Tutor’s comments – Assignment 3

Here are my tutors comments for assignment 3. I’ve put the segments that I need to consider further in red (mainly so I can identify them easily and don’t forget to go back and look at them). I will note any changes I make in the entries themselves.

Overall I’m very happy with the comments. It has helped to identify that I need to expand my reading and incorporate what I read into my analysis of works of art – something that I has bothered me and I notice sometimes that I haven’t done. It’s easy to slip into regurgitating texts instead of applying what I read to different works. I will try to spend more time doing this.

I will gradually work through these comments and make labelled additions to the previous entries if necessary.

Overall Comments

Thank you for Assignment 3. This is a confident body of work – well done! You are continuing to demonstrate your understanding of the history of western art, and are analysing, interpreting and investigating art in a clearly presented, methodical way.
You are beginning to incorporate more of your reflections on your own learning – just make sure your reflective and critical commentary is woven more consistently into your submissions. Continue to read widely to develop more advanced surveys of relevant issues/debates.
Generally, you are now producing work that will provide the sort of evidence that the assessors will be looking for.
*Make sure that you spell-check, grammar check and proofread all your work. (References should be listed in bibliographies NOT biographies!)

Provide accurate word counts at the end of all submissions.

Feedback on assignment

Assignment 3 – Copying option: Landscape (Van Gogh – Avenue of Poplars in Autumn)

You had clearly spent time on this study, responding to and making judgements about the work. (The fact you had seen this painting ‘in the flesh’ at the Van Gogh Museum enhanced your critical analysis.)
It was useful to see your written notes about what you had discovered, and your piece benefitted from an in-depth display and discussion of your method of work, choice of materials, aspects of technical style, and the challenges you faced (e.g. the texture of the paint). Your extra comments charting how you reduced the difficult puzzle of lines and details into simple marks, so as to tackle and control the main elements, and how you turned form into space (ref. scale and the use of your chosen material to ‘push and pull’ the three-dimensional impression of form) were good.

You recorded your approach to tonal values and use of line, and you hinted at your experimentation with the shapes of your value areas to see if the arrangement of lights and darks might be improved.
You explored: the expressive qualities of Van Gogh’s complex brushstrokes (ref. unevenness and impetuosity/urgency – the play of breaks, variations and continuities); the use of bold impasto (applying paint straight from the tube); the rich, glowing colours (e.g. pairs of primary complementaries and the application of typical colours such as yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, chrome orange, red lake, red ochre, raw sienna, ultramarine, lead white, zinc white and black). You also mentioned the ground layer. Note that Van Gogh relied primarily on commercially prepared grounds. (His canvases were primed with a double ground consisting of a layer of lead white on top of a mixture of lead white and chalk.)
Overall, your artwork effectively replicated Van Gogh’s landscape, showing very good design skills and a real appreciation for the artist’s uniquely expressive technique. You thoroughly explained the thinking and consideration behind your own creative decisions.

Project 1 – Ground plan and programme for artworks in an interwar public building/private house

This was a well-organised project showing understanding and judgement, and there was an appropriate selection of pieces (and comprehension of light effects). You had thought about what your choices say to each other and to us, and you looked at how they approach reality/conceive of the future.
The ground plans were supported by explanatory comments summarising Le Corbusier’s distinctive designs for the Villa Savoye (including features such as the spiral stairway) and the Weissenhof-Siedlung houses. (Ref. the representation of a new vision in the form of functional architecture [bare aesthetic geometry], the communication of ideas of rationality, and the appearance of the house as a piece of finely tooled precision equipment.) Your general comments on the elegant simplicity of the International Style were good. (I.e. the formal characteristics of hovering horizontal volumes, taut skins, regular lines of support etc.)

Roof Terrace: In looking at the two-way relationship in which both a sculpture and the surrounding space assume figure as well as ground functions (so as to make for a dramatic interchange of forces between the two partners), you made good use of Moore’s Recumbent Figure. You also recognised the way in which Moore refers to artistic principles that can be seen in nature’s shapes (like balance, rhythm, organic growth of life, attraction and repulsion, harmony and contrast) – the female figure undulates like the landscape.

