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15 APRIL 2015

Webcam Venus (and other NIRL Masterpieces)

"In Webcam Venus, we asked online sexcam performers to replicate iconic works of art. This piece is an experimental homage to both fine art and the lowbrow internet phenomenon of cams. Sexcams use webcams and chat interfaces to connect amateur adult performers with an audience. Users log on to see men, women, transsexuals, couples and groups broadcast their bodies and sexuality live for the public, often performing for money. To create this experiment in high and low brow media, we assumed anonymous handles and spent a few hours each day for a month asking performers: 'Would you like to pose for me?'

What is beauty today? By operating in the language of sexcams, we alter the contemporary ideal of beauty with the ubiquitous display of sexuality online. We challenge the institutions which enforce false perceptions of propriety—via nudity in classical painting—as the only form of acceptable safe-for-work beauty. Publicly presented traditional paintings and sculptures are prevalent with sexuality and gender politics, and yet the display of nudity online is usually defined as 'pornography'. Amateur adult broadcasters also resist the popular, contemporary definition of beauty. They are not the typical definition of beauty prevalent main stream media: heavily Photoshopped image in the name of advertising, which destroys self image and confidence while encouraging materialism. Sexcam performers are the apotheosis of the most honest parts of us and yet typically the least valued part of a society. Even though they are transmitted virtually, they are real people and they are beautiful."

(Addie Wagenknecht, 5 March 2013, Free Art and Technology Lab)

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2013 • Addie Wagenknecht • adult imagery • adult performer • Amadeo Modigliani • amateur adult broadcasters • body politics • cam space • cam-girl • camgirl • chat model • classical beautycritical reinterpretation • Danae • de-sexualisation • depictions of mendepictions of women • digiphrenia • display of sexuality • Edgar Degas • Eugene Delacroix • fine art masterpiece • Free Art and Technology Lab • gender politicsgraphic sex actsin real life (IRL) • interactive online spaces • intimate interactions • IRL • James McNeill Whistler • La Fornarina (1518) • la Gioconda (1506) • La Vague (1896) • Leonardo da Vinci • live cam • Mademoiselle Rose (1824) • mediated representation • Mona Lisa (1506) • NIRL • not in real life (NIRL) • NSFWnude in western art • Pablo Garcia • porn performer • public intimacy • Raphaelreal peoplereclining nudeRembrandt van Rijn • self-aware • self-conscious • sex chat • sexcam • sexcam performer • sexual depictions • sexuality online • spectacular societytableau vivantTitianVenus of Urbino (1538)webcam sex • Webcam Venus (2013) • western artWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau • Woman with a Comb (1884)

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
31 JULY 2013

Was Ways of Seeing the first pre-digital book?

"Everyone is talking about the way in which digital media is destabilizing print. I thought it was interesting to choose the reverse scenario: something that started digital but found its real audience in print. Ways of Seeing started as a four–part television series on the BBC in England conceived of and written by art critic John Berger. Berger was reacting specifically to the traditional connoisseurship of Kenneth Clark in the Civilisation series, another famous television program, which inscribed the canonical march of Western culture in heroic terms. As a critique of Clark, Berger created a popular reading of the icons of western art not as aesthetic objects, but deeply cultural artifacts that reveal, upon close 'reading', the limitation, prejudice, bias, and obsession of the culture from which they sprang.

This form of cultural criticism was established in the Universities, especially Marxist leaning polytechnics, but had never before had such a popular airing. The idea that classic paintings could be decoded to reveal social facts–and in fact Berger compared them to modern advertising–was heretical and his work was met with incredulity and anger in the hallowed halls of University Art History departments around the country, But Berger's position, especially his proto–feminist critique of female nudes, would grow to become the dominant form of art criticism in the years ahead.

The television program had moderate success but shortly after it aired Berger joined with producer Mike Dibb and graphic designer Richard Hollis to produce a printed version of the televised series. Clark had also produced a book to accompany Civilisation: a huge, lavish, full–color coffee table monster that must have weighted 10 kilos. In contrast Berger, Dibb and Hollis produced a slim paperback, 127 x 203mm, of only 166 pages. Even more radical, the book was produced in black + white, reducing the famous art to mere notations on standard, uncoated paper of a trade book. It was published by the BBC Books under the Pelican Books imprint, a division of the venerable Penguin Press organized to publish books to educate rather than entertain the reading public.

