How to Write About Contemporary Art (Williams, 2014) is one of those books I will keep returning to throughout my course. I have skimmed through the book a few times already and will use this page as a record and summary of the points I want to reflect on.
There is no one way to write about art – I think this is important to me, as I have been trying to focus on the “right” way to write and it is more about finding my own personal style.
Good art-writers read a lot from other people and look at a lot of art – this is something I need to always consider, there is no substitute for seeing lots of other people’s work and reading about it.
Writing about art is difficult – you are taking a visual medium and trying to put it into words. I can’t expect to be perfect immediately and it is okay that things will need redrafting.
Write in a clear, well structured and carefully worded way.
Describe art, its meaning and its connection to the world.
Using imaginative vocabulary that is original.
Love art, enjoy it and that will come across when writing
Practice (daily if possible)
Writing helps you understand art
Edit a lot!
Section 1 – The Job – Why Write About Contemporary Art?
Writing about art should improve the experience of it. Make the work more enjoyable.
There are two different aims of text: to explain or to evaluate.
Explaining – contextualises and describes
Evaluating – judges and interprets
It is important to remember that all texts are opinionated and subjective.
Contemporary art lead to more than just descriptions using the standards of measure (shape, colour, size etc).
New words: readymade, abstract art, minimalism (see glossary) were needed to talk about contemporary art.
I found the section on the history of art-criticism fascinating. “In pre-Revolutionary times an artwork needed chiefly to please king and clergy to acquire validation; artists mostly (but not always) catered to the tastes of these and a few other powerful patrons, whose opinions were the only ones that mattered.“ (Williams, 2014:37). How different this is to today’ society where everyone is a critic!
Linking to other schools of thought such as structuralism, post-colonialism, feminism, queer theory, gender theory, Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, literary theory.
The importance of contextualisation:
what the artwork is made of
how it fits in the artist’s lifetime
what has already been said?
events when work was created
Section 2 – The Practice: How to Write About Contemporary Art
Write only about what you know. Trust yourself, become informed and your texts will improve.
Write about artists you actually like to begin with so that it feels authentic to any reader.
There are three main questions to ask yourself:
Q1. What is it? Keep the description brief and specific. Look for meaningful details Q2. What might this mean? Explain where the meaning is in the artwork. Q3. Why does this matter to the world? Explain where this piece of art fits in world events and how it might change understanding or opinions.
Substantiation explains where your ideas come from.
This can be from factual or historical evidence or on the basis of visual evidence.
Don’t waffle as it is weak and raises more questions than answers.
Pay cloe attention to works, what makes them different. How are they similar to other pieces?
Provide readers with the steps in your thinking.
Be specific. Add titles and dates, write in the active tense, drop messy adverbs (sort of, kind of).
Flesh out descriptions.
When writing, keep the photo in front of you.
Also conider the gaps where nothing is happening.
Less is more when it comes to adjectives – one precise adjective has more power than lots of vague ones
Use interesting verbs.
Expand your vocabulary.
Revise at least two drafts.
Read your text out loud
Section 3 – The Ropes How to Write Contemporary Art Formats
I will return to this section at a later date as it contains very useful information on writing academic pieces.
Williams, G. (2014). How to write about contemporary art. Thames & Hudson.
Amélie is a 2001 French romantic comedy by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. There is so much you can say about this movie but I want to focus here on its use of colour throughout the film as I think it is one of the most brilliant examples.
The film follows the story of Amélie who is brought up in an eccentric household and eccentric characters seem to be ever-present in her life. We are brought into her imagination and the way she sees the world throughout the film.
The use of colour in the film helps us feel this imagination and inner world. The film as a whole is very saturated with warm filters, there is a lot of deep red, gold, yellows and earthy greens which help create this almost surreal feel. Paris itself is brought to life and personified using the yellow hues and it acts as a character in the film rather than a location.
Green and red are used commonly in the film. Green symbolises nature, hope and is a comforting colour to many people and so it is used to harmonise the overall look in the film. Red on the other hand brings warmth, passion and Amélie is often seen wearing red or carrying red accessories to reflect her life and mood.
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is a 1939 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, about a male actor specialising in playing female roles in late 19th century Japan. It was a movie I discovered by accident one day but has become one of my favourites. It manages to capture humanity and the ideas of family, class, the value of life in a simple storyline with amazing cinematography.
The shots Mizoguchi uses to draw us into the story are on a very human level. There are a lot of wide-angle shots that place the actors in very real sets as if we are watching real life from a distance. There is a lot of care taken to create realistic mise-en-scene to convince us we are watching a real story. The detail in the shots is amazing, and as so much of it is shot from a distance the set is almost more important than the acting at times, but this is how we often see the real world, we watch stories unfold from a distance.
There are very few close-ups or changes of angles within a scene and this helps us stay captivated by what we are seeing unfold. Almost like watching actors on a stage rather than a film.
Alongside the amazing cinema work, the storyline and script are believable and give us an insight into the class system in Imperial Japan. The characters develop and we feel their emotions and struggles with them.
Ziegler works within the tradition of landscape painting but his virtual reality terrains bear the hallmarks of the digital age. His scenes are designed on computer then transferred to the canvas as schematic drawings. These compositions become increasingly complex, offering the viewer a multitude of vanishing points. Here an ordered geometric system is disrupted by the unchecked dripping of areas of paint. The effects of light are also of particular interest to Ziegler. His use of reflective gold leaf in this work further complicates the painting’s surface and distorts the viewer’s spatial perception.
When looking for examples of artwork to look at formal elements in, I was drawn to this piece by Toby Ziegler on the Tate site. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it in person, so am just going to analyse the image which is never quite the same.
Ziegler’s use of colour evokes images of landscapes, they are earthy secondary tones on the whole and it reminds me of looking down at the ground from a plane. The greens remind me of trees and the patchwork of fields. The orange in there is slightly less natural but still harmonious and still fits in the natural palette, perhaps just more autumnal. It is generally a very warm colour range which makes the whole image seem inviting and comforting. The range of values from deep dark greens to the white-creamy colour gives an interesting contrast and helps draw your eye around the image always finding something interesting to focus on. This also gives the image dimension as there are more muted background colours in the background with more popping vibrant colours in the foreground.
