Reframes and Refrains: Artists Rethink Art History

By Silk, Gerald | Art Journal, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Reframes and Refrains: Artists Rethink Art History


Silk, Gerald, Art Journal


Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Chris Burden. Chris Burden! It was May, mild, and late. The television was on. Amid a sea of commercials, I saw or heard--I can't remember which came first--the name of a famous artist. On a blue ground, tiny yellow letters enlarged and zoomed forward, filling the screen, while Burden spoke the name. After two run-throughs of the list, the spot concluded: "paid for by Chris Burden--artist."

I was startled, although I knew Burden's work and taught it in my classes. He was even in my dissertation, which I had just defended. At the time I saw this thirty-second TV ad/artwork, titled Chris Burden Promo (1976), I had finished my first full year of teaching at Columbia University. Among the courses I taught was introductory art history. In a single semester, "Masterpieces of the Fine Arts," as it was then called, touched on major periods and media through examining the Parthenon, Amiens Cathedral, Raphael, Michelangelo, El Greco, Brueghel, Bernini, Rembrandt, Impressionism, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Picasso. Depth, not breadth, underlay this approach, and though short on women, minorities, and the non-Western, I remember the course as exciting and manageable. It worked better than the typical mad dash from the pyramids to Picasso or Pollock (as grad students we wished Paul Klee had greater fame so the survey could be dubbed "from mud to Klee").

I was struck by how much Burden's list resembled Columbia's: Burden picked his artists, excluding himself, from a national survey of the best known. I was especially intrigued by Burden's intervention, his bypassing of textbooks, classrooms, galleries, museums, and the art press, going straight to the people with his pitch as the most renowned artist since Picasso. Although not aired during prime time, Burden's spot, broadcast several times that year, probably rivaled, if not surpassed, the audience for all the sections of "Masterpieces" ever taught at Columbia. I imagined the signals of Promo traveling deep into space, and cultural historians on distant planets mistakenly placing Burden in the pantheon of Earth's greatest artists (Burden still has time to live up to this billing).

By the time Promo was aired, Burden had already achieved notoriety through dangerous performance pieces. But freshest in my mind was a series of collages, consisting of published essays on Burden's work and his handwritten retorts in the margins, arrows pointing to offending text, no underlined. Whether through television commercials or "corrected" analyses of his work, Burden's art prodded the viewer to rethink art history and criticism, and how and by whom such a critical history is constructed.

On some level all works of art are about art and by extension about art history. Some pieces are simply more blatant in their references. Jean Lipman and Richard Marshall based their 1978 Whitney Museum exhibition of post-1950 art called Art about Art on this premise, and Leo Steinberg, in his introduction to the catalogue, reminds us that this practice is nothing new.(1) In a post-Pop period, "Art about Art" read as a roundup of a co-option sensibility. Preceding the likes of Sherrie Levine and Mike Bidlo, it foreshadowed and perhaps encouraged the appropriation mania of the eighties.

To identify the shrewdest reframers and refrains would be futile; lists invite the noting of omissions as much as inclusions. This said, the ensuing pages demonstrate several but hardly all the ways in which art can alter our sense of art history.

Robert Colescott, in racially recasting art chestnuts, sends up Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon. (with a nod to Goya) in Les Demoiselles d'Alabama: Vestidas (1985) and Matisse's Dance (and its "art in art" appearance in other Matisse paintings) in Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder (1979). Together they carry a score of references about intermixing: Western and "primitive" sources; high and low; art and life; past and present; white and "colored"; clothed and naked; and inclusion and exclusion.

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 ...
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

Reframes and Refrains: Artists Rethink Art History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
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

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

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.