Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 5

Charlemagne ruled "an empire stretching from Denmark to the Adriatic" and "amassed treasure from all over the known world" (Clark, 1969, p. 23).  "In the end", however, "it was the books that mattered- not only the texts but the illustrations and the bindings" (Clark, K., 1969 p. 23). Knowledge is power. 

Despite some of my reservations about the series and the book, its conservatism and sometimes dubious claims, it does show a great deal of insight into our European artistic and cultural past. It is quite enlightening. It is intelligent and sometimes witty. It is also important to remember that Clark's anxiety about the fragility of (Western) civilisation is not limited to cultural conservatives. 


Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view, London: BBC/J. Murray

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 4

"Charlemagne is the first great man of action to emerge from the darkness since the collapse of the Roman world" (Clark, 1969, p.18).

The clip chronicles the rise of the Frankish Kingdom after the defeat of the Moors in 732AD by Charles Martel. Without Martel's victory "Western Civilisation may never have existed" and without Charlemagne the great administrator and tireless campaigner  "we would never have had the notion of a United Europe" (Clark, 1969, p.18).

Clark, K., (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray

Monday, 28 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 3

Western civilisation according to Clark, was kept alive by holy men in places like Iona, the centre of Celtic Christianity. Here we see examples of the amazing designs of manuscripts and crosses produced by the Celtic Church, in what is known as the Irish style. It is not clear whether the manuscripts were designed in Iona or Lindisfarne.  The book of gospels with its “pure pages of ornament are almost the richest and most complicated pieces of abstract decoration ever produced”, and is Clark suggests “more sophisticated and refined than anything in Islamic art” (Clark, 1969 p.11). Clark does seem to generally ignore the contribution of Islamic art and science on Western European thought. It is worth remembering that in Victorian Britain Islamic and Celtic design seem to fuse in the arts and crafts.

With the Norseman on the move places like Iona became unsafe so the Abbott of Iona fled to Ireland. What we see from this chaos are clear differences between “Atlantic man” and the “Mediterranean man” and the new technical skills of the Viking’s journeys, which represent a new achievement of the western world” (Clark, 1969 p.14).  The symbol that distinguishes “Atlantic man” from the Greek temple of “Mediterranean man” is the Viking ship. Clark states that “the Greek temple is static and cold” while “the ship is mobile and light” (Clark, 1969 p.14).

These oppositions of permanence and mobility are themes that run through Civilisation. There are tensions between cultural restlessness and a need to settle and create order out of the flux of experiences.

This particular clip ends with the rise of the Frankish Kingdom and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire.  "Incidentally", says Clark  "drawings of the ninth century show, almost for the very first time, that the horsemen have stirrups, and people who like mechanical explanations for historical events maintain that this was the reason why the Frankish cavalry was victorious" (Clark, 1969 p.14).

Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 2

The above is the second clip from the first episode “The Skin of our Teeth” and begins waves and waves of barbarians crossing the Danube. Some become romanized and then other more destructive forces arrived: Huns amongst them. Rome had practically collapsed and Civilisation according to Clark “might have drifted downstream for a long time”, if it had not been for the appearance of “a new force” in the middle of the 7th Century, “with faith, energy, a will to conquer and an alternative culture: Islam” (1969, p.7).  The classical world was overrun in about fifty years: “only its bleached bones stood out against the Mediterranean sky” (1969, p.7). 
                So now the new civilisation would have to face the Atlantic. For now the old source of civilisation was sealed off.  The experience according Clark was one of melancholy and boredom. Christian scholars would seek out refuge in “the most inaccessible fringes of Cornwall, Ireland and the Hebrides” (Clark, 1969 p.7). Places “on the edge of the world” like Skellig Michael in the West of Ireland were places where fragments of Western Civilisation found take refuge from Viking raiders  and survive (Clark, 1969 p.7). 

Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 1

“ 'Civilisation’…. an ambiguous term, denoting on the one hand enlightened and progressive development and on the other hand an achieved and threatened state, becoming increasingly retrospective and often in practice identified with the received glories of the past (Williams, R., 1977 p.15).

I received the box set of Civilisation for Christmas from my girlfriend. It is a fantastic present and I have already got through the first disc. It is a shame that I did not get it earlier, because some of the series deals with things relevant to the Media Technologies and Public Spheres unit. 

I cannot help recall the first time I saw it on television, which must have been when I was about ten years old and staying at my grandmother’s house (a repeat of series no doubt after the death of Kenneth Clark). I watched it with a mix of boredom and a sort of negative feeling, not because I disliked history or art, but because I was suspicious of elites and uncomfortable about the grandeur of the state (something that I would feel when viewing the Great Court of Blenheim Palace on a school trip. The West and East Facade’s are far warmer and inviting). There also was something frivolous about it (I do not fully believe this now)…. and who was this posh bloke telling me what civilisation was?

Civilisation- or more accurately titled Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark is a thirteen part series originally shown on BBC 2. The scope of this series is incredible. It deals with architecture, art music, philosophy, poetry, religious thinking, engineering and science. The first episode introduces the series and explains that it deals with the achievements of Western Man. So, according to this series, women “made almost no contribution to European culture or thought” (Walker, J., 1993, p. 80). I love the series for its visual content and its breadth and care for history and art, but ideologically it is at times quite loathsome and far from being disinterested.

This first episode is called “The Skin of our Teeth” and deals with the period around the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and discusses the waves of barbarians that entered Western Europe following the Empires stagnation and decline.  The title refers to Clark’s belief that Western European civilization was lucky to survive the collapse of Rome. The above clip deals with Rome and Greek culture as “An Expression of an Ideal” (Hearn, M., 2005p.20). This ideal becomes stagnant. Its failures do not stop Clark from comparing African art unfavourably to Greek and Roman antiquity. Unlike Roman and Greek statues African masks “could not be regarded as manifestations of civilisation” (Clark, K., 1969 and Walker, J., 1993, p. 80). This was, according to Clark “because they signified darkness and superstition rather than rationality” (Clark, K., 1969 and Walker, J., 1993, p. 80). Yet no evidence was provided to support this contentious judgement.

Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray
Hearn, M., (2005) Civilisation: A personal view, Viewing Notes, London: BBC DVD
Walker, J., (1993) Arts TV, London: John Libbey
Williams, R., Marxism and Literature, Oxford, OUP, 1977.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A little history Part 2.

To make ‘new’ pictures, I had to challenge some of my prejudices around art making, well at least less “cool” way of dealing with ideas. I had to develop a less cynical way of seeing. The first art that made me sit up and take notice was the work of Ross Bleckner. His work seemed to sum up the feelings that I had about culture. The paintings that Bleckner produced seemed to sum up melancholia and a rather doubt ridden outlook. This is a misreading I think, but the qualities Bleckner seemed to sum up in his work, presented us with an “optical art” to counter Duchamp’s influence and what Gilbert-Rolfe called “Duchamp’s myopia” (15, pp.13-25). The deadpan art that dominated much of the eighties and nineties had waned in its influence on me. Below Bleckners Oceans, 1984.

Below is Bleckner’s Falling Birds 1994.

The other area of interest, not unconnected with Bleckner was the sublime and the possibilities that a relatively new medium, a digital medium could bring to it. Bleckner’s influence was extreme and heavy (side stepping Bleckner’s own influences, notably Brigritte Riley, too new, too rigid) and I created a series of stripe or zip pictures. This evolved after some experimentation into my first real digital picture Ornithology.

Ornithology tapped into areas of history that in my youthful ignorance I had neglected, ignored or just forgotten: the bird emblem belonged to the work of Max Ernst.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Current Developments 1

My current practice, although mostly digital in form, are mixed media and hybridised montages or collages. These are a summary of my concerns:
  • Mixed media
  • Photographic Imagery
  • Found Imagery
  • Collage
  • Montage
  • Hybridity
  • Hyperrealism
  • Romanticiam
  • Surrealism
  • Metamorphosis

Max Ernst seems to be one of a number of influences. Here is a piece of his writing on one of the approaches that guided his development as an artist.