It was interesting to see you compare Moore’s new form-idea to the “plastic dynamism” (fusing object and space) of Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, which embodies speed and motion (Futurist obsessions). You briefly considered how Boccioni exaggerates the body’s dynamism so that it represents the urge towards progress. Look at the flesh flapping, muscles flanged, torso pressed back upon itself, compressed, impacted, by the sheer encounter of momentum and gravity.

Pevsner’s Torso, with its textural effects (contrasting plastic and reflective metal) and its showcasing of the sculptor’s dynamic and spatial conception of art, also worked well in the context of the terrace. (Note: For a piece like Torso the material [in this case cellulose nitrate plastic that was originally transparent] is imperative to the communicative function of the work of art, a fact evidenced by the breakdown of meaning in this work. The degradation of the cellulose nitrate over time, so that it turned brown and opaque, practically creates a new work of art. As Pevsner originally worked with plastics in order to exploit their translucent properties, the current state of the work no longer represents the intended meaning for the piece; Torso was once described as being able to “exploit light through the various densities and directions of the planes,” a capability it no longer possesses.)

First floor: Your selection of iconic pieces such as the Barcelona Chair, with its serenity of line, together with the geometric purity and ergonomic intent of Le Corbusier’s LC4 chaise longue brought a clinically chic and functional feel to your plans.
You studied a rich, complex and imaginative set of works, linking Picasso’s Cubist Bird-Cage to the sense of balance created with the interactions between the straight lines and primary colours of Mondrian’s grid-format in Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow. As you observed, Mondrian’s fields of colour have an intense dynamism, with the large red square in the upper right corner (bounded by only two lines) seeming to expand beyond the edge of the canvas.
The addition of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) was good. This work still feels contemporary, with glass and metal remaining very modern-looking substances to use in art. (Think a bit more about the horizontal division of the glass into two parts, with the female section [the Bride’s Domain] at the top and the male section [the Bachelor Apparatus] below [the latter is a visibly mechanical world]. This work is often referred to as a playful allegory all about sex, but some have seen in it allusions to alchemy, Tarot cards, Christian symbolism, and also a preoccupation with perspective and the fourth dimension.)
Office space: Your choice of Malevich’s Dynamic Suprematism, with its severely reduced geometrical forms, was bold but effective. As you may already have noticed, the real energy in this work resides in the conglomeration of shapes drawn together and organised by rhythms, ratios and proportions. Set forms recede or advance, proliferating into new smaller or larger arrangements within the overall harmony.
You continued the geometric motif with Léger’s Still Life with a Beer Mug, which carefully distributes and balances contrasting patterns, simplified forms and different viewpoints. As you stated, the strong visual impact of the composition is largely because it is painted using predominantly black, white
and the three primary colours, but Léger’s concern with plastic contrasts, grouping contrary values together, is also key (ref. flat vs. modelled surfaces). (Note the artist’s extremely subtle handling of oils – the strong colour contrasts show a range of carefully worked tones.)
Ground floor: In outlining the monumental form of Brancusi’s Maiastra, it would have been helpful to see you record how the best analogy for this radical simplicity in painting is the art of Mondrian. Similarly, in selecting Calder’s Lobster Trap and Fish, which captures the motion of the sea in its continual redefinition of and interaction with space, it would have been worth remarking on the maturation of Calder’s kinetic and artistic theory as it relates to the theories of Neoplasticism that he learned from Mondrian. What do you make of the idea that Calder is addressing Mondrian’s fixed rectangles through the hanging shapes of his sculpture? (I.e. where Mondrian’s painting is bound by the edges of his two-dimensional, rectangular canvas, the sides of Calder’s relief begin to drop away, emerging beyond the flat panel of Mondrian’s piece and expressing pure abstract art in the third dimension.)
Although your piece could have been supported by a wider range of secondary sources, this was an excellent project.

