Art since 1900

Art since 1900 Chapter 1

Well I have read Hal Foster’s opening chapter a few times now. Whilst I can see the tentative link with Surrealism and Freud, I am struggling to link Picasso and Tribal masks he saw at the Trocadero (which Picasso himself denied) with Freud and Oppenheim’s  Dejuener en Fourriere as a sexual object and hence also linked to Freud. Foster himself says “Freud knew little of modernist art….he once called the Surrealists”absolute cranks””

Perhaps my education would benefit from actually reading Freud but then with so much reading to do and finding time to paint, is life that long. I will rely on the interpretations of Mr Foster, but question them none the less. I am the father of two very modern feminists and I will also question them on the relevance of a patriarchal figure on sixties and seventies feminist art.

That having been said, it is important to understand the motives of the teacher especially as we are going to encounter these motives throughout the reading and need to place them in context. On entering “ Who is Hal Foster” in Google, I came across the review of his book “Prosthetic Gods” the review makes interesting reading

Art, too, becomes a kind of “auxiliary organ” at once magnificent and troubled.’ Hal Foster’s use of Sigmund Freud’s analogy tries to account for the two preoccupations of the early 20th-century, ‘the primitive’ and ‘the machine’. Indeed, this book – which reads as a collection of essays rather than a narrative account – effectively presents itself as Foster’s attempt to rewrite the history of Modernism as he sees it – that is, as a psychoanalytical, and predominantly Freudian, one.

For balance I also came across the site Hal Foster the Godfather of Postmodernism

I think in the course of this reading Mr Foster will challenge me but having taken the time and trouble to read this chapter, I am sure he will not defeat me.

Art since 1900 Chapter 2

Well last week I was examining the link between art and Freud, and this week I am tasked with linking some difficult philosophical concepts with art. Last week I escaped with a lucky quote, this week I was annoyed with my ability to understand what these clever people were going on about, and reasoned the lack could be my own lack of knowledge. So I isolated the section of the text entitled Autonomy and read around the subject.

I also reasoned that if Foster, Krauss, Bois, Buchloh and Joselit were professors in American Universities and if I was studying there rather than at the good old OCA I would need to understand what the good professors were going on about.

I knew nothing about Kant, Marxism or Adorno’s theory of the commodity structure of the work of art but after reading around the subjects on the internet, I kinda got there. I had to print a few bits off, fold them in the back of my jeans and reread them a few times when I had time but in the end I think I got there. The italicised bit that follows can easily be skipped without destroying the understanding as they are my own notes on autonomism;

Kant says; Firstly, autonomy as the right for one to make their own decisions excluding any interference from others. Secondly, autonomy as the capacity to make such decisions through one’s own independence of mind and after personal reflection. Thirdly, as an ideal way of living life autonomously.

The personal reflection bit is important as this theory was used as an excuse for the holocaust.

 In Literature and Revolution Trotsky points out, “The form of art is to a certain and very large degree independent, but the artist who creates this form, and the spectator who is enjoying it, are not empty machines, one for creating form and the other for appreciating it.” What Trotsky helps to illustrate is that art’s autonomy is interdependent with social relations and conditions; for art to have its autonomy, its independence, it must be dependent upon subjects of society who both create and participate with its form. With the end of art’s autonomy in postmodernism, a reduction of the subject (both as creator and appreciator) to an “empty machine” seems, indeed, to have taken place.

This concerns the work being completed by the viewer, a concept I vehemently oppose.

Cronk, for his part says “The graffitied trains of the New York City subway system in the 1960’s presented a new art form. The graffiti writer was an anarchist. For a brief period he existed outside the established view of art. See how quickly the graffiti writer was co-opted and his work mediated and exploited by the art establishment. The graffiti writer was coerced into producing marketable sofa paintings. The relatively small art-ified canvases no longer carried the immediacy and impact of the original format. The graffitied canvas was the bastardization of a revolutionary grassroots art form. Policed by establishment values, graffiti art in the gallery became subservient to the very social structures street art vehemently opposed.”

This one seems to work if you allow Basquiat to have been a graffiti artist only until he became famous for being a real artist.

I think criticising art in an autonomous way began in regard to the disappearance of the patron when an artwork could be what the artist wanted it to be, but then the artist still needed to find a buyer to survive. It was then amalgamated with other philosophical concepts to give the complicated stuff I am trying to read today.

The complicated stuff becomes less complicated when one has pictures to illustrate the concept being discussed, as the authors do, in the yearly sections of the book.

Mass culture v Popular culture

Mass culture is one of the most discussed issues of contemporary times. The development of mass culture was possible due to the urbanization process, the industrial revolution and the development of mass communication. U. Eco is collected arguments against mass culture, as voiced by various critics: the standardization of content, the commercialization of art, the trivialization of the products of high culture, the promotion of passive attitudes towards content and the deadening of historical consciousness. On the other hand, according to supporters of mass culture, it popularizes culture among the masses, which previously did not have access to it. In addition, man always has the need for simple entertainment. The distinction between high culture and mass culture is invalid due to the problematic nature of classifying artwork into one of the two categories. It is impossible to determine what will advance into the category of high culture in the future. The term mass culture is often used as a synonym – both in everyday speech and in academic writing – for popular culture. In fact their meanings partially overlap, and are partially different. Popular culture was spread also via direct contact, and not only via technical means. We can actively participate in popular culture. Cultural changes are currently taking place, regardless of our attitude towards them. We can – using the terminology of U. Eco – adjust to it or await the final Apocalypse

Watch out for this one they can mean the same or different

Art since 1900 Chapter 3

Art is its own form of knowledge. It does not simply supplement the real world, and it cannot be purely understood in the rational terms of traditional academic disciplines. W Kentridge

Chapter 3 has painters and paintings in it, so it is much easier to follow. It is coming together a bit more now. Critics are using psychological and new philosophical theories to criticise art because the modern art techniques of criticism no longer make sense to the philosophical classes.

