Loading.....

Magnetic North Blog

This is some blog description about this site

Pointing and thinking - what I learnt from Giacometti

GiacomettiFigure

A few weeks ago, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti's sculpture Pointing Man was sold for a world record $141 million [Guardian story]. I first saw this sculpture in real life, rather than in reproduction, at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art about 15 years ago as part of a Giacometti retrospective.

I thought I knew his work quite well from work I'd seen in other galleries and from reproductions, but being confronted by a collection of the work in one place was quite a different experience. I was very moved by what I saw, by the cumulative effect of seeing so much of his work together, and the sense it gave of what he was trying to do. I had probably thought till then that he made a lot of work that was quite similar, but I was missing the point. He was working to refine an idea, not to repeat himself. Particularly striking was the variation in scale. This piece is large - life size, you might say - but other sculptures were tiny, just a few centimetres high. Giacometti said that he didn't set out to make them so small, but that was how they kept ending up. 

So, there are two things that fascinate me in particular about this work: first is the removal of all unnecessary flourish. this is about as far as you could get from baroque style. I remember staring at this sculpture in the gallery and thinking it looked like a figure seen from a distance in a heat haze: the form told you it was human because it contained the essence of the human form, even though there appeared to be no detail. What is interesting about this is that in the mid-1920s – about 20 years before this particular work – Giacometti made a conscious decision to change the way he worked. He had become frustrated by his approach, which was based on the traditional method of working from a model. So in late 1925, at the age of 24, he decided he would work only from memory – he separated out the task of observation from the task of interpretation and his work was transformed.  If you look at his work from before this time, it’s good, but lacking in the  character that makes his later work so distinctly his.

The second thing was about the humanity of the act of pointing. It was only later that I began to see this. Pointing is a human act: no other species understands it as we do. If you try to direct an animal by pointing, the animal will look at the end of your finger, not to where you are pointing. Humans have developed an ability to abstract a pointing finger: we understand that it refers us to something we aren't looking at, or maybe even something we can't see because it's over the next hill. It's such a simple act, but it summarises the sophistication of the human brain. If I point to my cat's bowl, she stares at my finger; if I point to my son's bowl, he looks at the bowl. So here is this beautifully refined - in the sense of anything extraneous being removed - sculpture that perfectly captures what it is to be human, and perhaps what it is to be an artist. The act of pointing is a wonderful thing in itself, but think of how we have refined that act still further. When I went to vote in the Scottish referendum last year, I saw this sign.

electionsign

It's nicely old fashioned in style - the finger is still there, recognisable, though someone has interpreted it.  We see this on signposts sometimes:

Fingerpost sign in Carmunnock 2b Coppermine 7322

but even then it can be abstracted further to an absolute minimum of form that tells us exactly what we need to know. 

roadsign

So is that the job of an artist? To tell people exactly what they need to know? But then how do you know what it is they need to know? Or is it more complex than that? Are artists there to point to the right question? Or to point to a number of possibilities? To leave space for the listener or observer to fill in the gaps?

What would happen if you thought you had found the answer?  Could you carry on?  What’s interesting about the answer Giacometti found when he changed his method of working was that, although it answered one question, it enabled him to ask many more.

This blog is based on part of a talk I gave at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in October 2014.

Continue reading
982 Hits
0 Comments

A Beginners Guide to Panto - By Mary Brennan

The Herald's performance critic and resident pantomime expert Mary Brennan shares her enthusiasm for that particularly British festive night out:

That man’s a wumman, that wumman’s a fella...
And that’s how it is in Cinderella.

And not just in Cinderella, but in Mother Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin and all the other fairy-tales that have been pressed into panto-service ever since theatres realised, as far back as the 18th century, that pantomime was a hugely popular entertainment and a boon to box-office.

Continue reading
4486 Hits
0 Comments

What is the Point of Short Film - by Matt Lloyd

What is the point of short film?

Seriously.

Real, grown-up filmmakers make features, right? Well-crafted narratives with a familiar cast and a dependable 3-act structure, a beginning, a middle and an end, that deliver your money’s worth. 90+ minutes of intelligent, considered, well-paced entertainment. Films that form the backbone of a night out, or the centre-piece of a night in.

Short filmmakers are just starting out, surely? Learning the craft. Or they’re selling products (commercials), music (promos), concepts (video art), or worst of all themselves, in glossy look-what-I-can-do calling-card exercises.

Tags:
Continue reading
2570 Hits
0 Comments

A Beginners Guide to Performance Art - by Gareth K. Vile

A Beginners Guide to Performance Art by Gareth K. Vile

Do you like a good script, but sometimes long for something more personal and intimate? Are you interested in contemporary performance, but wonder what on earth is going on up there? Have you read the programme, but still aren’t clear about what the show is about? Then worry no more: here’s the eightfold path to performance art enlightenment.
Continue reading
2403 Hits
0 Comments

Musical Sushi by John Harris

I know how you feel. Why would you go to a contemporary music concert? No tunes (or only rarely, and then rather grudgingly). Peculiar, occasionally laughable noises from perfectly normal instruments. Nothing you can tap your foot to. And – probably worst of all – the nagging idea that everyone else in the audience, if there is anyone else in the audience, is coming from somewhere slightly alien. From somewhere where random peeps and parps make sense, and are maybe even found to be enjoyable. I mean, what on earth are they getting out of it?

As I say, I know how you feel. I wasn’t born with the contemporary music gene. And nor was my Mother-in-Law (most definitely not alien), who hated contemporary music when I first knew her. So much so that not so many years ago she would - although supportive to a fault - come to the contemporary music concerts I put on out of a sense of sheer, overwhelming pity.
Continue reading
1140 Hits
0 Comments

Subscribe to our Blog

Latest Comment

Ann Thallon Lynda Radley - Rough Mix Experiences
14 March 2012
Rough Mix sounds intriguing. I'm part of an Artlink writing project, in collaboration with Dancebase - and I'm coming to your sharing on Friday. My ...