#60. Tim Scott writes on Recognition and Abstract Sculpture

Julio Gonzalez, “Dancer Posing as a Daisy”, 1937

Happily, there has been a marked increase in Abcrit commentary on sculpture, largely due to Alan’s review of Gili’s exhibition and the responses to it; thank you Alan. Quite a few of the comments are of a general nature, as well as those on Gili’s individual works which, mostly, engendered the general ones. Amongst these, I noticed a recurring theme, that of what exactly creates the differences (of intention and perception) between work which is deemed ‘abstract’, and that which is ‘figurative’, but with abstract ‘qualities’, or abstract with ‘figurative’ qualities? In other words, at what point does a sculpture, which departs from the norms of the representation of appearances, become abstract? Does the recognition of the ‘likeness’ of forms in a sculpture to forms in the known visual world disqualify it from ‘abstraction’?

If we take, for example, a sculpture (an early one) by Caro and we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements; imitating industrial usage; but not being ‘used functionally’; but even that functionality can be said to exist in its holding up, joining etc.; does that recognition mean that the result is not truly abstract, i.e. not describing visually anything associated with the real world? Similarly, if we take, for example, a Gonzalez, the source of which clearly testifies to a beginning in figuration, but which manifests qualities of pure plastic invention in the handling and forming of the material, does that change the result to ‘abstraction’? In other words, there is a conundrum visually and as a consequence, perceptually, between the one sculpture, ‘figurative’ (recognisable elements), but reading as ‘abstraction’; and the other ‘abstract’, but reading as based on real recognisable elements.

Anthony Caro, “Sculpture Two”, 1962

Obviously, it is a truism that the vast majority of the world’s sculptures have been ‘figurative’, depending entirely on recognition for their effect; indeed, it would have been impossible for the sculptor to think otherwise (it would be devoid of ‘meaning’); his ‘job’ was the representation of recognisable elements of life and the world. However, it is equally clear from the history of sculpture that the interpretations of subject matter vary hugely in perception, style, method, raison d’être, and indeed purpose to such an extent, that to the modern mind, conditioned by the art of the last century or so, they may appear very often to have very little relationship to visual reality, to the point where they are actually ‘unrecognisable’. The modern taste for ‘primitive’ art forms in sculpture initiated by early twentieth century masters (Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi), gave an authentication to this sort of thinking, and African artefacts in particular became seen as an ‘alternative’ to the western view of sculpture, along with Asian, South American and other cultures. The realisation of this factor in historical sculpture has given huge intellectual support to the idea that recognition of any tangible relationship to appearances can be dispensed with, and the notion of ‘abstraction’ replace it. Indeed, critics and writers on art now frequently use the word to describe characteristics which, in origin, stem from recognisable sources but are seen as quasi independent factors of the work(s) in question, requiring an alternative definition. Thus, an alphabet of sculptural form emerged in the early twentieth century which, broadly speaking divides itself into ‘organic’ form (nature derived) and ‘technological ‘ form (man-made, industrial etc. derived).

