reflection at end of part three


I feel like I am starting to get a grip on some of these slippery subjects. I’m finding links as new subjects refer back to subjects I’ve already grappled with. I’m starting to learn the code.

The only time I felt I was truly floundering in the dark was with deconstruction. It was the first and hopefully last time I considered giving up the entire course.

That said, I’m now beginning to regret taking this course at the same time as Drawing One because I’m slowly getting drawn in to its subjects, and would value the dedicated time to explore more.

While some of the subjects feel if not exactly common-sense, are something we do by instinct (for example de-code), these subjects answer the ‘why’ we do this, and they take us deeper, to the roots of ‘why’.

I’ve very much enjoyed the annotation of images. Alongside these studies I’m watching whatever arts programmes and arts-related podcasts I can get access to in France and I feel as if I am slowly but surely constructing myself a web of greater understanding.

Podcasts such as BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed on Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, the Flaneur help to consolidate and revise my learning. Boring my kids with what I’ve learned helps me review.

My feedback from part two has led me to focus on using relevant terminology more. This is happening, but slowly, it is still a struggle, I think a large part is just a lack of confidence. I don’t really feel authorised to use some of these terms, however the more I see them used in texts the more common place they become.

My other focus was to make a better job of referencing – and building my reading list. I’m between two places, and consequently two computers through the week and find the links are always saved to the ‘other’ computer. However I’ve just signed up to ‘Cite This For Me’ which will allow me to keep all references in one place from now on.

Tony Cragg, MUDEM, Luxembourg


Forminifera, 1994, Tony Cragg, plaster and steel

A very quick stop in Luxembourg on the way to the southernmost tip of Holland had me frog-marching the kids in to MUDAM, the city’s museum of modern art.

We had no idea what would be on, but I knew the building itself would do us some good.

This being a drawing course, I’ve focused on Cragg’s sketches here. Though they are clearly preparation for his sculptures, alongside what he has to say about his work, they are interesting, useful and inspirational – what a bargain for a quick pit stop in Luxembourg!

I’ve taken quotes from what MUDAM calls its mini guide to this exhibition, written by Markus Pilgrim. (The exhibition runs from 11.0.2017 to 03.09.17).

“Although Cragg approaches questions of form and material not unlike a traditional sculptor, he firmly believes that any imaginable material can be a carrier of meaning, imagination and emotions”.

He continues: “Although in recent years he has developed a kind of protocol for form-finding, he sees himself merely as an ‘agent’ who enables forms and their inner energy to come to the fore”. In Cragg’s own words:  “Even if it’s nothing linear, things generate something. There is a kind of self-propagating, self-generating energy within the material itself”. 

“Drawing, one of his main daily activities, is an essential tool in shaping and creating these sculptures”


From an interview with Markus Pilgrim, and published in the gallery guide:

“Movement is relative. We’re sitting in front of a tree, and it’s not moving. But although it’s simply standing there, it is full of movement, in the leaves, in the trunk – there’s movement everywhere. The same is true for our body, with its three to four trillion cells, where a metabolism takes place, which for me represents an insane movement…And it’s the same with all things, including my works. My works did not come in to being accidentally, in the sense that I let the material run, and at the end it looks good. In my conception, the aim is rather to construct the inner structure of a form, from which the external appearance then derives. It’s not so much about how something looks – I’m not interested in mapping anything. I’m interested in why something looks the way it looks. Because that’s the result of an unimaginable inner dynamic.”

A long quote but something I want to keep in mind when I’m drawing and something that will be helpful to me. To paraphrase Cragg, drawing isn’t about mapping something, it is an investigation in to the core – into the ‘unimaginable inner dynamic’.


Untitled, Tony Cragg, 2007, pencil on paper

This is my favourite drawing. It’s the least disciplined, less obviously the precursor of a sculpture. But I can see Cragg grappling with the ‘insane movement’. I can see how he got lost in this drawing, looking and searching.


Untitled, Tony Cragg, 2007, pencil on paper

Here again, more looking, searching, but he’s discovered a steady rhythm. It’s as if here he has been let in, above he was still looking.


Untitled, undated, Tony Cragg, pencil on paper

It’s easy to think that the final sculpted object here is a vase. It isn’t, but I don’t think the result matters. What is wonderful is how Cragg has deftly found the movement, it feels as though he is thinking about the material and how it can yield. Perhaps I am simplifying but when I look at this I see clay – and the dynamic way it is moulded. Its shape is constantly shifting, constantly moving. Finally it finds a position and ‘rests’ but it holds the memory of that movement.

Adding a PS here because I came across this Kate Kellaway’s interview  just yesterday with Tony Cagg at his exhibition A Rare Category of Objects, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. These comments stood out for me:

People can make anything, but nature has had a long time to make things complicated. If you live in nature, you have a richer vocabulary of forms in your mind.

Everything is material. But the material is so complicated. We’ve no idea what absolute reality looks like. I find that sublime and uplifting. It has a spiritual quality. I’m most interested in the emotional qualities of things. Every emotion has a material basis – run by hormones and nerves. But isn’t that magnificent? This seems to be an extension to his interest and thinking on movement and metabolism (see main post).

Drawing remains essential to you – why?
There are endless ways of joining two spots on paper. Once you move the pencil, it becomes the most complicated, fantastic journey. It’s like modelling with clay where you could – if you were God or good enough – make limitless forms.

You talk about art as a defence against mediocrity?
We use materials to impoverish form. We cut down a forest, make it into a field and, after a while, a car park. We screw up landscapes – everything has been changed by us. But sculpture? Art takes on space, makes new forms, ideas, emotions, languages, freedom. An increasing number of people have a better quality of life because art is in their life. Just think about that.

