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Lesson Plans

artists and their work (the context of no context)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sat, 21 Mar 1998 10:18:11 -0600

Deb wrote:
"I've used Warhol a lot in my high school classes. I think his art is very
important in the context of its time. Many of his commercial
implications/applications of culture to fine art are now common place....

HOWEVER! I do think Warhol's art is a lot more important than Warhol as a
person. I had a well made documentary video on his life which was about 75
minutes long and the kids were bored by it. They, like me, couldn't relate
to the mindless film clips from his movies, the drug scene at the factory,
or his constant blank looks into the camera......

Knowing about an artist's life is important, but shouldn't we start with
the work itself? It must stand on its own......."

Deb: Warhol was his work. His vacant stares were like his empty
signifiers: floating, mass produced, and empty of all but the surface of
things (or at least that is what we are meant to believe). His factory was
appropriately named since Warhol did not call himself an artist, he called
himself a machine: mass producing reproductions of reproductions. Warhol's
eccentric lifestyle had clear connections to his work: his early
homoerotic images, his status as superstar, his face showing up at every
party, his cult of celebrity vs. cult of genius, his incessant need to
surround himself with excess(including drug use, -his inauthentic
What I find very dangerous is the need for art to "stand on its
own." This was (and still is is many cases) the dominant paradigm in
Western art and philosophy for over 400 years. When Kant propagated the
"disinterested interest" in which viewers came to art divorced from all
context (time, society, artists' life, politics, religion..) with only an
innate understanding of the beautiful. This transcendent form of the
sublime remained in tact for "experts" to claim what is truth, beauty,
reality... (Hegel, Dow, Greenberg..)
Movements like art for arts sake, creative free expression (Lowenfeld
asking children not to be corrupted by adult influences), form over
content (elements and principles over interpretation) and pure abstraction
(Modernist art that has a "Universal" beauty?) all rely on art to stand on
its own. We must contextualize "art" and all images within the political,
personal (one in the same) historical, societal, religious, economic,
gendered spaces. As you put it " I think his art is very
important in the context of its time," yes context is everything.
Including the things we might find distasteful or irrelevant.

I understand your(and others) original question and response. I am not
advocating everything be discussed at all times with all age levels.
However, sometimes the things we think are less important about the
artists' life has a direct influence on their work and our understanding
/interpretation of it.


Kevin Michael Tavin Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Art Education
The Pennsylvania State University
School of Visual Arts