Research Iain Andrews:
Come up as ‘Error’.
Notes on Iain Andrews – especially with reference to unreliable ways of ordering knowledge:
First of all, what is knowledge?
I think knowledge is understanding.
However, knowledge is often unreliable as the same event can be understood in many ways.
A reliable ordering system is one that would always allow access to understanding, the understanding would remain constant, and you would always be able to find the knowledge you wanted. In science a computer programme might be able to store knowledge such as genetic codes.
In the arts it is much more problematic. The most reliable storage system could be propaganda as this is designed to pass on simple unambiguous messages… the knowledge that god protects the weak or that communism under Stalin provides a good life for the worker.
Generally, a painting is a very unreliable source for storing knowledge. For example if you present an unknown painting to a group of people they will usually all see different things. I’m in a Level 2 criticism group and have been astonished at the range of readings, often none of them intended by the creator, for the same painting.
The only way to give any reliability to ordering knowledge in a painting is to ‘explain’ it with a title or essay/talk/pamphlet.
Iain Andrews uses folk tales and faery stories, memories of his traumatised teenagers (he’s an art psychotherapist), and paintings by the old masters. All of these are very unreliable storage systems.
There are many ways of storing/transmitting knowledge, both personal and societal.
Store/transmitter Knowledge Reliable/unreliable
Myth – early history of a people – unreliable/involves magic creatures, a lack of scientific understanding or any written contemporaneous report.
Folk tale – story passed on by word of mouth – the story events are unreliable but the knowledge is reliable because the understanding remains relevant (and accessible) over time.
Oral history – verbal recounts of historic events many years later are unreliable… the stories we tell ourselves change over time with new experiences and knowledge/memory fails… but it will contain new knowledge not recorded in the official/sanctioned version of history.
News reports – unreliable – left/right or centre all news takes a viewpoint and has an intent (which can range from uncovering truth to selling the most newspapers, and making the biggest profit, possible). Some reporting is more reliable than others.
Archive – reliable – an archive preserves original sources unchanged – but the indexing and ‘reading’ of the material in the archives is unreliable.
Artefacts – reliable – an ancient Egyptian comb or 1960’s plastic Vietnam soldier toy will be physically unchanged… but any knowledge they contain will be unreliable because our readings of past cultures have gaps and are constantly changing.
Paintings – unreliable/reliable – commissioned paintings are almost by definition propaganda, such as those for the medieval church, king, or totalitarian state. Ironically, the understanding they contain (though often untrue) is fairly reliable. The medieval king still looks handsome, rich, wise, powerful and brave.
Memory – very unreliable. The most reliable holder of memory would be a contemporaneous report before details have been forgotten or altered. Memories created under trauma may be more or less reliable.
Computer – knowledge stored in a computer doesn’t change… if you type in a line or download a video it stays the same. However, the knowledge we can find depends on how we’ve indexed it and the questions we type in.
Songs – unreliable/reliable – songs store knowledge on everything from ancient battles to love affairs. I don’t think a song about an ancient battle would be reliable, but a pop song could be.
Non scientific knowledge is always unreliable because it is subjective… there have been many experiments where different people are asked about the same event and have completely different understandings about what happened.
I think art makes new knowledge out of old knowledge… for example take a Shakespeare play and re-stage it so that the knowledge about human nature stays fresh. In consumer terms we unpack a stale product, refresh it, repack it, and resell it.
Different knowledge sources:
Iain Andrews uses folk and fairy stories, Peter Doig uses family photographs, Andy Warhol used wired press photographs, Hockney uses photographs he takes himself, and Roy Lichtenstein used comics. Many artists use nature and the landscape.
Artists also use found photographs, primitive art, naive art, memory, pollution, trees, bones and songs to name just a few.
How knowing is an artist’s use of knowledge?
Activist, propaganda artists, and conceptual artists will have a good understanding of the knowledge they are using and why. But many artists paint unknowingly in the moment, and decide what it means afterwards… or refuse to talk about it and let the viewer decide.
Does it matter whether an artist is aware of the knowledge he is using?
I think that depends on the artist, I certainly wouldn’t say that only artists who can verbalise their process can make art.
I am going to look at an artist who uses who use different knowledge system:
The obvious starting place is Roy Lichtenstein. [Foster, H. et al. (2011) Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. (s.l.): Thames & Hudson.]
These are notes from the text.