Reference: Kellaway, K. (2017) Tony Cragg: ’I‘m most interested in the emotional qualities of things’. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2017)

project: deconstruction

Search for more information on Deconstruction and make notes in your blog. Then see if you can put what you have discovered into practice on an image, a film, some literature or a piece of music. 

Structuralist thinking: Language is a system of signs, where a sign can be any form of communication (colour, word, speech, logo). The meaning is never inherent in the object itself but we develop the meaning ourselves, within a cultural context (structure)

Deconstructionist thinking: Every aspect of human experience is based on language – our social habits, our values, our modes of communication are all textual. Il n’a y pas de hors-text  –  Jacques Derrida

To get away from text, we’d have to get outside of our heads…

However language is unreliable because the meanings that get attached to signs are arbitrary.

Derrida declared that there was no such thing as ‘presence’ – as real time or real things – it’s not possible to experience something in its pure form. There is no pure form, nothing simply exists.

Everything we know about the world is mediated by concepts that come to us in the form of texts.

Because everything is mediated by concepts and texts, it comes to us indirectly and incompletely. Barthes showed us how a signifier and signified make a sign, and how that sign can go on to signify a further signified. According to Derrida this chain has no end – meaning will be deferred ad infinitum.

Thus meaning is never stable, the concepts behind words are always changing.

Deconstruction aims to disrupt the ideas we take for granted, and looks for inner flaws and contradictions.

It gives particular focus to ‘binaries’, or oppositions such as original/copy, life/death, male/female and questions them, because actually no two things have nothing at all in common.

It also questions origins (of love, text, life) – like meanings, origins are unstable and can also be multiple.

Putting learnings in to practice using image taken from front cover of Buffalo Zine issue 3


This image is patched together, a collage – these items don’t exist together and they never have done. Perhaps they will in the future – is this what the banner is suggesting? The old fashioned, scroll of a banner? Back to the Future was a film whose hero went accidentally back in time and needed to get back to the future. Here the young and the old come together but we don’t know what the relationship is. Are the young out of place or have they embraced the old?

The name of the zine sits in an elaborate frame, something from an animated Disney production. The name has been broken down from Buffalo Zine to Buff Alo Zine. We have a young man, naked except for his pants – in the Buff. Are we saying Alo to him?

He is in TopMan pants. A cheap fashion brand in an elaborately decorated house. So is he the intruder? Or are TopMan pants ironic now? He is in his underwear, she is dressed (sort of). Has the couple been pasted into this image?

Are our couple dancing? posing? wrestling each other for the can of drink? Is he the model, she the stylist? Who is looking where they should be looking?

What strange meal is this table laid for? No cutlery, sherry decanter and glasses and kitsch cheese dish.

Is this young privileged couple in family home? their home? Are these models about to be dressed in formal attire to suit the room? Is this stage one of the photo shoot?

The whole is a page for a magazine that’s telling us that anything goes. The magazine itself has no structure, follows no rules. There is no formula here. Indeed Buffalo Zine changes its look each issue, there is no continuity. Customers have a choice of covers for each issue – choose whatever cover means what you what it to mean. In fact the more I look the more I think the cover has already been deconstructed!

assignment three : decoding advertisements

Choose a current advertisement or advertising campaign, and, drawing on the work of Barthes and others, analyse it to show how it derives and conveys its meanings to its intended audience. 

You will need to apply the principles of simple Semiotic, Structuralist and Post-Structuralist analysis to your chosen work. 

You can use annotations of copied images and notes rather than write a full-blown essay if you prefer. You must include quotations from, and/or references to, the writers whose writings and methods you are adopting.

Clan Campbell

Annotation Assignment 3


This is one of two similar images used in an outdoor campaign to advertise Clan Campbell whisky in France.

Clan Campbell is France’s number one selling premium whisky. The whisky and the distillery are owned by parent company SA RICARD (Pernod Ricard) of France who bought Clan Campbell in 1974 and the distillery (one of the newest in the UK) in 1989. The whisky is produced solely for export and has not been sold in the UK since the 1980s.

The Campbell Clan is one of many Scottish clans that has been co-opted by a whisky brand. According to the blend was begun by a wine shipper Samuel Rosenbloom in 1933, who took the name Campbell from his business address at Campbell House. In the 1970s the head of the Campbell Clan, the Duke of Argyll, was conveniently appointed to the board of the holding company the House of Campbell. Despite the connection to the Campbell Clan being a pure and simple business arrangement, the following phrase can now be read on the bottle label: ‘Since 1266 the courage and solidarity of the Campbell Clan have helped to shape the history of Scotland’

Even before we begin to look at the image, the very name of the product draws on the myth of the Scottish clan in its name – constructed from a business address and a helpful Duke in the 1970s.

We inherently understand why a whisky would want to associate itself with a Scottish clan – the myth of the clan is of a noble, fearless and loyal family, stretching back into Scottish history – a myth that is constantly fed by commerce: tourism, genealogy, heraldry, tartan and film (Braveheart, Rob Roy, Highlander).

Using semiotics to unravel this myth we begin with the word clan, the signifier for the entire extended family that descends from a clan chief, the signified. The sign is the sum of the two.  Over time this sign of ‘clan’ has taken on new meaning. As Barthes describes in his book Mythologies, myth is a ‘second-order semiological system’  (Barthes 1973) in which the sign of the first system becomes a ‘mere’ signifier (or form) in the second. The meaning that was first attributed to the word ‘clan’ is shunted in to the background. “When it becomes form, the meaning leaves its contingency behind, it empties itself, it becomes impoverished, history evaporates, only the letter remains” (Barthes 1973).

