Research Iain Andrews:
Come up as ‘Error’.
Reliable and unreliable ways of ordering knowledge:
First of all, what is knowledge in art?
I think knowledge in art is how an artist understands the world and what they are painting.
That knowledge could be inside the artist’s head in the form of their world view (which might change dramatically when they read a new theory, saw some ground breaking art or were generally exposed to new ideas), it could also be stored in artefacts such as found photographs or songs (which had messages or understanding within them), but usually it’s a combination of both.
A reliable ordering system for an artist could be one that would always allow easy access to understanding such as a catalogue of their photographs, or they may deliberately introduce chance by mixing up their source material so that new knowledge popped out.
If paintings store knowledge the most reliable storage might be propaganda paintings as these are designed to pass on simple unambiguous messages… such as that Stalin was a kindly father figure.
But, generally, a painting is a very unreliable source for storing knowledge. I’m in a Level 2 criticism group and we have all been astonished at the range of readings, often none of them intended by the creator, for a painting.
For example, what knowledge does this painting contain?
Dan Perfect, Enter the cave with the ice waterfall, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 214 x 304cm, 2001
The only way to give any reliability to the ‘knowledge’ in a painting is to fix/explain it with a title or in an essay/talk/pamphlet.
Iain Andrews uses the understandings in folk tales or faery stories, memories of his traumatised teenagers (he’s an art psychotherapist), and paintings by the old masters as his sources of knowledge, and then applies a physical and mental process to makes his paintings.
Iain Andrews, 2020, acrylic on plywood – 23 x 18cm
There are many types of knowledge in culture and art such as:
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 and there have been many experiments where different people are asked about the same event and have completely different understandings about what happened.
What does art do?
I think art makes new meanings out of old ones… for example when a Shakespeare play is re-staged its knowledge about human nature is refreshed for a new generation.
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.
Artists also use found photographs, primitive art, naive art, memory, pollution, trees, bones, landscape 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 such as John Hoyland, and decide what it ‘means’ afterwards.
Roy Lichtenstein used comics as his knowledge source and processed it.
[Foster, H. et al. (2011) Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. (s.l.): Thames & Hudson.]
These are some notes from the text.
He selected a panel from a comic – sketched a motif – projected 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. This was mechanical reproduction (the comic)/handwork (the drawing)/mechanical reproduction (the projector)/handwork (tracing and painting).
The car, 1963
His painting is a man made sign of mechanically produced images – his signature dots are 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 (understanding) in art is subjective. And all ways of storing, organising, processing and ‘projecting’ knowledge are unreliable.
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 stores them. Every artist has their own way of organising this knowledge such as in a scrap book, sketch book, a computer, or pinned to their wall.
However, some artists use themselves as the knowledge source. They make marks on the canvas and then have a’conversation’ with the canvas.
Artists then process this knowledge (using skill and understanding) to produce an art object (or any other form of art like a happening) to make new understandings.
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.
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.
Hi Paul, interesting read. Just a couple of ‘stylistic’ suggestions: could you include a few more images – thumbnails of artists’ work you refer to. Also, re-order one or two intro. to paragraphs/sections so starts with relevance to to art/painting rather than in a general sense? Apologies for not giving more in-depth thought – yes, juggling six/seven things currently. Hope useful… all best, K.
I rewrote my blog with these comments in mind.
Hi Paul. Sorry to be late getting back to you on this and I see now you have made some changes. I find the revised version easier to read and the illustrations are helpful. I enjoyed reading it and the content. I just wonder whether you might include some references as the research task was about searching the literature.
Hi Paul, re: research task sorry to only get back on this now. I found it an interesting and informative read, with your points clearly made. And I agree with your conclusion..knowledge in art is definitely subjective!Hope this is ok!