He selected a panel from a comic – sketched a motif – project his drawing with an opaque projector – traced the image on canvas – adjusted it to the picture plane – filled it in with stencilled dots… a light ground/primary dots/and black outlines last. Mechanical reproduction (the comic)/handwork (the drawing)/mechanical reproduction (the projector)/handwork (tracing and painting).
His painting a man made sign of mechanically produced images – signature dots a paradox of “the handmade readymade” – they are a painted version of a printed code (Ben Day dots) – his paintings convey a sense that appearance has undergone a sea change of mechanical reproduction – life mediated and all images “screened”.
He effaced brand names (Warhol didn’t) – he “Lichtensteinized” images so comics looked like his images (rather than his paintings looking like the comic)- he drew pictures to recompose them – he used the minimum amount of change – he copied print images to adapt them to painterly parameters of form and unity with a distinctive style and subjectivity… but only enough change to register these values.
His lowly subjects offended aesthetic taste used to gestural abstraction – but Lichtenstein showed that melodramatic comics had the same goals as traditional art (pictoral unity and dramatic focus) and modernist art (significant form/self contained/objective/immediate).
He forced together the poles of fine art and commercial design. He cross-pollinates high art with another medium.
He challenged the oppositions of painting: high vs low/fine vs commercial/abstract vs representational.
The near abstraction Golf Ball:
Golf Ball, 1962, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 81.3 cm
This is near ther plus-and-minus abstraction of Mondrian (also painted in black and white) – The near abstraction of Golf Ball tests our sense of realism by being a conventional code – signs that do not resemble things in the real world – and when Mondrian looks like a golf ball abstraction in trouble.
Modernist painters resolve figure into ground and collapse spatial depth into material flatness. We get both in Golf Ball, an illusion of space and flat surface… is it a simple sign or an exalted painting? This is the dynamic edge pop art.
When cartoons appear in metaphysical space of Rothko and Barnett Newman people got upset.
Lichtenstein delivers the immediate effect of modernist painting and the mediated look of a print image.
His paintings have an instant effect like a Pollock – the view is all eye even down to the onomatopoeic “BRATTATA” or “POW” and is all taken in in a flash.
He uses the repertoire of modernist styles in the representational mode of the comic strip – the avant-garde had worked to overthrow the representational mode.
The visual codes of advertising have much in common with the devices of the avant-garde but are put to different uses… In Mondrian primaries signify pure painting but in Lichtenstein Yellow signifies a blond. He exposed that by the 60’s most of devices of avant-garde had become gadgets of commercial design.
Fine art and commercial design benefitted from an exchange of visual values, both making images with the traditional values of unity of image and immediacy of effect.
His paintings are a model of a picture as a screened image (his Ben Day dots) – in the postwar world everything is subject to processing through mechanical reproduction and electronic simulation – He even has many of his images seen through viewing screens such as gunsights and windscreens.
He predicted the change in seeing from looking at unmediated images to scanning mediated images, which is how we ‘see’ the world today.
Knowing is partial and ever changing, understanding is subjective. And all ways of storing, organising and ‘projecting’ knowledge are unreliable.
An artist tries to create new knowledge from old knowledge.
They (the artist) takes a knowledge source such as faery tales, memory, the stories of traumatised teenagers, classical paintings, songs, comic strips, pollution, family photographs, found images and nature (to name but a few) and organises. This could be in a scrap book, a computer, pinned to their wall… or any way of organising material.
They then process this ‘old knowledge’ (using their skill and understanding) to create ‘new knowledge’.
For example Iain Andrews process was photocopying classical paintings, cutting them up, reassembling them in the light of folk stories/faery stories, and the stories of his traumatised teenagers, and then painting his collage.
Lichtenstein’s process mixed hand and mechanical work. He started with a cartoon, drew it, projected the drawing, copied it onto a canvas, made it painterly, and hand then hand painted the mechanical process of Ben Day dots. His process was only possible because of his skill, experience and knowledge.
The ‘new knowledge’ (his paintings) was created out of his ‘old knowledge’ (his the comic books). He started with the visual language of commercial art and created a new understanding of the relationship between high and low art, and exposed a new way of seeing.
Feedback from peer crit group and Painting Department forum:
The ‘Research Task’ asks for feedback from peers and the wider OCA community so I’ll send a link to my Crit group and post on the painting Department forum… and copy and paste any replies.