaphor(m) in the image of a braided rope: a simple, yet evocative image which allows one to teach art history as a developmental succession, yet avoid teleological inferences; to retain a core focus, yet eclipse the illusion of exclusivity; to clearly indicate that there is a wealth of art not being immediately presented in the standard survey, yet maintain a pragmatically serviceable image. The Brandl/Perreault Braid Model of Art History. You’ve got to see the full, drawn version which I use to teach, and exhibit as an artwork, but also constantly alter with new information and ideas. It is a beautiful, complex mess. Also made as a limited edition print!
Thanks for listening. Podcast number 47. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.
Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today, on Mongrel Art, Women Artists, and Ferdinand Nigg. Coming up is a taster of many of my themes and one on Jan Ptr Brandl, the Prague Baroque artist and my distant relative.
Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 46th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.
This episode's artecdote is some scattered reflections on the complex role of Color in Art
Several things bother me regularly in purportedly theoretical discussions of color in art. First, the absolute incorrect science of such people as Goethe, where there is often no understanding of the difference between physics and physiology, and in his case even incorrect physics, but that is for another podcast. Second, most discussions of color seem to be very lame attempts to yoke it, fence it in, bind it to some, often literary rather than visual, idea. The joy of color is that it defies all us-intellectuals when we try to confine it!
Color is a happily difficult entity for theory in general. This may be because particular colors are so insistently real, so sensual. Although it may be forced into a symbolic role, color does not mimetically represent anything in itself and it cannot be abstracted.
It is always a sample of itself. Even stronger than indexical. It is indeed THERE, an embodiment and a corporal reality.
Nonetheless, in many visual artists there is a mix of metonymy and metaphor in their central trope in their art, which thereby allows the incorporation of color in a felt, somewhat theoretical manner.
A piece of something, a sample of color, may be utilized as either synecdoche or metonymy. This trope may then be further manipulated as a metaphor or other trope leading to foundational metaphors. As a simple example, one might exactly match several of the multitude of colors of "white" people's skin — none of which one can in any real fashion describe as actually white. The various yellows, browns and pinks are a synecdoche of humanity, i.e. "pieces" or details of humans, which become a metonymy of societal division, and are a clear metaphor for the falsity of racial definition.
Obviously, color must come into play in visual art as, well, visual, not only as trope. Much of painting throughout history has revolved around color-formed space. Light and color are inextricably linked for visual artists. Representations of light are thus often intricately manifested in color, especially in painting.
The most important factor is the orchestration of relationships among the various elements of a painting through the continuous changes and adjustments that are made while painting. For example, each color affects the colors near it. The whole affects each part. The haptic qualities — thick, thin, glossy, matt, glazed, scumbled, flat — must be drawn into careful accord. Paint as material. But this is also true of the hues themselves. These are all coordinated in a give-and-take with the intentions of each artist, those aspects planned and those discovered, within the action of thinking-in-things, thinking-within-the process, a dialogue that is highly dialectical. What do I want? What can I get the colors to do? What does the evolving object want or force me to do? What can I accept and use of color's efficacious energy?
Tied to color, paint-as-material and its haptic qualities are the tools and manner with which color is applied. Something less interesting in 2nd hand, digital or printed media.
For instance, the fact that I, like most contemporary artists, have all but abandoned the palette as an object. In his book Working Space, Frank Stella writes that abandoning the palette was one of the most important events in contemporary art production. "What we failed to see is that it was the loss of the palette, not the easel, that changed the face of what we see as painting." Most of us now use a table top or similar larger surfaces, or alternately jars and cans, mixing colors in larger fluid quantities, in effect accomplishing the important mixing and combination directly on the artwork itself. This is a performative, almost existential placement of the act of mixing, making it a process of operational discovery analogous to the way I suggest artists discover and form their central trope and its extensions within the course of the action of creating their work, not aforehand.
I have often used color in personally symbolic as well as what I feel are socio-political references. For example, I have many works where I stay close to the CMYK color possibilities of mass-media. This is my reflection of and on my background, having come to fine art through comics, the sign-painting of my father's and linked working middleclass culture. I believe the viewers FEEL that more than intellectually ruminate on it. In my experience, that has often been true and people enjoy it, and yet a few found it even bothersome, not "high-arty" enough.
