Pigment to Pixel – Silja

Chapter 1 Pigment to Pixel

Sullivan, G., 2005. Art practice as research: inquiry in the visual arts. Thousand Oaks Calif.: Sage Publications.


In this chapter, Sullivan discusses the changes is art education, research in visual arts, role of an artist, and relationship of art to other disciplines, from Enlightenment era to the present.

Enlightenment brought the understanding that world is governed by rules that can be discovered, and started the rise of empirical inquiry. Art, rational philosophy, and science had a common goal of finding out how the nature worked and what was the place of humans in it. Art itself was considered to have set rules that could be taught in academies, which were the places to develop a universal knowledge about art. That meant that art education was formalised and art knowledge codified. Artist was a producer of new knowledge but also, due to the industrial development, a technologist, analyst, illustrator and so on.

With modernism came the doubts about whether the rational reasoning was capable of finding the truth. Influential art critic and social thinker John Ruskin argued that art has a moral function and artist needs to take a moral stance. He also spoke of the need to integrate innovative thinking into art institutions. Art critics as directors of trends rather than just reviewers was a new phenomena and art world struggled to find its identity in the face of all the new art that emerged in late 19th century. As Sullivan says, “a critic, when confronting an unusual image or object, could only ever see it for its lack of skill rather than consider it, perhaps, in terms of innovation.”

Art was taught on the borders of art history and other humanities like classical studies. There was no clear understanding what form the art education should take, which was partly due to the prevalent attitude that artists cannot be made, they are found. There was a schism between the mainstream institutions who saw art studies as learning art history, and artists who were looking for new, radically new art which they did not see in any relation to the past or existing practices.

New developments in the field of physiology of vision and psychology of perception in later decades of 20th century provided art teachers with a concept of “training the eye” and “language of vision”. The pervious idea of seeing as grasping the whole, as “gestalt” was invalidated as the new evidence showed how different aspects of vision are processed in different parts of brain. Also, perception was proved to be an active, cognitive process, and “therefore, the world we see is given meaning by the world we know”. The meaning is not given by the outside objects but is created, according to previous knowledge and experience. This postmodernist notion “differs markedly from a more modernist perspective that sees interpretation as an explanatory process that assumes meaning is inherent to a text or artifact and can be revealed if the reader or viewer has the requisite knowledge and perceptive skill”. Context that creates the meaning is not static either but is constantly changing, being connected to other contexts which are, in turn connected to others and so on. This is, of course, related to digital technology.

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