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After Modernism – Week 2

Pop Art & Consumerism 

This second week focused on pop art, we looked at these main areas;

  • pop art / consumerism
  • money & taste
  • Commodities – food – shopping
  • Gender

Linking back to last week we started by looking at similarities and differences between pop art and abstraction, looking at a painting by Kenneth Noland, Cliff, 1961-2 and Jasper Johns, target with plaster casts, 1955 we were able to compare the styles. The colours used and the fact that there was concentric circles in both were clear similarity between the two paintings. However, through discussion John’s painting of the target could actually be a target wheres as Noland is purely optical cannot be anything else. Furthermore, we compared Roy Lichtenstein and William de Kooning, while both painting held the vivid yellow colour Lichtenstein brushstroke is made from different marks which cannot be seen and look as if it should belong in a comic strip whereas Kooning work is abstract but you can clearly see the paintbrush stroke.

Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke, 1965. Available at: (Accessed: 31st January 2019)
Willam de Kooning, Door to the River,1960. Available at: (Accessed:31st January 2019)

From this is seems that Pop Art paintings point to things that are outside the boundaries of the canvas, Lichtenstein to comics, Defrene to the city and Johns to the arcade. This goes against GreenBergs theory that we looked at last week as he says it only should matter to whats contained within the rectangle.

One of the text we read this week was by Lawrence Alloway, who’s argument although written in 1961 is still current today. Alloway talks about the Taste Pyramid which highlights popularity of likes, for example he used Picasso at the top while Elvis is at the bottom. The pyramid hold status, the higher up our like is on the pyramid the most stars you hold. Art work would be nearer the top of the pyramid we discussed because if Picasso is at the top (in this example) then you must have a knowledge about it, as anybody can like art. Furthermore, art isn’t as accessible to people therefore it’s going to higher up. However, he thinks that the taste pyramid ‘smears people’ as you can have various likes and it ranks people by the artefacts they like leaving people to be ashamed if their likes are lower down. Alloway suggests a continuum where everything is equal and there are different path ways to get to each different thing. This leaves people to move around freely without being ranked on status. We also discussed the idea of cultural capital which states that the assets you own also give social status including abilities and possessions.

Later on in the lecture we discussed what makes a commodity a commodity, we used this simple formula to explain: A commodity = material + human labour + market. Therefore an artefact that has no market cannot be a commodity. This lead forward to discussions around food and shopping, where we looked a a text by Oldenburg. His attitude to America culture is good, he states that everything is equal in his eyes. This lead us to question does that mean everything is good even acts that are socially consider good. Oldenburg doesn’t have a taste pyramid, a sweet wrapper is equal in status to a painting according to him.

Finally we discussed gender within Pop Art, it is key to some pop artist but not all. Looking at Pauline Both, It’s a man’s world 2. 1965-66 we discussed the idea of what the contrast between the two different panels could suggest. Central panned could suggest what a man’s desire is of the world and the background behind is what the world really looks like. However during the discussion the idea that the central figure in the panel is somebody trying to escape the the sexual exceptions that society has for her, the other two panels represent where she trying to escape too.

Furthermore, we discussed how pop art challenges Greenberg’s theory, it challenges it in two different ways mainly:

  1. By incorporating mediated imagery- the more mediated the better rather than trying to discover an immediate image through the process of painting.
  2. Overturn the divide between high and low status and art.

After Modernism – Week 1

Abstract Expressionism & Clement Greenberg

We looked at Abstract Expressionism in this first week, the seminar/lecture focused on 3 different parts;

  1. The roots of abstract expressionism
  2. 3 different forms of abstract expressionism; Ideogram, Action Painting and Colour Field painting.
  3. Clement Greenberg’s modernism.

In order to understand the roots of abstract expressionism we looked at an image from Ad Reinhardt, How to look at modern art in America, 1961. In the image uses the metaphor of a tree to describe how modernism developed from traditional French painting and gained an American style. Cubism and Surrealism played a critical part in the development of Abstract Expressionism. I found this part very interesting as I hadn’t previously looked abstract expressionism but I had looked into cubism so it was interesting to see how the style had developed from this. The main elements from Cubism (Fragmentation of forms, politics, engagement with the outside word, line and plane & flatness/volume) and Surrealism (automatism, hidden imagery, engagement with internal world/desirecan clearly been seen in combination within abstract expressionist’s work.

