What about Pleasure?
Pleasure can be problematic in writing about art. On the one hand, everyone acknowledges that pleasure is fundamental to our experience of art. If we like something that’s neither useful nor morally good, then it must be because it gives us pleasure. On the other hand, compared to something like meaning, pleasure seems trivial. Many of the arguments for funding and preserving art rely on the idea that art is serious like a religion or philosophy. As a result, pleasure is disavowed in much art writing. It’s simultaneously acknowledged and dismissed.
Carsten Höller’s ‘Test Site’ is an example of art that provides pleasure. Set up in the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern, Höller’s sculpture is that of a giant slide. I think kids are a good sign for wether art is pleasurable. Kids wouldn’t think twice about sliding down ‘Test Site’, they wouldn’t care if it’s art.
3 Forms of Pleasure:
1. Humour (laughing in a gallery, jokes, stupidity, satire)
2. The Body (sex, physical pleasure, playing)
3. Abstraction (meaningless)
How not to behave in a Gallery:
Woody Allen, scene from ‘Play It Again, Sam’ 1973
- How should we behave in a gallery? What sort of things should we say about art?
- The video consisted of a man and a woman looking at a Pollock, instead of him looking at the art, he’s stood there to get a date. Her response to the art is so lengthy and “deep”, that it becomes ridiculous. Both characters are taking the piss of the gallery setting and the way in which people act within the gallery setting.
Jean-Luc Godard, scene from ‘Bande á Part’
- How are social forces revealed in this scene?
- The video answers the question, how fast can you get through Le Louvre. Three people can be seen running and laughing through the gallery. There’s a conflict between their action and the stationary-ness of the gallery and art. They are breaking the conventions of the gallery.
Why is it funny when someone falls over? Why do we find human error so funny?
Henri Bergson, Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1900
- Human – do animals laugh?
- Indifferent – is it true when we laugh at someone, we don’t care about them? However I think there are degrees if indifference. We feel more sorry for some people than we do others.
- Social – does laughter reinforce social boundaries?
- Laughter is triggered when someone acts outside of their allocated role and function, and fails.
- Laughter is society’s revenge on the individual.
- In a funny situation, the physicality of the body visibly punctures social pretension. When a model trips on the catwalk, it punctures the elegance and perfection of the catwalk, and normalises it.
Is there an equivalent in art to falling over?
- The Amateur Fresco Restoration, Spain, 2012 is an example of such. ‘Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)’ by Elias Garcia Martinez had deteriorated due to moisture. An amateur painter took her brush to it to restore it. Her restoration job was so bad you can’t help but laugh and feel sorry for the “restorer”.
Is there a wisdom in the dumbness of the body?
- Gelitin, ‘Nellanutella’, 2001 – deliberately falling into the canals of Venice, henceforth deliberately embarrassing themselves. I think there’s a relief in not having to think. It releases the social pressures of art and the gallery setting.
For Bergson, verbal humour works in a similar way. The set-up leads us in one direction but the punchline trips the listener up mentally and deflates our expectations.
We fall for a joke, we can laugh at our own stupidity because it’s disguised and we feel that we are laughing at someone else. Someone who doesn’t get a joke becomes the butt of others’ laughter, thus the social bond is reinforced through inclusion nd exclusion.
- A news article came out in Norway titled, ‘Bus seats mistaken for burqas by members of anti-immigrant group’. Bergson would suggest that this is funny because of the stupidity of the anti-emigrant group. As we are not members of that group, and have nothing to do with its policies, we can laugh at their stupidity. The things we find funny emphasise the particular social groups in which we find ourselves in any given society.
- David Shrigley ‘Untitled (I Hate Wood)’, 2013 – can it be explained with Bergson’s theory? It parallels the previous point about immigrants but with absurdity. No one really hates wood, It has the structure that Bergson identifies but there is no real target unlike with the immigrants. Anti-immigrant members are stupid whereas wood-haters are silly.
- David Shrigley ‘Untitled (Fuck off I am a Painter) – I really loved this painting/drawing as I can sympathise with the predicament and find it relatable. I become a member of a social group with the painting and everyone else that doesn’t agree with the painting becomes the butt of the joke. Although it is funny overall, is the drawing funny in itself? Is it stylistically coherent? The amateur-ness of the drawing I think emphasises the point of the text so is ironically funny. Is the text funny itself? I think Shrigley purposely put the spelling mistake in the text, if it was removed it would be less funny. Additionally, if you took the “fuck off’ out of the text it wouldn’t be as powerful and therefore would be less funny. The blatancy of the language is what is funny and I think we like to hear people using it.
Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905
How jokes are formed:
1) Aimless play with words, concepts, things etc. ——> 2) Lifting of inhibitions, suspension of critical judgement. ——> 3) Expression of repressed ideas.