The shapes in this image are the most interesting aspect to me and are what I think makes the image really work. There is a fascinating conflict between organic and geometric shapes. The colour makes me think of a natural landscape and some of the shapes also reflect this as they are natural and organic in nature. Like the patches of muted greens in the background. Then there are very geometric circles that cannot be natural but indicate this idea of something natural being transformed by man.
In the piece are some very energetic lines that move our eyes around the piece as if we were examining a landscape. The orange lines are smooth and flowing, almost river like in nature and they give an interesting focal point in contrast to the circular shapes and areas. The lines give a lot of movement and dynamics to the artwork and it is as if we are looking at a piece captured in the middle of a movement.
The disciplines I am currently most interested in are art, literature and lens-based media.
The above are all terms given to us in the course guide. There are some that are interchangeable across disciplines, but none have been repeated. There will be other terms added in my glossary.
Colour theory as a topic is huge in art. The definition of colour is that it is produced when light hits an object and is reflected back to the eye. The wavelength that is reflected back to the eye determines which colour our brain sees. However, there are many subjective elements to it too. Colours evoke memories to us, they can be seen as warm or cool, some colours complement each other, some have cultural associations.
The Colour Wheel
There are 12 sections on the standard colour wheel. The three primary colours of red, blue and yellow; the three secondary colours are made from the primary: orange, purple and green; finally the six tertiary colours are made from mixing the secondary colours.
The wheel can also be split into warm colours and cool colours. Warm colours are the upper right half and are the colours that seem to be brought forward in a composition. Cool colours on the other hand are the lower left and seem to sink backwards in paintings.
Harmonious colours are those next to each other on the colour wheel, they work together well and seem to be pleasing to view. Contrasting or complementary colours on the other hand are opposite on the wheel and often clash and can create drama when together.
There are three other characteristics of colour:
Hue: the colour itself, the distinctive quality by which one can distinguish one colour from another, e.g., red, blue, green, blue.
Value: the brightness of the hue, the quality by which one distinguishes a light colour from a dark one, in the range from white to black.
Chroma or intensity: the quality that distinguishes a strong colour from a weak one, the departure of a colour sensation from that of white or gray, the intensity of a colour hue.
Colours and Emotions
Choices of colour and the relationships between colours have a huge influence on how a piece of art or design looks and feels and the emotions it provokes. Colours have wider social and cultural meanings behind them too which can be used by an artist. For example, red has many different meanings. Often we link red to danger. In western culture, red is often used as a warning sign or to tell you to not do something. In traffic lights, the colour red is used to mean stop. Red can also have a link to anger. Cartoons or movies may show a character going red in the face when getting upset. It can also mean embarrassment. Red can also have positive associations. We link red with love and passion – it appears all over Valentine’s cards in February. We also see red as a festive colour – the colour of Christmas and Santa Claus. Different cultures treat colours very differently, however. In China, red is seen as a lucky colour. In South Africa, red is seen as the colour of death and mourning (which is normally associated with black in the United Kingdom). The use and meaning of colour can vary depending on where artists and their audiences come from.
Form describes three-dimensional objects. It can describe how a sculpture forms a three-dimensional object in space. Form can also describe the illusion of how three-dimensional form is conveyed through the use of lighting and shadows, and the rendering of value and tone. Two-dimensional work can suggest three-dimensional objects by including implied forms. This means that lines or shapes are shown in a way that suggests they have depth. This can be done using perspective or through tone or colour effects.
Form can be either geometric or organic. Geometric is mathematical objects such as cubes, pyramids and spheres, they give a man-made appearance and can suggest solidity, balance and permanence. Organic forms look natural. They are irregular and may seem flowing and unpredictable. The most obvious example of organic forms is realistic representations of the natural world or living things, but they do not have to be realistic to be organic. Some designs combine geometric and organic forms.
Forms have mass. The mass of a form is a result of its size and the material it is made from. The greater the mass the heavier a form is. The appearance of an object can change how heavy it looks – its perceived mass. For example, darker and more intense colours or more detailed textures tend to appear heavier.
Line is considered by many to be the most basic element of art. In terms of art, a line is considered “a moving dot”. Line has an endless number of uses in the creation of both drawings and paintings. Although we typically associate line with drawing, it’s also foundational to painting as they reveal the artist’s techniques.
Perhaps the most obvious use of line is when it is used to define the edges or boundaries of a subject. We can obviously communicate a subject’s edges by using lines. In most cases, when we begin a drawing, we start by drawing the outlines of the subject. The outlines are just the beginning since the line is also used to describe the details on the subject as well. Usually, we can simplify areas of contrast on a subject into a line.
Line can also suggest movement, mood, emotions and ideas.
Orientation refers to the direction of lines. They could be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Lines can be used in art and design to help guide your eye around a painting or to create a sense of balance and structure. Deliberate use of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines can help to create a focal point. They can also help to suggest depth and a sense of perspective.
Point can refer to the focal point of a piece of work. It is a key point of interest in your painting that you want to direct attention towards. It should be your most interesting point in the painting. It is possible to have more than one focal point but there is usually one strong point where the focus and attention is.
In art and design, the principle of scale refers to the relative size of one object compared to another, typically the size of the artwork to the viewer’s body. Scale can also refer to the size relationships of different visuals within a singular piece of art.
In the study of art, a shape is an enclosed space, a bounded two-dimensional form that has both length and width. Shapes are one of the seven elements of art, the building blocks that artists use to create images on canvas and in our minds. A shape’s boundaries are defined by other elements of art such as lines, values, colours, and textures; and by adding value you can turn a shape into an illusion of its three-dimensional cousin, form. As an artist or someone who appreciates art, it’s important to fully understand how shapes are used.
Like with form, shapes can be geometric or organic.
