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What Is Visual Art Essay

The visual arts are art forms such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video, filmmaking, and architecture. Many artistic disciplines (performing arts, conceptual art, textile arts) involve aspects of the visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts[1] are the applied arts[2] such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.[3]

Current usage of the term "visual arts" includes fine art as well as the applied, decorative arts and crafts, but this was not always the case. Before the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and elsewhere at the turn of the 20th century, the term 'artist' was often restricted to a person working in the fine arts (such as painting, sculpture, or printmaking) and not the handicraft, craft, or applied art media. The distinction was emphasized by artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who valued vernacular art forms as much as high forms.[4]Art schools made a distinction between the fine arts and the crafts, maintaining that a craftsperson could not be considered a practitioner of the arts.

The increasing tendency to privilege painting, and to a lesser degree sculpture, above other arts has been a feature of Western art as well as East Asian art. In both regions painting has been seen as relying to the highest degree on the imagination of the artist, and the furthest removed from manual labour – in Chinese painting the most highly valued styles were those of "scholar-painting", at least in theory practiced by gentleman amateurs. The Western hierarchy of genres reflected similar attitudes.

Education and training[edit]

Main article: Visual arts education

Training in the visual arts has generally been through variations of the apprentice and workshop systems. In Europe the Renaissance movement to increase the prestige of the artist led to the academy system for training artists, and today most of the people who are pursuing a career in arts train in art schools at tertiary levels. Visual arts have now become an elective subject in most education systems.


Main article: Drawing

Drawing is a means of making an image, using any of a wide variety of tools and techniques. It generally involves making marks on a surface by applying pressure from a tool, or moving a tool across a surface using dry media such as graphitepencils, pen and ink, inkedbrushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoals, pastels, and markers. Digital tools that simulate the effects of these are also used. The main techniques used in drawing are: line drawing, hatching, crosshatching, random hatching, scribbling, stippling, and blending. An artist who excels in drawing is referred to as a draftsman or draughtsman.

Drawing goes back at least 16,000 years to Paleolithiccave representations of animals such as those at Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. In ancient Egypt, ink drawings on papyrus, often depicting people, were used as models for painting or sculpture. Drawings on Greek vases, initially geometric, later developed to the human form with black-figure pottery during the 7th century BC.[5]

With paper becoming common in Europe by the 15th century, drawing was adopted by masters such as Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci who sometimes treated drawing as an art in its own right rather than a preparatory stage for painting or sculpture.[6]


Main article: Painting

Painting taken literally is the practice of applying pigment suspended in a carrier (or medium) and a binding agent (a glue) to a surface (support) such as paper, canvas or a wall. However, when used in an artistic sense it means the use of this activity in combination with drawing, composition, or other aesthetic considerations in order to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner. Painting is also used to express spiritual motifs and ideas; sites of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to The Sistine Chapel to the human body itself.

Origins and early history[edit]

Main article: History of painting

Like drawing, painting has its documented origins in caves and on rock faces. The finest examples, believed by some to be 32,000 years old, are in the Chauvet and Lascaux caves in southern France. In shades of red, brown, yellow and black, the paintings on the walls and ceilings are of bison, cattle, horses and deer.

Paintings of human figures can be found in the tombs of ancient Egypt. In the great temple of Ramses II, Nefertari, his queen, is depicted being led by Isis.[7] The Greeks contributed to painting but much of their work has been lost. One of the best remaining representations are the Hellenistic Fayum mummy portraits. Another example is mosaic of the Battle of Issus at Pompeii, which was probably based on a Greek painting. Greek and Roman art contributed to Byzantine art in the 4th century BC, which initiated a tradition in icon painting.

The Renaissance[edit]

Main article: Italian Renaissance painting

Apart from the illuminated manuscripts produced by monks during the Middle Ages, the next significant contribution to European art was from Italy's renaissance painters. From Giotto in the 13th century to Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael at the beginning of the 16th century, this was the richest period in Italian art as the chiaroscuro techniques were used to create the illusion of 3-D space.[8]

Painters in northern Europe too were influenced by the Italian school. Jan van Eyck from Belgium, Pieter Bruegel the Elder from the Netherlands and Hans Holbein the Younger from Germany are among the most successful painters of the times. They used the glazing technique with oils to achieve depth and luminosity.

Dutch masters[edit]

Main article: Dutch Golden Age painting

The 17th century witnessed the emergence of the great Dutch masters such as the versatile Rembrandt who was especially remembered for his portraits and Bible scenes, and Vermeer who specialized in interior scenes of Dutch life.


