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Appropriation as Revolution: The Avant-Garde 1920s-30s

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Nikki Prudden

on 6 February 2014

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Transcript of Appropriation as Revolution: The Avant-Garde 1920s-30s

Appropriation as Revolution: The Avant-Garde 1920s-30s
The Dada Position
Dada as a stage to Surrealism
“The prepubescent phase of acting out in childhood that ultimately laid the foundation for achieving the mature condition of surrealist art”.
Dada provided the tools, means, and formal methods; however offer little artistic or intellectual substance
“Chaotic, nonsensical, and undisciplined, but in a positive sense”.--> Sprang as a critique of ideology, including an investigation of mass media as a means of resistance and activism
Activities such as WWI provided necessary and useful means for the deconstruction of ideologies suppressing lived experience.

Max Ernst
John Heartfield
Hannah Hoch
Final Discussions
Art as Autobiography
According to Krauss, with the exception of cubism, Picasso’s work is inextricable from his biography

“A proper name is a token without a type”

Relation between image and meaning. The significance of the use of a proper name in this context lies in the notion of reference

“It has a referent but no sense”

Pablo Picasso
To reject the ready-mades is to revert to one's standards of taste, and to accept them as works of art is to revoke art's separate and special status, oppositional to mass-produced objects

He discusses the ‘ready-mades’ lack of uniqueness stating that every one of them is not an original in the convention sense. Due to this lack of uniqueness Duchamp limited himself to creating a limited amount of ready-mades per year.
it is clear that the ready-mades themselves are not the art, the debate about them is. Without the viewer, the ready-mades do not exist as art objects, but revert back to their previous lives as functional industrial objects. He did nothing to them except present them as contemplation of ‘art’.
He reduces the creative act simply to one choice, discrediting the taste, skill, and high artistic value that a traditional work embodies

The Artists of Dada
Three artists in particular were studied in connection to one another and to Dada in Johanna Drucker's piece.
Picasso is best known for his cubist pieces (though his work spans many movements).

His work with collage, in particular, shares some commonalities with the works of artists within the Dada movement.

In both cases, ideas of appropriation emerge for the viewer.

Unlike with Picasso, where readings are appropriating idea and meaning, the Dadaists are specifically appropriating material objects to
Apropos of “Readymades”
In the short essay "Apropos of 'Readymades,'" Duchamp describes his method of selection: the choice was based on a reaction of "visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste."

Duchamp made it clear that "the choice of these 'readymades' was never dictated by aesthetics"

He was careful to choose commonplace objects with no meaning to him whatsoever. By signing them with his name, he was able to transform them into art

Duchamp also made a distinction between the notion of taste and the notion of an aesthetic experience

Dada was a position in which various artists passed as supposed to a movement
based in artistic and literary means; as a reaction to WWI nationalism and rationalism which was believed to have caused the war
so intent on opposing norms of bourgeois culture that members were barely in favor of Dada itself
transformed a spirit of revolutionary optimism
Max Ernst, John Heartfield, and Hannah Hoch’s single point of commonality their association with Dada, and activities in which constituted the framework of Dada
Photo montage and collage as “the fragmentation and re-assembly rework, and transformation of imagery appropriated from mass produced sources”.
Camfield dates the beginnings of Dada art in the period in which major Dada publications peaked (1920), rather than extending the publications to 1916.

French “Roman a Clèf” mystery novels: the names of the characters become the “key” (clèf) to the story. The name of whoever committed the murder is the key to understanding.
OR: Thinly-veiled retelling of real-life stories under aliases and slight tweaks.
The Master Key?
Similarly, art tends to be read using details of the artist’s life and attributing “key” figures in the artist’s life as being used as “key” parts of the piece. This tends to narrow our reading of a piece and we make assumptions about it rather than exploring multiple possibilities of meaning. We reduce a painting’s meaning to the name of the person we’ve decided it’s based on.

