Following up—suggested readings after Assignment 3


In art, postmodernism was specifically a reaction against modernism. (Actually, I believe this holds true across the board. The hint is in the name.) The end of confidence in overarching meta-narratives or universal truths and the recognition of the importance of context and many small narratives, no one of which had claim to be “the truth.” Suspicion of the sufficiency of reason (it can’t be a complete suspicion of reason or there would be little point in pursuing postmodernist thought at all).

 “Postmodern art drew on philosophy of the mid to late twentieth century, and advocated that individual experience and interpretation of our experience was more concrete than abstract principles. While the modernists championed clarity and simplicity; postmodernism embraced complex and often contradictory layers of meaning.”

 With the end of ‘authority’ came an assertion of complete freedom that had expression in rule-breaking, self-awareness, parody, appropriation and ironic commentary.

  • Pop art: no separation between fine art and popular culture
  • Conceptual art: concept more important than the created performance or artefact (personal interpretation and experience)

  • Feminist theory and art: lived experience of women (article only mentions feminist theory, but there is a range of localized theories/experiences: queer theory, post-colonial, etc.)

  • Neo-expressionism: re-birth of myth, symbol and history (rich in interpretive possibilities?)

  • Appropriation and other borrowings: drawing on other cultural products as nothing is normative

  • Performance art: accessible and often transgressive of established norms and narratives


Hall, S., Evans, J. & Nixon, S. 2013, Representation, Second ed, The Open University, Milton Keynes. (particularly Chapter One: ‘The Work of Representation’).

  • “Representation connects meaning and language to culture. [...] ‘Representation means using language to say something meaningful about, or to represent, the world meaningfully to other people.’” (p.15)

  • Three theories of representation—reflective (language reflects reality), intentional (language expresses the intent of the communicator) and and constructionist (language is a social construct using agreed-upon and arbitrary systems of codes to express and interpret meaning)—and within the the constructionist approach there are a further two: semiotic and discursive.

  • Representation as "standing in place of" (describe or depict) or "standing for" (symbolize). Words stand for or represent concepts. (p.16)

  • "Representation" is the production of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language and consists of a system of concepts of things in our heads that we perceive or of more abstract concepts. (p.17)

  • A system of representation “consists, not of individual concepts, but of different ways of organizing, clustering, arranging and classifying concepts, and of establishing complex relationships between them.” (p.17)

  • We are able to communicate “because we share broadly the same conceptual maps… [and] ‘belong to the same culture’.” (p.18) We must also share a common language.

  • Signs are “words, sounds or images which carry meaning”. Signs are, in turn, organized into languages, of which there are many varieties.

  • Signs have to be interpreted. (p.19)

  • “Codes fix the relationships between concepts and signs. They stabilize meaning within different languages and cultures.” (p.21)

  • Reflective approach to representation: meaning lies “in the object, person, idea or event in the real world, and language functions like a mirror, to reflect the true meaning as it already exists in the world.” (p.24)

  • Intentional approach to representation: “words mean what the author intends they should mean.” A difficulty with this approach is that no author is the sole arbiter of meanings, since language is shared.

  • Instead, meaning is constructed through representational systems of concepts and signs.

  • “Meaning is produced within language, in and through various representational systems which, for convenience, we call ‘languages’, (p.28)

  • Saussure distinguished between a form, which he called the signifier, and the corresponding concept that it brings to our imaginations: the signified. Together and arbitrarily, they are a sign. (p.31)

  • “Signs [...] ‘are members of a system and are defined in relations to the other members of that system.’” (p.31)

  • Much of meaning is derived from difference. Difference can have ranges and degrees, and need not be strictly binary.

