10.1 Define what a print is and discuss its earliest uses.
10.2 Characterize relief processes in printmaking.
10.3 Characterize intaglio processes in printmaking.
10.4 Describe the lithographic process and its invention.
10.5 Describe the silkscreen process.
10.6 Differentiate monotypes from other kinds of print.
A print is an image or design printed from an engraved
plate, wooden block, or similar surface. In 2000, soon
after her cat Ginzer died, Kiki Smith brought the body
to Harlan & Weaver, a print publisher and workshop in
New York City, and traced its form onto an etching plate.
For several weeks, Smith worked on the print, slowly developing it in a series of states, or stages in the process,
until she considered it finished. (These various states of
the image can be seen in the art21 Exclusive video â€œKiki
Smith: Printmaking,â€ along with footage of her working
on a related print, Two, at Harlan & Weaver) Along the
way, Smith restored the cat to a kind of life, lending it a
ferocious, animated glare, and, as if to affirm her petâ€™s
feral roots, she made a second print of a bird skeleton to
place beside it (Fig. 10-1). The result is a kind of dialogue
between the forces of life, death, and even resurrection
that speaks not only to the raw realities of the animal
world but also to the fragility of our own place in that
world. If Smithâ€™s print is a kind of memorial to Ginzer, it
is also an act of identification with both Ginzerâ€™s and the
Since the nineteenth century, and increasingly since
World War II, the art world has witnessed what might well
be called an explosion of artists like Smith making prints.
The reasons for this are many. For one thing, the fact that
prints exist in multiple numbers seems to many artists
absolutely in keeping with an era of mass production
and distribution. The print allows the contemporary
artist, in an age increasingly dominated by the mass
media and mechanical modes of reproduction such as
photography, to investigate the meaning of mechanically
reproduced imagery. An even more important reason is
that the unique work of artâ€”a painting or a sculptureâ€”
has become, during the twentieth century, too expensive
for the average collector, even though the size of the purchasing public has grown exponentially. Far less expensive than unique paintings, prints are an avenue through
which artists can more readily reach a wider audience.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 213
Fig. 10-1 Kiki Smith, Ginzer and Bird Skeleton, 2000. Set of two prints, aquatint,
drypoint, and etching on HahnemÃ¼hle bright white paper; Ginzer: paper size
221â„12 Ã— 31 in., image size 18 Ã— 24 in.; Bird Skeleton: paper size 12 Ã— 12 in., image size
6 Ã— 6 in. Edition of 24.
Courtesy of the artist and Harlan & Weaver, New York.
214 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Print and its
What is a print and what motivated the
earliest prints to be made?
There are five basic processes of printmakingâ€”
relief, intaglio, lithography, silkscreen, and
monotypeâ€”and we will consider them all in
this chapter. In each case, the process results
in an impression, or example, of an image
that has been transferred through pressure
onto paper from a matrix, the surface upon
which the design has been created. A single
matrix can be used to make many virtually
identical impressions. Taken together, these
multiple impressions, made on paper from
the same matrix, are called an edition. As
collectors have come to value prints more and
more highly, the somewhat confusing concept
of the original print has come into being.
How, one wonders, can an image that exists
in multiple be considered â€œoriginalâ€? By and
large, an original print can be distinguished
from the reproductive printâ€”one printed
mechanicallyâ€”by the fact that it has been
printed by the artist or under the artistâ€™s supervision.
Since the late nineteenth century, artists have signed
and numbered each impressionâ€”for example, the number 3/35 at the bottom of a print means that this is the
third impression in an edition of 35. Often, artists reserve
a small number of additional proofsâ€”trial impressions
made before the final edition is runâ€”for personal use.
These are usually designated â€œAP,â€ meaning â€œartistâ€™s
proof.â€ After the edition is made, the original plate
is destroyed or canceled by incising lines across it. This is
done to protect the collector against a misrepresentation
about the number of prints in a given edition.
The medium of printmaking appears to have originated in China in the ninth century ce with the publication of the worldâ€™s earliest known printed book,
the Diamond Sutra, one of Buddhismâ€™s more important
texts. Discovered in 1907 in a cave at Dunhuang among
hundreds of other paper and silk scrolls, all perfectly
preserved by the dry desert air (see Chapter 1), the
18-foot-long handscroll begins with a print showing the
Buddha preaching to his followers (Fig. 10-2). Although
only a single copy of the scroll survives (in the British
Library in London), the image was apparently intended
for wide-scale distributionâ€”an inscription at the end of
the scroll reads: â€œReverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two
parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of
Xiantong [11 May 868 ce].â€ This postscript reveals one
of the most important characteristics of the print (as opposed to painting or sculpture)â€”that is, its vital role in
the mass distribution of ideas, especially the popularization of iconographic and stylistic traditions, the conventions of a shared visual culture.
The art of printmaking in Europe seems to have
spread, like paper itself, westward from China. Of course,
the basic principles of printmaking had existed for centuries before the publication of the Diamond Sutra. In the
ancient world, from China to Greece, signature sealsâ€”
small engraved carvings pressed into wax to confirm receipt or ownershipâ€”were widely used to confirm receipt,
authorship, or ownership of a letter or document. Before
the widespread use of paper, pictorial designs were being
printed onto fabric across the European continent. As paper became more and more widely used in the fifteenth
century, producers inscribed signature watermark designs on their paper by attaching bent wire to the molds
used in production. Among the earliest paper prints to
receive widespread distribution across Europe, among
even the illiterate, were playing cards, the designs of
which have changed little since late medieval times.
But printmaking developed rapidly after the appearance of the first printed book. Sometime between
1435 and 1455, in the German city of Mainz, Johannes
Gutenberg discovered a process for casting individual
letterforms by using an alloy of lead and antimony. The
letterforms could be composed into pages of type and
Fig. 10-2 Frontispiece, Diamond Sutra, from Cave 17, Dunhuang,
printed in the ninth year of the Xiantong Era of the Tang dynasty,
868 ce. Ink on paper, woodblock handscroll. British Library.
Â© British Library Board, Or. 8210/P.2, frontispiece and text.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 215
then printed on a wooden standing press using ink
made of lampblack and oil varnish. Although the
Chinese alchemist Pi Sheng had invented movable
type in 1045 ce, now, for the first time, the technology was available in the West, and identical copies
of written works could be reproduced over and
In 1455, Gutenberg published his first major
work, the Forty-Two-Line Bible (Fig. 10-3)â€”so named
because each column of type contains 42 linesâ€”the
first substantial book to be published from movable
type in Europe. An artist added the colorful decorative design of the marginalia and capitals by hand
after the book was printed. By the middle of the
sixteenth century, roughly one hundred years after
this Bible was published, 3,830 editions of the Bible
had been published in Europeâ€”altogether about
1 million copies.
Meanwhile, printing presses were churning
out a wide variety of books throughout Europe,
and many were illustrated. The Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493 by one of the first professional book publishers in history, Anton Koberger,
contains many prints. Appearing in two editions,
one in black-and-white (Fig. 10-4) and another
much more costly edition with hand-colored
illustrations, The Nuremberg Chronicle was intended
as a history of the world. A bestseller in its day, it
contained more than 1,800 pictures, though only
654 different blocks were employed. Forty-four images of men and women were repeated 226 times
to represent different famous historical characters,
and depictions of many different cities utilized the
Fig. 10-3 Johannes Gutenberg, Page from the Forty-Two-Line
Bible, Mainz, 1455â€“56. Page 162 recto with initials â€œMâ€ and â€œEâ€ and
depiction of Alexander the Great; text printed with movable letters
and hand-painted initials and marginalia. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
Photo: Ruth Schacht. Â© 2015. Photo Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst,
Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin.
Fig. 10-4 Hartmann Schedel, The Nuremberg Chronicle: View of Venice, 12 July 1493. Woodcut, illustration size approx.
10 Ã— 20 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Rogers Fund, 1921.36.145. Image Â© Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
216 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
What characterizes the relief processes of printmaking?
The term relief refers to any printmaking process in
which the image to be printed is raised off the background in reverse. Common rubber stamps use the relief
process. If you have a stamp with your name on it, you
will know that the letters of your name are raised off it in
reverse. You press the letters into an ink pad, and then to
paper, and your name is printed right side up. All relief
processes rely on this basic principle.
The earliest prints, such as the illustrations for the Diamond Sutra and The Nuremberg Chronicle, were woodcuts.
A design is drawn on the surface of a woodblock, and
the parts that are to print white are cut or gouged away,
usually with a knife or chisel. This process leaves the
areas that are to be black elevated. A black line is created,
for instance, by cutting away the block on each side of it.
This elevated surfaceâ€”like the elevated letterform of the
printing pressâ€”is then rolled with a relatively viscous
ink, thick and sticky enough that it will not flow into the
hollows (Fig. 10-5). Paper is then rolled through a press
directly against this inked and raised surface.
The woodcut print offers the artist a means of
achieving great contrast between light and dark, and,
as a result, dramatic emotional effects. In the twentieth
century, the expressive potential of the medium was recognized, particularly by the German Expressionists. In
his FrÃ¤nzi Reclining (Fig. 10-6), Erich Heckel gouged out
the figure of his model, the 12-year-old FrÃ¤nzi, whose
unassuming poses Heckel and his colleagues greatly
Fig. 10-5 Relief-printing technique.
Fig. 10-6 Erich Heckel, FrÃ¤nzi Reclining, 1910. Woodcut, printed in color, block 815â„16 Ã— 169â„16 in., sheet 1315â„16 Ã— 217â„8 in.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Gerson, 40.1958. Image Â© 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence. Â© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 217
preferred to the more sophisticated ones
of professional models, rendering the
adolescent awkwardness of her body as
a simple, flat form. Then, Heckel sawed
the woodblock into pieces, inked each
piece separately, and reassembled it like
a jigsaw for printing. The jagged rawness of his forms reflects the directness
of his knife and saw cutting into the
But the rough gouging and cutting of
the block evident in the Heckel woodcut
do not reflect the historical refinement
of the medium. By the mid-eighteenth
century, technology developed by the Chinese for making color woodblock prints
from multiple blocks was beginning to
be popularized in Japan. The resulting
images, known as nishiki-e, or â€œbrocade
picturesâ€â€”so named because they were
felt to resemble brocade fabricsâ€”were, at
first, commissioned by a group of wealthy
Japanese who, among various other intellectual pursuits, routinely exchanged
elaborately decorated calendars on New
Yearâ€™s Day. Since the government held a
monopoly on the printing of all calendars,
the artists making these nishiki-e calendars
went to elaborate lengths to disguise their
efforts, and the symbols for the months
were introduced into the compositions in
the subtlest ways.
The first and most prominent of
the artists to produce nishiki-e calendars was Suzuki Harunobu. So admired were his designs that, by 1766,
they were widely distributed commerciallyâ€”minus, of course, their
calendar symbols. Before his death
in 1770, Harunobu produced hundreds of nishiki-e prints, many of them
dedicated to illustrating the most elegant aspects of eighteenth-century
Japanese life, and his prints were,
if not the first, then certainly the most influential early examples of what would
soon become known as ukiyo-e, â€œpictures of the transient world of everyday
lifeâ€ (see The Creative Process, pp. 218â€“
19). He was especially renowned for
his ability to portray women of great
beauty, and some of his favorite subjects were the beautiful courtesans in
the Yoshiwara pleasure district of Edo
(modern Tokyo): Two Courtesans, Inside and Outside the Display Window
(Fig. 10-7) is a striking example. The
display window, or harimise, is the lattice-windowed area in the front of a
brothel where the potential client might
choose the courtesan of his pleasure.
This print is remarkable for both its
graphic simplicity and its subtle evocation of traditional Japanese culture
and values. Instead of showing the entirety of the window, Harunobu depicts
just one section, creating a powerfully
realized grid structure into which
he has placed his figures. In other
words, the delicate, rounded lines of
the courtesansâ€™ features and clothing
contrast dramatically with the broad
two-dimensional structure of the harimise. This graphic contrast, equally realized in the contrast between the inside
and outside of the harimise, as well as
the fact that one courtesan stands while
the other sits, reflects the philosophy
embodied in the traditional Japanese
principle of complementarity, which
itself originates in Chinese Taoist philosophy. Representing unity within diversity, opposites organized in perfect
harmony, the ancient symbol for this
principle is the famous yin and yang:
Yin is generative, nurturing, soft, and passive, and is associated with feminine principles. Yang is active, hard, and aggressive,
and is associated with the masculine.
Thus, Harunobuâ€™s print is not merely a depiction of everyday life in the Yoshiwara
pleasure district, but a subtle philosophical defense of the eraâ€™s sexual mores.
European artists became particularly interested in the woodblock process in the nineteenth century through
their introduction to the Japanese
woodblock print. Woodblock printing had essentially died as an art form
in Europe as early as the Renaissance,
Fig. 10-7 Suzuki
Courtesans, Inside and
Outside the Display
Window, Japanese, Edo
period, about 1768â€“69.
Woodblock print (nishiki-e),
ink and color on paper,
263â„8 Ã— 51â„16 in. Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston.
Denman Waldo Ross Collection,
1906.1248. Photograph Â© 2015
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
218 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Creative Process
Making an Ukiyo-e Print: Kitagawa Utamaroâ€™s Studio
Most Japanese prints are examples of what is called ukiyo-e,
or â€œpictures of the transient world of everyday life.â€ Inspired in
the late seventeenth century by a Chinese manual on the art of
painting entitled The Mustard-Seed Garden, which contained
many woodcuts in both color and black-and-white, ukiyo-e
prints were commonplace in Japan by the middle of the eighteenth century. Between 1743 and 1765, Japanese artists like
Suzuki Harunobu (see Fig. 10-7) developed their distinctive
method for color printing from multiple blocks.
The subject matter of these prints is usually concerned
with the pleasures of contemporary lifeâ€”hairdos and wardrobes, daily rituals such as bathing, theatrical entertainments,
life in the Tokyo brothels, and so on, in endless combination.
Kitagawa Utamaroâ€™s depiction of The Fickle Type, from his
Fig. 10-8 Kitagawa Utamaro, The Fickle Type, from the series Ten Physiognomies
of Women, ca. 1793. Woodcut, 14 Ã— 97
Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 219
series Ten Physiognomies of Women (Fig. 10â€‘8), embodies the
sensuality of the world that the ukiyo-e print so often reveals.
Hokusaiâ€™s view of the eternal Mount Fuji in The Great Wave off
Kanagawa (see Fig. 7-21) was probably conceived as a commentary on the self-indulgence of the genre of ukiyo-e as a
whole. The mountainâ€”and, by extension, the values it stood for,
the traditional values of the nation itselfâ€”is depicted in Hokusaiâ€™s
famous series as transcending the fleeting pleasures of daily life.
Traditionally, the creation of a Japanese print was a team
effort, and the publisher, the designer (such as Utamaro), the
carver, and the printer were all considered essentially equal
in the creative process. The head of the project was the publisher, who often conceived of the ideas for the prints, financing
individual works or series of works that the public would, in his
estimation, be likely to buy. Utamaroâ€™s depiction of his studio
in a publisherâ€™s establishment (Fig. 10-9) is a mitate, or fanciful picture. Each of the workers in the studio is a pretty girlâ€”
hence, the printâ€™s status as a mitateâ€”and they are engaged,
according to the caption on the print, in â€œmaking the famous
Edo [present-day Tokyo] color prints.â€ Utamaro depicts himself
at the right, dressed in womenâ€™s clothing and holding a finished
print. His publisher, also dressed as a woman, looks on from
behind his desk. On the left of the triptych is a depiction of
workers preparing paper. They are sizing itâ€”that is, brushing
the surface with an astringent crystalline substance called alum
that reduces the absorbency of the paper so that ink will not
run along its fibersâ€”then hanging the sized prints to dry. The
paper was traditionally made from the inside of the bark of the
mulberry tree mixed with bamboo fiber, and, after sizing, it was
kept damp for six hours before printing.
In the middle section of the print, the block is actually prepared. In the foreground, a worker sharpens her chisel on a
stone. Behind her is a stack of blocks upon which brush drawings made by Utamaro have been placed face down and secured on each block with a weak rice-starch dissolved in water.
The woman seated at the desk in the middle rubs the back
of the drawing to remove several layers of fiber. She then saturates what remains with oil until it becomes transparent. At
this point, the original drawing looks as if it were drawn on the
Next, the workers carve the block, and we can see here
large white areas being chiseled out of the block by the woman
seated in the back. Black-and-white prints of this design are
made and then returned to the artist, who indicates the colors for the prints, one color to a sheet. The cutter then carves
each sheet on a separate block. The final print is, in essence,
an accumulation of the individually colored blocks, requiring a
separate printing for each color.
Fig. 10-9 Kitagawa Utamaro, Utamaroâ€™s Studio, Eshi . . . dosa-hiki (the three primary steps in producing a
print from drawing to glazing), from the series Edo meibutsu nishiki-e kosaku, ca. 1803. Oban triptych, ink
and color on paper, 243â„4 Ã— 95â„8 in. Published by Tsuruya Kiemon. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1939.2141. Photo Â© 1999, Art Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved.
220 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
but not long after Commodore Matthew C. Perryâ€™s
arrival in Japan in July 1853, ending 215 years of isolation from the rest of the world, Japanese prints
flooded the European market, and they were received
with enthusiasm. Part of their attraction was their exotic subject matter, but artists were also intrigued
by the range of color in the prints, their subtle and economical use of line, and their novel use of pictorial space.
Impressionist artists such as Ã‰douard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt were particularly influenced by Japanese prints. But the artist most enthusiastic
about them was Vincent van Gogh. He owned prints
by the hundreds, and on numerous occasions copied them directly. Japonaiserie: The Courtesan (after
Kesai Eisen) (Fig. 10-10) is an example. The central figure in the painting is copied from a print by Kesai
Eisen that van Gogh saw on the cover of a special
Japanese issue of Paris IllustrÃ© published in May 1886
(Fig. 10-11). All the other elements of the painting are
derived from other Japanese prints, except perhaps
the boat at the very top, which appears Western in
conception. The frogs were copied from Yoshimaroâ€™s
New Book of Insects, and both the cranes and the bamboo
stalks are derived from prints by Hokusai (see Fig. 7-21).
Van Goghâ€™s intentions in combining all these elements
become clear when we recognize that the central figure
is a courtesan (her tortoiseshell hair ornaments signify
her profession), and that the words grue (crane) and grenouille (frog) were common Parisian words for prostitutes. Van Gogh explained his interest in Japanese prints
in a letter written in September 1888: â€œWhatever one
says,â€ he wrote, â€œI admire the most popular Japanese
Fig. 10-11 â€œLe Japon,â€ cover of Paris IllustrÃ©, May 1886.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Courtesy of Vincent van Gogh Foundation.
Fig. 10-10 Vincent van Gogh, Japonaiserie: The Courtesan
(after Kesai Eisen), 1887. Oil on canvas, 413â„8 Ã— 24 in. Van Gogh
Courtesy of Vincent van Gogh Foundation.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 221
prints, colored in flat areas, and for the same reasons that
I admire Rubens and Veronese. I am absolutely certain
that this is no primitive art.â€
Of all the Impressionists, perhaps the American
Mary Cassatt, who exhibited with the group beginning in 1867, was most taken with the Japanese tradition. She was especially impressed with its interest
in the intimate world of women, the daily routines of
domestic existence. She consciously imitated works
like Utamaroâ€™s Shaving a Boyâ€™s Head (Fig. 10-12). Cassattâ€™s Bath (Fig. 10-13), one of ten prints inspired by an
April 1890 exhibition of Japanese woodblocks at the
Ã‰cole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, exploits the same contrasts between printed textiles and bare skin, between
colored fabric and the absence of color in space. Her
whole composition is made up of flatly silhouetted
shapes against a bare ground, the whole devoid of the
traditional shading and tonal variations that create
the illusion of depth in Western art.
By the late nineteenth century, woodcut illustration
had reached a level of extraordinary sophistication.
Illustrators commonly employed a method known as
wood engraving. Wood engraving is a â€œwhite-lineâ€
technique in which the fine, narrow grooves cut into
the block do not hold ink. The grainy end of a section
of woodâ€”comparable to the rough end of a 4 Ã— 4â€”is
utilized instead of the smooth side of a board, as it is
in woodcut proper. The end grain can be cut in any
direction without splintering, and thus extremely delicate modeling can be achieved by means of careful
hatching in any direction.
Fig. 10-12 Kitagawa Utamaro, Shaving a Boyâ€™s Head, ca.
1795. Color woodblock print, 151â„8 Ã— 101â„4 in. The Minneapolis
Institute of Arts.
Bequest of Richard P. Gale, 74.1.153. Bridgeman Images.
Fig. 10-13 Mary Cassatt, The Bath, 1890â€“91. Drypoint and
aquatint on laid paper, plate 125â„8 Ã— 93â„4 in., sheet 173â„16 Ã— 12 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Rosenwald Collection. Photo Â© Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art,
Washington, D.C. Photo: Dean Beasom.
222 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The wood engraving used to illustrate Captain J. W.
Powellâ€™s 1875 Exploration of the Colorado River of the West
(Fig. 10-14) was copied by a professional wood engraver
from an original sketch, executed on the site, by American painter Thomas Moran (his signature mark, in the
lower left-hand corner, is an â€œMâ€ crossed by a â€œTâ€ with
an arrow pointing downward). A narrative of the first exploration of the Colorado River canyon from Green River,
in Wyoming, to the lower end of the Grand Canyon, the
bookâ€”together with a number of paintings executed by
Moran from the same sketchesâ€”presented America with
its first views of the great Western canyonlands.
A linocut is similar to a woodcut, except, as its name
suggests, the block is made of linoleum instead of
wood. Softer than wood, linoleum is easier to cut but
wears down more quickly under pressure, resulting
in smaller editions. As in woodcut, color can also be
added to a print by creating a series of different blocks,
one for each color, each of which is aligned with the
others in a process known as registration (the same
process used, incidentally, by Japanese ukiyo-e printers
to align the different-colored blocks of their prints).
Fig. 10-14 Noon-Day Rest in Marble Canyon, after an original sketch by
Thomas Moran, from J. W. Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River of
the West and its Tributaries, 1875. Wood engraving, 6Â½ Ã— 43â„8 in.
New York Public Library.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 223
Fig. 10-15 Elizabeth Catlett, Sharecropper, 1952, printed 1970. Color linocut on cream Japanese paper,
image 173â„4 Ã— 17 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hartman, 1992.182. Art Â© Catlett Mora Family Trust/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
African-American artist Elizabeth Catlettâ€™sâ€™s linocut
Sharecropper (Fig. 10-15) is comprised of three separate
linoleum blocks printed in black, dark green (for the
jacket), and burnt sienna (for the neck and face). The
practice of sharecropping, which was introduced soon
after the emancipation of the slaves in the last half of the
nineteenth century, essentially reinstated the conditions
of slavery itself as white landlords exploited former
slaves by contracting for a share of the crops produced
on their small plots of land in return for the dubious
privilege of working the land. We look up at Catlettâ€™s
sharecropper as if we are her children, and what we see
is anything but a visage defeated by a lifetime of indentured servitude. Instead we are witness to a determined
strength, a will to endure. She is entirely representative
of Catlettâ€™s own lifetime dedication to create art that
promotes social change. The artist died in 2012 at the
age of 96.
224 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
What characterizes the intaglio processes of
Relief processes rely on a raised surface for printing.
With the intaglio process, on the other hand, the areas
to be printed are below the surface of the plate. Intaglio
is the Italian word for â€œengraving,â€ and the method
itself was derived from engraving techniques practiced by goldsmiths and armorers in the Middle Ages.
In general, intaglio refers to any process in which
the cut or incised lines on the plate are filled with ink
(Figs. 10-16 and 10-17). The surface of the plate is wiped
clean, and a sheet of dampened paper is pressed into the
plate with a very powerful roller so that the paper picks
up the ink in the depressed grooves. Since the paper is
essentially pushed into the plate in order to be inked, a
subtle but detectable elevation of the lines that result is
always evident in the final print. Modeling and shading
are achieved in the same way as in drawing, by hatching, cross-hatching, and often stipplingâ€”where, instead
of lines, dots are employed in greater and greater density the deeper and darker the shadow.
wiped metal plate
Fig. 10-16 Intaglio printmaking technique, general view.
Fig. 10-17 Intaglio printmaking techniques, side views.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 225
Engraving is accomplished by pushing a small V-shaped
metal rod, called a burin, across a metal plate, usually of
copper or zinc, forcing the metal up in slivers in front of
the line. These slivers are then removed from the plate
with a hard metal scraper. Depending on the size of the
burin used and the force with which it is applied to the
plate, the results can range from almost microscopically
fine lines to ones so broad and coarse that they can be felt
with a fingertip.
Line engravings were commonly used to illustrate
books and reproduce works of art in the era before the
invention of photography, and for many years after.
Illustrated here is an engraving done on a steel plate
(steel was capable of producing many more copies than
either copper or zinc) of J. M. W. Turnerâ€™s painting Snow
Storm: Steamboat off a Harborâ€™s Mouth (Fig. 10-18). The
anonymous engraver captures the play of light and dark
in the original by using a great variety of lines of differing width, length, and density.
Etching is a much more fluid and free process than engraving and is capable of capturing something of the
same sense of immediacy as the sketch. As a result, master draftsmen, such as Rembrandt, readily took to the
medium. It satisfied their love for spontaneity of line.
Yet the medium also requires the utmost calculation and
planning, an ability to manipulate chemicals that verges,
especially in Rembrandtâ€™s greatest etchings, on wizardry,
and a certain willingness to risk losing everything in
order to achieve the desired effect.
Creating an etching is a twofold process, consisting
of a drawing stage and an etching stage. The metal plate
is first coated with an acid-resistant substance called a
ground, and this ground is drawn upon. If a hard ground
is chosen, then an etching needle is required to break
through it and expose the plate. Hard grounds are employed for finely detailed linear work. Soft grounds, made
of tallow or petroleum jelly, can also be used, and virtually any tool, including the artistâ€™s finger, can be used to
Fig. 10-18 After J. M. W. Turner, Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harborâ€™s Mouth (1842), engraved by R. Brandard,
published 1859â€“61. Engraving on steel.
Â© Tate, London 2015.
226 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Fig. 10-19 Rembrandt van Rijn, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1634. Etching, 10Â¼ Ã— 8Â½ in.
Mr and Mrs De Bruijn-van der Leeuw Bequest, Muri, Switzerland.
expose the plate. The traditional soft-ground technique
is often called crayon manner or pencil manner because
the final product so closely resembles crayon and pencil
drawing. In this technique, a thin sheet of paper is placed
on top of the ground and is drawn on with a soft pencil
or crayon. When the paper is removed, it lifts the ground
where the drawing instrument was pressed into the paper.
Whichever kind of ground is employed, the drawn
plate is then set in an acid bath, and those areas that
have been drawn are eaten into, or etched, by the
acid. The undrawn areas of the plate are, of course,
unaffected by the acid. The longer the exposed plate
is left in the bath, and the stronger the solution, the
greater the width and depth of the etched line. The
Chapter 10 Printmaking 227
strength of individual lines or areas can be controlled
by removing the plate from the bath and stopping
out a section by applying a varnish or another coat
of ground over the etched surface. The plate is then
resubmerged into the bath. The stopped-out lines will
be lighter than those that are again exposed to the acid.
When the plate is ready for printing, the ground is removed with solvent, and the print is made according
to the intaglio method.
Rembrandtâ€™s The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds
(Fig. 10-19) is one of the most fully realized etchings
ever printed, pushing the medium to its very limits.
(Although Rembrandt worked exclusively with
brown and black inks, it is possible to work with
colored inks as wellâ€”see The Creative Process, pp.
228â€“29). For this print, Rembrandt altered the usual
etching process. Fascinated by the play of light and
dark, he wanted to create the feeling that the angel,
and the light associated with her, were emerging out
of the darkness. Normally, in etching, the background
is white, since it is unetched and there are no lines on
it to hold ink. Here, Rembrandt wanted a black background, and he worked first on the darkest areas of
the composition, creating an intricately cross-hatched
landscape of ever-deepening shadow. Only the white
areas bathed in the angelâ€™s light remained undrawn.
At this point, the plate was placed in acid and bitten as deeply as possible. Finally, the angel and the
frightened shepherds in the foreground were worked
up in a more traditional manner of etched line on a
largely white ground. It is as if, at this crucial moment
of the New Testament, when the angel announces the
birth of Jesus, Rembrandt reenacts, in his manipulation of light and dark, the opening scenes of the Old
Testamentâ€”Godâ€™s pronouncement in Genesis, â€œLet
there be light.â€
A third form of intaglio printing is known as drypoint.
The drypoint line is scratched into the copper plate with
a metal point that is pulled across the surface, not pushed
as in engraving. A ridge of metal, called a burr, is pushed
up along each side of the line, giving a rich, velvety, soft
texture to the print when inked, as is evident in Mary Cassattâ€™s The Map (The Lesson) (Fig. 10-20). The softness of line
generated by the drypoint process is especially appealing.
Because this burr quickly wears off in the printing process, it is rare to find a drypoint edition of more than 25,
and the earliest numbers in the edition are often the finest.
Fig. 10-20 Mary Cassatt, The Map (The Lesson), 1890. Drypoint, 63â„16 Ã— 93â„16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago.
Joseph Brooks Fair Collection, 1933.537. Photo Â© 1999 Art Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved.
228 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Like woodcut prints, colored etchings require separate
printings for each color, but whereas Utamaro used separate,
individually colored blocks for each color (see Fig. 10-9),
in etching any section not requiring the new color can be
stopped out or simply printed over the colors previously applied, or a combination of both. Yuji Hiratsukaâ€™s Miracle Grow
Hypnotist (Fig. 10â€‘23) is a four-color print produced by this
means. He inks four separate copper plates, printing black
first, then yellow, red, and blue, in that order, on very thin Japanese Kozo paper, the delicate surface of which allows the
printmaker to pull finer details off the plate. Reproduced here
are the black and red plates of Miracle Grow Hypnotist (Figs.
10-21 and 10-22). Hiratsuka finishes his prints with a French
technique known as Chine-collÃ© (from the French chine, â€œtissue,â€ and collÃ©, â€œgluedâ€), in which glue is applied to the back
of the completed work before it is passed through the press
again with a heavier rag paper beneath, thus creating a much
less fragile work.
