Critical Reflections

Okay, now that the semester is over I can take some time to reflect on the symposium and offer a few opinions and some critical reflections.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the attendance and the diversity of presentations. Having a variety of panels proved to be a wise choice and encouraged a lively rotation of audience participants–both of which added to the positive atmosphere in the gallery. It seems fitting to have had our presentations paired with the juried student show. The ideas complemented the art in form and content.

Furthermore, it seems increasingly clear to me that there is a line of demarcation between traditional art historians and more avant-garde scholars working within the visual realm today. Of course, my bias will show, but I think that is the point of having open conversations among colleagues in a forum like this. While the symposium was inspired by the work of Sunil Manghani in Image Critique and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the way that presenters followed through on his concepts varied. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Kristine Nielsen, provided a thoughtful presentation in which she discussed Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), Fritz Cremer (1906-1993), and Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010)–artists of German origin. However, I feel that her scholarly work–at least in this context–represents a more traditional art historical approach to images and image makers that is rooted in European culture and traditional methods. This is not to disparage Dr. Nielsen in any way! Her presentation was well researched and informative, but not something that inspires me. Besides potential idiosyncratic reasons for this, I have been trying to analyze just why, but I believe the reasons lie along that line of demarcation that I mentioned and are two-fold in nature.

First, as a graduate student in a new interdisciplinary Visual Culture program at a public American university, I have had the liberty of having no established program that I must conform to as I explore my interests. Conversely, there is no precedent to guide my performance. When I experience a scholar trained in traditional art history, I see a set practice and methodology to the research that can be either a comfort or a constraint.

Second, my line of demarcation recurred in another environment. A number of the symposium participants participated in a moderated discussion of Manghani’s book. There were several undergraduate and graduate students present as well as junior and senior professors. When we discussed Manghani’s idea of Image Critique the room was split into two camps. The first camp advocated for the idea of an art historical or critical canon that considers works by Vasari and Wofflin to be essential to a knowledge base, and the second camp that advocated for more global inclusion and diversity of difference in critical approach. Clearly, this is not a new argument as both the now infamous (and decades old) October survey indicated and as explicated in The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn by Margaret Dikovitskaya.

The most informative aspects of our moderated discussion were made by the undergraduate students just beginning their academic journey. A student noted that studying the work of a scholar like Vasari colors everything you see afterwards–that is either a problem or a benefit depending on the camp to which you choose to belong. I belong to the second camp.

In my presentation, I used images in the initial stage of my presentation that were meant to complement my talk about First Nations art, but I did not label them or explain their specific meaning. I let the images “speak for themselves.” In the second portion of my presentation, I used specific images and discussed them in detail in a more traditional approach. I wanted to see which part resonated with the audience.

What I label, traditionalists and modernists did not seem to find my first stage appealing and perhaps found it to be disjointed or confusing. Of course, this could be my fault as a junior scholar. However, after I spoke with a number of undergraduate and graduate students I found that the ideas had more resonance with them. At this point I do not believe that this signifies a mere function of generational opposition, as I am not a traditional student. Moreover, I admit that this is only anecdotal evidence of my experiment with Manghan’s Image Critique, but I learned a great deal and am looking forward to next year’s symposium.

Please join the conversation if you would like to offer an opinion or your own critique.

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I am going to need a few days to think about and reflect on the content of our speakers presentations and perspectives. However, I intend to blog about highlights that resonated with me and hope that some of the subscribers will respond in kind and present their own perspectives and engagement with the diversity of talks they experienced today.

As I informally queried my fellow symposium members after the event, the comment that was most consistent was pleasure at the diversity of ideas presented in one forum. I agree. I enjoyed learning from a variety of sources that I might not ordinarily have engaged with.

Thank you to everyone for attending and being active participants in this unique opportunity.

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Panel Five Abstracts

Panel Five, Presenter Eight

Melissa J. Cook
M.F.A. Candidate Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Writing With Paint: An Artist’s Talk
As a visual artist, “writing with images” is exactly how I view
painting. My body of work incorporates a variety of art historical images,
contemporary popular culture images, and personal narratives. Art historical
references within my work can be as specific as a figure or gesture, or as
exact as a type of paint handling that may connote a particular movement
like Abstract Expressionism or Impressionism. Other art historical references
within my work vary from color palette use, to the illusionistic quality that
paint can play in representation, to brush work, and to the scale of the work.
By writing with art historical images or tropes within the history of painting
and combining them with contemporary images, I create an interesting dialogue
where the idea of the canon and the history of representation can be
questioned. When using art historical references, one would typically assume
an explicit dialogue between a definitive artist, or a mode of representation,
or with a specific piece of art; however, I find by using a range of art historical
references and contemporary images that I am able to expand upon
present-day ideas of representation. These ideas manifest themselves within
a range of portraiture and history painting. I challenge traditional forms of
representation in order to provoke thought about the changing dimensions of
pictorial representations; how we currently view these images; and what
meaning, if any, they possess.