La Vie, 1904 by Pablo Picasso

The connection of his painting and friend Casagemas’ apparent suicide

Other interpretations suggest that “La Vie” is an allegory of maturation and development
Picasso’s Blue Period
Krauss' Argument
We get so caught up in the autobiography of the artist that we completely ignore everything else about their work. In Picasso’s case, we completely block out everything we could be learning from his work with form.
The name appropriates the meaning.
Labeling a sign makes it redundant: a sign is already there to serve as a symbol of something else
Example: “
” shapes usually seen as simply representing “violin”, but if you see how they’re used, they’re largely there to represent FORESHORTENING.
Picasso used to play around with words that got included into his pictures (ex: newspaper title broken down from Journal to Jou, Jour, Urnal, etc)

Cubist art “exchanges the natural visual world of things for the artificial, codified language of signs.”
Collage = layering planes = depth. Picasso uses the layering in his collages as a symbol of depth
Created puns, but
also served the
function of LABELING
the object for us, just
like a name.
Picasso and the Dadaists
engaged with evolving psychoanalytic theory: “asserts individuality as personality, without recourse to ideological considerations”.
collage as disturbing the conventions of pictorial production
his sources were rich with personal memory, trauma, and experience
through his works, he implicitly investigates themes of sexual identity, gender politics, and cultural difference
Politics of aesthetic form always contingent/subject to chance
Politics and identity conflicts were real being a German in post-War France

value in his capacity to unmask the structures that make power function in capitalist and communist regimes in historically specific circumstances
negative judgments formulated on formal methods without regards for the images themselves
regarded as too negative or critical as opposed to the spirit of positivity embodied through communist propaganda
focused on making images that could communicate effectively through mass media --> intersections of technical manipulation, ideological critique, and aesthetic skill subtly articulates the real complexity of his work
although his artistic intentions were clear to him, they were subject to continual recharcacterizations
concerned with private desire versus public images
cultural criticism blended with analysis of visual images as social forms
exposed to gendered identity: “New Woman” linked to consumerism, labor practices, and social agendas
gender as a politicized aspect of identity
able to combat images through collage/fragmentation
here, images must be understood as social categories, concepts, and constructs
Revealed contradictions in social structure
Reflects component elements of a psychic drama. An interior life lived in only the imaginary realm
The two domains overlap.
Investigates the intersection between the private imaginary and production of identity as a social category
Dada, Final Thoughts
intent upon deconstruction of rationalization as an ideology and upon subverting the bourgeois humanism that served as the basis of myth of the artist
however, in themselves, techniques cannot guarantee ideological value

The Drucker article states that the Dada artists had difficulty in which they were trying to deconstruct a society which is inevitably fluid. What are your thoughts regarding this statement?

“Subtext is a way which apparatus of ideology functions through the interior life of individuals.” Explain the role of subtext in art; why is it important not to simply take works at face value?
More Discussion Questions
Bicycle Wheel
In Advance for the Broken Arm
Duchamp argues that even a painter’s work can be classified as a ready-made since the tubes of paint are manufactured and are in fact ready made products. Do you agree with this argument? Why or why not?
Contemporary Appropriation of found objects…
Jimmy Limit
Exhibition at Rodman Hall
Purchases objects from hardware stores without labels and repositions them, giving them a new purpose and new ‘life’
Alters the meaning of the objects with the use of paint, positioning, and photography
Purchases these objects solely based on their aesthetics
Makes the object less familiar in order for the spectator to view the object in a more sculptural way
Interested in the way we treat objects that are seen as art in contrast with everyday ordinary objects
Since Limit bases the choice of
the objects selected for his
work solely on aesthetics, do
you feel that this changes the
overall meaning in his work?
How do these three readings
relate to one another? (Krauss on
Picasso, Drucker on Dada, and Duchamp)

Between the Dadaists and Picasso,
who do you think is more
"original"? Who is more
"innovative"? More
Discussion Question
Do you agree with Krauss' argument that we put too much emphasis on autobiography, or do you think that linking an artist's work with his/her life is a valid or even necessary practice when considering a body of work?
Picasso: Form, Signs and Symbols
Discussion Question
Do you think Krauss is on the right track by referring to FORM in studying Picasso's work rather than AUTOBIOGRAPHY, or do you think she is just as guilty of appropriating meaning, even if she is using different signs/symbols/labels?
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