ACTUALISM IN ART: A DISCOURSE (2010) by Troy ...

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ACTUALISM IN ART: A DISCOURSE (2010) by Troy N. Egan. The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Actualism in Art A Discourse By Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato 2010 2

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Actualism in Art A Discourse

A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English

By Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato 2010 3

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Actualism in Art A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

ABSTRACT ‘The problem with genre is that it risks turning individual works of art into myth’ Andre Bakhtin

The role of art in the face of changing cultural paradigms is significant, in that it provides a unique voice and perspective outside the prevailing ideologies of our times, including religion, philosophy, science, sociology and politics. The prevailing postmodern aesthetic of the late 20 th century has served to not only challenge the traditional classical worldview in modernist art and culture, but has also served to blur the distinctions between these prevailing ideologies in favour of pluralistic concepts over universal meta-narratives. Actualism in Art is an exploration of these paradigms in the context of the artistic and philosophical search for ultimate realism in art. Spanning the modern realist movement, and the later revolutionary and technological advances in conceptual and virtual art forms, Actual Art is a search beyond the classical “frames” of reference, such as the picture frame, the art gallery and the medium, into the blurred realms of revolutionary performance, the ecological processes of growth and decay in art and nature, and the nearest attempt yet to align the represented with the real. The degree to which this is achieved by artists and philosophers is the difference between an actual universal paradigm, and another relativistic idea.

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Actualism in Art A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

CONTENTS

i.

Prologue

ii.

Philosophical Background

iii.

Theoretical Contexts Realism Conceptualism Virtualism Representationalism Postmodernism

iv.

Critique Visual Arts Conceptual Arts Virtual Art and Architecture Actual Arts Performing Arts Literary Arts

v.

Examples Revolutionary Actualism Ecological Actualism Existential Actualism (Universalism)

vi.

Epilogue

vii.

Bibliography

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

i. Prologue Actualism, as a concept, can be divided into two schools of enquiry: the first, a philosophy in metaphysics pertaining to the existence of possible worlds, and the second, an art philosophy that incorporates the effects of time and nature on an artwork. Both schools, although very different, are common in one obvious way; they explore the concept of actuality. To be more specific, both schools posit certain attributes to the nature of what one might consider ‘actual’. For the purposes of clarity, and the main reason for this discussion, is for us to discern what it is we are talking about when we are referring to the actual. As with any open-ended concept, when we are talking about something being actual we are limited by the many interpretations which may colour and add to such a concept, still not bringing us to a resolution. The question “What is art?” for instance, may seem a purely subjective enterprise. When we are asking “What is real?” we are equally contending with the opposing viewpoints of quantum physics or religious spiritualism, with the particulars of concrete fact and the abstraction of psychological metaphor. The balance between subjective and objective reality often teeters upon a paradigm of individual-collective definitions, which makes any definition, especially those of openended concepts, challenging to say the least.

When we ask “What is actual?” it is easier to explore a set of common attributes that we could otherwise consider as being actual. The first challenge that seems to arise from this issue is our definitions of actual things. Alfred Frankenstein of the San Francisco Chronicle (“NY, Helene Aylon” Sept. 28, 1975) wrote with regard to the work of artist Helene Aylon that such Actualism in art is ‘the self-conscious enlistment of the forces of nature, by artists, toward the completion of their art’. It was of note that, since the term Realism had been taken, Actualism was used instead. It can then be assumed that the concept of ‘actuality’ in this case, is synonymous with the concept of ‘reality’ or ‘realism’. The term has 6

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

also been attributed, much earlier, to French Writer Alain Jouffrey. His description accounted for the impacts of social revolutions on art, where ‘the division between art and social reality ceases to exist’*. A concept of ‘reality’ is again alluded to, but in this context, particular to the breaking down of social conventions. Another consideration that arises from this second definition includes the concept of divisions, particularly breaking them down in reactionary ways. Such a definition would also account for Neo-Actualist artists who blur the line between art and reality, perhaps by subversive or revolutionary means, the spirit of propaganda. Such practitioners might include American comedians Lenny Bruce and Andy Kaufman, British author Aldous Huxley, and American journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Generally speaking, an art account may identify Actualism in terms of how well it represents reality; with particular reference to whatever may be considered most real. The reason I state this point is that Frankenstein’s definition is based within the context of Helene Aylon and her colleagues, whose works incorporate such environmental characteristics as nature, time, space, form and colour. However, Jouffrey’s definition is broader, and incorporates art forms beyond that of visual art and sculpture, which may be seen as another barrier or constraint. For this reason, I term Jouffrey’s definition as describing Revolutionary Actualism. What is not clear, for the time being, is how a concept of actuality is communicated to the viewer, and whether what is being communicated is in fact Actualist in its very nature. The following discussions will explore the philosophical underpinnings of Actualism from an existentialist perspective. Following this, I will explore the theoretical contexts that contribute to contemporary global art. Finally, I will explore current and prospective art forms with closest regard to actualist types.

