Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Pictures left alone in the surgery might weep, moan (in pain or fear), beg or plead (to be looked at, to be loved), shout and demand (to be freed), or be silent, mute (because they want nothing, or because they are dead). The viewer, on the other side of the glass might feel pity, horror, indifference, repulsion, desire. What is it that happens when we become obsessed with the image, over and above its 'referent'...?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

With my Wife

Dave Thompson's 'With my Wife' now has a preliminary analysis from me

Friday, 18 December 2009

Laughter is the Best Medicine

b) It is said that Laughter is the Best Medicine (credit to a Sarah May of East Sussex for this link with our concept). Perhaps some of the art works we are presented with warrant this response. Whether paintings themselves can laugh or not I don't know. Either way I was thinking of contacting experienced comedian Brenda Gilhooly and asking for her input. Should I?

a) I emerged from a dream last night with the strong feeling that we should call our initiative: Doctors of Art or similar. I can explain my thinking here in more depth (and I accept that dream-cathartic-breakthroughs are usually bad ones) but for now imagine you knew nothing of our concept and you heard something about an Art Surgery. Most likely you might assume it was some Arts Council, a-n or similar supported workshop to help young artists, 'emerging artists' (not that there's anything wrong with that but the term is aimed at people who are looking for mutual {or not so mutual} support) or local artists to think about their work or practice bla blaa, blaaa. We are dealing with artefacts, things, not people. It doesn't sharply enough get the point across. Something like Doctors of Art or Doctors of Art Clinic does. It contains it all: the academic question, the amusing link with medicine etc.

Or these?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

School of Saatchi

Just been watching school of Saatchi episodes, got one to go, and its all well and good for those of us who don't like to pretend that art is more revolutionary than revolution, in other words since it's emergence not too long ago in history, a few hundred years ago, all art has been bourgeois, and it still is, which is not saying it doesn't act with the breaks at the top or near it, but if we were to look at this like in another way, and I'm not saying we need to, then are there not times in history too when artists, following like they do, but in a leading kind of way, and not far behind the real radicals, realign themselves to that latent potential order, for example between the 16th and 17th centuries in England didn't the most creative, unconsciously or openly, make work which reflected the concerns and excitements of the dangerous undercurrent of that period, the merchants, the traders, the individualists, whether they really wanted to or not?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

New logo suggestion: from the Nietzsche quote about the sounding of idols with a tuning fork. Here the tuning fork shape also recalls a syringe. Comments please

Theories and Concepts

There are three key theoretical texts that seem to me to be primarily useful in the articulation of concepts around the practice of an ‘Art Surgery’: these are What Do Pictures Want, by WJT. Mitchell; The Power of Images, by David Freedberg; and Art and Agency, by Alfred Gell. In this post I want to reflect on some of Mitchell’s ideas in his extraordinary book, What do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images. First of all Mitchell defines pictures in terms of a tripartite set of interdependent categories, an assemblage of “virtual, material and symbolic elements”. First of all there is the image, “any likeness, figure, motif, or form that appears in some medium or other”; then there are objects, an object being “the material support in or on which the image appears, or the material thing that an image refers to or brings into view”; finally there is medium, the “set of material practices that brings an image together with an object to produce a picture”. He then moves on to discuss what he means by the question “What do Pictures want?” in so far as ‘want’ has two meanings: ‘desire’, and ‘lack’; so pictures may be powerful, but they are clearly also powerless. It is this double consciousness that Mitchell pursues, both from the point of view of pictures and their spectators, wherein people are capable of “vacillating between magical belief and sceptical doubts, naïve animism and hardheaded materialism, mystical and critical attitudes.” (In fact criticism itself can be seen as an iconoclastic practice, “a labour of demystification and pedagogical exposure of false images.”)

Here is the crux of the thing: “A poetics of pictures addresses itself to them, as Aristotle proposed, as if they were living beings, a second nature that human beings have created around themselves.” Mitchell proposes a third way (as opposed to the belief/critique paradigm), that of Nietzsche’s strategy of ‘sounding the idols’ with the ‘tuning fork’ of critical or philosophical language. This would be a “delicate critical practice that struck images with just enough force to make them resonate, but not so much as to smash them.”

Notes and quotes

“Why do (people) behave as if pictures were alive, as if works of art had minds of their own, as if images had a power to influence human beings, demanding things from us, persuading, seducing, and leading us astray? Even more puzzling, why is it that the very people who express these attitudes and engage in this behaviour will, when questioned, assure us that they know very well that pictures are not alive, that works of art do not have minds of their own, and that images are really quite powerless to do anything without the cooperation of their beholders?” (Mitchell)

In the same way that the non-living, inorganic image-copy of the ‘real’ becomes itself real, so the “biologically viable simulacrum of a living organism” (Mitchell, on Dolly the sheep, p. 13) recedes from view, becomes unreal—a chimera.

