What is landscape – further thoughts

The issue of what constitutes a landscape image cropped up again in discussion with my tutor on some of the images I submitted for Assignment 5. He asked whether some of them would be better described as social documentary. I wrote about the subject in this blog, right at the start of the course http://light-writing.co.uk/land/2017/07/12/what-is-landscape/ and I wrote very briefly on it in my critical review for Assignment 4.

What is landscape? The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms’ definition seems very bland “A picture representing an expanse of natural scenery” (Clarke 2010 p141). While it may be what many people would immediately think of as appropriate, to adopt this definition would preclude any ‘urban’ or other ‘non-natural’ landscapes.

Harris (2006) talks of landscape painting emerging as a genre between the 17th and 19th centuries, by the 18th century it had become “an art form regarded as capable of conveying, symbolically, important religious beliefs, social ideologies, and aesthetic values”Harris (2006 p175). Hall (2008) describes how some Italian Renaissance paintings used “the landscape background to reinforce a moral allegory” Hall (2008 p192).

It appears to me that the term landscape can be used in an all-embracing fashion that includes a number of sub-genres. To illustrate this Andrews (1999) places two images alongside each other, the first, is “an unassuming pen drawing of a landscape” (Andrews 1999 p25) attributed to a German master, possibly Lucas Cranach. The second is a woodcut by Lucas Cranach of St Jerome in the wilderness

St. Jerome in the Wilderness, Lucas Cranach, 1509, Woodcut, 33.4 x 22.6cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

What is striking about the two images is that the landscape is almost identical, the second image differing only by the addition of St Jerome and a number of religious artefacts. Andrews suggests that the pen drawing may have been a study for the woodcut or even that the drawing was a copy made by someone who “wanted to make it a landscape by omitting all trace of its devotional subject matter” (Andrews 1999 p26). But what of St Jerome? Is it purely a religious painting? Does it stop being a landscape by reason of the religious references added to it?

To further consider what is landscape I looked at two very familiar images, The Hay-Wain by John Constable and Haywain with Cruise Missiles by Peter Kennard. Kennard’s work is known for its overtly political stance. So does this mean that Constable’s painting is purely landscape and Kennard’s a political image?

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821, oil on canvas, 130.2 x 185.4 cm. The National Gallery, London

Andrews (1999) disputes that Constable’s work is not political. He suggests that they were idealised images that “could not be reconciled with what the painter knew to be the contemporary conditions of life for East Anglian labourers. Agricultural depression in the years following Waterloo provoked rioting among labourers desperate for work” (Andrews 1999 p171).

So even what many would regard as an iconic British landscape has strong political overtones for what it does (or does not) portray. Does an image stop being a landscape by reason of political overtones or social commentary?

I asked the question of when does an image stop being landscape and when does it become political or social commentary at a recent OCA Creative Arts Google Hangout. It was interesting to hear the responses as participants were studying different arts modules, not just photography.

Mr and Mrs Andrews, Thomas Gainsborough, 1750, oil on canvas, 69.8 x 119.4cm. The National Gallery, London

One person thought that Gainsborough’s painting Mr and Mrs Andrews was a good example of an image that could be classified under different genres. Is it a portrait, a landscape, social commentary or a political image; arguments could be made for it to be classified under each of those headings.

I posed the same question in the OCA Landscape Photography Hangout. A range of views were expressed, but again people saw the difficulty of suggesting that a landscape image shouldn’t have a political or social comment slant. The example was raised here of the wok of the landscape photographer Fay Godwin – would images from her Our Forbidden Land series not be classified as landscape because of their political comment? https://prints.bl.uk/products/duke-of-westminsters-estate-c13527-33

This is particularly relevant to some of the work of the photographer Edward Burtynsky. His series of photographs entitled Oil are what would normally be described as landscapes but with a strongly social or political message. https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/photographs/oil/ 

Loftus (2015) spoke to a couple of landscape painters to ask them about their work and what the word landscape means to them. One defined it as painting “what we see around us, be it nature or urban landscapes”, another felt that the term landscape was inadequate to define how it was being portrayed.

Some would argue that all landscape art is political, Adams and Robins (2000) analyse landscape art in relation to gender.