In practice a clan chief would often include the workers on his land as part of his clan in exchange for their allegiance to him – a fiefdom. Through disputes, land sales and politics these allegiances changed as land changed hands. This history been conveniently left behind for something altogether more useful. Worth noting too that the romantic accoutrements of the Scottish clan: tartans and clan crest badges were developed in the comparatively modern C18th and late C19th respectively.

Ironically the motto of Clan Campbell is Ne Obliviscaris – Forget Not

The brand advertising for Clan Campbell has shifted over the past 15 years from landscape, to landscape with people, to just people. We can assume this is the result of  research and focus groups held by the brand’s advertising agency.  In developing its brand message Clan Campbell needs to be cognisant of other messages around it, specifically those trying to sell the same product and/or reach the same audience. Our world is saturated with advertising and this is just one of hundreds of whiskys available. It is not enough for the brand to develop its message for a specific audience and put its ad in front of that audience, it also needs to stand out from its competitors and indeed all advertising.

A Google image search of whisky ads in France shows a montage of misty landscapes, roaring fires, men in leather armchairs and close ups of the product itself so the use of employees in the ad is a differentiator. One wonders what Marx would have made of this irony: a reminder of the labour force behind the product is now used in its advertising“one of the most influential ideological forms”  (Williamson, 1978 cited in Rose, 2016 , p.108).

[The press release refers to ‘workers’ at the Glasgow distillery (though the distillery Glenallachie is about as far away from Glasgow as it is possible to be in Scotland) and they are named on the advertisement].

According to Barthes, the linguistic message within an advertisement can have two functions: anchorage and relay. In this ad we see the linguistic message acting as anchorage, allowing the reader to choose between a number of potential meanings. “… all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a ‘floating chain’ of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others.” (Barthes 1964). In small print the employees are named and we are told that every day these men produce Clan Campbell whisky. In large print stamped across the image we have the message ICI COMMENCE LE CLAN, LE CLAN CAMPBELL (THE CLAN BEGINS HERE, THE CAMPBELL CLAN – my translation).

These linguistic messages remove any confusion,  for example that these men may be whisky drinkers, or whisky salesmen. However while the initial line in small print is denotative – it tells us the simple fact of the names of these men and that they produce the whisky, the dominating message is connotative – it implies that these men are part of the Campbell clan. This is vital, for signs work in relation to other signs and it is in this way that the viewer will transfer the values it holds for an ancient Scottish clan onto this whisky.

In a humorous (and somewhat tongue in cheek) blog post on ‘Why Whisky is a Manly Drink,  Brendan McGinley describes the farewell drink he had with a deckhand as a collage graduate “This is called whisky,” said John. “It’s what a man drinks and it’s what I drink and it’s what you’re going to drink because I can’t watch you sip any more candy.” (, 2017)

In the image itself we see many signs that work together to uphold a further enduring myth – that only ‘real men’ drink whisky – and within this lies the myth of masculinity, or ‘real men’ itself.

In his essay Beer Commercials (A Manual in Masculinity), Lance Strate reminds us that “Biology determines whether we are male or female;  culture determines what it means to be male or female, and what sorts of behaviours and personality attributes are appropriate for each gender role. In other words, masculinity is a social construction (Fejes, 1989; Kimmel, 1987a). The foundation may be biological, but the structure is manmade; it is also flexible, subject to change over time and differing significantly from culture to culture.” (Strate L.)

Masculinity is what a culture expects of its men, and all the signs in this ad remind the viewer of that, simultaneously giving weight to the idea of whisky as a man’s drink.

Signs include physical labour (representing strength, endurance, pride in craftsmanship), working outdoors (free, an element of danger, exposed to the elements) and working in a team. “The dominant social context for male interaction is the group, and teamwork and group loyalty rank high in the list of masculine values. Individualism and competition, by contrast, are downplayed, and are acceptable only as long as they foster the cohesiveness of the group as a whole” (Strate L.). This also ties in with the solidarity that a drink together offers at the end of a hard day’s work.

We know from Saussure that there is no inherent connection between the signifier and the signified, what is important is the difference between the sign they make and others. The signs in this image point to each other, the viewer reads these signs and makes their meaning, according to their own cultural context. This meaning is then transferred to the product by the viewer, he bestows these meanings on to the product itself and onto himself (should he consume the product) – what Althusser terms ‘appellation’ – the product calls out to him.

The men in this image stand together, upright, proud, defiant, a team. They are not afraid of hard work. The heavy barrels are piled high behind them. One clutches a pair of heavy duty gloves (he with the tattoo – he who has put his hand into the fire), a mallet and hammer are to one side. They wear clothes that can handle the physicality of what they do – noticeably denim – the original workwear. And yet they maintain a sense of individual style, they are in control.

Their grouping, the available space around them, the bottle within arm’s reach – an invitation is extended. You have understood the message, now join us – the clan begins here – with our relationship.

Whisky is a currency of respect among men. A bottle of it presented to a fellow says “I acknowledge you as a man and have no plans to stab you.” (, 2017)

One final observation is the quality of the photograph itself, taken by young English documentary/fashion photographer Jack Davison. In black and white and with the grainy quality that gives it the feel of gritty street photography, much used to photograph musicians and actors. This stands out against a sea of digitally manipulated images and the message that gives us is of something real, in the here and now, a one-to-one.