We then looked a what an ideogram was, this is a painting that suggests the idea of an object without expressing it’s name. We looked at Bradley Walker Tomlin,Numer 20, 1949. The colour played a huge part in this as it suggests urban as these colours after often seen in that setting. Even though the shapes look conventional they are actually entirely of the artist own invention. Action Painting was another form of abstract expressionism according to Harold Rosenburg:

“At a certain moment in the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than as a space in which to reproduce…what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event”

This had never occurred to me before and after hearing this I was able to clearly see this within this style of working. It was like every aspect of the canvas was the same, treated equally. Colour Field painting was the third form we looked at and this was simply when their are different blocks of colour painted onto the canvas. In a piece by Barrent Newman there was a sense of depth that one minute you felt you were looking through a gap in trees then the next you were looking at a gap in-between two buildings.

The seminar text this week was Modernist Painting by Clement Greenberg.His theory argues that Kant was the first modernist because Kant used philosophy to investigate philosophy, modernist use art to investigate art. This idea that Kant was being self critical is the same as Greenberg claims modernist art is self critical, painting must convey the definition of painting. There are three things that according to Greenberg are important “the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of pigment” these qualities make a painting a painting. To Greenberg the artist doesn’t have an responsibility to society they only hold responsibility to the painting, whats happening within that rectangle. The evolution of modernist paintings according to Greenberg is that with each generation something is removed from the previous work. This has worked all the way down to the point of having a canvas with one monochrome painted onto it.

“Ever so Manu factors thought to be essential to the making and experience of art have been shown not to be so by modernist art has been able to dispense with them and yet continue to provide the experience of art in all it’s essentials” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, 1960.

Greenberg believes that this process of each generation removing elements of the previous elements work can happen indefinitely.  However, we had a discussion around the idea of does it become a point then when you are simply hanging a unprimed canvas on a wall? This was a interesting discussion as it made me think about whether paintings are actually painting or do they fall under another category of art. Finally we looked at why Greenberg didn’t agree with the work of Duchamp, Greenberg’s reasons were:

  • use of humour
  • lack of serious behaviour towards his artwork
  • intellectualism/pseudo intellectualism
  • not self contained
  • inclassifiability of outcomes.

Furthermore, from reading his text I found that Greenberg felt that it was important to consider how each artwork is made, different disciplines develop differently for example, Cinema film is different to video. He also said that modernist can use objects and it doesn’t have to be abstracted which I think is very important to remember as people often think that it must be abstracted work without a hit of objects influencing an outcome.

Week 5 – The Power of Objects

Should designers consider the wider impact of the toys they design, or not?

Everything that any designer creates has an impact on the world, a designer has the power to shape the world through their outcome which is a power that should be considered in every step of the process. Toy designers are designing for children many who are yet understand the world around them. Designer need to consider the social impact that the toys they design might have on a child. According to Barthes children are considered ‘nothing but a smaller man, a homunculus to whom must be supplied objets of his own size’ therefore the toys are just adult objects resized for children. This could be considered as preparing children for the ideals that society expect children to grow up to do, for example, a doll could be considered to ‘condition her to her future role as a mother’. This is bound to have an impact on how a child might feel obligated to complete this tasks when older.

A designers job involves a great deal of creativity and imagination however do they need to consider how toys impact a child’s creativity. Sommerville stated, that a study conducted where children toys were removed from a classroom for three months, “by the end of the third month they [children] were engaged in wildly imaginative play”. It can be inferred that children’s educational toys limit their ability to be creative, it’s a designers job to consider this impact when designing toys, thinking about the wider impact that it could have on their industry in years to come.

Furthermore, designers need to consider are toys actually educational, do they teach children when they are intended to do or do they require adults required to assist. “The educational value only comes from parents interacting with their child” highlights that designers aren’t considering that children cannot be left to complete these tasks. They aren’t considering that this is also have an significant impact on a child’s creative development as they are being told what is what rather than creative their own world with these toys.

Sommerville, M. (2015), Why depriving your kids of toys is a great idea, in The Guardian.
Barthes, R. (1972), Toys in Mythologies, pp. 53-55
Yelland, N. (2014), Can toys really be ‘educational’? Well that depends on the parents, in The Conversation

Barthes Paraphrasing Task

As we looked at the myths that toys present we read Barthes essay on ‘Toys’ then in groups we paraphrased the information. There are key main points that I could see Barthes making throughout the essay;  

  • Miniature adult world
  • They prepare children for the ideals that society expects them to complete when older 
  • Toys limit a child’s creativity and imagination 
  • Shouldn’t be made from man made materials should be natural
  • Children should have the opportunity to create their own world. 