Main article: Baroque

The Baroque started after the Renaissance, from the late 16th century to the late 17th century. Main artists of the Baroque included Caravaggio, who made heavy use of tenebrism. Peter Paul Rubens was a flemish painter who studied in Italy, worked for local churches in Antwerp and also painted a series for Marie de' Medici. Annibale Carracci took influences from the Sistine Chapel and created the genre of illusionistic ceiling painting. Much of the development that happened in the Baroque was because of the Protestant Reformation and the resulting Counter Reformation. Much of what defines the Baroque is dramatic lighting and overall visuals.[9]


Main article: Impressionism

Impressionism began in France in the 19th century with a loose association of artists including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne who brought a new freely brushed style to painting, often choosing to paint realistic scenes of modern life outside rather than in the studio. This was achieved through a new expression of aesthetic features demonstrated by brush strokes and the impression of reality. They achieved intense colour vibration by using pure, unmixed colours and short brush strokes. The movement influenced art as a dynamic, moving through time and adjusting to new found techniques and perception of art. Attention to detail became less of a priority in achieving, whilst exploring a biased view of landscapes and nature to the artists eye.[10][11]


Main article: Post-Impressionism

Towards the end of the 19th century, several young painters took impressionism a stage further, using geometric forms and unnatural colour to depict emotions while striving for deeper symbolism. Of particular note are Paul Gauguin, who was strongly influenced by Asian, African and Japanese art, Vincent van Gogh, a Dutchman who moved to France where he drew on the strong sunlight of the south, and Toulouse-Lautrec, remembered for his vivid paintings of night life in the Paris district of Montmartre.[12]

Symbolism, expressionism and cubism[edit]

Main article: Modern art

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, developed his symbolistic approach at the end of the 19th century, inspired by the French impressionist Manet. The Scream (1893), his most famous work, is widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Partly as a result of Munch's influence, the German expressionist movement originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century as artists such as Ernst Kirschner and Erich Heckel began to distort reality for an emotional effect. In parallel, the style known as cubism developed in France as artists focused on the volume and space of sharp structures within a composition. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were the leading proponents of the movement. Objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form. By the 1920s, the style had developed into surrealism with Dali and Magritte.[13]


Main article: Printmaking

Printmaking is creating, for artistic purposes, an image on a matrix that is then transferred to a two-dimensional (flat) surface by means of ink (or another form of pigmentation). Except in the case of a monotype, the same matrix can be used to produce many examples of the print.

Historically, the major techniques (also called media) involved are woodcut, line engraving, etching, lithography, and screenprinting (serigraphy, silkscreening) but there are many others, including modern digital techniques. Normally, the print is printed on paper, but other mediums range from cloth and vellum to more modern materials. Major printmaking traditions include that of Japan (ukiyo-e).

European history[edit]

Main article: Old master print

Prints in the Western tradition produced before about 1830 are known as old master prints. In Europe, from around 1400 AD woodcut, was used for master prints on paper by using printing techniques developed in the Byzantine and Islamic worlds. Michael Wolgemut improved German woodcut from about 1475, and Erhard Reuwich, a Dutchman, was the first to use cross-hatching. At the end of the century Albrecht Dürer brought the Western woodcut to a stage that has never been surpassed, increasing the status of the single-leaf woodcut.[14]

Chinese origin and practice[edit]

Main article: Woodblock printing

In China, the art of printmaking developed some 1,100 years ago as illustrations alongside text cut in woodblocks for printing on paper. Initially images were mainly religious but in the Song Dynasty, artists began to cut landscapes. During the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1616–1911) dynasties, the technique was perfected for both religious and artistic engravings.[15][16]

Development In Japan 1603–1867[edit]

Main article: Woodblock printing in Japan

Woodblock printing in Japan (Japanese: 木版画, moku hanga) is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre; however, it was also used very widely for printing books in the same period. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was only widely adopted in Japan surprisingly late, during the Edo period (1603–1867). Although similar to woodcut in western printmaking in some regards, moku hanga differs greatly in that water-based inks are used (as opposed to western woodcut, which uses oil-based inks), allowing for a wide range of vivid color, glazes and color transparency.


Main article: Photography

Photography is the process of making pictures by means of the action of light. Light patterns reflected or emitted from objects are recorded onto a sensitive medium or storage chip through a timed exposure. The process is done through mechanical shutters or electronically timed exposure of photons into chemical processing or digitizing devices known as cameras.

