depiction and painting



The scope and method to this study are unusually broad. Scope extends from a review of theories of depiction, in art history, aesthetics, psychology and descriptive geometry, to related issues of style, expression, interpretation and painting, to their application in art criticism.

The aim is firstly to provide an adequate theory of depiction, one that holds for the full range of examples, then to demonstrate how the theory may overcome certain stylistic problems for the study of recent art. There is a danger obviously in stretching research too thinly, in providing only a superficial account of this range and confusing some traditional boundaries. This is set against the prospect of a more effective integration, a greater understanding of depiction and a more consistent and discriminating view of recent art history.

The study thus proceeds by careful and extensive reference, allows that the reader’s expertise may not extend equally to all areas visited, explains basic principles on many, perhaps obvious points. It takes time to traverse the full breadth of topic, may seem unduly pedestrian on certain points. Indeed, theoretical issues may tax the reader anxious to embark upon simply a novel art history. The study falls readily enough into two parts, theory and history, but history cannot be read with profit before theory, nor theory fully appreciated without its application to history. The theoretical issues prompt a series of bold departures, although implications for history may not always be obvious. But assuredly, all are needed to build a theory of any strength or conviction, and the problems to be addressed require just this of theory. There is no point advocating a theory of lesser scope, no point reviewing art history supported by anything less.

The problems for recent art history concern firstly the concept of abstraction in depiction and its relation to competing and more concrete styles. Mistakes over the distinction between the picture plane and picture surface, about varieties of picture plane or schemes of projection and perspective and the role of painting in depiction are carried through to problems with stylistics. The period of Modernism inflates to unmanageable proportions and then makes problems for the extent of Post-Modernism. While the study shares an interest in these periods with a great deal of recent scholarship, it is distinctive in this concentration upon stylistics.

Method of research is conspicuous where art history is more fully engaged. Established works are regrouped according to stylistic features derived from the theory of depiction. Method makes for new styles rather than the more usual elaboration on source for a given style. New styles are rarely offered as replacements for established ones, but rather as additional categories that ease and integrate the system of styles within and around the periods of Modernism and Post-Modernism.

Modernism and Post-Modernism are revised in duration and constitution. Where new sub-styles are introduced, such as ‘Overstyle’ and ‘Rerealism’, they are placed in inverted commas throughout the text, acknowledging novelty. This also applies to terms introduced for special techniques or features such as ‘layout’, ‘traction’, ‘interruption’ and ‘readily-made’. Following this emphasis upon stylistics, analysis of individual works here is primarily concerned with identifying salient features and demonstrating how they work or refer, rather than interpreting the fuller ramifications of source. In cases where a substantial body of interpretation exists for a given work or style, standard publications are acknowledged in footnote, along with key agreements or disputes. Because of the amount of ground covered, descriptions are necessarily brief. Hopefully, rigour and clarity avoid any impression of flippancy.

Scope and method are thus granted latitude only to address vital issues and afford necessary revision. The work of Nelson Goodman proves an underestimated resource in this. Adopting and adapting his aesthetic for this purpose makes the study a very rare foray indeed. Where the study succeeds, a good many aspects are to be credited to his work, at least by the good mannered reader. And success is to be measured in both a more adequate theory of depiction and a more complete and coherent history for recent art. This is the test the study sets itself, that sanctions departures in scope and method and that the patient reader is finally asked to apply. 

To note particulars of presentation, the study falls into twenty chapters and two parts. Chapters One to Ten are devoted to theory, Eleven to Twenty to history. A table for each part details the progression of chapters, relevant reading, artists and styles (see navigation bar). The many illustrations accompanying the text are provided by links in the PDF files or from a list on the illustrations page. This enables the illustrations to be found on-line, even as the relevant text hurries from any point on a page where an illustration might usefully be inserted.  It also allows the text to use many more and often larger illustrations than might practically be inserted, many more than might be afforded in permission and copyright clearance.  It is unfortunate that the illustrations cannot accompany the reader who wishes to read a printed copy, or off-line, but the reader is free to copy or print the illustrations.  Hopefully this arrangement is not too inconvenient.