Exercise: A symbol for the present

I gave a lot of thought to this exercise, what message did I want to convey? How would I get that message across and who to commission to do it?

I wanted to choose as a symbol for the present something that represented the fragility of our planet and the effect we are having on this.

With the recent report that scientists are 95% certain that humans are responsible for the recent phenomenon of global warming I thought that I would like an image that could cause questioning and debate.

I decided that a melting glacier would be a good symbol for our time. Glaciers do melt when they meet the sea so it is a perfectly natural process, but is this happening more rapidly as a result of human activities?

When considering who to commission to do this work I immediately considered the photographer Sebastiao Salgado. I am a big fan of his work ever since I first saw his black and white photos at an exhibition. I had recently seen his exhibition at the Natural History Museum and thought that he would be ideal for the commission. It would be ideal if the photo also contained wildlife to emphasise the interaction of animals and their environment.

A little like the following photo


It was interesting to do this exercise, it makes you really think of how to convey a message or emotion in a single image. This is not easy to do! I took me a lot of time to think through what I wanted to convey and then how to do so – but well worth the effort!


Research Point: Research an aspect of British art from the past 30 years

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA)

I have chosen to look in more detail at the SCVA as the art gallery nearest to me but also for the interesting way in which art is displayed there. It is a little over 30 years old now, but more recent extensions to the gallery space bring it well within the time frame.

The following points are taken from the SCVA website:

  • SCVA is part of the University of East Anglia (UEA)
  • It is one of around a hundred university museums in the UK regularly open to the public
  • Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury donated their collection of World art to UEA in 1973
  • SCVA was the first major public building to be designed by Sir Norman Foster in 1978
  •   It was extended in 1991 with a partially underground crescent wing to house temporary exhibition areas
  • A further extension was completed in 2006 to link the 1978 1nd 1991 buildings
  • It houses the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions as well as a café, restaurant, UEA School of World Art Studies and Museology, Library and two mezzanines for study areas and further exhibition space.

The permanent collection is displayed in the main part of the 1978 building which has a vast, cavernous interior. It is all housed in one area (no going from room to room) and the height of the ceiling is enormous. This gives a very light and airy feel to the inside and the exhibits could feel dwarfed within the building – but they don’t. A lot of thought has obviously been given to their display. It is very much a collection of world art spanning both continents and ages;

  • A ceramic Egyptian hippopotamus from 1880BC
  • A 15th century Peruvian silver llama
  • An 18th/19th century wood carving from the Cook Islands
  • 19th century bronze sculpture by Degas
  • Sculptures by Henry Moore
  • Portraits by Francis Bacon

Writing in the Financial Times, Jackie Wullschlager talks about the permanent collection “Housed in Norman Foster’s luminous, hangar-like building, opened in 1978, the diversity of the 300 pieces, from indigenous to recent paintings and sculptures, and the unifying display emphasising the power of human imagination across millennia, transformed ideas of art, collecting, and the purpose and organisation of museums”.

In addition to the permanent collection on display there are regular temporary exhibitions. Currently there is an Art Nouveau exhibition in the mezzanine gallery. This too feels light and airy because of the size of the building (despite being much nearer the roof!).

The more recent temporary exhibition areas are partially underground and have a very different feel to them. Most of the areas have no natural light and ceiling heights are much lower. Despite this, however, the galleries don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic. There is nothing to detract from the work on display as there is no element of the building to be seen.

There have been some great temporary exhibitions in these galleries, the current one being Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia.

Visit a public square

Hay Hill , Norwich.

The sculptures in Hay Hill, Norwich had always seemed to me somewhat incongruous. In an open square in the centre of the City’s main shopping area was a very large brain carved from marble, a large block of marble with an eye carved in relief and several sets of granite with inscriptions. At the top of the square was a traditional sculpture, on a tall plinth, of Sir Thomas Browne.

I am so pleased that I chose this square to investigate as I am now fascinated by the results of my research.

Sir Thomas Browne was a physician, philosopher and writer who lived in Norwich from 1636 to 1682. The site of the house where he once lived and the church where he is buried are at opposite ends of the square in Hay Hill. The traditional statue located at the western end of the square was made by Henry Pegram in 1905 for the 300th anniversary of Browne’s birth.

What I had thought were random pieces of sculpture by the statue were in fact a “Homage to Thomas Browne” created by Anne and Patrick Poirier.