  • “It is the differences between signifiers which signify.” And the relations between signifier and signified vary with time, as products of history and culture. These changes lead to new meanings and point out the importance of interpretation. (p.32)

  • Saussure further distinguished langue (a language system) and parole (any specific communication. (p.33)

  • Saussure concentrated primarily on the relation of signifier and signified, paying relatively little attention to reference, those things in the real world to which language refers. (p.34)

  • Saussure’s work also concentrated on how language works internally (its formal aspects) rather than on its actual use. His thinking was discounted as a ‘scientific’ system but found continued usefulness as a means to examine meaning and culture. The limits of his system also pointed out the degree to which languages, although rule-bound, evolve. The systems of rules are not static. (p.35)

  • Saussure’s work was developed further in cultural studies by Roland Barthes and in anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss. (pp.36-37) Each field of meaning can be said to have its own langue and parole, with its own set of meanings created by constructed relationships between signifiers and signifieds. The work of identifying these systems and interpreting them is ongoing.

  • Foucault continued to develop such structuralism into discursive analysis: the study of “the production of knowledge through language.” (p.44) Any discourse is “true [...] only within a specific historical context.” (p.46)


Terry Barrett , Art Education, Vol. 47, No. 5, Interpretation. (Sep., 1994), pp. 8-13.

In this article Barrett offers a series of principles related to the interpretation of art. He describes three specific steps in viewing a work: description, interpretation and judgement. The first two lead to ‘understanding,’ which may make judgement ‘superfluous.’

 Barrett’s principles are as follows:

  • Artworks have ‘aboutness’ and demand interpretation. Barrett asserts several things here that he doesn’t develop or explain (although the responses are no doubt in the extensive references that he provides). For example, he dismisses the idea of some that art just ‘is’ and cannot be discussed. Instead, he moves beyond a work’s ‘is-ness,’ saying that ‘a work of art is an expressive object made by a person… it is always about something”. I think this is probably a fair point, because even if an artist created a work that was about ‘nothing,’ an idea of creating a pointless object (pure freedom? a statement about the ultimate meaninglessness of reality or our inability to communicate ‘reality’?) would still lie behind the creation of the work. I have a feeling that a geologist, an earth scientist or a biologist (or theologian!) might dispute the idea that trees and rocks do not call for interpretations, but he is making a point about the intent of the artist. Barrett claims that if something is created by a person, another person not only has the opportunity to interpret it, but the work itself asks to be interpreted. (This shows a confidence in the sufficiency of human reason, something that can’t be taken for granted among all commentators.)
  • Responsible interpretations present the artwork in its best rather than in its weakest light. I’m not sure why this automatically makes an interpretation more ‘responsible,’ but I agree that interpreters are well-advised to show generosity and humility in their work. Why bother with the work of interpreting if there is nothing to be learned from something another human made?

  • Interpretations are arguments. This statement leads to the helpful warning that we should be alert to the premises of a critic’s interpretation before accepting his or her conclusions.

  • Interpretations are persuasive. I expect that this is true most of the time, but I can imagine that a critic might review a work without necessarily trying to win the reader to a particular point of view: the critic’s goals could be educational (did you see this aspect? did you notice this possibility?) without trying to arrive at a particular fixed interpretation.

  • Some interpretations are better than others. Yes. A well-formed, experienced and reliable guide of good will deserves more of a hearing. And the ‘that’s just your opinion’ school of thought does indeed show up in the humanities and social sciences.

  • No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork and there can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same artwork. Certainly—variety of context and viewpoint make a final interpretation of an artwork impossible. And this does not undermine the previous point about some interpretations being better than others.

  • Interpretations imply a world view. No argument here: this is the source of the context and viewpoint referred to in the previous point.

  • Good interpretations of art tell more about the artwork than they tell about the interpreter. Barrett sums up his point well in this line: “All interpretations reveal the critic, but the critic’s primary challenge is to direct the reader to perceive and understand the art object in question.” I accept this, but I’m not sure that a hardcore postmodernist would.

  • Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative. From everything Barrett has said to this point in the article, this is a logical position to take.

  • Good interpretations have coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness. In other words, they should hold together, relate to the work appropriately and deal with it as a whole.