This advertisement positions Clan Campbell as a whisky steeped in the history of Scotland. One could be forgiven for thinking the whisky is made by the Clan Campbell itself – an enduring tradition touched by romantic adventure and maybe a hint of rebelliousness – and in choosing this brand, you might like to think of yourself as an honorary member of the clan. The reality is that Clan Campbell’s history is a complicated list of mergers, acquisitions, holding companies and export.

But Clan Campbell doesn’t just feed off the actual Campbell Clan and the myth of the Scottish clan, it colludes with the myth of masculinity, that to be a man you need to be certain things, and a drinker of the hard stuff is a neat shortcut.


Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies. 1st ed. Place of publication not identified: Sage Publications.

Barthes. R (1973) Mythologies. In: Hall, S. and Evans, J. (2007). Visual culture. 1st ed. London: Sage

Campbell, C. (2017). Clan Campbell | Scotch Whisky. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Mar. 2017]

Barthes. R (1964) Image, Music, Text. In: Hall, S. and Evans, J. (2007). Visual culture. 1st ed. London: Sage

Strate L. (date unknown) Beer Commercials (A Manual in Masculinity) In: Craig, S. (1998). Men, masculinity, and the media. 1st ed. Newbury Park, Calif. [u.a.]: SAGE (2017). Why Whisky Is a Manly Drink (But Not How You Think). [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

A lecture uploaded by Serena Higgins: YouTube. (2017). Engl 202b Class 23: Deconstruction. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

project: author? what author?


Read Roland Barthes’ essay The Death of the Author in Image, Music, Text making your notes in the usual way.

Barthes begins this essay with a quote from Balzac’s story Sarrasine, a description of a woman (who is a man, a castrato playing the part of a woman). Barthes questions who is actually giving us this description. Is it the character in the story, is it Balzac (based on his personal experience), does it come from ‘literary’ ideas on women, universal wisdom or romantic psychology? He puts forwward the idea that Balzac is just reproducing ideas that he cannot claim to be the originator of. Indeed the the moment we start to write about something, our subject is lost to us. The moment we begin, we lose the true connection with our subject – even that with ourselves.

Though he only uses the word ‘myth’ in the last sentence of this essay, to him the notion of the author as a creative genius is myth, we should be recognise their skill with language but no more.

Barthes points out that we have recognised this in the past – i.e. when history, information and stories were narrated by a nominated person and while he may have been admired for his speaking skills he was never considered ‘genius’.

Only from the Middle Ages, when the belief that genius came from within rather than was bestowed upon man, when society “discovered the prestige of the individual” (p143 (Barthes and Heath, 1990) has such importance been attached to the author.

Barthes complains that in ‘ordinary culture’ what we care most about is the author – and we explain the work by examining the person who produced it – we believe it to really be about him or her.

“The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us”. (P 143 Barthes and Heath, 1990)

Barthes mentions the French poet Mallarme, who took the emphasis away from himself and on to the language itself – he made an attempt to ‘loosen’ the ‘sway of the Author’. Mallarme’s poetry uses the sound of the words themselves, thus putting the reader in the driving seat. He also mentions Paul Valéry, another French poet who worked in similar ways to Mallarme, questioning the position of author and stressing the linguistic. Valéry believed that using the writer’s ‘interiority’ as a way of understanding literature was ‘pure superstition’. Finally Proust is also credited with taking the emphasis away from the author and ‘blurring’ the ‘relationship between the writer and his characters’ . (“Writing narrator, remembering narrator, and remembered past perceiving selves, all would coincide in the consciousness of a unified, fully awake subject called “Proust” who speaks every moment of his first-person narration”  Reid, J. (2010). Proust, Beckett, and narration. 1st ed. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press.

Surrealism too has contributed to the ‘desacrilisation of the image of the Author’. While it can’t place language itself at the centre, it plays with us, never quite giving us what we expect – the meanings of its signs are not what we expect.

Enunciation is an empty process – it functions very well without need of the speaker.

Barthes describes the traditional relationship with author and book as paternal – the author existed before the book came along, he “thinks, suffers, lives for it”. The ‘modern scriptor’ only exists however as the book is actually read. Consequently writing cannot be considered an act of recording or depiction anymore – it only really exists when it is spoken.

Barthes warns that a writer can only ever be an ‘eternal copyist’ he will never come up with anything original. He can only ever use words that already exist, and can only be explained through other words, and so on. He ends up drawing not from his own feelings but from an immense internal dictionary. The author is actually the language itself. The writer, just like a copywriter might, is simply using the code of language to craft their work.

If we give a text an author, we limit the text, it stops at the point that we know all about the author. Removing the author frees the text and gives endless possibilities to how it is interpreted. There is no longer a final meaning to the text that revolves around the author. Consequently when we change the status of the author this way, criticism becomes a waste of time.

To Barthes, it is the reader that matters – but only in so far as how he reads the language – it depends on his own social and cultural references: “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology…” (P168 Barthes and Heath, 1990)

With the author removed, the reader can interpret the text his own way: “the birth of the reader must be at the  cost of the Author”. (P168 Barthes and Heath, 1990)

Reading List

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1990). Image, music, text. 1st ed. [London]: Fontana. Sourced online at Art Theory

Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies. 1st ed. Place of publication not identified: Sage Publications.


Read Michel Foucault’s essay What is an Author? making notes in the usual way

This essay begins by making a point also made by Barthes – that the notion of ‘author’ only came about as the idea of the ‘individual’ came about – the ‘privileged moment of individualisation’ when individuals were considered genius for their works (in any area) and comments straight away that ‘even today’ (late 1960s) we consider the author and his work the most important facet in the history of a concept, literary genre or school of philosophy.