“Inspiration to Order” 1932:

“Being one fine rainy day… I found myself recalling how in childhood an imitation mahogany panel opposite my bed had served as optical excitant of a somnolence vision, and I was struck by the obsession now being imposed on my Irritated Gaze by the floor…”

Max Ernst is inspired here by the writings of Leonardo: his Treatise on Painting.

Future Shock 4

Recent research into the Migraine aura and the mechanisms of visual hallucinations and its manifestations and representations in 20th Century Art:

My current ideas are concerned with investigations into the migraine aura. It has until now been through its re-presentations through the use of digital imaging software and photography, without real reference to or an acknowledgement of a 'condition of seeing'. In recognising the migraine aura as a source of artistic inspiration I have begun to explore the possible links between the migraine experience and visual hallucinations that accompany them and 20th century European art. I wish to address the similarities between the recorded descriptions of the migraine aura and the hallucinatory nature of Artaud’s verbal and Max Ernst’s non-verbal representations. Is it possible that the recurrent features in such work are based on this neurological disorder?

My research has explored digital imagery in print and film. It has including exploring the possibilities of art on the Internet, which culminated in the production of a digital film "Of Art and Migraines" for the BBC Telling Lives project (not a great “film” by a long chalk.). The content or main inspiration on my work brought my art to the attention of Dr Klaus Podoll of the Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Technology (RWTH) Aachen, Germany. We exchanged theories about the influence of migraine auras on 20th Century Art and its source for artistic inspiration in contemporary art and he soon put me straight. The digital works I produce are an investigation into the relationship between my migraines and my practice as an artist. The digital images explore the nature of the migraine auras or hallucinations. My research has included writing about my work and its relationship with the auras and contains discussions about other artists who have possibly been inspired by the migraines optical effects and suffered similar conditions.

Dr Klaus Podoll kindly produced an article on the subject of visual migraine and my digital images. It my contribution to a website specifically devoted to the subject of "Migraine Art". You can visit The Migraine Aura Foundation website here : and

Thought of the Semester

Each new medium evolves through metaphor.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Future Shock 3

A little history Part 1.

My work has not been consistent for some time now. I started out focusing on drawing and painting producing everything from still lives to abstractions and mixed media works. My mature work, after much wrangling and producing rather odd, stupid and pointless pieces, became a kind of “critical post-modernism” (to borrow from Frederic Jameson). These works were meant for mass distribution as flyers, postcards, bill posters and projections of some kind.

I appropriated from a variety of sources like forties and fifties science books, the National Geographic and “Peter and Jane” books. With my approach being largely inspired by the art of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer's and their statements and aphorisms, I added my own potentially subversive statements to my chosen images. They seemed to give them a transforming charge and power, that suggested to me that art could morally influence the world, challenge the powers that be and challenge/subvert political/public discourse. It was an art of the street, an art that critiqued mass culture, consumerism and official language: military, political, governmental and economic. I fused that language with culled imagery.

I don't think that many believe that art can transform life any more. Okay, so you have Banksy and Posterboy, with their powerful and critical pieces, the true heirs to Grosz, Heartfield, Hoch and Hausmann.

The attacks laid at Holzer and Kruger from some quarters, notably Richard Kostalanetz and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe made me question the effectiveness and purposefulness of such art and the making of art. Kostelanetz referred to Holzer's art as 'dull' (2001, p. 290) and Kruger's work as 'advertisements for themselves' (Ibid. p. 354). Gilbert Rolfe compares Holzer's slogans to those of 'Mao Tse-Tung or or the Ayatolloh Khomeni' (1995, p. 30), preferring to view art as 'beyond piety' to borrow from the title of his collection of criticism. The attacks were furious and still leave me unsure in my own mind at the relevance and power of political art.

