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The Language of Art

Updated: May 14, 2022

Restart From the Beginning

How to convey an idea through objective matters? This is the question I was always thinking about. I was attracted by the simplicity in James Turrell, Kohei Nawa, and Ives Klein's works, which express the concepts by very pure physical elements.

My final project in foundation course

In the foundation course, I attempted to express my thinking of Buddhist and Taoist y philosophy by water, light, mirrors and simple patterns because I thought those can visualize the abstract ideas in my mind based on both theory and artist study. I think the process of conceiving the outcome was alike the reduction of a fraction in the maths, with trying to simplify the ratio between material and spiritual parts. Nonetheless, the result of this project was not achieving the effect that I wanted. I found the disconnection of those two parts, the content of the idea detached from the actual work as if two irrelevant things which could only be put together in the description. When the viewers looking at the work, they would not easily realise the motif that I want to express. This point let me notice that my work was not pure enough, the truth behind the so-called simplicity was my considerations, James Turrell, Kohei Nawa, Klein, and the philosophical concepts which were not belonging to me. Too many ideas seemed extraordinarily redundant in the expression of the work. The redundancy caused viewers could not receive the information as equal as the import.

Three months later, when I rethought this work again, I believed the problem was due to my mind was distracted by too much new information that received in a short period. The original thought was disturbed while the information had not been digested. Once the thought becomes complicated, perhaps words would be more effective than an installation. Different from the black words on the paper, a piece of work should give the viewers the sensory perception, by the colours, shapes, textures, sounds, odours, the symbolic meaning of the media and so on, to lead them to enter the circumstances.

My Dada project's outcome

In the first week's communication of works, Jennie brought forward a question that whether it is good that the viewers can hold different understandings of an artwork. I think no matter to the artists or the viewers, it was an open-ended question. For the viewers, they can possess their own judgment to a piece of work. For instance, some people may think Duchamp's Fountain was an epoch-making masterpiece while to the others they could totally not see the artistry of it. For the creators of a work, they could have different attitudes as well. Since the work has been created, it then becomes an objective matter that can be discussed subjectively. I believe that contemporary art is (or art) a very private language, especially when concerning the symbolic meanings. Only if the viewers have a similar experience could exactly sense the intention of the artists. For the first individual practice in Chelsea, I want to rethink how to express ideas in an artistic way. The most fundamental elements in the art are the colour and shape, which also could be the most longstanding ones that allow people to convey the world they see and the feelings they got in their hearts. I think the practice of using these two things would be a good start for me to reorganise the way of establishing a clear concept on a piece of work. Therefore, what I got roughly in my mind is the faint images of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock's works. These abstract expressionist paintings used to give me a strong impression though I cannot clearly remember the details of them. For the research section, I would try to seek more works that can impress me with a similar feeling as well.

Primary Research

As the Frieze Art Fair is taking place in the first week of October, it is a great opportunity to looking for the work that can touch me without any figurative hint.

Frieze Master


  1. Nasaka, Y. (1963). Work. [Synthetic paint, plaster and glue on cotton, mounted on wooden board]. London

  2. Shiryū, M. (1967). Kumo Mushin (The cloud is egoless). [Ink on paper]. London

  3. Baumann, E. (1979). Untitled #4. [Acrylic on canvas]. London

  4. Schoonhoven, J. (1975). T 75-145. [Ink on paper]. London

  5. Chung, C. (1977). Return One-G. [mixed media on canvas]. London

These works are coincidentally focusing on the textures created by the interaction of black and white. The artists somehow are all creating a grey space in their works, which gives a breath between these high contrast colours. Some of them are organised in linear patterns, which are highly precise and geometrical with explicit boundaries of differences. For the others, they are displaying the fluidity of the material and the tendency of movement. Meanwhile, they are attempting to find the balance vaguely throughout the motion of black and white.