[It’s necessary to understand what Foucault means by ‘discourse’ : Sturken and Cartwright  describe Foucault’s ‘discourse’ as “a body of knowledge that defines and limits what can be said about something… a group of statements which provide a means for talking about a particular topic at a particular moment”. (Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices Of Looking. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print. P94)] They could also be called texts, or even books.

Foucault reminds us that applying an author’s name to a discourse turns it in to something that is read in a certain way and will be given certain status depending on the culture of the time. The name of the author is not confined to the actual, physical person who produced the work and who is now independent of the work, but is something that is always present, that permeates the text.

However not all discourses have this relationship with the author. Where it does exist, Foucault terms it ‘author-function’. He provides four features of texts which create author function:

Where discourses are objects of appropriation. Foucault points out that originally discourse was not considered a type of product but an act, and if used in a transgressive way (for example blasphemy) the originator would be sought out for punishment. Somebody needed to be held responsible – in this way the idea of ‘ownership’ grew.

Not all texts have always needed an author. Society doesn’t always demand that some texts have an author. Some texts have been in circulation so long they are simply accepted and the author is no longer important. Examples are fairy tales, jokes, folk lore. However in the Middle Ages scientific texts needed an author associated with them to be accepted as true. Over time this changed until today when we accept these texts based on the results we know to be true rather than the authority of the author. Conversely this was also the moment when literary texts were given author-function, when the idea of the author himself gave value to the literature and we believed the answer to the meaning of a text lay in the author himself.

Various criteria apply when a text is attributed to an author. Should a text be anonymous, uncovering the author is of utmost importance (our tendency is to always want to trace a work back to one person, as if it is the creation of that one person). However attributing a text to one person isn’t straight forward and various criteria need to apply. Foucault refers to St Jerome’s De virus illustrious (short biographical and literary notes on 135 Christian authors and written in 392) and points out that modern criticism still uses the same criteria: of quality, style, whether the author died before any mentioned events occurred and whether the author contradicts himself across texts.

The author function is not the physical person, it is the text that creates the author function. The text carries signs that refer to the author and all the things that are associated with him; ideas, methodology, works.

Foucault returns to the importance placed on author, the ‘privileges of the subject’ but turns the conversation around, asking instead what might happen when the author function is removed, and the discourse is freed from the author that is holding it back:  “the author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning” P952

“the author is not an indefinite source of signification which fill a work: the author does not proceed the works, he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction” P952

Foucault yearns for a culture where discourse operates without the ‘restraining figure’ of the author,  where is it not a question of communication from writer to reader, and where the individual existence of the writer does not matter. He summarises with a quote from Samuel Beckett: “What difference does it make who is speaking?” P953

Reading List

Original text ‘What is an Author’ from pages 949-953 in Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory. 1st ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Dr. Mary Klages, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder. http://www.Colorado.EDU/English/ENGL2012Klages/1997foucault.html link  Accessed 19th March 2017

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices Of Looking. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.

Look at the work of Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman or another two artists whose work seems either to be derived from a reading of the two articles you’re read, or whose work is better explained in the light of them.

Sherrie Levine b.1947

An artist who first exhibited in the 1970s (not long after the Barthes and Foucault essays  discussed above), Levine continues the same line of questioning, asking us to reconsider the idea of artist as the sole creator of a work, and the idea of authenticity.


Copy of Sherrie Levine (Untitled) After Edward Weston, 1980. Taken from  Internet

Levine’s work involves re-photographing already known images, such as Edward Weston’s photograph of his son. Quite clearly ‘taking’ the image, Levine also put her name to it – Levine, after Edward Weston. In doing so she challenged his legal status as its creator and also that he was the sole origin of the image. The cropped male torso has a long history, going back to the ancient greeks and being copied in tern by the Romans. It already has so many authors – and this is what Levine is pointing out – so can Weston really call himself the creator of this image and take it for his legal own?

There’s another aspect to Weston’s photograph however. This is a photo of his son, and along with the boy’s mother, Weston is the origin. He is the creator of the referent.

At the same time, she’s having us question the value of the ‘original’ photograph. Levine did not make a copy from the original negative, she photographed a photograph. This has us ask questions about value. The negative can produce an infinite number of copies. Anyone can take a photograph. Anyone can take a copy from the internet. Levine’s work differs in that it was made from a different perspective and it has a different title. But where does the value come from and should it be any different to Westons? Does the ‘original’ have ‘aura’ – if so where does that come from and why? Is this down to the value placed on it by the museums and galleries? Can her idea, her concept have value, or does art have to be ‘stuff’, and original stuff at that?

The thinking at the time was that it had become impossible to be original, and that  interpretation, or the reading, was more important than the creation. In making her copy, Levine did something original. However I wonder why she did what she did more than once?

If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s ‘aura’ left?

Yes because ‘aura’ is created by the reader and not the author. Even an image is freely circulating and open to infinite interpretations will have aura attached to its original. We have a desire to get close to the original creative act and to understand its intention. In the case of Levine’s work, we don’t just want to know why she did it, we are interested in the creative process – did she borrow a negative, photograph the original? It is well documented that she photographed from a catalogue – we want to know this. We want to know about her as author. She has also given attention to the original, and that in itself adds to its aura.

Our society is motivated and impressed by money. Anything given wall space, column inches, great value will have aura.

Does any of this explain or validate the un-regulated nature of the internet?

