Musings on Art World Revolutions


(Figure 1.) Richard Bell, ‘Scienta E Metaphysica’ (Bell’s Theorems) 2003.

“Western Art is the product of Western Europeans and their colonial offspring. It imposes and perpetuates superiority over art produced in other parts of the World.” Richard Bell, Bell's Theorems Aboriginal Art – It’s a White Thing![1]

What is art? Since Plato and Aristotle, Western philosophers have been pondering and defining the meaning of art.[2] This process of connotation creation is an evolving feedback loop between artists, audiences, critics and scholars.[3] The Eurocentric nature of the international Art World has generated a feedback loop whereby Western art and philosophy are central to fine and contemporary art discourses. There are obvious associated incentives of power and finance in maintaining Western elitism. The ‘Art World’ refers to American Philosopher Arthur Danto’s (1924 – 2013) definition; ‘… the galleries, the art schools, the periodicals, the museums, the critical establishment, the curatoriat.’[4] This discussion examines a number of fine and contemporary artworks created by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and influenced by non-Western cultures. Key philosophical ideas and debates relevant to aesthetics and art are examined and referenced.

The artworks to be discussed are; Almond Blossom painted in 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh, held in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (figure 2) Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painted in 1907 by Pablo Picasso, held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (figure 3) Voice Piece for Soprano by Yoko Ono, first published in her book Grapefruit in 1964 (figure 4). The Ngurrara Canvas 2 painted by Ngurrara artists and Native Title claimants in 1997, held in the collection of The National Museum, Australia (figure 5) and ZHANG HUAN : SYDNEY BUDDHA, a large-scale installation exhibited at Carriageworks as a part of the Sydney Festival 2015 (figure 6). A number of Western and non-western aesthetic philosophical frameworks inform the conversation around these art works.

Artists are required to identify via collective cultural heritages.[5] The categorisation of artists and their artwork as fine, contemporary or ethnographic artifact, influences the presentation of artworks, frameworks of philosophical discourse and art history. Highly valued fine art is displayed within the Art World’s institutions of high culture, while works deemed to be ethnographic artifacts are generally presented in museum venues and are not considered to be examples of fine art. While Western historical art is included and referenced in the study of the development of art history, works from numerous ‘other cultures’ are considered ethnographic artifacts of a reduced cultural significant.[6] Some non-European cultures are to this day considered incapable of creating fine art. Bigoted notions of Western and Asian etc. cultural superiority persist. Within the interpretation of art, there is a strict code of classification. The established Art World seems unable to concede that notions underpinning fine art’s classification are sometimes a great big load of racist BS.

In a globalised context, defining art naturally includes inquiry and history beyond Western perspectives and traditions. Furthermore, most artists are influenced by cultures outside of their own heritage. Arthur Danto and American philosopher George Dickie (1926 — age 90) both refer to ‘the institutional nature of art’ as playing a decisive role in defining art. George Dickie acknowledges his American and Western cultural paradigms of art philosophy in ‘What is Art? An Institutional Analysis’; “It would be enough to be able to specify the necessary and sufficient conditions of the concept of art which we have (we present-day Americans, we present-day Westerners, we Westerners since the organization of the system of the arts in or about the eighteenth century – I am not sure of the exact limits of the ‘we’.”[7]

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) states in ‘Of The Standard Of Taste’ that there are universal moral standards and standards of aesthetic taste that endure across cultures and eras.[8] Cultures share modes of creativity and expression ~ visual mark making, song, dance, textiles, costume, architecture, story telling... When we examine cultural similarities, we find our common humanity. However, when the contemporary discourse defining art is centered in the Western cannon, can it be truly stated that there is shared aesthetic appreciation and cultural respect? Furthermore, when the critique of art comes predominantly from a Western perspective, where does this leave ‘other’ artists and the communities and cultures to which artists belong?

German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804) refers to objective and subjective ‘universal validity’ andgeneral validity’ in regards to judgments of taste.[9] Kant’s framework of aesthetic disinterest requires conscious “detachment from all interest” when critiquing artworks.[10] Holding detatchment from all interest may not be possible in some contexts. In an international context, audiences and critics bring differing cultural interpretations to art criticism ~ values, social and political messaging, visual, written and spoken languages, interpretation and understanding of symbolism and cultural motifs. Can art critics apply aesthetic disinterest to art they may not have the knowledge to appreciate or understand?