Panel Five, Presenter Nine

Ian T. Carey
M.F.A. Candidate, Painting, Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
The Reevaluation of the Mark: an Artist’s Talk by Ian T. Carey
I position my images within a historical genealogy that is representative
of expressionist painting. This talk engages contemporary issues that
exist within the practice of painting—the ideas presented serve as the core
of my artistic position. I will represent my images in relationship to ideas
that exist within contemporary theoretical discourse. The focus of the discussion
will be on how particular strands of imagery function within modernist
and contemporary painting, and present artists that exemplify my
ideas. The presentation will highlight painting strategies used by contemporary
figure painters based in the United Kingdom.
Next, I reconsider the function of mark making. I will present my
ideas in relation to the material application of paint, and display images
that have attempted to devalue the “expressionistic mark”. The focus will
be on Roy Lichtenstein’s painting “Brush Stroke” (1965). My work will
be positioned as a contradiction to this visual lineage, and present ideas on
how paint application can function non-linguistically, and serve as a catalyst
for the narrative potential of an image. The mark propagates thought,
as well as emotion within the individual viewer. I will present examples
that are present in my work, and focus on my latest artistic production in
order to finalize my position.

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Panel Four Abstracts

Panel Four, Presenter Six

Julián Serna
M.A. Candidate, Visual Culture, Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Performing Capitalism: Infomercials and the Public Sphere
This presentation explores the notions of subjectivity and the public
sphere in the sociopolitical scenario after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For
Sunil Manghani the fall of the Berlin Wall is understood as an event where a
history ended—that history was made by dialectic interpretations of the
world that was characterized by what is now known as the Cold War.
Following the ideas of Zygmunt Bauman, the author writes that “the political
landscape has been made up of alternative and opposing ideologies, the
notion of ideological resolution eliminates all alternatives, leaving us with
´unprecedented freedom´” (Manghani 2008, 142). Under this new
socio- political reality, it is necessary to turn our focus on the local reality of
the United States in the decade following 1990. This decade presents a
scenario where a series of discursive structures concretized to shape the logic
of this new global landscape. During the period that Manghani points to as
the non-history epoch, we have been witnesses to the emergence of Neoliberalism
as the predominant organizational paradigm for the world. This is a
world in which the political system has been constructed over private
property and in which the notion of the individual has been privileged over
that of the community. It is a period in which the accumulation of economic
capital has become the purpose and way to exercise power. In short, it is a
world governed by corporations. This presentation studies the boom of infomercials
on U.S. television-networks during the 90’s decade as one of the
remaining sites for the public where a series of alternative realities might be

Panel Four, Presenter Seven

Neal Vandenbergh
M.F.A. Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago

Presentation Title:
What does Contemporary Art have to do with the Radical Left?
“Therefore, meaning can only be political when it does not lend itself to
be easily stabilized and when it does not rely on any single source of authority,
but, rather, empties it, or decentralizes it.” -Trinh T. Minh Ha
The contemporary art world can (and does) suck. The old complaint, the
fundamental Marxist criticism—that it’s just a bunch of rich white dudes
making luxury items for each other—is unfortunately still pretty evident while
strolling around galleries and museums on one’s day off. So where does the art
world’s potential lie? And what does art have to do with the radical left?
Political theorist Michael Hardt’s theory of revolution offers us a way to think
about art’s potential in our current vast landscape of visual culture. His is a
complex proposal that can be (reductively here for the sake of space)
summarized as a way to shape human nature in order to learn democratic and
autonomous behaviors.
When interpreting art, I propose, this is what we are doing: practicing
autonomous, egalitarian and anti-authoritative forms of making meaning.
Contrasted against other public signification systems, filmmaker and theorist
Trinh T. Minh Ha’s thoughts on meaning and French philosopher Jacques
Ranciere’s theory of spectatorship will be used to show how this is achieved in
contemporary art. Addressing the question proposed by the symposium, what
it means to allow images to speak for themselves, I suggest Sunil Manghani’s
proposal is actually to let each viewer/reader speak for themselves, with one
interpretation no more legitimate than another.

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Panel Three Abstracts

Panel Three, Presenter Four

Lisa Phillips
M.A. Candidate, Visual Culture, Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Meeting Grounds: An Ethics of Seeing Faye HeavyShield
The symposium question is: What does it mean to allow images to
speak for themselves–to respect the excess that inheres to images and their
resistance to language? Assuming that the question is not meant rhetorically,
I suggest that it is a way for the image to speak to the mind’s eye with direct
clarity. From that position, the title of the symposium–Writing With Images
gives the writer a different role when engaging with images. The image
becomes a partner to the text as a source of critical creative thinking. The
writer that pairs text with image becomes a curator not an analyst.
My essay touches on non-Western ideas about art and its purpose,
considers a Native American context through images, and highlights Faye
HeavyShield’s 2004 “blood” installation and exhibit catalogue. I offer a
creatively engaged meeting ground for artists, scholars, educators, and
curators. It is a potential space where we can consider alternatives to
unconsciously settled methods of meaning-making when looking at images
from a Western perspective. I suggest a ethical paradigm shift from a
European based art canon to one that is indigenous to this continent in order
to consider a different source of critical creative thought that is more in tune
with our land-based environment.