Even more striking was the book's design. Hollis starts the text of the first essay on the cover: 'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.' This simple typographic trick gives the book both a certain modesty (saves on pages) and an urgency (no time to waste). Starting on the outside also suggests a digital quality, the content is broadcast to the reader even as they pass the shelf.

The interior is equally unusual. Hollis set the entire book in a bold sans serif font, a very unlikely choice and aggressively un–civilized. There is no nod to classicism, the book is an entirely modern form. The text is broken down into short bursts, usually no more than a paragraph coupled with a visual example. Again reflecting its origin as a televisual experience the text and images work simultaneously, one form leveraging the other. There are five such text–and–image essays on everything from renaissance nudes to modern advertising. But Berger also adds for entirely visual essays. He assembles a series of examples that by the power of his selection and through their aggressive juxtaposition, he makes his thesis without any words at all. In so doing he presages the development of the curated playlist as a predominant contemporary form and creates the first pre–digital book."

(Michael Rock, 2011, 2x4)

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2011 • 2x4 • aesthetic objectsart criticismart history • BBC Books • BBC Twoblack and white • canonical march • Civilisation (series) • contemporary form • cultural artefactscultural criticism • curated playlist • destabilising force • digital media • digital quality • educate rather than entertain • end of print • famous art • female nudes • heroic terms • John Bergerjuxtaposition • Kenneth Clark • Michael Rock • Mike Dibb • modern advertising • modern form • modestypaperback • Pelican Books • Penguin Random Housepolytechnic • pre-digital book • print and digitalprinted version • proto-feminist critique • renaissance nudes • Richard Hollis • sans-serif typeface • seeing comes before words • short formsocial factstelevision programmetelevision seriestelevisual experiencetext and image • trade book • typographic trick • uncoated paper • urgency • visual culturevisual essayWays of Seeingwestern artWestern culture

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
10 AUGUST 2012

Touch me, hold me: Franz West's anti-modernist aesthetic

"'Don't Touch' is an unspoken warning in any art museum. Sometimes an institution might post a sign explaining to visitors why touching the art on view is bad – not just for the obvious catastrophic reasons, but because even oils from hands that appear to be clean can cause incremental damage. Mostly, though, visitors already know what they are (or, rather, aren't) supposed to do in art's presence.

Touch is a privilege typically reserved for the artist who made the art, as well as its professional caretakers. In fact, 'the artist's touch' has been a central value in Western art for hundreds of years.

By the start of the 1960s, with the Abstract Expressionist generation of American painters riding high, it had even become something of a fetish. The loaded brush, the whiplash line, poured paint, the palette knife and sponge – signs of distinctive gestures mattered, almost like handwriting. De–mythologizing the artist's touch was left to Andy Warhol, who announced that he instead wanted to be a machine, and to Sol LeWitt and his idea–oriented cohort of Conceptual artists. They pulled the plug for good.

Enter Franz West, the impish Viennese artist whose compelling retrospective is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Born in 1947, West is a generation younger than Warhol and LeWitt. The fetish for the artist's touch having been retired just before he arrived on the scene, he took the next step. In the mid–1970s, West handed things over to the audience.

Literally.

Wrapping pieces of wood and cardboard and lengths of wire with gauze, coating it in plaster or papier mâché and painting the whole thing white, West made sculptures that the audience was meant to pick up, manipulate, examine at close range, hang on an arm or around the neck, or even stick one's face into. The shapes are abstract. But often, part of the sculpture suggests a handle – a direct visual invitation to audience participation. Silently it says, Touch me, hold me.

Other shapes appear designed to fit around the neck, under the arm or on other embraceable parts of the body. Or, they echo bodily orifices. (Can a sculpture have a belly button?) A glass bottle at the end of a long stick, both embedded in lumpy papier mâché, looks like a ritual implement meant to be passed around in some primitive religious ceremony.

These materials also evoke the damaged condition art holds in contemporary life. Like a cast made for a broken limb, white plaster and gauze result in sculptures bound in a medical dressing.