Space, as one of the classic seven elements of art, refers to the distances or areas around, between, and within components of a piece. Space can be positive or negative, open or closed, shallow or deep, real or implied, and two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Three-dimensional work creates real space. Two-dimensional works can create implied space using various techniques.
Texture is used to describe the way a three-dimensional work actually feels when touched. In two-dimensional work, such as painting, it may refer to the visual “feel” of a piece. Many artists use texture to show their technique and to express emotion.
Tone and Value
As an element of art, tone or value refers to the visible lightness or darkness of a colour. Tones could refer to black, white and grey tones between. It could refer to how light or dark a colour appears. In real life, the tone is created by the way light falls on an object.
Two-dimensional artworks cannot show real form. The illusion of form can be created by using different tones that suggest different amounts of light hitting the subjects shown. This can fool the eye into seeing a three-dimensional object.
Tone can be used to create an atmosphere in art and design work. Different atmospheres will be created depending on the value and contrast of the tones used. A small amount of contrast tends to result in a calmer image, whereas high contrast creates drama. The term chiaroscuro is used to describe images with very high contrast.
Tone can also indicate depth and distance in artwork and artists can create focal points at different places in their work.
Camera angles, and the degree of those angles, can totally change the meaning of a shot.
In an eye-level shot, the camera is positioned at the same level as the actors’ faces which gives it a sense of immediacy and realism. In everyday life, we see most other people at eye level and this shot type is often used when filmmakers want us to feel part of a scene.
Using a low angle shot is an effective way to establish a character’s importance in a scene as they make characters look powerful and imposing.
Here the camera is above the object or actor being filmed and is pointed down at them. High angle shots make characters and objects seem smaller. High angles can also work to make characters seem weaker or more vulnerable.
Worm’s eye view
This is an extreme low-angle shot in which the camera is very far below the subject and pointed upwards. This angle exaggerates the scale of the shot’s subject and can make actors seem like imposing giants.
Bird’s eye view
Sometimes called an overhead shot, this camera angle places us directly above the subject. The Bird’s eye view can be used to show us action that might not be visible from eye level.
For a Dutch angle, the camera is slanted to one side. With the horizon lines tilted in this way, you can create a sense of disorientation, a de-stabilized mental state, or increase the tension.
Composition is important in photography and art. It links to viewpoint and framing and it is also important to consider the other formal elements of art such as line, shape and balance. Composition refers to the positioning or arrangement of people, objects and landscapes in the frame. Good composition can enhance the meaning of an image.
Leading lines are a useful compositional tool. A viewer’s eyes tend to look for lines and follow them from one end to the other. The effect is particularly strong when different lines come together.
Contrast can mean many things in photography and film.
One way to add interesting contrast is to use sections of black and white. Working in black and white can draw attention to light and tones, shapes and textures.
Editing can be done in both film and photography. A well-crafted edit can create meaning and take audiences on emotional journeys. Simple editing of photographs can include cropping the image or removing errors and minor blemishes like dust spots. Underexposed areas can be lightened and washed out areas can be made to appear darker. This can be done quickly and easily. It is also possible to make more significant changes to an image. This can be used for artistic or experimental effects. For example, you might change the contrast, increase or decrease colour saturation, add blurring or mix areas of black and white and colour.
In film, at its simplest editing can remove bad takes and shorten sequences, but when filmmakers fully harness its power they can create meaning where none existed and take audiences on emotional journeys.
The most common form of editing is continuity editing. In this editing style, shots from different angles are cut together to create a sense of continuous movement and continuity. This creates the impression that time and space remain consistent within the scene, even if the shots have been filmed at different times. A key aim of this style is to ensure that no single cut calls attention to itself and that nothing strikes the viewer as confusing or inconsistent. When continuity editing is applied correctly we may not notice the individual cuts.
The main alternative to continuity editing is montage editing. Montage editing can be used to create excitement, terror or startling new meanings. Instead of allowing shots to flow smoothly from one to another, montage editing juxtaposes images for effect and can cut rapidly from wide shots to extreme close-ups. Montage editing draws attention to itself in ways continuity editing does not.
Other editing techniques
This is used to cut between two different actions happening at the same time. By cutting back and forth between these different events, the director can establish that they are somehow linked.
This highlights an important moment by creating a pause effect in which a single frame of film is extended for several seconds.
These effects are usually captured by the camera by changing the filming speed but can also be achieved in post-production by slowing individual shots down. This can help emphasise special moments or draw out actions to generate suspense.
Distance and Framing
Framing a camera shot can make audiences feel more connected to the story you are telling. You can alter the frame by placing the camera closer or further away from the action being filmed.
A close-up shot shows us a character or object at close range. A director might choose to show an actor in a close-up so that the audience can properly see their face. This allows viewers to see the character’s facial expressions and gives them a clue as to how the character is feeling emotionally. A director might also use a close-up of an object so that we can see its importance. Extreme close-ups can be used to build tension or add extra emotion to a scene.
A medium shot, sometimes called a mid-shot, is a shot taken from the middle distance. A medium shot of an actor won’t show us their face in the same level of detail as a close-up but it will let us see more of their body and surroundings. Medium shots of actors are often framed from the waist upwards and that combination of distance and framing allows us to see both a character’s face and their body language.
A long shot, sometimes also known as a wide shot, takes us far away from the character being framed. This gives the audience much more information about the scene in general and puts the actor in context, as we usually see them in the middle of a landscape or busy environment.
Thinking about where objects and people are in the frame itself is crucial. If a character is important in a scene, a shot might place them in the centre of the frame. If two characters are drifting apart, one way to show that might be to position them at opposite ends of the frame. One specific tool film-makers sometimes use to help with framing is the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is an approach to framing which divides the frame into three sections across the horizontal and vertical lines. Placing actors, edges of objects or the line of the horizon on these imaginary lines makes it easier to create balanced and pleasant compositions.
Mise-en-scène is how all the aspects of a film combine to create a convincing world on screen. It involves everything you can see on a screen or in an image including props, costumes, make-up, location, set, performance and animation.
Viewpoint links to composition and angles. The distance your subject is to the camera can change how much of the frame it fills, how its scale compares to its surroundings and how flat or deep the image will appear.