As I read more about the subject I noticed how the term ‘landscape’ was being modified. Schiel (2016) uses the term ‘Social Landscape Photography’ which is defined as portraying “the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape”. The winning image taken by the Environmental Photographer of the Year 2018 could be described as a landscape photograph.

This trend is explained by Wells who states “In the 2000’s, with widespread concerns relating to environmental change, imagery relating to land and place has re-emerged with renewed socio-political orientation” (Wells 2011 pXV).

Perhaps the term landscape in now so widely defined that these subcategories are being introduced to give it more meaning. If that is the case then it does mean that political, social or environmental comment can be contained within a landscape as a sub-category of the genre.


Adams, S. and Robins, A.G. (ed.) (2000) Gendering Landscape Art. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Andrews, M. (1999) Landscape and Western Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ciwem environmental photographer of the year 2018 winners – in pictures (2018) In: The Guardian 20 September 2018 [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/sep/20/ciwem-environmental-photographer-of-the-year-2018-winners-in-pictures (Accessed on 10 December 2018)

Clarke, M. (2010) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. (s.l.): OUP Oxford.

Edward Burtynsky’s corrupted landscapes – in pictures (2016) In: The Guardian 15 September 2016 [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/sep/15/edward-burtynsky-corrupted-landscapes-aerial-photography-in-pictures (Accessed on 10 December 2018)

Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. Boulder: Westview Press.

Lee Friedlander: America By Car (s.d.) At: https://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LeeFriedlander (Accessed on 10 December 2018)

Loftus, S. (2015) The new definition of landscape art. At: https://curiousdukegallery.com/blog/342-the-new-definition-of-landscape-art (Accessed on 12 December 2018)

Lorch, B. (2002) landscape. At: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/landscape.htm (Accessed on 12 December 2018)

Oil — Edward Burtynsky (s.d.) At: https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/photographs/oil/ (Accessed on 10 December 2018)

Wells, L. (2011) Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London: I.B.Tauris.

What is Social Landscape Photography? (2016) At: https://skipschiel.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/what-is-social-landscape-photography/ (Accessed on 10 December 2018)

Assignment 6: Transitions


This assignment was unusual compared to any other I have done as it required me to decide on a location right at the start of the course as I would need to show changes in the landscape over a period of time.

I chose to photograph Toll’s Meadow, a local nature reserve just outside the town centre. I go there frequently to walk the dog so I knew that I would be able to visit easily to take photographs.

As described in the introduction to my assignment, right from the start of the course I have been interested in points made by David Hockney about the limitations of photography, in particular about single point perspective and how people usually experience a landscape by moving through it rather than standing still to look at it.

As also described in the introduction, I was taken by a comment made by John Fowles to the effect that it is the individual items in a landscape that interested him. This resonated with me as, during my walks around Toll’s Meadow, I was always looking at the smaller items, leaves, fungi, lichen, etc that all contributed to the overall landscape.

I wondered how best to try to accommodate all these points in a photographic image. Initially I thought that a photomontage would be possible, this was one of the reasons I chose it as a topic for Assignment 4. I was pleased that I did as it helped me considerably with the assignment.

The original idea for having a mosaic of images came from seeing Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces 1972-3 at Tate Modern.

Shore’s work was a variety of different photos from a road trip across America.

What struck me was how the individual photos gained a greater meaning from the overall display. Each photo meant something, but studying them all as one exhibit added an extra meaning.

I originally thought of displaying photos from Toll’s Meadow in a similar way. I decided, however, that it would be more appropriate to have a single image composed of indeividual photographs. As I would be portraying Transition across the seasons I thought that it would be appropriate to have a total of 365 images.

I printed off contact sheets of all the images I had taken in Toll’s Meadow and cut out indiviual images and arranged them by themes, patterns, colours and concerns. As I was portraying seasons I was very strict in only using photos from the same season next to each other (except when it was transitioning from one season to another when, for example, a photo from autumn might adjoin one from winter). I didn’t arrange the photos chronologically, as I wanted to maintain themes, but they are all strictly arranged according to season.

It was a very long process, adjusting each individual image, resizing it, and then placing it into the main image. But I am pleased with the final result, I think that I have achieved something that at least addresses those initial comments about experiencing a landscape rather than observing it and it takes on board John Fowles’ views that landscape is made up of a many individual aspects.