  • Feelings are guides to interpretations. Yes—we make things with our whole selves, so it is appropriate to read them that way, too.

  • It is interpretively risky to arrive at a confident interpretation of one piece of art without knowledge of any others by the artist. (It seems to me that Barrett is presenting a new principle here but that it is has not been set in bold type in the article—a mistake?) I think this could be argued. Is the artist’s intent what is important? Are we to assume that the artist could not strike out on a new path or make a complete break with what has gone before?

  • An interpretation of an artwork need not match the artist’s intent for the artwork. No argument here: artists are not necessarily the best or most articulate interpreters of their own work and, like the rest of us, are probably not fully aware of all the influences to which they are subject.

  • The objects of interpretations are artworks, not artists. A valid principle, but could it conflict with Barrett’s principle about the need to take into account an artist’s broad output?

  • All art is in part about the world in which it emerged. Yes, but what are the limits on this? When should we start to worry that the interpreter’s knowledge of ‘culture’ might be projecting ideas and influences that simply aren’t there? And in today’s highly-mobile societies with multiple cultural influences, what is ‘the world’ in which a piece emerges? Is this ‘world’ unique to every artist, and at different times of her life?

  • All art is in part about other art. Some of these statements are quite sweeping and categorical. It is a valid point that “art does not emerge within an aesthetic vacuum,” but do the aesthetics in question only have to arise from the art world? It sounds strange to say that “[a]rt can be about life, about art, or both.” Where is the dividing line?

  • Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor and the community is eventually self-corrective. Barrett is right to call this “an optimistic view of the art world and scholarship”—it sounds like an article of faith to me. If the art world does not self-correct, how would we know? What would be different? How would we test the degree of correction? From what standard?

  • Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own. The implication here is that art and interpretation are part of an ongoing process of dialogue and perhaps education/refinement of opinion and understanding.

‘Visual Stance’ - Gaze and Glance and ‘Direct Address’

The Gaze in Portraiture

Online article by John Frederick Anderson, heavily drawn from a portion of a book by Norman Bryson (“The Gaze and the Glance” in Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze, (1982) Macmillan). The importance of different levels of looking in art, from the glance (short-lived, furtive, stolen) to the gaze (longer, open, admiring?). Cultural differences in where the gaze lands; the direct gaze as a sign of aggression in the animal kingdom. A direct gaze between humans can also be a sign of aggression, or at least confidence. Does this also mark the line between portraiture (gaze) and street photography (glance)?

Nicolas Mirzoeff (1998) Visual-Culture-Reader, Routledge, 2009 (“Introduction to Part Five,” pp.391–397).

  • Feminist and queer theory have placed importance on the gaze in terms of power relationship (asserting the right to look on another), to the point of proposing that “the gaze is in itself male, objectifying and subordinating women.” (391)
  • Recognition that sex is not merely present in genitalia but throughout a human being.

  • Growth in medical/anatomical knowledge is rationalist (and somewhat mechanical)—viewed as enacting “a man’s claim to rational authority over (feminine) nature.” (392)

  • Life drawing not open to women; Freudian psychoanalytic view of difference between the sexes rooted in presence and absence (castration) of a penis.

  • Role playing of the ‘heterosexual binary’ in presenting stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, which may or may not be related to gender. (393)

  • What happens to the ‘heterosexual binary’ if the subject or the object of the gaze is not heterosexual? (394) → expanded set of identities and meanings

  • These expanded identities and meanings can be subversive of gender norms or supportive of them (what is the impact of drag? in what context? for what purpose?) (395)

  • Importance of viewpoint: images can pose questions of the one looking on them, just as easily as the one looking may exercise the gaze.

  • Interesting differences in comfort with images and gaze, depending on the viewer’s expectations and personal norms: ‘some lesbian and gay readers demand unambiguously “safe” images in the gay press whereas they revel in transgressive, contradictory and subversive pleasures in the mainstream’ (Reina Lewis, quoted on 396).

Tate Debate: When is appropriation homage and when is it plagiarism?

