Carl Andre and Minimalism

Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (1966) is an intriguing example of Minimalist sculpture. What it is, as one observer put it when it was exhibited in the 70s, was “a pile of bricks”. I agree with this simple observation, as it is a collection of firebricks arranged into a tidy structure, but remains as a mere pile of bricks. The origin of the work, particularly its name, Equivalent VIII, came from a larger work of the same name. The pile of bricks was a part of a collection of eight piles of bricks (all of which were sent back to the brick yard after the works first exhibition), that only gained a level of acceptability as art because something had been done to them. The material, while ‘unartistic’, was manipulated to become something. So, Andre’s Equivalent VIII that was shown at the Tate in 1976, a small part of a larger realized idea, which didn’t even use the same bricks.

To better understand the Equivalent VIII, we need to look at Minimalism closer. According to the Tate via their website:

“Minimalism or minimalist art can be seen as extending the abstract idea that art should have its own reality and not be an imitation of some other thing. We usually think of art as representing an aspect of the real world (a landscape, a person, or even a tin of soup!); or reflecting an experience such as an emotion or feeling. With minimalism, no attempt is made to represent an outside reality, the artist wants the viewer to respond only to what is in front of them. The medium, (or material) from which it is made, and the form of the work is the reality. Minimalist painter Frank Stella famously said about his paintings ‘What you see is what you see’”

This idea that Minimalist art highlights reality, in its most truthful form, and request a viewer’s response to an otherwise overlooked aspects of our reality. I’m curious as to what type of response is expected from the observer, as the controversy around the Equivalent VIII in the 70s suggests that people recognise what they are seeing, and wonder as to what reason it belongs in a gallery for contemplation. When the piece was seen by the public in 1976, they saw something they were already aware of as the display looked like something a person might recognise from a building site. They recognised it as material to be ‘used’ but was unused. The original work of eight piles of bricks from the earlier exhibition discussed the simplicity of work by appearing to do something, to have meaning.

Andre himself would disagree with both of these interpretations. In an interview with the Tate in 2014 he agreed that his work emphasized the material but not that they have any meaning. Andre said:

“When kids start learning to read, they stop making art, because something has to mean something, and works of art don’t mean anything. They are realities, what does reality mean – it’s there. Because our culture tends to turn everything into language, we lose site of the actual being of things.”

Andre is saying that no art has this fabled ‘meaning’, and that it is the fault of culture trying to rationalize and romanticize everything, we can’t appreciate simplicity.

It was this reverence of simplicity that ignited the Minimalist movement in the early 60s as a response to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Where artists assigned emotion into everything they created, expressing an indirect meaning to their work. Minimalism responded to an art world saturated by meaning, by providing the opposite. A meaningless experience.

Student Artwork – The Yeast Imperative

In my most recent module we were tasked with producing Assemblage sculptures. These types of sculptures are similar to Collages. While Collage is predominantly two-dimensional, Assemblage uses similar processes to produce three-dimensional pieces. Like Collage, Assemblage uses unartistic materials such as Ready-Mades (otherwise called Found-Objects) … Continue reading Student Artwork – The Yeast Imperative

How Effective is Surrealism?

To most, Surrealism is the art of confusion, it detaches itself from logic and reason. For others, it is a vehicle where one might explore the artist or even themselves through a multitude of media and to evaluate their meaning through psychological interpretation.

One of the most notable examples are the works of Man Ray, with his combinations of objects and combinations of photographs. This notion of combination of disparate things first appears in Lautréamont’s severe poetry; about the beauty of the accidental encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table. Man Ray’s Gift (1921) combines two domestic objects and transforms them into a dangerous utensil.

Gift, 1921 – Man Ray

The place where Surrealism really took root was in Mexico, André Breton himself described it as the most surreal place on earth. As you may know, Mexico’s culture is known for its colorful celebrations and traditions, such as the Day of the Dead. This is what made it a fantastic place for Surrealism’s development. Artist such as Frida Kahlo (who wasn’t a Surrealist but was admired by Breton as if she were) and Leonora Carrington, who’s bizarre paintings are reminiscent of of characters from Mexico’s traditions, are examples of the countries influence.

