Week 4: How do we judge art?

Dr Tony Curran

Semester 2, 2020

how to judge art: poetic, ethical and aesthetic

how do we judge a work of art?

... but is it art?

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Blue poles [Number 11, 1952]

1952

enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas

212.1 (h) x 488.9 (w) cm

Nation Gallery of Australia

Orson Welles

F for Fake

1973

film still

Jacques Rancière

three ways to judge a work of art

ethical: is it good for the world ?

poetic: is it made well?

aesthetic: what do I feel when I look at it?

Rancière, Jacques. 2004. The politics of aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible. London: Continuum.

ethics

Plato argues that artworks are lies that deceive us from truth

Roman copy of a portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens

c. 370 BC

ethics

Images can create deceive

A poster advertising the exhibition ‘The Eternal Jew’ an anti-Semitic propaganda show that toured Germany. Source BBC online

1937

ethics

Portrait of an Aboriginal girl

date unknown

Union Hotel Fitzroy, Melbourne

Photo by Liz Conor

poetics

Aristotle says that if a lie is made well, it can help heal our stress/anxiety

Roman copy of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippos

c. 330 BC

marble with modern alabaster mantle

poetics

JAWS

1975

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Tony Albert

ASH on Me

2008

Installation, 150 × 150cm

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Aesthetics

Imannuel Kant (1724 - 1804) said beauty is the measure

we can feel an artwork’s beauty/ugliness, sublimity and humour, balance, harmony and dissonance

the better the work, the more emotional response we can have to it

If something is truly beautiful, we all agree

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

1818

Kunsthalle Hamburg

critiquing art

most critiques of art address one or a mix of these three concerns

  • is it good for the world? (ethical)
  • is it made well? (poetics)
  • is it beautiful? (aesthetics)

Jordan Wolfson

Title unknown

date unknown

sourced from ‘Spit Earth: Who is Jordan Wolfson’, 2020. Directed by James Crump

link

Jordan Wolfson

Real Violence

2017

© Jordan Wolfson. Represented by David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, and Sadie Coles HQ, London

Jordan Wolfson

Animation, masks

2011

digital animation with sound duration 12 min, 29 sec

© Jordan Wolfson. Represented by David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, and Sadie Coles HQ, London

how have artworks been judged along these lines?

let’s look at two artists that mix these critics dimensions:

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989)

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Lisa Lyon

1982

gelatin silver photograph, 38.6 x 38.6cm

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © Robert Mapplethorpe Estate

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Ermes

1988

gelatin silver photograph, 60.5 x 50.5cm

Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J Paul Getty Trust

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Ken Moody

1983

gelatin silver photograph, 50.3 x 40.3cm

Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J Paul Getty Trust

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Ken Moody and Robert Sherman

1983

platinum photograph, 65.7 x 56.4cm

Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J Paul Getty Trust

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Thomas

1987

gelatin silver photograph, 60.3 x 50.5cm

Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J Paul Getty Trust

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Untitled (Studio)

2014

acrylic on PVC panels, 211.6 x 302.9cm

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Untitled (Red Line)

2014

acrylic on PVC panel 90 x 75cm

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Untitled (Police Officer)

2015

synthetic polymer paint, 152 x 152cm

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self

1980

egg tempera on paper, 20.3 x 16.5cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Untitled

2009

Acrylic on PVC panel, 155.3 × 185.1cm

Metropolitan Museum, New York

Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)

Still-Life with Wedding portrait

2015

Acrylic on PVC panel, 152.4 × 121.9cm

Metropolitan Museum, New York

talk

what do you think is something that is valuable?

  • good for the world
  • beautiful
  • well-made

further reading/watching

Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty has a section on Mapplethorpe (here’s a pdf)

Kerry James Marshall in “Identity”

questions?