The Art World is becoming increasingly globalised, multi-cultural and homogenised. How do centralised Western interests and power within the Art World impact upon the artworks contemporary artists create? How do Western values and interpretations influence the contemporary canon of art critique, within international contexts? Surely there is a form of cultural censorship at play, when we look at the Art World from an international perspective.

In the book ‘Contemporary Art from the Middle East,’ Dutch art critic Nat Muller and Egyptian academic Dina Ramadan argue that Western elitism within the Art World requires artists who identify outside of the Western paradigm to be fundamentally associated with notions of collective cultural heritage; Aboriginal artists, African American artists, Asian artists; depriving artists of their individuality.[11] Furthermore, notions of collective cultural heritage are often formed upon misinformation and stereotypes. In his book ‘Aboriginal Art’ Howard Morphy describes the labeling of Aboriginal art in providing information including the social and kin groups associated to the works. This is important information further to the standard labeling of European art, which usually includes the date and place that the artwork was created and the dates and nationality of the artist.[12] In an Aljazeera article published in 2013, Iranian professor Hamid Dabashi mentions the possibility that cultural frameworks, beyond established Western philosophies, have the potential to revolutionise art and the Art World.[13]

No doubt artists will continue to challenge unjust power dynamics. Artists who successfully challenge established norms of high art have historically often been eventually embraced by the Art World. Their new style or stance is incorporated into history’s art movements. Arthur Danto describes Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, who was shunned by the Art World throughout his lifetime, as one of the first modernists.[14] Certainly European artists have been influenced by a diversity of cultures for centuries. The impressionists, including Van Gogh, where influenced by Japanese art.[15]

(Figure 2.) Almond Blossom: Vincent Van Gogh (1890) Oil on canvas (73.5cm x 92cm) Van Gogh Museum: Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Van Gogh’s agitated mental state is credited with inspiring his dynamic art.[16] Being shunned by the Art World no doubt added to his mental health problems. The American philosopher Noel Carrol describes ‘agent’s intention’ being transferred to artworks in the book ‘Art, Intention, and Conversation.’[17] English philosopher Robin George Collingwood (1889–1943) refers to the artist’s expression and emotion being transferred to artworks.[18] Scottish Philosopher Berys Gaut’s ‘patchwork theory’ examines how both an artist’s intentions and the audience’s response bring meaning to art.[19] Van Gogh directly references Japanese woodcuts in a number of his paintings, and was influenced by Japanese aesthetics.[20] Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo from Arles in 1888; “But for my part I foresee that other artists will want to see color under a stronger sun, and in a more Japanese clarity of light.”[21] Cherry blossoms are an important symbol in Japanese culture and have been referenced in this work. The simplified background, in variants of blue, echo the minimalism of Japanese art. The artwork holds tranquility. Calm is central to Japanese Zen philosophy and has been conjured by Van Gogh in ‘Almond Blossom.’[22]

(Figure 3.) Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Pablo Picasso (1907) oil on canvas (2.44m x 2.34m) Museum of Modern Art New York.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or The Young Ladies of Avignon depicts five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcellona. Clive Bell (1881–1964) refers to ‘significant form’ eliciting an emotional reaction to a work of visual art. “We have no other means of recognizing a work of art than our feeling for it.”[23] Significant form is notably present within this Picasso masterpiece. Picasso was famously influenced by African masks during his ‘African Period,’ although sources claim he denied it.[24] The combining of emerging modernist styles with flat faces and cubist shapes inspired by the African masks, contribute to the defining of early modernism.[25] In reference to Picasso’s cross-cultural inspiration, Richard Bell states in ‘Aboriginal Art — It’s A White Thing’; “Westerners drooled at Picasso’s originality — to copy the African artists, while simultaneously ignoring the genius of the Africans.”[26]

Why would Picasso not acknowledge the inspiration he gained from the African masks? Would the profound influence of the African ethnographic artifacts (why do we not say African sculptures?) deplete Picasso’s genius? History acknowledges the influence of the African masks on Picasso’s paintings, yet does not acknowledge the artifacts as particularly significant, apart from their use by Picasso. If the African sculptures that Picasso copied in his artworks where considered significant sculptures, of importance to the development of modern art, how would views on the development of modern art be challenged?

(Figure 4.) Yoko Ono performing her Voice Piece For Soprano at MoMA, NY.