Eduardo Chillida, “Dream Anvil X”, 1962

‘Organic’ form (ex: Laurens, Lipchitz, Arp, Moore et al) generally has its origins in Nature: hills, clouds, female form, waves etc., all suitably modified to defy any particular reference or origin, but importing into sculpture a continuing attachment to ‘life’. ‘Technological’ form is more to do with the actual material(s) from which the sculpture is being fabricated, and includes ‘new’ materials adding to or superseding the traditional stone, wood, clay and plaster. The importance of this approach in the hands of Picasso, the Russian Constructivists, and on to Picasso/Gonzalez and the use of iron / steel, gave the word ‘abstraction’ i.e. no nature reference, no recognition, a newly vital existence in that it did not always derive initially, from ‘natural’ sources, but mostly from ‘object’ ones or the ‘given’ forms of a material. The term ‘constructed’ came eventually to be used to describe this drive towards abstraction. In the late twenties and thirties, painters forged ahead on this front and produced much which was as radically abstract as anything that had yet been seen. It must be noted however, that sculptors lagged behind, staying content with the organic look or the initial efforts at construction, (deriving from Cubist ‘collage’); notably Picasso, who nonetheless often referred directly to recognisable sources, guitars, still lives etc. It must also be noted that none of the pioneering sculptors of the early to mid XXth C. referred to themselves as ‘abstract’ sculptors. Immediate ‘recognition’ of a sculptural subject was nonetheless not being seen anymore as essential, more incidental, and mostly fairly timid. Nevertheless, with the concept of ‘abstraction’ becoming more accepted and commonplace, it was the constructed work in steel that was to lead, eventually, to abstraction being seen as vital to the renewal of a sculptural ‘language’, though it too depended initially on ‘sources ‘(of course, every piece of sculpture must have some sort of source even if only imaginary); the work of Gonzalez on to David Smith and Chillida producing a ‘derived’ abstraction from recognisable subject matter, albeit heavily disguised. Constructed work claimed to have abandoned ‘Nature’ as a source and much emphasis was now laid at the door of materials and their characteristics, the material itself, especially of the manufactured kind, being considered as having a sculptural ‘message’ of its own in the shape of its ‘neutral’ form. ‘Concepts’ such as architectural form and detail, musical analogies, tools and practical forms were all now subject matter.

Henri Matisse, “Head of Jeanette”, 1911

Matisse, not included in the canon of ‘sculptors’, had as early as the first years of the XXth C. taken the reconstruction of sculptural form from nature several steps up the ladder towards ‘abstraction’. He, for example in the ‘Tetes de Jeannette’ series of five portrait heads, showed how, even within the limited range of traditional modelled clay, he could take the forms of his observation: eyes, nose, cheeks, ears, jaw etc., deconstruct them and re-form and re-invent them outside appearances, and arrive at a more radical sculptural assembly than had been seen before. It is noteworthy that Matisse, though not a sculptor as such, took his cue from Rodin, the most radical inventor of sculptural form in the previous generation,  and in my view surpassed the similar efforts of, say, a Laurens or a Lipchitz working later. Again, there is no evidence that Matisse thought of himself as being ‘abstract’, merely using sculpture to further his observational visual experiences. He certainly would not have acknowledged the concept of ‘lack of recognition’.

The years up to and around the mid XXth C. saw the most advanced sculptors (in ambition), increasingly experiment with ‘abstract’ form, i.e. form that had no immediate recognisable source, but nevertheless still clinging to its derivation from one sort or another of chosen subject matter. It is noteworthy that painters in this period had taken much more radical steps in this direction (abstraction). An exception must be the Spanish sculptor Chillida, who had pioneered a series of forged steel (and other material) sculptures, paralleled by Smith in America, that could be cited as an early essay in truly abstract sculpture (though both artists used drawings from ‘nature’ as source material); and Smith in particular often remained wedded to the ‘totemic’ monolith format of the figurative ‘statue’. As with Arp, for instance, with his ‘organic’ abstraction, it is difficult to completely empty the mind of referential recognition in their work (and indeed that was mostly not the intention).

Another aspect of this period in modern sculpture was the advent, probably stimulated initially by Cubist collage, of the Duchamp/Dada advocacy of the ‘objet trouve’, incorporated into a sculpture’s formulation, as a substitute for artist invented form. This idea got such a hold on sculptor’s imaginations that it resulted in a whole school of work. Unfortunately for abstraction, it encouraged even more recognition by the beholder than even the ‘abstracting from natural sources as subject’ had done. Even at a later date, into the latter half of the XXth C., the use of ‘found’ material for incorporation into a sculptural composition, melded into a recognisable, but out of context, format, held sway amongst many sculptors.

