Sunday, November 9, 2014
ART HIST 1A03: Tutorials (10, 11, 12)
Last week I spent some time discussing the now-famous 'botched' restoration of the 'Ecce Homo' ('Behold the Man') fresco in Borja, Spain above). Here is a New York Times report from 2012 (when the story broke and went viral):
Despite Good Intentions, a Fresco in Spain is Ruined
As noted in lecture, the critical response to the restoration was fixated in the technical inadequacies of the work carried out by Cecilia Giménez. The value of the restoration as an act of love and devotion was thus marginalized. The Borja incident reminds us of the limits imposed upon our understanding of works when we judge them solely on the basis of aesthetics and technical execution. Accordingly, it remind us of the terms upon which we negotiate our relationship to works of art. The context we set up for understanding a given work ultimately involves a negotiation of power in which we, as viewers, are privileged.
Consider the following sculpture (Recovery, c. 1950) for instance. Look at the image for a few moments before reading the text beneath.
Now consider the following information about the work (as provided on the National Endowment for the Arts website):
Carved from the trunk of an apple tree, Recovery was sculpted by the hands of an unknown British mental patient. It has been attributed as a self-portrait as the patient's own concave chest (the result of tuberculosis) is replicated in the wooden figure. Edward Adamson, a thought-leader in art therapy for mental patients, encouraged the individual's work on the tree trunk. After a month of whittling, Recovery was born. The piece is the only identified work of the unknown creator.
How does our relationship to this work change with this information? To what extent might our inclination to value the work aesthetically (or technically) limit our understanding of the work? If we identify it as a work of art do we, in turn, impose a set of values upon the object which do not necessarily apply? What might those values be? If this is the case does it raise ethical concerns about our treatment of the work?
In our course lectures we have looked at a variety of works from different periods and cultures and each of these have been presented in a book titled, Art History. Each work has thus been treated in the text as a work of art. Does this raise any issues for you? Are there any examples of work that seem to be poorly served by the title 'art' alone? Which ones? Why might it be problematic to designate them as works of art?
Be prepared to share your thoughts in tutorial.
Posted by Greg Davies at 7:43 AM