Annotated Images

Picasso – Guitar, Gas-Jet and Bottle: A competent visual survey, with developed explanations concerning the range of media and techniques used. (E.g. the gas-jet drawn in charcoal, the glass at the bottom scraped into thick white paint with a palette knife, the use of varnish, and the mixture of grit and paint.)
You referred to the way in which Synthetic Cubism creates a more complex reality, that of contrasting and simultaneously existing situations. So, you mentioned: the fragmented, transparent forms; the contours opened up and dissolved into space (breaking up objects into planes), reversing characteristics between solid and void; the vacillating perspectives, reiterating multiple unexpected combinations.
You might also like to think about the characterisation of this composition as ‘formally very hands-on, emotionally hands-off’, or how the spectator becomes involved in the creative act (both spectator and artist alike are stimulated into repeatedly examining the essence of the objects as well as the meaning each gives to them).
Your extra notes on Picasso’s debt to Cézanne (ref. the representation of plastic form, use of contours, and the seeming tension between expressive ‘emptiness’ and ‘full’ shapes and how the eye shifts between the two), and Richardson’s assertion that Picasso uses objects as stylised symbols, were good.

Rothko – Untitled (c. 1950-2): A thorough account, showing a solid understanding of the artist’s pictorial architecture. In terms of colour and technique, you recorded how the horizontally stacked blocks of colour (olive tints, warm maize yellow, orange, cool pink etc.) are applied almost as a glaze, changing in tone because they let deeper layers of colour shine through the surface tone.
In thinking further about the colour fields it was good to see you include and interpret Rothko’s comment professing his disinterest in the relationship of colour or form, in favour of expressing human emotions instead. Note that one possible explanation for the artist’s statement could be that he means that the enjoyment of colour for its own sake (i.e. its purely sensuous dimension), is not the purpose of his painting. However, as you showed, Rothko’s handling of colour via unexpectedly joined hues, slight modulations within the large area of the surface, and the softness and the sequence of the coloured shapes, compels careful scrutiny.
You touched on how the optimistic connotations of Rothko’s ebullient palette in this work instigate a positive response, but as Seiberling observes in a 1959 LIFE magazine article, Rothko always invests his work with a duality: “Just as the hues of a sunset prompt feelings of elation mingled with sadness or unease as the dark shapes of night close in, so Rothko’s colours stir mixed feelings of joy, gloom, anxiety or peace. Though the forms in the painting seem simple at first glance, they are in fact subtly complex. Edges fade in and out like memories; horizontal bands of ‘cheerful’ brightness have ‘ominous’ overtones of dark colours.”
You incorporated references to Rothko’s Seagram Murals, the landscape theme, and how the artist challenges both himself and his audience to engage not only the eye, but also the mind and even the spirit.
Other points to consider:
o The artist’s profoundly sophisticated understanding of the possibilities of colour was shaped in part by the influence of the work of Matisse, Bonnard and Turner. His fascination with the effects and nature of light can also be traced to the Luminists.
o Does a large-scale installation offer greater “immersion” than the experience of being transfixed by a small painting on a wall? Arguably, immersion is a condition that exists between the viewer and the work, rather than an inherent quality of the work alone. (I.e. no space is neutral, just as no space is inherently immersive.) Similarly, it is untrue that a small piece of art has a small energy and a large work has more energy. How and why does this disparity become even more obvious when a small work is “scaled up”?

Proposal for illustrated review (Assignment 5)

Your ideas are a little bit vague, but there is definite potential in them and there would be a number of resources available to you. You just need to decide on your emphasis. You could look at public sculpture in relation to Andy Scott and Paolozzi, but I would encourage you to apply a more coherent thematic approach to your subject.
So, for example, you mention Dalziel + Scullion – you could compare their work to that of another Scotland-based land artist such as Andy Goldsworthy (ref. the interplay between permanence and impermanence in his practice). Antony Gormley’s Another Place, examining body and space, is not strictly land art but it is influenced by figures such as Robert Smithson.
Alternatively, if you decide to consider the representation of the figure in sculpture and the tension between human beings and the landscape, you could start with Gormley and go on to research the work of Barbara Hepworth.
The art should be at the forefront of your discussion, so try to demonstrate a consistent appreciation of your selected images. Do not be over-ambitious in scope – selecting a few key pieces will allow for more detailed research.
There are different kinds of art history essays, ranging from simple formal analysis to critical reviews (discussing context, purpose, methods and themes) and essays driven by a question/problem (which have the terms ‘how’ or ‘why’ in the title, or imply them). The format you choose is up to you, but I would recommend presenting your material as a clear, coherent and continuous argument, which develops throughout the essay. (It is taken as read that you are capable of producing summaries of the information contained in books – it is what you then do with that information that counts!) So, make sure your essay is analytical and not overly descriptive, and pose questions (e.g. relating to intention, function, representation and perception) and offer possible answers.