Ideology and critical discourse aside, I quickly bored with the sort of seemingly uncreative post-modern pictures that that relied upon so much of the past, without the creative challenges of producing a convincing picture. I began to look again at picture making.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Modernism, Modernity and Modernité: Omissions and Corrections.

Modernity is a word that is often used as an overarching periodizing term to denote a historical era. In my first comments regarding this I do make this clear, however I stated that we began with 18th Century Enlightenment, something that is true, but ignores some aspects of modernity’s development that starts in earlier centuries.  I did not emphasis that Modernity refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period. So in a way we may begin somewhere in the Renaissance with the marked by the move from feudalism (or agrarianism) towards capitalism in say 14th Century Florence or even earlier. In England we saw the power of the King challenged by parliament leading to the English Civil War. At this point around 1650 we witness the development of the Public Sphere and opening of the first coffee house in Oxford.  It is perhaps important to note that Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and Denis Diderot is said to have written parts of the Encyclopédie in a coffee house. The coffee house becomes the great social condenser of 18th Century France, helping to break down class barriers. This is discussed in Adam Hart Davis’ Eureka Years Modernity also means a shift towards industrialization, secularization, rationalization and the nation-state. So we see an overarching period from the Renaissance to Enlightenment or Age of Reason, to the Age of Revolutions (American, Industrial, French, 1848, Russian) concluding Post WWII, especially after 1968.

Modernité is concerned with a distinctly modern sense of dislocation and ambiguity and locates it in the more general experience of the aestheticization of everyday life, as exemplified in the ephemeral and transitory qualities of an urban culture shaped by the imperatives of fashion, consumerism, and constant innovation. Here one may consider Baudelaire, Manet or Toulouse Lautrec.

Modernism describes the art, culture, design and style of a historical period: the Modern Age or Modernity. The term is used by Charles Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century to designate a new field of action for the artist. For Baudelaire it describes the culture of the “modern world” or bourgeois industrial society. It is about what is new in one’s own culture and implied an obligation to be of one’s own time. The exact character of this age, as well as its precise dates (although generally speaking the mid -19th Century is often cited as a start date), are described in very different ways by critics and historians (see Richard Kostelanetz and Robert Hughes amongst many others). I think it is fair to say that modernism can vary from country to country and varies from practice to practice Modernist theatre, film, art, photography; design may begin at very different times. Anyway, modernism is often associated with faith in: progress, optimism, rationalism and clarity of communication in some contexts.  With the early days of modernism there was the utopian belief that mechanization and technology if properly channelled could produce a less divided society, perhaps by the seventies and eighties this started to look absurd. The end of modernism corresponds with the “collapse” of modernity: the architecture historian Charles Jenks gives us the year 1972 and even the exact minute of the collapse (I mean this literally) of modernism and the modern movement with the destruction of Pruitt–Igoe the housing complex designed by Minoru Yamasaki. I think that it was Robert Hughes in The New Shock of the New that refers to 9/11 as modernisms final moments.  The World Trade Centre was also designed by Minoru Yamasaki.

Future Shock 1

Alvin Toffler's book Future Shock describes what happens when people are overwhelmed by rapid change. Future Shock was coined by Toffler in 1965 in an article in Horizon. He uses the term to "describe the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time" (Toffler, 1970 p.12). He saw it as "a real sickness from which an increasingly large numbers already suffer" (Toffler, 1970 p.12).

Above is the first part of a television adaptation of Toffler's book narrated by Orson Welles

Toffler, A.,  (1970) Future Shock London: Pan Books

Modernism and Modernity

Media Technologies and Public Spheres: 2

The second session Wednesday 7 October , 2009: 'The Media and Modernity: Mediation, Technology, Change'.

