Dan Flavin at the Ikon Gallery



Image By Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France from France [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I had the chance to visit this exhibition when in Birmingham – my first time at this gallery also.

I always used to be “suspicious” of the more contemporary art forms, but undertaking the Level I and 2 History of Art courses has taught me to think more deeply about what is on display rather than rely on stereotypes and assumptions.

Dan Flavin’s work is a good example of how I have learnt to appreciate art. Before doing the courses I would not have given much credence to art that used coloured fluorescent tubes, perhaps would not even have wanted to go to see such an exhibition. Now I am much more open-minded and would want to visit any style of art in order to make my own, informed judgement on it rather than rely on prejudices of my own or others.

I found Flavin’s work interesting – it was using a different light form to achieve its effects. Paintings and photographic prints rely on reflected light whereas Flavin uses both transmitted and reflected light (off wall surfaces) for effect. The predominant effect initially is a strong transmitted light that one encounters when first looking at the work, but then one’s attention is drawn to the reflections of the colours (and interactions of colours) on the walls and support behind the work.

As opposed to say painting or photography, the use of coloured fluorescent tubes could be seen as a limitation on what can be achieved, but Flavin utilises the material to its fullest extent.

To me his work is mainly about pattern (usually geometric) and light – whether soft white light casting an even glow or colour and the interaction of colours.

In these terms I found the work very successful and giving a pleasurable experience – especially as one discovers further patterns of interaction within the work as one studies it (i.e. the whole surrounding space – not just the light tubes themselves).

It is interesting to note that Flavin only used commercially available tubes rather than making or commissioning new ones – it seems very much in the Duchamp “ready-made” tradition.

People have read implied narratives, whether religious or conceptual, into different pieces of Flavin’s work. The artist himself denied any of this existed claiming “it is what it is and it ain’t nothing else”. I admired and enjoyed the effect of Flavin’s work, but struggled to find any implicit meaning in it – in this respect I completely agree with the artist’s sentiment.

Tutor Feedback on Part 5

In general the feedback I received was positive and encouraging. The one area where there was some concern was the exercise on Parson’s Schema. It did not surprise me that some concerns were raised about this as I was rather worried about it when I first submitted it. I found the theory and Parson’s book fascinating, but I had some difficulty with the boundaries between the levels – what sometimes seems clear cut in theory may be very blurred at the edges in practice.

My tutor suggested that I reworked this assignment, which I will do. She gave some very useful guidance on the different stages, so with that and re-reading the book, I should be able to produce a much improved exercise.


Reflections on Part 5

I enjoyed this part of course a great deal. The scope of the work I have covered – Palaeolithic cave paintings to contemporary Canadian photography – is remarkable

I’m really building now on my previous knowledge. I mentioned in my essay on Jeff Wall’s photograph I had studied his work on a previous OCA photography course. The insight this course is giving me on artistic influences is really expanding my ability to “read” images.

I’m trying to read more widely in my research for the exercises (difficult for bucket man by John Davies as there was very little literature on his work) and I do think that my critical skills are developing as the course progresses. I believe that I’m now starting to put much more of my own views into the work rather than simply researching and quoting the works of others. I think that this is illustrated by me annotation on the Rock Painting, before taking this course I doubt that I would have seen much merit in it, but now I can analyse the image better and I am carrying out wider research into the subject.

This is, perhaps, due to the fact that I now have more confidence in the validity of my own views.

Madame de Pompadour by Francois Boucher

François Boucher [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


I saw this at the Wallace Collection and was fortunate in that soon after I had seen it there was a Gallery talk by a member of the Wallace Collection staff on the painting, so I was able to listen to the talk.

What I found interesting about this painting was the way in which Mme Pompadour had used works of art and commissioned paintings to increase her influence at the court. I also discovered the symbolism contained within this painting and what Mme Pompadour hoped to achieve through it.

My notes on the painting are here: Madame de Pompadour

Project 9: Analyse the Response of Others

The Flooded Grave – Jeff Wall


Even though I had studied some of Jeff Wall’s work on a previous OCA photography course and therefore knew something about his work, I learned a great deal more from this exercise.


The first thing I had to do was to find a higher resolution image to study, as the illustration in World History of Art was very small. This made it much easier to analyse the image and compare my own views to what Honour and Fleming were saying. For example the sea creatures in the grave were indistinguishable in the book, but became much clearer from the high-resolution image.


