FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
February 12, 2009
Your test will be in this room on March 6, the first day of the second term. Today at the
end of class we hand in take home study questions. There are four questions, to help you
structure your review, reading up the materials, focusing on the videos in preparation for
The questions asks you to define a concept from the course and discuss it with reference
to what you saw in the videos that you watched. There is a very clear format for each of
the questions. We want that format consistently in answering the questions. You are
doing the same thing four times. What is the relationship power-culture, you write about
that, then you talk about how you can illustrate that relationship with reference to one of
the artist’s works we covered in the course. This is the structure we give you.
We’ve given you a framework for answering the questions, you take the kit home, set it
up for yourself and then live in it. It’s not about torturing yourselves, I don’t know how to
write, etc. You follow the format with reference to the materials in the course. You could
be a brilliant student with all kinds of interesting things to say, know how to write, be a
poet and have great ideas, we will not give you an A if you don’t follow the format .
We give you an A if you have great ideas and you use the structure on the test to put them
forth. The medium is the message here. As much as the content of what you say is
important, it’s also how you do it. We’re looking for some structural integrity, for
answers that hold together well.
On March 6 you come here having prepared the four questions for yourself, two of those
questions will be required of you on the test. Lengthwise we’re giving you one exam
book per each question, you use it to outline the question first, I would recommend that.
You can only use one booklet, single spaced. You will fill up between 3 and 4 pages for
each question. Before March 6 you need to have written out the four questions using 3 to
4 sheets, using every line.
This exam is worth 20% of your final grade, each question is worth 10 marks and it will
be marked out of 10. Can you bring in preparatory notes the day of the exam? No, this is
a no book, no notes exam. You have to be able to write the two answers from memory.
You have two hours for the exam. We will roughly have two hours, but I don’t want
people freaking out. If at the end of the test you go 10, 15 minutes over it’s fine. We have
this room booked until 2:30. I don’t want you to feel like you are having a nervous
breakdown because you can’t finish the test in 2 hours.
1 ---how do we cite the artists?
Know the artist’s names and what they did, also that they are from Art:21. Not a lot of
pressure on citation right now. At the beginning of each question give yourself one page
to outline the answer. You can leave when you’re done. Some classes have a policy that
you need to stay put till the very end, not us. The faster you get here and the more
focused you are, the faster we will be able to start.
Make sure everything is closed in a bag of some kind and is not out on display. There are
no tutorials on March 6. Please bring York IDs. Use pen, bring a pen. On the exam
booklet just cross out anything that’s not the right answer. Don’t use white-out. I’ve seen
students really wasting their time in an exam crossing things to make them look pretty.
It’s a waste of your creative energy to be whiting out.
Video presentation: Mark Bradford
• I only take the ads that have to do with businesses. After the riot so many building
were burned, they put these fences and people put their billboards on.
• “Immigration papers in 30 days.” How is that even possible! I glue all down
around it, I take the billboard paper, I let it dry, I sand it. The language is
sometimes all gone. It’s just information in the city. My practice is both collage
and decollage. I take the text away and add it right back.
• My making background goes back to my childhood. I was making the signs of
prices for my mother’s hair salons. I did signage, text.
• In Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, I was using materials that had memory, a lot of end
papers from hair salons, used when you are doing the perm. I was also thinking a
lot about music at the time, music fragments.
• Black Venus was one of the map like paintings. I am interested in map making
and the history of abstraction. Maps as abstract grids. Bowman Hills is where rich
black people in LA live.
• I love soccer and I wanted to craft my own imaginary league of players. The
largest piece to date that I made. The first time I put a painting and a sculpture in
proximity, I was trying to activate a third thing.
• Los Moscos is about me dealing with issues of abstraction, modernism, it really
exploded for me. People say they're collages, I think they’re paintings.
• At Cal Arts I discovered bodies of ideas. I never knew about Foucault, bell hooks,
Cornell West, but I have always lived with people who lived those kinds of lives.
2 I told my mother, “you’re postmodern,” she said, “that’s sweet!” It was the
writings that got me really, really enthusiastic.
• In this corridor I want to create the feel of being outdoors and indoors at the same
time. As you walk in one side is covered with information. On the other you have
a reflection of these commercial posters, a fun house effect.
• As you move down this corridor you come into a smaller room and you hear
music, you hear people celebrating. There are two videos on opposite walls. One
video is of Martin Luther King’s day parade in LA. You see people who are
remembering this political figure.
• The other is of a marketplace in Egypt. This night market is only for Muslims.
They are on opposing walls but they are facing each other. Certain details you
start to see over and over again, such as the policing of the parade. The police
were just in any frame. To see so many black bodies in the same space is always
political. Always a political condition.
• On the Cairo side there was no policing. These were just families enjoying
themselves. But the Muslim body has become so politically charged that the scene
is charged. They’re both politicized sites. At the same time they are about
celebration as well.
• My art practice is very detailed, labor intensive. That is a way of slowing myself
down so I can hear myself think. A quieter voice has sometimes a more
interesting idea if I can get to it.
• “Practice” was a video that I did a couple of years ago. I wanted to do a video of
me playing basket. But I wanted to create a struggle, so I added this billowing
skirt about 4 feet around me on an incredibly windy day. It created this billowing
of the wind that would catch underneath the dress. It became almost like I was
floating. I would fall and get up, make the shots.
