Monday, January 15, 2007

Men at work and art teaching

This photo of an electric company worker and the previous two photos (one of a car repair shop and one of lifeguards) have a common theme of "Men at work", which is not entirely accidental. The theme reminds me of a secondary school art exam more than 40 years ago. Students were required to make a painting, on terrible paper and with terrible paints, on this very theme. I don’t believe any of the students had ever done a figure drawing from life. Whatever art teaching we had may have done no harm but I don’t think it did much good either. In fact I don’t remember being taught anything at all, though I could be wrong on that point. In my memory, art classes were for daubing around with no very clear purpose, though I remember liking art a good deal. So how would a class of 16-year-olds, with no knowledge, no facts, no experience, have tackled the theme of "Men at work" out of their heads? I know my own effort was pathetic. I did a variation of a picture that the teacher had praised in the past, containing a dramatic rearing horse. The trouble was, its relation to the theme of "Men at work" was tenuous at best.

Art was a Cinderella subject in my school at that time. The other subjects were fine. We even got to blow glass in the Physics lab. I often wonder about art teaching now, especially in secondary school. How does it differ from the bad old days?


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Denis Dutton on Kitsch

In The Dictionary of Art, Macmillan, London, 1998:

Kitsch (from German, pretentious trash, kitschen, to smear, verkitschen, to make cheaply, to cheapen).

“Kitsch” has sometimes been used (for example, by Harold Rosenberg) to refer to virtually any form of popular art or entertainment, especially when sentimental. But though much popular art is cheap and crude, it is at least direct and unpretentious. On the other hand, a persistent theme in the history of the usage of “kitsch,” going back to the word’s mid-European origins, is pretentiousness, especially in reference to objects that ape whatever is conventionally viewed as high art. As Arnold Hauser has remarked, kitsch differs from merely popular forms in its insistence on being taken seriously as art. Kitsch can thus be defined as a kind of pseudo-art which has an essential attribute of borrowing or parasitism, and whose essential function is to flatter, soothe, and reassure its viewer and consumer.

Read the whole article