Appropriation has a long history in art: Pablo Picasso; Georges Braque; Kurt Schwitters; Andy Warhol. Some image appropriation is a necessity (e.g., orthodox iconography) while other uses are meant to comment or subvert the original piece. Advent of digital media has made appropriation much easier and more common. When is this a problem?

Following up—suggested readings after Assignment 2

“Aporia” in Lodge, D. The Art of Fiction (1992), pp.219-222.

  • Used in rhetoric to suggest that the speaker is in a state of doubt or uncertainty, whether real or for effect. It can be employed to examine a genuine conundrum, or to soften the blow of dealing with a difficult topic. It can also be used by a writer to give the appearance of unguarded honesty before the reader.

  • “The discourse accretes rather than proceeds, by a kind of self-cancellation, one step forwards and one step back, contradictory statements separated only by commas, without the usual adversative but or however.” (Lodge, 221)

  • “Aporia is a favourite trope of deconstructionist critics,because it epitomizes the way in which all texts undermine their own claims to a determinate meaning; but the narrator's later admission, "that I say aporia without knowing what it means," is a trumping of aporia.” (Lodge, 222)

“Sibilance” as a literary device

  • As with alliteration, sibilance is a repetition of initial consonant sounds in a line of prose or poetry. Alliteration involves the repeated use of hard consonants (b, d, k, etc.) while sibilance uses soft consonants (“s with sh, and ch, th including three others such as z, x, f and softer c” from, consulted on 11 Dec 2016).


Philip-Lorca diCorcia on the “real” in photography

  • I enjoyed this brief video very much. I found diCorcia’s photographs deep and occasionally beautiful, and his discussion of the “real” in photography was very helpful. I think he is quite right: we cannot assume that the “exteriority” of a person in an image gives us an accurate window into his or her “interiority.” There is no necessary connection between the two. It is a human trait that we want to read meaning into facial expressions and to construct narratives from still images.

  • diCorcia takes pains to break the easy assumptions we might make about beautifully-lit photographs of unaware passersby or of people who have been posed by the photographer, either singly or with other people. He has done his best to ensure that there is no “story,” so any perceived meaning is almost entirely in the viewer’s imagination.

  • In this sense, diCorcia does with images what Reader Response critics do with written texts: they both draw attention to the role of the role of the audience in creating meaning and the difficulty—or impossibility, or irrelevance—of reaching behind the created work to grasp the intention of the artist.

Semiotics and Binary Oppositions

  • Following Ferdinand de Saussure,’semiotics’ or ‘semiology’ “studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them.”

  • Quote from “Semiotics for Beginners” -- “Structuralism is an analytical method which has been employed by many semioticians and which is based on Saussure's linguistic model. Structuralists seek to describe the overall organization of sign systems as 'languages' - as with Lévi-Strauss and myth, kinship rules and totemism, Lacan and the unconscious and Barthes and Greimas and the 'grammar' of narrative. They engage in a search for 'deep structures' underlying the 'surface features' of phenomena. However, contemporary social semiotics has moved beyond the structuralist concern with the internal relations of parts within a self-contained system, seeking to explore the use of signs in specific social situations. Modern semiotic theory is also sometimes allied with a Marxist approach which stresses the role of ideology.”

  • Semiotics is used in the interpretation of ‘texts,’ broadly understood: “[...] a message which has been recorded in some way (e.g. writing, audio- and video-recording) so that it is physically independent of its sender or receiver. A text is an assemblage of signs (such as words, images, sounds and/or gestures) constructed (and interpreted) with reference to the conventions associated with a genre and in a particular medium of communication.”

  • The belief in the independence of the ‘text’ seems to bring us close to the position taken by the Reader Response Critics who asserted that meaning is created in the interaction between the text and the reader, without reference to the conditions or intent of the author. And the attention to the medium of communication alerts us to the role it plays in establishing the possibilities and limits in sending and receiving a text. McLuhan will take this line of thinking further in his famous dictum that “the medium is the message”, in that the medium becomes more important in communicating values and possibilities than any individual medium/text that it might carry.