West calls these sculptures 'Passstücke' –– originally translated as 'fitting pieces' (passende Stücke) but now referred to as 'adaptives.' In biology, adaptation is a structure or form modified to fit a changing environment. West's touch–me sculptures attempted the same for art's new circumstance."

(Los Angeles Times, 31 March 2009)

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2009 • Abstract Expressionist • adaptives (art) • affordancesAndy Warhol • anti-modernist aesthetic • artart museumartist • arts new circumstance • audienceAustrian artistcleanlinessconceptual art • dont touch • examine • Franz West • handlehold me • incremental damage • instructions for use • LACMA • loaded brush • Los Angeles County Museum of ArtLos Angeles Times • manipulate • mid-1970s • paper macheparticipationparticipatory process • passende stucke • passstucke • pick up • ritual implement • sculptorsculptureSol LeWitt • the artists touch • touchtouch me • touching • visual invitation • warning • western art

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
12 MAY 2011

John Berger: Ways of Seeing

"Published in 1972 and based on a BBC television programme of the same name, this is a very influential text on art criticism. Although the book and programme make the same case, they do so in slightly different ways, and the programme is well worth watching. For the photographer, the book has the advantage of putting photography in the context of western art. For the student new to critical theory, it has the advantage of being produced for a mass audience, and has as a central aim the de–mystification of art. These two points make it relatively easy to understand. A further advantage this book has is that many students have not had the opportunity to study photography, but have studied art, and so the book presents a logical progression for them when they start to study photography.

The television programme is divided into four sections and although the book is divided into seven chapters (three being made up solely of images), the book also covers four areas."

(John Berger, 1990)

John Berger (1990). 'Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series', Penguin

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1972academic discourse • advertising photography • artart criticismauthorshipBBC • buying power • commercialisationconnoisseurshipconsumerism • demystifying • John Bergermass audiencemeaningmechanical reproduction • modern consumerist society • nude in western artobjectification of women • objectified women • oil painting • photographic reproduction • photographypictorial reproduction • power of money • publicity • realismrepresentationseeingsocial constructionismspectacletelevision documentarytelevision programmetraditionvisual culturevisual depictionvisual languagevisual literacyvisual representational strategiesWays of Seeingwestern art • what we know

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
08 APRIL 2011

The Aesthetic Movement: Art for Arts Sake

Exhibition: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7 from 2 April to 17 July 2011.

"The movement started in a small way in the 1860s in the studios and houses of a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These were angry young reformers who explored new ways of living in defiance of the horrendous design standards of the age as revealed in the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Over the next two decades aestheticism burgeoned, drawing in architects and craftworkers, poets, critics and philosophers to create a movement dedicated to pure beauty. The aesthetic movement stood in stark and sometimes shocking contrast to the crass materialism of Britain in the 19th century. "Art for art's sake" was its battle cry, a slogan that originated with the French poet Théophile Gautier."

(Fiona MacCarthy, 26 March 2011, The Guardian)

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1860s187719th centuryAesthetic Movementaestheticisationaestheticism • Albert Moore • angular aesthetic • architecture • art fabrics • art for arts sake • art furniture • art historyart movement • Arthur Liberty • Aubrey Beardsley • beautyceramic tile • Christopher Dresser • colour • Cult of Beauty (exhibition) • Dante RossettiDe Stijldecadencedecordecorationdecorative artsdepartment stores • design standards • eclectic mixEdward Burne-Jones • Edward William Godwin • excessexhibitionexoticfine art • Frederic Leighton • Frederick Leyland • frieze • furniture design • George Du Maurier • George Frederic Watts • Gerrit Rietveld • Green Dining Room (1865) • Grosvenor Gallery • interior decorationinterior designJames McNeill Whistler • Japonism • Kate Vaughan • Libertys (department store) • lifestyleLondon • Maurice Maeterlinck • Oscar Wildeoutlandish • painted panels • Patience (1881)peacockperformance art • provincial towns • Punch (cartoon) • pure beauty • Queen Anne style • radical art movement • sensuality • shabby chic • silliness • South Kensington Museum • spectacularstained glass • tenebrous house • The Great Exhibition (1851)The Guardian • Theophile Gautier • turquoise • Victoria and Albert MuseumVictorian artvisual style • Walter Crane • Walter Pater • western art • Whistlers Peacock Room • William Morris

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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