Hiratsuka creates prints that might be called contemporary
ukiyo-e, revealing â€œthe transient world of everyday lifeâ€ in parodic
terms. In his work, he often explores the coexistence of Western
and Eastern influences in Japanese society. Here, Hiratsukaâ€™s
enigmatic figure seems to invoke the creationary forces of the
universe embodied in the traditional kami, or spirits, of the indigenous Shinto religion still practiced widely in Japanâ€”note the
black lines of force that surround her hands. At the same time,
Hiratsukaâ€™s title invokes the American company Miracle-Gro,
which actually manufactures a liquid cactus plant food. Hiratsukaâ€™s hypnotist, his image suggests, is perhaps something of
a charlatan, promising the red-robed figure behind her to make
the cactus grow with a magic spell, a deed she will actually accomplish with the aid of a commercial fertilizer.
The Creative Process
Four-Color Intaglio: Yuji Hiratsukaâ€™s Miracle Grow Hypnotist
Figs. 10-21 and 10-22 Yuji Hiratsuka, Miracle Grow Hypnotist, black and red plates, 2005. Four-color intaglio
(etching, aquatint) and Chine-collÃ© on Japanese Kozo (mulberry) paper, 18 Ã— 13 in. Edition of 26.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 229
Fig. 10-23 Yuji Hiratsuka, Miracle Grow Hypnotist, 2005. Four-color intaglio (etching, aquatint)
and Chine-collÃ© on Japanese Kozo (mulberry) paper, 18 Ã— 13 in. Edition of 26.
230 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Mezzotint and Aquatint
Two other intaglio techniques should be mentionedâ€”
mezzotint and aquatint. Mezzotint is, in effect, a negative
process. That is, the plate is first ground all over using a
sharp, curved tool called a rocker, leaving a burr over the
entire surface that, if inked, would result in a solid black
print. The surface is then lightened by scraping away
the burr to a greater or lesser degree. One of the great
masters of the mezzotint process was J. M. W. Turner,
who between 1823 and 1826 executed 12 mezzotint
engravings for a project he called the Little Liber, which he
evidently intended to publish. But the project was never
accomplished in his lifetime, and the plates were found
in his studio after his death. Each of the engravings reveals Turnerâ€™s interest in mezzotintâ€™s ability to modulate
between the darkest blacks, from which the image has
been scrapedâ€”in Ship in a Storm (Fig. 10-24) the black
hull of the ship itselfâ€”to an almost luminescent white in
the flash of lightning to the shipâ€™s right. The richness of
the dark tones that distinguishes mezzotint as a process
is readily apparent if one compares the mezzotint to an
image treating a similar theme: The steel engraving of
Turnerâ€™s Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harborâ€™s Mouth (see
Fig. 10-18). The linear qualities of the latter line engraving give way, in the mezzotint, to broad swathes of light
and shadow, washes rather than lines of ink.
Like mezzotint, aquatint also relies for its effect not
on line but on tonal areas of light and dark. Invented in
France in the 1760s, the method involves coating the surface of the plate with a porous ground through which
acid can penetrate. Usually consisting of particles of
resin or powder, the ground is dusted onto the plate,
then set in place by heating it until it melts. The acid
bites around each particle into the surface of the plate,
creating a sandpaperlike texture: The denser the resin,
the lighter the tone of the resulting surface. Line is often
added later, usually by means of etching or drypoint.
Fig. 10-24 J. M. W. Turner, Ship in a Storm, from the Little Liber, engraved by the artist, ca. 1826.
Mezzotint, 71â„2 Ã— 97â„8 in. Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 231
Jane Dicksonâ€™s Stairwell (Fig. 10-25) is a pure aquatint, printed in three colors, in which the roughness of
the methodâ€™s surface serves to underscore the emotional
turmoil and psychological isolation embodied in her
subject matter. â€œIâ€™m interested,â€ Dickson says, â€œin the
ominous underside of contemporary culture that lurks
as an ever-present possibility in our lives. . . . I aim to
portray psychological states that everyone experiences.â€
In looking at this print, one can almost feel the acid biting into the plate, as if the process itself is a metaphor for
the pain and isolation of the figure leaning forlornly over
Fig. 10-25 Jane Dickson, Stairwell, 1984. Aquatint on Rives BFK paper,
353â„4 Ã— 223â„4 in. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Henry Rox Memorial Fund for the Acquisition of Works by Contemporary Women Artists.
232 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
What is lithography and how was it invented?
Lithographyâ€”meaning, literally, â€œstone writingâ€â€”is the
chief planographic printmaking process, meaning that
the printing surface is flat. There is no raised or depressed
surface on the plate to hold ink. Rather, the method depends on the fact that grease and water donâ€™t mix.
The process was discovered accidentally by a young
German playwright named Alois Senefelder in the 1790s
in Munich. Unsuccessful in his occupation, Senefelder
was determined to reduce the cost of publishing his plays
by writing them backwards on a copper plate in a wax
and soap ground and then etching the text. But with only
one good piece of copper to his name, he knew he needed
to practice writing backwards on less expensive material,
and he chose a smooth piece of Kelheim limestone, the
material used to line the Munich streets and thus abundantly available. As he was practicing one day, his laundry woman arrived to pick up his clothes and, with no
paper or ink on the premises, he jotted down what she
had taken on the prepared limestone slab. It dawned on
him to bathe the stone with nitric acid and water, and
when he did so, he found that the acid had etched the
stone and left his writing raised in relief above its surface.
Fig. 10-26 HonorÃ© Daumier, Rue Transnonain, April 15, 1834, 1834. Lithograph, 111â„2 Ã— 175â„8 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago.
Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.2957. Photo Â© Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Recognizing the commercial potential of his
invention, he abandoned the theater to perfect the process. By 1798, he had discovered that if he drew directly
on the stone with a greasy crayon, and then treated
the entire stone with nitric acid, water, and gum arabic
(a very tough substance obtained from the acacia tree
which attracts and holds water), then ink would stick to
the grease drawing but not to the treated and dampened
stone. He also discovered that the acid and gum arabic
solution did not actually etch the limestone. As a result,
the same stone could be used again and again. The essential processes of lithography had been invented.
Possibly because it is so direct a process, actually a kind
of drawing on stone, lithography was the favorite printmaking medium of nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists.
In the hands of HonorÃ© Daumier, who turned to lithography to depict current events, the feeling of immediacy that
the lithograph could inspire was most fully realized. From
the early 1830s until his death in 1872, Daumier was employed by the French press as an illustrator and political
caricaturist. Recognized as the greatest lithographer of his
day, Daumier did some of his finest work in the 1830s for
the monthly publication Lâ€™Association Mensuelle, each issue of which contained an original lithograph. His famous
print Rue Transnonain (Fig. 10-26) is direct reportage of the
Chapter 10 Printmaking 233
outrages committed by government troops
during an insurrection in the Parisian workersâ€™ quarters. He illustrates what happened in
a building at 12 rue Transnonain on the night
of April 15, 1834, when police, responding to
a sniperâ€™s bullet that had killed one of their
number and had appeared to originate from
the building, revenged their colleagueâ€™s death
by slaughtering everyone inside. The father of
a family, who had evidently been sleeping, lies
dead by his bed, his child crushed beneath him,
his dead wife to his right and an elder parent to
his left. The foreshortening of the scene draws
us into the lithographâ€™s visual space, making
the horror of the scene all the more real.
While lithography flourished as a medium throughout the twentieth century, it
enjoyed a marked increase in popularity
after the late 1950s. In 1957, Tatyana Grosman
established Universal Limited Art Editions
(ULAE) in West Islip, New York. Three years
later, June Wayne founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles with a
grant from the Ford Foundation. While Grosmanâ€™s primary motivation was to make available to the best artists a quality printmaking
environment, one of Wayneâ€™s main purposes
was to train the printers themselves. Due to
her influence, workshops sprang up across
the country, including Gemini G.E.L. in Los
Angeles, Tyler Graphics in Mount Kisco,
New York, Landfall Press in Chicago, Cirrus
Editions in Los Angeles, and DerriÃ¨re lâ€™Ã‰toile in New
Among the earliest artists to print at ULAE was Jim
Dine, who, when he went to West Islip in 1962 at Grosmanâ€™s invitation, was undergoing intense psychoanalysis. His first prints depicted tools and common household
items. The tools were personal symbols of his youth, when
he had worked in his familyâ€™s hardware stores in Ohio
and Kentucky. A series of lithographs representing toothbrushes (Fig. 10-27) are recollections of his childhood as
well, as if responding to the perennial parental question,
â€œHave you brushed your teeth this morning?â€ Dineâ€™s
images are drawn directly on the stone with tusche, a
greasing liquid that also comes in a hardened crayonlike
form, made of wax tallow, soap shellac, and lampblack,
which is the best material for drawing on a lithographic
stone. The sense of immediacy in these abstract gesturesâ€”the blotches and smudges of black ink that in
fact recall the Abstract Expressionist gestures of Jackson
Pollock (see Fig. 6-13)â€”stands in direct counterpoint to
the realistic renderings of toothbrushes, glass, and printed
word, as if Dine is literally blotting out his memories. In
fact, the printed word â€œTOOTHBRUSHESâ€ likewise contrasts with the handwritten title and autographic signature at the bottom of the print.
How are silkscreens made?
Silkscreens are more formally known as serigraphs, from
the Greek graphos, â€œto write,â€ and the Latin seri, â€œsilk.â€
Unlike other printmaking media, no expensive, heavy
machinery is needed to make a serigraph. (That said, although simple silkscreens are often used to print T-shirts,
even T-shirt printers have developed relatively sophisticated silkscreen machinery, and elaborate serigraphy studios containing extremely sophisticated machinery also
exist.) The principles of the silkscreen process are essentially the same as those required for stenciling, where a
shape is cut out of a piece of material and that shape is
reproduced over and over on other surfaces by spreading ink or paint over the cutout. In serigraphy proper,
Fig. 10-27 Jim Dine, Toothbrushes #4, 1962. Lithograph, image (irregular)
137â„16 Ã— 137â„16 in., sheet 251â„4 Ã— 1915â„16 in. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gift of the Celeste and Armand Bartos Foundation, 353.1963. Â© 2015. Digital image, Museum of
Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Â© 2015 Jim Dine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
234 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
shapes are not actually cut out. Rather, the fabricâ€”silk or,
more commonly today, nylon and polyesterâ€”is stretched
tightly on a frame, and a stencil is made by painting
a substance such as glue across the fabric in the areas
where the artist does not want ink to pass through. Alternately, special films can be cut out and stuck to the fabric,
or tusche can be used. This last method allows the artist a
freedom of drawing that is close to the lithographic process. The areas that are left uncovered are those that will
print. Silkscreen inks are very thick, so that they will not
run beneath the edge of the cutout, and must be pushed
through the open areas of the fabric with the blade of a
tool called a squeegee.
Serigraphy is the newest form of printmaking, although related stencil techniques were employed in textile printing in China and Japan as early as 550 ce. Until
the 1960s, serigraphy was used primarily in commercial
printing, especially by the advertising industry. In fact,
the word â€œserigraphyâ€ was coined in 1935 by the curator
of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in order to differentiate the work of artists using the silkscreen in creative
ways from that of their commercially oriented counterparts.
In Enter the Rice Cooker (Fig. 10-28), Roger Shimomura
addresses the tension between the two cultures within and
between which he lives, the American culture in which he
was raised, and the Japanese culture that is his heritage.
A shoji screen, a Japanese room partition or sliding panel
made of squares of translucent rice paper framed in black
lacquered wood, divides the image. Behind the screen is
a 1950s-type American woman, wearing a red evening
glove and applying lipstick. On this side of the screen is
a samurai warrior holding a modern electric rice cooker, a
figure at once ferocious and, given the rice cooker, oddly
domesticated. The title of the print is deliberately vague:
Does it refer to the rice cooker he holds, or is he, in something of a racial slur, the â€œrice cookerâ€? (It is worth pointing
out, in this context, that an electric rice cooker was the very
first product of the Sony Corporation, introduced soon
after World War II.) The print, in other words, addresses
both racial and sexual stereotypes, even as it parodies
the ukiyo-e tradition, especially shunga, or erotic, ukiyo-e
prints. At the same time, Shimomura has used the
silkscreen technique to evoke the banal world of Pop
Art, which itself parodied the crass commercialism of
How does the monotype process differ from other
There is one last kind of printmaking for us to consider, one that has much in common with painting and
drawing. However, monotypes are generally classified
as a kind of printmaking because they use both a plate
and a press in the making of the image. Unlike other prints, however, a monotype is a
unique image. Once it is printed, it can never
be printed again.
In monotypes, the artist forms an image on a plate with printerâ€™s ink or paints,
and the image is transferred to paper under
pressure, usually by means of an etching
press. Part of the difficulty and challenge of
the process is that if a top layer of paint is
applied over a bottom layer of paint on the
plate, when printed, the original bottom layer
will be the top layer and vice versa. Thus, the
foreground elements of a composition must
be painted first on the plate, and the background elements over them. The process requires considerable planning.
One of the most prolific masters of the
medium was Maurice Prendergast, who
between 1892 and 1902 created about 200
works using the process. In a letter to a
student and friend in 1905, he offered instructions about how to proceed with the
process: â€œPaint on copper in oils, wiping
Fig. 10-28 Roger Shimomura, Enter the Rice Cooker, 1994.
Color screenprint on Saunders 410 gram HP, image 36 Ã— 41 in. Edition of 170.
Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.
Gift of the artist, 2005.0072.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 235
parts to be white. When the picture suits you, place on
it Japanese paper and either press in a press or rub with
spoon till it please you.â€ In fact, Prendergastâ€™s Boston
studio was too small to accommodate a press, and he
made his monotypes on the floor using a large spoon
to transfer paint to paper. His characteristic subjects
were young well-to-do women strolling on the seashore or relaxing in fields and parks, such as in The
Picnic (Fig. 10-29). Quite evidently, what appealed to
him about the process was the way in which the marks
of his brushwork survive in the printâ€”the finished
print is clearly the result of energetic paintingâ€”and
yet, in transferring the paint to paper, a kind of
atmospheric haze results, in which drawing and line
give way to patterns of light and color. The technique
also possesses an element of surprise and discovery that
fascinated Prendergast. His brother would recall that,
â€œas he rubbed with the spoon, he would grow more
and more excited, lifting up the paper at one of the corners to see what effects the paint was making.â€ In some
sense Prendergastâ€™s excitement summarizes the appeal
of printmaking as a whole. As new techniques have
been inventedâ€”from relief to intaglio to lithograph,
silkscreen printing, and monotypesâ€”the artistâ€™s imagination has been freed to discover ever-new means of
representation and expression.
Fig. 10-29 Maurice Prendergast, The Picnic, ca. 1895â€“97.
Monotype, 815â„16 Ã— 513â„16 in. San Diego Museum of Art.
San Diego Museum of Art, USA/Museum purchase/Bridgeman Images.
236 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Critical Process
Thinking about Printmaking
Like Roger Shimomura, Andy Warhol is a Pop artist who recognized in silkscreen printing possibilities
not only for making images but for commenting on
American culture in general. In his many silkscreen
images of Marilyn Monroe, almost all made within
three or four years of her death in 1962, he depicted
her in garish, conflicting colors (Fig. 10-30). Twenty
years later, he created a series of silkscreen prints,
commissioned by New York art dealer Ronald Feldman, of endangered species. What do the Marilyn
silkscreens and images like San Francisco Silverspot
(Fig. 10â€‘31) from the Endangered Species series
have in common? Think of Marilyn as both a person and a Hollywood image. What does it mean to
be an â€œimageâ€? How, in the case of the endangered
species, might existing as an â€œimageâ€ be more useful
than not? Consider the quality of color in both silkscreens. How does color affect the meaning of both
works? Why do you think that Warhol resorts to such
garish, bright coloration? Finally, how do both images suggest that Warhol was something of a social
critic intent on challenging the values of mainstream
Fig. 10-30 Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967. Silkscreen print,
37Â½ Ã— 37Â½ in. Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsinâ€“Madison.
Robert Gale Doyon Fund and Harold F. Bishop Fund Purchase, 1978-252. Â© 2015 Andy
Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Fig. 10-31 Andy Warhol, San Francisco Silverspot, from the
series Endangered Species, 1983. Screenprint, 38 Ã— 38 in.
Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. Photo: Dr. James Dee. Â© 2015 Andy
Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Chapter 10 Printmaking 237
10.1 Define what a print is and discuss its earliest
A print is a single impression of an image that has been transferred through pressure to a surface (usually paper). The image
is transferred from a matrix, where the design has originally been
created. A single matrix can be used to make many impressions,
which are typically almost identical. What is an edition? How
does an original print differ from a reproductive print? What are
Printmaking appears to have originated in China to illustrate
the Diamond Sutra, and from the outset it was understood as a
vehicle for the mass distribution of ideas and the popularization
of iconographic and stylistic traditions. In Europe, printmaking
developed rapidly after the appearance of the first printed book.
10.2 Characterize relief processes in printmaking.
Relief refers to any printmaking process in which the image to
be printed is raised from the background in reverse. Woodcuts
and rubber stamps are examples of relief printmaking processes.
What are nishiki-e prints? What defines the method known as
wood engraving? What is a linocut?
10.3 Characterize intaglio processes in printmaking.
The term intaglio comes from the Italian word for â€œengraving.â€ In
intaglio processes, the areas to be printed are below the surface
of the plate. The matrix is a plate on which incised lines are filled
with ink. Pressure transfers this ink to a surface, typically paper.
What is stippling? How does engraving differ from etching? What
defines the process known as mezzotint?
10.4 Describe the lithographic process and its
Lithography means â€œstone writing.â€ It is the chief planographic
printmaking process, meaning that the surface of the matrix is
flat. In lithography, the method for creating a printable image
involves writing on a stone with a greasy crayon, which holds
ink. Who invented lithography and for what purpose? What is
10.5 Describe the silkscreen process.
In silkscreen printing, or serigraphy, fabric is stretched tightly on
a frame, and a stencil is made by painting a substance such as
glue across the fabric in the areas where the artist does not want
ink to pass through, or, alternately, special films can be cut out
and stuck to the fabric. The areas left uncovered are those that
will print. How does Roger Shimomuraâ€™s Enter the Rice Cooker
create a dialogue between American and Japanese cultures?
10.6 Differentiate monotypes from other kinds of
Monotypes differ from other kinds of print because they are
unique images. In monotypes, the artist forms an image on a
plate with printerâ€™s ink or paint, and the image is transferred to
paper under pressure. What attracted Maurice Prendergast to
11.1 Describe the origins of photography and the formal principles that most inform it.
11.2 Describe how color and digital technologies have transformed photographic practice.
11.3 Outline the basic principles of film editing, including montage, as well as the
technological developments that advanced the medium.
11.4 Outline some of the ways that video art has exploited the immediacy of the medium
while at the same time critiquing popular culture.
11.5 Discuss some of the technological innovations that have advanced time-based art into
the digital age.
In 2010, photographer Catherine Opie was asked to
propose a permanent installation for a long corridor of
the Cleveland Clinicâ€™s Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield
Heights, Ohio, not far from where the artist grew up, in
Sandusky, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. Opie, who is
famous, among other things, for her ongoing studies of
the horizon line, wanted to capture the inherent beauty
of the lake shore in northern Ohioâ€”the special qualities
of its lightâ€”as well as provide a space for patients, visitors, doctors, and other hospital employees to find in her
work an uplifting, perhaps even transcendent experience
during what might well be a difficult time of their lives.
(Opie talks about the work as it was being installed in
the art21 Exclusive video â€œCatherine Opie: Cleveland
To make the piece, Opie traveled six times to Ohio
over the course of 12 months, photographing along the
Lake Erie shoreline from Cleveland to Port Clinton,
across Sandusky Bay. The finished work, titled Somewhere in the Middle (a reference both to â€œMiddle Americaâ€
and to the horizon line that divides the photographs in
half), consists of 22 photographs, beginning and ending
with images of the Cleveland shoreline, the city rising
behind it, but the central 17 document the four seasons
as they are reflected on the lake itself. â€œIn spring I came
in,â€ she recalls, speaking of four photographs of which
Untitled #13 (Spring) (Fig. 11-1) is the second, â€œthe ice
was just starting to melt, and by the fifth day the ice had
completely melted. So in those four images you have the
sequence of the lake going back to water.â€ At first glance,
the water seems to reflect clouds in the sky above, until one recognizes that the billowy white forms are actually ice breaking up on the lake. But like stills from a
film, these four photographs capture progress across
five days, and the sequence as a whole, a yearâ€™s passing. Opieâ€™s sequence, in fact, illustrates one of the fundamental characteristics of her medium. Photography is
addressed to time. It captures time, holding the moment
in its grasp in perpetuity.
Photography began, in about 1838, with still images,
but the still image almost immediately generated the
thought that it might be possible to capture the object in
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 239
Fig. 11-1 Catherine Opie, Untitled #13 (Spring), from Somewhere in the Middle, suite of 22 photographs
installed at the Cleveland Clinicâ€™s Hillcrest Hospital, 2011. Inkjet print, 50 Ã— 371â„2 in.
Â© Catherine Opie.
240 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
motion as well. Such a dream seemed even more possible when photographs of a horse trotting were published
by Eadweard Muybridge in La Nature in 1878 (Fig. 11-2).
Muybridge had used a trip-wire device in an experiment
commissioned by California governor Leland Stanford
to settle a bet about whether there were moments in the
stride of a trotting or galloping horse when it was entirely free of the ground.
Work such as Muybridgeâ€™s soon inspired Thomas
Edison and W. K. Laurie Dickson to invent, between 1888
and 1892, the Kinetoscope, the first continuous-film motionpicture viewing machine, itself made possible by George
Eastmanâ€™s introduction of celluloid film that came on a roll,
produced expressly for his new camera, the Kodak. Dickson devised a sprocket wheel that would advance the regularly perforated roll of film, and Edison decided on a 35
mm width for the strip of film (eventually the industry standard). But Edisonâ€™s films were only viewable on the Kinetoscope through a peephole, one person at a time.
The first projected motion pictures available to a large
audience had their public debut on December 28, 1895,
in Paris, when August and Louis LumiÃ¨re showed ten
films, projected by their CinÃ©matographe, the first motionpicture apparatus, that lasted for about 20 minutes. Among
the most popular of their early films was Lâ€™Arroseur ArrosÃ©
(Waterer and Watered) (Fig. 11-3), in which a boy steps on
a gardenerâ€™s hose, stopping the flow of water. When the
gardener looks at the nozzle, the boy steps off the hose, and
the gardener douses himself. A brief chase ensues, with both
boy and gardener leaving the frame of the stationary camera
for a full two seconds. Audiences howled with delight.
To the silent moving image, sound was soon
added. To the â€œtalkieâ€ was added color. And film
developed in its audience a taste for â€œliveâ€ action, a
taste satisfied by live television transmission, video
images that allow us to view anything happening in
the world as it happens. Thus, not unlike the history of
painting, the history of time-based media is a history
of increasing immediacy and verisimilitude, or semblance to the truth. In this chapter, we will survey that
history, starting with still photography, moving to film
and, finally, to video. Our focus will be on these media
in relation to art.
Fig. 11-2 Eadweard Muybridge, Annie G., Cantering, Saddled, December 1887. Collotype
print, sheet 19 Ã— 24â…› in., image 7Â¼ Ã— 16Â¼ in. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1962-135-280. Â© 2015. Photo Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
Fig. 11-3 Poster for the CinÃ©matographe, with the LumiÃ¨re
Brothers film Lâ€™Arroseur ArrosÃ© (Waterer and Watered) on
screen, 1895. British Film Institute.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 241
The Early History and
Formal Foundations of
How did photography develop and what formal concerns
most define it?
Photography (from the Greek phos, â€œlight,â€ and graphos, â€œwriting,â€ literally â€œwriting with lightâ€) is, like
collage, at least potentially an inclusive rather than
an exclusive medium. You can photograph anything
you can see. As one historian of American photography has put it: â€œThe world is essentially a storehouse
of visual information. Creation is the process of assemblage. The photograph is a process of instant assemblage, instant collage.â€ Walker Evansâ€™s photograph
Roadside Stand near Birmingham, Alabama (Fig. 11-4) is
an example of just such â€œinstant collage.â€ Evansâ€™s mission as a photographer was to capture every aspect of
American visual reality, and his work has been called
a â€œphotographic equivalent to the Sears, Roebuck catalog of the day.â€ But the urge to make such instant
visual assemblagesâ€”to capture a moment in timeâ€”is
as old as the desire to represent the world accurately.
We will begin our discussion of photography by considering the development of the technology itself, and
then we will consider the fundamental aesthetic problem photography facesâ€”the tension between form and
content, the tension between the way a photograph
is formally organized as a composition and what it
expresses or means.
Camera is the Latin word for â€œroom.â€ And, in fact,
by the sixteenth century, a darkened room, called a
camera obscura, was routinely used by artists to copy
nature accurately. The scientific principle employed
is essentially the same as that used by the camera
today. A small hole on the side of a light-tight room
admits a ray of light that projects a scene, upside
down, directly across from the hole onto a semitransparent white scrim. The camera obscura depicted
here (Fig. 11-5) was an invention of necessity,
designed to allow for the observation of an eclipse
of the sun without looking directly at its potentially
Fig. 11-4 Walker Evans, Roadside Stand near Birmingham,
Alabama, 1936. Library of Congress.
Fig. 11-5 The first published illustration of a camera obscura observing a solar eclipse,
published in 1544 by Dutch cartographer and mathematician Gemma Frisius. Woodcut.
242 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
But working with the camera obscura was a tedious proposition, even after small portable dark boxes
came into use. The major drawback was that while it
could capture the image, it could not independently
preserve it. Artists had to trace its projections onto paper or canvas. In 1839, that problem was solved simultaneously in England and France, and the public was
introduced to a new way of representing the world.
In England, William Henry Fox Talbot presented
a process for fixing negative images on paper coated
with light-sensitive chemicals, a process that he
called photogenic drawing (Fig. 11-6). In France, a different process, which yielded a positive image on a polished
metal plate, was named the daguerreotype (Fig. 11-7),
after one of its two inventors, Louis-Jacques-MandÃ©
Daguerre (NicÃ©phore NiÃ©pce had died in 1833, leaving
Daguerre to perfect the process and garner the laurels).
Public reaction was wildly enthusiastic, and the French
and English press faithfully reported every development in the greatest detail.
When he saw his first daguerreotype, the French
painter Paul Delaroche is reported to have exclaimed,
â€œFrom now on, painting is dead!â€ Delaroche may have
overreacted, but he nevertheless understood the potential of the new medium of photography to usurp paintingâ€™s historical role of representing the world. In fact,
Fig. 11-6 William Henry Fox Talbot, Mimosoidea Suchas,
Acacia, ca. 1841. Photogenic drawing. National Media Museum,
1937-366/14. National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library.
Fig. 11-7 Louis-Jacques-MandÃ© Daguerre, Le Boulevard du Temple, 1839. Daguerreotype. Bavarian National
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 243
photographic portraiture quickly became a successful
industry. As early as 1841, a daguerreotype portrait could
be had in Paris for 15 francs (approximately $225 today).
That same year in London, Richard Beard opened the first
British portrait studio, bringing a true sense of showmanship to the process. One of his first customers, the novelist Maria Edgeworth, described having her portrait done
at Beardâ€™s in a breathless letter dated May 25, 1841:
It is a wonderful mysterious operation. You are taken
from one room into another upstairs and down and
you see various people whispering and hear them
in neighboring passages and rooms unseen and the
whole apparatus and stool on a high platform under a
glass dome casting a snapdragon blue light making all
look like spectres and the men in black gliding about.
In the face of such a â€œmiracle,â€ the art of portrait
painting underwent a rapid decline. Of the 1,278 paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1830,
more than 300 were miniatures, the most popular form
of the portrait; in 1870, only 33 miniatures were exhibited. In 1849 alone, 100,000 daguerreotype portraits were
sold in Paris. Not only had photography replaced painting as the preferred medium for portraiture, it had democratized the genre as well, making portraits available
not only to the wealthy, but also to the middle class, and
even, with some sacrifice, to the working class.
The daguerreotype itself had some real disadvantages as a medium, however. In the first place, it required
considerable time to prepare, expose, and develop the
plate. Iodine was vaporized on a copper sheet to create
light-sensitive silver iodide. The plate then had to be kept
in total darkness until the camera lens was opened to expose it. At the time Daguerre first made the process public
in 1839, imprinting an image on the plate took from 8 to
10 minutes in bright summer light. His own view of the
Boulevard du Temple (see Fig. 11-7) was exposed for so
long that none of the people in the street, going about their
business, left any impression on the plate, save for one
solitary figure at the lower left, who is having his shoes
shined. By 1841, the discovery of so-called chemical â€œacceleratorsâ€ had made it possible to expose the plate for
only one minute, but a sitter could not move in that time
for fear of blurring the image. The plate was finally developed by suspending it face down in heated mercury,
which deposited a white film over the exposed areas. The
unexposed silver iodide was dissolved with salt. The plate
then had to be rinsed and dried with the utmost care.
An even greater drawback of the daguerreotype was
that it could not be reproduced. Using paper instead of a
metal plate, Talbotâ€™s photogenic process made multiple
prints a possibility. Talbot quickly learned that he could
reverse the negative image of the photogenic drawings
by placing sheets of sensitized paper over them and exposing both again to sunlight. Talbot also discovered that
sensitized paper, exposed for even a few seconds, held a
latent image that could be brought out and developed by
dipping the paper in gallic acid. This calotype process is
the basis of modern photography.
In 1843, Talbot made a picture, which he called The
Open Door (Fig. 11-8), that convinced him that the calotype could not only document the world as we know it,
Fig. 11-8 William Henry Fox Talbot, The Open Door, 1843. Calotype. National Museum of
Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program.
244 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
but also become a work of art in its own right. When he
published the image in his book The Pencil of Nature, the
first book of photographs ever produced, he captioned
it as follows: â€œA painterâ€™s eye will often be arrested
where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual
gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a
time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken
a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings.â€ For Talbot, at least, painters and photographers
saw the world as one.
In 1850, the English sculptor Frederick Archer introduced a new wet-plate collodion photographic process
that was almost universally adopted within five years.
In a darkened room, he poured liquid collodionâ€”made
of pyroxyline dissolved in alcohol or etherâ€”over a glass
plate bathed in a solution of silver nitrate. The plate had to be prepared,
exposed, and developed all within 15
minutes and while still wet. The process was cumbersome, but the exposure time was short and the rewards
were quickly realized.