Directors can also change the viewpoint by moving the camera during filming a sequence.
In a panning shot, or pan, the camera is locked onto a tripod and the tripod is fixed in one spot. The tripod head, which the camera rests on, is pivoted from left to right or right to left. The effect is much like standing in one place and looking from side to side. Panning is often used to follow action such as a character moving from one spot to another. Panning shots can also be used to establish locations, slowly revealing information about a place as we take it in.
A tilt is similar to a pan in that the camera is also fixed to a tripod. However, instead of pivoting from left to right, the camera is tilted up or down. Tilts can be used to follow the action. If a character on screen was climbing a ladder, the director might use a low angled tilt to follow them as they move upwards. Tilts can also be used to tell us a little bit more about a location than a single, static shot might.
In a tracking shot, the camera is placed on a moving platform or vehicle so that we can follow alongside the action. Nowadays, tracking shots can also be achieved by using Steadicams. A Steadicam is a self-balancing camera rig that is attached by a harness to the camera operator. When a Steadicam operator moves, the camera moves with them creating a smooth gliding motion.
In a handheld shot, the camera is carried by the camera operator. Because this technique gives scenes a bumpy and unpolished feeling it is often used by directors when they want viewers to feel embedded in the action of a scene.
In a crane shot, the camera is mounted to a crane and can move up or down. Crane shots are usually used for dramatic effect, making us feel as if we are swooping over a location or diving down from above.
A shot that uses the zoom lens to suddenly push us closer to or further away from a subject is called a zoom. Zooms can be effective if used creatively but can also seem amateurish and distracting if overused.
In an aerial shot, the camera is mounted to a flying vehicle and flown over the action or location. Aerial shots are often used at the start of a film to establish the setting and create a sense of mood.
Alliteration is when words start with the same letter and, more importantly, the same sound. It can be used to create a mood or for emphasis. Alliteration can build a mood or set the scene depending on the letters that are used:
The gentle ‘w’ sounds in “whispering wind” create a soft and airy mood.
The harsh ‘r’ sounds in “raging river rapids” help the reader to imagine the brute force of the water.
Alliteration can also be used to capture the reader’s attention and reinforce a point.
Assonance is a technique similar to alliteration but where the same vowel sound repeats in a group of words. For example, “It beats . . . as it sweeps . . . as it cleans!”
Assonance is a method of achieving emphasis and cohesion in a short stretch of text.
Characters in texts are developed through what they say and do, and the language used to describe them. There is explicit characterisation and implied characterisation. The character is built up through description, dialogue, how other characters see them, behaviourisms.
Characters usually change over the course of a text. These changes can be a powerful way to present themes and important ideas to the reader. As the text continues, the author often adds more details to the picture of a character. How the reader reacts to a character can be very important to how they feel about the text. There should be contrasts or contradictions – not just between characters, but within each character. In real life, no one is simply good or bad. All effective characters have more than one side.
Dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters in a literary work. It could also be an inner dialogue which is a character’s internal voice. Dialogue is essential for several reasons. First, it creates characterisation. In fact, it is one of the four main methods of characterisation. The audience learns much about a character through his speech. Second, dialogue advances the plot. Interactions within, between, or among characters help to give insight into the storyline. Additionally, well-written dialogue makes a text realistic. In the real world, people interact and have conversations. This is critical to a successful text.
Imagery is the use of language and symbolism in writing which make our five senses active. The word ‘imagery’ gives rise to the creation of mental images and figures. The imagery brings to life the characters of the story through the mental pictures of the readers. These are effective devices used by the authors to create these effects.
Visual imagery is the one where the author uses various visual qualities to create imagery. This can include various shapes, sizes, colours, lights, shadows, and patterns. This is the most common form of imagery that is used in literature. Whenever the term imagery is used people understand visual imagery in literature. They generally use metaphor and simile to create visual imagery.
Auditory Imagery creates an appeal to the reader’s sense of hearing. Creating auditory imagery through writing is not that easy. For instance, creating imageries by author by creating sounds of war in a war novel. Onomatopoeia is mostly used by authors to create auditory imagery.
Gustatory and Olfactory
Gustatory imagery is the one that appeals to the taste of the readers. This is generally used to depict the food as the character eats it. This may create a sense of gustatory imagery when the readers read about a portion of food. Olfactory Imagery is the imagery when the author tries to attract the reader’s taste or smell. It helps in depicting the situation through which the characters of the narrative are going through or experiencing. The smell of fresh rain, the smell of fire are some of the examples of olfactory imagery.
Tactile Imagery is the one that creates a sensory effect of touch through text or the writing of the authors. This is used to convey how some things feel when touched. It may be used to convey the sense of texture, temperature, wetness, dryness, and so on. They help in creating empathy for the characters in a narrative.
Kinaesthetic Imagery is the one that is used to give a sense of motion by the author. Speed, slowness, falling, or even fighting can be depicted with the use of Kineasthetic imagery. Kinaesthetic imagery is very relevant in the era of action movies and screenplays. It also gives a good feel when needed to write about sports, driving, and other actions.
Organic Imagery is a type of imagery that appeals to the most traditional forms of our senses. They are the feeling of hunger, fatigue, fear, and even emotion. They form the basic tenets of human emotions. It moves the readers to the feelings of either joy or sadness. When they are written efficaciously creates intense sorrow and desperateness which the readers can feel immensely.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes something by saying it is something else. It’s not actually true but it gives the reader a clearer idea of what it is like. For example, “They were peas in a pod.” Extended metaphors are metaphors that run throughout a piece of work.
Voice means the tone of the narrative. Think about the language used in the narration and what that tells us. In some texts, the narrator is also a character. In others, the narrative voice is more distant. Narrative can be first-person – indicating a clear point of view – or third person – which could follow one character closely or take an omniscient standpoint.
The plot is the series of events that comprise a story’s main action. It is typically made up of a sequence of individual but connected elements that compels the main character(s) to embark on a journey. This journey can be physically or mentally and emotionally in nature, though it is often both. The plot’s primary journey leads to a climactic event and a resolution. Most plotlines follow the same basic structure made of five essential ingredients.