Learning Logs or Blogs

Reflection against the assessment criteria:

Knowledge and understanding: You have a good grasp of the relevant contextual issues and, as you mention, you have engaged with the appropriate historical information. However, you could build on this with further notes on the social, political and religious contexts that contribute to the reception of artworks at the time of their making.

Research skills: Try to show that you are engaging with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your arguments. Make sure that you clearly demonstrate confidence and accuracy in the use of both primary and secondary sources and make direct reference to them.

Communication: You are developing and maintaining a clear academic tone, but check on your use of the required referencing conventions.

Critical and evaluation skills: In addition to comprehensively defining and synthesising key art historical concepts, you need to continue to reflect. Identify and map ‘learning edges’, those questions or issues that you have sought to understand in order to advance your studies. Jot down whether you have: 1. Taken stock of existing knowledge (What do I know?) 2. Identified the gaps in learning (What do I need to know?) 3. Responded to feedback (How does what I now know contribute to what I already knew?) 4. Evaluated the integration of new knowledge into existing knowledge (How well and how much do I now understand?)

Your sections on iconography/Vanitas symbolism (e.g. the layering of meaning and warnings against a too-exclusive devotion to ephemeral, sensuous pleasures) and art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, were well-researched. Regarding the latter, keep questioning the different conceptions of modern art, and the ways in which such understandings overlap or differ, actively foster exchange, reject or influence one another.

Your study of Der Blaue Reiter and the way in which Kandinsky’s works reveal the correlation between colour, form and line that was essential to the artist (ref. dynamic array of shapes and Kandinsky’s idea that colours and shades can feed off each other to augment their spiritual value/’inner resonance’), was perceptive. Similarly, your analysis of colour tones and music in Kandinsky’s art added to the piece.

Your responses to the exercises and research points (including your work on Paolozzi’s gigantic Vulcan and the Turner Prize) were thoughtful, and your annotations were impressively detailed. I particularly liked your work on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Picasso’s Demoiselles d’ Avignon (ref. the influence of Ancient Iberian and African sculpture).

Your notes on artists’ studios (including those of Alasdair Wallace and Garry Harper) were good and explored the artistic process and what it means to work as an artist. In your section on your visit to a public square you considered the idea of sculpture as a site marker, forcing the beholder/passers-by to make a detour around it (acting as an incitement to choreography). It might also have been worth exploring further how these sculptures ask questions about the place of art in our lives. Their presence reinforces our awareness of the space around us.

Your gallery and exhibition reviews showed that you are able to offer well considered opinions on the work of a broad range of artists. Just make sure you record the connections you have made between this material and the theory and constructs you have learned. Your write-up of Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland and key pieces by Douglas Gordon (24 Hour Psycho), Simon Starling, and Moyna Flannigan (Maman) was excellent and demonstrated your continued investigation of the issue of art appreciation/taste. This is a contentious field, but consider your responses to the following: If art is appreciated because it offers pleasure, is there a distinctive kind of pleasure offered by art in general or are different kinds of pleasures offered by different kinds of art? Could it be the case that appreciation has nothing to do with pleasure and a great deal to do with discrimination? For more on this see Funch’s The Psychology of Art Appreciation or Elkins’ Pictures and Tears: A History of people who have cried in front of paintings.

Suggested reading/viewing
Alpers, S. (1989) The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century. London: Penguin
Bakker, N. & Jansen, L. (2010) The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters (exh. cat). London: Royal Academy
Bryson, N. (1990) Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting. London: Reaktion Books
Weiss, J. (2000) Mark Rothko. New Haven: Yale University Press
Looking ahead to Assignment 4:
Brilliant, R. (1991) Portraiture. London: Reaktion Books
Clark, K. (1992) The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
West, S. (2004) Portraiture. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Exhibitions:
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh – The Two Roberts: Colquhoun & MacBryde (until 24 May 2015)
Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow – Alasdair Gray: Spheres of Influence I (until 25 May 2015)
Pointers for the next assignment
Try to revise and refine your ideas for your illustrated review.
Keep exploring matters of individual preference vs. aesthetic principle.
Include further evidence of perceptive reflection on your learning.
I will look forward to receiving your next assignment on the 16th March 2015.

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