Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review of “Color Facture Art & Design: Artistic Technique and the Precisions of Human Perception”, a book by Iona Singh

In the first place, this is a book written by a writer, it is 'writerly'. When Singh refers to paints and materials you can almost smell them, the concatenation of the sentences is fluid, enjoyable, prose. And this is not an easy subject, it is in fact a new approach to art, to understanding art, one that does not come from the art as narrative or art 'tells a story' side of the fence, a side of the fence that is also, superficially at least, Marxist, in the sense of social realist interpretations of art. And yet this author constantly refers to dialectical materialism as the bedrock of her development, not the one that is usually vilified and strangled-off, or ossified, but a living breathing version of the Marxist philosophy as it collides into a new context. It is, on this count, small wonder that the mainstream press has studiously ignored it and offered absolutely no reviews. Thus my intervention here. Zero books, a great new publisher, does not provide any publicity or advertising until a certain limit is reached in sales, and so for this reason things can also go unnoticed. On the other hand, the provenance of these chapters is from peer reviewed journals, the work has been tested in the field, so to speak, in “Rethinking Marxism” and in “Capitalism, Nature, Socialism” it has its scientific pedigree.

On the other hand, this book does not ignore or set aside social history or context, or resort to mere formalism, it is Marxist, which means it is materialist. The chapters on Vermeer and Turner are remarkable in their evocative uniting of the materials and techniques of the artist, the artist as a producer, with the social history of their times, they place the materials and techniques of the artist into this maelstrom of politics and reveal their effect, and affects, their sensual reasons for being that way in their time and space, and, what is more important, their agency. This is unlike almost all art historians and critics hitherto, who are divided into the standard camps: those who set art history as a history of formal structure hermetically sealed-off from social struggle, and those who regard art (anachronistically) as always realist, a mirror or reflection of the social times.

Iona Singh herself is an artist, and has grappled with materials and gone through the U.K. art education system, her work is also unusual that someone with this experience nevertheless is able to articulate what they have learned in those institutions, I mean in words that have a scientific resonance and validity. Often there is also a reluctance from these quarters to disclose the secrets known here, and instead we get a playing to the gallery, the well known professional artists' obfuscatory and elusive self aggrandizement and posture as a transcendental being. Yet there is no blaming of the artist here for this, she exposes the economic productive contradictions at work and always refers to the bedrock of theory in her references. This is a solid work, but it sometimes betrays the origins of the struggle she must have had to get this 'out there' into the world, noticeable at times in the text. It is a book that should be in every art college, university art department, department of design and art history faculty, but it should also appeal to the layperson who appreciates art, is mot a philistine, but finds the current 'art world' mystifying. This 'world' is meant to be mystifying, and this book explains why, among many other things.

Gary Tedman

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