Whispers

Whispers
Andre Wallace

Monday, May 23, 2016

Laura Cumming

Laura Cumming is fast becoming the only UK art critic with any gravitas. Here is a selection of her recent writing to consider.

Occasionally, the gallery lighting catches the glint of the Humbrol paint and the picture suddenly looks like an object as much as an image. Shaw has often been asked why he works with this intractable stuff that runs like new blood and has no lusciousness, traction or thickness, that is so difficult to move or manipulate. His answer is that enamel has no historic associations, can keep its distance from the grand tradition. But though he has remained faithful to this tough and lowly medium, despite the lure of the oil paint all around him, he takes it in new directions, achieving the blue of a Titian sky or a Madonna’s cloak, turning a Tile Hill tarpaulin into something like silk."


Of Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain she says:

"It is good to be reminded of the inherent theatricality of these pillared spaces, and the architectural mishmash that is Tate Britain. But this spectacle is deliberately self-limiting. It has the stylised aestheticism of a Peter Greenaway film, and the pleasures are similarly slim." 



It gets worse in the Hirshhorn Museum’s immense Triptych, where the bodies appear thrashed to a pulp and contained in some kind of glass case raised up on a platform. An observer, hanging on the phone, peers at them through the glass. And in an anonymous hotel room with a deep blue view some terrible bloodbath has apparently occurred: or are these simply bloodstained clothes tumbling out of a case? It is hard to know what is going on in this sequence – as hard as Bacon wanted it to be."


Looking and seeing, that is what is going on here and one doesn't have to be reminded that she is discussing visual art unlike so many contemporary critics.


Lastly there was an odd article by Catherine Shoard in the Guardian of 28th April. She writes:

" Last summer, researchers in Germany designed a deep learning computer algorithm that uses image recognition to distil and comprehend the essence of how a great work of art is painted – style, colours, technique, brush strokes. This year will see the publication of a book that claims it’s possible to know with 97% certainty whether a manuscript will hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

The system at work in The Bestseller Code crunches themes, plot, character, pace, punctuation and word frequency to predict success. Its findings range from the obvious – a smattering of sex scenes helps, likewise a dog and a 28-year-old heroine – to the less easy to predict (such as, devote 30% of the novel to two specific topics).

Granted, neither the German researchers nor the boffins behind the code are creating original content. But the programs they are devising are either mimicking it perfectly or computing it fully. And once you understand a formula back to front, it becomes possible to pinpoint its genius, then do it yourself. Over and over and over again. Writers’s block is not a problem."


There is a dispiriting emptiness in this very facile assessment of what art actually does that is quite depressing. Claims for technology always avoid confronting the human element. What makes Toy Story amusing is not the animation, great achievement though it is - but the jokes. Even Wittgenstein was aware of the complex humanity in the mechanism of a simple joke. Besides when everything is done by slave computers from surgery to the law, what will any humans do - apart from make art that is? Before that can happen the knotty problem of finance and work will have to be addressed, and don't see any evidence of utopia on the horizon yet. The problem is the combination of power with payment for work which William Morris's - News from Nowhere attempted to address.



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