The large marble brain and sculpted eye refer to Browne’s approach to philosophy, religion and science. In addition to this there are 5 polished granite seats, 6 granite stools, 2 granite benches, 3 granite tables and 2 granite ‘beans’. Some are polished and shiny whereas others are rough and matt. A number of them are inscribed with quotes from Sir Thomas Browne’s works.

They are all arranged in a pattern known as a ‘quincunx’, a five pointed diamond shape that Browne believed existed throughout nature.

An explanatory booklet about the sculptures has been produced by Norwich City Council


According to this booklet the Poirier’s concept was for “a ‘salon’ or room, defined by light, a new spirit
and a place to dream, a place that changes in character by day and by night, is ethereal but also comfortable, stimulating and restful, with stone ‘furniture’ for the use of those who may pass by and stop”.

I find this idea fascinating – it has achieved its objective in that people sit, rest, drink and eat throughout the day using the sculptures as tables or chairs. Although I’m not too sure how many of them appreciate the link between what they are sitting on and Sir Thomas Browne!

I think that it is excellent that the sculptors set out to achieve such an interaction with the public, inviting them to sit on their work and eat off their tables.

I am really pleased to have chosen this square to research – I got so much more out of the exercise than if I had been to, say, Trafalgar Square in London.

m_IMG_2190 m_IMG_2191 m_IMG_2192 m_IMG_2193 m_IMG_2194 m_IMG_2195 m_IMG_2196 m_IMG_2197 m_IMG_2198 m_IMG_2199 m_IMG_2200

Annotate an abstract work

For this exercise I chose to annotate a painting by Mark Rothko.

I found this a really difficult exercise. Up to now the paintings I have annotated have been a representation of something and comment can be made on how well this has been undertaken, how realistic it is, the lighting and the choice of subject.

For the first time I was trying to annotate something that had no title (or none that gave any clue as to the meaning of the painting), was not trying to represent anything tangible buy was instead conveying a message of emotions.

I was at a disadvantage from the start, I think to annotate a Rothko painting then you need to experience the original at first hand. I had booked a trip to London to do just that at the Tate Modern. However due to family illness the trip was cancelled and I had to use a photograph from a book. This is, I think, hard enough with representational paintings. With abstract expressionism it made a difficult task near impossible.

I will make the trip to the Tate Modern when I next have the opportunity. It will be interesting to see if my views on annotating a Rothko painting change as a result!

The annotation is here Rothko – No Photo


Abstract Sculptors

I decided to look in a bit more detail at the work of Henry Moore. There is a wonderful portrait of him by John Hedgecoe at


From Grove Art Online

“Generally acknowledged as the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, he took the human figure as his central subject-matter throughout his career.”

One of the first sources I found when researching this piece was from the BBC Archive. It is a television programme from 1951and is a fascinating study of Moore’s work and views up to that point.


What I liked straight away on the web page was the quotation from Moore at the top:

 “Art is the expression of imagination and not the imitation of life.”

Other programmes are also available in the archive including a two part documentary from 1998 marking the centenary of his birth.



I went to study some of Moore’s work at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and will annotate them in due course.

m_IMG_2159 m_IMG_2163 m_IMG_2160 m_IMG_2182 m_IMG_2165 m_IMG_2173

There are also some smaller figures of his inside the Centre.

I found it interesting to study these sculptures, walking around them and viewing from different angles gave a different insight. The figure in two parts was intriguing in that from some angles it was obviously two different parts to the sculpture, but from certtain angles viewed from either end it appeared to be a single piece.

Exercise: Reflecting on abstract expressionism

To what extent does a concern with elemental humanity represent a reaction to the cataclysmic events of 1939-45?

 The events of 1939-45 are bound to have an effect on the artists practicing in the period immediately following the 2nd world war. Indeed not just those events but also those of the first world war. Prior to that time artists like the Vorticists, futurists and suprematists were preoccupied with the power of machines and the ability of man to take control of his future.

The events and destruction of 2 world wars in just over 30 years must have affected all western artists of the time. That could be those living in the parts of the world directly affected by conflict or the other parts of the world, not directly affected, but who witnessed the destruction from afar. Or those who were displaced to another country because of the conflict.

Barnett Newman wrote that the war “has robbed us of our hidden terror, as terror can only exist if the forces of tragedy are unknown. We now know the terror to expect. Hiroshima showed it to us.”