‘Grapefruit; A Book of Instruction and Drawings’ by Japanese American artist Yoko Ono, with an introduction by John Lennon, was originally published in a limited edition of 500 copies in 1964. ‘Voice Piece For Soprano’ appears as an instruction piece in ‘Grapefruit’[27];

VOICE PIECE FOR SOPRANO

Scream.

Against the wind

Against the wall

Against the sky

1961 autumn

Ono’s instructions constitute the artwork and are to be carried out through a microphone with very loud speakers. The artwork was exhibited at MoMA in 2010, and was reviewed by the Editorial Manager for Marketing and Communications at MoMA Jason Persse. “I stepped up to the mic and let out a trio of wavering screams, each slightly less pathetic than the last. And then it was over. Yoko and I had done it! Together we’d created a work of exhilarating, defiant, liberating art that turned heads, startled passersby, and covered me in a fine sheen of flop sweat.”[28] The following review of the MoMA exhibition also appeared in The New York Observer; ‘But according to museum employees, the loud, sporadic screams that resulted startled visitors, while staff members strained to speak to museum-goers over the noise. “It was disturbing to the staff at the information desk,” said one employee who wished to remain anonymous.’[29]

Whether Voice Piece For Soprano at MoMA was received positively or not, Ono pushes the boundaries as to what art can be. As a member of Fluxus in New York, Ono’s artwork shares concepts of anti-art. She has exhibited her art outside of the Art World’s galleries and institutions.[30] Grapefruit is full of instruction pieces that can be performed or carried out by people anywhere, at anytime. This liberates Ono’s work from the Art World’s established venues, making her artwork accessible to a wider audience. We can collaborate with Ono whenever, wherever we like as we read her instruction pieces. Another of Yoko Ono’s instruction pieces from Grapefruit reads;

MAP PIECE

Draw a map to get lost.

1964 spring [31]

(Figure 5.) The Ngurrara Canvas 2, Walmajarri and Wangkajunga leaders 1997 (10m x 8m) National Gallery of Australia.

One of the senior artists, Pijaju (Peter Skipper) explains: “The stories and the bodies of our old people are in their country, our country. We wanted to make kartiya [white people] understand our ownership of our country.” [31]

Two collaborative paintings Ngurrara Canvas 1 and Ngurrara Canvas 2 were created to demonstrate continued cultural connections and ownership of land and country by the Walmajarri and Wangkajunga people of the area commonly known as the Great Sandy Desert region of Western Australia. The second canvas was presented in court as part of a successful Native Title Claim. Ngurrara Canvas 1 was painted in 1996 by 19 Walmajarri and Wangkajunga leader artists as a part of the Ngurrara Native Title application for 800,000 hectares of land, prior to the National Native Title Tribunal in 1997. The Wangkajunga and Walmajarri leaders painted Ngurrara Canvas 2 in 1997 because, while happy with Nguarrara Canvas 1 as a collaborative artwork, the Walmajarri and Wangkajunga leaders felt that the separate works of each artist did not fully represent a depiction of country for the Native Title Claim. Ngurrara Canvas 2 was painted to prove the continued connection to country and ownership of land. Ngurrara Canvas 1 is considered a significant art piece in the collection of The National Museum, Australia. The Wangkajunga and Walmajarri won Native Title in 2007. Ngurrara Canvas 2 is held in the private collection of the Walmajarri and Wangkajunga.

Kant’s philosophy of aesthetic disinterest can’t be applied to Ngurrara Canvas 1 and Ngurrara Canvas 2, as the artworks have been created for a specific purpose; to prove ownership of land in the Walmajarri and Wangkajunga Native Title case.[32] Kant states; “One must not be in the least presupposed in favor of the real existence of the thing, but must preserve complete indifference in this respect, in order to play the part of judge in matters of taste”.[34] Kant’s theory of aesthetic disinterest has influenced art theory greatly. However, contemporary and fine art that seeks to engage audiences politically requires the critique of work beyond representation, beauty and aesthetic pleasure and/or displeasure. The Walmajarri and Wangkajunga leaders created Ngurrara Canvas 1 and Ngurrara Canvas 2 with the intention of proving their ownership of land in the court case and successfully did so.[35] The judges deciding the outcome of this Native Title case would not have been able to apply Kant’s framework of aesthetic disinterest to Ngurrara Canvas 2.

(Figure 6.) ZHANG HUAN : SYDNEY BUDDHA. Exhibited at Carriageworks in Sydney NSW, 2015.