The word comes from the Greek words φως phos ("light"), and γραφις graphis ("stylus", "paintbrush") or γραφη graphê, together meaning "drawing with light" or "representation by means of lines" or "drawing." Traditionally, the product of photography has been called a photograph. The term photo is an abbreviation; many people also call them pictures. In digital photography, the term image has begun to replace photograph. (The term image is traditional in geometric optics.)


Main article: Filmmaking

Filmmaking is the process of making a motion-picture, from an initial conception and research, through scriptwriting, shooting and recording, animation or other special effects, editing, sound and music work and finally distribution to an audience; it refers broadly to the creation of all types of films, embracing documentary, strains of theatre and literature in film, and poetic or experimental practices, and is often used to refer to video-based processes as well.

Computer art[edit]

Main article: Computer art

Visual artists are no longer limited to traditional art media. Computers have been used as an ever more common tool in the visual arts since the 1960s. Uses include the capturing or creating of images and forms, the editing of those images and forms (including exploring multiple compositions) and the final rendering or printing (including 3D printing).

Computer art is any in which computers played a role in production or display. Such art can be an image, sound, animation, video, CD-ROM, DVD, video game, website, algorithm, performance or gallery installation. Many traditional disciplines are now integrating digital technologies and, as a result, the lines between traditional works of art and new media works created using computers have been blurred. For instance, an artist may combine traditional painting with algorithmic art and other digital techniques. As a result, defining computer art by its end product can be difficult. Nevertheless, this type of art is beginning to appear in art museum exhibits, though it has yet to prove its legitimacy as a form unto itself and this technology is widely seen in contemporary art more as a tool rather than a form as with painting.

Computer usage has blurred the distinctions between illustrators, photographers, photo editors, 3-D modelers, and handicraft artists. Sophisticated rendering and editing software has led to multi-skilled image developers. Photographers may become digital artists. Illustrators may become animators. Handicraft may be computer-aided or use computer-generated imagery as a template. Computer clip art usage has also made the clear distinction between visual arts and page layout less obvious due to the easy access and editing of clip art in the process of paginating a document, especially to the unskilled observer.

Plastic arts[edit]

Main article: Plastic arts

Plastic arts is a term, now largely forgotten, encompassing art forms that involve physical manipulation of a plastic medium by moulding or modeling such as sculpture or ceramics. The term has also been applied to all the visual (non-literary, non-musical) arts.[17][18]

Materials that can be carved or shaped, such as stone or wood, concrete or steel, have also been included in the narrower definition, since, with appropriate tools, such materials are also capable of modulation.[citation needed] This use of the term "plastic" in the arts should not be confused with Piet Mondrian's use, nor with the movement he termed, in French and English, "Neoplasticism."


Main article: Sculpture

Sculpture is three-dimensionalartwork created by shaping or combining hard or plastic material, sound, or text and or light, commonly stone (either rock or marble), clay, metal, glass, or wood. Some sculptures are created directly by finding or carving; others are assembled, built together and fired, welded, molded, or cast. Sculptures are often painted.[19] A person who creates sculptures is called a sculptor.

Because sculpture involves the use of materials that can be moulded or modulated, it is considered one of the plastic arts. The majority of public art is sculpture. Many sculptures together in a garden setting may be referred to as a sculpture garden.

Sculptors do not always make sculptures by hand. With increasing technology in the 20th century and the popularity of conceptual art over technical mastery, more sculptors turned to art fabricators to produce their artworks. With fabrication, the artist creates a design and pays a fabricator to produce it. This allows sculptors to create larger and more complex sculptures out of material like cement, metal and plastic, that they would not be able to create by hand. Sculptures can also be made with 3-d printing technology.

Copyright definition of visual art (US)[edit]

In the United States, the law protecting the copyright over a piece of visual art gives a more restrictive definition of "visual art".[20]

A “work of visual art” is —
(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or
(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.

A work of visual art does not include —
(A)(i) any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other audiovisual work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication;
  (ii) any merchandising item or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, or packaging material or container;
  (iii) any portion or part of any item described in clause (i) or (ii);
(B) any work made for hire; or
(C) any work not subject to copyright protection under this title.