Paraphrasing Group Task 

French Toys are adult products that have been reduced in size to suit the small hands of a child. These toys are should be invented for children to create their own inventions, instead they are made with an agenda, to introduce adult occupations and prepare them for their future roles. They reflect the adult world around children, therefore conditioning them for certain roles such as women being a house wives. Barthes mentions this in reference to dolls that have similar representation functions to that of a baby. In Barthes view children are being pigeonholed before given them the chance to decide what they themselves interpret from the toys. They are sometimes considered a block in a child’s creative development, they prepare them for the adult world without adventure or imagination. Barthes suggests that toys should enable children to be creators of their own play, they should be free to create their own world rather than toys dictating how they play.Chemical materials such as plastic provides a short lasting life of pleasure. Perfection to it’s shape and stuck to its form, removing the child’s ability to move past what they present. To connect with natural materials is to have a natural mind of creativity. To connect with plastic is to gain a plastic mind. 

Constellation – 3 Week Reflection

Throughout the course of constellation so far I have begun to understand more about the concepts that we discuss and I can see how they link to the theme of myth making in Art and Design. However, I have also experienced a few low points during my first few weeks I particularly struggled with the second week of learning as I didn’t understand the reading. I find that the pressure of reading within the session has been the hardest aspects so far. I find trying to abstract relevant information from the text during the short period of time, is an element of the course that has been difficult for me. 

At the beginning of the first few weeks I felt anxious about starting the module because I wasn’t sure on what the course would entail. As a creative individual the idea of writing for academic purposes scared me and I was worried that I wouldn’t understand the any of the ideas or concepts being discussed. However, currently I am feeling more relaxed about course as I have seen what the course of like and realised that others are in the same situation as myself. I do still feel anxious when I don’t understand a discussion topic within the sessions. 

Over the past couple of weeks I have identified various strengths that have allowed me to cope with the module. I have particular found a strength in being able to speak about my ideas within small groups to discuss ideas this has given me the chance to understand more about others thoughts which has given me the ability to think about alternative viewpoints. There are also areas that I have identified that I need to improve upon, including my reading and understanding of the material each week. I also need to strengthen my ability to discuss in front of the group my thoughts and ideas as currently I do not speak in larger group discussion giving my thoughts. 

As there are some aspects of the course that I haven’t understood throughout the past couple of weeks I need to ask Sarah about these to make sure I have a full understanding of the module as these could benefit me when writing my final paper. Challenges that I am currently facing is mainly with my reading and how under the time constraints we are given I do not have the chance to pull information from the text. I could start reading the text prior to reading during the session as this will provide me with a basic understanding before it starts. This will help me find definitions to words that I don’t understand, which will give me the opportunity to start understanding the material more. Currently I struggle to make links between my own practice and the theory from these session. I feel that this is something that I need more help and discussion on in particular as I would like to have the knowledge about how the theories can be linked to my practice. 

Mapping Objects – Reflection on McLuhan

During the study session we watched an advert about Bells Whiskey, the advert was released in 2016, South Africa, following an elderly man who is determined to learn to read and write. The advert show the gentleman looking longingly into a book shop at a book and over the course of serval months practicing to read and learning the alphabet at every opportunity he had. Eventually the advert ends by the gentleman reading thee book from the store which turns out to be his sons book, and his son looking happy/proud and buying him a bells whiskey to drink. 

We also looked at a piece of writing by McLuhan where he indicates that we are often judged on the products that we used and we are denied a extent of freedom because of the division caused by these products. In the text McLuhan discusses this idea of Whiskey being seen as this product only to be consumed by the upper class, which he says is due to the medias control over how a particular product is perceived. He argues from social change and no matter which class system you are from individuals shouldn’t be classified by the products they use. McLuhan doesn’t mention the idea of wealth which is interesting as it’s suggested that he talking about wealth in another means. 

Interesting it could be perceived that there is a link between the advert and the text.  However, in McLuhan’s text it states that the Whiskey is for individuals who are of a higher class, which during certain decades only people of a higher social status would be literate. Therefore it can be seen that having Whiskey is only for people with the ability to read and write. This is the folklore that the advert could be telling people, when in fact it should be telling that the Whiskey is for everybody no matter the social status they hold. However, the advert can also be highlighting that Whiskey is for celebrating personal victories, as he reaches his personal goal of reading his sons book. 