  1. Kim, T. (1929). Composition. [Acrylic and cellulose lacquer on canvas]. London

  2. Monet, C. (1987). La Pointe du Petit Ailly. [Oil on canvas]. London

  3. Richter, G. (1932). Grūn-Blau-Rot (Green-Blue-Red). [Oil on canvas]. London

  4. Kusama, Y. (2001). Infinity Nets (TIT). [Acrylic on canvas]. London

  5. Whitten, J. (1972). Testing (Slab). [Acrylic on canvas]. London

  6. Information is not clearPoliakoff, S. (1949). Ocre sur fond rouge, circa. [Oil on panel]. London

  7. Hoyland, J. (1975). 11.6.75. [Acrylic on canvas]. London

  8. Fontana, L. (1964). "Concetto Spaziale, Attesa". [Waterpaint on canvas]. London

Interestingly, the works that using multicolours have a similar point to the single-tone works, that the pictures are arranged in order or disorder. Although Kusama's work is distinct from Monet's one, both their works are placing the brush strokes and colours in a constant way. However, for Richter's work and the sixth unknown painting, the colours are placed randomly or less intentional. They may not know how will the colours mix together and what kind of prints will occur before they began.

Frieze London

  1. Information is not clear

  2. Strau, J. (2018). Shamelessness. [Tin plate, tin wire, ballpoint pen on canvas]. London

  3. Price, S. (2018). Untitled. [Acrylic polymer, acrylic paint, powdered earth, inkjet on plastic, wood, metal]. London

  4. Sullivan, R. (2019). Untitled. [Enamel and lacquer on paper]. London

  5. Amm, M. (2019). Untitled. [Oil on gesso on canvas on board]. London

  6. Amm, M. (2019). Untitled. [Oil on gesso on canvas on board]. London

  7. Tyszkiewicz, T. (2011). Untitled. [Canvas, acrylic, sewing pins]. London

  8. Information is not clear information is not clear

  9. Hlobo, N. (2018). Wayivuthulula. [Ribbon and leather on canvas]. London

  10. Bool, S. (2019). Carrara Grid. [textile and oil paint on silk]. London

  11. Information is not clear

In the Frieze London, I saw more abstract works created by fancy methods and diverse materials. The artists introduced the possibility of making order or disorder on the opposite one. They applied different materials and techniques in layers which were very intriguing. In those works, the meaning of materials was emphasised, such as the sewing pins in Tyszkiewicz's work and the use of denim in the last work. I believe that the material itself possesses intentionality which links to the specific meaning or experience to a viewer unconsciously.

What do we mean by ‘art’? – Dan Byrne-Smith

Lascaux Cave

This lecture deeply impressed me with the idea of art. He stated that art this word only comes up after Joshua Reynolds founded the Royal Academy of Arts, the first art school in 1768, which was Eurocentric and North American and now it has spread and become a global field. The days before that, people who created what we are currently considering as artworks were not deeming the things they created as art. Those works were created for the other reasons and they may be viewed from dissimilar perspectives. Therefore, we could not really understand the intention of the mural in Lascaux and we even could not have a similar viewpoint as Michelangelo to The Creation of Adam if we do not understand that period of history. Hence, from this lecture, I realised that art is not a language, but the artists or the social environments were creating the language. Understanding artists' expression always is a passive action because the viewers need to have certain understandings of the artist and the corresponding background history to actually perceive the meaning of the works.

In addition, I am interested in Walead Beshty's idea that "a work of art doesn’t exist until it has been circulated in the public". Perhaps only the work has been experienced by another person, it could finally be an objective thing because the interpretation of it varied.

In general, art is a personal thing, the artists are using their languages to express and the viewers are translating their languages to understand. The artwork becomes an intersection of two people's minds.


To continue with the topic of the previous section. When the artists and viewers are holding their own "language", how to express the idea clearly?

In the tutorial, Jennie provided me some artists' names. They are:

Dan Graham, Gordon Matta Clark, Jan Dibbet, Roman Signer

Before I looking into these artists, I think I got a rough answer to that question while Jennie introducing them, which was "to make the work simple". Different from my final project in the foundation course, how to achieve the simpleness of expression is uneasy.