See also[edit]

Main article: Outline of visual arts



  • Barnes, A. C., The Art in Painting, 3rd ed., 1937, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY.
  • Bukumirovic, D. (1998). Maga Magazinovic. Biblioteka Fatalne srpkinje knj. br. 4. Beograd: Narodna knj.
  • Fazenda, M. J. (1997). Between the pictorial and the expression of ideas: the plastic arts and literature in the dance of Paula Massano. n.p.
  • Gerón, C. (2000). Enciclopedia de las artes plásticas dominicanas: 1844–2000. 4th ed. Dominican Republic s.n.
  • Oliver Grau (Ed.): MediaArtHistories. MIT-Press, Cambridge 2007. with Rudolf Arnheim, Barbara Stafford, Sean Cubitt, W. J. T. Mitchell, Lev Manovich, Christiane Paul, Peter Weibel a.o. Rezensionen
  • Laban, R. V. (1976). The language of movement: a guidebook to choreutics. Boston: Plays.
  • La Farge, O. (1930). Plastic prayers: dances of the Southwestern Indians. n.p.
  • Restany, P. (1974). Plastics in arts. Paris, New York: n.p.
  • University of Pennsylvania. (1969). Plastics and new art. Philadelphia: The Falcon Pr.

External links[edit]

Mosaic of Battle of Issus
Claude Monet: Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1866)
Ancient Chinese engraving of female instrumentalists

What do we see when we look at a painting? Is it the eye of the artist, his or her milieu, or the process that we follow like Ariadne’s thread to some promised destination? Or is it, perhaps, some fragment of affection that its creator felt for the object of making? Although such romantic conceits still pervade many practices, today it might be something else, like a calculated indifference that moves us in discerning the artist’s attitude. Cool is the value we most frequently attribute to this demeanor, whether we see it in the detached painterly gestures of Lucien Smith’s fire-extinguisher-made abstractions, or in the ironic content of Rob Pruitt and Jeff Koons. And, assuming the same posture, we eagerly consume this act of dissimulation, believing that it is perhaps better to avoid feeling more than the artist’s investment in the work so as not to seem the fool. Both work and viewer end at a standoff; a detente is reached. But who ultimately wins in this scenario?

Moreover, triumph in this calculus of affect may be beside the point, as any strong response to a work may be too great a hindrance to its ultimate purpose. In this light, Ben Davis has speculated that what contemporary art excels at and ultimately produces is social space itself.1 Our art fairs and biennial circuits bear perfect testimony to this fact, as do the tomb-like white boxes in which we customarily gather to celebrate the latest in artistic production. The social has increasingly become the goal of art, and the glue of art commerce, now mirrored in our social networking and sales platforms like Art.sy, Saatchi Art, and Paddle 8. Indeed, virtual and actual art consumption frequently merge as distracted browsing, ocular fatigue, and convenient if reductive categorization define new norms of spectatorship.2 So, what kind of artwork prospers in this new networked sphere?

While some, like Claire Bishop, would point to the relational works that mirror the dialogic paradigms of the Web, I would argue that the formal corollary in object-based works—especially in process—displays a different character.3 Stripped down and often quickly made, or else outsourced to many fabricators or assistants, these works privilege promotion and circulation rather than time-consuming individual labor. And labor is still a key term when it comes to the art commodity—particularly painting—that, unlike other commodities, promises individual labor as a transcendental value. Today, in the absence of firm aesthetic and historical criteria, this labor translates into a kind of investment that justifies our own financial and psychological investment in the work. Yet the slippery meaning of investment, as affective, conceptual, technical, or financial, also generates a particular field of objects.4

We might only look at the dirt-stained canvases of Oscar Murillo, or at the outsourced, high-shine idols of Jeff Koons, to grasp this continuum. As extreme instances of market investment and invested labor (affective on the one hand and technical/monetary on the other), they highlight the Duchampian case that the aesthetic character of the object becomes arbitrary—a mere alibi for a byzantine system of capital, power, and prestige. Conversely, the artist who risks investing an inordinate amount of personal labor on the object—once the guarantor of value measured in precious materials, skill, and time—now risks disengaging from a field defined by scarcity yet rapidly expanding into a global map of art fairs and exhibition opportunities.

