Modernist Painting by Clement Greenberg

Posted on by Ben Hodson

When looking at the subject of modernism you cannot ignore the seminal work “Modernist Painting” by Clement Greenberg. Throughout my education I have read the essay severl times and have only just started to understand the importance of the work. 

Greenberg was an important art writer and defender of modernism, he established the notion of a painting being a two dimensional, flat surface with which the creator interacts to make an object in its own right. He argues “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticise the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Greenberg C.  In basic terms a painting being a painting, not what it depicts. “Painting” itself becomes the subject of the work and a synthesis between content and form.  The further you push this idea, you ultimately end up with the painting becoming an autonomous object.  Although it has a relationship with the real world - what it depicts is essentially a lie. 

Writer: JG Ballard

Posted on by Ben Hodson

“I suspect that many of the great cultural shifts that prepare the way for political change are largely aesthetic.” (JG Ballard, 2004) argued the British novelist James Ballard.  I have been researching in the with the assumption that this statement is true, namely that art is an important forerunner to social and political change.


If Ballard's statement is true; public opinion is a catalyst to political and social change.  This would certainly seem to be the case in democratically based governments.  The former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago suggested that; "Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion." (Eric Eustace Williams 1938). 

Book Non-Places by Marc Augé

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In doing some more research into space, place and location I was recommended by a tutor to read the peice by Marc Augé 'Non-Places'. It introduces the idea of spaces that aren't destinations, spaces where people travel through and not too. This concept interests me, as a lot of the work I have been doing involves the notions of space and destination.

Augé talks of spaces such as hotel rooms, bus stops, train stations even hallways.  Places where we tend not to think too much about, rather pass by.

In my own practice this relevant to my desire to understand if it is the space I am interested or the narrative in which the space reveals.  Choosing 'non-spaces' as a subject would certainly force me to refine my intentions and better understand what it is I am trying to get out of the work.

I found the book engaging, some of the language was heavy, but the basic concept was explained well.  It did leave some further questions in my mind about the ownership of these spaces, which feeds a litle into some of the work that has been presented to us in the "politics of space".

Writer: Susan Sontag & war photography

Posted on by Ben Hodson

War photography is clearly something that draws the public’s attention to the reality of the world around them.  The writer Susan Sontag suggests that there is now “ war without photography” (Susan Sontag 1977).  As Sontag compared photography to previous forms of art, she suggested that along with the invention of photography came a greater level of “sanctity” to the imagery.  The images were suddenly connected closely to truth.  In terms of documenting war it was now no longer created by the imagination of the artist such as in Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War).  My initial assumption was that we could see in a direct and quantifiable way the dramatic effect of a single photograph on the course of a war. 

After exploring two of the most likely images to fit this description from the Vietnam War, this assumption appears not to be totally correct.  I found that there are too many other factors which contributed to these changes.  I would therefore suggest that an image can contribute to a change in the course of human history. However, it cannot solely cause a dramatic permutation without other major factors influencing this change.  The problem with this research is that it mainly comes from secondary sources and it remains impossible to find recorded text which is objective.  War, (especially where the USA or the UK are involved), has the tendency to produce strong opinions.  Not being alive at the time of the Vietnam War has made it hard to know how well the history books had recorded all the information that would be relevant for my line of enquiry.  

Artist: Martha Rosler

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The artist Martha Rosler states in her important essay; In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography): “Documentary photography has come to represent the social conscience of liberal sensibility presented in visual imagery” (Martha Rosler 1981).  This direct connection between documentary photography and the public “conscience” seems most evident in war photography.  As war is one of the most devastating and media consuming of news events, it is therefore one of the best genres of photography to see what impact it has.

Malcolm Miles

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In Malcolm Miles’ PHD thesis Art & Social transformation he argues that art practice should work within the crevices of the dominant society “...insert[ing] its realisations and images like the strains of a virus into the wider society, allowing them to grow as they will. In this incremental approach power becomes de-centred” (Miles, Malcolm. 2000).  This idea of infecting society like a virus appears to be one of the conclusions he draws from his research as one of the ways art practice and theory can change society for the better.  Miles who is the professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Plymouth, writes books and papers linking society to contemporary art and urban change. Miles suggests that “artists, like all citizens, have three choices: to be complicit in the dominant society (as artists serving the art market's needs for commodities, or providing embellishment for urban development); to resist, as through direct action; or to work within the crevices of the dominant society” (Miles, Malcolm. 2000)  His research deconstructed a number of non-gallery based arts initiatives which directly tried to have positive influence on social and environmental issues.  The conclusions he drew from these examples showed how art (in its widest context) has given way to direct positive influence on society even in the last three decades.