“and regarding the sounding out of idols, this time they are not just idols of the age, but eternal idols, which are here touched with a hammer as with a tuning fork” Nietzsche, from Twilight of the Idols.


For a start Dr. Jon perhaps you could examine this .jpeg image and if necessary suggest a remedy or diagnosis? Huw as a trainee Doctor of sorts might want to add something. Though I envisage myself in the role of Practice Manager I my add my comments at this stage. The work was created by Dave Thompson and it's called "With My Wife":


Continuing on from and referring to the previous post. I'm interested in a few other aspects of this and how we might work things out through action.

I wonder what the whole thing will LOOK like. It'd be good to:
1) Get down to the location with cameras
2) Make some mock-ups
3) Carry out trial runs elsewhere (and document those just in case they turn out to be IT)
4) Once we've considered all the things we could put in, deciding what to take out (hopefully we can be ruthless here)

At this stage I imagine a system of pulleys behind the glass, paintings (I think we should stick to 2D work, pictures maybe), this is all work in process waiting to be seen by a specialist, and I think the most interesting thing would be a visibale operating theatre. Perhaps we should do a lot of operating. We don't have to mimic the idea of a GP Surgery directly.

The Surgery will be live for a few hours on weekend days but material will remain for the rest of the time. What this looks like will depend on what we do and amusingly perhaps all our activities and all the intelligence and intellectualism will be summed up more simply by what this looks like and is. Are we going to allow it to simply be generated by our actions or will we be overriding that somehow? I don't want people to have to read a book to understand the thing. Should be gettable, stimulating.

I'm concerned that we discuss before inviting our usual collaborators in. Some diversity might be good, fresh blood, though I guess teams of surgeons often are all from a similar segment of the population.

The Art Surgery

The purpose of the Art Surgery is to provide expert opinion and diagnosis for works of art brought into the surgery by their owners. The designation ‘works of art’ is whatsoever might be deemed a work of art by the possessor, and it is not the intention of surgery practitioners to assert any a priori definition. That said, practitioners do reserve the right, upon inspection, to make such a distinction between what they (as experts) regard to be art and what they consider fails to obtain the requisite criteria to qualify as such.

It is not the intention of practitioners to engage over-much with the owners of said works of art. Aside from a perfunctory enquiry into the context, conditions of display, and provenance of the objects, attention will be fully given over to an examination of the work itself – it’s physical, psychological, aesthetic and semiotic order (or disorder). For these purposes a team of specialists will be on call in order to deal with particular issues which the main practitioners deem worthy of referral. (Although see under section ‘notes and quotes’ in ‘Theories and Concepts’, next post, coming soon)


Bal and Bryson (and Baxandall) have written about the notion of a period-specific semiotic analysis, while doubt has been thrown on the very idea of such a proposition by poststructuralists such as Derrida (context being in itself, subject to consideration as a ‘text’). Our position as Art health experts is to use semiotic analysis as a diagnostic and prescriptive tool and to look, not into the past, but into the future. In this way then, semiotics will be employed much as the genetic code has been proposed for use: as a means of determining and assisting future health (or future possible contexts).



Although we do offer some rudimentary re-touching service at the surgery, if the team feels that further analysis of the structural, physical and chemical make-up of the artwork is required, we will refer the work to our restoration specialist Stig Evans

Psychoanalysis/therapeutic responses

It is of course possible that the kind of analysis required in relation to the artwork will be of a psychological rather than physical or discursive nature


Scanner, monitor, tuning fork (see Mitchell on Nietzsche, p. 8 “What do pictures want?”)


Pictures, paintings photographs, buildings

Specialisms (so far)

Aesthetics: Tom Hickey

Restoration: Stig Evans

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


A few years ago it occurred to me that, given the increasing numbers of academically qualified artists, some educated even to PhD level, the concept of an Art Surgery modelled around the idea of a Medical Doctors Surgery would be interesting to experiment with. People could bring along their sick paintings etc. A number of individuals began discussing the practicalities of this. Jonathan Gilhooly and I had already discussed collaborating on something for the next Brighton Festival but had not considered what exactly. Then after the Eureka moment and a discussion with Huw Bartlett I approached Jonathan (soon to be a Doctor as it happens) and since then we have progressed our ideas further and almost finalised agreement to use a space in Brighton, UK, part of a real Medical Doctor's surgery as it happens, which would be ideal for purpose, not least because one of the medical doctors there is also called Doctor Gilhooly. Can you believe that? Justified use of exclamation mark: !

This blog, in conjunction with discussions in pubs and experimentation will be used to help progress our thinking and take this idea forward to a potentially beautiful resolution. It'll be kept out of the public eye initially but we may decide to open it up at a certain stage.