How individual artists reacted to the events of 1939-45 will vary according to the artist concerned. No one can really doubt the concern expressed by Picasso in his response to events in Guernica. For other artists the expression of such concern may not be as obvious.


Does it matter if viewers of art works ‘miss the point’ provided that they take something from it?

If the viewer’s do ‘miss the point’ then does this represent a failure on the part of the artist?If the painting does not convey what the artist intended can it be a successful work of art? Is it a masterpiece if viewers take away a feeling, emotion or viewpoint entirely opposite to that the artist was trying to convey? If viewers appreciate a painting and are enriched by having seen it then maybe that can be regarded as successful even if it is not the same as the artist’s intention.


Is it possible to make a formal analysis of such work?

I think it is very difficult to formally analyse these works, I found this to be the case when I tried to annotate a painting by Rothko. If the artist says “if you ….. are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point” then this surely makes a formal analysis futile as it does not unearth anything the artist was trying to convey. Perhaps people should just respond to such paintings rather than analyse them.


Clement Greenberg’s assertion.

Greenberg wrote ‘Realist, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art. Modernism used art to call attention to art. Greenberg seems to think that representational art, e.g. paintings by the old masters, was not true art but merely failed attempts to represent 3 dimensional scenes in 2 dimensions. This, he did not think, was true art, whereas modernism recognised the limits of 2 dimensions and built upon them.

I think that it is somewhat ridiculous to condemn several hundred years of realistic art as somehow concealing true art. While much would depend on what your own definition of what art is, to maintain that any particular style is right or wrong is to deny other people’s views on art or beauty. Gombrich says there is no such thing as art, there are only artists. I we stick to this belief then we can make our own judgements of what we believeto be good or valuable art irrespective of style or tradition.


Describing the works of the later artists, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and others, the critic Andrew Graham-Dixon describes them as “a new kind of American artist: not a priest or a self-proclaimed hero, as the Abstract Expressionists had been”.

Exercise: Finding Affinities

This was a good exercise which I found enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. Enjoyable because it was great fun considering all the works of art that I could include in the house. Frustrating because I would find really interesting paintings to hang in a bedroom, only to then find that they were 12ft by 10ft!

I learnt a lot about a period that saw a huge progression and change in art in just 40 years. I am also now just a little more aware of the sort of issues that need to be considered when trying to put together a coherent collection of works of art.

As part of my research for this project I visited the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts’ exhibition The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from nature to Abstraction. I’m really pleased that I made the trip as it is an excellent exhibition (I have more on this in my hard copy learning log) and I learnt a lot about art nouveau. Thanks to the visit I’ve been able to include in this exercise ceramics, furniture and glassware, whereas prior to seeing the exhibition I may only have thought of including paintings and perhaps a couple of sculptures.

A copy of my report is attached, photos of the art works have been removed for copyright purposes.

Exercise Affinities Write Up No Photos

Exercise: Exploring Modern Art

A couple of years ago we had a trip to Venice and visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. At the time it was showing an exhibition of the Vorticists


I had never heard of them before nor of most of the artists who were part of it. Though I do remember seeing the Jacob Epstein “Rock Drill” exhibit which I found very disturbing.

I hadn’t thought to find out more about the movement (this was at a time prior to taking this course so I usually just looked at paintings rather than studied them!) However this exercise provided the ideal opportunity for me to explore in a lot more depth what the Vorticists were trying to achieve.

Attached is a copy of my report, photos have been removed for copyright purposes. Vorticism

This has been a good exercise for me, as well as finding out more about this particular movement, in doing so I learnt more about other, related movements such as orphism and futurism. I think this has helped my understanding of cubism in particular and modern art generally.

As part of this exercise I annotated the sculpture ‘Rock Drill’ by Jacob Epstein Jacob Epstein Rock Drill

Assignment 2 Feedback

The feedback from my tutor on the second assignment was generally good. The two main areas for development, I think, are to develop my own comments in the annotations of paintings and to use this blog more for reflecting my learning and development and not just as a repository for the exercises.

I will try to add more on what I learned from doing each of the exercises rather than simply posting them here.

Annotate a Realist Image

Attached is an annotation of the painting by Edouard Manet Music in the Tuileries Gardens

The photo has been removed for copyright purposes. A copy of the image can be seen here