What is Visual Studies in relation to art history and aesthetics?
Based on the readings, there is a resistance to introducing (or giving agency to) Visual Studies as the “new art history.” One of the main arguments is that Visual Studies is not historical, but anthropological. Since art history and aesthetics are pedigree, Visual Studies, as a hybrid offspring, is not. Aby Warburg’s methods are suddenly reconsidered for this emergent sub-genre or sub-discipline. This “new art history” trades formalisms, iconology/iconography, and social history for psychoanalysis, semiotics, identity, technology and globalism. Visual Studies is isolated or alienated from the “true” art history. Historians like Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss oppose the transition because the shift is too general. Art historians ultimately fear a decline in literacy.
As Susan Buck-Morss says, “Visual culture, once a foreigner to the academy, has gotten its green card and is here to stay.” Most historians agree that a “critical analysis of the image as a social object” is necessary. This analysis should be both anthropological and sociological. This goes along with the question, Is the line between high art and mass culture still present? There is, of course, a paradox to Visual Studies: the viewing of art is defined solely by optical scope. If this is so, then it is believed that art plays only to the eye rather than to the mind and the senses. This is troubling because it excludes aesthetics and theory. Thomas Crow argues that Visual Studies is a modernist obsession with illusion. It can even be said that this spin-off is more of a scientific-based augmentation, which makes some art historians cringe—understandably so from their point of view.
This defensiveness and territorialness, according to W.J.T. Mitchell, is academically founded. It doesn’t welcome or encourage the emergent field of Visual Studies. He also states that the adopters of this new history haven’t come forth to defend appropriately as viable. Hence, Mitchell makes light of the fallacies against introducing Visual Studies and counters them with the example of his “showing seeing” exercise. “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture” is reminiscent of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” lamentation. Apparently, the divide within the humanities is gaping!
While Keith Moxey disagrees that (in an academic curriculum) Visual Studies is the obvious step towards the new global economy, he is inclined to recognize the emergent discipline because of its distinctiveness. He is interested in examining it for the production of art. To me, Visual Studies is like a Bauhaus. It is a sort of cosmology, an exploration of the origins of images in relation to art history and visual genres. (It’s called visual arts, isn’t it?) Rather than a post-structuralist or post-postmodern approach, it is a comprehensivist approach. Trading specialization for comprehension is necessary in this morphed society. But I am also left with questions about the usability of Visual Studies. I am fascinated by the Derridean idea that language is opaque; it doesn’t give access. How then would Visual Studies be used outside of academics? What does it mean to the curator? Does this mean that the museum is null and void? (A notion that is increasingly argued or believed.) It seems as though Visual Studies would require academic analysis in the form of an accompanied manual or user guide.
“…[M]an is coming into an extraordinary new era on earth, in which we are going to be able to deal conceptually with advanced science. Inasmuch as conceptual communication is art, art will become intimate with science; and philosophy will be able to comprehend the significance of developments; and thought may enter upon new speculation and altogether new comprehension.”—R. Buckminster Fuller, from “Prevailing Conditions in the Arts” in Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity.
A heavy beard covers the face of astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Apollo 7 Commander, as he looks out the rendezvous window in front of the Commander’s station on the ninth day of the Apollo 7 Earth orbital mission (via).
It’s been a while since I’ve made another space mix. Here’s the playlist for Vol. 6. Unfortunately, I lost the photoshop file for the cover format in the last harddrive crash. So enjoy the photo (above) of Wally Shirra instead! Leave a comment if you’re interested.
01. “Major Tom” by Shiny Toy Guns
02. “We Are All Made of Stars” by Moby
03. “Big Dipper” by Built to Spill
04. “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie
05. “Jetstream” by Doves
06. “Feather” by Little Dragon
07. “Rust” by Echo & The Bunnymen
08. “Honey Bee” by Grinderman
09. “Fight Test” by The Flaming Lips
10. “Enter Galactic” by Kid Cudi
11. “Cosmic Love” by Florence & The Machine
12. “Neither Heaven or Space” by Nada Surf
13. “The Prettiest Star” by David Bowie
14. “Someone Like the Moon” by Pulp
15. “Cloud of Unknowing” by Gorillaz
16. “Another World” by Chemical Brothers
17. “We Own the Sky” by M83
David Bowie always has a place on in the mix. Let’s face it: he’s the man who fell to earth. Also, why always seventeen tracks? 17 is a cosmic number!
Virginia Mecklenburg & Modern Masters from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
I just got home from the opening night of Modern Masters at the Jepson Center for the Arts where I saw my first Philip Guston painting. The exhibition features forty four works from key players in modern American art such as Josef Albers, Hans Hofmann, Philip Guston, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline and more. Tonight was particularly special because the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Senior Curator Virginia Mecklenburg presented a lecture highlighting the works with witty insight relating to post-war America.
In great form and with true charisma, Mecklenburg introduced each artist by saying that most photographs reveal the artist either with a cigarette in their hands (or between their lips) or with a beer glass by their side. This statement was, of course, followed by visual confirmation. While walking through the rooms, I noticed that the majority of the plaques featured quotes straight from the artists describing their experiences and aims-of-capture. After listening to Mecklenburg and walking through the exhibit, I believe that I experienced a great example of curatorial work with the artist’s intentions at heart.
I left Modern Masters with the following thoughts:
• Once you’ve seen a work of art in person, it’s pointless to revisit it in a slide.
• I would love to see Mecklenburg’s exhibition script! What does it look like?
• Interesting framing choices by the collectors, which reflect the timeframe.
• I love peeking at the sides to see the hardware and hanging methods.
"I am involved in a problem which by its very nature is insoluble. This is the never ending struggle to create the structure which by virtue of its anonymity may evolve in the viewer the possibility of sensing, however fleeting, some element for truth." —John McLaughlin
I have one complaint: the lighting was so bright that the paint reflected it. You had to approach the work oftentimes at an angle. But that’s off my chest now. So, while these cannot compare to the real work, the following images are my favorite paintings from the exhibit. I can’t wait to see them again on my lunch break tomorrow!
Philip Guston, Painter III, 1960, oil on canvas 60 5/8 x 68 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum (via).
Hans Hofmann, Fermented Soil, 1965, oil on canvas 48 x 60 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum (via).
Franz Kline, Blueberry Eyes, 1959-1960, oil on paperboard 40 1/8 x 29 3/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum (via).
Joan Mitchell, My Landscape II, 1967, oil on canvas 103 x 71 1/2 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum (via).
A catalog/book of the exhibit can be be purchased here.