14 February – 6 March 2020

TUTOR Simon Buckley
DAY Friday 10:30am – 12:30pm
DATES 14 February – 6 March (4 weeks)
LOCATION Art Studios

An introduction to looking at contemporary art.

Have you ever gone to a contemporary art gallery and thought “I don’t get it”, “How is this art?”, “My 3 year old niece could have made that”, “It’s worth how much!?”. If so, trust me, you’re not alone. This introductory course to interpreting contemporary art will explore why so many of us are left asking these kinds questions, and furthermore why it’s not always our failing that we’ve been left wondering such things! The course will be comprised of three sessions, each taking as a focus: the artist, the artwork and the viewer respectively. Through case studies, games, challenges, discussions and sneaky tricks, we will examine our preconceptions and expectations of each of these areas. Together we will work towards understanding better why so much contemporary art leaves so many of us feeling a little bit left out, and what we can do about this before our next visit to a gallery!

Session one: The Artist (What were they thinking)

In this first session we will explore why we think artist make artwork. What is it that motivates them? What are they trying to achieve by making the things they make? Fame? Expressing internal suffering? Vanity? Hunger? Through case studies, discussion, games and challenges, we will explore the conceptual and practical realities of what it is involved in being a professional contemporary artist in 2019. With a focus on contemporary artists who make reference to Art History (The Chapman Brothers, Ryan Gander), we will discuss ideas such as motivation, intention, expression and technique, and see how the realities tally with our expectations!

Featured theorists: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Fish, Kendall Walton, Stacy Friend

Learning objectives:

• Establish what our folkloric conception of what artistry constitutes
• Unpack terminology such as ‘what does it mean’, ‘I don’t get it’
• Highlight the often rather romantic and dated understanding of artistic expression that remains dominant, that we’re trying to access the artists intentions via the object they’ve presented us with
• Discuss the perils of this model. What if we cannot access the artists intentions? What if we disagree with them? What if the artist was not aware of their own intentions? What if the artist is trying to deceive us, or is just perhaps not very good?
• Conclude that a better model is required. We cannot try to understand contemporary art by trying to understand what the artist was trying to do or think when making the work

Session two: The Artwork (I didn’t read the gallery notes and now I don’t understand)

In this session we will move on to the art object. What do we really think this object before us up to? Through close analysis of several real-life on-site artworks, we will try to unpick what these objects are doing to us. Is it a signifier, a vehicle to understanding the artist’s intentions? If so, can we think of it as a signpost of sorts, providing us with clues on how to understand it? In the case of ‘conceptual art’, does the object point towards the ideas it represents, again acting as a guide of sorts to the real meaning and value? If either of these routes are the case, then does this mean the object before us is somewhat secondary? Does this seem right? Can we develop a model of interpretation where ‘it means what it looks like and it looks like what it means’?

Featured theorists: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Stanley Fish

Learning Objectives:

• Show that any model of interpretation (including the dominant folkloric ones perpetuated by the mainstream media) always posit the art object as secondary.

• Show that a Wittgenstinian position is a better method of approach, one that champions the primacy of the art object, that the thing itself (and not what it might refer or point to) should be our origin of meaning.

• Stress that this is also the position that the artist will have assumed when making the work – that they expect their viewers not to try and decode their clues as such, but rather to take their offering as an interpretive springboard. It’s over to us, the viewer!

Session three: The viewer (wait that’s me, but I already told you, I didn’t read the notes)

In session three we will explore our own role within the interpretive process. If the artist has created their work with the expectation that we will ‘complete it’ in some way, then how might we go about doing this? Through case studies, discussions and games, we will explore soft, moderate and radical constructivist approaches to interpretation, testing the limits of where our roles and responsibilities could and should begin and end, and the repercussions for the artist and the artworks!

Theorists featured: Roland Barthes & Stanley Fish

Learning Objectives:

• Outline soft, moderate and radical constructivism
• Discuss reader-response theories of active interpretation
• Discuss inappropriate interpretation
• Discuss the death of the author
• Demonstrate that a moderate constructivist approach will be the most empowering route to carry forward for future visits to contemporary art galleries

The Empire Strikes Back (and fails)

Your Tutor:
Simon Buckley is an artist and writer living and working in Glasgow. After gaining a PG-Dip in Analytic Philosophy from Bristol University in 2011, Simon moved to Scotland to study for an MFA at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA). Since graduating in 2013 he has worked extensively as an artist and writer for a wide range of artistic and academic institutions. In 2020 Simon will begin his doctoral studies at GSA and Glasgow University.


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