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

* [Cited 9/11/2010]

ii. Philosophical Background

Left to Right: Marilyn Monroe Diptych, Andy Warhol (1962), (Cited 3/11/2010) 2) Jackson Pollack, (Cited 3/11/2010),

The greater philosophical concept of Actualism has its roots as far back as Plato’s Republic. Plato posited, in one of the most famous analogies in philosophy, a person experiencing life only as a reflection on the back of the cave wall. Their entire life experience would be

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

shaped by a reality they would only understand in terms of this reflection. However, as this is the only context for experience with which they are familiar, it stands to reason that they would not experience it as a lesser form of reality, than say, someone who has experienced both the contexts of the reality of the cave wall, and the reality outside of the cave. In this regard, I would identify the person within the cave as living life ‘virtually’, in that their experience is a reflection of a deeper ‘actual’ reality occurring behind them. This virtual context becomes a ‘representation’ of light, sound and form, as opposed to the actual reality outside, which can also be called ‘the represented’. Enlightenment comes to the cave dweller when they are finally shown the ‘real’ world. This is the situation and context by which I would hope to understand and define modern Actualist art, as being an ascension from classical virtual representation, to more refined representations that not only blur, but bridge and ultimately unify the representation with the represented. Norris & Benjamin explore Plato’s analogy in their text What is Deconstruction? (1988), identifying ‘Plato’s idea of truth as a kind of unveiling (aletheia), an inward revelation vouchsafed to the soul in a state of intellectual grace, as opposed to that other, less reputable kind that relied on mimesis, phenomenal cognition, or a certain correspondence between real-world objects and representations thereof’ (Norris & Benjamin, p. 17). Plato seems to provide a hierarchy of purer forms that tend toward and away from the actual-as-concrete, being essences or pure forms. In Plato’s hierarchy, representations are less pure in form, where physical objects are representations of pure forms and art is a representation of physical objects. This can be likened to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe diptych (1964, Picture 1) where consecutive photocopies of the celebrity icon’s image produce a disintegration of quality. Norris and Benjamin continue:

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Plato’s belief that the “real-world” objects of phenomenal perception are not in fact the ultimate reality; that we can only have genuine knowledge of them in so far as we aspire to a true philosophical grasp ... according to Plato’s doctrine – the artist must be seen as a double deceiver, one who offers a mere simulacrum of that which already belongs to the realm of secondary representation’ ... ‘so art provides a kind of shadow-play reality for those lacking the wisdom or virtue to pursue philosophical truth (Norris & Benjamin, p. 20). Referring to the Republic, Norris and Benjamin also state that ‘the Plato text has to do with painting, and argues that the only authentic (virtuous) form of mimesis is that whereby the artist seeks to reproduce those inward truths whose essence lies beyond mere sensory representation’ (Norris & Benjamin, p. 21). This again places a hierarchy for the inward over the outward (or senses), which would be indicative of realist painting, which we shall explore further in Section 4. If Plato were alive today, it would seem his preference to be for the likes of an artist like Jackson Pollack (Picture 2), whose work explores the tension between an unconscious and conscious energy, pre-empting the inner emotional world through the artist, rather than relegating it as a by-product of an audiences experience with a realist representation, which one might expect they could also experience from the represented object itself. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) outlines the current philosophical debate between the school of the Actualists and the opposing school of Possibilism. In the most simplified terms possible, Actualist philosophy is a position whereby all things that exist are actual; whereas, Possibilist’s deny Actualism on the account that there may be possible worlds and states of being which are not necessarily classed as ‘existent’, for example, an alien species which once was, but is no longer. I will not delve too much into the complexities of this debate and its many forms but will focus on two principles of

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

Actualism that may be of benefit to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the concept. First is the concept of ‘contingency’ which relates to something persisting in form, being or existence. This may include the supposition that a non-actual or non-existent entity was either actual or existent at some past or future point. In terms of contingence, this would imply that such an entity was or will be actual or existent, and therefore has or will always be maintained within the bounds of actuality, through contingence. As such an account would fare well for a general Actualist account, a Possibilist scenario might favour the dividing of an Actualist context with provision for Possibilist ones. Secondly, as stated in the Stanford article on Actualism, the ‘semantics provides insight into the “word-world” connection that explains how it is that sentences can express truth and falsity, how they can carry good and bad information’ (4). The pertinence of this statement regarding the philosophical language of formal logic identifies the very dilemmas inherent in our representations (i.e., art and formal logic) and that which we are representing (i.e., reality and actuality). Some examples include the perceptive biases present in a persons subjective experience, and how this shapes their objective experience, and the challenges of defining art (or A) in terms of non-art modes of evaluation and analysis (or B). James Tomberlin begins his abstract ‘How Not To Be An Actualist’ from Philosophical Perspectives, 15, by defining Actualism as ‘the position that there are no objects that do not actually exist’ (Tomberlin, 2001). Instantly, this philosophical account quantifies actuality within the context of existence, rather than reality alone, and that reality is defined by the nature of the objects within it, namely, existent ones. With more precision, such a description helps clarify some key challenges for depictions of Actualism in art, particularly that the bounds of such work may not be limited to the constraints of Realism alone, 11