The attempts to achieve ‘abstraction’ in sculpture had always run into one of the basic and unalterable facts of the art form, that sculpture is a ‘thing’, formed from ‘things’, and that means that it associates directly with the ‘real’ world (of things), and, as a consequence, is instantly recognisable as a part of that world, and by definition, descriptive, realistic, not abstract.

Architecture, at least, has the advantage of domination, of being able to hold the observer in awe, and affect his vision and perceptions accordingly. Sculpture has no such advantage, but has to hold on tightly to its own little world created around it, and achieve domination through self conviction alone. So, if sculpture attempts to abolish reference, abolish its dependence on subject matter that induces recognition, but is made from the very stuff of recognition, material, that we ‘know’ in advance, what hope is there to achieve a totally abstract norm?

That hope began to become a crisis issue around the middle of the (XXth) century. It began to be realised that the old norms of sculpture’s raison d’être, figurative, semi-figurative, or a non-figurative (melange), would no longer suffice to make sculpture an imperative art form with its own unique area of expression. The word ‘sculpture’ began to be used more and more frequently to describe ‘art’ activities which, in fact, had little or nothing to do with true plastic expression; sculpture no longer had to be sculpture in any tradition or norm of sculptural or historical sense; ‘sculpture’ could be anything – and, of course, that anything would be instantly recognisable since there would be no attempt to disguise its references (in the thrall of plastic invention) or any other aspect of its making; its ‘meaning’ would be freely advertised by any means other than what it simply was. It seemed that the entire thrust of sculpture’s efforts at a renewal of its power as an art form since the beginning of the century was to be jettisoned in favour of a populist agenda. To counter this tide of miscomprehension of what sculpture was ‘for’, the stream of ‘development’ of XXth C. ‘abstraction’ began to look like the real alternative that sculpture needed if it was to become once more vital, distinct and separate from attempts to amalgamate it into a ‘populist’ culture.

The line of sculptural experiment from Rodin down to mid century still had only come up with partial solutions to the will to ‘abstract’; to eliminate recognition. There had been, as mentioned above, experiments in organic form; experiments in the use of ‘alternative’ materials (construction); experiments in a geometrical basis for compositional organisation (Constructivism); experiments with the distortion and realignment of forms in nature (Picasso, Matisse and many others); in other words a drive towards a goal (unclear) of non-recognition, non-reference in sculpture. All of these ‘experiments’ of forging a path onwards from referential norms were considered (to quote Gideon Welcker) ‘an evolution in time and space’; seen as constituting a new era in sculpture – modern sculpture’.

Unfortunately, bound as all sculpture is by the restraints of craft, manufacture, and position in space as an ‘object’, it was not able to manage the panache of modern painting; the great French school and eventually the Americans. Moreover sculpture did not have a recent radical tradition to look to; with the exception of Rodin; no Cezanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, no van Gogh, no Mondrian; in short no self confidence. By the fifties and sixties, sculptors who were seeking a way out for sculpture to assume a far more radical and inspired route to producing a ‘new’ sculpture free of the restraints of past assumptions, had realised that pictorial art had left them with much to be desired and to emulate. It was left to Caro to make use of this realisation to the full. He produced the series of steel sculptures (1960 +) which straightforwardly attempted to emulate the ‘abstractness’ of (American) painting, and by doing so set a course for new (British) sculpture which soon became international. Its essential characteristics are by now common knowledge, but as far as ‘recognition’ of its elements is concerned it posed questions about what sculpture ‘did’ in a more forceful manner than ever before. Its ‘pictorialism’ set out a broad format for a new sculpture – imaginary planes across which elements were free to connect and disconnect, controlled only by technical fixation – acceptance of ‘found’ material parts only conditioned by ‘graphic’ i.e. two dimensional cutting and shaping with minimum interference to rely entirely upon their (given) ‘relationships’ for effect in space – all of these things were had existed in various forms previously, but it was Caro who took them onto a higher plane.

