ART AND LANGUAGE: AN EXPLORATION OF ART AND LANGUAGE ARTISTS SOL LE WITT, TERRY ATKINSON, MICHAEL BALDWIN , HOWARD HURREL AND DAVID BAINBRIDGE AND THEIR SIGNIFICNCE FOR ARTISTIC PRACTICES IN CONCEPTUAL ART IN THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES: PART 2.

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This is the second part of my exploration of Art and Language and how the artists concerned questioned the whole aspect of Art very much in the way that Marcel Duchamp had done with his display of art Objects.

Political challenges were also involved particularly with the Art Workers coalition.

” In New York many of those artists involved in the conceptual art movement were also members of the Art Workers Coalition which coordinated Art World opposition to the war in Vietnam”.[1].

Michael Baldwin is the first artist I am going to refer to as Harrison does on his commentary on Art and Language.” Baldwin had described Modernism as like a surface that wouldn’t bear your weight if you try to put your foot down somewhere and that bit would just seem to break off and float away”.[2].

Harrison in his survey of Modernism shows the weakness of Greenberg’s and Fried’s position. ” For all of Greenberg’s and Fried’s success in theorising a Modernist Tendency in the fine arts , by the mid 1960’s it had became theoretically and practically difficult to maintain either the macroscopic  distinction between art and other modes of social practice”.[3].

The Index series were used at Documenta in Germany. ” Later forms of Index exhibited by Art and Language in 1973-4 were designed to take explicit account of those interests on the part of spectators/readers that must affect their responses to the material presented to them”.[4].

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Harrison continues with his narrative of what Art and Language represent ” The question that hangs over the conceptual art movement is this; if it is no longer useful or relevant to distinguish between works of art through analyses of their shape or colour , if indeed there are no intrinsic properties by which an object can be recognised as an art object how is criticism to proceed”.[5].

” But the development of conceptual art was in part impelled by perception, that the increasing co option of art to a Modernist culture of spectacle has been achieved at the expense of its critical and subversive content”.[6].

Harrison is here coming to the nub of the question that the great achievement of Art and Language was going to insist on a critical terrain of discussing Art. It showed that Modernism as a popular Art movement was finished. ” According to one view , conceptual art stands for a kind of epochal change .It is the end of Art”.[7].

” It was necessarily  transitional episode during which certain artists called attention to the loss of Art’s capacity to draw in Intellectual and political content”.[8].

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Harrison in discussing Art and Language’s Portrait of VI Lenin is questioning the role of Realist art. ” It is truistic  to say that Realist art must be descriptive of something. Realist pictures are also supposed to have something to do with knowledge”.[9].

” The Descriptive content of a picture is comprised by its relevance to an object or a person”. [10].

Harrison continues to pose questions about pictures and their representations. ” Are pictures like descriptions . Do they mesh with descriptions .That is are pictures   like analogues of descriptions . Do they match descriptions”.[11].

Using Marxist terminology Harrisons uses the dialectical relation between the two. ” There is a dialectical relation between identification of Genesis and identification of descriptive content”. [12].

Index: The Studio at 3 Wesley Place, in the Dark (IV), and Illuminated by an Explosion nearby (VI) 1982 by Art & Language (Michael Baldwin, born 1945; Mel Ramsden, born 1944)

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Harrison in his major work Essays on Art And Language , devoted himself to analysing 20th Century Modernism (Abstract Expressionism) and the work of the Marxist literary critic Walter Benjamin who I referred to in my first part on Art and Language. ” Thus for example the work of the American ‘First Generation’ painters and particularly of Pollock is associated with the liberation and purification of arts resources of expression”.[13].

” If there is one writer whose intellectual character presages the organised conscience of modernist criticism it is the Communist Walter Benjamin”.[14].

Harrison explains that although Benjamin was no Trotskyist he was definitely an anti Stalinist and was a much better writer than the turncoats Horkheimer and Adorno.

” Though it did not endear him either to the party or to the dilettante bourgeois , he better than other critics understood the limitations on moral and political purpose in art and criticism”. [15].

Harrison confirms my previous statement that Clement Greenberg was no Marxist is borne out by his next statement. ” A telling parentis marks that migration from pre-war Trotskyist Internationalism to post-war anti-communist nationalism and aestheticism which led Clement Greenberg subtly to recast the history of Modernism”. [16].

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Again Referring to Greenberg who was responsible more than anybody else with steering American culture towards  American Imperialism. ” The writers principally responsible were Greenberg himself and Michael Fried who took Greenberg’s formulation of Modernism as the starting point of his analysis”.[17].

With this narrow framework Greenberg and Fried rejected anything that was outside this narrow definition therefore all forms of Conceptual art including Art and Language , Body and Performance art , Pop art some aspects of Neo realism were thrown as Kitsch or Theatre .

Harrison shows the connection between this culture of Modernism and the aims of American Imperialism. ” In recent years much historical research has been done to connect the cultural exportation of abstract expressionism with the aims of American Foreign and domestic policy during the 1950’s”.[18].

” The more it became possible to see the culture of Modernist art as implicated in a political and economic system which represented and disbursed it”.[19].

Concluding This part of my exploration of art and Language I want to show that the developments in artistic practice which Greenberg and Fried rejected showed the ability of a range of artists to question and critically analyse the role of art which the Modernists have failed to live up to. Up to a certain level Greenberg made a contribution but because of his anti Marxist position he was never fully to understand the implications of modern 20th century art. ” Both British pop art and technological art as well as cybernetic and Kinetic art and op art seemed to demonstrate the critical moment in the late 1950’s and 1960’s were those which concerned the depth of art”.[20].

FOOTNOTES

  1. THEMES IN CONTEMPORARY ART  AND LANGUAGE CHARLES HARRISON PG. 60-67
  2. DITTO  PG. 61
  3.  DITTO  PG.63
  4.  DITTO PG.63
  5.  DITTO PG.69
  6.  DITTO  PG.78
  7.   DITTO  PG.78
  8.   DITTO PG.78
  9.   PORTRAIT OF VI LENIN ART AND LANGUAGE MODERNISM CRITICISM REALISM .F ORTON AND CHARLES HARRISON . PG. 146
  10.    DITTO PG. 148
  11.    DITTO PG.148
  12.    DITTO PG.155
  13.   ESSAYS ON ART AND LANGUAGE  CHARLES HARRISON PG. 3
  14.    DITTO PG.5
  15.    DITTO PG. 7
  16.    DITTO  PG.10
  17.   DITTO    PG.11
  18.     DITTO .PG. 11
  19.    DITTO   PG.13
  20.    DITTO PG.17.

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