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Constraints between picture and painting: Some considerations at a distance

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This article considers a series of constraints active in the abrasive interface between picture and painting. The term constraint is used in reference to Margaret Boden’s research into the computational mechanisms underlying creativity, constraints understood as productive limits that test a given field or convention. The space between picture and painting is full of strongly defended divisions, and inevitable overlaps, and it can be a cluttered and contentious field for a practitioner to negotiate. The aim is in part to bypass an oppositional mindset that cuts off descriptive and imitative impulses for painting and picture from abstract positions and to access the constructed forms of pictorial convention by a different route. In order to avoid a dead-end opposition, a distance from painting and picture is established through a close examination of an early artefact of mark making and counting in the form of a small clay ball called a bulla. Dating from around 3500 bce, the bulla reference depends on the archaeological research of Denise Schmandt-Besserat and on a description by Georges Ifrah as a key example in the development of numeration. The bulla is identified as a point where distinctions between number, word, object and picture are not fixed and their interdependencies are clear and productive. In this article the particular qualities of the bulla facilitates thoughts about three interlocking terms: likeness, representation and depiction. Each term is addressed in turn, framed as ‘testing likeness’, ‘retaining representation’ and ‘the material requirements of depiction’, and each is considered through processes of recognition and resemblance. This is informed by writing on painting’s mimetic and materially specific art history, including James Elkins, Michael Podro, Georges Didi-Huberman, W. J. T. Mitchell, Michael Baxandall and Jacques Rancière. Likeness is rephrased by a consideration of analogy, and the conceptual testing involved, opening a space between the notion of likeness and visual resemblance. Representation is thought through the processes of correspondence and reiteration, and the associations of both presence and displacement. Depiction is embedded into its material conditions and the circumstances of recognition that evokes. All three terms are considered as key to the constraints between painting and picture, even when functioning as exclusions.
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Keywords: Bulla; Margaret Boden; abstraction; constraints; depiction; likeness; representation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University for the Creative Arts

Publication date: October 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • Journal of Contemporary Painting responds to the territory and practice of contemporary painting in its broadest sense, viewing painting as a context for discussion, exploring its sphere of history and influence, rather than as a medium specific debate. The JCP combines a thematic approach with an open call, each issue opening up and problematising pressing concerns in contemporary painting.

    As well as contributions to current debates on contemporary art, a particular feature of the Journal of Contemporary Painting is the publication of archival or newly translated texts alongside current responsive articles, based on the premise that contemporary painting cannot be understood without reflecting on its history. Dedication to understanding the nature and forms of painting research has also led to the inclusions of an original visual essay for every edition. Additionally we respond to current exhibitions, books and symposia, nationally and internationally, in our reviews section.

    Our aim is to be responsive to current debates in painting and related art practices, drawing from a wide geographical field and across discipline boundaries to provide a discursive space in which a range of subject specialisms can be brought to bear on the culture of painting. We are particularly interested in writing emerging from practice-based research as well as from academics working in different disciplines.

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