Recognition, direct association with the real world, was minimised and consisted entirely of any direct experience the spectator may have had with the materials and elements used. The composition of these elements into a whole could produce metaphors for real things in the real world (often architectural), but this was seen as incidental and unintentional; they were not ‘subject matter’. The artist had produced an ‘object’ which appeared to relate to nothing of any specific nature except itself and the mind and originality of the artist. It relied entirely on its own reality to carry emotion. So here, after all the struggles, was a truly abstract sculptural format. But, like all solutions it started to pose as many sculptural questions as answers.

Tim Scott, “Song for Adele XI”, 1998

As Caro’s own work progressed and that of many other sculptors besides, it became apparent that the dependency on the fluid qualities of working in steel (mostly, the chosen material to pursue new goals) led frequently to a too rapid and ill considered acceptance of the ‘given’ nature of the manufactured forms of the material; indeed, these forms in themselves, prior to integration into the sculpture, often introduced, unwittingly, direct recognition and associative reference into the work. From the primitive experience of straight-forward steel parts from the mill, the ransacking of the steel yard for ‘form’ became commonplace, lowering the level of abstract attainment. Another bi-product, laying open to question the authenticity of sculptural feeling, was the tendency of the sculpture produced to wallow in a quasi two-dimensional space which ignored or overrode the physical feeling for three-dimensions, sculpture’s basic premise and raison d’être. Again, a tendency to emulate an architectural or engineering organisation of parts created a danger of sculptures starting to look as if they were part of some industrial landscape, rather than creating and occupying a world of their own making; a different sort of recognition, but recognition nonetheless. There is, and remains, the unfortunate impression from many abstract steel sculptures that they are practically indistinguishable from some designed industrial object, totally belying the idea and intention that their abstractness (which makes the impression possible) will overcome any sort of association.

We are now at the outset of the XXIst C., and sculpture has to move on from what it had achieved at the end on the nineties. It has become clear that though during the entire last century sculpture underwent huge and radical changes, aimed at shedding old norms and inventing new ones, its character as an art form totally dependent on the reality of its immutable ‘thereness’, has not changed and is indeed unchangeable if it is to remain something called ‘sculpture’, a totally distinct and, dare I say it, recognisable category of objects in the world of many categories.

Recognition for today’s ambitious new sculpture can no longer be ambiguous. It cannot be or remain neither this nor that or something in between. What is sculpture and what is not must be demonstrated in its entire fabrication; a total conviction in what it IS; not confusable with physical things of any other sort or type. What sculpture does must be distinguishable from what painting, or architecture or engineering or design do, if it is to retain any distinct identity or power in the translation of physical sensation and emotion to the human eye and mind. In order to do this fully and successfully, we are now at a point in developing means that cannot simply retrace old ground. NOT being able to recognise anything, no reference, no metaphor, no copying, no reading into, has become the imperative of creating new, original and relevant sculpture for today.
Does this imply that any sculpture made from now on that has any referential subject matter, any recognisable elements that refer to other things, any association with non sculptural contexts, anything that would bring back the past, is to be dismissed ? Of course not, it would indeed be foolhardy to assume the future as predictable, as a given. We can only deal intelligently with the present.

Clement Greenberg said that all other things being equal he would prefer that great art remained figurative. At the outset of today’s era, it would seem that, of historical necessity, we have totally reversed this perception, and that great art will be abstract, and that nothing within itself but its own uniqueness as a mover of the human spirit, be recognisable.

12 comments

  1. I so appreciated reading this that I find myself responding.

    “…sculpture has to move on from what it had achieved at the end on the nineties…”

    Having myself been alerted (converted, kinda) in 1999 to the possibility that a welding shop could be an art studio, I feel implicated in this statement. I was trained by concurrent apprenticeship and academic courses in this very tradition of Gonzalez, Smith, Caro and am no less amazed by their sculptural efforts and foresight today than at Y2K. I suppose at that time I believed sculpture was under an imperative to move forwards, and that were I to become a sculptor (which I did), I would be tasked with continuing this march of progress. Although I am still today amaking abstract-ish steel things the likes of which have never been seen before, I no longer believe it to be my responsibility, not even peripherally, to maintain a course of continuity with my predecessors for the purpose of taking their project to some new place. My relationship to them is instead contiguous–they are, with deep respect, my peers.