A story begins by introducing the protagonist and other key characters, their inter- and intra-relationships, the setting, and relevant background information. In this section, the protagonist discovers their main goal, typically a problem that needs surmounting.
The next phase is the rising action, which begins with an inciting incident or complication that triggers the ensuing series of events. Since the rising action propels the protagonist on their journey, the inciting incident usually comes with high stakes. Tension tends to build as rising action progresses toward the next phase.
This is the main turning point of the story when all the events and emotions built up during the exposition and rising action come to a head. Naturally, these are the moments of greatest tension, conflict, and drama.
In this stage, the characters’ actions resolve the story’s central problem, leading to a resolution.
The final plot element is the official completion of the goal, solution to the problem, an end to the conflict. The protagonist or the antagonist might win, or each could experience certain degrees of both triumph and defeat. Some stories wrap up by providing information on what happens to the central character(s) in the future.
A simile describes something by comparing it to something else, using like or as. A simile is a useful way to describe something without using a long list of adjectives. It can create a vivid image in the reader’s mind, helping to engage and absorb them.
What is time? Linear time is wrong. As you go further, time loses its structure. Quantum gravity is at the bottom of what we know and things get complicated! Time is a sequence of moments that is ordered. We intuitively assume it has a direction. The past is known as we can remember it – history. There are traces to evidence it happened. We have memories. The future has nothing, we can measure it with clocks, we have no concrete evidence it will happen. Time is a good concept for our daily lives but it stops working when we look ahead. When we look ahead, the properties don’t work. Time is layered.
How do we measure time? Clocks measure time, but they don’t all measure the same. If one goes higher, it measures different. Atomic clocks with precision can measure this error. Your head is older than your feet!
General Relativity Einstein predicted and showed that mass slows down time. This means closer to masses like the Earth, time is slower. Hence why our feet age slower than our heads. In our experience, the difference is not noticeable but we can measure it and on an astronomical scale it becomes more important. There is no single time in the universe.
What does now mean? We always see things in the past, there is no meaning of now outside small distances because of the speed of light. It takes light time to travel so when we look at an object we are seeing how it looked in the past. Again, significant for astronomical distances. There is no meaning of now outside of the bubble. We are told what is real is now, but how can it be?
Thermodynamics and Entropy The past is different from the future. Only one equation in the whole of physics shows this. The 2nd law of thermodynamics with the concept of Entropy (S). Entropy fundamentally is a statistical measure of disorder. Entropy always flows from ordered to less ordered. So it distinguishes past from future. The order is in the eye of who is looking; the order depends on what you are categorising e.g. colour, size. The past looks ordered only because of how we observe it. So, why was the universe ordered in the past? It looks ordered to us as we are the ones categorising it. To someone else with a different set of organised criteria, it may not look it. So, does it really relate to time?
Models of Time On the quantum level, it is probability only. Time is the counting of change. We can see this back in Aristotle. Newton introduced the idea of time passing but we now go back to a more Aristotelian model.
The brain and time The brain works by anticipating the future and remembering the past. It is a time machine. Does this make time a truly human construct? St Augustine wrote on this back in his Confessions. For example, we only ever hear one musical note at a time but our brain acts as a memory store for the ones we have just heard to piece it together in a phrase. We cannot think without time. In Search of Lost Time – Proust covers some of these themes. Time is always emotionally charged. The Buddhists describe this as the sense of suffering due to impermanence. Time is the root of our suffering as we never beat it.
Perhaps Time is the Greatest Mystery
Perhaps Time is the Greatest Mystery. The universe unfolds into the future, dragged by time, and exists according to the order of time.
In those same books, I also discovered that we still don’t know how time actually works. The nature of time is perhaps the greatest remaining mystery.
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Do we exist in time, or does time exist in us? What does it really mean to say that time ‘ passes ’? What ties time to our nature as persons, to our subjectivity? What am I listening to when I listen to the passing of time?
What we call ‘ time ’ is a complex collection of structures, of two layers
Because the mystery of time is ultimately, perhaps, more about ourselves than about the cosmos.
I believe our knowledge of time has reached: up to the brink of that vast nocturnal and star-studded ocean of all that we still don’t know.
Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level.
Time passes more slowly in some places, more rapidly in others
This modification of the structure of time influences, in turn, the movement of bodies, causing them to ‘ fall ’ towards each other
The Earth is a large mass and slows downtime in its vicinity
If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float, without falling
time passes more slowly for your feet than it does for your head.
Things are transformed one into another according to necessity and render justice to one another according to the order of time
the whole of our physics, and science in general, is about how things develop ‘ according to the order of time ’.
The equations tell us how things change as the time measured by a clock passes.
times that change relative to each other. Neither is truer than the other.
Times are legion: a different one for every point in space.
Einstein has given us the equations that describe how proper times develop relative to each other.
Time has lost its first aspect or layer: its unity.
If the world is upheld by the dancing Shiva, there must be ten thousand such dancing Shivas, like the dancing figures painted by Matisse …H
Past and future are different from each other. Cause precedes effect. Pain comes after a wound, not before it.
We cannot change the past; we can have regrets, remorse, memories. The future instead is uncertainty, desire, anxiety, open space, destiny
Time is not a line with two equal directions: it is an arrow with different extremities.
Rebellion is perhaps among the deepest roots of science: the refusal to accept the present order of things.
All of the sons of Adam are part of one single body, They are of the same essence. When time afflicts us with pain In one part of that body All the other parts feel it too. If you fail to feel the pain of others You do not deserve the name of man.
poetry is another of science’s deepest roots: the capacity to see beyond the visible.
Rudolf Clausius. It is he who grasps the fundamental issue at stake, formulating a law that was destined to become famous: if nothing else around it changes
heat cannot pass from a cold body to a hot one.
This is the only basic law of physics that distinguishes the past from the future.
one of these equations distinguishes the past from the future.
