Analysing Art Workshop

Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Research & Reflection

I had the pleasure of attending an analysing art workshop which has provided me with many new ideas for how to approach works of art and has made me reflect on how I have been analysing pieces previously.

As part of the workshop, we chose from a selection of images of artwork to analyse. I was drawn to a sculpture by Adrian Villar Rojas:

Image from Adam Thompson’s Padlet

Step 1 – Initial Response

In this, we were challenged to write down five words that come to mind when looking at the piece. Then, spend more time looking and come up with three questions about the piece.

Five Words

  • Sandwich
  • Destruction
  • Man-made
  • Trapped
  • Regeneration

This was a powerful exercise to me as it made me contemplate the gut reaction you get to a piece of art. Often, we jump straight into analysis without thinking about why we have even been drawn to that piece in the first place.

Three Questions

1. Were the plants put in there or has it been left to grow naturally?
2. What are the top and bottom made of?
3. What do the embedded objects represent? 

Again, I found this powerful as to me, good art should make us ask questions. To me, it is what makes art interesting, the thoughts and ideas that it arouses in us. However, I don’t feel like I have ever written down these initial ideas and questions like this before and it is something I am going to do with pieces in the future.

Step 2 – Description

The crux of the idea here is to describe what you are looking at to someone who can’t see it. Imagine you are talking to someone on the telephone about the pieces of art in front of you.

From the photo, it seems like a massive structure that fills a large section of the room. From the objects embedded like the trainer, you get a sense of size.  It is a multi-layered cylinder structure that seems to have a top and bottom made from concrete industrial waste like sections of a concrete tank. Between the top and bottom are sandwiched in layers, dirt, stones and what looks like more concrete. Growing in the dirt are different plants, some saplings, a bulb, grass and leafy plants. They don’t look planted but as though nature has retaken the object. Also embedded are various items of clothing, trainers and rope and some objects that could possibly be a football? Again these are scattered randomly as if they have been dumped or hidden in a rush. The trainer is a Nike, brand name and looks new. We don’t know how it has ended up there. Maybe not quite perfect from a factory and left with the other waste?

The whole structure is a mix of nature, industry, waste and consumer products. It looks like it could have been dug up from the ground and we are left wondering who made the objects and how have new items being left discarded like this? 

My thhoughts in the workshop

Step 3 – Context

Now comes the research stage. This made me contemplate the order I have analysed in the past. I tend to jump straight to this step without completing Steps 1 and 2 first. We did have some discussion in the workshop about this, and I agree with another participant that it comes down to confidence in many cases. I don’t think I yet trust my own judgement without referring to other people’s thoughts first. When I reflect on this, it doesn’t make sense. Art is subjective and we should all have our own opinions and emotions about it, we should never rely on someone else to interpret it for us. Reading others’ opinions is important as it can challenge our thinking but it should never be at the expense of our own thoughts.

Name – Adrian Villar Rojas
Nationality – Argentinian
Title of Work  – Where the Slaves Live
Date of completion – 2014
Dimensions – 240 x 550 x 24 cm
Medium – found materials
Where can it be found – La Fondation Louis Vuitton Gallery

“intended as a living sculpture”
artists own materials are embedded.

The idea that the human becomes part of the ecosystem. The Anthropocene period. 

Confronts the idea of human extinction.  

“where the slaves live” as a title – who are the slaves it is referring to? – “whose title recalls the Latin root of the word “vernacular” but also a indication of France’s history with slavery?

Context research from workshop

Step 4 – Interpretation

In this step, you start to pull together the first 3 steps and place the art in a context with interpretation. We didn’t really have enough time on the day to do this step fully as I feel like this could be the step that takes the longest time and has the potential for the most in-depth work.

There are many ways to go about this step and we have a whole series of questions to prompt our thinking.

I think when considering this piece alongside his other pieces the common theme seems to be the impact of the Anthropocene and potential human extinction.  It gives us a feeling of what might be left behind when we are gone. As if some time in the future a time capsule has been dug up and someone’s life just ended and their belongings were left behind. 

This invokes a feeling of inevitability about life and can make us stop and reflect on how we are impacting the environment and what our mark that we leave behind will be. Do branded trainers really matter when they are going to be left behind to just rot in the Earth.

There is also a strange feeling of optimism that no matter how much we destroy the environment, it will start to take over again. There is a feeling of the plants growing to heal the scars left by man. 

My interpretation from the workshop

Step 5 – Judgement

In this step, we are making a subjective judgement. Do we like the piece? Is it successful? What would we change about it?

I chose this piece as it was unusual and I wondered what on earth it was. It intrigued me and I immediately had lots of questions about it.

After reading about it and looking at it more closely I am not sure “like” is the correct word. It is an ugly piece aesthetically and in that ugliness, it leads me to question the impermanence of humans and the impact we are having. The ugliness is depressing to look at but also depressing to think about in a misanthropic way. 

In this way, the piece is successful as we need to be asking these questions of our species. 

Judgement from the workshop

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