The internet allows images, texts, music to be easily appropriated while also laying everything open to an infinite number of interpretations. Images can be seen in any number of contexts. It’s possible to say that no one cares about the author or his/her intentions. We take what we want and use it to suit our own agenda.

However witnessing the potential damage of ‘fake news’ has led to a growing awareness and accompanying unease at this un-regulation. Have we had enough of these empty images re-purposed ad infinitum? Will we begin to crave a deeper understanding, to look for the truth behind each image. To wonder why an image came about in the first place?

Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creator’s intent at the time of making?

It piques the interest. It points a finger at the artist. In case of appropriation – why was this artist chosen? What is the deeper layer of meaning? We are curious creatures after all!

myth is a type of speech

Read the Roland Barthes essay Myth Today on pages 51-58 of the course reader and make notes.

Key points:

  • A myth is a second-order semiological system that begins with linguistics
  • A myth is founded on human history, not on nature – though we are easily led to believe the opposite.
  • Myths are always motivated – there to serve a purpose



Myth is built on signs, and to Barthes every object in the world can be a myth  – “Myth is not defined by the object of its message but by the way it utters the message” P51

What is myth and what is not is in flux – it will change over time – dictated by human history, not nature. “…mythology can only have an historical foundation, for myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things” p52

At this point Barthes states the importance of not forgetting the sign as the sum of signifier and signified. Until the signifier is used to signify something, it is empty. Only the sign, the ‘associative total’ of the signifier and the signified can be full, and have meaning. He uses a bunch of roses to demonstrate this: the roses are the signifier, and passion is what is signified – these are two separate things and only their sum provides us with sign – the notion that roses signify passion.

(Of course in a subject like this the very words used come under some scrutiny and Barthes points out that while he uses the words signifier, signified and sign, Saussure uses concept, acoustic image and sign).

Myth is described as a second-order semiological system and Barthes uses a diagram to show how the sign (created by the sum of the signifier and signified) can go on to become the signifier of something else.

The first, linguistic system is ‘language’ and the second, which uses language to develop, is myth.  Because the signifier can be either the first level or second level myth is either the final term of the linguistic system or the first term of the mythical system.

Rather than refer to the participants in the second order as the second signifier, the second signified etc, he terms the first sign ‘meaning’ , and as this starts the second system it becomes ‘form’, while what it signifies (the second signified) becomes ‘concept’ and the whole (the resulting second sign) ‘signification’.

The myth is the sum of signs. The sign of the first linguistic system becomes the signifier of the mythical system and while we may think that the connection between the first sign and the second signified is natural, Barthes reminds us again and again that the initial signifier means nothing in itself but is invested with meaning by us – our cultures and society. While this initial signifier (of the linguistic system) starts out as purely mental – with no meaning attached to it – by the time it has become the signifier of the myth is already has meaning attached to it.

To use Barthes’s terminology, the signifier of myth is both empty and full – because while it arrives as meaning, it leaves as ‘form’ – ready to take on new meaning, or signification. However the signifier is is not entirely empty, it still carries the original meaning but this is suppressed in favour of the second. “When it becomes form, the meaning leaves its contingency behind, it empties itself, it becomes impoverished, history evaporates, only the letter remains.” Barthes describers  this move from meaning to form as ‘abnormal regression’.

Barthes uses a 1955 Paris-Match cover to illustrate this.



In the linguistic system, the Paris-Match cover is a signifier (an image) and it denotes a young black boy who is looking up and saluting. (The caption tells us he’s part of the l’Afrique Occidentale Française colonial forces)

However there is a second meaning which takes precedence, and that is “that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag”  As the original meaning is suppressed, and ‘history evaporates’, so does our own instinct to search for the ‘truth’ behind the image. We take what we are fed, we believe this to be just ‘the way it is’ and thus the myth is able to transform history in to nature.

For anybody making the effort to look beyond the image and to consider its full history, they may instead, as Barthes did that day in the barber’s see the use of this image as “…no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this boy in serving his so-called oppressors”

In neat summary: myth “…points out, and it notifies, it makes us understand something and it imposes it on us” P55

Myths are always motivated, they are there to serve a purpose, to ‘point out and notify us’ of something in a way that has us believe that ‘it is what it is’ . It appears “both like a notification and like a statement of fact…”

“A conjuring trick has taken place; it has turned reality inside out, it has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature…” P58  Sticking with his example of Paris Match, the history of this boy and how he came to be saluting this flag are lost, and what we are left with is the message of French imperiality as a simple statement – this is how it is.

“In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences, it does away with all dialiectics, without going back beyond what is immediately visible, it organises a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open and wallowing in the evident, it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves…” P58


Look up who Minou Drouet was. Why does Barthes cite her?


When eight years old Minout Drouet’s foster mother introduced her to Paris’s literary circles as a child prodigy on account of her poetry. She was published by René Julliard in 1956 and was subsequently feted by France’s cultural elite. So much suspicion surrounded the true author of the poems that Drouet eventually took a ‘test’ – left alone in a room to write a poem. The resulting poem led to her honorary membership to the Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music.

Barthes does not disguise his disapproval of Drouet’s writing and neatly uses her poem about a tree to lead us to her as an example of a ‘type of social usage which is added to pure matter’ – or how a signifier (a child) is used to signify something else.

The pure matter is the child and in this case the culturally accepted idea of the child as pure and unaffected has been used to sell us the idea of Minou Drouet as child genius. Because she is a child, and her poems have been published, she must be an artistic genius.

Can you think of a couple of examples of elements within images that you know that signify passions, emotions or even other objects and events.