In terms of presentation, I anticipate it being produced as a large scale Giclee print which is affixed to a cylindrical mount, so that the seasons do not start and end but present a continuous face with no obvious start/finish. This would also require the viewer to ‘walk around (or through) the landscape rather than adopt a single viewing position.

Reflections on Part 5 of the Course

I found this part of the course frustrating and fascinating in equal measure. Frustrating in trying to get to grips with those elements that were completely new to me (assigning colour and printer profiles for example) as the technology always seemed to beat me – I was sure I had added the profiles correctly, but they never appeared exactly where they were supposed to be! Nevertheless I persevered and I think that I have now conquered it. I must admit that this has now improved my home printing – previously I simple left ‘printer control colours’ checked and then cursed that it didn’t look much like the image on my (regularly calibrated!) monitor.

I thought the creation of the photobook was a good exercise, although it didn’t really work for my subject (at least not in the way that I originally tried it). I loved creating the slideshow, I learned how to put a bit of a story together, slide transitions and accompanying music (from free music archive!). I really enjoyed that aspect of the course (once I had overcome the original difficulty of learning to use the software).

I am fairly pleased with the set of prints I produced for the Assignment – it was good to reference work I had undertaken in a previous History of Art module when planning the images. I find that I am referring more and more to art history when planning my projects. One of the comments that my tutor made on my last assignment was that I could “Develop and articulate own ideas within a critical framework” and “Explore areas of personal interest for future work”. I think that I have made some progress in these areas in this assignment.

I think that I have adopted quite a creative approach to the Assignment and that the final images are technically competent – with what I have learned about profiling I should be able to produce some reasonable inkjet prints.

I enjoyed researching the context for this assignment as I looked into the methods that made the work of the Norwich School painters such an innovation at the time and it was good to think how I might be able to reference this in the context of contemporary photography.

Glen Jamieson produced ‘Shortcut To A Picturesque (after John Crome the elder)’ references Crome’s work and takes as its starting point a flyover and concrete shopping centre, the construction of which entailed the demolition of John Crome’s original house). In a series of photographs and text explores from a high vantage point the people in the area. Watts in Bottinelli (2013 p65) considers that Jamieson’s work “implies that today to work in the Norwich School tradition is not to aspire to scenes of pre-enclosure arcadia mettled by the effects of weather. It is to pick over ruins”.

I don’t think that my work ‘picks over ruins’ but then I don’t agree that this is the only way in which one can work today in the Norwich School tradition. I think that my work has continued the tradition by ignoring the picture postcard scenes to portray Norwich the way it is today, just as Norwich School painters did in their day.


Bottinelli, G. (ed.) (2013) A Vision of England: Paintings of the Norwich School. Norwich: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.
Shortcut to a picturesque – after John Crome – Glen Jamieson (s.d.) At: https://cargocollective.com/glenjamieson/Shortcut-to-a-picturesque-after-John-Crome (Accessed on 16 September 2018)

Exercise 5.7: Artist’s Statement

I researched a number of artist’s statements and advice given on how to write them. Many people seem to agree that it is not easy to write one “I hate artist statements. Really, I do. As an artist, they are almost always awkward and painful to write, and as a viewer they are similarly painful and uninformative to read.” Jaffe, I. et al. (2013)

Another aspect that is perhaps overlooked is summed up by Abrams (s.d.) “This may seem counter-intuitive, but an artist statement is not about you, the artist; its about your work, the art.”

From what I have read the best artist’s statements (certainly so far as galleries and those reading them are concerned) are:

Concise and to the point, maybe just a paragraph or two
Simply explains what the work is about
Uses fewer, simpler words – avoids International Art English (Rule & Levine (s.d.)
Is clearly and simply presented (avoid fancy fonts and backgrounds)

Although this may sound simple I did not find it very easy – nor was I the only one “When an artist does manage to present something honest, to the point, and well written, it is often revealed as having been written by someone else” Jaffe, I. et al. (2013)

However I persevered and my Artist’s Statement can be found here.