Form – Bernice Donszelmann

Surprisingly, the lecture we had on 14th October was about the form of art, which just corresponds to what I was interested in.

The lecture was very inspiring, especially Greenberg's essay was worth reading.

Discussion with Bernice

By the end of Bernice's lecture, a girl asked the same question that I am curious about, that how to convey the idea through the work itself, instead of writing an essay to explain. However, I did not remember clearly how she answered, so I wrote an email to her:

"Is that a common situation that a lot of nowadays artworks require the viewers to possess a correlative knowledge base to understand the artists’ idea?

Currently, I am researching how to express an idea clearly to the viewers by work itself. So I particularly want to focus on Abstract Expressionism to look at how did the artists use the colour to create feelings, and also I want to see how did Minimalist create the form. You mentioned Kandinsky who tried to find a way of painting that allowing all the audiences to understand the meaning. However, I did not really understand most of the abstract art several years ago. It makes me think that colour, shape and even the painting this form is something intentionally chosen by the artist. This intention has already become a door that only allows the people who have the matching key to enter. Could you tell me more about the perimeter you mentioned in the lecture, please?  

Meanwhile, I am thinking about the nature of the artwork. Is the artwork a container or materialized form of artist’s thought? So that’s the artist’s responsibility to make sure the work is telling the right thing. Or is it a viewing experience of the audiences, which they can give their interpretation to the work. Or is it simply a neutral object that matter about neither the artist nor the viewer’s interpretation. What do you think about this?"

"I think that as an artist you have a responsibility for the form of your artwork and the form of the work helps to determine what is possible for the audience to experience the work. Audiences will always come to the work with different understandings and backgrounds so there will be some variation in how they experience but that is not 'wide open'.  You can control it to some extent. 

There is often a tendency to discuss this issue as an either/or situation: either the audience understands the artist's intention exactly or they can interpret it any way they want. I don't like either of those options. The first one is too fixated on the artist's exact intentions (and this would mean the audience either 'gets it' or they don't) and the second means that it doesn't matter at all what the artist does because the audience can just read the work any way they want. I think that the artist can control the range of that interpretation/experience to at least some extent by the choices they make in the form of the work and that is their responsibility in the work. And it is also the audience's responsibility to look carefully at the work!"

I think Bernice's reply has already answered the main question in my mind. As she said, I do not really need to think too much about the audiences' understanding, but to make sure that I am using the right method and material to control the "keywords" within the work. Just like what I saw in the Frieze Art Fair that those artists applied suitable materials on their works.

Greenberg, C. ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’ (1939) in Frascina, F. (ed.) (1985) Pollock and After: the critical debate. London: Harper & Row

Doubtlessly, Greenberg is one of the most important art critics who profoundly influenced, at least the period of Abstract Expressionism and the later generation. To be honest, I could not really get any clear idea in the midst of these recondite words and sentences. What I could do is only noting down the parts that somewhat made sense to me and read through it again in the translated version.

I summarised the general ideas, which I received, of each paragraph:

I. The particular forms that occur in the development of society break up the accepted notions and the existed truth is being questioned and challenged. Contents and themes are avoided by avant-garde poets and artists who are attempting to imitate God in essence. Hence, the content has been refined into the elementary form which cannot be reduced anymore. Although the avant-garde are becoming unsure of their audiences, the rich and cultivated people, they are remaining dependent upon the money supplied by the bourgeois society.

II. The industrial revolution rendered the urbanization of Western society and developed the so-called universal literacy, and the kitsch is a kind of by-product of it. Therefore, kitsch becomes the epitome of the cities we are living in. Meanwhile, kitsch does not limit by the city it born, and it has already spread to the countryside and destroying the folk culture. The peasants are gradually losing the taste of folk culture while discovering a new type of boredom (is it the kitsch?). Thus, they are exerting pressure on society, demanding the cultural consumption that right for them.

There is no gap between art and life in the art expression of kitsch and does not need to concern the convention because it has been presented in the straightforward forms. Nonetheless, all the values are humans values. As for the peasants, they could gain the value from viewing Repin's painting as equivalent as the cultivated people gained in Picasso's works.