- For Freud, jokes are always obscene and come from repression. Therefore, the most repressive societies will have the most (and the funniest) jokes.
- For Roelstraete, the function of pleasure in a gallery is to ‘unnerve, rattle and destabilise’. Roelstraete therefore suggests that pleasure is a form of irritant.
- Paul McCarthy’s ‘Tree’ is an example of an irritant. At first glance the green from resembles that of a Christmas tree, however, it is actually in the shape of a butt plug. People didn’t realise at first but once they did they knifed the sculpture, causing it to collapse as it was inflatable. This raises the question of whether the vandalism destroyed the work or vindicated it.
2 main reasons why pleasure is disapproved of within art:
- Pleasure is disapproved as it’s seen as unimportant (compared to the pressing issues we currently face).
- Pleasure is disapproved of as it’s unthinking, therefore any pleasure is easily characterised as escapist. There’s a deep anxiety, Roelstraete claims, that artworks and exhibitions shouldn’t appear to be forms of entertainment. For example, video games are characterised as entertainment when some of their makers intend them to be works of art. This suggests we shouldn’t enjoy art.
2) The Body
The body becomes the object of our interest. The mind is the subject of experience.
- Disney’s Inside Out: If this is what goes on inside Riley’s head, then what goes on inside Joy’s head?
Jordan Wolfson ‘Female Figure’
- Wolfson’s ‘Female Figure’ presents the horror of the unthinking body. A robot dancing, faces away from you but locks eye contact with you whilst talking. It is an incredibly uncomfortable piece of work to look at, especially because it stares back at you. Being seen/ looked at by a machine is a weird concept. Although you are fully aware that it has no thought processes, you can’t hep but think about what’s going on in its mind.
Playing VS Contemplation
Ernesto Neto ‘The Bird Island’
- With Neto’s sculptures, children automatically want to interact with the sculptures, exploring the work physically and having fun, whereas adults tend to stand a safe distance away and contemplate the work without touching it. Children’s first form of interaction is to play if they’re allowed, whereas adults have to be encouraged. The unspoken assumption is that playing and pleasure are bodily and therefore the opposite of thinking and intelligence. This reminds me of when I went to the Venice Bienalle. There was a sculptural piece of work that was made to be sat inside, even though I knew it was allowed, I still chose not to go inside the sculpture and just stood next to it, contemplating and drawing. I do wonder why we as adults have this idea imbedded within us that it is socially unacceptable to have fun with art. It seems that everything has to be serious for the art to be a success. This is a concept I want to look at within my own practice. I want to think about the different ways in which you can enjoy art apart from the conventional, stand back and look at it. I don’t think we always have to take work so seriously in order for us to fully understand it.
- Abstract contemporary art has no identifiable objects, so it’s not about anything.
- We looked at the work of Karen Davie, in particular, ‘Seeing Spots no.7’ and ‘Symptomania’. Her work is more about gesture and form, and colour relation. Colour relation is a topic I am currently looking at in my own practice. Davie works by layering up different colours using different gestures. The colours beneath should appear behind, however they are so bright in comparison to the top colour of paint that they create a flat surface and look level to the other colour. This and many other abstract works raise the question of whether once you’ve got the idea, is there anything else to look at. I think there is plenty to look at, just in the mark making alone. I get caught up in the ideas about rhythms and find pleasure in exploring how tone and balance changes. The idea behind the work is less so important than the work itself.
- Charline Von Heyl ‘Jakealoo’ – with an abstract painting like ‘Jakealoo’, you get no help from the title of the work, therefore the only thing to do is break it down into components, i.e. marks, colours etc, and make associations to it with you’re own ideas. You try and identify things in the work that make sense in your mind.
My child could do that…
In constellation we discussed the idea of “my child could do that”. I am constantly hearing from my parents “I could do that” when they are looking at abstract work. I am constantly trying to explain that although it looks simple, there is often a lot of thinking and skill behind the work. We discussed this concept in constellation and Jon tested us with a couple of examples. First we were shown two abstract paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a 4 year old child. I could instantly tell that the painting on the right was done by the painter. You could see more a process behind the painting and the thought processes behind the colours and forms used. Next we were shown two paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a chimpanzee. Although I actually preferred the painting done by the chimpanzee, I could still tell that the painting on the left was completed by the master painter. This and the multiple tests that reached the same conclusion, that the majority of people were able to identify a painting done by a painter and that done by a child, show that “my child could have done that” isn’t true.
Another study that I find interesting showed that eye-tracking patterns changed substantially when a Mondrian painting was rotated, indicating a decrease in interest. Additionally, when a small block of colour was either added or removed, viewers reported a less pleasurable reaction. This shows that a minute change to a painting can completely alter the reaction from the audience and success of a piece of art. It also shows that Mondrian was a master and that his paintings couldn’t have been done by anyone. I find this concept really interesting and want to further look into it.