I’ve chosen one historic and one contemporary element that occur in western culture:


First used to remember soldiers who died in WW1, poppies have come to signify remembrance (in the UK, New Zealand and Canada) for all soldiers killed in conflict.


Vanitas, 1671, Philippe de Champaigne

Skulls (hour glasses, candles, clocks) are all used in paintings to signify the passing of time. Specifically used in momento mori (remember that you have to die), popular in C17th, to remind the viewer that life is just a fleeting moment.

(other thoughts: dove, rainbow, heart, fire, broken glass, railway tracks, tunnels, dark clouds, olive trees, fruit, letter, briefcase, diamond, lamb, cross, anchor, champagne)

Barthes’ myth changes the real, the image, the miner in a Soviet Socialist Realist painting, for example, into ideological statement, the freedom of the worker from exploitation through fulfilling the norm or more. Find your own example

The art of the C19th Newlyn School mythologised Cornwall, particularly the fishing community. Satisfying demand from middle England artists conveyed “a ‘realism’ coloured by a leaning towards drama and pathos….’Realism’ was more of an approach to representation – local models, authentic background, open air painting – than a scientific request to record the life of a community….Driven by both the need to market their products and by their own sense of ‘taste’ the Newlyn artists preferred to to dwell on unpleasant aspects of poverty or on difficult moral issues”   Bernard Deacon (2001). Imagining the Fishing: Artists and Fishermen in Late Nineteenth Century Cornwall. Rural History, 12, pp 159-178 doi:10.1017/S0956793300002429


Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 1885, Stanhope Forbes

These artworks created a myth of life in a Cornish fishing community as wholesome and unchanging – stuck in a romantic and nostalgic version of the past.

Think carefully about the passage on meaning and form. “The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning”. Annotate an artwork of your choice to illustrate your thoughts on this passage.


The Smelting Works, 1941, Graham Sutherland

This was painted in 1941, three years in to World War II, and just 25 years after the horrors of World War I.

As an official war artist, Sutherland recorded the bomb damage of Swansea and London, and the activities of those industries contributing to the war effort.

The Smelting Works shows the ladles in use at Cardiff steel works, transporting molten waste from the blast furnaces.

I’m not sure if I’ve chosen an appropriate artwork. My sense in reading about Barthes’ myth is that he sees it as a ‘dumbing down’, a kind of shorthand that the viewer will consume without effort to understand its origin.

This image was commissioned to ‘record’ but also potentially to bolster morale, to show how the entire country was pulling together in united effort.

Yet the entire image speaks of hell. The two ladles will be unfamiliar images for anyone not au fait with the industry. Here they are witches’ cauldrons, each full of the flames of hell. They lie on railway tracks, leading the way through a blood-red tunnel. The workers’ bodies are contorted and they shield themselves from the unearthly black mass that has formed from the burning gases. The grid structure of a cage runs across the roof. These people are trapped. And there’s more – the bodies are naked, save for the closest man who wears a hat.

I’m interested in who would have seen this painting when it was completed and how different generations react – because context is everything here. To me, born in the 60s, I reject to the simple horror of war. I feel no patriotism and no camaradarie. We learn in school of the build up, the politics, but what we take away are the numbers of dead, the destruction, the holocaust. I don’t see any celebration of industry here. I see what I think the artist wants us to see: that war is hell: cage, ladles of fire, railway tracks and tunnel, red and contorted bodies, black smoke.

Annotation: Sutherland Smelting Works

Reading List

Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies. 1st ed. Place of publication not identified: Sage Publications. (2017). Dutch Realism Style of Painting. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2017]. (2017). Wallace Collection Online – Still life with Lobster. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2017].

Bernard Deacon (2001). Imagining the Fishing: Artists and Fishermen in Late Nineteenth Century Cornwall. Rural History, 12, pp 159-178 doi:10.1017/S0956793300002429


part three: project: structuralist analysis

Find two examples of naturalistic paintings of a particular genre and annotate them to discover the similar conventions of representation: medium, format, allusion, purpose etc.

Dutch 17th Century Still Life (link to annotation below)


Still Life with Lobster, 1643, Jan Heem



Tafel mit Hummer, Silberkanne, grossen Berkemeyer, Früchtenschale, Violine und Büchern, 1641 Pieter Claessen

The genre of Still Life – specifically of Dutch 17th Century still life has such convention it almost becomes a game to find one that does not have an item in common with another. From the overall presentation – the format of the canvas and the media used right down to the detail of lemon peel – rules have been set and they are enthusiastically followed.

Oil painting became more common from the 15th Century, but it took the Flemish brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck to revolutionise the practice of painting with oils in preference to egg tempera. Oil painting made detail and colour possible like never before and this genre can be seen as an opportunity to show off painting skills like never before. It reads almost like a check list of artistic skills: hard shiny metal, reflections in glass, texture of lemon peel, folds of fabric, smooth delicacy of exotic shell and tough fibrous underbelly of lobster. Then there is perspective – the table coming towards us, items in the background losing their detail. And light – from the brightest highlight to the darkest gloom – in each painting we run the full range from bright white to dense black.

These artists used every trick in the book to make us feel that we could reach out and help ourselves to this feast. Produce comes forward, spilling off the table before us – we almost want to push the lobster claws back in place lest they fall.

This genre is undoubtedly a celebration of the good times that the Netherlands were experiencing at the time. Trade was everything, people were becoming rich, and a new middle class was developing as a result.

These paintings signify wealth: we have so much, it is literally spilling off the table, but perhaps also a desire to share – please reach out and help yourself.  The seeming carelessness with which the food has been prepared leads us to believe that our hosts have so much of it that waste is of no concern. Travel, the partner of trade is referenced in the citrus and exotic shells.