In the elementary equations of the world, 5 the arrow of time appears only where there is heat.fn1 The link between time and heat is therefore fundamental: every time a difference is manifested between the past and the future, heat is involved. In every sequence of events that becomes absurd if projected backwards, there is something that is heating up
Only where there is heat is there a distinction between past and future.
‘ the second principle of thermodynamics ’
heat passes only from hot bodies to cold, never the other way round.
heat passes from hot to cold, and not vice versa: by shuffling, by the natural disordering of everything. The growth of entropy is nothing other than the ubiquitous and familiar natural increase of disorder.
If we think about it carefully, every configuration is particular, every configuration is singular, if we look at all of its details, since every configuration always has something about it that characterizes it uniquely. Just as, for its mother, every child is particular and unique
Yes. If I observe the microscopic state of things, then the difference between past and future vanishes.
In a microscopic description, there can be no sense in which the past is different from the future.
the difference between the past and the future refers only to our own blurred vision of the world.
there is nothing intrinsic about the flowing of time. That it is only the blurred reflection of a mysterious improbability of the universe at a point in the past.
The consequence of this discovery for our basic intuitive perception of time is the most devastating of all.
Time passes more slowly for the one who keeps moving
For everything that moves, time passes more slowly.
Nobody had imagined previously that time could be different for a stationary watch and one that was being moved.
Not only is there no single time for different places – there is not even a single time for any particular place
‘ Now ’ Means Nothing
The light takes time to reach you, let’s say a few nanoseconds – a tiny fraction of a second – therefore, you are not quite seeing what she is doing now but what she was doing a few nanoseconds ago.
The truth of the matter is that we need to give up asking the question
The notion of ‘ the present ’ refers to things that are close to us, not to anything that is far away
Our ‘ present ’ does not extend throughout the universe. It is like a bubble around us
As humans, we distinguish tenths of a second only with great difficulty; we can easily consider our entire planet to be like a single bubble where we can speak of the present as if it were an instant shared by us all.
The idea that a well-defined now exists throughout the universe is an illusion, an illegitimate extrapolation of our own experience
there is no such thing as “ the same moment ” definable in the universe
A partial order establishes a relation of before and after between certain elements, but not between any two of them.
The temporal structure of the universe is very similar to this one. It is also made of cones.
defines an order between the events of the universe that is partial, not complete.
The expanded present is the set of events that are neither past nor future
Every event has its past, its future and a part of the universe that is neither past nor future, just as every person has forebears, descendants and others who are neither forebears nor descendants.
Light travels along the oblique lines that delimit these cones. This is why we call them ‘ light cones
This is the structure of spacetime that Einstein understood when he was twenty-five years old
When a gravitational wave passes, for example, the small light cones oscillate together from right to left, like ears of wheat blown by the wind.
In this way, a continuous trajectory towards the future returns to the originating event, to where it began.
This is because the mass of the black hole slows time to such a degree that, at its border ( called the ‘ horizon ’ ), time stands still
So, to exit from a black hole, you would need to move ( like the trajectory marked in black in the following diagram ) towards the present rather than towards the future!
More than a hundred years have passed since we learned that the ‘ present of the universe ’ does not exist. And yet this continues to confound us and still seems difficult to conceptualize
If the present has no meaning, then what ‘ exists ’ in the universe? Is not what ‘ exists ’ precisely what is here ‘ in the present ’?
‘ How long is forever ? ’ asks Alice. ‘ Sometimes, just one second, ’ replies the White Rabbit.
Time is elastic in our personal experience of it.
On the one hand, time is structured by the liturgical calendar
For centuries, we have divided time into days. The word ‘ time ’ derives from an Indo – European root – di or dai – meaning ‘ to divide ’.
Sundials, hourglasses and water clocks already existed in the ancient world
It is only in the fourteenth century in Europe that people’s lives start to be regulated by mechanical clocks.
Gradually, time slips from the hands of the angels and into those of the mathematicians
For centuries, as long as travel was on horseback, on foot or in carriages, there was no reason to synchronize clocks between one place and another.
It is in the United States that the first attempt is made to standardize time.
In 1883 a compromise is reached with the idea of dividing the world into time zones
Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office, dealing specifically with patents relating to the synchronization of clocks at railway stations.
The rhythm of the day followed by night also regulates the lives of plants and animals.
Diurnal rhythms are ubiquitous in the natural world. They are essential to life,
Living organisms are full of clocks of various kinds – molecular, neuronal, chemical, hormonal – each of them more or less in tune with the others
The diurnal rhythm is an elementary source of our idea of time
In the ancient consciousness of humanity, time is, above all, this counting of days.
counting how things change.
Aristotle is the first we are aware of to have asked himself the question ‘ What is time? ’
time is the measurement of change.
Time is the measure of change: 8 if nothing changes, there is no time.
the existence of a time that is uniform, independent of things and of their movement which today seems so natural to us is not an ancient intuition that is natural to humanity itself. It’s an idea of Newton’s.
Legend has it that Leibniz, whose name is still occasionally spelt with a ‘ t ’ ( Leibnitz ), had deliberately dropped the letter from his name following his belief in the nonexistence of the absolute Newtonian time t.
Don’t take your intuitions and ideas to be ‘ natural ’: they are often the products of the ideas of audacious thinkers who came before us.
That which seems intuitive to us now is the result of scientific and philosophical elaborations in the past.
Remember the clocks in Chapter 1 that slow down in the vicinity of a mass? They slow down because there is, in a precise sense, ‘ less ’ gravitational field there. There is less time there.
Time thus becomes part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space.
the residual temporal scaffolding of general relativity, illustrated in the previous chapter, also falls away if we take quanta into account.
The time measured by a clock is ‘ quantified ’, that is to say, it acquires only certain values and not others. It is as if time were granular rather than continuous.
A minimum interval of time exists. Below this, the notion of time does not exist – even in its most basic meaning.
Art is usually defined as a symbolic language which leads to a basis of culture being anchored upon art as a symbolic expression.
Chapter 1 – The History of Things
We seem to prefer to catalogue from history certain types of art and objects. This means our archive is limited.