  • While Saussure was happy to speak of Semiology as a ‘science,’ it is less a formally-described method or discipline than it is a cluster of approaches used across many disciplines.

  • Saussure makes helpful interpretive distinctions between langue (structure and rules of a language or means of communication) and parole (a particular instance of communication) and between synchronic (reading a text as a whole, whatever its history of formation) and diachronic (paying attention to the role of time in the creation of a communication) methods of reading texts.

  • Summary of the article is a useful one for continued study in the arts, whether textual or visual: “Meaning is not 'transmitted' to us - we actively create it according to a complex interplay of codes or conventions of which we are normally unaware.” An essential part of the work of the interpreter, then, is identifying, making explicit and understanding those codes and conventions.

  • The idea of binary opposition has been described at least since Aristotle’s “principle of non-contradiction” in formal logic (‘A’ cannot be simultaneously ‘A’ and ‘non-A’) and much earlier than that, based on the experience of the world around us (dead-alive, night-day, friend-foe). It can be very useful in helping us to understand distinctions and, at times, in giving us a way to describe the new or foreign in terms of what they are not. This would be similar to the via negativa approach used in philosophy and theology.

  • Saussure and many of his followers start from the assertion that human understanding is heavily dependent upon narrative, and that the underlying structure of narrative is binary opposition or a series of such oppositions.

  • This can be a helpful tool for interpretation and understanding but, as XXX points out, binary oppositions have their limits and even dangers. Opposition makes for a narrative that is easy to tell and easy to grasp, but it can have serious consequences when applied, for example, in an ‘us-them’ way to other countries or classes of people.

Cruel and Tender at the Tate

  • Carter Ratcliff’s reflection on the first photographic exhibition at the Tate Modern picks up on the same theme raised by Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s work: the extent to which the viewer brings meaning to the photograph he views. Meaning is not limited or determined by the artist.

  • This is no less true in the field of documentary photography or filmmaking, although the use of the ‘language’ of documentation may lead the reader of these particular ‘texts’ to make assumptions that are not well founded. Ratcliff is quite right to say that, “[w]e are living through a protracted epidemic of confusion about the difference between artworks and documents.”

  • Because of the blurring of the lines between art and document, it should not be surprising that some photographers moved fluidly between the two: documentarians inadvertently created work that became viewed as art (Sander; the Bechers) while artists drew on documentary media and langue with and for their art (Thomas Ruff, whose work I had the chance to see last spring at the Art Gallery of Ontario).

  • I found this article particularly helpful because it helps to illuminate some of the characteristics of contemporary photography. Rather than concentrating on creating aesthetically-pleasing images, many artists now use photography either as a tool to document ephemeral works of art (as Andy Goldsworthy does with his natural creations) or as a means to directly engage the viewer about the nature of meaning, slipping back and forth between the languages of documentary and the visual arts.

Photography Theory

Notes from Bate, D. (2009) Photography: the key concepts. Oxford: Berg. pp.26-43.


  • Three key periods of photographic theory: origins (1830s); early 20th century (1920s and -30s; modernism?); and transition to postmodernism (1960s to -80s)

  • Victorian aesthetics: primary concerns are accuracy of representation and the status of photography as an art form, rather than a mere copier and a pale shadow of painting

  • Mass reproduction in the 1920s and 1930s: a technology for the masses and a tool for the avant-garde; key theorist Walter Benjamin (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936) turns the page on whether photography is art and instead raises the question of how photography and mass reproduction have transformed art. John Berger (Ways of Seeing, 1972) picks up from Benjamin and explores the social impact of photographic images and how they have influenced the way we see each other. Attention to meaning and social impact opened the door to connections with semiotic theory and analysis.

  • The 1960s and 1970s: the rise and consolidation of mass media; commercialisation and social communication. Use of photography by conceptual artists to document art, rather than to create fine art. Important theorists include Barbara Rosenblum, Pierre Bourdieu, Roland Barthes and Victor Burgin.