Significant form is present in ZHANG HUAN : SYDNEY BUDDHA. This ephemeral sculpture is made from the dust of incense burned in temples and moulded into a Buddha form. Both the original metal mould and the dust caste are exhibited together. The ephemeral nature of the incense dust symbolizes impermanence, one of the teachings of Buddhism. The feat of collecting so much incense dust is an amazing use of, essentially a recycled material. Zhang Huan is a significant Chinese artist, who draws on ethical frameworks, justice and human rights.[36]

While the Art World intentionally perpetuates and upholds systems of Western privilege and segregation, artists will continue to challenge and push boundaries of unjust power dynamics. Contemporary artists will continue to be influenced by artists and cultural references beyond and including Western cultures. Diverse cultural influences will lead to the philosophical discourse defining art continuing to evolve to include influential thinkers from diverse cultural backgrounds. Diverse world-views will gain momentum, just as artists from diverse cultural backgrounds have gained exposure in recent years. With time, the nature of the Art World will no doubt shift, through the work of artists and thinkers with visions of a more just and inclusive communities, societies and cultures. The art to be generated through this process will no doubt be wonderful. It is hoped that the Art World’s gatekeepers will accept that with time all things must change. Artists play an important roll in bringing about paradigm shifts. The results of a more equitable Art World can only be positive for humanity.

In text references

[1] “Koori Web Bell’s Thorum Richard Bell Aboriginal Art — It’s a White Thing” (http://www.kooriweb.org/bell/theorum.html) (viewed 11/10/2014)

[2] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing 2008)

[3] Arthur C. Danto After The End Of Art Contemporary Art And The Pale Of History (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1997) p.3

[4] Arthur C. Danto After The End Of Art Contemporary Art And The Pale Of History (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1997) p.3

[5] Nat Muller Contemporary Art In The Middle East (London UK: Black Dog Publishing 2009) p.5

[6] Howard Morphy “Moving The Body Painting Into The Art Gallery Knowing About And Appreciating Works Of Aboriginal Art” Journal of Art Historiography (4 June, 2011) p.1

[7] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing 2008) p.429

[8] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing 2008) p.103

[9] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) p.135

[10] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) p.134–135

[11] Paul Sloman Contemporary Art In The Middle East, (Black Dog Publishing, 2009) p.12

[12] Howard Morphy Aboriginal Art, (Phaidon Press Limited, 1998) p.149

[13] “State Of The (Contemporary) Art” Aljazeera, Last Modified: 14 Aug 2013 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/201381215162102252.html (viewed 10/09/2014)

[14] Arthur C. Danto After The End Of Art Contemporary Art And The Pale Of History, (Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1997) p.8

[15] Maurizio Calvesi From Van Gogh to Picasso From Kandinsky to Pollock Masterpieces of Modern Art (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York Thannhauser Collection 1990) p.88

[16] Pierre Cabanne Vincent Van Gogh (Finest S.A./Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris 2002) p.159

[17] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) p.568

[18] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) p.284

[19] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology, (Blackwell Publishing 2008) p.589

[20] Pierre Cabanne Vincent Van Gogh (Finest S.A./Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris, 2002) p.107

[21] Pierre Cabanne Vincent Van Gogh (Finest S.A./Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris 2002) p.109

[22] Morihei Ueshiba The Secret Teachings Of Aikido (Kodansha International 2007)

[23] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology (Blackwell Publishing 2008) p.263

[24] William Rubin Pablo Picasso A Retrospective (Museum of Modern Art, New York Distributed by New York Graphic Society, Boston USA) p.99

[25]“Koori Web Bell’s Thorum Richard Bell Aboriginal Art — It’s a White Thing” (http://www.kooriweb.org/bell/theorum.html) (viewed 11/10/2014)

[26] “Fluxus” http://www.fluxus.org/ (viewed 03/10/2014)

[27] Ono Yoko, Grapefruit (Simon and Schuster USA 2000)

[28] “MoMA” http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/07/14/from-a-whisper-to-a-scream-following-yoko-onos-instructions (viewed 05/10/2014)

[29] “The Observer” http://observer.com/2010/07/moma-turns-down-the-volume-on-yoko/ (viewed 05/10/2014)

[30] “Fluxus” http://www.fluxus.org/ (viewed 03/10/2014)

[31] Ono Yoko, Grapefruit (Simon and Schuster USA 2000)

[32] Larissa Behrendt “Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas” http://fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/evnts/media//Ngurrara_Behrendt_article-1.pdf (viewed 10/09/2014)

[33] Larissa Behrendt “Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas” http://fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/evnts/media//Ngurrara_Behrendt_article-1.pdf (viewed 10/09/2014.)