Day of The Dead celebration

El Mundo Magico de Los Mayas, 1963 – Leonora Carrington

However, I’m not posting to discuss Surrealism in Mexico, I would only be doing it injustice due to my lack of knowledge, I wanted to point out an issue that I think needs addressing. The artist Gabriel Orozoco, born and raised in Mexico, made an interesting comment about Surrealism in Sarah Thornton’s book 33 Artists in 3 Acts (2014) that reminds me of something I had been researching for my Graphic Design module. Orozoco said that “I come from a country where a lot of art is labeled surrealist. I grew up with it and I hate that kind of esoteric, dreamlike, evasive, poetic, sexual, easy, cheesy surrealist practice. For example, sculpture that blows up some little thing into a spectacle” What prevents this statement from being uneducated is the artist excessive exposure to the art throughout his life. Which makes his comment that it’s “easy” all the more interesting.

What this reminds me of is the Elaboration Likelihood Model, a devise in advertising that acts in accordance to predicted physiological responses to things, and the use of norm violation, where you do or show something that does not act according to socially accepted things and shocks or disturbs a person. The research I was doing was in support of how obsolete that shock advertising is, the advertising tactic that forces people to view things upsetting (or sometimes just unusual) in order to get an appropriate response.

Like shock advertising, Surrealism was most effective in its conception, when it was first encountered by an audience. But thanks to the mass production of images and the accessibility of them through the internet, which I have described in one of my previous posts, is that much of their initial shock is reduced, much like shock advertising today. (http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/900778/close-up-does-shock-advertising-work)

I want to point out that, this does not concern all Surrealist art in my opinion, but of which that makes certain, perhaps easy, alterations that cause you to see the object in a new light. Like what Man Ray had done with Gift through combination of two things. Today this sort of alteration is commonly found in the work of Jeff Koons, where his balloon animals for instance, are the same only in visual appearance as your normal understanding of balloon animals (social norm), yet they become something else with where they are, what they are made from and how much they, while appearing simple, costs (money being a frequent aspect of Koons’s work).

Orozoco continues describing that he does not like “sculpture that blows up some little thing into a big spectacle”, which Thornton points out Koons as an example. What I’m drawing on here is, like Thornton has pointed to in her book, is that artists such as Koons are able to use this tactic to make anything seem Surreal, and thus, artistic. This is what concerned me when I was comparing Surrealism to shock advertising, how that something so simple can be raised to a grandiose level.

(Blue), Ballon Monkey (Red)Balloon Rabbit (Yellow), 2013 – Jeff Koons

This is all my own personal interpretation of what I’m seeing, that these works do remain interesting in themselves, but, some of the simple processes are being exploited. Exploitation leads to repetition, and repetition leads to carelessness, and this removes credibility to a process that I think could be used far more intellectually.

Rather than taking anything and drawing a spotlight onto it through some sort of transformation, leaving viewers to make forced judgments depending on their own relation with the object (which is still surreal, but I fear is becoming superficial). I think that Surrealist art of the transformative kind now needs a core of some kind, perhaps a mixture of things, like a cake recipe that bakes in your mind. Some new direction that is more planed out and respectful of the process that is more assertive.

I know Surrealism is strongly associated with ambiguity and mystery, but I think that this is exactly what is allowing for more “easy” artworks. I would like to see work that actively tries to change this process, adding something to it.

 


 

If anyone wants to interject anything, please do. Perhaps I’m paranoid of familiarity and commercial artists or something.

 

Visual Components

This post is the research piece from my homework over the summer, and due to it’s overly extensive nature I feel compelled to share it. It covers many of the elements that one might need for a graphic design piece or artwork.

Colour

Firstly, I want to explain the use of colour and how important it is to initial responses to something. According to Wassily Kandinsky, colours can trigger emotional and psychological responds, that when used in design could attract or repel buyers. An idea that influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, and is seen today in advertisements, warning signs and other visual media. An example of this would be temperature colours; two categories that convey a sense of warmth of cold. The colour wheel is cut directly in half, the warm side containing red, orange and yellow, while the cool side contains green, blue and purple. Warm colours are generally associated with power, while cool colours convey weakness. Although provided with their surroundings and situation, the categories can evoke different meanings. Like how red can symbolize war or feelings of passion, or how blue can symbolize the sea or a calm feeling. The way in which these colours are used may generate more complex associations; primary colours are considered the boldest and most forthcoming with their ability to trigger responses, complementary colours are a selection of two contrasting colours that opposing one another on the colour wheel, analogous colour are a selection of two to four colours that are blocked together, and monochromatic colours that are made up of one colour that varies in tonal values. There are also split complementary colours, triad colours and tetrad colours. However, those work similar to complementary colours, so I won’t go into them.

