Art and Agency – Alfred Gell

Art and Agency.jpgIn Gell’s discussion of our current interpretations of anthropological icons, he proposes a new way of looking at art theory that pushes away from iconophilia and representations aesthetically. In contrast, Gell offers a new way of looking at how the art object’s relations to its surroundings and placement in the outside world through society and social surroundings to create a “nexus”. This Art Nexus is comprised of the relationship between four subjects; the Artist, the Recipient, The Index (the Material), and the Prototype (What the image is trying to represent). These subjects are interchangeable as agent and patient, and has different agents for different artworks.

In terms of my own discussion, this has made me question what it is that makes the piece of art valuable to discussion, and it is in this nexus that the piece of art is made due to social relations. For example, when looking at particularly portraiture, and that relationship between agent and patient, it has opened discussion in the idea that the Prototype is in fact the agent, and thus a portrait is forced into portraying the sitter as its primary agent, which then makes the index of paint or portrayal of existentialism secondary factors. If portraiture was to be considered a true representation of the human form then it must encapsulate the human condition as a primary agent rather than the desire to create a naturalist likeness.


Art’s Agency and Art History History – Robin Osbourne and Jeremy Tanner

Using Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency as a primary influence for its approach to art history, Art’s Agency and Art History gives clear insight into anthropological studies and social relations between art objects and theories.

Art's Agency

The book creates insight into the history of the portrayal of the human form, and more particularly I was interested in the ideologies of the human form within the book. The book uses comparisons between Greek, Buddhist and Christian ideologies and contemporary art movement, whilst comparing contemporary art’s similar agencies but under different motives such as using the body of the sitter in the work could be used to bring the spirit of the person into the portrait, but in a modern day world it could be seen as bringing substance into the portrait.Using the Art Nexus that Gell creates in “Art and Agency”, Tanner uses his own examples of relics from previous civilisations to give example of how the through the own objects making it becomes an Indexical representation of the human form. Tanner also compares and contrasts the use of the ideal figure, such as the use of the naturalist figure in Classical Greek art and how the essence of the figure is maintained within Buddhist practice of giving objects to a piece of art, such as the subject’s own hair to an effigy.

Transcendence with The Human Body in Art – Doug Adams

TranscendenceWhen reading Doug Adams’ analysis of North American 20th Century art, I was allowed to look at the human form as a centre beyond ourselves, and look at how previous civilisations have affected how we produce art in portrayal of Transcendent beings. In the book, Adams’ makes correlations between the works of 4 contemporary artists (Segal, De Staebler, Johns, and Christo) and their relation to theologies and other works pivotal to our understanding on the body and consciousness.

Through reading this particular book the notion of transcendence has now become a particular topic of discussion in my thesis as the representation of spiritual form or a superior being will allow me to discuss the representations of clerical beings, and their relation to us who portray them as such.

I was particularly intrigued by Adams’ perception of George Segal’s The Holocaust, which looked at the transcendence of the human form as a chain of corporeal frames which pushed the essence of our existence as a network of figures as opposed to one sole entity. The configuration of Biblical and Hebrew subjects representing the holocaust victims allows them to become transcendent, but it is more the arrangement of the bodies I am interested in, as they allow the human form to be represented as a network of individuals as opposed to one singular being.