Thursday, 18 August 2011

UnMasterclass 34

UnMasterclass re-watched Jean Luc Godard's Bande à part this week, primarily to view one iconic scene. To kill some time, before a gun fuelled robbery (Godard famously built the film upon D W Griffith's maxim that 'all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun) the 3 protagonists drive around Paris. They pull up on the opposite side of The Seine to the Louvre. We learn that currently there is a record of 9 minutes and 45 seconds to view all the paintings inside the museum, set by an America. The camera cuts to a joyful chaos of skidding and sliding as Odile, Arthur and Franz charge past and ignore the sculptures and paintings. They break the record by 15 seconds. In a misguided attempt at homage Bernardo Bertolucci trimmed an additional 2 seconds off the record in his 2003 film The Dreamers. Of course in terms of UnMasterclass we find this to be of great interest. The spectacle of the chase is a precursor in many ways to the spectacle architecture of the last 20 years. In short many people now visit galleries for reasons other than to take in and appreciate art. In Godard's film the protagonists disturb pockets of people sitting and standing in front of the masterpieces on the wall. Tellingly in Bertolucci the pockets of people have thinned down to only a handful of people that are seen throughout the filmed chase. Everyone would have been drawn to the spectacle of the caged Mona Lisa in the 40 years between the 2 films, leaving the rest of the galleries emptier. In a most telling comparison between the 2 in one particular part of the chase we can see what may (or may not) have changed about the way we engage with paintings in our galleries. The first shot of Godard's chase has a panning camera follow the 3 hand holding young Parisians until it comes to rest on Jacques-Louis David's The Oath of the Horatii between the Hands of their Father. This is repeated in Bertolucci's version (minus a bench full of people). However in Godard's version a black-suited visitor walks into frame engrossed in viewing the painting, whilst in the later version a white suited man also enters the scene to the left, but crucially he walks vacantly past. The contemporary version has a more light hearted approach to viewing and appreciated art, as well as a lighter coloured suit. In short we return again to our recurring theme of UnMasterclass, resist the spectacle, the brevity, the speedy chase through the gallery and take time to view and ponder the art. Then take this learning and thought to making art. Or choose not to learn and take the speedy route, the UnMasterclass way that we practice but do not preach. This weeks painting of George Caleb Bingham's Fur traders Descending the Missouri comes in at a super speedy 7 minutes and 35 seconds and is viewable here

Thursday, 11 August 2011

UnMasterclass 33

Thomas Struth did the unthinkable during his education and leave the tutelage of Gerhard Richter to pursue his increasing focus from painting towards photography.  Last week UnMasterclass left the headquarters to visit his extraordinary exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery. It is well documented that he has retained his initial training in painting in his approach to photography, that is seen across the range of his oeuvre. However UnMasterclass was particularly interested in seeing his series of audiences viewing paintings in art museums, in our opinion his masterpiece series. In this apparently simple premise a camera is set up within iconic art galleries around the world (Museo del Prado, Louvre, Art Insitute of Chicargo) to observe people viewing paintings. The initial idea of the work from Struth's perspective was to place the camera within the paintings position so the painting (camera) looks back at the people viewing it. This was finally realised in Florence, albeit with an über-sculpture in the form of Michelangelo's David. However for the purposes of UnMasterclass the paintings are naturally of more interest. Here becomes a conundrum for us, as it clearly shows people viewing paintings, in the flesh in galleries (in the main with awe, rapture and concentration, albeit some show people with mobile phone camera or audio guide poised). So the position of UnMasterclass is question by the photography, people are clearly paying attention to paintings, and clearly it is important for people to see paintings first hand. Struth's photographs reveal this, in a form that takes the argument of Benjamin's age of mechanical reproduction to an interesting crossroads. Here the spectacle and uniqueness of painting is brought to the fore by the mastery of Struth and his camera, which in turn is reproducing not only the audiences in galleries, but the masterpieces of Valasquez, Delacroix and Gericault as well. So the gallery audience viewing Struth's photographs, sees another audience viewing the original paintings. In short the visitor to Struth's exhibition sees the paintings in reproduction through his photographs, the painting is still arguably the star of the show (after all without them, Struth has no subject), but the painting is spectacle and sidelined by the audiences relationship to it. The mobile phones and audio guides seen in some of the photographs give a deeper indication of our contemporary relationship to these paintings. We want to show others that we were there, that we have seen them, without the job of contemplation. The spectacle and star of the paintings does not allow this anyway, the crowds bar attention and focus over time with a painting and so we come back to UnMasterclass.We see these master paintings increasingly through reproductions, Struth or otherwise, and when we do get the opportunity to see them then we do not have the time to study them as painters to learn from them, the bustle of the crowd seeing the blockbuster puts barriers up to this experience. So find a quiet corner of the gallery away from the big hitters and learn from a lesser known master, or look to UnMasterclass and learn through what we do wrong. This weeks episode is online here

Thursday, 4 August 2011

UnMasterclass 32

In contemporary life we often look to films for life guidance on how to live, dress, behave, aspire or want to be. Science fiction films often provoke debates over what filmmakers perceptions of how the future will be, may actually come to pass.  The Matrix is an example of a film that has sparked much debate. The eminent and popular Slavoj Zizek even devoted an article to it in the Philosophy Today journal, beginning his text by saying he first watch the film sat next to the ideal viewer of the film….an idiot! He goes on to discuss, both the influences on the film and how different people have read these influences, “My Lacanian friends are telling me that the authors must have read Lacan; the Frankfurt School partisans see in the Matrix the extrapolated embodiment of Kulturindustrie, the alienated-reified social Substance (of the Capital) directly taking over, colonizing our inner life itself, using us as the source of energy; New Agers see in the source of speculations on how our world is just a mirage generated by a global Mind embodied inthe World Wide Web.” We know through discussions and through Zizek’s observations that the film can be read in different ways by different people, a common enough trait for cinema, and science fiction films in particular. Here at UnMasterclass we are much taken with one particular notion brought up in The Matrix, that of accelerated learning, Neo learns kung fu in seconds, we would request to think like Zizek or paint like Rembrant. And here we finally get to our point this week. All too often we believe aspiring painters want to produce masterpieces straight away, to get the metaphorical plug-in-master-painter-accessory, just like Neo ‘learns’ kung fu learnt with no learning. Of course at the moment we cannot acquire new skills in this way, so we suggest if you want to paint then you go out and learn how to do it the old fashioned way, lots of time in the studio testing and trying and lots of time in the galleries looking and learning from past masters. If you try the Neo way or the UnMasterclass way you are doomed towards failure. So if you want to unlearn painting tune in the latest example of it online here at or learn the old fashioned way in the studio and gallery.