The systematic study of things is less than five hundred years old.
The history of art treats the least useful and most expressive.
The oldest surviving things made by men are stone tools. A continuous series runs from them to the things of today. The series has branched many times, and it has often run out into dead ends.
Everything made now is a replica or variant
Historians can cut time wherever they want to aid their own categories.
Artistic biography is very incomplete too and only really started in the 1300s
We also decide who is talented and worth remembering. Times and opportunities differ more than the degree of talent.
We tend to use biological metaphors for time and historical styles, however, it is often not the most appropriate. Biological time is continuous. Historical time of more intermittent and variable.
Although both the history of art and the history of science have the same recent origins in the eighteenth-century learning of the European Enlightenment, our inherited habit of separating art from science goes back to the ancient division between liberal and mechanical arts. The separation has had the most regrettable consequences. We miss opportunities to work together.
Science and art both deal with needs satisfied by the mind and the hands in the manufacture of things.
It wasn’t always the case that they were separated. In the past, particularly in the Renaissance, they were very much together.
The historian’s special contribution is the discovery of the manifold shapes of time. The aim of the historian, regardless of his speciality in erudition, is to portray time. He is committed to the detection and description of the shape of time.
Unless he is an annalist or a chronicler the historian communicates a pattern that was invisible to his subjects when they lived it, and unknown to his contemporaries before he detected it.
Time, like mind, is not knowable as such. We know time only indirectly by what happens in it: by observing change and permanence; by marking the succession of events among stable settings; and by noting the contrast of varying rates of change. Written documents give us a thin recent record for only a few parts of the world. In the main, our knowledge of older times is based upon visual evidence of physical and biological duration. Technological seriations of all sorts and sequences of works of art in every grade of distinction yield a finer time scale overlapping with the written record. Now that absolute confirmations by tree-rings and earth-clocks are at hand, it is astonishing in retrospect to discover how very accurate were the older guesses of relative age based upon seriations and their comparisons. The cultural clock preceded all the physical methods. It is nearly as exact, and it is a more searching method of measurement than the new absolute clocks, which often still require confirmation by cultural means, especially when the evidence itself is of mixed sorts. The cultural clock, however, runs mainly upon ruined fragments of matter recovered from refuse heaps and graveyards, from abandoned cities and buried villages. Only the arts of material nature have survived: of music and dance, of talk and ritual, of all the arts of temporal expression practically nothing is known elsewhere than in the Mediterranean world, save through traditional survivals among remote groups. Hence our working proof of the existence of nearly all older peoples is in the visual order, and it exists in matter and space rather than in time and sound. We depend for our extended knowledge of the human past mainly upon the visible products of man’s industry.
The difference between craft and art is discussed in great depth.
The nature of actuality – Actuality is when the lighthouse is dark between flashes: it is the instant between the ticks of the watch: it is a void interval slipping forever through time: the rupture between past and future: the gap at the poles of the revolving magnetic field, infinitesimally small but ultimately real. It is the inter-chronic pause when nothing is happening. It is the void between events. – It is all we ever really know.
To other animals who live more by instinct than do humans, the instant of actuality must seem far less brief.
What we sense now really happened in the past due to the speed of light. Astronomers only ever look at old light.
There is a signal to us which we interpret.
Celebrated events get to us by an unbroken alternating sequence of event, signal, recreated event, renewed signal.
In the relay, things like myths can get regenerated.
Chapter 2 – The Classing of Things
We seem to have a desire to categorise everything.
Time doesn’t always fit into our granular durations. We opt to try and categorise style instead.
T. S. Eliot was perhaps the first to note this relationship when he observed that every major work of art forces upon us a reassessment of all previous works.
Sequencing may serve as a useful scaffold to divide portions of history and styles.
When does one part of the sequence start and end?
Fashions in dress are often the shortest durations.
Tools are often the longest in duration.
Inside these are prime objects and replications.
This idea of collecting only happens in the European, Chinese and Japanese people.
Artists are obsessive types of people.
Usually, the entire range and bearing of such a career can be brought into focus only long after death, when we can place it in relation to preceding and subsequent events. But by then the shock of the innovation has faded. We may tell ourselves that these pictures or buildings once broke with the tradition. But in our present, they have entered the tradition as if by simple chronological distance.
Chapter 3 – The Propagation of Things
Our attitudes are in constant change.
Our whole cultural tradition favours the values of permanence, yet the conditions of present existence require an acceptance of continual change.
When we imagine the transposition of the men of one age into the material setting of another, we betray the nature of our ideas about historical change.
Aesthetic inventions are focused upon individual awareness: they have no therapeutic or explanatory purpose;
events. Since no two things or events can occupy the same coordinates of space and time, every act differs from its predecessors and its successors. No two things or acts can be accepted as identical. Every act is an invention.
This age dedicated to change for its own sake has also discovered the simple hierarchy of the replicas that fill the world.
Our actual perception of time depends upon regularly recurrent events, unlike our awareness of history, which depends upon unforeseeable change and variety. Without change there is no history; without regularity, there is no time. Time and history are related as rule and variation: time is the regular setting for the vagaries of history. The replica and the invention are related in the same way: a series of true inventions excluding all intervening replicas would approach chaos, and an all-embracing infinity of replicas without variation would approach formlessness. The replica relates to regularity and to time; the invention relates to variation and to history.
No act ever is completely novel, and no action can ever be quite accomplished without variation.
The usual view in our age is that obsolescence is merely an economic phenomenon occasioned by technical advances and by pricing. The cost of the maintenance of old equipment outruns the cost of its replacement with new and more efficient items. The incompleteness of this view is apparent when we consider the decision not to discard.
The retention of old things has always been a central ritual in human societies. Its contemporary expression in the public museums of the world rises from extremely deep roots, although the museums themselves are only young institutions going back to the royal collections and the cathedral treasuries of earlier ages. In a wider perspective, the ancestor cults of primitive tribes have a similar purpose, to keep present some record of the power and knowledge of vanished peoples.
The point of these distinctions is that merely useful things disappear more completely than meaningful and pleasurable things.