8 Artist Statements We Love – The Art League Blog (2015) At: https://www.theartleague.org/blog/2015/08/24/artist-statements-we-love/ (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

Abrams, L. (s.d.) ‘Don’t Quote Deleuze’: How to Write a Good Artist Statement. At: http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/dont-say-deleuze-how-to-write-a-good-artist-statement (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

Agora (2016) How To Write An Artist Statement: Tips From The Art Experts – Agora Gallery – Advice Blog. At: https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2016/07/23/how-to-write-artist-statement/ (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

Artist Statement Guidelines (s.d.) At: https://www.gyst-ink.com/artist-statement-guidelines/ (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

artists_statement_bio_info.pdf (s.d.) At: http://www.artspartner.org/files/all/artists_statement_bio_info.pdf

Examples of Artists Statements (s.d.) At: https://www.artbusinessinfo.com/examples-of-artists-statements.html (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

Jaffe, I. et al. (2013) The Anti-artist-statement Statement. At: https://hyperallergic.com/67670/the-anti-artist-statement-statement/ (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

pensum (s.d.) artist statements. At: https://artiststatements.wordpress.com/ (Accessed on 10 September 2018)

Exercise 5.6: Context and meaning

Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’ starts with the consideration of a wedding photograph and lists a large number of contexts within which it could be seen; from a family album, to a magazine to an art gallery. The argument being that what one sees in, and how one assesses the image will depend on the context within which it is displayed.

Walker says that “Most critical analyses of photographs concentrate on their immanent structure” (relationships within the picture) but he argues tat the external context within which a photograph is viewed is also important in how it is perceived by the viewer.

He illustrates his contention with the same photograph in two different settings, one surrounded by text in a newspaper; the other a glossy print surrounded by a wide border on the page of a prestigious art journal. The way in which the same image will be perceived is very much affected by its context.

Walker goes on to discuss the ‘circulation’ and ‘currency’ of images. Here he defines circulation as the communication of the image and its movement through different social strata and institutions. While it is being circulated an image is current, but if it is withdrawn from circulation then it loses its currency.

He gives a further example of the work of Jo Spence and how he came across images of her in three different settings:
In the Three Perspectives on Photography exhibition at the Hayward
On the cover of Spare Rib magazine
In the entrance hall of a public in Finsbury

This shows how the three different contexts shaped the perception of the work.

It does seem self-evident that the setting of a photograph will affect how it is viewed (and by who). If any of my images for assignment 5 were seen only as a slide show on Youtube by a couple of people, then that is very different to them being exhibited at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery |(see below)


This exercise asks if there are any particular places that would be appropriate for the exhibition of the work I have produced for assignment 5. The obvious location would be the Colman Galleries at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum website states that “The Colman Art Galleries house the world’s largest public collection of works by the Norwich School of Artists, the first regional society of artists established in England. Notable members include John Crome, John Sell Cotman, Joseph Stannard and George Vincent.” https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/norwich-castle/whats-here/galleries/fine-art

Not that the photographs should be displayed in the main gallery alongside the major oil paintings – apart from anything else many of the scenes depicted are not ones that I chose for the assignment. There is, though, a small gallery space, just off the main gallery which is used for temporary exhibitions and this would be ideal.

It is definitely not a ‘white cube’ which is good as I think that a setting with character is far preferable. I would see introductory text about the work of the Norwich school painters leading in to the photographs which would be displayed in sequence and just with the title of the location where the images were taken.

In terms of context and meaning, I think that the photos would gain considerably from being in such a setting and it would increase their relevance to be seen with the Norwich School originals on display nearby.

Exercise 5.5: Create a slideshow

I watched a number of slideshows and noted how varied they could be.

For example:

New York Times 1 in 8 million – a black and white slide show (in fact 54 slide shows) each telling the story of one of the 8 million residents of the area. The people, and their stories are very varied, from the art restorer, to the boat dweller to the wedding wardrober. In each case the slides are accompanied by the subject talking about themselves and their passion. It is a very effective and informative format for the series. http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/nyregion/1-in-8-million/index.html?8qa#
Women guerrillas of the PJAK by Maryam Ashrafi. A series of 39 colour slides describing the daily live of the women fighters of the Kurdish PJAK group. There is no sound (either voice or music) to the slideshow. Given the subject matter I think that perhaps any form of music would have been an intrusion. The images are left to speak for themselves which they do quite eloquently. http://maryamashrafi.com/gallery/women-guerrillas-of-the-pjak/
Crossing Macedonia – Europe’s Refugee crisis by Kostis Ntantami – a slideshow from 2015 cataloguing the journey of the thousands of refugees that crossed the border between Macedonia and Greece each day. 26 colour images showing the journey of the refugees with a musical background that seemed appropriate in terms of the subject matter and the geographical area the photographs were taken. http://www.foto8.com/live/crossing-macedonian-europes-refugee-crisis-kostis-ntantamis/ 

