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One Sense is Never Enough

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In this paper I argue that the discipline of art history, as commonly practised, is not equipped to investigate and critically engage with the complex artistic practices which take place after modernism. It is my contention that contemporary art history is still indebted to and follows the modern paradigm of cognition, theory, experience, and indeed art: the paradigm of vision. The influence of this paradigm is obvious in such phenomena as the high estimation of visual (as opposed to, for example, performance or conceptual) arts and the focus on visual aspects of what can never be exclusively ‘visual’ art. In particular, Panofsky’s art historical method can be read as a manifestation of the modern paradigm of vision. As I show by means of the example of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, art after modernism does not let itself be restricted to one sense alone. Spiral Jetty is a complex work; we might even call it a system. Different aspects of this system include the sculpture in the Salt Lake, which Smithson completed in 1970; the 35-minute 16mm film which Smithson made; the essay Smithson wrote about the work; the photographs taken by Smithson and Gianfranco Gorgoni of the work and its creation; the sketches Smithson made in preparation; the performance of the work’s creation, and so forth. And this extends beyond the work itself to the whole system of essays, photographs, films, projects and so forth which have been produced in response to the work.

Keywords: Spiral Jetty; deconstruction; iconography; multi-sensory perception; non-sites

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jvap.3.2.103/0

Affiliations: University College, Cork, Ireland

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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  • The domain of visual art hosts a multitude of artistic forms and practices. The Journal of Visual Art Practice supports research across the entire range of this varied field. The journal engages with the progressive nature of the subject, reflecting upon the changing terrain of art in recent years.
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