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

broadening its scope to include all existent objects or things. However, there are further implications with this philosophical account. What is the place of non-objects, and how does it refer to ideas, concepts or theories, which are not ordinarily considered as Objects? It is apparent from Tomberlin and Devitt that there is further room for discussion around contingently non-actual objects or things (see Plantinga, 5), which, for all intents and purposes, may relate to representations involving symbols that are actual, but refer to nonactual things (such as the word and concept ‘nothing’ for no-thing). This again highlights the ‘word-world’ dilemma earlier expressed, where it is yet unclear as to whether there is a point at which our representations become the represented, despite Plato’s view to the contrary, or whether such a divide can never be crossed, only alluded to by association through word, art or any means other than pure experience of the represented, the ramifications of which is that such an experience will always be left wanting. With the technicalities of such a debate aside, the possibility or actuality of deeper layers of the represented do not preclude the fact that our experience through representations are still ample, and able to provide a discourse for Actualism in Art with plenty of leeway for exploration. The following section will focus on some of the major theoretical constructs underlying modern art and theory.

iii. Theoretical Contexts Realism Realism is found in both the arts and philosophy, and is defined as being ‘an inclination toward literal truth and pragmatism’ and the ‘representation in art or literature of objects, actions or social conditions as they actually, without idealisation or presentation in abstract 12

Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

form’*. Alluding to the previous section, Realists are also a school of the Problem of Universals debate, claiming universals ‘exist independently of their being thought’*. Realism in art, as expressed by George P. Landow of Brown University, assumes a significant difference between realism the art and the philosophy. He writes that:

Unlike Platonism and Philosophical Realism (or Idealism), Realism assumes that reality inheres in the here and now, in the everyday. It therefore emphasizes accurate descriptions of specific setting, dress, and character in ways that would have appeared entirely inappropriate to Neoclassical and earlier authors. Realism, which emphasizes the importance of the ordinary‹the ordinary person and the ordinary situation, tends to reject the heroic and the aristocratic and embrace the pedestrian, the comic, and the middle class. ** Realism in art appears as a general genre, presentable in such diverse art genres as visual arts, literature, theatre and film. Realism appears as ‘a style of painting and sculpture developed about the mid-19th century in which figures and scenes are depicted as they are experienced or

might be experienced in everyday life’*. The classic example in modern art is the ‘still life’ representation of fruit in a fruit bowl, or a scene at a beach. As literature, it appears as ‘a manner of treating subject matter that presents a careful description of everyday life, usually of

* [Cited 10/11/2010] ** [Cited 10/11/2010]

the lower and middle classes’ and ‘a theory of writing in which the ordinary, familiar, or mundane aspects of life are represented in a straightforward or matter-of-fact manner that is presumed to reflect life as it actually is’*. This reflection of ‘life as it actually is’ is indicative of realism in art. In philosophy, the word used is involved in a fundamental debate concerning one of the many aspects of reality this experience we call existence, the nature of absolute qualities such as ‘redness’ or ‘hardness’. What is not clear in the debate is whether such qualities as ‘redness’ and ‘hardness’ that we experience in the world, such as the redness of an apple, or the hardness of the pavement, is whether these qualities are only concepts, or thoughts in our minds formed as one of many

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Actualism in Art: A Discourse by Troy N. Egan

The University of Waikato, 2010

perceptions we have of ‘the apple’ or ‘the pavement’, or whether these qualities actually exist in some objective sense, and in their own right, as opposed belonging to the objects they are experienced within. The philosophical debate reminds us that our perspectives of reality can be problematic, that aspects of our existence that we commonly take for granted, are not entirely clear. In the role of art, Realism tends to represent our experience as close to reality as possible, even if that concept of reality is shaped and limited to ideas of the mundane, the trivial, the banal, the current and the antiquated.

Conceptualism

Left to Right: 1) [Cited 10/11/2010] 2) ‘Looks Conceptual’ by Stefan Brüggemann. [Cited 10/11/2010] 3) [Cited 10/11/2010] * [Cited 10/11/2010]