Wednesday 12 June 2013

Finding and forming questions about the Third Eye Centre Archives

In the Third Eye Archives, filed alongside lighthearted correspondence with Glen Baxter from 1981, there are a series of questions. Possibly these were meant for educational purposes when students would come to see Glen Baxter's show, but it also appears that it was meant to help people compare the work to an exhibition going on at the same time, Michael Kenny's work. One of the best aspects of this archive is to peer into how the educational programming of the Third Eye would have developed and used prompts such as these for the public or school groups.

Glen Baxter's exhibition contained 49 framed works, and a box of publications with a framed selection of postcards.
(Image courtesy of the CCA and the Third Eye Centre Archives)

"This first set of questions are about techniques of drawing. Write about these first, then write about the general questions on the next sheet. Base your answers in this set on no more than two or three drawings by each artist.
  • Does the artist define objects and figures by drawing an outline? 
  • Does he use the same method to draw outlines as he does to draw in surfaces and details? 
  • How does the artist distinguish between parts of the picture inside outlines and outside outlines?
  • Does this involve describing surfaces? Is the texture of surfaces related to what is in the foreground and what is behind? 
  • Do lines appear flat, or do they move forward and back, in an illusion of space, like a perspective drawing?

    In this set, use points made on the first sheet, but not necessarily with reference to the same pictures.
  • Does the artist start with a title, or does he make the drawing then title it?
  • Is the drawing of something that you can recognise, if so what?
  • Does the artist make the pictures quickly or not?"
The last page has the most ambiguous questions that would require more than a basic knowledge of art, but perhaps more than just the prompts. It veers into some speculative territory that escalates quickly away from talking about things that the audience can see. It is in these last questions that I begin to wonder whether this was put together by an educator or if this was what questionnaires looked like before educational programming became closer tied to curriculums and objectives.
  • "Which artist enjoys his work most?
  • Which artist says the most? Is the work obvious, or does it have many meaning?
  • Which seems to you the most modern?"
As random juxtapositions occur all the time in an archive, there is another folder labeled "CRITICS". In this there is a guide to a conference in 1978 from the Institute of Contemporary Art in London filled with questions under the heading "THE STATE OF BRITISH ART: A DEBATE"

These are the questions that were addressed by a paper and a panel in the various sessions:

  • Is the crisis in contemporary British art caused by the disintegration of a 250 year old fine art tradition?
  • With the decline of the private art market and the rise of institutional patronage, will a new tradition emerge? If so, would it draw recruits from past sources and perpetuate conventional skills?
  • Do artists need to go to art school?
  • Does the history of art schools indicate that these have become centres of creativity enriching our culture? Or are they turning out graduates with doubtful qualifications, without the training or skills to communicate with people outside the professional art world?
  • Is there an international style in art and if so why? Whose interests does this serve: art institutions, dealers, artists or public?
  • Why do many third world artists imitate European and American modernism? Would 'national traditions' be preferable, and is there an Englishness to English art?
  • Is art unpopular or is popular art ignored? Many modernists think an artist should be independent of the demands of the general public, but is popular art necessarily conservative, necessarily bad or corrupt? 
  • Why do many critics of art's elitism express their ideas in complex language? How does the relationship between art and its audience shape art, art education and public art policies?
  • Have 'people' disappeared from contemporary art? What has happened to portrait painting? Who is 'entitled' to be depicted in art, and in what ways do sexual, racial, class and political stereotypes intervene in these depictions? 
  • Why does the practice of studying the nude continue, and is this only conceivable in a patriarchal society? 
  • Has the representation of people in art been doomed since the emergence of abstraction and the development of photography?"
These two documents are sets of questions that are meant to foster critical thinking and perhaps to engage an audience to create their own questions in tandem. These questions are rich time-capsules in how they create a summation of where we can mine for meaning. How are we meant to answer these questions? To reflect on as a lone audience member? As a community of artists? As academics?

Comparing the depth of inquiry I would like to propose some new questions that this archive brings to mind, perhaps it too will reveal the kind of meaning that is sought:

  • Is the Third Eye Centre (and the way it is used) different or radical from a traditional archive?
  • If so, is it sustainable or is it contingent on the passion of a person of influence?
  • Does maintaining an archives require striking a balance between accessibility, care taking, and social capital?
  • Besides the responsibility of researchers (such as regarding personal data concerning living individuals) is there a limit to how an archive becomes malleable for our own ends?
  • What is the skill set of the archivist? What remains when one leaves the tangible archive? Does it change the way that one experiences reality?

    And finally,
  • Are these questions best approached through personal first-hand experience with an eye on the future or are there more ideal formats for exploring these questions?

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