On her forty-ninth birthday, in
1864, Julia Margaret Cameron, the
wife of a high-placed British civil servant and friend to many of the most
famous people of her day, was given
a camera and collodion-processing
equipment by her daughter and sonin-law. â€œIt may amuse you, Mother,
to photograph,â€ the accompanying
note said. Cameron set up a studio
in a chicken coop at her home on the
Isle of Wight, and over the course of
the next ten years convinced almost
everyone she knew to pose for her,
among them the greatest men of British art, literature, and science. She
often blurred their features slightly,
believing this technique drew attention away from mere physical appearance and revealed more of her
sitterâ€™s inner character. Commenting
on her photographs of famous men
like Thomas Carlyle (Fig. 11-9), she
wrote, â€œWhen I have had such men
before my camera, my whole soul has
endeavored to do its duty towards
them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner man as well as the
features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the
embodiment of a prayer.â€
More than anything else, the ability of the portrait
photographer to expose, as it were, the â€œsoulâ€ of the
sitter led the French government to give photography
the legal status of art as early as 1862. But from the beginning, photography served a documentary function
as wellâ€”it recorded and preserved important events.
Photographs of war, which initially startled audiences,
were first published during the Crimean War, fought
between Russia and an alliance of European countries
and the declining Ottoman Empire in 1854â€“56. At the
outbreak of the American Civil War, in 1861, Mathew
Brady spent the entirety of his considerable fortune
to outfit a band of photographers to document the
war. When Brady insisted that he owned the copyright for every photograph taken by anyone in his
Fig. 11-9 Julia Margaret Cameron, Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, 1863.
Albumen print, 147â„16 Ã— 103â„16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 245
employ, whether it was made on the job or not, several
of his best photographers quit, among them Timothy
Oâ€™Sullivan and Alexander Gardner. A Harvest of Death,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863 (Fig. 11-10) was published after the war in 1866 in Gardnerâ€™s Photographic
Sketchbook of the War, probably the first book-length
photo-essay. It is a condemnation of the horrors of war,
with the Battle of Gettysburg at its center. Oâ€™Sullivanâ€™s
matter-of-fact photograph is accompanied by the following caption:
The rebels represented in the photograph are
without shoes. These were always removed from
the feet of the dead on account of the pressing need
of the survivors. The pockets turned inside out also
show that appropriation did not cease with the
coverings of the feet. Around is scattered the litter
of the battlefield, accoutrements, ammunitions,
rags, cups and canteens, crackers, haversacks, and
letters that may tell the name of the owner, although
the majority will surely be buried unknown by
strangers, and in a strange land.
In Oâ€™Sullivanâ€™s photograph, both foreground and
background are intentionally blurred to draw attention
to the central corpses. Such focus was made possible
by the introduction of albumen paper, which retained
a high degree of sharpness on its glossy surface. â€œSuch
a picture,â€ Gardner wrote, â€œconveys a useful moral: It
shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition
to the pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them
aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon
the nation.â€ One of the first great photojournalists,
Oâ€™Sullivan is reported to have photographed calmly
Fig. 11-10 Timothy Oâ€™Sullivan (negative) and Alexander Gardner (print), A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, July 1863, from Gardnerâ€™s Photographic Sketchbook of the War, 1866. Albumen silver print
(also available as a stereocard), 61â„4 Ã— 713â„16 in. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
246 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
during the most horrendous bombardments, twice having his camera hit by shell fragments.
Form and Content
It might be said that every photograph is an abstraction, a simplification of reality that substitutes twodimensional for three-dimensional space, an instant of
perception for the seamless continuity of time, and, in
black-and-white work at least, the gray scale for color. By
emphasizing formal elements over representational concerns, the artist further underscores this abstract side of
the medium (see, for instance, the photographs by Paul
Strand, Figs. 4-25 and 4-26). One of the greatest sources
of photographyâ€™s hold on the popular imagination lies
in this ability to aestheticize the everydayâ€”to reveal as
beautiful that which we normally take for granted. When
he shot his groundbreaking photograph The Steerage
(Fig. 11-11) in 1907, American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was transfixed not by the literal figures and objects in
his viewfinder, but by the spatial relations. â€œThere were
men, women, and children,â€ he wrote,
on the lower level of the steerage [the lower class
deck of a steamship]. . . . The scene fascinated me: A
round straw hat; the funnel leaning left, the stairway
leaning right; the white drawbridge, its railings
made of chain; white suspenders crossed on the
Fig. 11-11 Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907. Photogravure, 125â„8 Ã— 103â„16 in.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Provenance unknown, 526.1986. Â© 2015. Digital image, Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
Â© 2015 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 247
back of a man below; circular iron machinery; a mast
that cut into the sky, completing a triangle. I stood
spellbound for a while. I saw shapes related to one
anotherâ€”a picture of shapes, and underlying it, a
new vision that held me.
It is no coincidence, given this point of view, that
Stieglitz was the first to reproduce the photographs of
Paul Strandâ€”Abstraction, Porch Shadows in particular (see
Fig. 4-25)â€”in his photography magazine Camera Work,
which he published from 1903 to 1916. And the geometric beauty of Stieglitzâ€™s work deeply influenced Charles
Sheeler, who was hired by Henry Ford to photograph
the new Ford factory at River Rouge in the late 1920s
(Fig. 11-12). Sheelerâ€™s precise task was to aestheticize
Fordâ€™s plant. His photographs, which were immediately
recognized for their artistic merit and subsequently exhibited around the world, were designed to celebrate industry. They revealed, in the smokestacks, conveyors, and
iron latticework of the factory, a grandeur and proportion
not unlike that of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe.
Even when the intention is simply to bring the facts
to light, as is often true in photojournalism, the power
of the photograph frequently comes from the aesthetic
charge of the work lent to it by its formal composition.
In the 1930s, in the wake of the Great Depression, the
Federal governmentâ€™s Farm Security Administration
(FSA) initiated a photographic project employing some
15 photographers to document the plight of Americaâ€™s
famers. During its eight-year existence, the Farm Security Administration created over 77,000 black-and-white
documentary photographs. Of them all, the most well
known today are those by Walker Evans, which were first
published in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book produced in 1941 with writer James Agee. The bookâ€™s title is
ironic, for its subjects are the least famous, the poorest of
the poor: sharecroppers, the men, women, and children
of Depression-ridden central Alabama in the summer
of 1936 when Agee and Evans lived among them. But
again, it is the simple life and inherent nobility of these
poor people that form Evans and Ageeâ€™s theme. Their almost stoic heroism is captured in the rich textures and
clean lines of Evansâ€™s photograph of a sharecropperâ€™s
humble dwelling (Fig. 11-13). The photo is a revelation of
stark beauty in the middle of sheer poverty.
Fig. 11-12 Charles Sheeler, Criss-Crossed Conveyorsâ€”Ford
Plant, 1927. Gelatin silver print, 10 Ã— 8 in. Museum of Fine Arts,
Â© Lane Collection. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Fig. 11-13 Walker Evans, Alabama Tenant Farmerâ€™s Kitchen
(Washstand with View into Dining Area of Burroughsâ€™ Home,
Hale County, Alabama), 1936. 35 mm photograph.
Courtesy of Library of Congress. Image copyright Walker Evans Archive,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
248 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Evansâ€™s work depends for much of its power not
only on the elegance of its formal composition but on
our own certainty that the image is authentic and unmediated. Vietnamese-born but American-educated
An-My LÃªâ€™s work contests the boundaries of the actual.
Her 2003 series of photographs 29 Palms (Fig. 11-14)
depicts the training maneuvers of personnel preparing
for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq at the 29 Palms,
California, Marine Air Ground Task Force Training
Command. She is as interested in the landscape that she
photographs, in this case the Mojave Desert near Joshua
Tree National Park, as she is in the actual events, which
are themselves staged reenactments. Her work describes,
in fact, the relationship of warâ€”even â€œfakeâ€ warâ€”with
the landscape itself. She explains:
Iâ€™m fascinated by the military structure, by strategy,
the idea of a battle, the gear. But at the same time,
how do you resolve the impact of it? What it is
meant to do is just horrible. But war can be beautiful.
I think itâ€™s the idea of the sublimeâ€”moments that are
horrific but, at the same time, beautifulâ€”moments of
communion with the landscape and nature. And itâ€™s
that beauty that I wanted to embrace in my work.
I think thatâ€™s why the work seems ambiguous. And
itâ€™s meant to be.
Her work, in other words, captures something of the
feeling of Timothy Oâ€™Sullivanâ€™s Harvest of Death (see
Fig. 11-10). It turns out that Oâ€™Sullivan and his fellow photographers working for Mathew Brady often staged their
photographs, not out of any sense of deceit but in order
to heighten the dramatic effect of the image. Oâ€™Sullivan
may or may not have moved the bodies of the soldiers
in his photograph to heighten its visual impact, but he
did lower the camera angle and raise the horizon line
to fill as much of the image as possible with the dead. It
was not factual but emotional truth that was Oâ€™Sullivanâ€™s
object. Likewise, if the â€œbattleâ€ in the Mojave Desert that
LÃª has photographed is staged, with the result that the
images are akin to black-and-white film stills from,
say, Francis Ford Coppolaâ€™s Apocalypse Now, the work
Fig. 11-14 An-My LÃª, 29 Palms: Night Operations III, 2003â€“04. Gelatin silver print, 26 Ã— 371â„2 in.
Â© An-My LÃª, courtesy of Murray Guy, New York.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 249
nonetheless embodies something of the
national psyche. It represents at some level
who LÃª believes the American people are.
The ambiguity of An-My LÃªâ€™s images
is analogous, in fact, to the chief characteristic of their formal compositions. Talking
about the ways in which he arrived at
the photographic image, the great French
photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson
described the relationship between form
and content in the following terms:
We must place ourselves and our
camera in the right relationship with
the subject, and it is in fitting the latter
into the frame of the viewfinder that
the problems of composition begin.
This recognition, in real life, of a
rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is
for me the essence of photography. . . .
We compose almost at the moment
of pressing the shutter. . . . Sometimes
one remains motionless, waiting for
something to happen; sometimes
the situation is resolved and there is
nothing to photograph. If something
should happen, you remain alert,
wait a bit, then shoot and go off
with the sensation of having got
something. Later you can amuse
yourself by tracing out on the photo
the geometrical pattern, or spatial
relationships, realizing that, by
releasing the shutter at that precise
instant, you had instinctively selected
an exact geometrical harmony, and that
without this the photograph would
have been lifeless.
Thus, in looking at this photograph (Fig. 11-15),
we can imagine Cartier-Bresson walking down a street
in Athens, Greece, one day in 1953, and coming across
the second-story balcony with its references to the
Classical past. Despite the doorways behind the balcony, the second story appears to be a mere facade.
Cartier-Bresson stops, studies the scene, waits, and
then spies two women walking up the street in his direction. They pass beneath the two female forms on the
balcony above and, at precisely that instant, he releases
the shutter. Cartier-Bresson called this â€œthe decisive moment.â€ Later, in the studio, the parallels and harmonies
between street and balcony, antiquity and the present
moment, youth and age, white marble and black dresses,
stasis and changeâ€”all captured in this photographâ€”
become apparent to him, and he prints the image.
The Photographic Print and its
For many photographers, the real art of photography
takes place not behind the viewfinder but in the darkroom (see The Creative Process, pp. 252â€“53, for an example
of Jerry Uelsmannâ€™s darkroom techniques). Among the
masters of darkroom techniques was Ansel Adams who,
with colleague Fred Archer, developed the Zone System
in the late 1930s.
Fig. 11-15 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Athens, 1953.
Magnum Photos, Inc.
250 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Adams defined the Zone System
as â€œa framework for understanding exposures and development, and visualizing their effect in advance.â€ A zone
represents the relation of the imageâ€™s (or
a portion of the imageâ€™s) brightness to
the value or tone that the photographer
wishes it to appear in the final print.
Thus each picture is broken up into
zones ranging from black to white with
nine shades of gray in betweenâ€”a photographic gray scale (see Fig. 5-5).
Over the course of his career, Adams became adept at anticipating the
zonal relationships that he desired in the
final print, even as he was first exposing
his negatives to light. As a result, just in
setting his cameraâ€™s apertureâ€”the size
of the opening of the lensâ€”he could go
a long way toward establishing the luminescence of the scene that he wanted.
Fig. 11-16 Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941. Gelatin silver
print, 181â„2 Ã— 23 in.
Â© Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust/Corbis.
Fig. 11-17 Gary Alvis, The Painted Hills, John Day Fossil Beds
National Monument, Oregon, 2008. Six-stitch Cibachrome print,
Â© Gary Alvis.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 251
â€œI began to think about how the print would appear and
if it would transmit any of the feeling of the . . . shape before me in terms of its expressive-emotional quality,â€ he
wrote in his autobiography. â€œI began to see in my mindâ€™s
eye the finished print I desired.â€ He called this a process
of â€œvisualization,â€ a process never fully completed until
he was working in the darkroom. He often spent hours
and hours in the darkroom creating the image that he
felt represented his initial visualization. There, he employed the techniques of dodging and burning to attain
the finish he desired. Dodging decreases the exposure of
selected areas of the print that the photographer wishes
to be lighter; burning increases the exposure to areas of
the print that should be darker. To dodge an area of a
print, he might hold a piece of cardboard over it. To burn
an area, he might hold a thick piece of paper with a hole
cut out of it over the area that he wished to darken.
In one of his most famous prints, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (Fig. 11-16), large parts of the sky are
burned, while the village, which was fast falling into
darkness as the sun set on the afternoon that he took this
photograph, is dodged to bring out more of its detail. If
the sky was actually never this dark against the rising
moon, and if the village was more in shadow, the stunning contrast between light and dark, as if we stand in
this photograph at the very cusp of dayâ€™s transition into
night, captures the emotional feeling that Adams first visualized when he saw the scene, drove his car into the
deep shoulder of the road, and hauled his equipment
into place to take the photograph. It represents the essence, he felt, of a changing world.
Color and Digital
How have color and digital technologies transformed
Until the late 1960s, color was largely ignored by fine
art photographers, who associated it with advertising.
In fact, until the 1960s, color could only be processed
in commercial labs and the images tended to discolor
rapidly, and so most photographers worked with the
technology they could controlâ€”black-and-white. But,
in the 1970s, Kodak introduced new color technologies
that allowed for far greater fidelity, control, luminosity,
In color photography, the formal tensions of
black-and-white photography are not necessarily lost.
Throughout his career, Gary Alvis has worked in both
black-and-white and color. In The Painted Hills (Fig. 11-17),
the cool blues of mountain and sky contrast dramatically
with the warm ochers and oranges of the desert landscape. Alvis actually constructed this photograph by digitally stitching together six different shots of the place,
taken over the course of several years, visiting the site at
the same time of year each time.
252 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Creative Process
The Darkroom as Laboratory: Jerry Uelsmannâ€™s Untitled
Jerry Uelsmann considers his camera â€œa license to explore.â€
In many ways, for him photography is not so much the act of
capturing a â€œdecisive momentâ€ on film, but the activity that occurs afterward, in the darkroom. The darkroom is a laboratory,
where the real implications of what he has photographed can
be explored. Uelsmann calls this process â€œpost-visualization.â€
Uelsmann begins by photographing both the natural
world and the human figure. Sometimes, though not always,
the two come together in the finished work. He examines his
contact sheets, looking for material that interests him and that
somehow, in his imagination, might fit togetherâ€”a rock with
a splattering of bird excrement (Fig. 11-18), a grove of trees
(Fig. 11-19), hands about to touch each other (Fig. 11-20).
He then covers over all the other information in the photograph, framing the material of interest. Each image rests on its
own enlarger, and moving from one enlarger to the next, he
prints each part in sequence on the final print. The resulting
image possesses something of the character of a Surrealist
landscape (see Chapter 20). As Uelsmann explains:
I am involved with a kind of reality that transcends surface
reality. More than physical reality, it is emotional, irrational,
Figs. 11-18, 11-19, and 11-20 Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled.
Â© 1970 Jerry N. Uelsmann.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 253
intellectual, and psychological. It is because of the fact that
these other forms of reality donâ€™t exist as specific, tangible
objects that I can honestly say that subject matter is only
a minor consideration which proceeds after the fact and
In other words, what drives Uelsmann first and foremost is
the formal relations among the elementsâ€”the formal similarity
between, say, the shape of the hands and that of the rockâ€”
the way in which the images seem to work together whatever
their actual content.
One of the most powerful transformations generated in
the post-visualization process is the effect of a wound on
one of the two hands, and with it the suggestion of a healing
touch or at least a helpful hand being offered by one hand
to the other. In the first version of the print (Fig. 11-21), the
stone containing the hands thus becomes an egglike symbol
of nurturing, a sort of life force lying beneath the roots of nature itself. But Uelsmann was by no means satisfied with the
image, and he returned to his contact sheets. In a second
version (Fig. 11-22), he placed the hands and stone in the
foreground of a mountain landscape. Here, the lines of the
hands formally echo the lines of the mountains beyond. The
final print seems more mysterious than the earlier version. It
is, as Uelsmann is fond of saying, â€œobviously symbolic, but
not symbolically obvious.â€
Fig. 11-21 Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled (first version).
Â© 1970 Jerry N. Uelsmann.
Fig. 11-22 Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled (second version).
Â© 1970 Jerry N. Uelsmann.
254 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
People began to notice the work of Nan Goldin in
the late 1970s, when she began to mount slideshows of
her photographic portraits (and sometimes self-portraits)
in the New York clubs that she frequented. Color slides
were her primary medium because she could not afford
to have prints made of her work, nor could she get access
to a darkroom. As Goldin repeatedly showed the series,
often to audiences composed of the lovers and friends
featured in the slides themselves, she created an accompanying soundtrack that itself constantly evolved. But a
few songs always remained the same, among them the
opening song, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a Bertolt
Brecht/Kurt Weill piece from The Threepenny Opera, Dean
Martinâ€™s Memories, at the end, Dionne Warwickâ€™s Donâ€™t
Make Me Over, Petula Clarkâ€™s Downtown, and Yoko Onoâ€™s
She Fights Back. The opening song eventually gave her
slideshow its name, and in 1986 a selection of the works
was published under that title by Aperture.
Goldinâ€™s world was by no means glamorous. She and
her friends frequented places like Tin Pan Alley, a Times
Square basement bar in the era before Times Square, in
those days the center of the cityâ€™s sex trade, was gentrified. In fact, Goldin is herself featured as a Tin Pan
Alley bartender in Bette Gordonâ€™s now infamous 1983
indie film, Variety, about a young woman, Christine, who
takes a job selling tickets at a pornographic theater in
the neighborhood. Tin Pan Alley is a prominent location
in the film, and, indeed, some of Goldinâ€™s photographs
decorate the walls of Christineâ€™s apartment, including
Vivienne in the green dress (Fig. 11â€“23). Like the majority
of her work in these years, Goldin shot the photograph
indoors in an artificial light that tends to intensify the
color. Here Goldinâ€™s use of a flash bulb causes Vivienne
to cast a shadow on the corner of the room behind her.
The blues and greens of the wall, the dress, and the small
portable radio on the windowsill all contrast dramatically with Vivienneâ€™s red lipstick, the red plastic bangle on her wrist, and the redâ€“orange leaves in the vase.
Above all, the interior light seems to set itself off from the
darkness outside with an intensity that is at once warming and alarming.
We tend to forget today that color photography
was once a new technology, introduced to the public at
large in the 1950s and 1960s. The rise of color photography in the 1960s coincided with the growing popularity of color television. On February 17, 1961, when
NBC first aired all of its programs in color, only 1 percent of American homes possessed color sets. By 1969,
33 percent of American homes had color TVs, and today
they command 100 percent of the market. The advent
of the Polaroid camera and film, and inexpensive color
processing for Kodak film, both contributed to a growing
cultural taste for color images. In fact, in the course of
Goldinâ€™s career, Kodak ceased to manufacture color slide
film, which she initially used to create her work. Today,
Goldin, like almost all color photographers, has moved
into the digital age. But in the proliferation of portraits
that she made in the 1980s and 1990s, she anticipates the
age of the selfie, Facebook, and Instagram.
Today, digital technologies have transformed the
world of photography, not only rendering film obsolete
but transforming photography into a highly manipulable
medium. One of the most renowned masters of the digital medium is Andreas Gursky, whose Ocean II (Fig. 11-24)
is one of six similarly large views of the worldâ€™s oceans.
To the left is the Labrador/Newfoundland coast, Greenland is at the center top, Iceland is at the top right, and,
at the bottom right, are the northwest coast of Africa and
the Cape Verde Islands. The works were inspired by the
flight monitor on a jet one night when Gursky was flying from Dubai to Melbourne. Over the Indian Ocean he
saw, on the monitor, the Horn of Africa to the far left, a
Fig. 11-23 Nan Goldin, Vivienne in the green dress, NYC, 1980.
Â© Nan Goldin.
Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 255
tip of Australia to the far rightâ€”and in between, the vast
blue expanse of the sea. To make these pictures, Gursky
used high-definition satellite photographs which he augmented from various picture sources on the Internet. The
satellite photos were restricted, however, to exposures of
sharply contoured land masses. Consequently, the transitional zones between land and waterâ€”as well as the
oceans themselves, which are cloudlessâ€”had to be generated digitally. That all these pieces nevertheless convey the
feeling of real subaquatic depths is due solely to the precision of Gurskyâ€™s visual work. He even consulted shoal
maps to get the right color nuances for the water surfaces.
The images are very disconcerting, something like an
inside-out atlas where, instead of land masses edged by
oceans, we see oceans edged by fingers of land. And the
remarkable depth and density of Gurskyâ€™s blue contrasts
Fig. 11-24 Andreas Gursky, Ocean II, 2010. Chromogenic print,
11 ft. 21â„4 in. Ã— 8 ft. 21â„8 in. Ã— 21â„2 in.
Â© 2015 Andreas Gursky/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
256 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
vividly with mappingâ€™s standard robinâ€™s-egg blues. The
pictures are large enough that, in standing front of them,
one feels surrounded by water. We do not float above
the ocean, like human satellites, but instead float in it.
We are immersed in it, swallowed up in its vast expanse.
The immensity of the photographs somehow manages
to convey the immensity of the oceans themselves, and
their centrality to our life on the planet.
Eleanor Antinâ€™s Constructing Helen (Fig. 11-25),
which the artist discusses in the art21 Exclusive video
â€œEleanor Antin: Helenâ€™s Odyssey,â€ is the final photograph in her series Helenâ€™s Odyssey. Here, we are witness to the history of Helen as the monumental creation
of a patriarchal cultureâ€”from Homer to the nineteenth
centuryâ€”that Antin parodies from the vantage point of
contemporary feminist thought. In spirit, this Helenâ€”
an actual model transformed digitally into a gigantic
sculptureâ€”is a parody of late nineteenth-century academic paintings like Alexandre Cabanelâ€™s Birth of Venus
(Fig. 11-26), which, at the Salon of 1863, was purchased
by no less an admirer than Napoleon III.
The series Helenâ€™s Odyssey is, in fact, designed to revise our sense of Greek history by focusing not on the heroes of the
Homeric epic, but on Helen herself: â€œHer
story comes down to us from European
literatureâ€™s founding epic,â€ Antin says.
â€œBut what do we know of her? After three
thousand years of notoriety she remains
strangely silent as the most beautiful and
disastrous objectification of male anxiety
and desire.â€ Antin calls her images â€œhistorical takes,â€ by which she means both
her own â€œtakeâ€ on history and a cinematic
â€œtake,â€ the filming of a scene. Like a filmmaker, Antin is the director and producer
of the digital scene before us.
Fig. 11-25 Eleanor Antin, Constructing Helen, from the series Helenâ€™s Odyssey, 2007.
Chromogenic print, 5 ft. 8 in. Ã— 16 ft. 7 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Fig. 11-26 Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863. Oil on canvas,
4 ft. 4 in. Ã— 7 ft. 6 in. MusÃ©e dâ€™Orsay, Paris.
Inv. RF273. Photo Â© RMN-Grand Palais (musÃ©e d’Orsay)/HervÃ© Lewandowski.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 257
What are the basic principles of film editing, including
montage, and what technological developments have
advanced the medium over the years?
As we noted at the beginning of the chapter, almost as soon
as photography was invented, people sought to extend
its capacities to capture motion. Eadweard Muybridge
captured the locomotion of animals and human beings (see Fig. 11-2) in sequences of rapidly exposed
photos. It was, in fact, the formal revelations of film that
first attracted artists to it. As forms and shapes repeated
themselves in time across the motion-picture screen, the
medium seemed to invite the exploration of rhythm and
repetition as principles of design. In his 1924 film Ballet
MÃ©canique (Fig. 11-27), the Cubist painter Fernand LÃ©ger
chose to study a number of different imagesâ€”smiling
lips, wine bottles, metal discs, working mechanisms,
and pure shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles.
By repeating the same image again and again at separate points in the film, LÃ©ger was able to create a visual
rhythm that, to his mind, embodied the beautyâ€”the
balletâ€”of machines in the modern world.
Assembling a film, the process of editing, is a sort
of linear collage, as LÃ©ger plainly shows. Although the
movies may seem true to life, as if they were occurring in
real time and space, this effect is only an illusion accomplished by means of editing. It is perhaps not coincidental that, as film began to come into its own in the second
decade of the twentieth century, collage, constructed by
cutting and pasting together a variety of fragments, was
The first great master of editing was D. W. Griffith
who, in The Birth of a Nation (Fig. 11-28), essentially invented the standard vocabulary of filmmaking. Griffith
Fig. 11-27 Fernand LÃ©ger, Ballet MÃ©canique, 1924.
The Humanities Film Collection, Oregon State University.
Â© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
Fig. 11-28 Battle scene from The Birth of a Nation, directed
by D. W. Griffith, 1915.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
258 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
sought to create visual variety in the film by alternating
between and among a repertoire of shots, each one a
continuous sequence of film frames. A full shot shows
the actor from head to toe, a medium shot from the waist
up, a close-up the head and shoulders, and an extreme
close-up a portion of the face. The image of the battle
scene reproduced here is a long shot, a shot that takes
in a wide expanse and many characters at once. Griffith
makes use of another of his techniques in this shot as
wellâ€”the frame slowly opens in a widening circle as a
scene begins or slowly blacks out in a shrinking circle to
end a scene. This is called an iris shot.
Related to the long shot is the pan, a name given
to the panoramic vista, in which the camera moves
across the scene from one side to the other. Griffith also
invented the traveling or tracking shot, in which the
camera, mounted and moved on tracks, moves parallel
to the action. In editing, Griffith combined these various
shots in order to tell his story. Two of his more famous
editing techniques are cross-cutting and flashbacks. The
flashback, in which the editor cuts to narrative episodes
that are supposed to have taken place before the start
of the film, is now standard in film practice, but it was
entirely new to film practice when Griffith first used it.
Cross-cutting is an editing technique meant to create high
drama. The editor moves back and forth between two
separate events in ever-shorter sequences, the rhythm of
shots increasing to a furious pace. Griffith borrowed these
techniques from fiction writing to tell a visual story in film.
A film about the Civil War and Reconstruction, The
Birth of a Nation is unrepentant in its racism, culminating in a
tightly edited cross-cut sequence
in which a white woman tries to
fend off the sexual advances of a
black man as the Ku Klux Klan
rides to her rescue, which led the
NAACP (National Association
for the Advancement of Colored
People), newly formed in 1915
when the film was released, to
seek to have it banned. Riots
broke out in Boston and Philadelphia, while Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minneapolis,
and eight states denied it a release. But Griffithâ€™s film remains
one of the highest-grossing movies in film history, in no small
part due to its inventive editing.
One of the other great innovators of film editing was
the Russian filmmaker Sergei
Eisenstein. Eisenstein did his
greatest work in Bolshevik
Russia after the 1917 Revolution, in a newly formed
state whose leader, Vladimir Lenin, had said, â€œOf all the
arts, for us the cinema is the most important.â€ In this
atmosphere, Eisenstein created what he considered a
revolutionary new use of the medium. Rather than concentrating on narrative sequencing, he sought to create
a sense of shock that would ideally lead the audience
to a new perception and knowledge. He called his technique montageâ€”the sequencing of widely disparate
images to create a fast-paced, multifaceted image. In the
famous â€œOdessa Steps Sequenceâ€ of his 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, four frames of which are reproduced here
(Fig. 11-29), Eisenstein used 155 separate shots in 4 minutes 20 seconds of film, which equates to an astonishing average rate of 1.6 seconds per shot (the sequence is
widely available on the Internet). The movie is based on
the story of an unsuccessful uprising against the Russian
monarchy in 1905, and the sequence depicts the moment
when the crowd pours into the port city of Odessaâ€™s harbor to welcome the liberated ship Potemkin. Behind them,
at the top of the steps leading down to the pier, soldiers appear. In the scene, the soldiers fire on the crowd, a mother
lifts her dead child to face the soldiers, women weep, and
a baby carriage careens down the steps. For Eisenstein, the
assemblage of all these shots makes for a single film â€œimage.â€ â€œThe strength of montage resides in this,â€ he wrote,
â€œthat it involves the creative processâ€”the emotions and
mind of the spectator . . . assemble the image.â€
The thrust of Eisensteinâ€™s work is to emphasize
action and emotion through enhanced time sequencing.
Just the opposite effect is created by Douglas Gordon
Fig. 11-29 Sergei Eisenstein, Battleship Potemkin, 1925. Four stills.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 259
in his 1993 24 Hour Psycho (Fig. 11-30). Gordonâ€™s work
is an extreme-slow-motion video projection of Alfred
Hitchcockâ€™s 1960 classic film Psycho. As opposed to the
standard 24 frames per second, Gordon projects the film
at 2 frames per second, extending the playing time of the
movie to a full 24 hours. Hitchcockâ€™s original in fact utilizes many of Eisensteinâ€™s time sequencings to create a
film of uncanny tension. But Gordonâ€™s version so slows
Hitchcockâ€™s pace that each action is extended, sometimes
excruciatingly soâ€”as in the famous shower scene. To
view either film is to understand the idea of duration in
terms one might never before have experienced.
The Popular Cinema
However interesting Gordonâ€™s 24 Hour Psycho
might be on an intellectual level, and however
much it might transform our experience of
and appreciation for Hitchcockâ€™s film, it is not
the kind of movie that most audiences would
appreciate. Audiences expect a narrative, or
story, to unfold, characters with whom they
can identify, and action that thrills their imaginations. In short, they want to be entertained.
After World War I, American movies dominated the screens of the world like no other
mass media in history, precisely because they
entertained audiences so completely. And the
name of the town where these entertainments
were made became synonymous with the industry itselfâ€”Hollywood.
