Figures, Figurines and Colin Renfrew

By Klein, Leo S. | Antiquity, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Figures, Figurines and Colin Renfrew


Klein, Leo S., Antiquity


The new book by Colin Renfrew (2003) is a remarkable phenomenon both in art criticism and archaeology. He poses the eternal questions (what are we? where do we come from?) and hopes to figure them out with the help of the parallel vision of archaeologists and artists. By artists, Renfew does not mean people of the arts in general, nor artists of those epochs to which the archaeological monuments are dated. No, he has in mind, rather exclusively, the artistic avant-garde, modern sculptors and painters practising abstractionism, cubism, symbolism, conceptualism and primitivism: those who make pop-art installations, indeed those who make any activity into art. It is this kind of work that he compares with the most ancient monuments of mankind.

Renfrew admits that initially he didn't perceive this art as art, didn't comprehend it. Yet gradually he became interested in some artists and acquainted with them, began visiting their exhibitions, showed them in his college at Cambridge and became involved in collecting their works. He mentions well-known names--Richard Long, Alberto Giacometti, Eduardo Paolozzi, Constantin Brancusi, William Turnbull and others. Then he began to realise how much this art offered him for comprehending archaeological monuments, for penetrating the distant past, for rethinking the most important questions of being: what we are, where are we from and where do we go?

In the book's first chapter Renfrew tells the story of his acquaintance with Richard Long, for whom the art of a sculptor is not reduced to the making of an end product, the sculpture, but rather lies in the process of construction itself. In practical terms, he simply walks across the world and leaves everywhere incisions, traces of his existence: something like 'Kilroy was here'. Since Renfrew already had suggested that megalithic graves were signs of property and each had marked the centre of a community, Long's activity appeared very interesting to him.

The second chapter raises the question 'What is art? The tyranny of the Renaissance'. Here Renfrew places the photo of one of the first finds of Cycladic images: the Bronze Age marble head from Amorgos that was published more than one hundred years ago by the German professor Paul Wolters who characterised it as, 'This repulsively ugly head.' These days such artists as Brancusi, Giacometti and Henry Moore find it astonishingly beautiful. The point is that at the time that aesthetics was developed, it depended on the idealisation of classical models, maintained by the Renaissance. It is only since the late nineteenth century that the liberation of art from the tyranny of the Renaissance began. Unfortunately, Renfrew does not touch the issue of the part that the appearance of photography took in the revision of ideals of the representative arts. One of the missions of art was the mastery of representation, but after the introduction of photography, simple imitation lost its impact. Divergence from nature turned from weakness into virtue. 'Realism is a lot of rubbish ...' Giacometti said (quoted in Renfrew: 76). So the comprehension of what is beautiful has changed, as well as the comprehension of the role of beauty in the making of art. What is art today? The third chapter 'Off the plinth: Display and process' considers some aspects of this broadening of the concept of art. Sculptures came off the plinth or the pedestal, and frames, separating pictures from life, disappeared. On the other hand simple things began to be considered as items of art due to a simple declaration by an artist and being put on display: like the urinal declared by Marcel Duchamp to be a fountain, or the Reichstag wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in a giant plastic bag. The borders between figurative art and material culture are washed away. Archaeology and figurative art appeared to have one and the same subject matter.

The fourth chapter is called 'The human condition: Being and remembering'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Figures, Figurines and Colin Renfrew
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.