East of England OCA: Study event on Zoom run by Bryan Eccleshall titled: The Treachery of the Image:

Bryan delivered a one hour lecture that he had previously given in a bricks and mortar university to first year Fine art students introducing Plato, Aristotle; defining realism, photorealism/hyperrealism and trompe l’oeil, and explaining of the the four levels of simulacrum.

There is no help for OCA students with understanding art criticism so you have to pick it up for yourself. Academic reading, as with the craft of painting, is a skill that improves with practice and though I can see an argument in letting students blunder in and work it out for themselves (because having a go makes you realise the problems) it is very easy to get completely lost.

The lecture was followed by a short question and answer.

We then had a break and returned for a critical session on the work of four students. The crit session lasted for over an hour so we had roughly 20 minutes on each student.

We are being encouraged to run peer led crits at Painting Level 2 and I’d just read the crit resources left on OCA Virtual Learn, including essays by James Elkin’s, so it was wonderful to immediately follow this up with a practical example of a well run crit session. Having an experienced tutor running the session ensured it was non threatening, so students felt confident to express their opinions, and allowed for explanation. Bryan also asked questions that steered the discussion and made the most of the learning opportunity… I could imagine with peer led groups there’s a danger of them becoming a little cyclical, getting stuck or becoming aimless.

I had read about Plato and Aristotle, and Zeuxis and Parrhasius, and Simulacra but struggled to put them together in a coherent whole.

Although fluid and ‘slippery’ I enjoyed the clarity of the four levels of Simulacra:

  1. Faithful image/reflection of reality…. like a lovely accurate sketch of your pet dog.

  2. Perversion of reality… unfaithful portrayal but with a link to reality… so propaganda such as ‘Triumph of the Will’ by Leni Riefenstahl.

  3. Masking… no profound link to reality/real object. Pretends to be a copy but has no original… a machine made fish finger (in the shape of a fish) alludes to the idea of a fish but has no connection with a specific real fish.

  4. Pure simulacrum… no connection to reality or even the idea of the original… it links to other signs and lives in the world of semiotics. So a jellied sweet in the shape of a fish links to symbols of fishness, and has no connection to a real fish or even the idea of ‘fish.

There were three elements about the criticism session that I found especially useful.

  1. The amazing range of students work.

  2. That the different descriptives, what people see in a painting, can be so very different and almost impossible to imagine as a creator.

Here is my painting…

These differences appear to be determined by prior experience, what the viewer brings to the artwork. So, for my painting what I had intended (Level 2 simulacrum) of a real ploughed field was also seen as water and highlights and shadows. The only person that saw it as a ploughed field lived near me and knew the landscape. It’s as if people carry internal landscapes inside them, which I hadn’t thought about at all.

What people see can dramatically affect how they feel about a work. As the creator this raises questions such as… should I call my painting ‘Ploughed field and a Tree’ or ‘Autumn Gold’… both could be valid but would change how the painting is viewed. Also, it’s invaluable to realise that there are lots of ways of seeing a painting, and that most people don’t ‘see it’ as I create it. That gap is creatively really interesting… however, like multiple venn diagrams some ‘descriptions’ overlap… everybody saw some kind of tree.

3. I was very surprised that most people had a similar reaction to my painting as I thought it would affect people very differently, but most saw an element of ‘uncanniness’. The analysis of my painting was fascinating as I am just developing my voice and trying out lots of ideas without knowing how I am achieving my results.

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