    I suspect that the sculpture emerging from this, my time period, no matter what terms of appreciation we might today agree then dictate as the most appropriate, will be looked back upon in the XXIInd C. as having gone somewhere we didn’t in the least mean for it to. Perhaps future sculptors will even say that the discipline had regressed in our time! So who am I, who are we to say what trajectory ours must be? And why take on that impossible accountability? Is the laying of a course for the future necessarily beneficial to sculpting a good thing in the here and now, for dealing one by one with “things made from things”.The historic examples of Rodin and Gonzalez, etc. would seem rather to support a studio effort that remains imminently responsive: simply curious about and singularly inventive with whatever materials and methods we have at hand.

    If it is truly art, we know so by feeling so. Relative to that, the pursuit of total abstraction as a value is the proverbial red herring (if not entirely fallacious). Those practitioners of the arts who have had such designs upon the course of their discipline can’t realistically be said in retrospect to have achieved what they intended, and if any one of their works stands up to our felt-as-art scrutiny today, it is exactly because it still appears to hold “…tightly to its own little world created around it, and achieve domination through self conviction alone.”

    This is the only project of modern/contemporary sculpture worth pursuing. As I see it.

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  2. “Does the recognition of the ‘likeness’ of forms in a sculpture to forms in the known visual world disqualify it from ‘abstraction’?”

    Not at all. As I’ve said many times now, ‘abstraction’ is a different thing entirely from ‘abstract art’. And as many have said before me, all art is an abstraction. Except, that is, proper abstract art, which is not abstracted from anything.

    “…of course, every piece of sculpture must have some sort of source even if only imaginary…”

    I don’t think so, not a source, no. But if it is to be of value, it must have content. But that is discovered, not uncovered. I don’t feel that I start from a ‘source’.

    “…[Matisse] in the ‘Tetes de Jeannette’ series of five portrait heads, showed how, even within the limited range of traditional modelled clay, he could take the forms of his observation: eyes, nose, cheeks, ears, jaw etc., deconstruct them and re-form and re-invent them outside appearances, and arrive at a more radical sculptural assembly than had been seen before.”

    I don’t think a head on a neck, no matter how abstracted, is a radical sculptural assembly. It’s a weird and abstracted head, but it retains the architecture of the literal head on a neck.

    “The attempts to achieve ‘abstraction’ in sculpture had always run into one of the basic and unalterable facts of the art form, that sculpture is a ‘thing’, formed from ‘things’, and that means that it associates directly with the ‘real’ world (of things), and, as a consequence, is instantly recognisable as a part of that world, and by definition, descriptive, realistic, not abstract.”

    Yes, but the thing is to embrace all that and still get to somewhere where the overwhelming illusion and intentionality to be at all costs abstract means it is no longer an object, a structure, a ‘thing’…

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  3. Very Good to have a sculptor of Tim Scotts undoubted quality making a plea for Abstraction.Ive just held a major exhibition of my own work ,all of which I deem to be thoroughly Abstract.I ve been surprised by the response,which I have witnessed ,as I was present for discussion throughout.It made me realise that I was attempting very specific communication with each picture.I should probably admit to a poetic or even operatic expression ,at least akin to music in effect if not in time.By and large visits ranged to about half an hour to look at 12 or so pictures,with the attention on each one,less than 5 minutes each.And yet the audience mostly espoused love of Abstraction,regular visits to London,all had seen David Anfams Abstract Expressionist show.My question is how specific is the communication I wished to make ,and did I only recognise it when the picture was finished?