III. In the Middle Ages, the artists were employed by the employers, so they neither required to figure out any invention on the matters nor needed to think as philosophers. In the same time, their personal emotion was suppressed and restrained in their works until the Renaissance period. However, only to the age of Rembrandt, lonely artists began to appear. "It is a platitude that art becomes caviar to the general when the reality it imitates no longer corresponds even roughly to the reality recognized by the general."

IV. Superior culture is one of the most artificial creations, which people (Greenberg used peasants) would not perceive the natural sense of urgency which pushes them to approach recklessly, such as Picasso's paintings. Humans' physical quality of life determines their spiritual life. Thus, it is uneasy to cultivate the ability to appreciate Picasso's works when people are living in a rough environment.

Greenberg, 1987, ‘Toward a Newer Laocoon’ in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism Volume 1, p. 26

Stage reflection

Through the primary research, it seems that I have found the answer to my question. To retrospect to my final work, I think it was my problem that did not figure out an effective way for the audience to engage in the content of it. Hence, for the next step, I need to find out how did the abstract expressionists and minimalists make their works to express a main point to the audiences.

Secondary Research

For secondary research, I plan to focus on studying Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism because the motifs of them were distinctly opposite though both of them were trying to simplify the work to a pure state. Therefore, I want to find out what were the theories of them and how did these artists make the artworks.

Experiment 1

Before I starting to do the text research, I did a small experiment about how the audiences respond to a picture with their experience background. So I picked a photo that I took before and just simply took a glance at it. Then I tried to paint out the impression that this picture gave to me because that is the process of converting an objective thing into a personal understanding based on the existing experience.

Obviously, my subjective consciousness linked this picture with the memory of the sea unconsciously. So that somehow demonstrated the viewers' understanding of a picture would easily connect with their own experience.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is the art movement that happened from the 1930s to the 1950s in America. European artists came to America with the idea of modern European art to escape from the war while American artists suffered the Great Depression and influenced by Social Realism and Regionalist movement. The artists such as Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman began to get interested in the idea of Surrealism and started to do the painting of personal experience, unconsciousness, and mythology.

Mainly, there are two branches in this movement. The first one is Action Painting which was led by Jackon Pollock. The action painters were focusing on the process of making painting rather than the outcome. As Rosenberg said in 1952, "what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event". Meanwhile, as Pollock stated, there was not only the chaos in the pictures, but he was also controlling. The second branch is Colour Field Painting that led by Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. They were trying to get away from the Surrealist and emphasise personal expression. Many abstract expressionists at that time were practicing in both ways.

In the research, I found several points that may be worth exploring:

  1. Carl Jung: Archetypal Symbolism

  2. All-over Effect

  3. The Sublime is Now, Barnett Newman, 1948

Carl Jung: Archetypal Symbolism

The Jungian Archetype was quite convincing to me because I believe that there should be something has a universal effect on all human beings, in other words, there may be identical characteristic existing among humans all over the world. For instance, the colours of sunlight may impact our moods, the peaceful feeling usually arises in our mind. Not only the colour, but some body expressions which we had learnt since we were born, like smile and cry, may commonly cause the emotional impact on everyone. Although I am not sure there is any symbol common for all people throughout history, I still have faith in we have similar primary value built up initially when we began to acquaint with this world.

All-over Effect

Harold Rosenberg: The American Action Painters (1952)


Minimalism is an extreme form of abstract art that emerged in the late 1950s. The minimalists rejected many ideas of previous abstract expressionism as well as the theory of Clement Greenberg. They believed that art should not be anything else than its own being. Same as Abstract Expressionism, they were also inspired by European art movements and artists such as De Stijl, Constructivism, Bauhaus, and Brancusi and Duchamp. The idea of Russian Constructivism profoundly influenced the development of minimalism in the use of material. Minimalism thrived from the 1960s to the 1970s, when the artists were attempting to evade the conventional aesthetic concept. They were kind of standing on the opposite side to Abstract Expressionism, trying to erase any personal trace from the work itself and expecting the viewers to perceive the materiality, the space around the work, and the other qualities which were totally objective.