Proportion

Next I want to discuss the importance of proportion, a devise that was fundamental to development of the Renaissance’s ideal beauty in art, as the golden ratio is a testament to this. Proportion works similar to colour theory, if less immediate, but effects the impression received by the viewer. These impressions can convey certain states of being, such as ‘stability’, ‘motion’ and ‘tension’. This was another thing that influence the De Stijl movement, they used scale, which enlarged objects in order to draw attention to them, and symmetry, that aimed for equal measurements and harmony, prolifically throughout their designs. Other techniques manipulating proportion are radial symmetry, that is imagery that spreads outward or inward from the centre like a flower; asymmetry that is the opposite to symmetry and actively avoids harmony; and ergonomics that focus on the comfortability on objects and human needs. If you wanted to create motion in your design you might
want to employ radial symmetry to create the illusion of images moving inward or outward. You could also combine this with colour theory to create an impression of degradation using colours gradually desaturating or
lightening in value.

Shape & Form

The shape and form of a design, be it for packaging or a product, is just as important as the colours used and allows for a design to be interactive. It works alongside proportion, for proportion handles how effective it is visually when constructed. This discipline considers 2D shapes that are used in print or web design, 3D shapes that can be used for a multitude of media, be physical construct or digital, and organic shapes and forms simulate uniqueness and uncontrollable elegance, those you might normally see in hand crafted products or plant life. These can too be manipulated using techniques. Shapes and forms can be geometric, which is generally the idea of symmetry but in physical form, they featured prominently in Art Deco; they can be organic, shapes that derive from nature and can be fluid or loose; they can be isometric, of which are like geometric designs but have stronger symmetry, where all the detentions are the same, like triangles; a zoomorphic design is inspired be nature in a more direct manner, using the shapes of animals for inspiration; combined shapes build up layers of information that generate a sense of energy; and Biomorphic shapes are abstract and have their roots in Surrealism and biological science, creating weird shapes that lack the rigidness that may plague other techniques.

Patterns & Texture

Patterns and textures owe their significance to their effectiveness to the decoration of otherwise mundane surfaces. There can attribute to the interest created for something due to sensory effect that they can provide. Those being the touch and feel of something, to the optical effects created through patterns. Those can influence how one feels about an object, where a soft pillow with simple patterns can appear more approachable, something coarse and with complicated or disorganised patterns may do the opposite. Patterns can have cultural or religious significance that may become a factor to the appeal, such as how curry usually has references to Indian paisley patterns. Texture can have similar influences, such as how steel might remind a viewer of an old industrial factory or how gold reminds a viewer of quality and wealth. There are many different sorts of textures in the world, so I’m not going to list them, however there are a few different elements of patterns to consider. A regular pattern is a repeating formula that rely on symmetry and order; an irregular pattern does the opposite to a regular one, while confusing they can effectively draw the eyes attention; contrast can play a key role in a pattern by using contrasting colours or shapes (rigid and round), to create energy and dynamism in the image.

Psychological Appropriation

While there’s the response attributed to the mind, there is also the response of the individual themselves, be it conscious or unconscious. In the early years of psychology, the development of behaviourism came about to investigate how animals and humans learned. Be it through figuring out mechanisms leading to a reward or to how they develop opinions/associations towards something. I want to draw your attention to the latter, about associations, and to John B. Watson. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of how objects and subject matter, through association, can heighten the viewer’s opinion of something, in a conscious sense, or can be uncanny (strangely familiar), in an unconscious sense. I’ll elaborate on this later.