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  4. Hello Tim … or Dear Prof. As you probably remember, I am one of your former Nuremberg students. I wanted to write a few words on this forum a long time ago, also greet You, but my poor English is still intimidating me. I would like You to know that reading your texts and discussions is exciting and probably my other colleagues are also looking at this page. I am very glad to see your new sculptures and texts. Of course I could argue with you and especially with Robin Greenwood about what sculpture is, what abstract art is, or art at all … to the end of the world 🙂 … but would that change the direction everyone wants to follow? No.
    Although I have decided to enter the experiences that you probably would not accept or call “populist”, part of my heart is still with “abstraction.” From this position, I wish you, Robin and the rest of the Brancasterians of all the best and continuous “progression” in the pursuit of your passion. I admire you all for your inner strength, and faith in art. I would like my students to have even a spark of such engagement in art as you have.

    P.S. It’s a shame that no one here knows the results of work of your students from Nuremberg period, especially great works of Sebastian Kuhn and Christian Ruckdeschel (it was so astonishing for me to compare Christian’s wooden sculpture „Couple” (http://www.christian-ruckdeschel.de/menue_frame_e.htm) with the Mark Skilton steel sculpture (for example: „Leguaan Legacy”).
    This is so intriguing to see, how ideas of sculpture, which ones spred from St. Martin`s evolve in different places and time.

    2. P.S. I like your new sculptures 🙂

    Best wishes
    Janusz

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Janusz, and the link to Ruckdeschel’s work which is well worth a look, especially the early work and “Couple”, as you suggest. Tim’s got computer problems at the moment, but I’ll make sure he gets your comment.

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  5. Patrick:
    Thanks for your comments. I think that one of the crucial points I was trying to get across is that I find ‘painting’ abstraction is not the same as ‘sculpture’ abstraction, and though they obviously share
    fundamental criteria (or attempts at defining such) as visual art forms, the ‘thingness’ of sculpture in the physical world is of a different perceptual world to that of painting.
    You ask “how specific was the communication I wished to make, and did I only realise it when it is finished ?”
    I can only answer that that is your problem; and in my experience, ‘finishing’ is the same as exhaustion (with the idea(s) that is).

    Hello Janusz !
    Please do continue to write to Abcrit, it will broaden the scope. I am glad that the students at Nurnberg felt that they were getting something positive. I think that the passion for abstraction (as I tried to explain in my post) amongst so many sculptors (and painters) here, is to do with our history. Of course, it is totally conceivable that others have other ‘histories’. Francisco Gazitua, for one, thinks very differently even though he was one of ‘us’ in England.
    The point, as always, is what constitutes great sculpture; how do we recognise it; how did it get there; and indeed how do WE get there ? I always said (if you remember) that the point of being a student was to go out there in order to find your own voice (but hopefully to have learned a bit about what it isn’t on the way). I’m sure Robin will be very pleased to debate with you, that is what Abcrit is for.

    Robin:
    1. “…all art is an abstraction…” One could reply, well in that case why try and make it abstract ? I would prefer to be clearer and say that the ’emotional effect’ created by (great) art is ‘abstract’ (or indescribable verbally), and that that ‘effect’ is what one is using the word abstract to define.
    2….The ‘source’ is your mind, your imagination, your experience of the physical world, your being; so even if you are emphatically denying having one, it is there nonetheless. You are YOU.
    3….Matisse; yes the ‘architecture’ is traditional, known; but it’s not what Rodin did with it; not what Picasso did with it (at the time he, Matisse, did it), and has that merit, in my view, of originality which’ i assume, is what we are all striving for through ‘abstraction’.
    4….I totally agree, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were to be achieved ? but unfortunately REALITY sets in and spoils the party; because you cannot make sculpture out of nothingness.

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  6. It is a mistake to assume (or insist) that abstraction in art requires dispensing with “recognition.” We use the words “recognize” and “recognition” in ways that are related to “discover” and “discovery”; art that does not provide an experience of discovery is not art at all. So I would say that a work of abstract art, to the extent it is successful as art, must involve recognition. But recognizing does not imply representation or figuration.