The major players in Hollywood were Fox
and Paramount, the two largest film companies,
followed by Universal and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). With the introduction
of sound into the motion-picture business in 1926, Warner Brothers came to the
forefront as well. In addition, a few wellknown actors, notably Douglas Fairbanks,
Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin, maintained control over the financing and distribution of their own work by forming
their own company, United Artists. Their
ability to do so, despite the power of the
other major film companies, is testimony to
the power of the star in Hollywood.
The greatest of these stars was Charlie Chaplin, who, in his famous role of The
Tramp, managed to merge humor with a
deeply sympathetic character who could
pull the heartstrings of audiences everywhere. In The Gold
Rush, an 80-minute film made in 1925, much of it filmed on
location near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains
of California, he portrayed the abysmal conditions faced
by miners working in the Klondike gold fields during the
Alaska gold rush of 1898. One scene in this movie is particularly poignantâ€”and astonishingly funny: Together with
a fellow prospector, Big Jim, a starving Charlie cooks and
eats, with relish and delight, his old leather shoe (Fig. 11-31).
The Gold Rush is a silent film, but a year after it was
made, Warner Brothers and Fox were busy installing
speakers and amplification systems in theaters as they
perfected competing sound-on-film technologies. On
October 6, 1927, the first words of synchronous speech uttered by a performer in a feature film were spoken by Al
Jolson in The Jazz Singer: â€œWait a minute! Wait a minute!
Fig. 11-30 Douglas Gordon, 24 Hour Psycho, 1993.
Photo: Studio lost but found (Bert Rossi), Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery Â©
Douglas Gordon. From Psycho, 1960, USA. Directed and produced by Alfred
Hitchcock, Distributed by Paramount Pictures Universal City Stuidoes, Inc.
Fig. 11-31 Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush, 1925.
260 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
You ainâ€™t heard nothing yet.â€ By 1930, the conversion to
sound was complete.
For the next decade, the movie industry produced
films in a wide variety of genres, or narrative typesâ€”
comedies, romantic dramas, war films, horror films,
gangster films, and musicals. By 1939, Hollywood had
reached a zenith. Some of the greatest films of all time
date from that year, including the classic western Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, Gone with the Wind, starring
Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, and Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart. But perhaps the
greatest event of the year was the arrival of 24-year-old
Orson Welles in Hollywood. Welles had made a name
for himself in 1938 when his Halloween-night radio
broadcast of H. G. Wellsâ€™s novel War of the Worlds convinced many listeners that Martians had invaded New
Jersey. Gathering the most talented people in Hollywood
around him, he produced, directed, wrote, and starred in
Citizen Kane, the story of a media baron modeled loosely
on newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.
Released in 1941 to rave reviews, the film used every
known trick of the filmmakerâ€™s trade, with high-angle
and low-angle shots (Fig. 11-32), a wide variety of editing effects, including dissolves between scenes, and a
narrative technique, fragmented and consisting of different points of view, unique to film at the time. All combined to make a work of remarkable total effect that still
stands as one of the greatest achievements of American
The year 1939 also marked the emergence of color
as a major force in the motion-picture business. The first
successful full-length Technicolor film had been The Black
Pirate, starring Douglas Fairbanks, released in 1926, but
color was considered an unnecessary ornament, and
audiences were indifferent to it. However, when, in The
Wizard of Oz, Dorothy arrives in a full-color Oz, having
been carried off by a tornado from a black-and-white
Kansas, the magical transformation of color become
stunningly evident. And audiences were stunned by the
release of Gone with the Wind, with its four hours of color
production. Much of that filmâ€™s success can be attributed
to art director William Cameron Menzies. Menzies had
worked for years in Hollywood, and for such an ambitious project, he realized he needed to start working far
in advance of production. Two years before shooting began, he started creating storyboardsâ€”panels of rough
sketches outlining the shot sequencesâ€”for each of the
movieâ€™s scenes. These storyboards helped to determine
camera angles, locations, lighting, and even the editing
sequence well in advance of actual shooting. His panoramic overviews, for which the camera had to pull back
above a huge railway platform full of wounded Confederate soldiers, required the building of a crane, and
they became famous as a technological achievement. For
the filmâ€™s burning-of-Atlanta sequence (Figs. 11-33 and
11-34), Menziesâ€™s storyboard shows seven shots, beginning and ending with a panoramic overview, with cuts
to close-ups of both Rhett Butler and Scarlett Oâ€™Hara
Meanwhile, Walt Disney had begun to create
feature-length animated films in full color. The first
was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937, which
was followed, in 1940, by both Pinocchio and Fantasia.
Animation, which means â€œbringing to life,â€ was suggested to filmmakers from the earliest days of the industry when it became evident that film itself was a series
of â€œstillsâ€ animated by their movement in sequence.
Obviously, one could draw these stills as well as photograph them. But in order for motion to appear seamless,
and not jerky, literally thousands of drawings need to be
executed for each film, up to 24 per second of film time.
In the years after World War II, the idea of film as
a potential art form resurfaced, especially in Europe.
Fostered in large part by international film festivals,
particularly in Venice and Cannes, this new â€œart cinemaâ€ brought directors to the fore, seeing them as the
auteurs, or â€œauthors,â€ of their works. Chief among
these was the Italian director Federico Fellini, whose
film about the decadent lifestyle of 1960s Rome, La Dolce
Vita, earned him an international reputation. Close on
Fig. 11-32 Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, 1941.
Kobal Collection. Citizen Kane Â© 1941 RKO Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 261
his heels came the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman
and the French â€œNew Waveâ€ directors Jean-Luc Godard
and Alain Resnais.
By the end of the 1960s, Hollywood had lost its
hold on the film industry, and most films had become
international productions. But, a decade later, it regained control of the medium when, in 1977, George
Lucasâ€™s Star Wars swept onto the scene. In many ways
an anthology of stunning special effects, the movie
had made over $200 million even before its highly
successful twentieth-anniversary rerelease in 1997,
and it inaugurated an era of â€œblockbusterâ€ Hollywood
attractions, including E.T., Titanic, The Lord of the Rings
trilogy, and series like the Harry Potter and Twilight films.
How has video art exploited the immediacy of the medium,
even as it has critiqued popular culture?
One of the primary difficulties faced by artists who wish
to explore film as a medium is the sheer expense of using
it. The more sophisticated a film is in terms of its camera
work, lighting, sound equipment, editing techniques, and
special effects, the more expensive it is to produce. With the
introduction in 1965 of the relatively inexpensive handheld
video camera, the Sony Portapak, artists were suddenly able
to explore the implications of seeing in time. Video is not
only cheaper than film but it is also more immediateâ€”that
is, what is seen on the recorder is simultaneously seen on
the monitor. While video art tends to exploit this immediacy, commercial television tends to hide it by attempting to
make videotaped images look like film.
Korean-born Nam June Paik was one of the first
people in New York to buy a Portapak. His video installations explore the limits and defining characteristics
of the medium. By the mid-1960s, Paikâ€™s â€œaltered TVsâ€
Fig. 11-33 William Cameron Menzies, Storyboard for the burning-of-Atlanta scene from Gone with
the Wind, 1939.
Fig. 11-34 Burning-of-Atlanta scene from Gone with the
262 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
displayed images altered by magnets combined with
video feedback and other technologies that produced
shifted patterns of shape and color. Until his death in
2006, he continued to produce large-scale video installations, including the 1995 work Megatron/Matrix, which
consisted of 215 monitors programmed with both live
video images from the Seoul Olympic Games and animated montages of nudes, rock concert clips, national
flags, and other symbolic imagery. In 1985â€“86, he began to use the American flag as the basis for computer
sculpture, making three separate flag sculptures: Video
Flag X (Chase Manhattan Bank collection), Video Flag Y
(The Detroit Institute of Arts), and Video Flag Z (Los
Angeles County Museum of Art).
Today, Video Flag Z, a 6-foot-high grid of 84 white
Quasar monitors that once flashed a pulsating montage of red, white, and blue images across its surface,
is packed away in the Los Angeles County Museumâ€™s
warehouse. â€œWe canâ€™t find replacement parts anymore,â€
the museumâ€™s curator explains. And this is a danger
most electronic media face as they fall victim to the ever-increasing rate of technological change. Jon Ippolito,
the Guggenheim Museumâ€™s associate curator of
media arts, warns, â€œThereâ€™s a looming threat of
mass extinction on the media-arts landscape.â€
One solution is for media artists to reengineer
their works, which is precisely what Paik did
for his Video Flag (Fig. 11-35) at the Hirshhorn
Museum in Washington, D.C. The monitors incorporate a face that morphs through every U.S.
president of the Information Age, from Harry S.
Truman to Bill Clinton. Built a decade after the
earlier flags, the Hirshhornâ€™s Video Flag incorporates what were then (1996) the latest advances
in technology, such as laser disks, automatic
switchers, 13-inch monitors (rather than the 10-
inch monitors used in previous versions), and
other devices. But today, as the electronics industry has ceased producing both video equipment and videotape itself, it too is threatened by
the obsolescence of its working parts.
From the outset, one of the principal attractions of video as a medium for artists was its
immediacy, the fact that the image was transmitted instantaneously in â€œrealâ€ time. Installations such
as Bruce Naumanâ€™s Live-Taped Video Corridor (Fig. 11-36)
were designed precisely to underscore the sometimes
startling effects of such immediacy. The piece consisted of
two floor-to-ceiling panels forming a tunnel the length of
Fig. 11-35 Nam June Paik, Video Flag, 1985â€“96. Seventy video monitors,
4 laser-disk players, computer, timers, electrical devices, wood and metal
housing on rubber wheels, 7 ft. 103â„8 in. Ã— 11 ft. 73â„4 in. Ã— 473â„4 in. Hirshhorn
Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Holenia Purchase Fund, in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1996. Photo: Lee Stalsworth.
Â© Estate of Nam June Paik.
Fig. 11-36 Bruce Nauman, Live-Taped Video Corridor,
1970. Wallboard, video camera, two video monitors, videotape
player, and videotape, dimensions variable. Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, New York. Installation view: 1970 Annual Exhibition of
Contemporary American Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American
Art, New York, December 12, 1970â€“February 7, 1971.
Panza Collection, Gift, 92.4165.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 263
a room. At the far end were two video monitors stacked
on top of one another. As viewers inched their way down
the corridor one at a time, it gradually became clear that
they were walking toward their own image, shot from
a surveillance camera mounted on the ceiling. The experience was tantamount to suddenly finding oneself in
some sinister surveillance operation, the possibility of
which had become increasingly real by the early 1970s
as closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems proliferated
across the countryâ€”in 1969, police cameras had been
installed in the New York City Municipal Building near
City Hall, and other cities soon followed suit, their CCTV
systems constantly monitored by officers.
On the other hand, such immediacy seemed, at least
superficially, to guarantee that the video image was authentic, that it recorded a â€œliveâ€ moment with a certain
truth. The videotape of Chris Burdenâ€™s 1971 performance
Shoot (Fig. 11-37) exploited this â€œtruth factorâ€ as no artist
had before (and few have since). On November 19, 1971,
Burden stood before a small audience of friends at F
Space, an alternative gallery in Santa Ana, California, run
by students in the MFA program at UC-Irvine. Burden
had one of his fellow students, a trained sharpshooter,
fire a rifle at him from about halfway across the gallery.
Burden had intended that the shooter just graze the skin
of his left arm, but the wound was more severe and Burden had to receive emergency medical attention. Burden
did not produce his video of the event until three years
later (and the final video contains only 8 seconds of actual filmâ€”the remainder is composed of black-screen
audio-recording with titles and still photography), in no
small part to affirm that the event, known only through
photographs to that point in time, had indeed taken place.
Artists also saw video art as a way to challenge
and critique popular culture, particularly television.
In her video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman
(Fig. 11-38), Dara Birnbaum pirated an episode of the
Linda Carter TV series Wonder Woman, which ran for
three seasons from 1976 to 1979, and by repeating short
Fig. 11-37 Chris Burden, Shoot, 1974. Still. Videotape of a 1971
performance, approx. 2 min. 15 sec.
Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York. Â© Chris Burden.
Fig. 11-38 Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978â€“79.
Still. Video, approx. 5 min. 16 sec.
Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.
264 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
sequences from the episode again and againâ€”Wonder
Woman running through the woods, her breasts bouncing
heavily, or the explosion that marks the moment when
Wonder Woman is transformed from the â€œrealâ€ secretary,
Diana Prince, into her superhero selfâ€”revealed just how
sexist (and banal) the showâ€™s representation of women
really was. The video concludes with two minutes of the
Wonderland Disco Bandâ€™s 1978 â€œWonder Woman Disco,â€
its lyrics scrolling by on a blue ground, the sexual implications of the songâ€™s chorusâ€”â€œShake thy wonder
Perhaps no artist in the 1970s challenged the expectations of art audiences more hilariously than William
Wegman, whose series of short videos has also recently
been reissued on DVD (William Wegman: Video Works
1970â€“1999). In one, called Deodorant, the artist simply
sprays an entire can of deodorant under one armpit
while he extolls its virtues. The video, which is about
the same length as a normal television commercial, is an
exercise in consumerism run amok. In Rage and Depression (Fig. 11-39), Wegman sits smiling at the camera as he
speaks the following monologue:
I had these terrible fits of rage and depression all the
time. It just got worse and worse and worse. Finally
my parents had me committed. They tried all kinds
of therapy. Finally they settled on shock. The doctors
brought me into this room in a straitjacket because I
still had this terrible, terrible temper. I was just the
meanest cuss you could imagine, and when they put
this cold, metal electrode, or whatever it was, to my
chest, I started to giggle and then when they shocked
me, it froze on my face into this smile, and even
though Iâ€™m still incredibly depressedâ€”everyone
thinks Iâ€™m happy. I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to do.
Wegman completely undermines the authority of visual
experience here. What our eyes see is an illusion. He
implies that we can never trust what we see, just as we
should not trust televisionâ€™s objectivity as a medium.
Gary Hillâ€™s video installation Crux (Fig. 11-40), made
in the mid-1980s, transforms the traditional imagery of
the Crucifixion. The installation consists of five television
monitors mounted on a wall in the shape of a cross. Hill
shot the piece on a deserted island in the middle of the
Hudson River in New York. Attached to his body were
five video cameras, one on each shin facing his feet, one
braced in front of his face and pointed directly back at
him, and one on each arm aimed at his hands, which he
extended out from his body. On his back he carried all
the necessary recording equipment and power packs.
The cameras recorded his bare-footed trek across the island, through the woods and an abandoned armory to
the riverâ€™s edge. The 26-minute journey captures all the
agony and pain of Christâ€™s original ascent of Golgotha,
as he carried his own cross to the top of the hill where
he was crucified. But all we see of Hillâ€™s walk are his
two bruised and stumbling feet, his two hands groping
Fig. 11-40 Gary Hill, Crux, 1983â€“87. Five-channel video
installation (NTSC, color, sound), 5 video monitors, 5 speakers,
1 synchronizer. Hamburger Bahnhofâ€“Museum fÃ¼r Gegenwart,
Inv. FNG 68/93. Photo: Jens Ziehe. Â© 2015. Photo Scala, Florence/bpk,
Bildagentur fÃ¼r Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin. Â© 2015 Gary Hill/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Fig. 11-39 William Wegman, Rage and Depression, Reel 3,
1972â€“73. Still. Video, approx. 1 min.
Courtesy of the artist.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 265
for balance, and his exhausted face. The body that connects them is absent, a giant blank spot on the gallery
wall. This absence not only suggests the disappearance
of Christâ€™s body after the Resurrection, but it is also the
â€œcruxâ€ of the title. A â€œcruxâ€ is a cross, but it is also a vital or decisive point (as in â€œthe crux of the matterâ€), or
something that torments by its puzzling nature. By eliminating his body, Hill has discovered a metaphor for the
soulâ€”that puzzling energy which is spiritually present
but physically absent.
While archival video footage is becoming increasingly available, the work of most contemporary artists
working with time-based media (video art per se no longer existsâ€”the medium has become entirely digital) is
available for viewing only at museums and galleries. Artists tend to produce their work in very limited editions,
designed to maximize competition among museum
collectors for copies. There are some exceptions. Bill
Viola has released a number of his early works on DVD
including Selected Works 1976â€“1981; Hatsu-Yume (First
Dream) (1981), a visual foray into the nature of light and
darkness as metaphors for life and death; I Do Not Know
What It Is I Am Like (1986), an investigation of humanityâ€™s
relation to nature; and The Passing (1991), a meditation
on the endless cycle of birth and death like Hatsu-Yume,
but focused on Violaâ€™s own family. (One of the video installations he created as the American representative to
the Venice Biennale in 1995 is the subject of The Creative
Process on pp. 268â€“69.)
Violaâ€™s short video The Reflecting Pool (Fig. 11-41)
demonstrates his technical prowess. It lasts for seven
minutes. The camera is stationary, overlooking a pool
that fills the foreground. Light filters through the forest
behind the pool. Throughout the tape there is the sound
of water gently streaming into the pool, and then, covering it during the opening shots, a drone that resembles
the sound of a truck or plane passing by. Viola emerges
from the forest wearing a shirt and trousers. He walks
up to the edge of the pool, where he is reflected in the
water. Then suddenly, with a grunt, he jumps out over
the pool, but his body freezes in the fetal position in
midair above the water. In the pool the light changes
Fig. 11-41 Bill Viola, The Reflecting Pool, 1977â€“79. Four stills. Video, color, mono sound, 7 min.
Bill Viola Studio LLC. Photos: Kira Perov.
266 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
and the water stills before it is then animated in three
successive sequences by concentric circles of ripples as
if a fish has risen to the surface or something (invisible)
has dropped into it from the feet of the suspended figure
above. A reflected figure walks along the pool from left
to right and as he does so the frozen figure suspended
above the pool gradually fades into the landscape. Two
reflected figures, a woman and a man, move along the
right edge of the pool and then across the far side until they stop at the far left corner. The circles of water
implode inward in backward motion. The water turns
black, as if in the bottom half of the image it is night, reflecting the single figure again, now bathed in light. He
moves off to the right. Then the pool returns to daylight,
and suddenly Viola emerges from the water naked, his
back to us. He climbs onto the edge of the pool and walks
away, in small fragmented segments, into the forest.
The stationary camera is key to the work. It allows Viola to work with three separate recordings
of the space and recombine them within the (apparently) coherent space of the frame by registering them
much in the manner that a printmaker registers the
different colors in pulling a single print. First is a series of recordings made by using very slow dissolves
between each action (throwing things into the water
to create the rippling effects, the reflection of himself
walking around the edge of the pool). Some of these
actions were recorded in real time, but others, like the
changing light on the pool surface, are time-lapse,
and still others, like the imploding circle of concentric ripples, are in reverse motion. The second recording consists of Viola walking out of the forest to the
edge of the pool and then jumping into the air. This
recording ends in a freeze-frame of about three or four
minutesâ€™ duration, during which it undergoes a slow
fade so that the figure appears to dissolve into the
background. The final recording consists simply of the
empty scene in real time. It is this space that comprises
the forest background into which the leaping figure disappears. What Viola offers the viewer is a quasi-mysterious space of reflection, a reflecting pool removed
from the fractious realities of modern life, into which
the viewer might dive like Viola himself.
As it turns out, one of the seminal time-based
works of the late twentieth century, Der Lauf der
Dinge (The Way Things Go), is widely available on
DVD. Created by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, the film was first screened in 1987 at Documenta, the international art exhibition that takes
place every five years in Kassel, Germany. There it
caused an immediate sensation, and since then it
has been screened in museums around the world. It
consists of a kinetic sculptural installation inside a
100-foot-long warehouse that begins when a black
plastic bag (full of who knows quite what), suspended
from the ceiling, spins downward until it hits a tire on
top of a slightly inclined orange-colored board and
nudges it over a small strip of wood down the shallow slope. This initiates a series of physical and chemical, cause-and-effect chain reactions in which ordinary
household objects slide, crash, spew liquids onto, and
ignite one another in a linear 30-minute sequence
of self-destructing interactions (Fig. 11-42). In part
a metaphor for the history of Western culture, in part a
hilarious slapstick comedy of errors, for many viewers
The Way Things Go captures the spirit of modern life.
Fig. 11-42 Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), 1987. Stills. 16 mm
color film, 30 min.
Â© Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 267
The Computer and New
What sorts of effects has computer technology made
possible in art?
If the image on a computer monitor is literally twodimensional, the screen space occupied by the image
is, increasingly, theatrical, interactive, and time-based.
In his groundbreaking 1999 study of the global digital
network, E-topia, William J. Mitchell, dean of the School
of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it this way:
In the early days of PCs, you just saw scrolling
text through the rectangular aperture [of your
personal computer], and the theatrical roots of the
configuration were obscured. . . . [But] with the
emergence of the PC, the growth of networks, and
ongoing advances in display technology, countless
millions of glowing glass rectangles scattered through
the world have served to construct an increasingly
intricate interweaving of cyberspace and architecture.
. . . As static tesserae [pieces of glass or ceramic used
to make mosaics] were to the Romans, active pixels
are to us. Signs and labels are becoming dynamic, text
is jumping off the page into three-dimensional space,
murals are being set in motion, and the immaterial is
blending seamlessly with the material.
The advances in technology are startling. To make The Reflecting Pool, Bill Viola used the new CMX 600 nonlinear
editing system at the WNET Television Laboratory in New
York, the first system to free video editors from working
chronologically from the beginning of the tape to the end,
giving them the ability to retrieve any segment of original
video footage at any time and place it anywhere in the sequence. It was not until ten years later, in 1989, that Avidâ€™s
Media Composer system was launched, a digital nonlinear editing program that provided editors with the ability
to copy videotape footage in real time to digital hard disks.
This invention allowed a video editor to use a computer to
easily view shots, make cuts, and rearrange sequences faster
than traditional tape-based methods. The cost was about
$100,000. Today, comparable software costs less than $300.
In 1990, when Steven Spielberg began discussions about
transforming Michael Crichtonâ€™s novel Jurassic Park into a
movie, CGI, computer-generated imaging, did not exist.
Three years later, the movie made its stunning animated dinosaurs come to life. Today, software with far greater capabilities is available for use on your laptop and, as we have
seen, artists such as Isaac Julien have integrated CGI technology into their video works (see Fig. 4-31).
David Claerboutâ€™s 2007 single-channel video installation Sections of a Happy Moment (Fig. 11-43) is a tour de
force of computer-generated imagery. Nearly 26 minutes long, the video depicts a single moment in the life
of a Chinese family, who are grouped in a circle in the
Fig. 11-43 David Claerbout, Sections of a Happy Moment,
2007. Stills. Single-channel video projection, 1920 Ã— 1600 hd
progressive, black-and-white, stereo audio, 25 min. 57 sec.
Courtesy of Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Brussels and Sean Kelly, New York.
268 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Creative Process
Revisioning a Painting as Video: Bill Violaâ€™s The Greeting
When video artist Bill Viola first saw a reproduction of Jacopo
da Pontormoâ€™s 1528 painting The Visitation (Fig. 11-45), he
knew that he had to do something with it. Asked to be the
American representative at the 1995 Venice Biennale, perhaps
the oldest and most prestigious international arts festival, he
decided to see if he could create a piece based on Pontormoâ€™s
painting for the exhibition. He therefore converted the United
States Pavilion into a series of five independent video installations, which he called, as a whole, Buried Secrets. By â€œburied
secretsâ€ he meant to refer to our emotions, which have for too
long lain hidden within us. â€œEmotions,â€ he says, â€œare precisely
the missing key that has thrown things out of balance, and the
restoration to their right place as one of the higher orders of the
mind of a human being cannot happen fast enough.â€
What fascinated Viola about Pontormoâ€™s painting was, first of all, the scene itself. Two women meet
each other in the street. They embrace as two other
women look on. An instantaneous knowledge and
understanding seems to pass between their eyes.
The visit, as told in the Bible by Luke (1:36â€“56), is of
the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth. Mary has just been told
by the Angel Gabriel: â€œYou shall conceive and bear a
son, and you shall give him the name Jesus,â€ the moment of the Annunciation. In Pontormoâ€™s painting, the
two women, one just pregnant with Jesus, the other
six months pregnant, after a lifetime of barrenness,
with the child who would grow to be John the Baptist,
share each otherâ€™s joy. For Viola, looking at this work,
it is their shared intimacyâ€”that moment of contact in
which the nature of their relationship is permanently
changedâ€”that most fascinated him: Here is the instant when we leave the isolation of ourselves and
enter into social relations with others. Viola decided
that he wanted to recreate this encounter, to try to
capture in media such as film or videoâ€”media that
can depict the passing of timeâ€”the emotions buried
in the moment of the greeting itself.
In order to recreate the work, Viola turned his attention to other aspects of Pontormoâ€™s composition. He
was particularly interested in how the piece depicted
space. There seemed to him to be a clear tension between the deep space of the street behind the women
and the space occupied by the women themselves. He
thus made a series of sketches of the hypothetical street behind the women (Fig. 11-44); then, working with a set designer,
recreated it. The steep, odd perspective of the buildings had
to fit into a 20-foot-deep sound stage. He discovered that if
he filled the foreground with four women, as in the Pontormo
painting, much of the background would be lost. Furthermore,
the fourth woman in the painting presented dramatic difficulties.
Removed from the main group as she is, there was really little
for her to do in a recreation of the scene involving live action.
A costume designer was hired; actors auditioned, were
cast, and then rehearsed. On Monday, April 3, 1995, on a
sound stage in Culver City, California, Viola shot The Greeting.
He had earlier decided to shoot the piece on film, not video,
Fig. 11-44 Bill Viola, Sketch for the set of The Greeting, 1995.
Bill Viola Studio LLC.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 269
because he wanted to capture every nuance of the moment.
On an earlier project, he had used a special high-speed 35 mm
camera that was capable of shooting an entire roll of film in
about 45 seconds at a rate of 300 frames per second. The
camera was exactly what he needed for this project. The finished film would run for more than ten minutes. The action it
would record would last for 45 seconds.
â€œI never felt more like a painter,â€ Viola says of the piece.
â€œIt was like I was moving color around, but on film.â€ For ten
slow-motion minutes, the camera never shifts its point of view.
Two women stand talking on a street, and a third enters from
the left to greet them. An embrace follows (Fig. 11-46).
Viola knew, as soon as he saw the unedited film, that he
had what he wanted, but questions still remained. How large
should he show the pieceâ€”on a table monitor, or larger than
life-size, projected on a wall? He could not decide at first, but
at the last minute he determined that he would project it. On
the day of the Venice Biennale opening, he saw it in its completed state for the first time, and for the first time since filming it, he saw it with the other key element in videoâ€”sound. It
seemed complete as it never had before. Gusts of wind echo
through the scene. Then the woman in red leans across to the
other and whispers, â€œCan you help me? I need to talk with you
right away.â€ Joy rises to their faces. Their emotions surface.
The wind lifts their dresses, and they are transformed.
Fig. 11-45 Jacopo da Pontormo, The Visitation, 1528.
Oil on canvas, 6 ft. 71â„2 in. Ã— 5 ft. 13â„8 in. Pieve di S. Michele,
Canali Photobank, Milan, Italy. Fig. 11-46 Bill Viola, The Greeting, 1995. Video/sound
installation for the exhibition Buried Secrets. United States
Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1995. Arizona State University Art
Bill Viola Studio LLC. Performers: Angela Black, Suzanne Peters, Bonnie
Snyder. Photo: Kira Perov.
270 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
courtyard of an urban housing
complex, gazing up at a ball hanging in midair. At first, it seems to
be a slideshow of shots of the scene
apparently taken simultaneously
by myriad cameras positioned all
around the courtyard at different
heights and focal lengths, but it is
nothing of the sort. Claerbout, in
fact, used a multitude of cameras
simultaneously to photograph the
11 characters in the scene in front
of a blue background, each time
concentrating on one or two people. In the process he generated
more than 50,000 images, finally
choosing 180 of them to insert digitally into the background scenes,
themselves shot from a number
of different angles and digitally manipulated, of a social
housing complex designed by the Belgian modernist architect Renaat Braem and built in 1950â€“57 in the Kiel district of Antwerp. The slideshow moves at a pace of about
one every eight or nine seconds, and is accompanied by
an altogether unremarkable solo piano soundtrack that
underscores, as it were, the movement of the slides. The
viewer is caught up in a paradoxical representation of
time, which is simultaneously suspended, like the ball,
and ongoing, in the continuous loop of the slideshow
It is, finally, in the virtual space of the computer
that Chinese artist Cao Fei worked on her online virtual RMB City (Fig. 11-47), a sort of Beijing gone mad.
Named for the Chinese unit of currency (RMB/Renminbi), the city is an amalgamation of such historical
and contemporary landmarks as the Peopleâ€™s Palace
Hotel in Beijing, Rem Koolhaasâ€™s CCTV building in Beijing (see Fig. 14-44), and the â€œBirdâ€™s Nestâ€ stadium built
for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics (see Fig. 1-3).
Cao Fei herself inhabited it as her avatar, China Tracy,
who, across a period of two years, invited the public
and various artists to explore issues, ranging from art
and architecture to literature, cinema, and politics,
while functioning not as themselves but as their avatar
personalities, the interaction between whom Cao describes in the art21 Exclusive video â€œCao Fei: Avatars.â€
Cao designed the space in her home studio in Guangzhou, China, and then had the online virtual-world
company Linden Lab, headquartered in San Francisco,
create and host the interactive three-dimensional space
of the city on its virtual world platform. Thus, RMB
City was a digital art space in which the viewerâ€™s avatar
could actively participate and interact with others.
Fig. 11-47 Cao Fei, RMB City, in Art in the Twenty-First Century, season 5 episode,
â€œFantasy,â€ 2009. Production still. Segment: Cao Fei.
Â© Art 21, Inc. 2009.
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 271
The Critical Process
Thinking about Photography and Time-Based Media
Jeff Wallâ€™s A Sudden Gust of Wind (Fig. 11-48) is a large,
backlit photographic image modeled on a nineteenth-century
Japanese print by Hokusai, Sunshu Ejiri (Fig. 11-49), from the
series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, which also includes The
Great Wave off Kanagawa (see Fig. 7-21). Wallâ€™s interest lies, at
least in part, in the transformations contemporary culture has
worked on traditional media. Thus his billboardlike photograph
creates a scene radically different from the original. What sorts
of transformations can you see? Consider, first of all, the content of Wallâ€™s piece. What does it mean that businessmen inhabit the scene rather than Japanese in traditional dress? How
has the plain at Ejiriâ€”considered one of the most beautiful locations in all of Japanâ€”been translated by Wall? And though
Hokusai indicates Mount Fuji with a simple line drawing, why
has Wall eliminated the mountain altogether? (Remember that
Fuji is, for the Japanese, a national symbol, and it is virtually
held in spiritual reverence.)