Panel Three, Presenter Five

Marianna Davison
M.A. Candidate, Visual Culture, Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Hetero-normalization in the Visual Culture of (Bio)Medicalization:
Writing with Images to Interrogate Constructions of Erotophobia
While grappling with the concept of erotophobia as a result of heteronormative
constructions and reconstructions of binary gender roles within the
visual culture of neoliberal late capitalism, I found Foucault’s discussion of the
institutionalized normalization of gender roles as a function of governmental
biopolitics in The Birth of Biopolitics particularly inspiring (1978-79, 2010). I
was also recently exposed to the concept and theory of biomedicalization (the
capitalist driven individualization and technoscientification of things medical)
as espoused by a group of sociologists, specifically, Adele Clark and Elainne
Riska, who use the theory of (bio)medicalization to explore the visual culture
of medicine.
I use Clark and Riska’s poststructuralist deconstruction of (bio)medicalized
gender norms to engage my own visual critical theory of biopolitics
and hetero-normalization in order to consider the erotophobic implications,
effects, and opposition of these regimes of power. As I build upon these
concepts, I also engage Sunil Manghani’s concept of image critique. (2008, 22)
I will not formally analyze images in this presentation. Instead, I will exhibit
images that complement and inform my theoretical discourse and writing.
Visuals from advertising (Direct-to-consumer drug advertisement, the “Viagra
Man”), fine arts (Martha Rosler, David Wojnarowicz), and media (the documentary
film, Orgasm, Inc.) along with feminist and queer theory, Foucauldian
discourse analysis, and semiotics engage a conversation between theory and
visual objects in this presentation.

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Panel Two Abstract

Panel Two, Presenter Three – In Conversation with Jeri Kelly

Jennifer Baker
M.A. Candidate – Art Education, Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Art Education and Visual Culture: Theory Meets Practice to Address
Practical Classroom Concerns
The visual arts have had a strange and troubled past in the K-12
public education system. Regardless of research and exhaustive advocacy
the arts remain among the first areas of education to be marginalized when
budget issues arise. How have historical events and ideological shifts
affected the position of the arts within a larger educational system? How
have educators contributed and fought against their marginal status? How
can critical investigations of professional practices elevate the position of
the visual arts? Here we can begin to address these questions in order to
address future concerns for art educators.
Visual arts education can no longer allow its self to be defined by
an outdated notion of handicrafts and school decorations. If the serious
business of presetting and processing visual language no longer remains
important in the public school system, then the visual art educator must
take the content of their curriculum more seriously. There is currently a
vigorous discourse in the field between those who see a need for visual
culture education and those who believe that art education should be an
application of elements and principles. The debate needs to be broadened.
In fact, there is a need for art educators who study and apply a critical
theory model to their curriculum development and classroom practices and
who see that the confluence of opposing ideas will benefit the students and
the field of study.

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Panel One Abstracts

Hello symposium enthusiasts! Over the course of the next few days I will electronically publish the symposium abstracts so you get a feel for each panelist’s presentation.

Panel One, Presenter One

Andrea Ferber
Ph.D. Candidate University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
and Adjunct Faculty at Illinois State University

Presentation Title:
Body––Brick––Breath: Irigaray and Jill Downen’s Cornerstone
This essay deconstructs a video short by Jill Downen through select
texts of feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray. Downen works primarily with
sculpted forms and site-specific installation and maintains a persistent interest
in creating visual art with roots in aesthetic and gender theories. By analyzing
each element in this video, I contextualize the work within the artist’s
oeuvre and consider related parallels in an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett
and a print by artist Nancy Spero. Though representative of disparate mediums,
all of these works dwell on the phenomenon of breath.

Panel One, Presenter Two

Emily Una Weirich
M.A. Candidate, Art History, University of Arizona

Presentation Title:
The Collaborative Creation of History: Le Photographe, Photojournalism, and
Bande Dessinée
In his catalog essay accompanying the 1964 Museum of Modern Art
exhibition, The Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski stated that the photographer, “could not, outside the studio, pose the truth, he could only record it as he found it, and it was found in nature in a fragmented and unexplained form—not as a story, but as scattered and suggestive clues.” Le Photographe, a French bande dessinée, or graphic novel published in three albums from 2003-2006, represents a unique collaboration in which visual “clues” are combined with narrative text. The work chronicles Didier Lefèvre’s travels into and out of Afghanistan while accompanying a team from Médecins Sans Frontières during the Soviet occupation of the country in the mid 1980s. In Le Photographe, the storytelling of a documentary account happens through the intertwining of Lefèvre’s photographs, only six of which were originally published by the news media, and Emanuel Guibert’s illustrations and text, created more than a decade after Lefèvre’s journey.
This paper critically examines questions that arise from examination of
Le Photographe, a documentary work not bound by the restraints of traditional,
timely, objective journalism. How are readers’ expectations of objectivity
obscured and affirmed by the format of the work? As a traditionally subjective
and artistic medium, how does the graphic novel permit space for this reworked
documentary photo-essay to become a work of deeply personal storytelling?
Finally, how does Le Photographe uphold the tradition of “concerned
photography” while simultaneously exploring a new amalgamation of two
mediums: photojournalism and bande dessinée.

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