[34] Steven M Cahn and Aaron Meskin Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology (Blackwell Publishing 2008) p.132

[35] Larissa Behrendt “Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas” http://fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/evnts/media//Ngurrara_Behrendt_article-1.pdf (viewed 10/09/2014.)

[36] “Zhang Huan Artist” http://www.zhanghuan.com/

Bibliography

Books

Boggs Sutherland Jean, Picasso and Things (The Cleaveland Museum of Art) 1992.

Cabanne Pierre, Vincent Van Gogh (Finest S.A./Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris) 2002.

Cahn Steven M and Meskin Aaron, Aesthetics A Comprehensive Anthology (Blackwell Publishing) 2008.

Calvesi Maurizio, From Van Gogh to Picasso From Kandinsky to Pollock Masterpieces of Modern Art (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York Thannhauser Collection) 1990.

Campbell, Mary Schmidt Essays by David Driskell, David Levering Lewis, and Deborah Willis Ryan, Introduction by The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem Renaissance Art of Black America (New York Happis N Abrahams, inc. Publishers, New York) 1994.

Chiu Melissa, Genocchio Benjamin, Contemporary Asian Art (Thames and Hudson) 2010.

Danto Arthur C, After The End Of Art Contemporary Art And The Pale Of History (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey) 1997.

Gladson Paul, Contemporary Art in Shanghai: Conversations with Seven Chinese Artists (Blue Kingfisher Limited) 2011.

Magnin Andre, Jacques Soulillou, Contemporary Art of Africa (Harry N Abrams, Inc Publishers) 1995.

Morphy Howard, Aboriginal Art (Phaidon Press Limited) 1998.

Morphy Howard, Aesthetic in Aboriginal culture Ancestral Connections 
 ART AND AN ABORIGINAL SYSTEM OF KNOWLEDGE
1992.

Noever Peter, Global Lab Art As A Message. Asia and Europa 1500–1700 (Hatje Cantz Verlag) 2009.

Nicholas Jose, Yang Wen, Art Taiwan (Gordon And Breach Publishers G+B Arts International) 1995.

Ono Yoko, Grapefruit (Simon and Schuster USA) 2000.

Rubin William, Pablo Picasso A Retrospective (Museum of Modern Art, New York Distributed by New York Graphic Society, Boston)

Sweetman John, The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in British and American Art and Architecture (Cambridge University Press) 1988.

Sloman Paul, Contemporary Art In The Middle East (Black Dog Publishing London UK) 2009.

Taliaferro Charles, Cross-Cultural Aesthetics (Oneworld Publication Oxford) 2011.

Ueshiba Morihei, The Secret Teachings Of Aikido (Kodansha International) 2007.

Journals

Morphy Howard “Moving The Body Painting Into The Art Gallery

Knowing About And Appreciating Works Of Aboriginal Art” Collage of Arts and Social Sciences Australian National University (2011).

Wildburger EleanorIndigenous Australian art in practice and theory Coolabah”, №10, 2013, ISSN 1988–5946, Observatori: Centre d’Estudis Australians, Australian Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona (2013).

Websites

“Brushmind” http://www.brushmind.net/aikido.html (viewed 03/10/20)

“Fluxus” http://www.fluxus.org/ (viewed 03/10/2014)

“Imagine Peace” Ono Yoko Artist http://imaginepeace.com/archives/11543 (viewed 07/10/2014)

“Koori Web” Bell’s Thorum Richard Bell Aboriginal Art — It’s a White Thing http://www.kooriweb.org/bell/theorum.html (viewed 06/08/2014)

“National Museum of Australia” The Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas exhibition http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/ngurrara_the_great_sandy_desert_canvas_/home (viewed 06/09/2014)

“Zhang Huan Artist” http://www.zhanghuan.com/ShowWorkContent.asp?id=44&iParentID=43&mid=1 (viewed 03/10/2014)

“The Observer” http://observer.com/2010/07/moma-turns-down-the-volume-on-yoko/ (viewed 05/10/2014)

“MoMA” http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/07/14/from-a-whisper-to-a-scream-following-yoko-onos-instructions (viewed 05/10/2014)


Originally published at www.academia.edu.

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