But perhaps the greatest transformation of all is from
the print to the photograph. Wallâ€™s format, in fact, is meant
to invoke cinema, and the scene is anything but the result
of some chance photographic encounter. Wall employed
professional actors, staged the scene carefully, and shot it
over the course of nearly five months. The final image consists of 50 separate pieces of film spliced together through
digital technology to create a completely artificial but absolutely realistic scene. For Wall, photography has become â€œthe
perfect synthetic technology,â€ as conducive to the creation of
propaganda as art. What is cinematic about this piece? What
does this say about the nature of film as a mediumâ€”not only
photographic film but motion-picture film? Where does â€œtruthâ€
Fig. 11-48 Jeff Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993. Transparency in lightbox,
7 ft. 63â„16 in. Ã— 12 ft. 47â„16 in. Tate Gallery, London.
Courtesy of the artist.
272 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
11.1 Describe the origins of photography and the
formal principles that most inform it.
In 1839, Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot presented a
process for fixing negative images on paper coated with lightsensitive chemicals. This process, which Talbot called photogenic
drawing, resulted in some of the first photographs. How does
photogenic drawing differ from daguerreotype photography?
What is the calotype process? What new process did Julia Margaret Cameron use, and why did she sometimes blur the features
of her subjects? What was the intended effect of photographing
the American Civil War?
Why did photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand
emphasize the formal elements of composition? How do An-My
LÃªâ€™s photographs mediate between the factual and the beautiful?
What is the â€œdecisive momentâ€? For many photographers, the
real art of photography takes place not behind the viewfinder but
in the darkroom. What is the Zone System? What is a cameraâ€™s
aperture? What is involved in the techniques of dodging and
11.2 Describe how color and digital technologies
have transformed photographic practice.
In color photography, the formal tensions of black-and-white
photography are not necessarily lost. Gary Alvis relies on the
contrast between warm and cool colors to achieve his effects,
and Nan Goldin on the sometimes jarring interaction of bright,
complementary colors. Today, digital technologies have
transformed the world of photography, not only rendering film
obsolete but transforming photography into a highly manipulable
medium. How do both Andreas Gursky and Eleanor Antin use
digital technologies to manipulate scale?
Fig. 11-49 Hokusai, Sunshu Ejiri, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, ca. 1830â€“32. Polychrome woodblock
print, ink and color on paper, 97â„8 Ã— 143â„4 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939, JP2953. Â© 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
lie? Can weâ€”indeed, should weâ€”trust what we see? If we
can so easily create â€œbelievableâ€ imagery, what are the possibilities for belief itself? And, perhaps most important of all,
why must we, engaged in the critical process, consider not
just the image itself, but also the way the image is made, the
Chapter 11 Photography and Time-Based Media 273
11.3 Outline the basic principles of film editing,
including montage, as well as the technological
developments that advanced the medium.
Editing is the process of arranging the sequences of a film after
it has been shot in its entirety. The first great master of editing
was D. W. Griffith, who, in The Birth of a Nation, essentially
invented the standard vocabulary of filmmaking. How does a full
shot differ from a medium shot? What is a flashback? What is
cross-cutting? Montage is the sequencing of widely disparate
images. What, for its creator, Sergei Eisenstein, was its intended
The history of popular cinema is a history of technological advances in the medium. To the silent film was added sound, to sound
color. Why is 1939 such a pivotal year in the history of cinema?
11.4 Outline some of the ways that video art has
exploited the immediacy of the medium while
at the same time critiquing popular culture.
With the introduction in 1965 of the Sony Portapak, artists were
suddenly free to explore the medium of video. If video was eventually threatened by rapid technological change, rendering the
medium extinct surprisingly quickly as digital media supplanted
it, when first introduced, it was attractive to artists for the sense
of immediacy it embodied. How did Bruce Naumanâ€™s Live-Taped
Video Corridor exploit the mediumâ€™s sense of immediacy?
Video can be instrumental in documenting otherwise ephemeral
performances, such as Chris Burdenâ€™s Shoot. How was
Burdenâ€™s video an important addition to the performance itself?
Dara Birnbaum used the medium to critique popular television,
and William Wegman tested the mediumâ€™s visual authority.
How do The Reflecting Pool and The Greeting reflect Bill Violaâ€™s
11.5 Discuss some of the technological innovations
that have advanced time-based art into the
Today, video art per se no longer existsâ€”the medium has
become entirely digital, and the advances in technology are
startling. Nonlinear editing systems and CGI technologies, once
innovative and very expensive, are now affordable and available
to almost anyone with a computer. How does David Claerboutâ€™s
Sections of a Happy Moment belie the seeming simplicity of its
slideshow format? Describe the space that defines Cao Feiâ€™s
12.1 Differentiate among relief, sculpture in-the-round, and sculpture as an environment.
12.2 Describe carving as a method of sculpture and account for its association with
12.3 Account for the popularity of molded ceramic sculpture.
12.4 Describe the casting process, and the lost-wax process in particular.
12.5 Define assemblage and account for its association with the idea of transformation.
12.6 Compare and contrast installations and earthworks as environments.
12.7 Describe how the body becomes sculptural in performance art.
Sculpture is one of the oldest and most enduring of
all the arts. The types of sculpture considered in this
chapterâ€”carving, modeling, casting, construction and
assemblage, installation art, and earthworksâ€”employ
two basic processes: They are either subtractive or additive in nature. In subtractive processes, the sculptor
begins with a mass of material larger than the finished
work and removes material, or subtracts from that mass
until the work achieves its finished form. Carving is a
subtractive process. In additive processes, the sculptor
builds the work, adding material as the work proceeds.
Sarah Szeâ€™s installation Triple Point (Pendulum) (Fig. 12â€‘1),
which she created as the American representative at the
fifty-fifth Venice Biennale in 2013, is an example of an
additive work. Sze is notorious for her densely arranged
groupings of the most common objects, stepladders and
tripods, plastic water bottles and Styrofoam cups, cinder blocks and pillows, live cacti and saltine crackers,
nature photographs and rocks bound with string, a pillow, a fan, a pile of books (including a McMaster-Carr
catalog containing some 555,000 mechanical, electrical,
plumbing, and utility products), a swing arm lamp,
and a bucket of paint. These objectsâ€”and many, many
moreâ€”are arranged in a circle around a compass inscribed on the floor displaying the orientation of the
cardinal directions, above the center of which hangs a
pendulum, its erratic and unpredictable motion driven
by a small motor on the ceiling. These things come together with what appears to be a sense, at once, of both
purpose and randomness. As Sze states in the art21
Exclusive video â€œSarah Sze: Improvisationâ€: â€œImprovisation is crucial. I want the work to be sort of an experience of something aliveâ€”to have this feeling that it was
improvised, that you can see decisions happening on
site, the way you see a live sports event, the way you
hear jazz.â€ This mass of things, which operate, as she
says, at â€œthe edge between life and art,â€ suggest a kind
of dystopian potential in the proliferation of â€œstuff,â€ as
if ecological catastrophe threatens to spread in every
direction as things increasingly accumulate.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 275
Fig. 12-1 Sarah Sze, Triple Point (Pendulum), 2013. Salt, water, stone, string, projector, video, pendulum, and mixed media,
Â© Sarah Sze. Courtesy of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photograph: Tom Powel Imaging.
276 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Three Forms of
How do relief, sculpture in-the-round, and sculpture as
Sculptures occupy the same physical, three-dimensional
space that we inhabit. They could even be said to intrude
into our space, demanding that we interact with them,
and we experience them in three distinct waysâ€”as relief,
in-the-round, and as environments. And each of these,
in turn, makes very different demands upon the viewer.
We might look at them on a wall, rather as we look at a
painting. We might walk around them. Or we might enter into them, so that we, in effect, become part of them.
Finally, as we will see at the end of this chapter, in performance art the body itself can become a kind of living
The raised portion of a woodblock plate stands out
in relief against the background (see Chapter 10). The
woodblock plate is, in essence, a carved relief sculpture, a sculpture that has three-dimensional depth but is
meant to be seen from only one side. In other words, it is
frontal, meant to be viewed from the frontâ€”and it is
very often used to decorate architecture.
The Greeks, for instance, used the sculptural art of
relief as a means to decorate and embellish the beauty
of their great architectural achievements. Forms and
figures carved in relief are spoken of as done in either
low relief or high relief. (Some people prefer the corresponding French terms, bas-relief and haut-relief.) The
very shallow depth of Egyptian raised reliefs is characteristic of low relief, though technically any sculpture that
extends from the plane behind it less than 180 degrees
is considered low relief. High-relief sculptures project
forward from their base by at least half their depth, and
often several elements will be fully in the round. Thus,
even though it possesses much greater depth than,
say, a carved woodblock plate, the fragment from the
frieze, or sculptural band, on the Parthenon called the
Maidens and Stewards (Fig. 12-2) projects only a little distance from the background, and no sculptural element
is detached entirely from it. It is thus still considered
The naturalism of the Parthenon frieze is especially
worth noting. Figures overlap one another and are
shown in three-quarter view, making the space seem far
deeper than it actually is. The figures themselves seem
almost to move in slow procession, and the garments
they wear reveal real flesh and limbs beneath them. The
carving of this drapery invites a play of light and shadow
that further activates the surface, increasing the sense of
Two of the most famous examples of high-relief
sculpture in the history of art were designed in 1401â€“02
by Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti as part of
a competition to win the commission from the city of
Florence for the doors of the cityâ€™s baptistery, a building
standing in front of Florence Cathedral and used for the
Fig. 12-2 Maidens and Stewards, fragment of the Panathenaic Procession, from the east frieze of the Parthenon,
Acropolis, Athens, 447â€“438 bce. Marble, height approx. 43 in. MusÃ©e du Louvre, Paris.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 277
Christian rite of baptism. The judges requested
a panel depicting the story of how God tested
the faith of the patriarch Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son.
Abraham took Isaac into the wilderness to perform the deed, but at the last moment an angel
stopped him, implying that God was convinced
of Abrahamâ€™s faith and would be satisfied with
the sacrifice of a ram instead. Brunelleschi
and Ghiberti both depicted the same aspect of
the story, the moment when the angel intervenes. Rather than placing their figures on a
shallow platform, as one might expect in the
shallow space available in a relief sculpture,
both sought to create a sense of a deep, receding space, enhancing the appearance of reality.
Brunelleschi placed Isaac in the center of the
panel and the other figures, whose number and
type were probably prescribed by the judges,
all around (Fig. 12-3). The opposition between
Abraham and the angel, as the angel grabs
Abrahamâ€™s arm to stop him from plunging his
knife into his sonâ€™s breast, is highly dramatic
and realistic, an effect achieved in no small part
by Brunelleschiâ€™s rendering of them as almost
fully realized 360-degree forms. Ghiberti, in
contrast, set the sacrifice to one side of the panel
(Fig. 12-4). He replaced a sense of physical strain
with graceful rhythms, so that Isaac and Abraham
are unified by the bowed curves of their bodies,
Isaacâ€™s nude body turning on its axis to face Abraham. The angel in the upper right-hand corner is
represented in a more dynamic manner than in
Brunelleschiâ€™s panel. This heavenly visitor seems
to have rushed in from deep space. The effect is
achieved by foreshortening (see Chapter 4). In addition, the strong diagonal of the landscape, which
extends from beneath the sacrificial altar and rises
up into a large rocky outcrop behind the other
figures, creates a more vivid sense of real threedimensional space than Brunelleschiâ€™s scene, and
this must have played a role in the judgesâ€™ decision to award the commission to Ghiberti.
Perhaps because the human figure has traditionally been one of the chief subjects of sculpture,
movement is one of the defining characteristics
of the medium. Even in relief sculptures, it is as
if the figures want to escape the confines of their
base. Sculpture in-the-roundâ€”or freestanding
Fig. 12-3 Filippo Brunelleschi, Sacrifice of Isaac, competition relief
commissioned for the doors of the Baptistery, Florence, 1401â€“02.
Parcel-gilt bronze, 21 Ã— 171â„2 in. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
Â© Studio Fotografico Quattrone, Florence.
Fig. 12-4 Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac, competition relief
commissioned for the doors of the Baptistery, Florence, 1401â€“02.
Parcel-gilt bronze, 21 Ã— 171â„2 in. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
Â© Studio Fotografico Quattrone, Florence.
278 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
sculptureâ€”literally demands movement. It is meant
to be seen from all sides, and the viewer must move
around it. Giambolognaâ€™s Capture of the Sabine Women
(Figs. 12â€‘5 and 12-6) is impossible to represent in a single
photograph. Its figures rise in a spiral, and the sculpture
changes dramatically as the viewer walks around it and
experiences it from each side. It is in part the horror of
the scene that lends the sculpture its power, for as it
draws us around it, in order to see more of what is happening, it involves us both physically and emotionally in
the scene it depicts.
It was, in fact, simply to demonstrate his inventive
skill that Giambologna undertook to carve the sculpture.
He conceived of it as three serpentine, or spiraling, figures, lacking a single predominant view, without specific reference, let alone title. But when the head of the
Florentine government decided to place it in the Loggia
della Signoria, a focal point of Florentine life, Giambologna was asked to name it. He suggested that the
woman might be Andromeda, wife of Perseus, a statue
of whom already graced the space. Somebody else, however, suggested the Sabines as a subject, and the sculpture has been known as The Capture of the Sabine Women
ever since. (According to legend, the founders of ancient
Rome, unable to find wives among their neighbors, the
Sabines, tricked the entire tribe into visiting Rome for a
Figs. 12-5 and 12-6 Giambologna, The Capture of the Sabine Women, 1583.
Marble, height 13 ft. 6 in. Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.
Â© Studio Fotografico Quattrone, Florence.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 279
festival and then took its women by force.) What mattered was not the pieceâ€™s subject, however, but its sculptural genius in uniting three figures in a single successful
The viewer is even more engaged in the other sculptural media we will discuss in this chapterâ€”environments. Environments are sculptural spaces which you
can physically enter into or explore either indoors or in
a contained space out-of-doors, such as a plaza, where
they are generally referred to as installations. Earthâ€‘
works, by contrast, are large-scale outdoor environments
made in and of the land itself. An environment can be
site-specificâ€”that is, designed for a particular place in
such a way that the space is transformed by its presenceâ€”or, like Sol LeWittâ€™s instructions for installing his
drawings (see Fig. 3-12), it can be modified to fit into any
number of potential sites.
For his large-scale environment TorusMacroCopula
(Fig. 12-7), one of four sculptures installed in the gallery
space of Louis Vuittonâ€™s Tokyo store in 2012â€“13, Brazilian
sculptor Ernesto Neto suspended thousands of plastic balls in expanses of netting hung from the ceiling to
form a long, circuitous pathway above the floor of the
gallery which visitors were invited to traverse. The plastic balls are â€œmacroâ€ reproductions of fish eggsâ€”or roeâ€”
contained in tightly woven egg sacs. The entire structure
is a â€œtorusâ€â€”that is, a surface generated by revolving
a circle around a central axis (a doughnut would be an
example), but in this case the torus has been cut and its
ends unlinked. By way of contrast, a â€œcopulaâ€ is a link,
usually between the subject of a sentence and its predicate, as in â€œthe man is tall,â€ where â€œisâ€ is the copula. Indeed, the verb to be is among the most common copulas,
and here Neto uses it in his title to suggest that the idea
of â€œbeingâ€ is central to the work. For Neto, body and
mind are inextricably linkedâ€”body is mind and mind
is bodyâ€”and it is as â€œbody-minds that we connect the
things in this world, in lifeâ€”the way we touch, the way
we feel, the way we think and the way we deal.â€ Thus,
as we walk precariously along the catwalk, suspended in
space, tottering, grasping for balance, our body-mind becomes acutely aware of itself. The title of Netoâ€™s installation as a whole was Madness Is Part of Life, and the state of
imbalance in which viewers find themselves immersed
is, for Neto, a metaphor for madness itself, an experience
outside the rules of â€œbeingâ€ by which we normallyâ€”and
more or less unconsciouslyâ€”operate.
Fig. 12-7 Ernesto Neto, TorusMacroCopula, one of four sculptures in Madness Is Part of Life, 2012.
Installation view, Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo, 2012â€“13. Polypropylene, polyester string, and plastic balls, length 25 ft. 7 in.
Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, and Galeria Fortes VilaÃ§a, SÃ¤o Paolo.
280 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
What is carving and why is stone carving associated with
With these terms in mindâ€”relief sculpture, sculpture inthe-round, and environmentsâ€”we can now turn to the
specific methods of making sculpture. The first of these is
carving, a subtractive process in which the material being
carved is chipped, gouged, or hammered away from an
inert, raw block of material. Wood and stone are the two
most common carving materials. Both present problems
for the artist to solve. Sculptors who work in wood must
pay attention to the woodâ€™s grain, since wood is only easily
carved in the direction it grew. To work â€œagainst the grainâ€
is to risk destroying the block. Sculptors who work in stone
must take into account the different characteristics of each
type of stone. Sandstone is gritty and coarse, marble soft
and crystalline, granite dense and hard. Each must be dealt
with differently. For Michelangelo, each stone held within
it the secret of what it might become as a sculpture. â€œThe
best artist,â€ he wrote, â€œhas no concept which some single
marble does not enclose within its mass. . . . Taking away . . .
brings out a living figure in alpine and hard stone, which . . .
grows the more as the stone is chipped away.â€ But carving
is so difficult that even Michelangelo often failed to realize his concept. In his â€œAtlasâ€ Slave (Fig. 12-8), he has
given up. The block of stone resists Michelangeloâ€™s desire to transform it, as if refusing to release the figure
it holds enslaved within it. Yet, arguably, the power of
Michelangeloâ€™s imagination lies in his willingness to leave
the figure unrealized. Atlas, condemned to bearing the
weight of the world on his shoulders forever as punishment for challenging the Greek gods, is literally held captive in the stone.
From the earliest times, because of its permanence, stone has borne a certain connection to ideas of
Fig. 12-8 Michelangelo, â€œAtlasâ€ Slave, ca. 1513â€“20.
Marble, 9 ft. 2 in. Galleria dellâ€™Accademia, Florence.
Â© 2015. Photo Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali.
Fig. 12-9 Menkaure with a Woman, probably
Khamerernebty, from valley temple of Menkaure, Giza,
Dynasty 4, ca. 2480 bce. Schist, height 4 ft. 8 in. Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston.
Boston Museum Fine Art Expedition, 11.1738. Photograph Â© 2015 Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 281
immortality and the spiritual world. In Egypt, for example, stone funerary figures (Fig. 12-9) were carved to bear
the ka, or individual spirit, of the deceased into the eternity of the afterlife. The permanence of the stone was felt
to guarantee the kaâ€™s immortality. For the ancient Greeks,
only the gods were immortal. What tied the world of the
gods to the world of humanity was beauty itself, and
the most beautiful thing of all was the perfectly proportioned, usually athletic, male form.
Egyptian sculpture was known to the Greeks as
early as the seventh century bce, and Greek sculpture
is indebted to it, but the Greeks quickly evolved a much
more naturalistic style. In other words, compared with
the rigidity of the Egyptian figures, this Kouros, or youth
(Fig. 12-10), is both more at ease and more lifelike. Despite the fact that his feet have been lost, we can see that
the weight of his body is on his left leg, allowing his right
leg to relax completely. This youth, then, begins to move.
The sculpture begins to be animated, to portray not just
the figure but also its movement. It is as if the stone has
begun to come to life. Furthermore, the Kouros is much
more anatomically correct than his Egyptian forebear. In
fact, by the fifth century bce, the practice of medicine had
established itself as a respected field of study in Greece,
and anatomical investigations were commonplace. At
the time that the Kouros was sculpted, the body was an
object of empirical study, and its parts were understood
to be unified in a single, flowing harmony.
This flowing harmony was further developed
by Praxiteles, without doubt the most famous sculptor of his day. In works such as Hermes and Dionysus
(Fig. 12â€‘11), he shifted the weight of the body even
more dynamically, in a pose known as contrapposto,
or counterbalance. In contrapposto, the weight falls on
one foot, raising the corresponding hip. This shift in
weight is countered by a turn of the shoulders, so that
Fig. 12-10 Kouros (a.k.a. The Kritios Boy), ca. 480 bce.
Marble, height 36 in.
Inv. no. 698 akg-image/De Agostini/G. Nimatallah.
Fig. 12-11 Praxiteles, Hermes and Dionysus, ca. 330 bce.
Marble, height 7 ft. 1 in. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Â© Craig & Marie Mauzy, Athens.
282 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
the figure stands in a sort of S-curve. The result is an
even greater sense of naturalism and movement.
Why is clay such a popular medium for modeled sculpture?
When you pick up a handful of clay, you almost instinctively know what to do with it. You smack it with your
hand, pull it, squeeze it, bend it, pinch it between your
fingers, roll it, slice it with a knife, and shape it. Then you
grab another handful, repeat the process, and add it to
the first, building a form piece by piece. These are the basic gestures of the additive process of modeling, in which
a pliant substance, usually clay, is molded.
Clay, a natural material found worldwide, has been
used by artists to make everything from pots to sculptures since the earliest times. Its appeal is largely due
to its capacity to be molded into forms that retain their
shape. Once formed, the durability of the material can be
ensured by firing itâ€”that is, baking itâ€”at temperatures
normally ranging between 1,200 and 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln, or oven, designed especially for the process. This causes it to become hard and waterproof. We
call all works made of clay ceramics.
Throughout history, the Chinese have made extraordinary ceramic works, including the finest porcelains of
fine, pure white clay. We tacitly acknowledge their expertise when we refer to our own â€œbestâ€ dinner plates
as â€œchina.â€ But the most massive display of the Chinese
mastery of ceramic art was discovered in 1974 by well
diggers who accidentally drilled into the tomb of Qin
Shihuangdi, the first emperor of China (Fig. 12-12). In
221 bce, Qin Shihuangdi united the country under one
rule and imposed order, establishing a single code of law
and requiring the use of a single written language. Under his rule, the Great Wall was built, and construction
of his tomb required a force of more than 700,000 men.
Qin Shihuangdi was buried near the central Chinese city
of Xian, or Chin (the origin of the name China), and his
tomb contained more than 6,000 life-size, and extraordinarily lifelike, ceramic figures of soldiers and horses,
immortal bodyguards for the emperor. More recently,
clerks, scribes, and other court figures have been discovered, as well as a set of magnificent bronze horses and
Fig. 12-12 Tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, 221â€“206 bce. Painted ceramic figures, life-size.
Â© O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 283
What is casting and what, in particular, is the lost-wax
The body parts of the warriors in Qin Shihuangdiâ€™s tomb
were all first modeled by the emperorâ€™s army of artisans.
Then, molds were made of the various parts, and they
were filled with liquid clay and fired over high heat, a
process repeated over and over again. Artisans then assembled the soldiers, choosing different heads, bodies,
arms, and legs in order to give each sculpture a sense of
individual identity. In other words, each piece was first
cast, and then later assembled.
Casting employs a mold into which some molten
material is poured and allowed to harden. It is an invention of the Bronze Age (beginning in approximately 2500
bce), when it was first used to make various utensils by
simply pouring liquid bronze into open-faced molds.
The technology is not much more complicated than that
of a gelatin mold. You pour gelatin into
the mold and let it harden. When you
remove the gelatin, it is shaped like the
inside of the mold. Small figures made
of bronze are similarly produced by
making a simple mold of an original
modeled form, filling the mold with
bronze, and then breaking the mold
As the example of gelatin demonstrates, bronze is not the only material that can be cast. In the kingdom
of Benin, located in southern Nigeria,
on the coastal plain west of the Niger
River, brass casting reached a level of
extraordinary accomplishment as early
as the late fourteenth century. Brass,
which is a compound composed of
copper and zinc, is similar to bronze
but contains less copper and is yellower in color. When, after 1475, the
people of Benin began to trade with the
Portuguese for copper and brass, an
explosion of brass casting occurred. A
brass head of an oba, or king of a dynasty, which dates from the eighteenth
century (Fig. 12-13), is an example of a
cast brass sculpture. When an oba dies,
one of the first duties of the new obaâ€”
the old obaâ€™s sonâ€”is to establish an
altar commemorating his father and to
decorate it with newly cast brass heads.
The heads are not portraits. Rather,
they are generalized images that emphasize the kingâ€™s coral-bead crown
and high bead collar, the symbols of his authority.
The head has a special significance in Benin ritual.
According to British anthropologist R. E. Bradbury,
symbolizes life and behavior in this world, the
capacity to organize oneâ€™s actions in such a way as to
survive and prosper. It is oneâ€™s Head that â€œleads one
through life.â€ . . . On a manâ€™s Head depends not only
his own well-being but that of his wives and children.
. . . At the state level, the welfare of the people as a
whole depends on the Obaâ€™s Head which is the object
of worship at the main event of the state ritual year.
The oba head is an example of one of the most enduring, and one of the most complicated, processes
for casting metal. The lost-wax process, also known as
cire-perdue, was perfected by the Greeks, if not actually
invented by them. Because metal is both expensive and
heavy, a technique had to be developed to create hollow
Fig. 12-13 Head of an Oba, Nigeria, Africa, Edo, Court of Benin, 18th
century. Brass and iron, height 131â„8 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, 1991.17.2. Â© 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of
Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
284 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
images rather than solid ones, a process schematized in
simplified terms here (Fig. 12-14).
In the lost-wax method, the sculpture is first modeled
in some soft, pliable material, such as clay, wax, or plaster in
a putty state. This model looks just like the finished sculpture but the material of which it is composed is of course
nowhere near as durable as metal. As the process proceeds,
this core is at least theoretically disposable, though many
sculptors, including Auguste Rodin (see Fig. 7-29), have habitually retained these cores for possible recasting.
A mold is then made of the model (today, synthetic
rubber is most commonly used to make this mold).
When it is removed, we are left with a negative impression of the originalâ€”in other
words, something like a gelatin mold of
the object. Molten wax is then poured or
brushed into this impression to the same
thickness desired for the final sculptureâ€”
about an eighth of an inch. The space
inside this wax lining is filled with an inâ€‘
vestmentâ€”a mixture of water, plaster, and
powder made from ground-up pottery.
The mold is then removed, and we are left
with a wax casting, identical to the original
model, that is filled with the investment
material. Rods of wax are then applied to
the wax casting; they stick out from it like
giant hairs. They will carry off melted wax
during baking and will eventually provide channels through which the molten
bronze will be poured. The sculpture now
consists of a thin layer of wax supported
by the investment. Sometimes bronze pins
are driven through the wax into the investment in order to hold investment, casting,
and channels in place.
This wax cast, with its wax channels,
is ready to be covered with another outer
mold of investment. When this outer
mold cures, it is then baked in a kiln at
a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, with the wax replica inside it. The
wax rods melt, providing channels for the
rest of the wax to run out as wellâ€”hence
the term â€œlost-wax process.â€ A thin space
where the wax once was now lies empty
between the inner core and the outer
mold, the separation maintained by the
Molten bronze is poured into the casting gate, an opening in the top of the mold,
filling the cavity where the wax once was.
Hence, many people refer to casting as a
replacement processâ€”bronze replaces
wax. When the bronze has cooled, the
mold and the investment are removed,
and we are left with a bronze replica of the
wax form, complete with the latticework of
rods. The rods are cut from the bronze cast,
and the surface is smoothed and finished.
Fig. 12-14 The lost-wax casting process. A positive model (1), often created
with clay, is used to make a negative mold (2). The mold is coated with wax, the wax
shell is filled with a cool fireclay, and the mold is removed (3). Metal rods, to hold
the shell in place, and wax rods, to vent the mold, are then added (4). The whole is
placed in sand, and the wax is burned out (5). Molten bronze is poured in where
the wax used to be. When the bronze has hardened, the whole is removed from the
sand, and the rods and vents are removed (6).
Chapter 12 Sculpture 285
Bronze is so soft and malleable that the individual pieces can easily be joined in either of two ways:
pounded together with a hammer, the procedure used in
Greek times, or welded, the more usual procedure today.
Finally, the shell is reassembled to form a perfect hollow replica of the original model. Auguste Rodinâ€™s large
Burghers of Calais (Fig. 12-15) was, in fact, cast in several
pieces and then welded together. Rodinâ€™s sculpture was
commissioned by the city of Calais to commemorate
six of its leading citizens (or burghers) who, during the
Hundred Yearsâ€™ War in 1347, agreed to sacrifice themselves and free the city of siege by the English by turning
themselves over to the enemy for execution. Rodin depicts them, dressed in sackcloth with rope halters, about
to give themselves up to the English. Each is caught up in
his own thoughtsâ€”they are, alternately, angry, resentful,
resigned, distraught, and fearful. Their hands and feet
are deliberately elongated, exaggerating their pathos.
Rodin felt that the hand was capable of expressing the
full range of human emotion. In this work, the hands
give, they suffer, they hold at bay, they turn inward. The
piece, all told, is a remarkable example of sculpture inthe-round, an assemblage of individual fragments that
the viewer can only experience by walking around the
whole and taking in each element from a different point
of view. As it turns out, the story has a happy ending.
The English queen, upon seeing the courage of the burghers, implored her husband to have mercy on them,
and he agreed. Still, Rodin depicts them as they trudge
toward what they believe will be their final destiny. In
fact, the Calais city fathers wanted to raise the sculpture
on a pedestal, but Rodin insisted that it remain on level
ground, where citizens could identify with the burghersâ€™
sacrifice and make their heroism at least potentially
Although, because of its durability, bronze is a favorite material for casting sculptures meant for the out-ofdoors, other materials have become available to artists
in recent years, including aluminum and fiberglass. Because it is a material light enough to hang on a brick wall
in high relief, fiberglass became the preferred medium
of John Ahearn. In 1980, Ahearn moved to the South
Bronx and began to work with the neighborhoodâ€™s people, sometimes in collaboration with his friend and local
resident Rigoberto Torre. He had learned the art of plaster casting from his uncle, who had cast plaster statues
for churches and cemeteries. The figures in Homage to the
People of the South Bronx: Double Dutch at Kelly Street 1:
Fig. 12-15 Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, 1884â€“85. Bronze, 6 ft. 73â„8 in. Ã— 6 ft. 87â„8 in.
Place de lâ€™HÃ´tel de Ville, Calais, France.
286 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Frieda, Jevette, Towana, Stacey (Fig. 12-16) almost look as if
they are alive, save for the fact that they are jump-roping
some 20 feet up the side of a building in which one of the
girls actually lived. In fact, Frieda, Jevette, Towana, and
Stacey were all cast from life in plaster, a process that required Ahearnâ€™s subjects to lie still and breathe through
straws while the plaster set on their faces and bodies.
