Term 2 Constellation – After Modernism

On Thursday the 28th of January at 3pm we began our second term of Constellation, for this term I would be looking at After Modernism, this was taught by Dr Jon Clarkson. In our first week of constellation we looked at Abstract Expressionism. For this lecture we were told to read Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting (1960), this book was an effective opening to this terms constellation as it began with “Modernism includes more than just art and literature. By now it includes almost the whole of what is truly alive in our culture.” This was a very audacious start to the course and immediately took my full attention. This reading from Clement Greenberg’s book made us think largely on how we should question every aspect of modernism and how we should never discount other peoples thoughts on art, but rather to try and understand them. It told us of how we should always look at art from different perspectives, to dissect every piece to get a full and thorough understanding of it. After reading a small section of this book we were then attended Dr Jon Clarkson’s seminar where we were asked several mind provoking questions such as ‘If you hang an unprimed canvas on a wall, is it a painting?’ and ‘Does every medium have unique properties? Are these the most important things about it?’. These puzzled me, and after reading the seminar text I was very hesitant in answering these quite simple questions which seemed to be aimed purely at personal opinion. I therefore listened carefully to others answer these questions and found that there was no right or wrong answer but rather hundreds and thousands of different opinions which seemed rather irritating as there was never going to be any closure to the question. This lecture opened my eyes to Modernist art and how it is regularly interpreted when glanced upon but how its true purposed and meaning is exposed when carefully studied.

After a mind provoking first lecture with Dr Jon Clarkson I was looking forward to the second week which was aimed purely on Pop Art, once again we were given a seminar text; this time by Lawrence Alloway, Artists as Consumers (1961). This text by Lawrence Alloway also talks about how Verbal and Visual Communications have changed and how the narrow minded people of yesterday are finding acceptance to new technology hard, I believe this emphasises the fact that to fully understand Modernism you must be open minded and ready to engage in things which you do not fully agree with or fully understand. Before engaging in this weeks seminar we were also told to read Claes Oldenburg, I am for an art… (1961). This text begins with a strong opinionated statement by Oldenburg which reads “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.” this statement in enormous from Oldenburg and tells us how he believes that modernism art has that “political-erotical-mystical” aspect and is not all as it seems, he then refers to that which is displayed in a museum which lacks and excitement and mystery and he is possibly claiming that it is therefore pointless. This text then goes on to say everything Oldenburg believes art should be and how he supports the modernist view he does this through emphasising several point, he repeats the phrase “I am for an art” to fully get his point across. I therefore approached this seminar expecting a narrow view on what Pop Art was but i couldn’t have been more wrong. As we looked through the several different examples of Pop Art i saw the diversity and excitement conveyed by these works which was largely spoken about in the texts by Alloway and Oldenburg. We were then once again tackled by several questions which would once again test us, such as ‘Does culture have a shape? Is it a pyramid or a continuum, or some other shape?’, this was once again very strange and played on my mind for a duration without a clear answer developing which I found difficult. We were then asked ‘What are the themes in contemporary Pop Art?’ which was the first question which actually consisted of a clear answer, we were then asked ‘How would you compare window shopping and visiting a gallery?’ which once again laid solely on opinion. This was therefore a productive session although once again fairly unclear.

In our third week of After Modernism I was unfortunately unable to attend but was able to read the seminar texts left for us. The first was by George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifesto, (1963) this text consisted of his manifesto which told us the the several meanings it held, as well as his notes on the subject.The second being Dick Higgins, Fluxus: Theory & Reception (1998) in t his text Higgins immediately states that he has not written this to explain the meaning of Fluxus but rather to expand on our knowledge on it. Higgins says that Fluxus “was (and is)” A series designed by Maciunas, a name given to their group of artists and the work produced by this group. He then goes on to give points which he says sums up this part of the history. This is a very strange concept although slightly grasping its relevance I find it quite strange.

On the 18th of February we were faced with our fourth week of constellation which was about Minimalism. In this lecture we were faced with several questions such as ‘Why was minimalism seen as an alternative to Greenberg’s ideas about Modernism?’ and ‘Is minimal art meaningless?’ this was once again very provocative. In this seminar Dr Clarkson showed several variation of two and three dimensional minimalist art which I found strange that it was even considered art due to it being so plain and simple. This was a strange session as I couldn’t overcome my opinion in that this art was completely pointless to even be considered as art.

In our fifth week of constellation we embarked on a trip to London where we would be visiting the Tate Modern gallery. Here we were given several seminars by Dr Clarkson, in these seminars we were asked several mind teasing questions which made us look at the art more carefully. Dr Clarkson asked us what we believed the message of the art was, why they were produced and what the artist was influenced and inspired by. This was very interesting as we were able to see these pieces first hand and could therefore get a stronger feel for the pieces. Personally I think it was very insightful.

After already having five sessions, we found ourselves looking at Conceptualism for our sixth week this art was extremely strange and seemed to be produced purely to manipulate and confuse the mind, this therefore was different for every individual and everyone saw different things in each piece. This was therefore very strange but was definitely an eye opener at the several variations of Modernist art available.

On the seventh week I unfortunately couldn’t attend the seminar due to illness but found from the seminar reading which was Carol Duncan, The Art Museum as Ritual, (1995). In this text by Duncan she discussed how the museums aesthetics are used to inspire the viewer, how installations “help structure the museum”. Duncan also goes on to say how the museum should be displayed properly to have the greatest effect on the viewer. Although unfortunately I was unable to attend this has given me a grasp of what this seminar would have consisted of and how this is important in understanding as maybe some of the art is simple but it is complex when viewed in the museum.

After several sessions of After Modernist constellation we came to our last seminar where Dr Jon Clarkson began by re-caping what we had already learnt. We then went on to look at site-specific and land art, this effectively continued from what the seminar text I read from the seventh week. This therefore once again emphasised arrangement, it also taught us how a specific site added to the artwork and made it more relevant and powerful.

Over the last eight sessions I was enlightened on After Modernism and have learnt a lot about the topic. I found Dr Jon Clarkson very insightful and thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. I have also found that it has changed my thinking on several things and I am now more open minded whilst looking at modernist art.

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