“‘Coefficients of friction’ of function, raw material and technique…”

A quote from Edgar Wind’s essay on how Aby Warburg’s library aims to “cater” for problems generated by art history. The piece was written in the 1930’s and addresses the legacy of Riegl and Wölfflin, but—for me—it’s the point right at the end that caught my attention, Wind naturally applying an engineering concept to the interplay of forces necessary for the production of cultural objects.

If we consider the works of Alois Riegl and of Heinrich Wölfflin … we see that, despite differences in detail, they are both informed by a polemical concern for the autonomy of art history, by a desire to break it free from the history of civilization and thus to break with the tradition associate with the name of Jacob Burckhardt. I will try briefly to summarize the forces behind this struggle and their consequences for the methodology of the subject.

3. The antithesis of form and matter thus finds its logical counterpart in the theory of an autonomous development of art, which views the entire process exclusively in terms of form, assuming the latter to be the constant factor at every stage of history, irrespective of differences both of technical production and of expression. This has both positive and negative consequences: it involves treating the various genres of art as parallel with each other—for, as far as the development of form is concerned, no one genre should be any less important than another; it also involves levelling out the differences between them—for no one genre can tell us anything that is not already contained in the others. In this way we attain, not a history of art, which traces the origin and fate of monuments as bearers of siginificant form, but, as in Riegl, a history of the autonomous formal impulse (Kunstwollen), which isolates the element of form from that of meaning, but nevertheless presents change in form in terms of a dialectical development in time—an exact counterpart of Wölfflin’s history of vision (Of course, this conceptual scheme is quite different from Wölfflin’s. There is no simple division of form and content, but a complex relationship of dynamic interaction between a conscious and autonomous ‘formal impulse’ and the ‘coefficients of friction’ of function, raw material, and technique.…)*

  • Wind, Edgar (1930). ‘Warburg’s Concept of Kunstwissenschaft and its Meaning for Aesthetics’ from The Eloquence of Symbols: Studies in Hamisi Art (1983). Oxford: OUP.

Diploma course results

The results for the postgraduate diploma have arrived (well, they arrived last week, but I’ve not been in a writing mood recently).

Here they are, broken down into the separate courses that comprised the diploma:

  • Framing Art: Museums, Galleries, Exhibitions: 70 (pass)
  • Core course: Histories of Art: 71 (pass)
  • Philosophy and… : 60 (pass)

So, I passed!

I’m slightly disappointed by the Philosophy mark, as it’s lower than the mark I was given for my previous essay. Although I knew I was not very good at philosophy at this stage, I felt that my pieces displayed an inherent ability that could be developed over time. And I think I should have been rewarded for this aspect of the work. Then again, perhaps I was being rewarded and I have much further to develop than I thought!

Oh well, the important thing is that I passed, for which I’m very pleased. Now onto the MA!

SEMINAR—Framing Art—Institutional Critique

Today I made a short presentation to the Framing Art course that I’m on, based around two texts linked to the practice of Institutional Critique, one by Daniel Buren1 and one by Adrian Piper2. The question to which this is the response was:

During the seminar, students will give a short presentation of their chosen artists’ writings. This analysis must not give an overview of all the arguments contained in the two texts, it must instead be based on a single comparable argument extracted from each text and presented within a contextual framework.

The presentations must concentrate on how your chosen artist has addressed the museum.

I’ve posted the notes from which I did the talk, as well as a recording.3.

I didn’t realise I said ‘erm’ quite so much. How embarrassing. I’ve asked about presentation coaching so hopefully I will be able to improve on this.

  1. Buren, D. (1971). Function of the Museum. In McShine, K. ed., The Museum as Muse, Artists Reflect. New York: MOMA, 1999.
  2. Piper, A. (1980). Some Thoughts on the Political Character of This Situation. In McShine, K. ed., The Museum as Muse, Artists Reflect. New York: MOMA, 1999.
  3. Every few minutes you’ll hear the hard drive of the iPod spin up and down again. Although noisy, it’s still possible to hear what I’m saying.

Defecating Dogs in Dutch Paintings

At the risk of seeming crass, I noticed two paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery which included fairly prominent images of dogs defecating.

One was in Rembrandt & Co: Dealing in Masterpieces, the current temporary exhibition at the Gallery and the second was in the permanent collection. It seems a quite bizarre subject to include in a painting. What was the artist trying to say with these dogs? What purpose did they serve?

Looking into the matter further, defecating dogs seem to be a minor theme in Dutch art of Rembrandt’s period. The painting in the Collection is one I mentioned in my previous post as having caught my eye (for a different reason) – Adam Pynacker’s Landscape with Sportsmen and Game.

The catalogue makes no comment on the meaning of the dog, but states that:

The defecating dog seems to derive from the work of Ludolf de Jongh (R.E. Fleischer, Ludolf de Jongh, Doornspijk, 1989, p.57 and fig.48).

Works by Ludolf de Jongh (1616-1679) are present in the Getty Collection and the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. An example of de Jongh’s work with said dogs can be seen here.

In the Rembrandt exhibition the relevant piece is number 43 – The Good Samaritan which apparently is in the Wallace Collection, although they only illustrate an etching taken from the painting on their website. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has another state of the etching. Here the presence of the dog is described in this way:

Among Rembrandt’s additions here to the largely empty foreground that appeared in the painting is the defecating dog that adds a note of everyday reality to the biblical scene.

Robert Hughes, in the Guardian, echoes this interpretation:

Sometimes Rembrandt’s subjects are too connected to the commonplace world for everyone to like them. There is an extremely vulgar side to Rembrandt. This in itself is no surprise, given the bawdry for which 17th-century Holland was notable. It may well be that giving vent to it was Rembrandt’s compensation for the anal obsession with neatness and cleanness that characterised Dutch domestic life. He did etchings of a man peeing and a woman defecating. A dog, tensely extruding a large turd from its backside, appears in the foreground of The Good Samaritan. . . .

There is apparently an essay by Goethe about The Good Samaritan which also talks in detail about the dog. I’m trying to source this text and will update this post when I’ve read it.

So, the dogs bring an element of real life to these idealised scenes and epic activities. I also read somewhere that they can be included to pass comment on the commissioner of the painting, but now cannot find that reference, so again, I’ll update this post when I find that information.