Then, in a manner quite similar to the lost-wax bronze
process, the plaster figures were realized in fiberglass.
â€œThe key to my work is lifeâ€”lifecasting,â€ says Ahearn.
â€œThe people I cast know that they are as responsible for
my work as I am, even more so. The people make my
sculptures.â€ In works like Homage to the People of the
South Bronx, Ahearn managed to capture the spirit of a
community that was financially impoverished but that
possessed real, if unrecognized, dignity.
Why is assemblage so often associated with the idea of
To the degree that they are composed of separately cast
pieces later welded or grouped together, works like
Rodinâ€™s Burghers of Calais and Ahearnâ€™s Homage to the
People of the South Bronx are examples of assemblage, the
process of bringing individual objects or pieces together
to form a larger whole. But as a process, assemblage
Fig. 12-16 John Ahearn, Homage to the People of the South Bronx: Double Dutch at
Kelly Street 1: Frieda, Jevette, Towana, Stacey, 1981â€“82. Cast fiberglass, oil, and cable,
each figure 4 ft. 6 in. Ã— 4 ft. 6 in. Ã— 12 in.
Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 287
is more often associated with the transformation of
common materials into art, in which the artist brings
together parts found in the world and puts them together
in a new composition. For instance, Louise Nevelsonâ€™s
Sky Cathedral (Fig. 12-17) is a giant assemblage of
wooden boxes, woodworking remnants and scraps, and
found objects. It is entirely frontal and functions like a
giant high-relief altarpieceâ€”hence its nameâ€”transforming and elevating its materials to an almost spiritual
dimension. Nevelson manages to make a piece of almost endless variety and difference appear unified and
coherent through the asymmetrical balance of its grid
structure, the repetition of forms and shapes, and, above
all, its overall black coloring. The black lends the piece
a certain mystery, which is heightened by the way in
which it is lit in the museum, with diffuse light from the
sides which deepens the workâ€™s shadows. For Nevelson,
black is itself simply powerful. It represents a kind of
totality since it, indeed, contains all colors. And thus,
for her, it is essentially aristocratic, lending whatever it
adorns a sense of presence and authority that approaches
Many African cultures use assemblage to create
objects of sacred or spiritual significance. The nkisi figure from the Kongo (see Fig. 1-19) is an example. In the
Yoruba cultures of western Nigeria and southern Benin,
the artworks produced for the king and his courtâ€”
particularly crowns and other display piecesâ€”are
composed of a variety of materials. The display piece
commissioned in the early twentieth century by the king
of a small Yoruba kingdom combines beadwork, cloth,
basketry, and other fiber in a sculptural representation of a
royal wife (Fig. 12-18). With crested hairdo and child on her
back, she is portrayed presenting a lidded offering bowl,
Fig. 12-17 Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1958. Wood, painted
black, 9 ft. 7 in. Ã— 11 ft. 3 in. Ã— 28 in. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mildwoff, 136.1958.1-57. Â© 2015. Digital image, Museum
of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Â© 2015 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Fig. 12-18 Display piece, Yoruba culture, early
20th century. Cloth, basketry, beads, and fiber,
height 411â„4 in. The British Museum, London.
Af1924,-.136. Â© The Trustees of the British Museum.
288 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
which she holds below her conical breasts. Attendants
are attached to her body, one of whom helps her hold
the offering bowl by balancing it on her head. Around
the bottom of her body, four male figures, wearing top
hats, offer their protection, guns at their sides. The beadwork defining all of the sculptureâ€™s various elements is
itself an assemblage of various geometric designs and
patterns. For the Yoruba, geometric shapes, divided
into smaller geometric shapes, suggest the infinitude
of forces in the cosmos. As in all Yoruba beadwork,
the play between different geometric patterns and elements creates a sense of visual dynamism and movement, which the Yoruba call the principle of â€œshine.â€
Shine not only refers to the shiny characteristics of the
glass beadwork itself, but suggests as well the idea of
completeness or wholeness. On the one hand, the sculpture is meant to reflect the power of the king, but it
is, simultaneously, an acknowledgment, on the kingâ€™s
part, of the power of women, and his incompleteness
without them. The Yoruba, in fact, have a deep belief in
the powers of what they call â€œOur Mothers,â€ a term that
refers to all Yoruba female ancestors. Kings cannot rule
without drawing upon the powers of Our Mothers.
Many assemblages, like Nevelsonâ€™s Sky Cathedral,
are made from the throwaway remnants of contemporary commodity culture, transforming them into art.
Jeff Koonsâ€™s sculptures are recreations of commodity
culture itself, ranging from three basketballs floating
in a half-filled tank of water (Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank [Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off],
1985) to a life-size porcelain and gold-plated statue of
Michael Jackson cuddling his pet chimpanzee (Michael
Jackson and Bubbles, 1988). By taking the basketballs
out of circulation, in the former, he transforms them
into fetish objects, commenting wryly on the cultureâ€™s
adulation of athletic prowess. The latter culminated
his Banality series, which also included Pink Panther,
a life-size porcelain sculpture of the Pink Panther in
the arms of a bare-breasted blond. But one of his most
audacious worksâ€”and one of his most popularâ€”is
Puppy (Fig. 12-19), shown here installed in front of
the Guggenheim Bilbao museum. An assemblage consisting of an armature of stainless steel, an irrigation
system, and live flowering plants, it is nothing other
than a Chia Pet grown large. In the art21 Exclusive
video â€œJeff Koons: Versailles,â€ Koons comments that,
Fig. 12-19 Jeff Koons, Puppy, 1992. Stainless steel, soil, geotextile fabric, internal irrigation system, and
live flowering plants, 40 ft. 6 in. Ã— 40 ft. 6 in. Ã— 21 ft. 4 in. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.
Art Archive/Neil Setchfield. Art Â© Jeff Koons.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 289
when he conceived of Puppy, he was thinking of Louis
XIV of France, whose palace at Versailles, outside
Paris, was the most magnificent royal residence in
Europe. â€œItâ€™s the type of work,â€ Koons says of Puppy,
that Louis would have had the fantasy for. You know,
heâ€™d wake up in the morning . . . and think, â€œWhat
do I want to see today? I want to see a puppy. I want
to see it made out of 60,000 plants, and I want to see
it by this evening.â€ And he would come home that
night, and voilÃ , there it would be.â€
It is an image, in other words, that reflects the taste of
arguably the most profligate king in history, a taste
for extravagance appealing equally, it would seem, to
the public today. But however kitsch, Puppy insists on
its status as art, even as it causes us to reflect on the
commodity status of art itself.
Robert Gober â€™s sculptural assemblages evolve
from fragments of our everyday domestic lives that
are juxtaposed with one another to create haunting
objects that seem to exist halfway between reality and
the fitful nightmare of a dreamscape. Gober repeatedly
returns to the same fundamental repertoire of objectsâ€”body parts (made of plaster and beeswax
for skin), particularly lower legs, usually graced
with actual body hair, shoes, and socks; storm
drains; pipes; doors; childrenâ€™s furniture; and, his
most ubiquitous image, a common domestic sink.
His work, in essence, does not include, as the
saying goes, â€œeverything but the kitchen sinkâ€; it
includes everything and the kitchen sink. Untitled
(Fig. 12â€‘20) is, in this sense, standard Gober fare.
But despite the repetition of certain objects across
the body of his work, each new sculpture seems
Part of the power of Goberâ€™s works is that
their meaning is open-ended, even as they continually evoke a wide range of American clichÃ©s. His
objects invite multiple interpretations, none of
which can ever take priority over any of the others. Consider, for instance, a sink. A sink is, first
of all, a place for cleansing, its white enamel sparkling in a kind of hygienic purity. But this one is
nonfunctional, its drain leading nowhereâ€”a sort
of â€œsinkhole.â€ While looking at it, the viewer begins to get a â€œsinkingâ€ feeling that there is more
to this image than might have been apparent at
first. Of course, the two legs suspended over the
basin instead of water spigots has suggested this
to even the unthoughtful viewer all along.
They are, evidently, the legs of a young girl.
Although not visible in a photograph, they are covered
with a light dusting of actual human hair. Oddly enough,
they are both left feet, suggesting adolescent awkwardness (a person who canâ€™t dance is said to have â€œtwo left
feetâ€). More to the point, hanging over the sink, they
evoke something akin to bathroom humor even as they
seem to suggest the psychological mire of some vague
What do installations and earthworks have in common
and how do they differ?
Obviously, the introduction of any work of art into a
given space changes it. Encountered in an environment
where the viewer expects to see works of artâ€”in a museum or galleryâ€”the work might surprise or, even, cause
us to reevaluate the space itself. But in other kinds of
spaceâ€”in the streets or landscapeâ€”to suddenly encounter a work of art can be transformative, causing us to rethink just what our expectations for art might be.
Fig. 12-20 Robert Gober, Untitled, 1999. Plaster, beeswax, human
hair, cotton, leather, aluminum pull tabs, and enamel paint, 331â„2 Ã— 40 Ã—
243â„4 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Gift (by exchange) of Mrs. Arthur Barnwell, 1999. Â© 2015. Photo Philadelphia
Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence. Photo: Graydon Wood.
Â© Robert Gober. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.
290 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Installation art does this radically by introducing
sculptural and other materials into a space in order to transform our experience of it. Nancy Rubinsâ€™s
Pleasure Point (Fig. 12-21) is just such a work. Pleasure
Point was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, for the ocean side of its building in
La Jolla. An assemblage of rowboats, canoes, jet skis, and
surfboards, it is attached to the roof of the museum by
high-tension stainless-steel wire. As it cantilevers precariously out over the oceanfront plaza of the museum, it
seems to draw, as if by some unseen magnetic force, the
various seacraft that compose it into a single point. Rubins has worked with the discarded refuse of consumer
culture, such as water heaters, mattresses, and airplane
parts, since the mid-1970s. Boats have a special appeal
for her. The inspiration for this work, in fact, derives
Fig. 12-21 Nancy Rubins, Pleasure Point, 2006. Nautical vessels, stainless steel, stainless-steel
wire, and boats, 25 ft. 4 in. Ã— 53 ft. 1 in. Ã— 24 ft. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Museum Purchase, International and Contemporary Collectors Funds. Â© Nancy Rubins. Collection Photo: Pablo
Mason. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 291
from her witnessing a cache of boats at Pleasure Point
Marina in a Southern California resort community.
Rubins is fascinated by the simple structure and functionality of boats, and by their presence throughout human
history. Her sculpture, of course, confronts that functionality, transforming the boatsâ€”literally elevating them out
of their element, the oceanâ€”into the space of art. They
are no longer just boats, but an exuberant composition of
color and form.
Cloud Gate (Fig. 12-22) is a site-specific sculpture
designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor
expressly for the City of Chicagoâ€™s Millennium Park.
Shaped like a giant bean, its underlying structure is
covered with 168 highly polished stainless-steel plates
seamlessly welded together. â€œWhat I wanted to do in
Millennium Park,â€ Kapoor explains,
is make something that would engage the Chicago
skyline . . . so that one will see the clouds kind of
floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in
the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate,
the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into
this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same
thing to oneâ€™s reflection as the exterior of the piece is
doing to the reflection of the city around.
Reflected across its surface is the Chicago skyline, the
skyscapers along Michigan Avenue to the west and
those north of Randolph Avenue to the north. Although
Cloud Gate weighs some 100 tons, its reflective surface,
as well as its poised balance on the two ends, renders it
almost weightless to the eye. In fact, in the right light,
and standing in the right position, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where the sculpture ends and the
sky begins. This sense of ethereal reflection is countered
when the viewer walks under the 12-foot arch beneath
the pieceâ€”into what Kapoor calls its â€œnavelâ€â€”where
the sculpture seems to draw its outside surroundings
into itself in a kind of vortex of reflection.
Many installations incorporate film and video in a
sculptural or architectural setting. Eleanor Antinâ€™s 1995
Minetta Laneâ€”A Ghost Story consists of a recreation of
three buildings on an actual street in New York Cityâ€™s
Greenwich Village that runs for two blocks between
Fig. 12-22 Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004. Stainless steel, 33 Ã— 66 Ã— 42 ft. Millennium Park, Chicago.
Â© Arcaid Images/Alamy. Courtesy of the City of Chicago and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Â© Anish Kapoor.
292 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue (Fig. 12-23). In the
late 1940s and early 1950s, it was the site of a low-rent
artistsâ€™ community, and Antin seeks to recreate the bohemian scene of that lost world. For the installation,
Antin prepared three narrative films, transferred them
onto video disc, and back-projected them onto tenement windows of the reconstructed lane. The viewer,
passing through the scene, thus voyeuristically sees in
each window what transpires inside. In one window
(Fig. 12â€‘24), a pair of lovers sport in a kitchen tub. In a
second (Fig. 12â€‘25), an Abstract Expressionist painter is
at work. And in a third, an old man tucks in his family of
caged birds for the night. These characters are the ghosts
of a past time, but their world is inhabited by another
ghost. A little girl, who is apparently invisible to those
in the scene but clearly visible to us, paints a giant â€œXâ€
across the artistâ€™s canvas and destroys the relationship of
the lovers in the tub. She represents a destructive force
that, in Antinâ€™s view, is present in all of us. The little girl
is to the filmâ€™s characters as they are to us. For the artist,
the lovers and the old man represent the parts of us that
we have lostâ€”like our very youth. They represent ideas
about art, sexuality, and life that, despite our nostalgia
for them, no longer pertain.
The larger a work, the more our visual experience of
it depends on multiple points of view. Since the late
1960s, one of the focuses of modern sculpture has been
the creation of large-scale out-of-doors environments,
generally referred to as earthworks. Robert Smithsonâ€™s
Figs. 12-23, 12-24, and 12-25 Eleanor Antin, Minetta
Laneâ€”A Ghost Story, 1995. Mixed-media installation.
Installation view (top left), two video projections (top right
and bottom right). Top right: actors Amy McKenna and Joshua
Coleman. Bottom right: artistâ€™s window with Miriam (the Ghost).
Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 293
Fig. 12-26 Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, April 1970. Great Salt Lake, Utah.
Black rock, salt crystals, earth, red water (algae), 3 ft. 6 in. Ã— 15 ft. Ã— 1,500 ft.
Collection: Dia Art Foundation, New York. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai.
Art Â©Holt Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
Fig. 12-27 Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, as it appeared in August 2003.
Photo: Sandy Brooke.
Spiral Jetty (Fig. 12-26) is a classic example of the medium. Stretching into the Great Salt Lake at a point near
the Golden Spike monument, which marks the spot
where the rails of the first transcontinental railroad
were joined, Spiral Jetty literally is landscape. Made of
mud, salt crystals, rocks, and water, it is a record of
the geological history of the place. But it is landscape
that has been created by man. The spiral form makes
this clear. The spiral is one of the most widespread of
all ornamental and symbolic designs on
earth. In Egyptian culture, it designated
the motion of cosmic forms and the relationship between unity and multiplicity, in a manner similar to the Chinese
yin and yang. The spiral is, furthermore,
found in three main natural forms: expanding like a nebula, contracting like a
whirlpool, or ossified like a snailâ€™s shell.
Smithsonâ€™s work suggests the way in
which these contradictory forces are simultaneously at work in the universe.
Thus the Jetty gives form to the feelings
of contradiction he felt as a contemporary inhabitant of his world. Motion
and stasis, expansion and contraction,
life and death, all are simultaneously
suggested by the 1,500-foot coil, the artistâ€™s creation extending into the Great Salt Lake, Americaâ€™s Dead Sea.
Smithson also understood that, in time, this monumental earthwork would be subject to the vast
changes in water level that characterize the Great Salt
Lake. In fact, not long after its completion, Spiral Jetty
disappeared as the lake rose, only to reappear in 2003 as
the lake fell again. The work was now completely transformed, encrusted in salt crystals (Fig. 12-27), recreated,
294 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
as it were, by the slow workings of
Spiral Jetty was directly inspired
by the Great Serpent Mound, an ancient Native American earthwork in
Adams County, Ohio (Fig. 12-28).
Built by the Hopewell culture sometime between 600 bce and 200 ce, it is
nearly a quarter of a mile long. And
though almost all other Hopewell
mounds contain burials, this one does
not. Its â€œheadâ€ consists of an oval enclosure that may have served some
ceremonial purpose, and its tail is a
spiral. The spiral would, in fact, become a favorite decorative form of
the later Mississippian cultures. The
monumental achievement of Smithsonâ€™s Spiral Jetty, made
with dump trucks and bulldozers, is dwarfed by the extraordinary workmanship and energy that must have
gone into the construction of this prehistoric earthwork.
Over the last several decades, art parksâ€”a sort of cross
between installations and earthworks that incorporate
works of art into the natural landscapeâ€”have become
increasingly popular. Part of the power of such work
consists in the relationship they establish and the tension they embody between the natural world and civilization. A series of interventions conceived by sculptor
Karen McCoy for Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York, including the grid made of arrowhead
leaf plants in a small pond, illustrated here (Figs. 12-29
and 12-30), underscores this. The work was guided by a
concern for land use and was designed to respond to the
concerns of local citizens who felt their rural habitat was
rapidly falling victim to the development and expansion
of nearby Syracuse, New York. Thus, McCoyâ€™s grid deliberately evokes the orderly and regimented forces of
civilization, from the fence lines of early white settlers to
the street plans of modern suburban developers, but it
represents these forces benignly. The softness and fragility of the gridâ€™s flowers, rising delicately from the quiet
pond, seem to argue that the acts of man can work at one
with nature, rather than in opposition to it.
One of the most extensive collections of largescale sculpture in the world can be found an hour
north of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley
Fig. 12-28 Great Serpent Mound, Adams County, Ohio, Hopewell culture,
ca. 600 bceâ€“200 ce. Length approx. 1,254 ft.
Figs. 12-29 and 12-30 Karen McCoy, Considering Motherâ€™s
Mantle, project for Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, Cazenovia,
New York, 1992. View of gridded pond made by transplanting
arrowhead leaf plants, 40 Ã— 50 ft. Detail (below).
Photo courtesy of the artist.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 295
at Storm King Art Center. Scattered across its 500
acres are some 100 sculptures by many of the most acclaimed artists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. A recent addition is Chinese artist
Zhang Huanâ€™s Three-Legged Buddha (Fig. 12-31). Zhang
began his career as a performance artist in Beijing, but
he moved to New York in 1998, where he continued
an artistic practice that explored issues of cultural
difference and nomadism. Drawn to more traditional
aspects of Chinese culture, he returned to his country
of birth in 2005, where he visited the Longhua Temple to burn incense before a sculpture of the Buddha.
Incense ash was scattered across the floors, and he
recognized in this ash the hopes and dreams of generations of Chinese Buddhists. When he discovered
that the ash was treated as garbage he began to collect
it, eventually making extremely fragile sculptures, as
much as 13 feet high, out of the material. Three-Legged
Buddha was conceived as a tribute to all the Buddha
sculptures destroyed during the Cultural Revolution
in China in the 1960s and 1970s. The legs are modeled
on actual Buddha statue fragments, but the face rising out of the ground beneath them is a self-portrait.
Small perforations dot the sculptureâ€™s surface, and
there are hatches in each of the pieceâ€™s parts that allow people to gain entrance to the interior. Incense
burns inside the sculpture, the smoke rising out of the
perforations as well as out of the nostrils and eyes of
Performance Art as
How is the body treated as sculpture in performance art?
If installations are works created to fill an interior architectural space and earthworks to occupy exterior spaces,
both are activated by the presence of human beings in
the space. Zhang Huanâ€™s Three-Legged Buddha not only
invites viewers to walk beneath and around it, the smoky
incense emanating from it lends it a kinetic quality, a sort
of â€œliveness.â€ It should come as no surprise that many
performance artists have come to concern themselves
with the live human activity that goes on in space. Many
have even conceived of themselves, or other people in
their works, as something akin to live sculptures.
Zhang Huan, in fact, explored this idea in many
of the performances he engaged in before coming to
America in 1998. In his 1997 To Raise the Water Level in
a Fishpond, he invited immigrant workers in Beijing
who had lost their jobs in the governmentâ€™s relentless
Fig. 12-31 Zhang Huan, Three-Legged Buddha, 2007. Steel and copper, 28 ft. 21â„2 in. Ã— 42 ft. Ã— 22 ft. 75â„8 in.
Storm King Art Center, Hudson Valley, New York.
Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson Â© Zhang Huan Studio, courtesy of Pace Gallery.
296 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
modernization of Chinese industry to stand in a pond
(Fig. 12â€‘32). By raising the level of the water by one meter, they would assert their presence even as they ideally,
but unrealistically, might raise the governmentâ€™s consciousness of their needs as well. As a political act, Zhang
Huan acknowledged that raising the water in the pond
one meter higher was â€œan action of no avail.â€ But as an
act of human poetryâ€”the human mass serving as a metaphor for the Chinese massesâ€”it verges on the profound.
One of the innovators of performance art was Allan
Kaprow, who, in the late 1950s, â€œinventedâ€ what he
called Happenings, which he defined as â€œassemblages
of events performed or perceived in more than one time
and place. . . . A Happening . . .
is art but seems closer to life.â€ It
was, in fact, the work of Jackson
Pollock that inspired Kaprow to
invent the form. The inclusiveness
of paintings containing whatever
Pollock chose to drop into them,
not only paint but nails, tacks,
buttons, a key, coins, cigarettes,
and matches, gave Kaprow the
freedom to bring everything, including the activity of real people
acting in real time, into the space
of art. â€œPollock,â€ Kaprow wrote in
1958, two years after the formerâ€™s
death, â€œleft us at the point where
we must become preoccupied
with and even dazzled by the
space and objects of our everyday life, either our bodies, clothes,
rooms, or, if need be, the vastness of Forty-Second Street. . . .
Objects of every sort are materials for the new
art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon signs,
smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies, a thousand other things will be discovered by the
present generation of artists. . . . The young artist of today need no longer say, â€˜I am a painter,â€™
or â€˜a poetâ€™ or â€˜a dancer.â€™ He is simply an â€˜artist.â€™
All of life will be open to him.â€
In Household (Fig. 12-33), there were no
spectators, only participants, and the event
was choreographed in advance by Kaprow.
The site was a dump near Cornell University
in Ithaca, New York. At 11 am on the day of
the Happening, the men who were participating built a wooden tower of trash, while the
women built a nest of saplings and string. A
smoking, wrecked car was towed onto the site,
and the men covered it with strawberry jam.
The women, who had been screeching inside
the nest, came out to the car and licked the jam
as the men destroyed their nest. Then the men returned
to the wreck and, slapping white bread over it, began to
eat the jam themselves. As the men ate, the women destroyed their tower. Eventually, as the men took sledgehammers to the wreck and set it on fire, the animosity
between the two groups began to wane. Everyone gathered and watched until the car was burned up, and then
left quietly. What this Happening means, precisely, is not
entirely clear, but it does draw attention to the violence
of relations between men and women in our society and
the frightening way in which violence can draw us together as well as drive us apart.
Fig. 12-33 Allan Kaprow, Household, 1964. Licking jam off a car hood, near Ithaca,
New York. Cornell University Library.
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Photo: Sol Goldberg.
Fig. 12-32 Zhang Huan, To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond,
August 15, 1997. Performance documentation (middle-distance detail),
Nanmofang fishpond, Beijing, China. C-print on Fuji archival paper, 60 Ã— 90 in.
Courtesy of Zhang Huan Studio.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 297
In much performance art, the physical presence of
the body in space becomes a primary concern. The performance team of Marina AbramoviÄ‡ and Uwe Laysiepen
(known as Ulay) made this especially clear in works
such as Imponderabilia, performed in 1977 at a gallery in
Milan, Italy (Fig. 12-34). They stood less than a foot apart,
naked and facing each other, in the main entrance to the
gallery, so that people entering the space had to choose
which bodyâ€”male or femaleâ€”to face as they squeezed
between them. A hidden camera filmed each member
of the public as he or she passed through the â€œliving door,â€
and their â€œpassageâ€ was then projected on the gallery wall.
Choosing which body to face, rub against, and literally
feel, forced each viewer to confront their own attitudes and
feelings about sexuality and gender. AbramoviÄ‡ and Ulayâ€™s
bodies composed the material substance of the work and
so did the bodies of the audience members, who suddenly
found themselves part of the artwork itselfâ€”at least they
did for 90 minutes, until the police stopped the performance. For AbramoviÄ‡â€™s 2010 retrospective exhibition at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Imponderabilia
was reperformed continuously in shifts by four couples for
the duration of the exhibitionâ€”about 700 hours.
Working on her own, AbramoviÄ‡ has continued to
explore a similar terrain, what she calls â€œthe space inbetween, like airports, or hotel rooms, waiting rooms, or
lobbies . . . all the spaces where you are not actually at
homeâ€â€”not least of all, the space between her and Ulay
in her earlier work. She feels that we are most vulnerable in such spaces, and vulnerability, for her, means that
â€œwe are completely alive.â€ The House with the Ocean View
(Fig. 12-35) was performed on November 15â€“26, 2002, at
the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. AbramoviÄ‡ lived in
three rooms, situated 6 feet above the gallery floor, a toilet and shower in one, a chair and table in another, and
clothes and a mattress in the third. The three rooms were
connected to the floor by three ladders with butcherâ€™s
knives for rungs. For 12 days she did not eat, read, write,
or speak. She drank water, relieved herself, and sang and
hummed as she chose. She slept in the gallery every night,
and during the day the public was invited to participate in
what she called an â€œenergy dialogueâ€ with the artist. What
lay â€œin-betweenâ€ the artist and her audience were those
ladders. She could stare across at her audience, and her
audience back at her, feelings could even be transmitted,
but the space â€œin-betweenâ€ could not be bridged except at
unthinkable risk. At once a metaphor for geopolitical and
daily domestic realities, the work is a sobering realization
of our separation from one another, and a call for us to
exert the energy necessary to change.
Fig. 12-34 Marina AbramoviÄ‡ and Ulay, Imponderabilia,
1977. Performance at the Galleria Communale dâ€™Arte Moderna,
Abramovic: Â© 2015 Marina Abramovic. Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery/
(ARS), New York. Ulay: Â© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG
Fig. 12-35 Marina AbramoviÄ‡, The House with the
Ocean Viewâ€”Nov. 22 9:54 am, 2002. Living installation,
November 15â€“26, 2002. Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.
Â© 2015 Marina Abramovic. Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery/(ARS), New York.
298 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Critical Process
Thinking about Sculpture
In 1992, the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude announced
plans for a project called Over the River, a proposal to drape
nearly 6 miles of silvery, luminous fabric panels above the
Arkansas River along a 42-mile stretch of the river between Salida and CaÃ±on City in south-central Colorado. The fabric panels, the husband-and-wife duo proposed, would be suspended
for two weeks at eight distinct points along the river that were
selected by the artists for their aesthetic merits and technical viability. As with all Christo and Jeanne-Claude projects, the proposal met with immediate, and sustained, criticism.
What impact, environmentalists quickly retaliated, would
the project have on bighorn sheep populations in the area?
What about fish and birds? How, people asked, could Christo
and Jeanne-Claude justify the expenseâ€”a projected $50 million that, many argued, could be far better spent? Why â€œdesecrateâ€ the already beautiful Arkansas River canyon? Why, in
fact, pick the Arkansas River canyon at all?
For Christo, the process of preparing the environmental
statements necessary for getting the project approvedâ€”even
the work of those opposed to Christoâ€™s plansâ€”caused people to think, not only about the project itself but also about
what constitutes a work of art in the first place. Christoâ€™s
was, in fact, the first Environmental Impact
Statement ever required of a work of art. In
November of 2011, Federal regulators with the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved
the artistsâ€™ plan. Since then, a group known
as ROAR (Rags Over the Arkansas River) has
filed legal proceedings against the BLM and
Colorado State Parks challenging their authorizing the project to move forward, and Christo
will identify a future August date for the exhibition when the legal process is finally resolved.
As for the cost: Christo and JeanneClaude have always funded the costs associated with their projects through the sale of
artworks such as the one illustrated here (Fig.
12-36). The project requires no public subsidy
or taxpayer support, nor have Christo and
Jeanne-Claude ever accepted sponsorship or
Why the Arkansas River? Christo and
Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in November 2009, traveled 14,000 miles and visited 89
rivers in seven Rocky Mountain States looking
for the right site. The Arkansas between Salida
and CaÃ±on City was chosen for several reasons: The eastâ€“
west orientation of the river, which will allow the fabric panels to
better reflect sunlight from morning to evening; high river banks
suitable for the suspension of steel cables; the fact that U.S.
Route 50 runs continuously along the river to facilitate viewing; the presence of a nearby railroad that can provide essential
access and supply lines; and rafting conditions that allow for
viewers to see the work of art from the river.
Over the River involves two different viewing experiences:
one from the highway, where the fabric will reflect the colors of
the sky and clouds from sunrise to sunset; the other at water
level, where rafters, kayakers, and canoeists will be able to view
the clouds, sky, and mountains through the translucent fabric.
How is Over the River, then, similar to sculpture in-the-round?
In what more specific ways is it similar to Anish Kapoorâ€™s Cloud
Gate (see Fig. 12-22)? Obviously, one of the ways Over the
River differs most dramatically from Cloud Gate is in its temporary, two-week period of display. Why do you suppose Christo
prefers temporary installations rather than permanent ones?
Christo also enjoys the controversy that his projects inevitably
generate. Why? What important issues does a work like Over
the River raise other than environmental ones?
Fig. 12-36 Christo, Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River,
State of Colorado, 2010. Drawing in two parts (detail), pencil, charcoal,
pastel, wax crayon, enamel paint, wash, fabric sample, hand-drawn
topographic map, and technical data, detail size 19 Ã— 96 in. and 42 Ã— 96 in.
Courtesy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Chapter 12 Sculpture 299
12.1 Differentiate among relief, sculpture in-theround, and sculpture as an environment.
Relief sculpture has three-dimensional depth but is attached to
a surface, and it is typically meant to be seen frontally. Sculpture
in-the-round, by contrast, is unattached to any surfaces, and it is
typically meant to be viewed from all sides. How does low relief
differ from high relief? What is a frieze? Environments are physical
spaces into which the viewer can enter. How do installations
differ from earthworks?
12.2 Describe carving as a method of sculpture and
account for its association with spiritual life.
Carving is a subtractive process in which material is chipped,
gouged, or hammered away from a raw block of material.
Because of their permanence, stone carvings have long been
associated with immortality and the afterlife. What is the Egyptian
ka? In what ways did contrapposto contribute to the naturalism
of Greek sculpture?