• It was about roadblocks on every level, cultural, gender, racial. Regardless that
they’re there, it is important to continue. You keep going. I made the shot. I
always make the shot. Sometimes it takes me a littlie longer to get there, but I
always make the shot.
Almost everything in the lecture last week and this week is review. I don’t want you to be
under the impression that you can get all the information you need from these two
lectures. They are simply guidelines for how to review the material that we covered in the
first 7-8 weeks of the course. I’m not giving you a magic bullet in this lecture for the test.
Last time we talked about language. In this course I try to get you to understand
something that you took for granted before you got here, which is language and the
pervasiveness of language around you. How you can begin to think about everything that
3 is around you as part of a language. In Mark Bradford’s work we saw an artist who
samples the visual language of the street or the city.
We see him recovering material from the urban environment and thinking very deeply
about that material. He used urban imagery as a kind of language, he reads the city as a
story and then he samples what he finds and puts in together in new representations, new
stories. The video then goes on to show you different kinds of languages he is borrowing
from. What are the languages that these artists are borrowing from in their work? What
images are they sampling to create new kinds of imagery?
Think about DJs sampling, how contemporary musicians borrow from different sources.
Much of what we call modern art work uses that technique, back to Picasso who stole it
from African artists. European artists have stolen a lot from African art.
I’ve also emphasized the idea that language is not simply graphic, it’s also social.
Language is a medium through which we live out our relationships to each other.
Communicating words, writing words, creating images, music, performances, all of these
things are necessarily social and cultural.
Through all of these different media we become connected to each other in various kinds
of communities of belief. Language partly connects us in communities. We saw that in
Flamenco and Triumph of the Will. That material is not on the test. We saw communities
of belief and how ideas about community can be a real problem. Language is something
through which we both connect with others and also a medium that imposes violence and
separation between people.
We use language to divide ourselves up and say, this is us and those people over there are
different from us. We create these differences which are at times deeply disturbing and
problematic. The idea that language is something that contains this relationship between
power and culture. Culture is always about power. Power and culture are always
interrelated, no matter how innocent something appears to be, for someone it’s always
Language for artists is very dynamic and powerful. We have a lot of stuff to work with in
our creative work. We sometimes think language is a window or a reflection. Language is
sometimes thought to be a tool that reveals the truth, the reality. This is a very
problematic idea because it creates a separation between the person creating the image
and another person receiving the message. It sets up an opposition between the text and
We want to understand in this course that images and sounds and spaces as always
cultural events that are connected. You are part of the image. You may be looking at a
magazine on the subway, see the image of Britney Spears, what you see in it depends on
where you come from. You can see a certain form of femininity, racialized femininity,
sexual identity. As soon as we look at the image as an event for the viewer, it becomes
very complex. We have to understand how culture shapes our experience. All of the
4 artists we’ve looked at are very good examples of people who reflect on this relationship
between culture and identity.
Museums are notorious places where we can see this separation happening. In a natural
history museum in the past you would see animals displayed in cases, this imagery
creates an idea that animals and nature are objects for us to consume. A very violent kind
of thing. To take something as beautiful as that, kill it and stick it in a box for people to
look at. It’s also an example of how we think about language. The language museums use
to display objects, all kinds of different things.
The idea that if we study museums we can understand a lot about how we think about
aesthetics, what beauty is, what value is, the value of things in the world. We can also
think in the example of nature about how we turn nature itself into something that is
Nature becomes something that we look at, we’re not connected to it, it’s just there, we
turn it into some kind of image. When we go to Walt Disney movies, animals are turned
into cute things for our entertainment. The idea that museums are places that historically
have created our ideas about beauty in art. Museums have universalized a certain idea
about beauty. Monet is supposedly a fantastic artist. Whether he is or not is an open
ended question but a lot of institutions have pushed the idea that he is a great artist.
I personally think 5% of Monet is great, the rest is not. There are people who have
formulated the idea that Monet is a great artist and we think Monet is a great artist as part
of this process. Aesthetics themselves have a history.
This information on Kant is in Freeland. You can make reference to that section in
Freeland. Kant is a very important modern philosopher. He thought aesthetics was
something so given that you could create an aesthetic system, a system of ideas. Our
ideas of beauty are not just given, we said previously. We can’t say, Monet is beautiful
just because he’s beautiful. All these ideas about aesthetics are not universal, they came
from somewhere. These ideas are part due to thinkers from the Enlightenment.
The idea that beauty is universal comes from a certain brand of European philosophy.
Kant thought aesthetic could be rationally codified and gridded out. In chemistry there is
a table of chemical elements. Kant thought we can identify various elements of things we
can say are beautiful and there is universal truth they are beautiful.
Kant also had an idea that not only was there a universal table of aesthetics and beauty,
but that this could create a disciplined viewer, a trained eye, a connoisseur. People who
know what the grid is and know who is in and out of this set of aesthetic principles. We
come to art school with a certain amount of this table in our heads.
We’ve all learned that Monet is a great painter. I am trying to run some interference on
this kind of universal aesthetics. Freeland says that the problem with this Kantian set of
ideas is that it creates a certain kind of viewer, of reception of art. It’s the same one used
in museums traditionally. She calls it distanced enjoyment. It’s an idea about art and
5 about the experience of art which sets up an opposition between the image and the person
receiving the image.
Museums create a certain kind of experience of art. When you go to Paris you must go to
the Louvre, a temple of high art, the pinnacle of what we call art. You can feel this
vortex, something sucking you in a certain direction, people running to see the Mona
Lisa. Not looking at anything else. Then you get