Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

01 February 2019

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 47: Braided Rope Model of Art History


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


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Dr Great Art Podcast 47

Braided Rope Art History

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 W├Âlfflin, 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.

You can find or contact me at

www.drgreatart.com/ (spell)

book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com/ (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

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