12.3 Account for the popularity of molded ceramic
Molding is an additive process. Clay has been the most popular
material for molding since the earliest times, largely due to its capacity to be molded into forms that retain their shape. How does
firing contribute to the mediumâ€™s durability?
12.4 Describe the casting process, and the lost-wax
process in particular.
Casting is a replacement process. It involves the creation of a
form (often made using modeling), then building a mold around
the form and pouring a material into the mold, which dries in the
form of the original form. The poured material is often a molten
metal, as in the lost-wax process. How is an investment used in
12.5 Define assemblage and account for its
association with the idea of transformation.
Assemblage is the process of bringing individual objects together
to form a larger whole. As a process, assemblage is often associated with transformation because it turns common materials
into art. How is Jeff Koonsâ€™s work indicative of this? How does
Robert Gober use a combination of materials to create meaning
12.6 Compare and contrast installations and
earthworks as environments.
Installations introduce sculptural and other materials into a space
in order to transform our experience of it. They are generally
indoors, although they can also exist outdoors in contained
spaces such as plazas. Earthworks are made in and of the land.
But both invite the viewer to participate in the spaces they create.
How do art parks encourage this?
12.7 Describe how the body becomes sculptural in
The introduction of human beings into the space of art suggested to some artists that their own bodies, or the bodies of others,
could have a sculptural presence in a given space. How does
the body alter the experience of space in both Zhang Huanâ€™s
To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond and in AbramoviÄ‡ and
Ulayâ€™s Imponderabilia? In what ways does AbramoviÄ‡ explore the
vulnerability of the body in her other work?
The Craft Media
13.1 Characterize the difference between craft and fine art.
13.2 Describe the different ceramic methods and materials.
13.3 Outline some ways in which glass has become an artistic medium.
13.4 Describe some of the different uses of fiber in the arts.
13.5 Explain why gold has been a favored material since ancient times.
13.6 Describe the uses and limitations of wood as an art material.
The many so-called â€œcraftâ€ mediaâ€”ceramics, glass,
fiber, metal, and wood in particularâ€”have traditionally
been distinguished from the fine arts because they are
employed to make functional objects, from the utensils
with which we eat, to the clothes we wear. In the hands
of an artist, however, these media can be employed to
make objects that are not only of great beauty but that
also must be appreciated as works of art in their own
Consider how contemporary artist Ann Hamilton has made use of a line that closes the Preface to
On Weaving, published in 1965 by one of the greatest weavers of the twentieth century, Anni Albers (see
Fig. 13-24): The â€œthoughtsâ€ that compose her book, Albers wrote, â€œcan, I believe, be traced back to the event of
a thread.â€ For Hamilton, whose work has consistently
addressed the relationship between texts and textiles
(both derive from the same Latin root, texo, to weave
or compose), Albersâ€™s phrase inspired a large-scale installation in the Drill Hall of New Yorkâ€™s Park Avenue
Armory called the event of a thread (Fig. 13-1). If weaving
is defined as one thread crossing another, the crossings
of threads making a whole cloth, Hamiltonâ€™s work is
a sort of compendium of crossings, most especially of
texts and textiles. A white silk cloth hangs on an interconnected system of pulleys and ropes supporting
swings suspended from the hallâ€™s arched iron trusses
some 70 feet above the floor. As the audience members swing, at different speeds and velocities, the silk
fabric responds in ever-shifting waves and billows. At
the same time, two people read from scrolls at the front
of the Drill Hall, their voices being broadcast on radios
that audience members carry into the space in paper
bags. At the other end of the hall, a writer responds to
the activity in the room. As Hamilton describes it, â€œthe
field of swings is bracketed by reading and writing. . . .
If on a swing, we are alone, we are together in a field.
This condition of the social is the event of a thread. Our
crossings with its motions, sounds, and textures is its
weaving; is a social act.â€
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 301
Fig. 13-1 Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012. Large-scale installation, Park Avenue
Armory, New York, December 5, 2012â€“January 6, 2013.
Courtesy of Ann Hamilton Studio.
302 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Crafts as Fine Art
How do we distinguish between craft and fine art?
Hamilton obviously transforms the idea of
weaving in the event of a thread, and in making
this transformation defines, rather precisely (although radically), how traditional craft media
cross over into fine art. The crafts are works of
expert handiwork or craftsmanship, done by
the makerâ€™s own hand with extraordinary skill.
But despite the fact that painters and sculptors
and printmakers are all expert with their hands
as well, we donâ€™t call their work â€œcraft.â€ Indeed,
many artists feel insulted if their work is described as being â€œcraftful.â€ These artists probably feel that a craft must be functional. But the
distinction between craft and artwork is not that
clear-cut. Perhaps the only meaningful distinction we can draw between art and craft is this:
If a work is primarily made to be used, it is craft,
but if it is primarily made to be seen or, in Hamiltonâ€™s case, experienced, it is art. However, the
makerâ€™s intention may be irrelevant. If you buy
an object because you enjoy looking at it, then
whatever its usefulness, it is, for you at least, a
work of art.
Historically, the distinction between the
crafts and fine arts can be traced back to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, when, on May
1, 1759, in Staffordshire, England, a 28-yearold man by the name of Josiah Wedgwood
opened his own pottery manufacturing plant.
With extraordinary foresight, Wedgwood chose
to make two very different kinds of pottery:
one he called â€œornamental wareâ€ (Fig. 13-2),
the other â€œuseful wareâ€ ( Fig. 13- 3 ) .
The first consisted of elegant handmade luxury items, the work of highly skilled craftsmen.
The second was described in his catalogue as
â€œa species of earthenware for the table, quite
new in appearance . . . manufactured with ease
and expedition, and consequently cheap.â€ And
it was the â€œuseful wareâ€ (dubbed â€œQueenâ€™s
Wareâ€ because the English royal family quickly
became interested in it) that made Wedgwoodâ€™s
reputation. In fact, he depended upon it to
support his business. This new cream-colored
earthenware was made mechanically by casting liquid clay in molds instead of by throwing
individual pieces and shaping them by hand.
Designs were chosen from a pattern book and
printed by mechanical means directly on the
Fig. 13-2 Josiah Wedgwood, Pegasus Vase, ca. 1785. Jasper
quartz, height 18 in. The British Museum, London.
1786,0527.1 Â© The Trustees of the British Museum.
Fig. 13-3 Josiah Wedgwood, Queenâ€™s Ware dinner service (detail),
ca. 1790. Private collection.
Photo Â© Christieâ€™s Images/Bridgeman Images.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 303
pottery. Because Wedgwood could mass-produce his
earthenware both quickly and efficiently, a reliable,
quality tableware was made available to the middle-class markets of Europe and America. Until this
moment, almost everything people used was handmade, and thus unique. With the advent of machine
mass-manufacturing, the look of the world changed
But Wedgwood considered his ornamental ware to
be works of art. Like the artist, producers of ornamental ware had a hands-on relation to the objects they
made. Wedgwoodâ€™s ornamental ware was almost always decorated with low-relief Greek figures intended
to evoke both the white marble statuary of the ancient
Greeks and their ceramic vases, in this case (see Fig.
13-2) a particular vase depicting the Apotheosis
of Homer (that is, the great poetâ€™s ascension to the
heavens), with the winged horse Pegasus on top resting on a pale blue cloud. The original Greek vase was
acquired by the British Museum in 1772 (Fig. 13-4) and
Wedgwood knew it well. In fact, when he completed
the Pegasus Vase, Wedgwood was so proud of his work
that he donated it immediately to the British Museum,
so that it might take its rightful place beside the Greek
vase that inspired it.
What different methods and materials are used in
The Greek vase and both Wedgwoodâ€™s ornamental
and useful wares are examples of ceramics. These are
objects that are formed out of clay and then hardened
by firing, or baking in a very hot oven, called a kiln
(see Chapter 12). Ceramic objects are generally either
flat and relieflike (think of a plate or a square of tile),
or hollow, like cast sculpture (think of a pitcher). Unlike
metal casts, the hollowness of ceramic objects is not a
requirement of weight or cost as much as it is of utility (ceramic objects are made to hold things), and of the
firing process itself. Solid clay pieces tend to hold moisture deep inside, where it cannot easily
evaporate, and during firing, as this
moisture becomes super-heated, it can
cause the object to explode. In order to
make hollow ceramic objects, a number
of techniques have been developed.
Most ceramic objects are created
by one of three meansâ€”slab construction, coiling, or throwing on a potterâ€™s
wheel, as discussed below. Pieces made
by any one of these techniques are
then painted with glazing. Ceramic
glazes consist of powdered minerals
suspended in water, which are applied to the object after the first firing.
When the object is fired a second time,
the minerals dissolve and fuse into a
glassy, nonporous coating that bonds
to the ceramic clay. Glazes serve many
purposes. They were probably first created to seal clay vessels, which might
otherwise absorb food or drink, thus
stimulating the growth of bacteria (if
in the ancient world the existence of
bacteria per se was unknown, the odor
they produced was well understood).
But the chemical reaction of firing the
glaze also produces colors, and these
colors have become an important aesthetic element in the creation of ceramics as works of art.
Fig. 13-4 Attributed to the Manner of the Peleus Painter,
Red-figure calyx-krater, ca. 450â€“440 bce. Height 18 in., diameter
18Â½ in. The British Museum, London.
1772,0320.26. Â© The Trustees of the British Museum.
304 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
An unnamed tea bowl by Honâ€™ami Koetsu (Fig. 13-5) is
similar to one named Shichiri (literally â€œSeven Leaguesâ€)
in the collection of the Goho Museum, Tokyo, a name derived from the Seven Leagues Beach near Fujisawa, some
30 miles south of Tokyo, noted for its dark sands, rich in
iron ore. It is an example of slab construction, where clay
is rolled out flat, rather like a pie crust, and then shaped
by hand. The tea bowl has a special place in the Japanese
tea ceremony, the Way of the Tea, a highly formalized ritual that developed in the sixteenth century. In small tea
rooms specifically designed for the purpose and often
decorated with calligraphy on hanging scrolls or screens,
the guest was invited to leave the concerns of the daily
world behind and enter a timeless world of ease, harmony, and mutual respect. Koetsu was an accomplished
tea master. At each tea ceremony, the master assembles
a variety of different objects and utensils used to make
tea, together with a collection of painting and calligraphy
works. Through this ensemble the master expresses his artistic sensibility, a sensibility shared with his guest, so that
guest and host collaborate to make the ceremony itself a
work of art.
This tea bowl, shaped perfectly to fit the hand, was
made in the early seventeenth century at one of the â€œSix Ancient Kilns,â€ the traditional centers of wood-fired ceramics
in Japan. These early kilns, known as anagamas, were narrow underground tunnels, dug out following the contour of
a hillside. The pit was filled with pottery, and heat moved
through the tunnel from the firebox at the lower end to the
chimney at the upper end. The firing would
take an average of seven days, during which
time temperatures would reach 2,500 degrees
Fahrenheit. The coloration that distinguished
these pieces results from wood ash in the kiln
melting and fusing into glass on the pottery.
The simplicity of these wood-fired pieces appealed to the devotee of the tea ceremony, and
tea masters such as Koetsu often named their
pieces after the accidental effects of coloration
achieved in firing. The most prized effect is a
scorch, or koge, when the firing has oxidized
the natural glass glaze completely, leaving
only a gray-black area. Such a koge dominates
the surface of this tea bowl, and its similarity
to the Shichiri tea bowl in Tokyo suggests that
this koge represents a similar beach, its sands
darkened by the incoming tide.
In 1976, a young American ceramic artist
by the name of Peter Callas built the first traditional Japanese anagama, or wood-burning kiln, in the United States
in Piermont, New York. Three years later, California artist Peter Voulkos was regularly firing his work in Callasâ€™s
kiln. Voulkosâ€™s work is particularly suited to the wood-firing process, in which the artist must give up control of his
creations and resign himself to the accidental effects that
Fig. 13-6 Peter Voulkos, The Eagle Has Landed, 1999.
Wood-fired stoneware stack, height 34Â½ in., diameter 23 in.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Beatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, gift of Beatrice and Melvin Eagle.
Bridgeman Images. Â© Voulkos Family Trust.
Fig. 13-5 Honâ€™ami Koetsu, Raku tea bowl, Momoyama
or early Edo period, early 17th century. Hand-built black
raku-type high-fired earthenware with black glaze, 32â„5 Ã— 5 Ã— 4Â½ in.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 305
result from submitting them to a heat of 2,500 degrees
Fahrenheit over the course of a seven-day firing. His
â€œstacksâ€ (Fig. 13-6), giant bottlelike pyramids of clay that
average about 250 pounds, are so named because Voulkos
literally stacks clay cylinders one on top of the other to
create his form. Before they are quite dry, he gouges them,
draws on them with various tools, and drags through
the clay in giant sweeps across the formâ€™s surface. Then
he fires it in the anagama. Anything can happen in the firing. Depending on such factors as how the pieces in the
kiln are stacked, the direction of the flame, where ash is
deposited on the surface of the work, how a section near
the flame might or might not melt, and undetectable irregularities in the clay itself, each stack will turn out differently. The Japanese call this a â€œcontrolled accident.â€ For
Voulkos, it is the source of excitement in the work, â€œthe
expectancy of the unknownâ€ that is fundamental to the
MarÃa Martinezâ€™s black jar (Fig. 13-7) is an example of
a second technique often used in ceramic construction,
coiling, in which the clay is rolled out in long, ropelike
strands that are coiled on top of each other. As the potter
builds the coils up in a continuous spiral, each strand is
smoothed and blended one to the next, eliminating any
trace of the original ropes of clay and making pot walls
of uniform thickness. Before firing, the pot is burnished
or polished to a high gloss, usually with a stone.
This pot is a specific example of a technique developed by MarÃa and her husband, JuliÃ¡n, in about 1919
at San Ildefonso Pueblo, 20 miles northwest of Santa
Fe, New Mexico. The red clay pot was smoothed to an
extreme sheen and then a design was painted on it with
liquid clayâ€”a slip, as it is known. The pot was smothered
in dung part way through the firing, the resulting smoke
blackening the clay, the areas painted with the slip remaining matte, or dull, and the other areas taking on a highly
glossed, shiny finish. So distinctive was MarÃaâ€™s style that
she was encouraged to sign her pots, becoming the first
potter in the Southwest to do so and thus leading the way
to the acceptance of Native American pottery as a fine art.
The Potterâ€™s Wheel
Native American cultures relied on coiling techniques,
whereas peoples of most other parts of the world used
the potterâ€™s wheel. Egyptian potters employed a wheel
by about 4000 bce, and their basic invention has remained
Fig. 13-7 MarÃa and JuliÃ¡n Martinez, Jar, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, ca.
1939. Blackware, 11â…› Ã— 13 in. The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Photo: Lee Stalsworth. Courtesy of National Museum of Women
in the Arts.
306 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
in use ever since. The ancient Greeks became particularly
skillful with the process (the calyx-krater, Fig. 13-4, is an
example), which has the advantage over hand-building
of allowing the potters to create works with far greater
speed, as well as giving them far greater control of a
potâ€™s thickness and shape. The potterâ€™s wheel is a flat
disk attached to a flywheel below it, which is kicked by
the potter (or, in modern times, driven by electricity) to
make the upper disk turn. A slab of clay, from which air
pockets have been removed by slamming it against a
hard surface, is centered on the wheel (Fig. 13-8). As the
slab turns, the potter pinches the clay between fingers
and thumb, sometimes using both hands at once, and
pulls it upward in a round, symmetrical shape, making
it wider or narrower as the form demands, and shaping
both the inside and outside simultaneously. The most
skilled potters apply even pressure on all sides of the pot
as it is thrown.
There are three basic types of ceramics. Earthenware,
made of porous clay and fired at low temperatures, must
be glazed if it is to hold liquid. Stoneware is impermeable to water because it is fired at high temperatures,
and it is commonly used for dinnerware today. Finally,
porcelain, fired at the highest temperatures of all, is a
smooth-textured clay that becomes virtually translucent and extremely glossy in finish during firing. The
first true porcelain was made in China during the Tang
Fig. 13-9 Plate, Ming dynasty, late 16thâ€“early 17th century,
Kraakporselein, probably from the Ching-te Chen kilns. Porcelain,
painted in underglaze blue, diameter 14Â¼ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Rogers Fund, 1916.13. Â© 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art
Fig. 13-8 Pottery wheel-throwing, from The Craft and Art of Clay.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 307
dynasty (618â€“906 ce). By the time of the Ming dynasty
(1368â€“1644), the official kilns at Jingdezhen had become
a huge industrial center, producing ceramics for export.
Just as the Greek artist painted Homer on the red-orange
vase (see Fig. 13-4), Chinese artists painted elaborate
designs onto the glazed surface of the porcelain. Originally, Islamic countries were the primary market for the
distinctive blue-and-white patterns of Ming porcelain
(Fig. 13-9), but as trade with Europe
increased, so too did Europeâ€™s demand
for Ming design. (For a contrasting set of
blue-and-white plates, see Julie Greenâ€™s
The Last Supper in The Creative Process, pp.
One of the masters of contemporary
ceramic sculpture working in porcelain
is Wayne Higby. Widely known for his
bowls, boxes, and slabs that reference the
American landscape, Higby visited the
Jingdezhen kilns in 1992, and a year later
Lake Powell in Arizona. The result is a series of porcelain sculptures that evoke the
flooded canyon walls of the lake. Lake Powell Memoryâ€”Seven Mile Canyon (Fig. 13-10)
consists of a thick slab of clay onto the surface of which he inscribed a design representing canyon and lake; then the slab was
fired at an intense enough heat to cause it
to crack. At both the bottom right and left,
the slab is held in place by porcelain blocks
fashioned to look like rocks fallen from the cliffs to the waterâ€™s edge. The result is a translucent landscape through
which light seems to pass in an almost spiritual way.
The Lake Powell slabs inspired what is perhaps the
largest porcelain sculpture ever created, EarthCloud
(Fig. 13-11), a two-part panoramic installation that
runs through two adjacent performing arts buildings
Fig. 13-10 Wayne Higby, Lake Powell Memoryâ€”Seven Mile Canyon,
1996. Glazed porcelain, 16Â¾ Ã— 22 Ã— 10 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Smits Ceramics Purchase Fund, AC19126.96.36.199-.4. Â© 2015. Digital Image Museum Associates/
LACMA/Art Resource New York/Scala, Florence. Â© Wayne Higby.
Fig. 13-11 Wayne Higby, EarthCloud, 2006â€“12 (detail). Twelve thousand hand-cut
glazed porcelain tiles, approx. 5,000 sq. ft., connecting two buildings. Miller Performing Arts Center,
Alfred University, New York.
Photo: Brian Oglesbee. Â© Wayne Higby.
308 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Creative Process
Ceramics as Politics: Julie Greenâ€™s The Last Supper
If the business of storing and serving foodstuffs has traditionally fallen to ceramic wares, modern and contemporary artists have often abandoned this functionality in favor of more
aesthetic concerns. But artist Julie Green has transformed
the traditional role of ceramics into a powerful aestheticâ€”and
In 2000, Green began a project called The Last Supper
(Fig. 13-12). In order to draw attention to the number of Americans executed each year under various death-penalty laws
from state to state, as well as to the basic humanity of each
of these individuals living on death row, Green began querying
the states about the menu each requested for his or her â€œlast
meal.â€ Each of these meals she depicted on a different plate,
blue on white, in the traditional manner of Chinese porcelain
(see Fig. 13-9). But the blue color has specific religious connotations as well. In the sixteenth century, Pope Pius V reserved
the color blue (made predominantly from the relatively rare and
certainly expensive gemstone lapis lazuli) for depictions of the
Virgin Mary. Thus, her color scheme recalls not only the Last
Supper of Christâ€”â€œDo this in remembrance of me,â€ Christ said
to the Apostlesâ€”but also Christâ€™s mother and, by extension,
the mothers of all her subjects. But the choice of blue is even
more complex than that: â€œThe blue in The Last Supper,â€ Green
explains, â€œrefers to the blues, blue-plate specials, heavenly
blue, and old-style prison uniforms and mattresses of navy
and white striped fabric. Also there is something cartoon-like
and absurd about blue tacos, blue pizza, blue ketchup, blue
Each of the plates is titled by the state of execution
and dateâ€”no inmatesâ€™ names are given. But each tells us
something remarkably personal about the inmate in question. Consider the three plates illustrated here (Fig. 13-13).
At the top left is Georgia, 26 June 2007: â€œFour fried pork
chops, collard greens with boiled okra, fried fatback, fried
green tomatoes, cornbread, lemonade, one pint of strawberry ice cream, and three glazed donuts.â€ Below it is Texas,
22 January 2009: â€œTwenty-four bbq chicken wings, two
cheeseburgers with everything, four slices of pizza with jalapeÃ±os, three slices of buttered toast, one sweet potato pie,
sherbet rainbow ice cream, and twelve cans of Dr. Pepper/
Big Red.â€ The oval-shaped plate on the right is Indiana,
5 May 2007: â€œPizza and birthday cake shared with fifteen
family and friends.â€ Quoted on the plate are the words of a
prison officialâ€”â€œHe never had a birthday cake so we ordered
a birthday cake for him.â€
When Green first began painting the plates over a decade
agoâ€”they now number over 500â€”she wanted them to be
â€œinstitutional-looking and awkward, lacking in richness,â€
but over the years, they have become much more complex
and painterly. In part, this is because she has mastered the
Fig. 13-12 Julie Green, The Last Supper, 2000â€“ongoing. Installation view of 283 plates in the 2008 exhibition Criminal,
San Francisco State University.
Photo: Andrew Bird.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 309
Fig. 13-13 Julie Green, The Last Supper, 2000â€“ongoing. Three details. Top left: Georgia, 26 June 2007. Bottom left: Texas,
22 January 2009. Right: Indiana, 5 May 2007.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
technique of applying the thick and oily mineral-based paint
to the porcelain plates, but it also reflects her growing understanding of the complexities of the inmates themselves, as well
as the complex feelings that the death penalty itself generates.
Thus, some of her plainest platesâ€”Virginia 27 April 2006
simply states: â€œRequested that last meal not be released to the
publicâ€â€”are among the most poignant. All of the plates are
viewable online at greenjulie.com.
310 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
on the campus of Alfred University in upstate New
York. As its title implies, it simultaneously evokes the
geological strata of the regionâ€™s landscape and bands
of cumulus clouds wind-blown across the sky. Inset
among these porcelain tilesâ€”of which there are some
12,000, in six different structures and depths of reliefâ€”are 500 tiles covered in gold leaf, in turn evoking both the mineral veins of the earth and the golden
light of the sun. At night, especially, when the facility
is in use, viewers see the fields of porcelain reflected
in the glass walls of the building even as they look
through from one building to another, or out past the
buildings to the valley beyond. The viewer is literally
caught up in this landscape, both abstract and real,
surrounded by light and its reflection.
What are some of the ways in which glass has been used as
an artistic medium?
Since ancient times, glassware was made either by forming the hot liquid glass, made principally of silica, or
sand, mixed with soda ash, on a core or by casting it in
a mold. The invention of glassblowing techniques late
in the first century bce so revolutionized the process
that, in the Roman world, glassmaking quickly became
a major industry. To blow glass, the artist dips the end
of a pipe into molten glass and then blows through the
pipe to produce a bubble. While it is still hot, the bubble
is shaped and cut.
This glass bowl (Fig. 13-14) was probably made
near Rome in the second quarter of the first century
ce, before glassblowing took hold. It is made of opaque
chips of colored glass. These chips expanded and
elongated in the oven as they were heated over a core
ceramic form. As the glass chips melted, they fused
together and fell downward over the form, creating a
decorative patchwork of dripping blobs and splotches.
By the time this vase was made, demand for glass was
so great that many craftsmen had moved from the Middle East to Italy to be near the expanding European
In twelfth-century Europe, blown glass was used
to make the great stained-glass windows that decorated the eraâ€™s cathedrals. Stained glass is made
by adding metallic salts to the glass during manufacture. A variety of different colors were blown
by artisans and rolled out into square pieces. These
pieces were then broken or cut into smaller fragments and assembled over a drawing marked out
in chalk dust. Features of people and other figures
Fig. 13-14 Mosaic glass bowl, fused and slumped, Roman,
25 bceâ€“50 ce. Height 4Â½ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 311
were painted on the glass in dark pigments,
and the fragments were joined by strips of
lead. The whole window was then strengthened with an armature of iron bands, at first
stretched over the windows in a grid, but later
shaped to follow the outlines of the design
Among the very first stained-glass windows were those commissioned by Abbot
Suger for the royal abbey of Saint-Denis
just north of Paris, dedicated by King Louis
VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, on
June 11, 1144. Suger had long dreamed of
making his abbey the most beautiful in all of
France. In preparing his plans, he read what
he believed to be the writings of the original St. Denis. (We now know that he was
reading the mystical tracts of a first-century Athenian follower of St. Paul known as
Pseudo-Dionysius.) Light, these writings instructed, was the physical and material manifestation of the Divine Spirit. And so stained
glass became a fundamental component of his
design (Fig. 13-15). Suger would later survey
the accomplishments of his administration and
explain his religious rationale for his beautification of Saint-Denis:
Marvel not at the gold and the expense but
at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work; but being nobly
bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may
travel, through the true lights,
To the True Light where Christ is the true
As beautiful as the church might be, it was designed to elevate the soul to the realm of God.
Today, the Pilchuck Glass School in
Washington State is one of the leading centers of
glassblowing in the world, surpassed only by the
traditional glassblowing industry of Venice, Italy.
Dale Chihuly, one of Pilchuckâ€™s cofounders, has
been instrumental in transforming the medium
from its utilitarian origins to more sculptural
ends. Chihulyâ€™s floating, hanging, and standing
glass works are extraordinary installation pieces
designed to animate large interior spaces. Chihuly
has been influential in establishing glass as a viable art medium, even inspiring the construction
of a new Museum of Glass in his native Tacoma,
Washington, which opened to the public in 2002.
The first of several installations titled Mille Fiori,
Fig. 13-15 Moses window, Abbey church of Saint-Denis,
Saint-Denis, France, 1140â€“44.
Â© Bednorz-images, Cologne.
312 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
â€œa thousand flowersâ€ (Fig. 13â€‘16), was exhibited at the
Tacoma Art Museum in 2003. The inspiration, as with so
much of his work, was at once the sea, especially the waters of Puget Sound near his boyhood home in Tacoma,
and flowers, which thrived in his motherâ€™s garden when
he was a child. For Chihuly, the distinction between art
and craft is irrelevant. â€œI donâ€™t really care if they call it art
or craft,â€ he says, â€œit really doesnâ€™t make any difference to
me, but I do like the fact that people want to see it.â€
Fred Wilson is an artist and curator who has spent
much of his career looking at and thinking about the arts
and crafts of American society. He is especially adept at
sifting through existing museum collections, reorganizing
some objects and bringing others out of storage, in order
to create commentaries on the history of American racism and the sociopolitical realities of the American museum system (see The Creative Process, pp. 314â€“15, for an
exhibit he created from the collections of the Maryland
Historical Society). In 2001, Wilson began working with
glass as he prepared to be the American representative at
the 2003 Venice Biennale. Given Veniceâ€™s preeminence as
a glass-manufacturing city, glass seemed a natural choice,
and he hired the famed glassworkers on the island of Murano to create the pieces that he designed. But it was a difficult medium for him to work with. With glass, he says, â€œitâ€™s
hard to make anything that has a lot of meaningâ€”or where
the meaning is at least as strong as the beauty of the material. Infusing meaning is what Iâ€™m really interested in.â€
Wilson chose to work with black glass, because black
as a color is so obviously a metaphor for African Americans, but also because it refers to the long history of black
Africans in Venice, epitomized in Western consciousness
by Shakespeareâ€™s Othello: The Moor of Venice. Inspired
by the watery canals and lagoons of Venice, he shaped
the glass so that it appeared to be liquidâ€”ink, oil, tar.
In Drip Drop Plop (Fig. 13â€‘17), what appear to be glass tears
descend the wall to form puddles of black liquid on
Fig. 13-16 Dale Chihuly, Mille Fiori, 2003. On display at the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington,
May 3â€“January 4, 2004. Glass, dimensions variable.
Photo by Teresa Nouri Rishel.
Fig. 13-17 Fred Wilson, Drip Drop Plop, 2001. Glass,
approx. 8 ft. 3 in. Ã— 6 ft. Ã— 5 ft. 2 in.
Photograph by Ellen Labenski, courtesy of Pace Gallery New York. Â© Fred
Wilson, courtesy of Pace Gallery.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 313
Fig. 13-18 The Hunt of the Unicorn, VII: The Unicorn in Captivity,
Franco-Flemish, 16th century, ca. 1500. Silk and wool, silver and silver-gilt threads,
12 ft. 1 in. Ã— 8 ft. 3 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Cloisters Collection, Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 1937.80.6. Â© 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan
Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
the floor. Some of the tears and puddles have eyes:
â€œBecause of 1930s cartoons that were recycled in my
childhood in the 1960s, these cartoon eyes on a black
object represent African Americans in a very derogatory way. . . . So I sort of view them as black tears.â€ But
the glass tears suggest other things as wellâ€”the degradation of the environment, for one, as they fall off the
wall like a spill from an oil tanker. They also take on
the appearance of sperm, suggesting an almost masturbatory ineffectuality. All these meanings are at least
partially at work, and they underscore the ways in
which art and craft differ. Art, in essence, goes far beyond mere utility. It provokes thought, and it produces
What are some of the different uses of fiber in the arts?
We do not usually think of fiber as a three-dimensional
medium. However, fiber arts are traditionally used to
fill three-dimensional space, in the way that a carpet fills
a room or that clothing drapes across a body. In the Middle Ages, tapestry hangings such as The Unicorn in Captivity (Fig. 13-18) were hung on the stone walls of huge
mansions and castles to soften and warm the stone.
Fiber is an extraordinarily textural medium, and, as a
result, it has recently become an increasingly favored
medium for sculpture.
314 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Creative Process
A New Narrative: Fred Wilsonâ€™s Mining the Museum
In his work as a museum curator, Fred Wilson has transformed
exhibition design by exposing the cultural, political, and socioeconomic assumptions that underlie the modern museum
space. Traditionally, museums have tried to create coherent,
even homogeneous, spaces in which to view exhibitions. The
â€œwhite roomâ€ effect is one such design principleâ€”that is, the
walls of the space are uniform and white so as not to detract
from the work on the walls. Even when more elaborate design
ideas come into playâ€”for instance, when an architectural setting is recreated in order to reconstruct the original era or setting of the works on displayâ€”the principle of an intellectually
coherent space, one that helps the viewer to understand and
contextualize the work, predominates.