This ideology could also be linked back to further reading on Barthes and his ideas surrounding art. Barthes believes that art can be perceived differently by each individual depending on culture, upbringing and the time period in which they see it in. For example, an individual might see this as just an advert around celebrating his victories whereas an individual from an older generation might think that its relating to the struggle some people had trying to get equal rights and how this means that individuals who had these rights were seen as privileged and higher within social society. Both Barthes and McLuhan are post-structuralist, hence why they look beyond the initial thoughts and viewpoint that individuals might see when they view or read a piece of work.

I found that this study session was interesting, although I struggled to understand the relationship between the two and how objects can have such a deep effect on our lives. I think that I understand the text better now and by applying them to the context of the advert has helped me to consolidate my learning and understanding of the myth in objects. 


McLuhan, M. The Mechanical Bride, Routledge, 1967, p.v. 
Barthes, R., Plastics in ‘Mythologies’, Vintage, 2009, pp. 97 – 99

Introduction to Mythologies

During the session ‘introduction to the mythologies’ we discussed what mythologies are and how things are perceived. The session on a whole was insightful to myself as I was able to think about how various things are perceived by everybody and how some things might not be viewed in the same manner that they were intended. 

We watched a clip from Nineteen Eighty – Four by George Orwell where we saw how a newspaper controlled what people saw and essentially their viewpoints on the world around them. This linked to an earlier discussion around Plato’s Cave theory where it’s highlighted that individuals are only able to apprehend the world through what they are shown and understand. 

`This weeks reading was written by Roland Barthes who argument was discussed by Drunken Philosophy Podcast where they highlighted that Barthes argued things are perceived differently depending on culture, the time period and significant events happening at the time. 

In the essay ‘Plastics’ Barthes was very contradictory in his thoughts about plastic saying that it was a disgraceful material but compares it to alchemy. I suppose it could be argued that he could be suggesting fear of the unknown due to the historical fears surround alchemy and witchcraft. As he wrote this around 61 years ago we have to consider the implication of that (relating back to the social and political argument highlighted in the podcast). This was an interesting piece of text to read as even though it was written when plastic first came to light it felt very modern to read due to the current impact that plastic is having in our lives. We are able to relate to the text as he states ‘plastics is wholly swallowed up in the fact of being used’ which is reality today as we are all aware of products made from plastic for that sole use. 

The session has made me think about my own practices as it’s shown me that anything I create will be perceived differently depending on either the demographic or an individuals political/ social viewpoints. It has made think how I can develop my practise and what myths currently are being shown through my discipline area. 

Barthes was a post – structuralist, meaning he saw beyond what was being constructed. This made me question where I stand currently, I feel at the present moment, I am more post – structuralist as I notice that I see things in a very different way to others, I currently acknowledge that there are various ways of seeing things which is essentially what a post-structuralist does. 

Barthes, R., Plastics in ‘Mythologies’, Vintage, 2009, pp. 97 – 99

Constellation: An Introduction

As part of the induction week activities, we were given an introduction into Constellation and how it would impact our chosen discipline. Prior to this session I wasn’t clear on what constellation was or how it would benefit my discipline in the long term.

It was described to me like making a cup of tea, without a cup, milk, hot water or tea you cannot make a cup of tea. If the tea is missing then its only a cup of hot watery milk which isn’t a cup of tea. In terms of studying, I am the cup, milk is field, the hot water is subject and the tea is constellation. Without having constellation you will not have the knowledge required, you need all three to help achieve your goal. This analogy was useful as it showed me how all three areas will help one another and overall benefit my discipline.

During the introduction session we were asked to complete a short task where we had to describe and analyse an image. This task gave me an insight into some of the skills I will require to complete constellation. Initially when asked to describe the image I was making inferences about what it could be about, when I needed to simply say what I saw in the image. Next I was asked to analyse the image where we were able to assess what the graphic might be used for and why they had been done in that particular way.

Reflecting on the task it taught me to describe, analyse and critique which I think are skills that I am going to need to complete constellation. This session was really useful in helping me understand constellation and what is expected of me. It also helped me when completing the Constellation 4: Concept task on Moodle as I was able to start understanding thinking about what I could apply to my subject through constellation.