However they also contain a nod to humility with a plain bread roll, or is this more – a reminder of the Last Supper – wine, grapes, bread? Is the message actually ‘yes we may be growing wealthy but we will never forget our devotion’. Or perhaps it serves more as a warning -‘you may be feasting, but don’t forget your devotion’.

Musical instruments were common to this genre and their given their expense at the time they were certainly another way to express wealth. However as with the wine and bread a further meaning can be added; the violin is perhaps an element borrowed from Vanitas paintings where a musical instrument acted as a reminder not to place too much importance on such pointless earthly activities – our time on earth is fleeting.

Along with these reminders, each painting has a sinister element: the toppled jug and the dagger. The toppled jug may act as a warning ‘be careful or this may all come falling down’ while the dagger that there is someone willing to protect this hoarde.

Finally, and most intriguingly, are the reflections of the artists themselves in the silver jugs, quite clearly, standing at the easel. Is this a form of signature, the painter taking a bow in view of the extraordinary skill he has displayed? Is is a reminder that this is after all, just a painting?

In summary, new money needed things to buy. Oil painting had found enthusiasts in the Netherlands, and as the centre of trade there were wonderful new objects to paint. Owning paintings was no longer restricted to the very rich and privileged. These paintings were a celebration and display of new found wealth and yet for the cautious they contained nods to faith and morality. A little like crossing ones fingers perhaps.

Annotation Still Life

Find two examples of portrait photography, one formal and one informal, and annotate them to see what conventions from the formal are observed in the informal and give your thoughts on why this might be so.

(link to annotation below)


David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed at the Dorchester Hotel, 1972, photo by Mick Rock



Luke Winslow-King and Esther Rose of The Ragtime Millionaires, in a portrait by Jason Kruppa, 2011,


Portrait photography, whether formal or informal seems to present a push-pull engagement with the camera. At one time the sitter wants to present themselves to the viewer, on the other they want to keep something back. Only a totally spontaneous photograph can avoid this, but the photographer has to be sharp – a fraction of a second’s warning is enough to give the sitter time to react – enough time to employ those conventions that can be spotted in portraiture through the ages.

The members of a group – whether family, friends, colleagues – will almost always turn towards each other. They will invariably be physically connected; arms touching, arms around each other. They are presenting themselves as that group, united, connected. In our society it is more appealing to be seen as part of a group than as a loner. This message is clearly ‘I have friends, I have family, I’m not alone, I belong here’.

All faces turn toward the camera. This is the natural response. Anything other would have to be negotiated with the photographer. Is this simply habit? From its invention photography has been assigned ‘social uses’ – that of realistically and objectively recording. We grow up to the snap of cameras as our parents ask us to ‘look at me, smile!’ and we are congratulated for our compliant behaviour. Did  the habit get engrained before the instant camera – in Victorian studios we see a family staring obediently at a photographer’s prop, keeping as still as possible.

And has this habit become simple politeness? A camera is pointed at us, it is rude to ignore, we turn, we smile, we have done our duty. The camera wishes to ‘meet us’, it is rude to decline. And in the same way, we look directly into the lens, we meet the eye of the camera. Again, to avoid eye contact suggests social awkwardness or rudeness. We know the rules, we make eye contact with the camera, with the photographer, with the viewer.

And yet there is a sense of barrier between us and the camera. Since its inception, the camera has been considered a ‘taker’, a ‘devouring eye’ (SOURCE). If we look straight into the lens, are we protecting ourselves, staring down the ‘eye’?

In turning our faces to the camera, in looking straight at the camera we also control our image. We can set our face to an expression that we recognise, we will not be caught mid-laugh, mid-grimace, eyes half-shut in some unrecognisable distorted version of our face. We show ourselves as we wish to be recognised. How we wish to be recognised is wrapped up in the society we keep and how we want to appear to that society. Sane, healthy, fit, happy, rich, successful. The starting point is to simply present a person of sound mind – upright, features all in place, or as Pierre Bourdieu describes it in The Definition of Social Photography, the “best image of oneself, the image most in keeping with the ideal of dignity and honour.”

This is the push aspect of the portrait photography – the ‘give’ of the sitter. They turn to the camera, they look it in the eye – they give this image of themselves. But this is matched by the ‘pull’. Not everything will be given, the sitter will control his image, he will present himself as he wishes to be presented. Signs will be given.

Alongside the pose and facial expression are other signs are read in to our clothes, the background, our specific posture and interaction with the others in the group.

In the formal portrait above, these two singers exude an air of the past, with their formal clothes and hair styling. And yet there is modernity – the knowing nod to past studio photography -the vast seascape behind them, the wind machine and studio lighting. Their pose is guarded yet the gaze direct. ‘This is our music’ they are saying ‘take it or leave it’. There is some defiance there. They don’t succumb to standard pop act photography – and neither do they to pop music – these are the signs we read.

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in this simple snapshot embody their pop music personas. They present their image, we read it, it is what they become. David Bowie: blank canvas on to which he can project whatever persona he wants. Iggy Pop: party animal. Lou Reed: brooding and difficult. They give the camera what it wants, but it’s on their terms. They are participants in the myth that pop culture is creating for them.


Unknown-2Interestingly another photo exists, taken either just before or just after the group shot above. Both are looking away from the camera. Bowie has dropped his mask and is laughing spontaneously while party animal Iggy Pop withdraws. Lou Reed is not in shot. Even the informal snap at a party was a performance, and now the performance is over.

Annotation Portaits