Here are some of my thoughts on Modernism and Modernity:

The adjective modern refers to the contemporaneous. So in terms of art, all art is modern to those who make it, whether they are the inhabitants of Renaissance Florence or present day Lincoln. Specifically the term Modern refers to a historical period from the mid 19th century to the nineteen seventies. The exact end date for modernism is up for debate, but we could argue the the 1970s represented the beginning of the end.

Modernism is a critical approach that stresses innovation over all criteria. It is characterised by a radical attitude toward both the past and present. Historically we begin in the 18th Century and the Enlightenment and then at a period that has often been called the Age of Revolution (American, French and Industrial) and then in 1848 the year of the Chartists and the revolutions that swept Europe changing peoples attitude to contemporary life. Crucial to the development of modernism was the break down of traditional of financial power-the church, the state, and the aristocratic elite. This meant that artists were more independent and so free to determine the content of their art, refusing to depict paintings with mythological, religious and historical themes (often referred to as Academic Art). Modernism was widely, but not exclusively associated with life in an industrialised society and was often distinguished by its celebration of technology and science (challenged by many modern artists after 1914). Modern Art arose as part of Western society’s attempt to come to terms with the urban, industrial and secular society that emerged from the 19th century. Modern design emerged as a reaction against the declining standards of craftsmanship and to the Art Nouveau movement from the 1880s onwards. Many practitioners recognized the need for new approaches that would enable the mass production of well-made artefacts for mass consumption. It was believed that mechanization and technology, if properly channelled, could change society for the better. Progress seems to be a key word here when in art we see one style succeed another in quick succession. In the late 19th Century and early Twentieth Century we see the content of art shift from realism and naturalism to spirituality, the celebration of technology, the evocation of primitivism and the emptying of art of all identifiable forms. So Modernism cannot be seen as just one movement.

Media Technologies and Public Spheres: 1

A representation of the public sphere imagined by Pablo Picasso in his collage Glass and Bottle of Suze (1912).

This entry is little late as the unit has almost been completed. So my comments here are based partly on past notes. This particular unit, 'Media Technologies and Public Sphere' deals with themes such as how media technologies play a central role in shaping the idea of 'public communication'.

It deals with role of newspapers, publications, oil paint, the camera, television, the telegraph, the World Wide Wide, the Internet and radio and there role in shaping public discourse. What is media's significance in liberal-democratic societies? How did the public sphere shape the development of liberal democracies in the west?

The public sphere although may be shaped my mediums discourse like the media technologies mentioned above, there are other 'mediums' that may not be too apparent: the coffee shop from the seventeenth century onwards that emerged sometime between the Commonwealth and the Restoration; the Salon in 18th Century, the pre-Revolutionary France, that emerged in Paris in opposition to court life in Versailles and the café of the nineteenth and twentieth, full of rootless cosmopolitans (that is I think how Stalin described them), revolutionaries and café intellectuals.

The last "medium of discourse" is represented above in a collage by Picasso.


Hello and welcome! This is the first of hopefully many entries to my production planning (b)log for an MA in Digital Imaging & Photography at Lincoln University.

This blog gives the author the opportunity to discuss research, make connections and acts as a diary that records any developments as a....(wait for it!) a thinker (lol) and a creative.

I am late with this blog, mainly because I have not worked on the web for nearly ten years, well not directly anyway. I am also less starry eyed about the web. Less sure. I am not entirely comfortable with sharing my thoughts and ideas within this context, but then why bother having them. Why be worried about any level of scrutiny and criticism?

The course began in late September, we are now in week 11, so I thought I had better make a start and join the rest of the MA community on-line. The course is divided between theory and critical units and three major practical projects spread out over the course of two years. I must confess that my main interests lay in theory and history, but in terms of practice I make digital collages/paintings. I will be posting examples.

The current theory unit “Media Technologies and the Public Spheres” has been immensely enjoyable and challenging and opens up for me some startling debates about media practices , audiences and the impact of technologies on culture and society and visa versa. My background is largely fine art and so although many of the critics and theorists are familiar to me, having to explore them in a media context is immensely helpful. I'll try to comment further about this.

Thank you,