  • Importance of being mindful of images—which we tend to consume without thinking—because they are value- and ideology-laden. Barthes’ semiotic analysis undertook to create a “theory of the ideology of photography.” (p.30)

  • Structuralism: structures / rules / system that underlie a discourse. Barthes’ last book, Camera Lucida, moves into phenomenology (“the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view”) from Structuralism.

  • Semiotics: photography as a language with its own system of signs; definition created through difference; meaning formulated through relationship of signs within a system. Signifier + signified = sign and the “signified is a ‘psychological image’ in our head.” (p.33). “Here we can also see straight away how even the most fundamental signified meaning of any photograph (or other sign) is partially dependent upon the viewer’s language, as well as the various codes that it employs and their cultural knowledge. In other words, the codes with which we are familiar (the English language, four-legged animals, photographs, etc.), enable messages to be transmitted, which the spectator ‘reads’ to generate meanings.” (p.34)

  • Photographic codes: many of the ‘codes’ of photography are already built in because of technical aspects of picture-making; others are determined by the picture-maker (angle of view, focus, position, etc.). Portraits contain codes of expression that we grasp because of experience. Lighting is another rich source of codes. See Umberto Eco on photographic codes and rhetoric in ‘Critique of the Image’ in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982).

  • Rhetoric: “In photography, codes are combined to produce a rhetorical argument. By themselves, codes are meaningless, like phonemes in language. It is only when codes are put together in specific combinations that they are effective in producing what we call a ‘good photograph’. It is from a particular configuration of such codes (whichever ones are included) that the rhetoric of the image determines the range of meanings available from the photograph.” (p.36)

  • The ‘language’ of photography: Until the 1960s and 70s, realism was most often the goal or measure of a photograph, often with more attention paid to the referent than to the photograph as a created work. Semiotics, however, pays attention to difference (for example, between referent and image) rather than similarity and allows for new possibilities of analysis and interpretation.

  • Realism and reality: “The realism of an image corresponds to a preconception of reality.” (p.41) “So it is important not to forget that there is difference involved in photographs. What the realist takes for granted as ‘reality’, semiotics argues is constructed through a photographic discourse, of codes. Contrary to the views of some sceptics, visual semiotics does not refute the existence of ‘reality’, rather it develops a way to speak about how the graphic marks on a flat piece of paper come to signify a ‘reality’.” (p.42) These points remind us that we do not have direct access to reality through a photographic image (or through any work of art), but that everything is mediated to us through created structures within which we participate whether or not we are aware of it. Without some sort of theoretical construct or approach, we will create meaning without paying attention to the codes at work or to the perspectives and presuppositions we bring to the act of interpretation.

Reflection on tutor's feedback to Assignment 2

I am very pleased with the feedback I received from Garry on Assignment 2. I put quite a bit of effort into the work and had taken time to do additional reading and incorporate it into my writing.

My tutor’s comments lead me to believe that I am on the right track and he had no major corrections to offer. Instead, his suggested additional readings are meant to help me tease out more nuances around structuralist and postmodern thinking which will be useful as tools for analysis and interpretation as I continue my work in the program. I have taken the time to read and reflect carefully on them and have written up my learning and thoughts below. I can see quite clearly how the readings help to clarify the ‘binary oppositions’ I had identified in the opening paragraphs of the novel I chose, and how the choice and presentation of the oppositions/pairs may be unequally weighted in terms of values or ideology. In addition, what appears to be straight “description,” whether in a work of written or visual documentation, is usually nothing of the kind. The technology employed (publishing or camera, for example) has its own embedded ‘codes’ that may not be explicit and many choices have been made in terms of viewpoint and ‘language.’ The able interpreter has to be aware of these influences and consider their impact on the creation and reception of the work.