The Minimalists explored many types of art forms such as sculpture, painting and light installation. Minimalism and Conceptual Art were the coetaneous movements that both challenging the art world which only could be understood by the minority.

Later, many important artists at the early stage of this movement expanded their styles in different directions. In addition, there were critics like Micheal Fried depreciated this movement as they were not creating art. However, the Minimalism developed to the Post-Minimalism and influenced Feminism later.

I also picked some resources that could give me further information about this movement.

  1. Josef Albers "Interaction of Colours"

  2. So LeWitt "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art"(1967)

  3. Robert Morris "Notes on Sculptures" (1966)

  4. Michael Fried "Art and Objecthood" (1967)

Josef Albers "Interaction of Colours"

So LeWitt "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art"(1967)

Robert Morris "Notes on Sculptures" (1966)

Michael Fried "Art and Objecthood" (1967)

Artist Research

Mark Rothko

Next Step

I used to plan to research the artists like Mark Rothko with the books he wrote or about him, but due to the time limitation, I could not update the new information before the deadline. Therefore, I would put the steps after the artist research up first.

Experiment 2

I was thinking about how to convey a feeling, or an emotion, through the picture. For example, the silence and magnificence of the mountain. I tried to paint a mountain that occupying most of the space on a canvas, to emphasise the greatness of it, and I used blue throughout the picture to create a still world. However, compared to the abstract expressionist's work, such as Newman's painting, I assume that both styles could achieve the same effect.

1951. Cathedra. Magna on canvas. 243 x 543 cm © 2013 Barnett Newman Foundation. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Therefore, I made Newman-style version by computer, and planned to show both pictures to the others to see how they feel. To eliminate the suggestion of the mountain in the painted picture, I asked the opinions of the computer one first. (The left one as A, right one as B)

Question 1: What do you feel when you are looking at this picture?

Question 2: Do you think these two pictures are similar? Why or why not?

Question 3: Do you think the first picture is abstract to you?

Person 1


A: Loneliness, quiet, a vertical picture of sea level.

B: The mountain on an early morning or evening in the wintertime, cold.

Q2: No, they are not. The second one gives me an airy feeling which the first one does not. Meanwhile, the image of the second one is concrete, I can directly link it to my memory, to a specific experience.

Q3: No it does not. I think the shapes and lines also give a hint to the audiences. For me, I can still associate it with a specific thing just like the second does.

Group Assessment and Reflection

On the 24th of October, I did the group assessment in the morning. In the sharing stage, I found I could not organise my process coherently. The first reason was my expression was bad, but the main cause was I did not connect everything together in the process. For example, I did not deliberately consider why do I need to read Greenberg's essays, and how did it respond to my question. Meanwhile, I found that too much text study actually made a negative effect on my research. The ideas and theories trapped my thought and disoriented me. I think asking myself "WHY" I need to do this is a crucial skill in a project. After the group assessment, I discussed with my friends about the way of doing the research in a project. They suggested me to do the research while actually making something by hands so that I can find out the problem immediately and seek for help from either text study or teachers. Generally, I think this project really opened my mind because I not only found the answer to my question but realise the big problem existing in my working method. Although I am regretting that I did not finish a work with an integrated process, I still gained knowledge and inspiration in the text study and workshop project.

正如分析哲学家阿瑟·丹托(Arthur C.Danto)在《艺术的终结》所论断的那样,我们已经进入一个后历史的艺术时期,对艺术不断自我革命的需求已经消失。后历史的艺术氛围会让艺术转向人性的目的。当代艺术进入一个更稳定、更幸福的艺术努力时期,在这个时期。艺术永远对之回应的那些基本需要或许会再次相聚。可以说,罗斯科的艺术哲学思想“回应”的“基本需要”,也正是艺术永恒而充满悲剧性的精神所在。


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