Wilson believes that this traditional
curatorial stance has caused most museums to â€œburyâ€ or ignore works that do not
fit easily into the dominant â€œstoryâ€ that the
museum tells. In 1992, The Contemporary,
a museum exhibiting in temporary spaces
in Baltimore, Maryland, arranged for Wilson to install an exhibition at the Maryland
Historical Society. Wilson saw it as an opportunity to reinterpret the Historical Societyâ€™s collection and present a larger story
about Maryland history than the museum
was used to telling.
Wilson begins all of his projects with
a research phaseâ€”in this case, into the
history of Baltimore and its people. â€œWhen
I go into a project,â€ he says, â€œIâ€™m not looking to bring something to it. Iâ€™m responding more than anything else. You can still
get a very personal emotional response
from a situation or an individual who lived
a hundred years ago. Itâ€™s connecting
over time that Iâ€™m responding to.â€ In the
archives and collections of the museum,
Wilson was able to discover a wealth of
material that the museum had never exhibited, not least because it related to a
part of Maryland history that embarrassed
and even shamed many viewersâ€”the reality of slavery. Wilson brought these materials to light by juxtaposing them with
elements of the collection that viewers
were used to seeing.
Behind a â€œpunt gunâ€ ostensibly used for hunting game
birds on Chesapeake Bay, Wilson placed reward notices for
runaway slaves. A document discovered in the archives, an
inventory of the estate of one Caleb Goodwin (Fig. 13-19),
lists all his slaves and animals together with their estimated
value. What jars the contemporary reader is the fact that least
valuable of all, valued at a mere dollar, is the â€œnegro woman
Hannah seventy-three years of age.â€ Even the â€œold Mule called
Cobyâ€ is worth five times as much. In the middle of a display of silver repoussÃ© objects made by Maryland craftsmen
in the early 1800s (Fig. 13-21), Wilson placed a set of iron
slave shackles, underscoring the fact that Marylandâ€™s luxury
Fig. 13-19 Caleb Goodwin, Inventory of Slaves and Livestock,
ca. 1855. Manuscript. Maryland Historical Society Library.
Johnston & Donaldson Papers, 1767-1891, MS.1564. Special Collections. Courtesy of Maryland
Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 315
Figs. 13-20 and 13-21 Fred Wilson, Cabinetmaking 1820â€“1960 and Metalwork
1793â€“1880, from Mining the Museum: An Installation by Fred Wilson,
The Contemporary and Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, 1992â€“1993.
Photograph by Jeff D. Goldman. Â© Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery.
economy was built on slavery. Similarly, in a display of Maryland
cabinetmaking, he placed a whipping post (Fig. 13-20) that
was used until 1938 in front of the Baltimore city jail, and that
the museum had ignored for years, storing it with its collection
of fine antique cabinets. (The whipping post is discussed by
Wilson in the art21 Exclusive video â€œFred Wilson: Beauty and
Wilson was equally struck by what was missing from
the museumâ€™s collection. While the museum possessed
marble busts of Henry Clay, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Andrew Jackson, none of whom had any particular impact on
Maryland history, it possessed no busts of three great black
Marylandersâ€”Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and the
astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Banneker. Thus,
at the entrance to the museum, across from the three marble busts in the museumâ€™s collection, he placed three empty
pedestals, each identified with the name of its â€œmissingâ€
â€œObjects,â€ Wilson says, â€œspeak to me.â€ As an artist, curator, and exhibition designer, he translates what these objects
say to him for all of us to hear. â€œI am trying to root out . . .
denial,â€ he says. â€œMuseums are afraid of what they will bring
to the surface and how people will feel about issues that are
long buried. They keep it buried, as if it doesnâ€™t exist, as though
people arenâ€™t feeling these things anyway, instead of opening
that sore and cleaning it out so it can heal.â€
316 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
But all fiber arts, sculptural or not, trace their
origins back to weaving, a technique for constructing
fabrics by means of interlacing horizontal and vertical threadâ€”the very â€œevent of a thread,â€ with all its
â€œcrossing,â€ upon which Ann Hamilton based her work
at New Yorkâ€™s Park Avenue Armory (see Fig. 13-1). The
vertical threadsâ€”called the warpâ€”are held taut on a
loom or frame, and the horizontal threadsâ€”the weft or
woofâ€”are woven loosely over and under the warp. A
tapestry is a special kind of weaving in which the weft
yarns are of several colors and the weaver manipulates
the colors to make an intricate design.
In 2002, Kiki Smith (see Fig. 10-1) began working
with textiles at the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia
(the art21 Exclusive video â€œKiki Smith: The Fabric
Workshopâ€ explores her work there). As Wendy Weitman writes in Kiki Smith: Prints, Books & Things, â€œSmith
thrives on collaboration. . . . Sculpture and printmaking share this collaborative attribute, each often requiring specialized artisans to achieve the finished
object. Not surprisingly, Smith excels at both.â€ Thus,
in 2011, she turned her attention to tapestry, working together with the tapestry experts at Magnolia
Editions in Oakland, California. Magnolia uses a Jacquard loom, invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, who
in 1804 took the ancient technique of card weaving to
a new level. Weavers threaded different colors of yarn
through holes in cards and then twisted the cards back
and forth as they wove the weft to form
the design. Jacquard created perforated
cards, like those later used in player
pianos or early computers, and Magnolia has refined the process by incorporating digital programming into the
process. Smith has taken advantage of
Magnoliaâ€™s tapestry technique, especially its ability to record and weave
into the tapestry the subtlest and most
minute shifts in color. The result is
tapestries like the almost 10-foot high
Guide (Fig. 13â€‘22). A celebration of the
wonder and power of nature, the tapestry is not at all unrelated to the celebration of spring realized in the thousands
of flowers that fill the Unicorn Tapestry
in New York (see Fig. 13-18).
In embroidery, a second traditional
fiber art, the design is made by needlework. From the early eighteenth century
onward, the town of Chamba was one
of the centers of the art of embroidery in
India. It was known, particularly, for its
rumals, embroidered muslin textiles that
were used as wrappings for gifts (Fig.
13-23). If an offering was to be made at
a temple, or if gifts were to be exchanged
between families of a bride and groom,
an embroidered rumal was always used
as a wrapping.
The composition of the Chamba
rumals is consistent. A floral border
encloses a dense series of images, first
drawn in charcoal and then embroidered, on a plain white muslin background. For a wedding gift, as in the
rumal illustrated here, the designs
might depict the wedding itself. The
designs were double-darned, so that
Fig. 13-22 Kiki Smith, Guide, 2012. Jacquard tapestry, approximately 9 ft. 11 in. Ã—
6 ft. 4Â½ in. Edition of 10.
Photograph courtesy of Pace Gallery Â© Kiki Smith in association with Magnolia Editions,
Oakland, courtesy of Pace Gallery.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 317
an identical scene appeared on both sides of the cloth.
Because of its location in the foothills and mountains
of the Himalayas, offering relief from the heat of the
Indian plains, the region around Chamba was a favorite summer retreat for British colonists, and its embroidery arts became very popular in nineteenth-century
One of the most important textile designers of the
twentieth century was Anni Albers. This wall hanging
(Fig. 13-24) was done on a 12-harness loom, each harness
capable of supporting a 4-inch band of weaving. Consequently, Albers designed a 48-inch-wide grid composed
of 12 of the 4-inch-wide units. Each unit is a vertical
rectangle, variable only in its patterning, which is either
solid or striped. The striped rectangles are themselves
divided into units of 12 alternating stripes. Occasional
cubes are formed when two rectangles of the same pattern appear side by side.
Anni Albers regarded such geometric play as
rooted in nature. Inspired by reading The Metamorphosis of Plants by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher, she was
fascinated by the way a simple basic pattern could generate, in nature, infinite variety. There is, in the design
here, no apparent pattern in the occurrence of solid or
striped rectangles or in the colors employed in them.
This variability of particular detail within an overall
geometric scheme is, from Albersâ€™s point of view, as
natural and as inevitable as the repetition itself.
Fig. 13-23 Embroidered rumal, late 18th century. Muslin and colored silks. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Fig. 13-24 Anni Albers, Wall hanging, 1926. Silk (two-ply
weave), 6 Ã— 4 ft. The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University
Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Inv. BR48.132. Photo: Michael Nedzweski. Â© President and Fellows of
Harvard College, Harvard University. Â© 2015 Josef and Anni Albers
Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
318 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
Fig. 13-25 Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach, Part I of the series Woman on a Bridge, 1988.
Acrylic on canvas bordered with printed, painted, quilted, and pieced cloth, 6 ft. 2â… in. Ã— 5 ft. 8Â½ in.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Gift, Mr. and Mrs. Gus and Judith Lieber, 1988. Photo Â© Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation/Art Resource, New York.
Â© Faith Ringgold.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 319
In the early 1970s, Faith Ringgold (see Fig. 1-6) began to paint on soft fabrics and frame her images with
decorative quilted borders made by her mother. After
her motherâ€™s death in 1981, Ringgold created the quilt
borders herself, and she began writing an autobiography, published in 1995 as We Flew Over the Bridge: The
Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, which she incorporated into
her painting/quilts. Tar Beach (Fig. 13-25) is one of these.
â€œTar Beachâ€ refers to the roof of the apartment building
where Ringgoldâ€™s family would sleep on hot summer
nights when she was growing up. The fictional narrator of this story is an eight-year-old girl named Cassie,
shown lying on a quilt (within the quilt) with her brother
at the lower right while her parents sit at a nearby table
playing cards. A second Cassie flies over the George
Washington Bridge at the top of the painting, a manifestation of the childâ€™s dreams. In the accompanying story,
she imagines she can fly, taking the bridge for her own,
claiming a union building for her father (half-black,
half-Indian, he had helped to build it, but because of his
race could not join the union himself), and an ice-cream
factory for her mother, who deserved to eat â€œice cream
every night for dessert.â€ The painting is a parable of the
African-American experience, portraying at once the
hopes and aspirations of their community even as it embodies the stark reality of their lives.
The principles of quiltmaking are quite simple.
Quiltmaker Clay Lohmann, who as a male quiltmaker
remains something of a rarity in the
art world, points out that most modern athletic shoes are made like quilts
and basic home construction uses
the same principles as wellâ€”an interior wall, an exterior wall, wall studs
serving as the quilting pattern, and
most often fiberglass insulation as
the batting between them. Lohmann
makes what he calls â€œanatomyâ€ quilts,
which take advantage of his training
in drawing and anatomy. Black Lung
(Fig. 13-26) refers to the lung disease
that develops from inhaling coal dust.
The profile of a stern-looking man rises
from the neckline of what appears to
be a dress, but may well be a hospital
robe. The black bands at top and bottom lend the quilt the aura of a funeral
shroud. The quilting at the bottom of
the lavender and gold bands suggests
perspectival space, as if the figure is
fading away. The pattern in the gold
band is, incidentally, composed of the
numbers 1â€“9, the alphabet, and an address. All suggests a history, something
of a tragic story. â€œI grew up around
and slept under quilts made by family members,â€ Lohmann says. â€œAll of
my quilting is an homage to the unsung, underappreciated and most often
women quilters who, no matter what
level of artist achievement, simply are
not recognized as â€˜artists.â€™ I incorporate
bits of lace, embroidered tea towels,
pillowcases, tablecloths, and in a nod
to punk fashion, safety pins.â€
It was in the hands of Magdalena
Abakanowicz, in the last century, that
Fig. 13-26 Clay Lohmann, Black Lung, 2011. Cotton cloth, thread, silk batting,
inflatable lung, buttons, tubing, safety pins, 7 ft. 6 in. Ã— 6 ft. 8 in.
Courtesy of the artist.
320 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
fiber became a tool of serious artistic expression, freed of
any associations with utilitarian crafts. In the early 1970s,
using traditional fiber materials such as burlap and string,
Abakanowicz began to make forms based on the human
anatomy (Fig. 13-27). She presses these fibers into a plaster mold, creating a series of forms that, though generally
uniform, are strikingly different from piece to piece, the
materials lending each figure an individual identity.
As Anni Albersâ€™s work also demonstrates, pattern
and repetition have always played an important role in
textile design. Abakanowicz brings new meaning to the
traditional functions of repetitive pattern. These forms,
all bent over in prayer, or perhaps pain, speak to our
condition as humans, our spiritual emptinessâ€”these are
hollow formsâ€”and our mass anxiety.
The textile wrappings also remind us of the traditional
function of clothingâ€”to protect us from the elements. Here,
huddled against the sun and rain, each figure is shrouded
in a wrap that seems at once clothing and bandage. It is as
if the figures are wounded, cold, impoverished, homelessâ€”
the universal condition. As Abakanowicz reminds us:
It is from fiber that all living organisms are builtâ€”
the tissues of plants, and ourselves. Our nerves, our
genetic code, the canals of our veins, our muscles. We
are fibrous structures. Our heart is surrounded by
the coronary plexus, the plexus of most vital threads.
Handling fiber, we handle mystery. . . . When the
biology of our body breaks down, the skin has to be cut
so as to give access to the inside. Later it has to be sewn,
like fabric. Fabric is our covering and our attire. Made
with our hands, it is a record of our souls.
This, too, is the subject for artist
Yinka Shonibare. Like Chris Ofili (see
Fig. 1-25), Shonibare was born in England to Nigerian parents, but unlike
Ofili he was raised in Nigeria before returning to art school in London. In the
mid-1990s, he began making works out
of the colorful printed fabrics that are
worn throughout West Africa (Fig. 13-
28), all of which are created by English
and Dutch designers, manufactured
in Europe, then exported to Africa,
whence they are in turn remarketed to
the West as authentic African design. In
this sense, the fabrics are the very record of Shonibareâ€™s soul, traveling back
and forth, from continent to continent.
â€œBy making hybrid clothes,â€ Shonibare
I collapse the idea of a European
dichotomy against an African one. There
is no way you can work out where the opposites
are. There is no way you can work out the precise
Fig. 13-28 Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Victorian Couple, 1999.
Wax-printed cotton textile, left approx. 5 ft. Ã— 36 in. Ã— 36 in.,
right approx. 5 ft. Ã— 24 in. Ã— 24 in.
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai Â© 2015 Yinka
Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/ARS, New York.
Fig. 13-27 Magdalena Abakanowicz, Backs in Landscape,
1978â€“81. Eighty sculptures of burlap and resin molded from plaster casts,
overlife-size. Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Photo: Dirk Bakker, 1982. Â© Magdalena Abakanowicz, courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 321
nationality of my dresses, because they do not have
one. And there is no way you can work out the
precise economic status of the people who wouldâ€™ve
worn those dresses because the economic status and
the class status are confused in these objects.
In fact, even the era of these costumes is drawn into
question. The bustle on the womanâ€™s dress is distinctly
nineteenth-century, while the manâ€™s entire wardrobe
seems distinctly out of the 1960s American hippie movement, especially given the decorative effect of the trumpets on his trouser legs.
In 2008, Portuguese artist Joana
Vasconcelos installed her work Contamination (Fig. 13-29) at the Pinacoteca do
Estado in SÃ£o Paolo, Brazil, and then,
subsequently, at the Berardo Museum in
Lisbon and the Centre Culturel Calouste
Gulbenkian in Paris. In the summer
of 2011, it was installed at the Palazzo
Grassi in Venice, Italy. As it moved,
from country to country, it morphed
as Vasconcelos continued to add new
elements to itâ€”fabric samples, jeweled insects, childrenâ€™s toys, sequins,
pom-poms, beach towelsâ€”the detritus of consumer culture that proliferates and contaminates contemporary
life. All this, she and her assistants
sewed, knitted, and crocheted in place,
allowing its amoebalike forms to spread
like a viral contagion, as if reproducing
in wild sexual abandon across, around,
and through whatever architectural
space it found itself inhabiting.
Why has gold been a favored material
since ancient times?
Perhaps the most durable of all craft
media is metal, and, as a result, it has been
employed for centuries to make vessels
for food and drink, tools for agriculture
and building, and weapons for war. We
have discussed traditional metal-casting
techniques (see Chapter 12), but it is worth
remembering that Chinese artisans had
developed a sophisticated bronze-casting
technique as early as the sixteenth century
bce, many centuries before the advent of
the lost-wax technique in the West. The
Chinese apparently constructed two-piece
â€œsandwichâ€ molds that did not require wax to hold the two
sides apart. (For an example, see Fig. 16-14.)
Of all metals, gold is the easiest to work, being
relatively soft and occurring as it does in an almost pure
state. Since the earliest times, its brilliance has been linked
to royalty. In ancient Egyptian culture, it was closely
associated with both the sun god, Re, and the king
himself, who was considered the son of Re. Because of
its permanenceâ€”it neither corrodes nor tarnishesâ€”it
was further associated with the ka, the eternal life of
the ruler, similar to the â€œsoulâ€ or â€œlife forceâ€ in other
Fig. 13-29 Joana Vasconcelos, Contamination (ContaminaÃ§Ã£o), 2008â€“10.
Handmade woolen knitting and crochet, felt appliquÃ©s, industrial knitted fabric,
fabrics, ornaments, polystyrene, polyester, steel cables. Dimensions variable. Palazzo
Grassi, Venice, Italy.
Â© Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection. Photo: Fulvio Orsenigo. Â© Joana Vasconcelos.
322 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
religions. A representation of King Tutankhamun
hunting, found in his grave, is typical of Egyptian gold
ornamentation (Fig. 13-30). The work is an example of
gold repoussÃ©â€”that is, its design was realized by hammering the image from the reverse side. The design on
the front was then refined by means of embossingâ€”the
reverse of repoussÃ©.
Over the years, metals, especially gold and silver,
have also been lavishly used in the creation of jewelry.
The Persian griffin bracelet pictured here (Fig. 13-31) was
discovered in 1877 as part of the Oxus treasure, named
after the river in Central Asia where it was found. The
griffin is a mythological beast, half-eagle, half-lion, that
symbolized vigilance and courage, and was believed
by the Persians to guard the gold of India, and the story
associated with the discovery of this bracelet is indeed
one of heroism and courage. Originally sold to Muslim
merchants, the Oxus treasure was soon stolen by bandits,
who were intent on dividing the loot evenly by melting it
Fig. 13-30 Tutankhamun Hunting Ostriches from His Chariot, base of the kingâ€™s ostrich-feather fan,
ca. 1335â€“1327 bce. Beaten gold, 4 Ã— 7Â¼ in. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Fig. 13-31 Griffin bracelet, from the Oxus treasure, ca. 500â€“
400 bce. Gold and stones, diameter 5 in. British Museum, London.
De Agostini/Bridgeman Images.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 323
down. Captain F. C. Burton, a British officer in Pakistan,
heard of the robbery, rescued the treasure, and returned
it to the merchants, asking only that he be given one
of two griffin bracelets as his reward. He subsequently
donated it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,
while its companion piece, illustrated here, eventually found its way to the British Museum. Considered
one of the most beautiful works of jewelry ever made,
the bracelet was originally inlaid with colored stones.
The minute detail of the griffinsâ€”especially the feathers
on wings and necks, as well as the clawed feetâ€”must
have suggested, inlaid with stone, the finest Asian silk
The Oxus treasure was almost surely a royal hoard
and, throughout history, the most elaborate metal
designs have always been commissioned by royalty. In 1539, Benvenuto Cellini designed a saltcellar
(Fig. 13-32) for Francis I of France. Made of gold and
enamel, it is actually a functional salt and pepper
shaker. Salt is represented by the male figure, Neptune, god of the sea, and hence overlord of the seaâ€™s
salt. Pepper is the provenance of earth, represented by
the female figure. Along the base of the saltcellar is a
complex array of allegorical figures depicting the four
seasons and four times of day (dawn, day, twilight,
and night), embodying both seasonal festivities and
the daily meal schedule. In his autobiography, Cellini
described the work as follows:
I first laid down an oval framework and upon this
ground, wishing to suggest the interminglement
of land and ocean, I modeled two figures, one
considerably taller than a palm in height, which were
seated with their legs interlaced, suggesting those
lengthier branches of the sea which run up into the
continents. The sea was a man, and in his hand I
placed a ship, elaborately wrought in all its details,
and well adapted to hold a quantity of salt. Beneath
him I grouped the four sea-horses, and in his right
hand he held his trident. The earth I fashioned like a
woman, with all the beauty of form, the grace, and
charm of which my art was capable. She had a richly
decorated temple firmly based upon the ground at
one side; and here her hand rested. This I intended
to receive the pepper. In her other hand I put a
cornucopia, overflowing with all the natural treasures
I could think of. Below the goddess, on the part which
represented earth, I collected the fairest animals that
haunt our globe. In the quarter presided over by the
deity of ocean, I fashioned such choice kinds of fishes
and shells as could be properly displayed in that
While Cellini apparently later changed the positions of
the hands and what they were holding, the description,
which must have been written some 20 years after the
fact, is accurate. When a Vatican cardinal saw the model,
Fig. 13-32 Benvenuto Cellini, Saltcellar: Neptune (Sea) and Tellus
(Earth), 1540â€“43. Gold, niello work, and ebony base, height 101â„4 in.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
324 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
he told Cellini: â€œUnless you make it for the King, to whom
I mean to take you, I do not think that you will make it for
another man alive.â€
Of course, not all metalwork is done in gold. In the
nineteenth and the early twentieth century cast iron was
frequently used for decorative benches and railings, and
larger projects such as bridges. In 2000, artist Chris Burden (see Fig. 11-37) began collecting cast-iron street lamps
made in the 1920s and 1930s. Gradually, over the years,
he collected more and more of themâ€”sandblasting them,
recasting missing parts, rewiring them to code, and then
painting them all a uniform grayâ€”until, by 2006, he owned
some 150, which he installed in tight rows around his studio in Topanga Canyon in western Los Angeles County.
He saw in them some iconic quality, as if they captured a
spirit related to the rise of the modern era. â€œStreet lamps,â€
he says, â€œare one of the fundamental building blocks of an
urban metropolis. The richly detailed fluted lamps are an
ornate totem to industrialism and represent a form of public art. My artwork Urban Light, is ultimately a statement
about what constitutes a civilized and sophisticated city,
safe after dark and beautiful to behold.â€ In 2006, he offered them for sale, and by the time they were purchased
by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where they
came to serve as a kind of entryway on Wilshire Boulevard
into the newly refurbished museum complex, their number had grown to 202 (Fig. 13-33). Powered by solar cells,
they are turned on each evening at dusk, creating a soft
glow that animates the entire complex. Where once they
served a purely utilitarian purpose, lighting the streets of
Los Angeles, Hollywood, Anaheim, and even Portland,
Oregon, they have become, in Burdenâ€™s hands, a kind of
temple to the urbanization of the world.
What are some uses and limitations of wood as a material?
Because it is so easy to carve, and because it is so widely
available, artisans have favored wood as a medium
throughout history. Yet because it is an organic material,
wood is also extremely fragile, and few wood artifacts
survive from ancient cultures.
Of all woods, cedar, native to the Northwest American coast, is a particular favorite of Native American
artists in that region because of its relative impermeability by the weather, its resistance to insect attack, and its
protective, aromatic odor. Chests such as this Heiltsuk
Fig. 13-33 Chris Burden, Urban Light, 2000â€“07. Two hundred and two restored cast-iron antique street
lamps, 26 ft. 8Â½ in. Ã— 57 ft. 2Â½ in. Ã— 58 ft. 8Â½ in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Gordon Family Foundationâ€™s gift to â€œTransformation: LACMA Campaign,â€ M.2007.147.1-.202. Â© 2015. Digital Image Museum
Associates/LACMA/Art Resource New York/Scala, Florence. Â© Chris Burden.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 325
example (Fig. 13-34) were designed to contain family
heirlooms and clan regalia, and were opened only on
ceremonial occasions. Often such a chest also served as
the ceremonial seat of the clan leader, who sat upon it,
literally supported by his heritage.
Wood has also been a favorite, even preferred, material
for making furniture, and, in the hands of accomplished
artists, a piece of furniture can be transformed into a work
of art in its own right. The earliest Americans understood
this from the outset. Some of the most magnificent furniture designed in the newly founded American colonies
in the seventeenth century came from Ipswich, Massachusetts. There, by the 1660s, two â€œjoiners,â€ or furnituremakers, William Searle and his son-in-law
Thomas Dennis, were crafting some of the
most beautiful trunks and chests produced in
seventeenth-century New England. The panels of the chest illustrated here (Fig. 13-35)
are carved in a design popular in Searle
and Dennisâ€™s native Devonshire, England.
Stalks of flowers and leaves emerge from
an urn, only the opening of which is visible at the bottom of each of the three panels.
Formally, the chest is notable for the symmetry of its design, the two outside panels
bracketing the center one. But perhaps more
striking is the very richness of the design, its
elaborate, even exuberant celebration of the
Americans, raised with the story of the
Mayflower and Plymouth Plantation, most
especially the image of that first winter of
1620â€“21, when nearly half the population of
that first settlement succumbed to the harshness of their circumstances, rarely appreciate
the feelings that the Puritans had for the natural beautyâ€”
and bountyâ€”of the place they now called home. At the
time of their arrival, most of the eastern United States
was covered in tall forests of oak, pine, hemlock, maple, ash, and birch. It was in fact the ready availability
of high-quality wood scoured from the landscape, oak in
particular, that so attracted Searle and Dennis to Ipswich
in the first place. There they could still search the nearby
forests for a good tree. The oaks they cut were at least 200
years old, many much older, and they were very closeringed, as many as 15 to 20 rings per inch (a modern-day
oak would be notable if it possessed 10 per inch). This
chest is an image of that bounty.
Fig. 13-34 Heiltsuk, Bent-Corner Chest (Kook), ca. 1860. Yellow and red cedar, and paint,
21Â¼ Ã— 35Â¾ Ã— 20Â½ in. Seattle Art Museum.
Gift of John H. Hauberg and John and Grace Putnam. 86.278. Photo: Paul Maciapia.
Fig. 13-35 Attributed to Thomas Dennis or William Searle, Chest,
made in Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1660â€“80. Red oak, white oak, 29Â¾ in. Ã—
4 ft. 1â…› in. Ã— 21â…œ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1909, 10.125.685. Â© 2015.Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of
Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
326 Part 3 The Fine Arts Media
The Critical Process
Thinking about the Crafts as Fine Art
A fascinating intervention of the crafts into the worlds of both
art and science is Crochet Coral Reef (Fig. 13-36), a project
sponsored by the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles, an organization that explores the aesthetic dimensions of science,
mathematics, and the arts, according to their website, â€œfrom
the physics of snowflakes and the hyperbolic geometry of
sea slugs, to the mathematics of paper folding and graphical
models of the human mind.â€ It was founded in 2003 by sisters
Margaret Wertheim, a science writer, and Christine Wertheim,
an artist. The two grew up in Queensland, Australia, where the
Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world,
has undergone severe environmental damage in the last few
decades as vast sections of the coral reef have died. In order
to draw attention to the devastation, the sisters inaugurated the
Crochet Coral Reef project.
The installation is based on the findings of mathematician
Daina Taimina, who in 2001 argued that crocheting offered one
of the best ways to model hyperbolic geometry, and that, in
turn, coral was a hyperbolic geometric structure in its own right.
Thousands of peopleâ€”by and large women, but a number of
men as wellâ€”have contributed to the Crochet Coral Reef project, and Crochet Coral and Anemone Garden, pictured below,
is but one of a number of installations, among them Toxic Reef,
crocheted from yarn and plastic trash.
As â€œwomenâ€™s work,â€ crocheting is a traditional craft done
at one remove from â€œhigh art.â€ That in its structure it symbolizes, even mirrors, what we might call â€œhigh mathematicsâ€ was
particularly attractive to the Wertheims, not because this fact
elevated crocheting to the level of â€œhigh art,â€ but because it suggested something about the nature of political and economic
power in modern society. Can you articulate what commentary
on society they may have recognized in the analogy between
crocheting and hyperbolic geometry? Normally, crocheting is
done for utilitarian purposesâ€”for clothing, for instanceâ€”but
here it serves a purely aesthetic function. Or does it? What
utilitarian purpose does it still serve? What traditional role of the
artist do the many people who have worked on the Crochet
Coral Reef project play?
Fig. 13-36 Institute For Figuring, Crochet Coral Reef project, 2005â€“ongoing. Created and curated by Margaret
and Christine Wertheim.
Photo: Alyssa Gorelick.
Chapter 13 The Craft Media 327
13.1 Characterize the difference between craft and
The line between the arts and the crafts is a fine one. For many,
a craft object is defined by the fact that it is functional, but many
functional objects have artistic qualities. How did Josiah Wedgwood distinguish between craft and art objects? Many artists
have taken the craft media to innovative and new ends. How has
Ann Hamilton done this? Fred Wilson?
13.2 Describe the different ceramic methods and
Ceramics are objects that are formed out of clay and then hardened by firing in a very hot oven called a kiln. Ceramic objects
can be formed in a few different ways: slab construction, coiling,
and throwing on a potterâ€™s wheel. How does a ceramic artist use
slip? What distinguishes earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain?
13.3 Outline some ways in which glass has become
an artistic medium.
Around the first century bce, glassblowing techniques were
developed, turning glass into a major industry. In this process,
the glassblower dips the end of a pipe into molten glass and
then blows through the pipe to produce a bubble, which is then
shaped and cut. How is stained glass made? What role has Dale
Chihuly played in redefining the medium of glass today?
13.4 Describe some of the different uses of fiber in
Weaving is a technique for constructing fabrics in which vertical
threads (the warp) are interlaced with horizontal threads (the weft,
or woof). The warp threads are held tightly on a frame, and the
weft threads are continuously pulled above and below. What
distinguishes a tapestry? What defines the technique of embroidery? What are rumals? What is a quilt? Describe some of the
ways that contemporary artists have extended the use of fiber
into more sculptural forms and installations.
13.5 Explain why gold has been a favored material
since ancient times.
Perhaps the most durable of all craft media is metal. Of all
metals, gold is the easiest to work. It is relatively soft, occurs
in an almost pure state, and has consequently, since ancient
times, been linked with royalty. How does repoussÃ© differ from
embossing? What features of the Oxus treasure would point to it
coming from a royal hoard? How did Chris Burden transform the
functional street lamp into a work of art?
13.6 Describe the uses and limitations of wood as
an art material.
Because it is so easy to carve, and because it is so widely
available, artisans have favored wood as a medium throughout
history. Yet because it is organic, wood is also extremely fragile,
and few wood artifacts survive from ancient cultures. It remains,
however, one of the most preferred media for furniture, where it
can be carved to artistic effect.
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