Pressed by this dilemma, or aspiring toward this market, today’s artwork frequently splits the difference and retreats to the familiar part-object that now merely alludes to individual labor rather than contains it. It leaves us, in other words, with increasingly “provisional” creations, or else, with fabricated productions of mental labor cleaved into an ostensibly higher form of creativity.5

Reflecting on this field of objects and our distracted absorption within it, might we not see an echo of our other, divided lives—the tweeting, liking, posting, Instagramming that now immerses us in a surrogate world? In this new visual regime, artworks pour over us in bulk. Image takes precedence over process. And the image’s power, as David Joselit and some “post-internet” champions suggest, no longer lies in its affective ability to move us in some resolute, lasting way, but rather in its circulation through the system as a whole.6

While some may simply recognize here the vagaries of a Structuralist-cum-digital paradigm, where the meaning (and value) of a work derives from a field of differences, surrender to this abyss marks its own kind of fatalism. For one, it can impoverish the object, conceding that its work is never finished and, correctly, never wholly exhausted by its form. But in never venturing toward coherence, complexity of content, form, or political aspiration, such an object impoverishes us too.7

Moreover, work yielded by this mindset also mirrors the speculation of finance capital that has grown around it. A recent Bloomberg article, for instance, details how a new frenzy of buying and flipping work by young, mostly male abstract artists has attracted a new breed of collector-traders who are “pushing these artists like IPOs.”8 Though such investment in art as an asset is nothing new, the aesthetically blinkered mentality of this recent trend is conspicuous in its parallel to the trading of derivatives and other financial instruments that traffic in side-bets rather than the productive capacity of companies or the abstracted labor power congealed in the traditional commodity form.

Is it too much to conjecture, then, that a work conditioned by or anticipating this context devolves into a kind of placeholder or formal proxy of a work rather than something tasked with producing a plentitude of affect?9 No longer able to transfix or disrupt, captivate or transgress, the artwork becomes a mere husk of its former ambitions—a hollowed out vehicle adapted to the differential circuits of exchange.

Lest this be construed as an argument for spectacle or craft registered in laborious detail, it is neither. However, when the artwork relinquishes its effort to grasp the viewer, it falls into the background, and so casts a different spectacle to the fore. If for Michael Fried this was the operation performed by Minimalist works, today it is the many works that are content to foreground our social and economic theater as mere backdrops. Acting as props for what Davis calls our “theme parties,” their ambition is to not get in the way, to lubricate rather than detour conversation. In this familiar staring contest no one blinks, but who again is the winner?

Yet, what would it mean to argue for a different contest? Does it mean, naively, that a work’s internal attributes can overcome our social-aesthetic network thereby outshining its spectacle? Such may be the romantic dream of a work piercing the image stream—a hope against hope that the object can transcend the very context that supplies it with meaning. Or, as in finance, might an appeal to intrinsic value distinguish a work via a kind of criterion: a standard? If, as the editor of this series Jonathan T.D. Neil writes, the asset that art most resembles is gold, what would it mean to appeal to a gold standard in art?10 To be sure, such an appeal to criteria free of differential determination is nothing new. We see it in any number of works that index their value by imitating jewels or precious metals (e.g., Rudolf Stingel, Rashaad Newsome, or Jacob Kassay), in traditional artists of the “atelier movement,” who uphold classical, “timeless values,” and ultimately, in Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” (2007), a $100 million, diamond-encrusted skull that confuses aesthetic values with materialist ones.

In all of these cases we are assured the art is worth our attention. Its worth, after all, is guaranteed by the artist’s investment, and thus the asset is free of risk.11 Yet such an attitude, shared equally by financiers and “new old masters,” isolates only the narrowest meaning of investment (technical and material), and in so doing, evacuates all artistic risk from the work as well.

The arguments that the traditionalist may put to us here are indeed persuasive. “We at least seek some inherent merit to the artwork,” he may say, “whereas you have constructed a new academicism based on rhetoric, a domain of costly, intellectual privilege, and on an equally standardized international style populated with so many deskilled conceptual and relational artworks. You have simply displaced artistic labor into the fashioning of press releases, and made it available for purchase in expensive programs proffered under the false advertising of democratization, and now you suffer the price. Who among you is not an artist? The same logic that once functioned to unshackle aesthetic value from its historical moorings in courtly art has now produced the tributary currency of a nomadic global court.” He may even grow apocalyptic: “Isn’t it inevitable that as this system succumbs to whatever financial crisis still awaits us, that we will witness a resurgence of long suppressed traditional attributes as guarantors of value? Artists run to the statues; your time has come!”

This counterrevolution may be the hidden wish of many. Even those with more progressive temperaments may long for a restoration, realizing that to build an art world and an academy solely on the deconstructive act leaves us navigating rubble. But while we lament our field of fragments and our transformed cultural thoroughfares, we would do well to remember that this revenge of the object—already foreshadowed in so many neo-modernist works—will be far worse than our current predicament. It may, for instance, accompany a dramatic collapse or some tyrannical new Terror. Such a regime change would promise order, a return to immutable values that would ostensibly compensate us for our aesthetic impoverishment and the relativist decadence that led us to the brink. Yet who among us, reared equally on such impoverishment and the vanguard ideals that still sustain it, does not fear that day?