The painter Paul Cézanne began many artists' concern with color as structure. This painter took the atmospheric touch of Impressionism and created its opposite — an art of solid construction. He forged a style which is clear, simple and avant-garde by making the strokes building-block-like, by forming space purely through structured color (not a play of light as in Impressionism), and by finding geometric simplicity in the essential shapes of objects, landscapes and people. This included, but is not limited to the famous "warm colors advance and cool colors recede" effect we learn from him in school.
Another painter I love did the opposite. Charles Boetschi's abstract geometric paintings have surfaces that are immaculately smooth. The only evidence of the object being hand-painted is the infinitesimally raised edges due to paint thickness where fields of color meet. The choices of hue are unique and playful, not primary and pedantically balanced as in art concret, which we have grown to expect in geometric art.
His choice of quirky color is the essence of irregularity, we almost want to say imperfect, yet actually it is simply not expected, a humanistic surprise. Replete with something most earlier geometric art disdained, allusiveness!
One book which artists and art theorists have frequently cited in relation to color is the 1910 book by Wassily Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The whole book is indeed theoretical, yet Kandinsky found it necessary to emphasize this by including one particular section entitled 'Theory.' In this section, Kandinsky seems to envision theory as a kind of systematic grammar of the visual, for which he yearns, but which he finds at the time of his writing to be not yet achievable. A bit wryly I'd add that herein lies something spiritual: clairvoyant shades of Structuralism and Noam Chomsky! Therein, he proposes a kind of standardized symbolism of color.
Most foreign to any postmodern thinker is certainly Kandinsky's repeated insistence on the unmediated effect of the arts on humans. One example is his likening of the artist to a hand on the piano of 'the human soul,' and there he primarily means color. Our widened range of experience and of societies today makes it impossible to accept such a pseudo-bio-scientific image. His color accounts are wrought from generalizations and fraught with difficulties. Cookbook-like recipes abound: blue is 'profound,' white shows 'harmony' and 'joy,' black is 'grief' and 'death' etc.
And yet he can, happily, doubt himself as well. Kandinsky illustrates this marvelously by citing the anecdote of Leonardo da Vinci's color-spoon-system.
"The many-sided genius of Leonardo devised a system of little spoons with which different colors were to be used, thus creating a kind of mechanical harmony. One of his pupils, after trying in vain to use this system, in despair asked one of his colleagues how the master himself used the invention. The colleague replied: 'The master never uses it at all.' "
The artist and art critic Matthew Collings has some notable observations in his posts on Facebook concerning color: One set is titled "Painters looking at paintings & thinking about colour..."
Matthew states, "Colour theory is always behind art not ahead of it, but art is about all sorts of things, very rarely is it "about" colour, or about colour as opposed to anything else -- consequently it's not always easy to see how colour is being made to work in a painting. Any more than how line is working, or tone. To isolate and highlight these factors as an observer, is an odd thing to do. It goes against what the painting is offering as a whole. But if you're a painter yourself, used to working with the materials of painting, then this odd deconstruction work, in looking, comes a bit more naturally."
He continues, "I'm saying if you work with materials then you're likely to be alert to how others before have worked with them. Colour is a material property of most paintings. Colour relationships are hard to avoid as a task of painting -- how to make them "work." The predella illustrated here alternates red and green in a way that is immediately striking if you're a painter. For those that are not painters, it probably is not even noticed. The Bowling as well alternates red with green. In both cases it's an organic look, not symmetric, it's something arrived at, not predetermined or pre-calculated. Something unrolls. A sensibility makes it happen, allied to experience of having made colour relationships happen a lot, with previous works."
I find his description of color-use as a process, as a process within a discipline, very accurate.
To repeat myself, color is wonderful, and necessary, but color is a happily difficult entity for theory. Colors are insistently real, sensual. Although color may be forced into a symbolic role, color does not mimetically represent anything in itself and it cannot be abstracted. It is always a sample of itself. It is wonderful assistant, adversary and inherent component of art, especially painting.
Thanks for listening. Podcast number 46.
Color in Art
If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also, I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.
Some recent ones were on the entire history of Women Artists throughout history and a taster of many of my presentations.