I was also pleased to be able to make connections with some of the theory (particularly rhetoric and structuralism) that was familiar to me from my studies in literature and theology. I look forward to being able to pursue them further in the program, especially work done by Barthes and others in the area of visual rhetoric.

I find that I am gaining confidence in the OCA approach to education. It’s not yet completely second nature to do everything remotely—especially from Canada, rather than the UK—but the materials are good, the feedback is helpful and the chance to be more self-directed in my study is welcome. I am beginning to think about the choices for my second course in the program and, at this point, expect that I will opt to do the photography course (Photography 1: Expressing Your Vision) next rather than the one on writing (Writing 1: Writing Skills). There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I’d like to get into something a little more visual next (although Module 4 of Creative Arts Today is on photography and will allow me to test my interest a bit); and 2) I’ve still not decided whether to follow the Creative Arts program (writing and photography) or the Photography program (photography alone). Studying CAT and then EYV in that order allows me to delay my decision about program direction until after I’ve been able to give the photography component a good shake.

All in all, I’m happy with the way things are shaping up and have begun work on Module 3. I would, nevertheless, like to pick up the pace and will look at ways to do this.

Reflection on tutor's feedback to Assignment 1

I'm late getting back to the coursework after some recent changes at my job and a month's holiday in Scotland. Things are back to "normal" now, so it's time to get cracking on Creative Arts Today. 

I probably put off submitting Assignment longer than I should have because I wasn't completely confident with my work or the requirements of the course. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the OCA course materials: it's more a case of getting used to distance education rather than more customary on-site education. Assignment 1 broke the ice, though, so I'm fairly sure I'll move through the remaining assignments at a better pace.

As it turns out, I was pleased with my tutor's feedback. Garry had clearly read very carefully what I had written and I found his comments both helpful and fair. The one sticking point was that he had not received the URL for my learning blog, so he had to rely solely on the Word document that I submitted for the assignment. I did indeed include it via the OCA submission interface, but I'll make a point of including the blog's link in the Word document itself next time. 

Garry's overall comments about my writing style and content were positive and he identified a couple  of areas that I could strengthen: 

  1. some research gaps; and
  2. the need to be more specific in some of the statements I made. 

The research gaps were largely related to drawing on thinkers and critics in the arts whose work could illuminate, bolster or challenge some of the points in my paper. As a new student in the visual arts I think this is normal and I will look to broaden my knowledge of theory, criticism and performance as I progress through this course and others. I appreciate the additional references and links Garry provided and will follow up on them. I will likely blog on the pieces that I find most useful or provocative. I expect that my understanding will increase through this reflection and that my critical vocabulary will grow and allow me to express myself on the arts with greater accuracy. Expanding my understanding and "toolkit" will also help me to situate my comments within a larger conversation around art criticism and appreciation. Given the negotiated meaning (negotiated among artist, viewer, critic, etc.) and social dimensions of contemporary art, it will be important to have this degree of awareness about one's own thought and expression, and those of other people. The issue of context has multiple dimensions and it is crucial to know where one stands in relation to time, place and discourse.

I accept without reservation Garry's comment on my need to be more specific in parts of my text. As I read through what I had written I could see exactly what he meant. I don't think I need to spend a lot of time reflecting on this: it's something I need to watch for in future writing.

As I mentioned earlier, I will follow up on the additional readings and references Garry has provided. They will supplement my learning and I look forward to reading them.

Garry also mentioned that he had a grid that outlines modernist/postmodernist definitions and strategies. I have some familiarity with these in the fields of literature and philosophy, but I am sure I would benefit from seeing how they are applied in the visual arts. 

All told, I breathed a sigh of relief as I worked my way through the comments from my tutor. He spent time on what I wrote, made some encouraging remarks about my writing and thinking, and directed me to some additional sources to help deepen my work. I couldn't ask for much better than that and -- importantly for me -- the exercise provided me with a baseline for expectations. (So that's what they're looking for!) 

I've learned some things, I'm encouraged and I'm ready to work toward Assignment 2.

No complaints here.