    When I see an ordinary common chair, I recognize the chair, but I do not see it “as” a chair. I don’t need to because it is obviously just a chair. On the other hand, while walking in the woods, I encounter a stump. If I am tired, and the stump is around 2 feet tall and sufficiently large in diameter to accommodate my rear end, I might see it as a chair. My recognition of a chair (in the middle of the forest where I did not expect to find a chair) involves discovery, seeing something as something. (Wittgenstein called this the “dawning of an aspect.”) My recognition of the stump as a chair involves imagination – I can imagine sitting on it, resting, taking a break, while having a drink of water, and so on.

    The experience of recognition seems essential to or part of taking an interest in something. Without recognition there is no discovery and without discovery there is no interest or value. When I encounter something I don’t recognize, I am unable to imagine possibilities surrounding it; it merely exists, inertly, as a literal object.

    In “Sculpture Two”, I recognize individual elements of the sculpture – structural components used in the construction industry like I-beams and rods. But in this particular configuration, those elements are seen apart from their ordinary deployments. (In their ordinary deployments, when they are doing their job, they aren’t seen at all, except by engineers and architects.) Our sense of discovery depends on our recognition of familiar elements, and no less in the fact that these elements are being used in ways that disrupt our ordinary expectations surrounding structural elements in industrial applications.

    We recognize something else as well. In “Sculpture Two”, the recognizable elements are deployed in ways that articulate what we might think of as the lines or forces that allow us to orient our perception in general – horizonality, verticality, reach and weight for example. Recognition is discovery; we recognize these lines or forces in the placement of industrial elements so as to deviate however slightly from the norm. Two of the vertical elements rise at a 90 degree angle from the floor but the others deviate from that norm in varying degrees. Similarly, we are brought to recognition of horizonality in the deviation of elements from the line of the horizon. All of these recognitions have to do with the fact of having a body; when standing (and looking), I orient myself and my perception of the world according to these norms and the range of deviance from them that is permitted to the human body while still retaining coherence in the world.

    The abstractness of Caro’s sculpture is intimately related to recognition of elements being used in a way that deviates from various norms because it is the deviation that allows us to recognize the norms themselves. As if the norms themselves are rendered abstract and in being rendered abstract they are recognized, or acknowledged.

    To say that something (e.g., a work of art) is abstract means nothing except in tension with something that is not abstract. (This is why the statement, “all art is an abstraction” is empty and meaningless.) What is not abstract is not something that is recognized, or which refers to something beyond itself, but what is literal and inert, and therefore is of no human interest or value.

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    1. Carl, re: Sculpture 2: I am not sure that I agree with the idea that ‘recognition’ is parallel to ‘discovery.’. I repeat: “…we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements, imitating industrial usage, but not being ‘used functionally’…” I don’t think we ‘discover’ – we know of them through past experience. I would suggest that in fact ‘discovery’ relates more to LACK of recognition, not less.
      I suppose we could discuss the philosophy of ‘chairness’ ad infinitum. Maybe, in the twenties,when people, who had been used to Victorian furniture,first saw a Rietveld chair, they possibly didn’t recognise it as one.
      I would say that the ‘deployment ‘ of the elements you mention in Sculpture 2 is primarily of an architectural nature rather than a sculptural one; and in good architecture one is always ‘aware’ of the structural elements (or should be). But Sculpture 2 is not architecture and therefore brings us back to ‘recognising’ what it actually is.
      My point is that it is only when one can FORGET the recognition that one can become aware of the ‘discovery’ of the sculpture as something original and ‘unrecognisable’.i.e. abstract.
      I agree that Robin’s remark needs further analysis; I started to suggest that ‘abstract’ is to do with sculptural ‘effect’, but the use of this word too re quires a much more thorough definition, .

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