Watson introduced conditioning to humans after numerus experiments with animals, and concluded that you could control the fundamental responses (those that are our innate nature) of fear, rage and love. By using an unconditioned stimulus (US), you could produce an unconditioned response (UR), that elicited a fundamental response. By using a stimulus (US) along with an object, the response (UR) will be associate with the object, associating it to fear, rage or love. After repeated treatment like this, the individual with become conditioned to respond to the object with the appropriate response (UR), creating a conditioned response (CR) with the object being a conditioned stimulus (CS). An example of this would be the famous and controversial Little Albert experiment, where Watson and his assistant adopted a nine-month-old baby that didn’t seem to be conditioned at all. The child, named Albert, was exposed to regular experiments attempting to control how Albert learned. They were successful, by using the mentioned method they made a white
rat (CS), that Albert previously had no issues with, evoke fear (CR) in the child by creating a loud sound (US) whenever the rat was shown. Albert showed fear in the rat even when there was no accompanying sound, and also showed fear towards other animals that had similar traits, such as being white or furry.

With all this under consideration, it becomes a tool which designers can use to manipulate the fundamental responses of the viewer by taking into account the probable conditioned responses they held. Such as the use of cute baby animals the McVities adverts, they commonly elicit a response of love, because the majority of society adores baby animals. Knowing your targeted audience is vital here, since it’s highly improbable that everyone seeing the design will carry the same response, you’ll have to rely on certain traits and ideals that frequent the audience’s identity that can be visualised within your design. Hence, the McVities advert resonates with people who like baby animals, which is a large audience. The audience has a love for baby animals (CS), and this evokes love (CR).

Artist Research

Bridget Riley

The London-born Bridget Riley is a strong component of the Op-art movement, where art becomes a performance with the way it effects our vision, creating static images that seem to move. Inspired by Op artists of passed generations, such as Vasarély’s digital mind bending images, and the Post-Impressionist George Seurat’s use of colour and how two colour placed next to each other combine within the eye. Riley produces work that, not only tricks the eye into perceiving movement, but also creates images that distort perception in other ways. The work Fall (1963) irritates your eyes by making them want to follow down from the top of the canvas, but in doing so fluctuations occur and the lines become tense. Her piece Cataract 3 (1931) consists of horizontal lines that travel across the page in a wave like formation with altering thickness, but the effect creates new lines that draw your attention more and travel across the page at an angle. The repetitive patterns in these image overload your visual senses and tries to simplify them into understandable forms. August (1995), one of her colours pieces, is built up of seemingly randomly organised diamond shapes. Although, if you look at the individual colours, they seem to be pulled forward or pushed back, creating a complex level of visual depth to the seemingly simple image. Riley’s work highlights the potential of shapes, colours, scale, patterns and contrast. the manner in which she employs them allows for an immediate response to the illusion and demonstrates to powerful effects of the misguiding the eye.

Piet Mondrian

The Dutch painter who broke boundaries between art, design and even fashion. While primarily known for his abstract paintings such as the work Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow that has become a classic example of modernist art, Piet Mondrian provided a whole new perspective for abstraction. He was influenced by a mythical movement called Theosophy, who believed in a spiritual reality beyond the physical world that could only be perceived through the transcendence of the human conscious. Mondrian’s highly abstract work is a testament to its ideas of truth, with its balanced areas of colour. Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow is built from the simplest of forms, including the three primary colours and goes out of its way in order to avoid lines and shapes that make no distinction with the edges or centre of the canvas. A lot of these ideas of simplification translated into an art form he called Neo-Plasticism, which consists of purely geometric shapes that are set at right angles, horizontally or vertically and coloured using the three primary colours. The reason for these colours is to represent a universal harmony, as they were seen as pure examples of all colours’ fundamentals. There is a meditative quality to his work that somewhat resonates with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism pieces, who’s philosophy is similar to the Theosophists, with art transcending subject matter and coming together harmonically. Mondrian experimented with varying different compositions using the primary colours, but after moving to New York where he created a more rhythmic and energetic piece called Broadway Boogie Woogie that looks very different to his previous pieces yet contain the same Neo-Plastic principles as them, with the exception on any black. Mondrian demonstrates the capabilities of restricted forms that use a limited colour palette, and how much variation they can encompass, be it art, fashion, architecture or anything. He shows us the ability of abstraction and Neo-Plasticism, and the rest of history has shown how effective it is. The Bauhaus and De Stile are the most notable examples of Mondrian’s influence, with their own ideals and formulas very much akin those of the Dutchman.