The formalist techniques of criticism were concerned with a painting’s colour, line, composition, and texture as a method of critiquing it. Famous formalist critics were Clement Greenberg and Roger Fry, and it came about at the time of the Impressionists as the painted surface became more important than the subject of the painting.

Psychological biographical criticism would have you believe that Picasso had a blue period because Casegemas died, this may or may not be so, indeed, Picasso himself has been known to deny it. However, if that were the case, was his cubist period a result of everyone around him being edgy?

Chapter 3 includes discussion of Picasso’s Bulls head and Guitar, I am entirely familiar with Picasso’s use of sculptural space and sculptural metaphor from an artistic point of view, but I would question if I need to be aware of these works from a philosophical or psychological point of view or whether Picasso was a formalist or a structuralist in the understanding of a secondary source. To continue the running joke, was the guitar period a time when Picasso was spaced out?

The text itself claims that a “structural reading of Mondrian’s work began to emerge only in the seventies”, I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to the relevance of this fact to the actual work of Mondrian.

The difficulty presented to me by the text is in part being resolved by reading around the subject and hopefully I will become enlightened and escape from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Reading this great work has definitely improved my writing style as I can now presume everyone knows what I am on about, when I make obscure connections in my writing.

Art since 1900 Chapter 4

Reading the text of the Student leaflet I was struck by two things, one that Great Britain was not mentioned in the list of countries and two how closely the University system is tied to the state now with the university loans system. In 1968 in Great Britain university education was subsidised and entrance was based on merit not ability to pay as it is today. I am not political or a conspiracy theorist, but I am just saying that maybe the British Governments preferred model is the virtual university because it is so difficult to get all the students in one place at the same time to organise a riot, don’t worry about the bricks and mortar universities, they are too busy working at fast food outlets to pay their university fees. This feels like the beginning of a Manifesto, maybe I should start an art movement. I think it is safe to say that my own artistic practice is autonomous and doesn’t involve the government in any way shape or form.

Like Marcel Broodthaers I have a virtual museum that is filled with exhibits that are not works of art (yet) you are welcome to visit it, it is housed in the fabled Southerland Villas and it is accessible at I have “seized the right to speak, and consequently of challenging the institutional and social divisions that support these separations of power.” (Foster et al 42) I think I am a poststructuralist. How weird is this, and it is getting weirder, I address all my tutors by their first names and I understand Ducrot using the university exam as a presuppositional (I had to add that word to the dictionary) imposition of power (Foster et al 43)

Almost everything on the internet has a price even if the price is merely looking at advertisements to view the exhibition, at Sutherland Villas there are neither prices nor advertisements, I, like Daniel Buren, am rebelling against the very fundamentals of the internet probing the very legitimacy of the system’s power to bestow value on work. (Foster et al 45)

Art since 1900 Chapter 5

Now I learn of globalism and its effects on international art since the end of the cold war I had already learned much of this material through reading Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction that I found easier to understand and digest.

While I was in Paris recently I took these photographs of the personification of six of the continents sculpted for an 1878 exhibition. They probably omitted the seventh continent because her furry clothes which would preclude revealing the breasts of a savage people. That Europe is fully clothed with paintbrushes, books and scrolls emphasises the dominance of European civilisation over it’s empires.

Figure 1 Europe 1878

Figure 2 Asia 1878

Figure 3 Africa 1878

Figure 4 North America 1878

Figure 5 South America 1878

Figure 6 Oceana 1878

They are magnificent sculptures and you can easily tell which continent is which and back in 1878 they would have been completely uncontrovertional and they would have received nothing but praise. That was because it was in the time before Europeans discovered global art. It is no less than the Greeks did, embodying a concept in human form, Aphrodite was love and Nike was victory.

Things are much more complicated now what with political correctness and all, there must be a host of Gorilla girls knitting vests for the poor half naked continents. Maybe they are sculpting the missing seventh continent in all her fur clad glory, but then again maybe not, heaven forbid they should upset the Anti Fur League. Aunty Furleague is a character in 101 Dalmatians and if not, she should have been.

Well I have mode it through the Philosophical, Freudian, Socialist Postmodernist and Globalisation sections of the book now maybe I can concentrate on the Art since 1900.

There is a whole lot of stuff to be aware of falling foul of these days, but I  don’t worry too much, I am old enough to speak my mind, however, it has been educated.



Foster, H. Krauss, R. Bois, Y.A. Buchloh, B. H. D. Joselit, D. (2016) Art since 1900 (third edition). London: Thames and Hudson.

Stallabras, J. (2004) Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction Oxford: Oxford University Press