Mary Anne Francis: In Search of the author...in the art school

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Lecture notes: Chelsea, February 9, 2010.

Keywords: authorship, non-human authors, early British art school, taste, barbarous language


We start with an exercise. Instructions: write down words, thoughts, impression you have of the word 'the author':
for example: (1) voice (2) situated (3) POV (4) inscription...

  • Today's lecture will consider the question: What are the conditions in which art school authorship takes place? It will gesture towards a theory of art-school discourse (MA's next lecture will explore: What are the implications of this theory of discourse? What is its value for the community and beyond?)
  • 'The author' - We could say: this term designates the circumstances in which things are made - conditions of production (Marxist expression)...'the author' is a way into the production of things...Tendency to think of the author as a person but this is problematic...We might think of the author as inanimate...
  • The terrain of authorship turns a lot on its head...notions of cause and effect become inverted...

SLIDE: Charles the First - "I write for Christ" - medium for the words of God - concept of the "amanuensis" literally means - "the slave at hand" - scribe - split idea of authoring...God as the author...human conduit...

SLIDE: Early example of telephone art: Moholy-Nagy telephone paintings or EM3 (1922) - instead of furnishing sketches, the work was done over the telephone...and this gave rise to the development of telephone art...God and scribe...get the reversal in a secular age...the artist becomes God and the producers become the humble writers.

SLIDE: Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons: Why do we still persist in referring to the named individual, Damien Hirst, as the author of the work? What are the other things authoring artwork...Nudging towards Luigi Pirandello's Six characters in search of an author...Our interest in human beings being authors relates to humanism...evolution...technology...the term "authorship" is more useful than "the author"...Aren't authors usually associated with writing? Authors and books? Why is the term author better than artist? The annoying thing about "artist" is that you can't turn it into an abstract noun - there's not "artistship" - perhaps this shows that art is even more associated with human beings than writing is...It's about asking: What really makes our work? What are the factors?

SLIDE: MC Escher - Drawing Hands - Lithograph (1948) - starts to address questions around art and looking at how it gets produced...art doing theory...

SLIDE: Art can give us clues to its own making - Marcel Duchamp's Three Stoppages Etalon (1913-14) - created by dropping three threads from a height equal to their length...Preserved meter; preserved chance...Used these stoppages to make The Large Glass - standard stoppages - talks about "chance" as author - but MD is bit disingenuous... Trying to purge the artist as intention - looking at other aspects, including the unconscious.

SLIDE: Angela Bulloch, Pushmepullme Drawing Machine (1991) - the machine responded to viewers' presence..but you were unsure what in particular produced the line (gender, movemment, heat) see also Keith Tyson's - The Art Machine...How far does the artist go? How much control do you have? How much control can you give away?

SLIDE: Mario Merz, Igloo - Fibonacci series...mathematical series - pattern of numerical addition...proven to often exist in nature. Relates to letting maths play a key role in making your work.

SLIDE: Morris Louis, Alpha-Pi - way the paint drips determined by whole host of conditions - viscosity, angle of the canvas...

SLIDE: Fiona Rae, her works reference previous artworks - classic example: Manet refers back to Titan, Koons refers back to Duchamp - art history can also be an author of sorts.

SLIDE: Damien Hirst - outsources and uses machines.

For MA a key question is this: How do artworks refer to their own authorship? Also: What does art tell us about authorship? What modes are available to us in the art school? What does being in an art school do for us to access modes of authorship? Particular history...particular outcomes...

Consider some cultural institutions: life drawing and also, the studio space as a particular kind of context...<bt>

Brief history of the early art school:
First government sponsored art school was established in 1837 - Tension between: fine art and the ambition of the artist on the one hand (non-useful production of objects) and the training of artisans on the other hand.

  • Distinction between training and vocation = riven with class snobbery...Distinction between technical education and art education
  • Design = manufacturing - dominant position "If you're going to train people to make pots, they don't need to draw from life.)
  • Art = high cultural practice on the other...distinction between technical education and art education.
  • William Bryce (?) - argued one shouldn't give artisans ambition...Keep people in their place, don't give them horizons. So not allowed to draw from life - indentured to a particular kind of training...Factory-like approach to what drawing might be...
  • Benjamin Hadden - lobbied parliament for an "art school"...believed everyone should have access to life drawing...emphasis on knowledge (not just skill) example/context of social mobility in Victorian culture...Relates to what it is to be a human, human rights...potential...

All of this is to argue that "the lecture" was fought for as part of a university education in art schools:

  • Lectures in art school - previously known as "contextual studies"..."critical studies"...the theory strand in art and design allows us to start thinking about the content of our work...understand what we've done and what we're going to do...tool for reflection...Theory concerns itself with the content of art's discourse...allows us to think about what's in an artwork...what it does...
  • Theory and practice are symbiotic...theory informs practice informs theory informs practice...The art school project is a coherent one...
  • But...if we start thinking: How do we hear theory, how do we see practice? Major disjunction involved in different languaging...How do you speak to someone when you don't speak the same language? Quinn's argument for barbarousness....If we listen to language of art and design, we hear it being barbarous...but at another level, it isn't...
  • Art and design = slightly distinguished because final result doesn't necessarily go back into words - scientists, for example, don't present you with experiments - they present you with reports on their experiments...
  • How did this barbarous situation come about? The result of a failure: 19th bourgeoisie wanted a revolution in pedagogy...they wanted the UK to be dominant in manufacturing...Engilsh designs weren't English but French (French education/culture believed to be superior; French government was thinking about copyright - No copyright in the UK.) So England needed to improve its design if she was to rule the waves - colonialism). Also about maximizing profits. So the decision was taken to train people domestically...
  • Explosion of everyday items...Industrial Revolution...moral panic around taste...and the bourgeoisie got very concerned about taste...and the wrong kind of taste being encouraged by some objects.
  • The art school seemed to be the answer. The Normal School of Design - est. by the Board of Trade - clear idea about economic investment...Located in a building that had previously housed the RA. (There were academies before the art school.) Concurrently - V&A installed: Victorian explosion and concern with mass sensbility.
  • Crux of Quinn's argument - there's a desire to police mass sensibility....1852 - Henry Cole's held his disastrous exhibition - "The principles of correct taste" - (knicknamed) "The chamber of horrors" staged an object lesson in bad taste. The exercise backfired...And because this was such a failure...we are compelled to remember the failing of this critical moment in the inertia of the deadlock of theory and practice...Quinn comes at this from a psychoanalytic perspective - you don't try to solve the problem, you try to understand what gave rise to the problem in the first instance.

Return to Talks * Walks and Talks * Authorship

Return to Talks * Walks and Talks * Authorship