Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Driven to Abstraction... by Danielle Hurd (inspired by Tasha Hinton)

One of our readers, Tasha, let us know about a great post she had written about abstract art. You can read the post here:

In the post Tasha talks about her "conversion" to abstract art and the still negative attitudes of many to the genre. Everyone has heard the refrain, "My kid could make that!" while visiting the Modern/Contemporary wing of their favorite museum. This brings about my question: Can/will abstraction ever be whole-heartedly accepted by the public? Will the average museum goer ever fall in love with Pollock the way that Greenberg won over the artistic establishment in the 1950's?

Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I tend to doubt it. As evidence I submit my favorite abstract work, El Lissitzky's Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.

A propaganda piece rallying the Communists (the red wedge) to aggression against the Capitalists (the white circle), this litho always made me laugh a little bit. WHY? Because it is so idealistic! With its accompanying title it is a remarkable effective image but I wonder if, without the labeling and without the explanatory title, if it would have been effective. Perhaps more so than many abstract pieces. The sharp RED (such a symbolic color) wedge does seem to do a great violence to the bloated, passive circle. But could it ever be as didactic as this:

Of course this is more mundane, less intellectual, but it exactly models appropriate behavior and is thus highly relatable. (I love propaganda posters, by the way. Visual Culture studies are fascinating! But that is a topic for another post.)

My point: the concept of making an abstract visual language which would communicate with the masses, the way the Soviet artists hoped to do, seems like a long shot. Unless, perhaps, the Russians are infinitely better at critical thinking than the American public, I can never foresee abstraction being as efficient a visual language as naturalism. It would seem this pessimism won out both in the USSR, who switched to a more traditional style (as seen above), and in the US, which favored more traditional imagery in later propaganda campaigns like those surrounding WWII (see

So, if abstraction failed as propaganda, can it succeed as art? Will visual literacy ever develop to the point that El Lizzitsky's experiment could really succeed?

P.S. Every other Friday I go teach art at a two-room schoolhouse in Vernon, UT (pop. 242-ish). Last week I filled manilla envelopes full of images of famous paintings and let the children choose the ones they wanted to talk about in front of the class. They picked almost all of the landscapes, animalia, and the abstract pieces, leaving the Renaissance and 19th C. history paintings and portraiture behind. Who would have guessed?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Web Work Reconsidered by Spencer Twelmeyer

ArtForum's Rachel Greene published an article titled "Web Work" in 2000 in which she discusses the major players in "" ( Here is what I understand as not the aesthetic manifestation of the idea but the ideas themselves, similar to conceptual art. Greene describes it as the discourse, exchange, links and emails. So when does stop being art and start being just another online discussion or blog? The answer art historians and critics always give is: "It's the Intent."

But, what is the intent of these net.artists? Greene refers to many artists also as hackers and reports their desire to remain "independent of bureaucracy" and "activists." Anarchist convictions are best represented by Heath Bunting founder of In 1994 he created the work "Kings Cross Phone-In." This webpage listed the phone numbers for the phone booths of London's Kings Cross train station. The site invited people to call these numbers intending to break up the monotonous days of commuters.

Most pieces attempt playfulness yet many maintain an abrasive tone. Greene notes that in 1999 the tide turned for, "as net.artists were seemingly empowered by their sense of pending popularity and relevance." Her forecast was dead on. If you are wondering how artists have continued to use the Internet just recall Valentine for Perfect Strangers by Ben Coolney, a piece that recently was shown at the MOA. I just wonder what's next.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Louise Nevelson by Emily Larsen

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1958

Louise Nevelson was born on September 23, 1899. What are your thoughts or opinions on one of America's most important female artists?

Personally, I love Nevelson's work. I think it is beautiful and interesting - and forces me to look closely at it. There are so many details and nuances in her work, that I keep coming back to look again and again.

In high school, when I first learned about Nevelson, I had no idea she was a woman. I thought of her as "Louis Nevelson," because my teacher never mentioned her gender. I was somewhat surprised when I found out Nevelson was in fact, a woman. Do you think gender plays a significant part in Nevelson's art? Why or why not?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wide Open Spaces - What did you think? by Emily Larsen

James Swinnerton, Agatha’s Needle (El Capitan), 1939, oil on canvas, 40” x 29-7/8”, BYU Museum of Art Collection

What is your opinion of the BYU MOA's newest exhibition Wide Open Spaces?

I though the paintings were beautiful and worked well together. I especially liked the exhibition design and am excited to go back and see it again!

If your thoughts about the exhibition (or any other exhibition) are longer than a comment - submit a post of your critique to the!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Season of Shame? Tyler Green calling out LACMA & Art Institute of Chicago by Emily Larsen

In a blog post earlier today, Tyler Green, author of Artinfo's Modern Art Notes, criticized the LA County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago for putting forth exhibitions focused solely on the collections of some of their donors. You can find the post here.

What do you think of his accusations?

Personally, I do not know if I feel as strongly about the issue as Green does, but, I do know that I appreciate thesis driven exhibitions, which explore new ideas, themes, or patterns that have previously been ignored much more so than a show that is simply a display of one person's (or couple's) personal taste.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vasari Invented the Renaissance by Alicia Harris

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. 1919

Who is it that establishes what we study as students of the history of art? I have been reading Vasari lately, attempting to come to terms with my deep-rooted distaste for the Renaissance (that is fodder for an entirely different discussion). I am left wondering what it is that makes Vasari such an unmatched authority on all things “Renaissance”. How is it that this man became the single authority on the subject? Were not many of the artists about whom he wrote his close associates and friends? Perhaps if I kept a log on the lives of my artist friends, with all of my invested biases and personal preferences coupled with my admittedly limited scope, I could become the “Vasari” of the early 21st century. Would I be able to insist that my friends were entirely removed from the actual system from which they came?As Vasari did when he venerate Michalangelo to the point of idolatry? Could I suggest that they are entirely removed from the system, which produced them? Could I deny their context?
My contention is this: without Vasari's writings, we would have no time period to reference as the Renaissance. The specific names of artists, like the unknown artisans of the Dark Ages, would have continued as unfamiliar iterations of random artistry or craft. Can we, as scholars in the 21st century, trust the ideas of one person as a source upon which we base a study of an entire era of history? Don’t we require more than one source in our own contemporary practice? How can we persist in heralding the Renaissance as the pinnacle of the history of art when it is (quite possible) an a-contextual fabrication from the mind of Vasari?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Aspiring For More

Jared Latimer who currently runs one of Utah's more ambitious Art centers, the CUAC, said that "Utah doesn't have a critical voice in the whole state." This blog seeks to provide such a voice. The students of the Art History Department are here to serve. We seek to share with you, the reader, what we love and what we disagree with in our field. We will inform you about exhibitions in the surrounding region including exhibitions at BYU's Museum of Art, student shows and symposiums, as well as what our department is researching. This being a blog implies that we hope for participation and contributions from the online community. Remember this blog's soul purpose is to serve you as you seek to enrich your life through the visual arts.

Update: If you have written something you would like posted on the blog please email it to! We would love to post your submissions about any and all things art related - near and far, things on campus and in the larger art world. Exhibition critiques, new ideas, professional development, theory, interesting links - the sky is the limit!