We often invent new variations due to boredom and a desire for something new.
Chapter 4 – Some Kinds of Duration
It is calendrical time, which permits us to arrange events one after another. But that is all. The domain of the historical sciences remains impervious to other numbers.
Calendrical time indicates nothing about the changing pace of events. The rate of change in history is not yet a matter for precise determinations: we will have advanced if only we arrive at a few ideas about the different kinds of duration.
More readily available for observation are the lives of famous artists. The pace and tone of an artist’s life can tell us much about his historical situation, although most artists’ lives are uninteresting.
These only occurred in Europe and the Far East. Africa American and India we know nothing about.
There are slow-paced, patient painters, such as Claude Lorrain and Paul Cézanne,
today. In the Middle Ages, the individual artist remains invisible behind the corporate façades of church and guild.
The number of ways for things to occupy time is probably no more unlimited than the number of ways in which matter occupies space.
History has no periodic table of elements and no classification of types or species; it has only solar time and a few old ways of grouping events, but no theory of temporal structure.
Because no work of art exists outside the linked sequences that connect every man-made object since the remotest antiquity, everything has a unique position in that system. This position is marked by coordinates of place, age, and sequence. The age of an object has not only the customary absolute value in years elapsed since it was made: age also has a systematic value in terms of the position of a thing in the pertinent sequence.
We also have a very colonial centric record as native records were often destroyed.
Our ideas about Middle Minoan time are clearer than our ideas about Europe between the World Wars, partly because less is known, partly because the ancient world was less complex, and partly because old history comes into a long perspective more easily than the close view of a recent happening.
The older the events are, the more are we likely to disregard differences of systematic age.
Self-determining sequences are much rarer, and they are harder to detect. Early Christian art was a deliberate rejection of pagan traditions. The survivals of pagan antiquity were either strategic or unconscious in early Christianity. The Christian sequence, however, rapidly became model-bound, as when the close array of these revivals of Early Christian architectural types finally constituted the Early Christian tradition.
Time Clock involved punching a time clock every hour for a year.
Physically demanding year-long immersive art.
Challenging the limit of possibility in terms of endurance
There is often a disconnect between performance and its representation in text, photography and art. How can you possibly write about punching a time clock every hour for a year to the same degree as experiencing it?
Also when you’re looking at someone’s life works over say 30 years, how do you summarise that? Or put together one exhibition? in other words, the task of translating time into space.
His works are about passing time. Time Clock and Outdoor Piece.
Amelia Groom writes – the 133 times that Hsieh failed to punch the clock out of a possible 8,760 are a vital component of the work as they highlight the conflict between corporeal time – the time of circadian rhythms, for example – and clock time. And though the time-lapsed film of the performance (a stop-action record made up of the 8,267 photograms taken when Hsieh did punch the clock) condenses the time of the 365-day performance into a six-minute film, it also registers an otherwise barely detectable corporeal time as the artist’s hair grows and his face bears greater signs of fatigue with the passing of the year.
Relentless productive work of capitalism. Every hour of the day, not just 9-5, represents how work seems to spill over into all hours of the day now.
Hsieh’s performances address pure time, the constantly renewing time of the present in which we all live, not any particular time or moment in his life.
I had the pleasure of attending the launch event for Holding Time which is an experimental art project around motherhood and breastfeeding.
I was interested in the event because of the subject of motherhood and breastfeeding which is very close to me, but also because the title intrigued me, especially with looking in-depth at the ways artists use and portray time for this unit.
The project involves photographs, animations, conversations, presentations and a lot of collaboration and aims to inspire a new generation of families to find their way back to breastfeeding, which is as old as humans themselves.
There are different ways the concept of time is interwoven into the work. There is a moving animation of Breastfeeding mothers that evokes images of an ancient breastfeeding circle.
There are also the photographs that are incredibly powerful themselves as a rich tapestry of diversity and variety in breastfeeding. The idea that this photo captures a very intimate moment of time between mother and child.
There is also a deeper exploration of time. Becoming a mother can sometimes make women outsiders to “normal time”. A woman can go from working full time and having a very time defined role to having their world turned upside down. Breastfeeding still even in 2021 makes it difficult for some women to return to the world of work, they can lose part of their identity and with it feel like linear time has stopped for them.
I find the technique describe by the artist Lisa Creagh fascinating.
Each mother was photographed every four seconds. These stills were then used to create short sequences, animated in ‘realtime’. The use of one frame per four seconds disrupts the time illusion typically created through the acceleration of 24 frames per second. The Cosmatesque Timepiece offers a PreIndustrial alternative to our linear timekeeping through a scale-based timecode that grows as time ‘passes’.
This ‘right-brained clock’ is based on an ancient Cosmatesque design, found on the floor of the Sistine Chapel contextualises the breastfeeding mothers within an older decorative tradition, recontextualising motherhood and breastfeeding in particular as an active, rather than passive activity, by disrupting the dominant western understandings of time.
We use art and materials to make sense of the world around us. A fragile pursuit. Brings together everyday materials to build immersive experiences and ultimately occupy memory. To start a piece of work we often have to wipe the slate clean to begin.
Why and how do objects acquire value for us? Mass-produced objects that are designed for use not aesthetic. Can the way we interact with them create some kind of value in them? How do we breathe life into inanimate materials? Blur the boundaries between mediums and blur the experience between being in art and being in real life. See the art in everyday life.
We experience time through materials, so what happens when the line is blurred? Experimented with animals moving on film. If we try to remember one thing that happened in a year – that one moment we remember expands to fill the whole time. One image can grow and haunt us.
Confusing over what is an image and what is an object – made the interior of a planetarium.
Shadows, images and real objects all get blurred
Painting is the representation of the interior images we have. We store memory as images. Images appear in our memory. Afterimage:
Painting reminds you of the limits of photography. Looked at an image and then tries to create what it would look like on the retina as an afterimage. Merging of mediums. Takes sculptures and makes them in sketches and graphics and vice versa. Is the idea of art to remain in the memory and then continue to generate ideas?