depiction and painting 19502000 gerry bell



This is a study that shows how a theory of pictorial representation, or depiction, remains controversial, has profound implications for art history. A revised theory is introduced, covering a broader range of depictive meaning, unifying divergent critical practices. Stylistic classifications derived from this, suggest a remedy to problems in defining the period styles of Modernism and Post-Modernism.


The study is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to theory, traces the controversy surrounding depiction then adopts and adapts the views of Nelson Goodman. Depiction is here taken as a mode of exemplification. Other adjustments preserve Goodman’s irrealism, suggest an historical method and offer favourable comparison with similar and more prominent approaches, such as hermeneutics, structuralism and post-structuralism. A new theory of painting is then introduced, based on a contrast with printing. The importance of painting to depiction and art history is illustrated by a review of formalist criticism of the period and highlights difficulties that arise in an account of abstraction in depiction.


 The second part is devoted to art history. New groupings, rather than new artists or works are introduced. The concept of abstraction is revised together with rival styles of depiction for the period of Modernism. The extent of the period is drastically reduced, starting around 1912, ending around 1950. The second half of the twentieth century is divided into three period styles, Late Modernism, Post-Modernism and Globalism. Within a period, styles of abstraction and more concrete depiction share complementary or synchronic paths, along with other plastic arts. Finally, the history is compared with others, noting distinctive features, advantages and unavoidable omissions.


Because text runs to around 100,000 words and makes severe demands upon screen reading, a table for each part outlines the content for each chapter, which is offered as a PDF download, as is each half and the entire study. A feature of the on-line presentation is the use of links for illustrations. Because of the great number of illustrations used, size, layout, permission and copyright clearance are prohibitive. A remedy has been to link to other sites for appropriate illustrations. The links are available in the PDF files, if viewed on-line, or on a separate page to this site and may be saved or printed according to the reader’s needs.


The introduction explains the approach in greater detail.