Each of the slideshows were very different in how they presented their work,for example the slides faded from one to the next in 1 in 8 million and Crossing Macedonia whereas in Women Guerrillas they transitioned vertically. The NYT show was the only one that did not include a ‘full screen’ option for the images. The other two did offer this option, Crossing Macedonia giving a black background to unfilled parts of the screen, whereas a white background was chosen for Women Guerrillas.

The exercise brought home to me how much needs to be considered in order to make a successful online slideshow.


I also put together a short slideshow of my own images for Assignment 5. Again these were preliminary images before I had completed the selection and processing of the final images.

I thought that a simple music soundtrack would work with the show and found what I thought was an appropriate one on Free Music Archive.

I think that the format worked better than the photobook in that I was able to put short text explanations into the slide to add to the context of the images. However thinking it through having completed the slideshow, I realised that I could have perhaps made a better version of the book by revisiting the design and including more text. However this would have meant that a number of pages would have been used for just a small amount of text and probably isn’t the most cost-effective use of a photobook.

My slideshow can be seen here

Exercise 5.4; Online exhibitions

I found the Looking at the Land exhibition very interesting. I paritcularly liked the way that the images had been put together with patterns repeating from one image to the next, e.g Clinging Vine and Independence Rock; or Imperial Sand Dunes and Plane. Very different subjects but related to each other by patterns.

The exhibition had three ways of looking at it;

  • As a slide show with a set timed interval between each transition
  • As a slide show but where the viewer can click on the next image to go at a faster pace
  • As a light box where the viewer can click on an individual image to view it.

This latter point did seem strange as it appeared that a lot of thought had been put into the sequencing of the slide show so why allow viewers to click through in any order?

The slide show itself was impressive and the quality of the photos excellent. It led me to think though, what is lost when work is viewed online rather than physically displayed? Firstly the images are being viewed in all sorts of formats – large monitor, smaller laptop, ipad/tablet, possibly even a mobile phone. The way in which colours are rendered by all of these devices is outside the control of the curator, different people could have vastly different experiences depending on the device used.

This could also apply to the size of the screen used to view the pictures. Having visited gallery exhibitions, e.g. Gursky at the Hayward or Tillmans at the Tate, the sheer physicality and scale of the images played a considerable part in my viewing and appreciation of them. This just is not applicable to online exhibitions, I suppose the exhibition could be cast to a large screen TV or even projected on to a screen, but very few people would have the equipment or the desire to set this up.

This is some of what is lost, but there is one very large gain, without the online exhibition I would never have had the opportunity to see any of these images for myself. There are only so many physical gallery spaces available and most of these are subject to the individual whims of the curator.

Perhaps the online gallery is a more ‘democratic’ display, but one must accept its limitations.

Exercise 5.3: Print-on-demand mock-up

I did this exercise before I had completed taking and preparing all the photos for Assignment 5, so if I had decided to produce a book for this assignment much more time would have been spent on selecting and preparing the final images for inclusion.

Nevertheless the exercise itself was an illuminating one. I had originally thought that my images for this assignment could have been used to produce a photobook, including my photos with copies of the pictures produced by Norwich School painters that alongside them. But having tried it out in blurb, I quickly realised that it wasn’t working. I should have recognised this from my original proposal, when I stated that I was not taking a modern photograph to compare with the Norwich School original but simply using the original as a geographic location from which to produce a series of images of life in Norwich today.

The problem with placing the two types of images alongside each other was that you immediately start to compare the two scenes to see how they differ or are there any similarities – the view down a particular street, do the buildings look the same. This detracted from both sets of images.

Perhaps a book would be possible with just my own photographs, but for it to be worthwhile it probably needs quite a few more images, maybe around 20, otherwise the book would feel very slight. I guess the 10-12 images I was aiming for might just about produce a pamphlet.