There is, however, an alternative, where painting and object-based art confront the viewer as a generosity—an investment in us. Although, for many, this ambition has migrated to social practice, which may brand studio work as market-bound, authorial, and so corrupted, this dismissal only cleaves the social from the object and deepens today’s stalemate. But must we follow? When the object can bridge this divide, not only by recollecting its utopian ambitions but also by displacing the burden of politics from formal operations to the sphere of progressive and even transformative distribution. (Were these not the lessons of Productivism, the Bauhaus?)

Absent some collective criteria, we might cautiously venture evaluating this object, too, not only in its commitment to our sensory acuity (not our stupefaction), to its promise of new forms of public address, and to its vision of a shared, more just future. This gift: of care for us analogously expressed through form, is what so many of us crave in artwork as we travel the pathways of our social-aesthetic networks. We see it on occasion in museums and galleries but wrongly project its grander ambitions to the past or set it as a rare exception. Its standards are our standards and they can still guide us. And, should this object stop us in mid-conversation, this will only be a testament to its value. Our companions may even forgive us, stop too, and join us in taking a longer, closer look.


  1. See Ben Davis, “Speculations on the Production of Social Space in Contemporary Art, with Reference to Art Fairs.” Artinfo (October 5, 2012).
  2. As Instagram and Tumblr remind us, the image—the Internet’s analogue of an artwork—is merely the occasion to socialize, comment, draw hierarchies and distinctions, even while these platforms promise democratization.
  3. See Claire Bishop, “The Digital Divide,” Artforum (April, 2012).
  4. As a brief catalog of investments that guarantee value for many contemporary practices consider: affective investment witnessed in expressionist and confessional work; material investment in highly produced, fabricated work; technical investment in highly detailed and laborious work; temporal investment in performative “endurance” work; and ethical/political investment in the sphere of social practice. I am indebted in these thoughts to Jonathan T. D. Neil’s 2008 paper “Aesthetics of Effort,” though here I am expanding on effort as a guarantee of value in order to signal a kind of affective, committed intent, or else something more passive and seemingly beyond question. This invisible standard that nevertheless impregnates the work is showcased most prominently in biographically anchored, confessional work and in social practice. For the legibility of effort as a guarantee of value see Jonathan T.D. Neil, “The Aesthetics of Effort,” unpublished manuscript, available at www.jonathantdneil.com/articles
  5. For more on provisional painting see Raphael Rubinstein’s “Provisional Painting Parts 1 and 2,” Art in America (May, 2009 & February, 2012).
  6. See David Joselit, After Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). Also see Brad Troemel “Athletic Aesthetics,” The New Inquiry (May 10, 2013), on quantitatively-based virality as a new aesthetic ambition.
  7. More broadly, if the work of the past—and modernism in particular—promised a plentitude to the spectator, it also labored to map this narrowly universalized subject ethically, cognitively, and sensually into his or her time. Today, however, such an ambition has been abandoned as artists compete to be symptoms of the contemporary, often pictured ironically, if not opportunistically, as a state of inexorable decline.
  8. Katya Kazakina, “Art Flippers Pursue Emerging Stars as Doodles Surge 5,600%,”Bloomberg.com (February 6, 2014).
  9. For more on contemporary art and the trading of derivatives see Melanie Gilligan, “Derivative Art,” It’s the Political Economy Stupid, ed. Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler (New York: Pluto Press, 2013).
  10. Jonathan T.D. Neil, “What is art? Nothing more than an asset, really. And what’s wrong with that?”Art Review (December 2013).
  11. Again, for more on risk management in art, see Neil, “Aesthetics of Effort.”


Dorine, Barbara, Kathy

by Karen Archey

DEC 17-JAN 18 | Art

Before working at a large art institution, like many people I thought of museums as slow-moving machines that are slightly out of place in history; anachronistic titans that are too big to fail.

After Deadpan

by Marika Takanishi Knowles

JUL-AUG 2017 | Art

The French model of painting seemed prescient, because of its insistence that history and passion go hand in hand. Immediately following the election, I looked to French painting as a school of affect, a repository of figures whose emotions provided a series of lessons in how to behave as a historical agent and how to respond to historical events.

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