When I do annotations and exercises for this course I try, whenever possible, to see the original image on which to base my judgement. It was not possible to do so in this case and I would really like to see the lightbox image if I could. I feel that I have missed out on the scale of the image as that could have an effect on how one views it. Nevertheless, I do think that I have done the next best thing by accessing the high-resolution version. This is probably only applicable to photographic/computer-generated images. It would be for far less appropriate for painting as it would be very difficult to judge texture, brushstrokes, et cetera.


From this exercise learnt a lot more about Jeff Wall and his manner of working. I also learnt about his influences, it was really interesting to read others writing about the similarities with or influence’s of paintings by Courbet, Cézanne, Velazquez and Goya.


 Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It also gave me another insight into textbooks such as Honour and Fleming of how much they can (and can’t) include in a book spanning such a considerable period of time. Their comments and interpretation of individual images are, of necessity, much smaller than print journal articles or books on particular artists or images. It has left me admiring just how much they manage to pack into such a small space!


My notes on the project can be found here: Flooded Grave No Photo


Following comments from my Tutor I have made minor amendments and added a concluding paragraph to the essay. The amended version can be seen here: Project 9 Flooded Grave no pic

Project 8: Using Parson’s schema describe your responses to a work

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard


Fragonard Swing

I found this a somewhat difficult exercise. Although the different stages are clearly explained in Parson’s book, and he goes into great detail at each stage, there is, inevitably overlap between the stages and this is where the difficulty arises. Given that it is a psychological/sociological investigation of how we understand and appreciate art, the high level descriptions are clear, but the detail of just how any particular comment would fit into a specific category can be blurred. I kept thinking to myself “just where does this comment fit”. Having said that, I guess that was the whole point of the exercise – to make you think about how you are reacting to particular work.


My notes on this project can be found here: Swing


Following comments from my tutor I have made significant changes to this document. The revised version can be seen here: Project 8 The Swing Amended

Annotation: Rock Painting


Image By HTO (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was a bit anxious about this exercise before getting into it, I thought “what is there to write about a cave painting?” However when I looked at more (and larger) images online, I found more to comment on. I began to see just how sophisticated the images were. Before starting this course I would probably have rather dismissed such art as child-like drawing – now I can see it is much, much more than that.

As I researched the drawings in the Chauvet cave more I began to realise the implications of this find. They do really challenge our presumptions about prehistoric or primitive art. Given the rudimentary materials available at the time, the level of artistry and of artistic achievement is quite remarkable.

My annotation can be found here, photos have been removed for copyright purposes: Rock Painting no photos

Annotation: A work to which you find yourself unsympathetic

John Davies – Bucket Man


Before starting this exercise I had seen “Bucket Man” on several visits to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts and had never really been attracted to it – so it seemed an ideal subject for this part of the course. I must admit that, through not being greatly attracted to it, I had not really devoted any time to studying it, preferring instead to look at other “more attractive” work.

Bucket Man

Each month the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts has a volunteer guide who talks about a particular exhibit from the collection and related pieces of work. I was very fortunate in that April’s talk was about John Davies in general and Bucket Man in particular. This gave me much greater insight into the work than I would otherwise have been able to get.


I chose this work as one that I was unsympathetic to originally. I must admit that, as I studied it more, I warmed to it. I still wouldn’t regard it as a favourite, but this exercise has shown to me how my view of the work can change through more detailed study. It has taught me not to quickly dismiss a work of art!


My annotation can be found here: John Davies Bucket Man

Prince Baltasar Carlos in Silver by Diego Velazquez

Velazquez Prince

The aspect that struck me most about this painting was the eyes of the young Prince. Close-up they don’t seem to have any particular detail, but when you step away from the painting they seem to be quite piercing – the dominant force of the portrait.

My notes on the painting can be found here: Prince Baltasar

Venice; the Grand Canal from the Palazzo Foscari to the Carita by Canaletto


There is a room in the Wallace Collection containing a number of paintings by Canaletto. As well as this scene, there is another painting, on the opposite wall, which is also a scene of the Grand Canal, but looking in the opposite direction. It is interesting to study a painting when it is surrounded by others produced by the same artist. This is particularly true of someone like Canaletto who produced so many scenes of Venetian landscapes. It means that you can compare how particular techniques were used in different paintings and to what effect.

 This is probably the first time I had studied Canaletto in any detail. I certainly admired his rendering of the scene-the buildings and vessels on the water were all painted in considerable detail. I did though, find his work rather static and geometric – even the waves on the water seem to go in straight lines!

My notes are here: Canaletto the Grand Canal

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