The pdf version of the book can be found here (please note in the pdf version the pages are sequential, in the book version the images of the painting and the photograph from the same location would be facing each other as the book lies open). After the Norwich School

Exercise 5.2: Print Quotes

I researched the three companies quoted in the course material; Metro, theprintspace and Spectrum. I decided to seek prices for an A3 print as this is the size required for assessment.

It wasn’t straightforward in that Metro only offered standard format sizes, not A3 size. In addition Metro and Spectrum offered two levels of printing (standard and premier for Metro / online and studio for Spectrum) which seems to be the difference between straight printing of the files as you send them or a level of assessment and intervention in the printing by studio technicians. On top of this Spectrum offered a 20% discount on all services for students, Metro offer students a range of discounts including 10% off off the standard print service whereas theprintspace have no discount offers on their website.

On top of this one also has to take into account delivery costs for the prints as these too vary and would affect the overall price.

In order to do a fair comparison I have assumed 10 different prints sized 407x304mm using the standard delivery price. Te figures below include the student discount offered by each company.

Company Price per print Giclee Cost of 10 prints Price per print 

C Type

Cost of 10 prints Delivery cost
Metro £11.84 £118.40 £8.68 £86.80 £5.18
theprintspace £13.30 £133 £9.85 £98.50 £5.22
Spectrum £9.34 £93.40 £7.05 £70.50 £6.50

So the total cost of ten prints, 407x304mm delivered is

  Giclee C print
Metro £123.58 £91.98
theprintspace £138.22 £103.72
Spectrum £99.90 £7700

I have prepared two files of the same image (the first is for c type printing and the second a giclee on Innova white matt paper)  to the specifications set by Spectrum. The images are here. 

Can inkjet be treated as a photograph?

 The difference between inkjet and c type is that in the former method droplets of ink are sprayed onto a paper whereas c type is much more closely linked to a traditional photographic developing process where the image is transmitted on to silver halide papers and processed in the same way as a traditional photographic development.

The debate as to whether inkjets are ‘photographic’ prints or not comes down to this different method of production.

To my mind this division is false. A photograph was originally produced by exposing film to light, projecting the image on to photographic paper then developing and fixing it. There is an argument to be made that anything not produced by this method cannot be classified as photographs.

However if we take the argument that inkjet prints are not photographs because they do not involve projecting the light onto photographic paper then surely anything produced from a digital camera can not be classified as a photograph as it does not involve capturing the light from an image on to photographic film.

I believe that the important issue is the final printed image, its quality, feel and closeness to the image captured as intended by the photographer. Whether that is by c type or inkjet is, to me, irrelevant. Perhaps we should be less interested in terminology and more concerned with our view of the final photographic image.

Exercise 5.1: Origins of the White Cube

The essay starts with the statement that in this century we “investigate things in relation to their context, come to see the context as formative of the thing, and, finally, see the context as as thing itself”.

It goes on to describe the modern gallery space which, it says is constructed to rules that are as strict as those for building a medieval church. The windows are sealed off, walls are painted white and the ceiling becomes the source of life.

The gallery is described as a chamber whose roots are found ‘not so much in art history as history of religion’.

This religious theme continues throughout the essay where the gallery becomes a place of ritual.

But it is not for the sake of religion that the gallery is constructed in this way, according to the author “the endurance of a certain power structure is the end for which the sympathetic magic of the white cube is devised”.

The White Cube offers access to a spiritual world at the cost of the visitor becoming ‘the eye’ and ‘the spectator’. The eye refers solely to the visual world in the gallery, the spectator means leaving everything from the real world outside, almost a cardboard cut out of the visitor.

The essays are a defence of the real world against the sterility of the White Cube.


It is interesting to consider the very strident points made in the essay. I think that most would agree that context influences how we view an object and this is particularly so in an artistic or gallery setting.

The White Cube is a recent phenomenon, if you visit the National Gallery or see pictures of older galleries then they are not in any way similar to contemporary galleries. In previous centuries the walls of galleries were covered with works of art , up to, and including the ceiling. It is a recent phenomenon for the white painted walls and lack of windows.

In some ways this can strike as giving space to the object on display, there are no distractions and the work of art can be observed in isolation almost. O’Doherty seems to be arguing that the rituals for visiting such a gallery have overtaken the simple appreciation of the display and have become the reason for the visit.

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