August 30, 2006

Theory NOW: A Continual Discourse

I am initiating a little experiment with my Theory NOW blog to announce regular weekly discussions on specific topics of art theory, along with suggested readings for further investigation. My intention is to provide readers of this blog a better grounding for discussions on our topics, as well as outside sources. Since you are always welcome to join the discourse, I hope this weekly discussion will perhaps offer you a sense of intimacy within the framework of “virtual reality.”

For those of you who have the desire to do additional reading, I will provide a list of readings from the text that I ask my Corcoran College of Art + Design students to read. Of course, I would love for you to attend the Theory NOW course which I teach at Corcoran for you to gain the full experience of a structured course. This is not, of course, in any way an attempt to duplicate the “Corcoran experience” or to attempt to offer a virtual class, but to establish a more directed approach to the ideas envisioned for this blog as a “discursive site about art theory.”

I will ask that those readers who wish to participate in this weekly discourse become fully “registered users” of this blog. At this point, I will not “monitor” discussions as we proceed in democratic fashion, self-governed by our intelligence, courtesy and "blog-iquette.”

Suggested Textbook: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, (Peter Selz, Kristine Stiles, editors), University of California Press, 1996.

Suggested readings for week of 01 September 2006: From Chapter 9: Marcel Duchamp’s The Creative Act, The Richard Mutt Case and Apropos of Readymades; PLUS
Benjamin Buchloh’s “Hanta├»/Villegl├ę and the Dialectics of Painting’s Dispersal” in Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry, MIT Press, 2000.

August 17, 2006

Discursive Practice and the Positivity of Knowledge



“In analysing a painting, one can reconstitute the latent discourse of the painter; one can try to recapture the murmur of his intentions, which are not transcribed into words, but into lines, surfaces, and colours; one can try to uncover the implicit philosophy that is supposed to form his view of the world. It is also possible to question science, or at least the opinions of the period, and to try to recognize to what extent they appear in the painter’s work. Archaeological analysis would have another aim: it would try to discover whether space, distance, depth, colour, light, proportions, volumes, and contours were not, at the period in question, considered, named, enunciated, and conceptualized in a discursive practice; and whether the knowledge that this discursive practice gives rise to was not embodied perhaps in theories and speculations, in forms of teaching and codes of practice, but also in processes, techniques, and even in the very gesture of the painter. It would not set out to show that the painting is a certain way of ‘meaning’ or ‘saying’ that is peculiar in that it dispenses with words. It would try to show that, at least in one of its dimensions, it is discursive practice that is embodied in techniques and effects. In this sense, the painting is not a pure vision that must then be transcribed into the materiality of space; nor is it a naked gesture whose silent and eternally empty meanings must be freed from subsequent interpretations. It is shot through – and independently of scientific knowledge (connaissance) and philosophical themes – with the positivity of a knowledge (savoir).”

- Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Pantheon, 1972, pp. 193-194.

Image: Notecard TN3 (Prequel) in studio; © Copyright 2006 by Mark Cameron Boyd. All Rights Reserved.

August 9, 2006

Meaning and Definition



If the recent memorial postings on this site have seemed a rather somber tone for summer months, this post may prove a remedy as I have escaped my suburban confines to a sandy seaboard and sense a renewed contemplative mood stirring as I gaze out at the flat Atlantic's horizon. . .

A young artist recently asked me to expand on the “meaning of a work of art” and whether the addition of a text or "explanation" would "enhance the interest or expose the mystery of the piece?”

These are legitimate questions and frequent readers of this blog, as well as my blogosphere sparring partners, doubtless realize that I consider these important if not essential issues to engage. Eschewing my usual citations and quotations from the entrusted sources, I shall simply address these two questions directly.

The meaning of a work of art is both relative to the sensibilities of the viewer and obscure to the artist who created it. Various techniques, strategies and theories have arisen to delay, distract or deny this, but the fact remains that a work of art will convey no consistent and “true” meaning to the multiplicity of viewers who will happen upon it during its exhibition life-span. To escape this dilemma, artists naturally drift into the “it-means-whatever-you-wish” mode, abandoning their responsibility for the continuation of a discourse that constructs the theoretical and rational support for the work. This is why I have previously written that ”the meaning of art is defined by the system.” The discursivity of that “system” facilitates “meaning” and, as such, is the generative factor in any putative meanings a work of art may represent.

The other question posed by this artist is a very personal one for me. Those familiar with my art are aware that my work “explores text as a language for painting, literally using my original writings about art as the subject.” Thus it is obvious that in my particular practice, text absolutely enhances the “interest” of the work because of the specificity of my process. However, this is where my own unique process diverges from traditional representation, because that process literally creates the form the work will take; there is no illusory image, no aesthetic “ordering of elements.” This way of making art is directly related to one’s own theoretical approach to a definition of what art is, or should be, and is not for everyone. Yet to add a textual “explanation” that “talks about the intention of the work” may also help to define one’s definition of art, and certainly assist in the purveyance of an active discourse about these ideas as mentioned above.

Above image: "What does this say?" (3rd state detail) Copyright 2006 by M. Cameron Boyd; on exhibit at DCAC's Wall Mountables until August 13, 2006.

August 5, 2006

In Memory: Arthur Lee (1945-2006)


Yeah, I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are
The greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight my dear


from "Alone Again Or" (1967)