The Spectacular Expectations of the Philistine.


The explorations that follow stem from my interest and preference for painting. I am hoping to understand some of the suspicion and hesitance toward modes of art that utilise materiality and sensuality as opposed to a conceptual approach. Illusionistic visuality has been frowned upon for many years due to a belief that that which is spectacular is manipulative. I am also interested in cultural divisions, in particular those who are unsophisticated on matters of advanced art, the silent majority who don’t make art, don’t buy art, but often have an interest in art forms that are rooted in the tactile and material traditions of art. In consideration of this, I wonder if it is possible to utilise materiality and visuality, hallmarks of kitsch, mass culture and the spectacle,  whilst  remaining critical? Can there be a redemption of the spectacular?


The (not so) Insidious Spectacle.

“The Spectacle” is a system of attention and persuasion Guy Debord wrote of in his highly influential work “The Society of the Spectacle” in 1967. Debord’s assertion that western society is in  total submission to the spectacle is still relevant as forty years on we see consumerism and commodity fetishism are very much driving forces in late capitalism. Daily we are flooded with messages of a new spectacular thing that we must see, experience and ultimately buy into. Debord sees the spectacle as a sinister, threatening system of oppression and control, both commercial and political, but I wonder if the roots of our desire for spectacular imagery is a yearning for sensual engagement.  


Karl Marx (1818 – 1883, Russian social and political theorist) criticised capitalism for its alienation of workers stating: “They have little or no control over the labour process and their productive energies are expended for the benefit of the class which exploits them.”1 Debord delved into the capitalist manufacture of the spectacle as a means of controlling and exploiting the masses via entertainment, media, advertising and propaganda. We can see advertising and marketing using the spectacle  and our appetite for images and appearances to seduce us into its unreal reality, convincing us that we want more spectacle, when all it wants is more of itself. It is a continuous promotion of all things new, not necessary or even helpful, but new. Hal Foster states: 

“This in turn allows us to see how the spectacle functions: unlike a typical representation, which works via our faith in its realism, spectacle operates via our fascination with the hyperreal, with “perfect” images that make us “whole” at the price of delusion, of submission.”2 


According to Debord the ultimate goal of the spectacle is domination, alienation and separation but it is dependant on novelty for its enduring power, therefore it needs a process of continual replacement, and a silencing and eradication of that which was before. 

It is in the interests of those who sell novelty at any price to eradicate the means of measuring it. When social significance is attributed only to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards, always replacing another, identical, immediacy, it can be seen that the uses of the media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance. 3 [emphasis mine]


Debord outlines two different forms of the spectacle, the “concentrated” (communist regimes of oppression and control) and the “diffused” (advertising). The diffused spectacle flourished in the USA in the post-war economic boom of the 1950’s. Industry was thriving and suddenly many had disposable income. The solution was to keep producing things that “embodied ideology for a finite audience at a particular moment”.4 Necessity was replaced by desire as the driving force behind marketing and advertising. “Human fulfilment was no longer equated with what one was, but with what one possessed.”5 The credit system allows us to indulge our every desire but ultimately enslaves the working class to endless repayments and spiralling debt. The concentrated and the diffused spectacle are really two sides of the same coin, both seek to control the masses to maintain their own hegemony. Debord’s pessimistic declarations are still pertinent. Today we are surrounded by spectacle to the point we feel a comfortable familiarity with it. “Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation”.6 We relish experiences that vicariously enable us to experience grandeur and bourgeois lifestyle.  We long for that hyper-real unreality, we feel we need to have that new thing, even with the knowledge that the representation, and the entire system of spectacular representations, is a deceptive fallacy. 


Before Debord, Walter Benjamin addressed the advance of the spectacle via new technology and media in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936). Benjamin extolled the virtues of film for its incomparable persuasiveness and means of expression. “The shooting of a film, especially of a sound film, affords a spectacle unimaginable anywhere at any time before this”.7 He recognized that “the mode of human sense perception changes with humanities entire mode of existence.”8 This new media with it’s ease of engagement and increase of illusion due to simultaneous image, sound and movement would radically shift our cultural productions and expectations. 

Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert. Such fusion is of great social significance. The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion. With regard to the screen, the critical and the receptive attitudes of the public coincide.9


Benjamin believed that this new medium with its ability to present ideas to a global audience, would increase the receptivity and criticality from the public. It was new and challenging but enchanting all the same. Here was a medium that would captivate, entertain and inform audiences with it’s startling life like representations, just as painting had done in the renaissance, but with the capacity to reach a far wider audience. This  leads to an increase in influence, which was immediately seized upon by capitalism. Benjamin also speaks of an attitude now widely accepted in art; that which is older and regarded as conventional is “uncritically enjoyed” while the new is always seen as challenging and provocative. But as Debord explains that newness quickly fades and becomes just another gimmick. The film and it’s continuous technological advances continue to create a spectacle that dazzles and hypnotizes, but much of this influence is used to lead us to product placement, associated merchandise, lifestyle and fashions that are purchased as a result.


By the time Theodor Adorno wrote The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944), the optimism of the new media of film was fading and cultural scepticism was rising. Despite the decline of established religion there remained a dominant single force in the world. Although Adorno doesn’t call it “The Spectacle” it is much the same as what Debord spoke of. It is a system of the absolute power of capitalism that utilises films, radio and magazines to produce a generalized mass culture as well as praising technical progress and the discarding of flimsy structures to be replaced by more flimsy structures.10  “Movies and radio need no longer to pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce.”11 Adorno speaks of the increase of illusion within film leaving no room for reflection or deviation. Imagination is stunted due to the viewer needing sustained  observation of carefully timed sensory information so that contemplative thought is out of the question. Under capitalism, culture has been subsumed by amusement, which is designed to be the anathema and escapism for the workers with their limited leisure time. “…the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.”12 This makes the work of the serious artist difficult. Vast numbers are now accustomed to having culture delivered in ways that require very little effort. And many of those are happy with the rewards they get, not feeling any need to dig deeper. 


In The Emancipated Spectator Jacques Ranciere examines The Ignorant Schoolmaster by nineteenth century philosopher Joseph Jacotot. Ranciere questions traditional understanding of pedagogical relations and the belief that some distance between knowledge and ignorance must remain between master and student. Ranciere asserts that we all have the capacity to observe (spectate) and know, as not all knowledge comes from the master. “Emancipation is the process of verification of the equality of the intelligence”.13 Ranciere argues that the spectator is active; observing, comparing, interpreting, connecting and making his art from the art in front of him. Therefore, the spectacle is the mediation between the artists idea and the spectators feeling or interpretation. That mediation is crucial for intellectual emancipation and is also the mediation between master and student. It is the book, or the artwork that both the master and the student refer to. Ranciere believes the spectacle is neutral, whereas the Debordian spectacle is one of alienation and separation, and therefore could be said to be Platonic in its distrust of representation as that which is treacherous and dispossesive. 


Ranciere asserts that the Debordian spectacle is concerned with the dangers of mimetic contemplation, which leads to externality and “externality means the dispossession of ones own being”.14 Ranciere questions this notion and its foundational belief that the theatrical or  mimetic is deceptive and untruthful and therefore leads to separation. He argues the spectacle can be a device for understanding. This is not an exclusive understanding, the equality of our intelligences is what binds us together, in much the same way as a botanist and a small child will smile at a blooming flower. Emancipation occurs not from rejection of spectating, but when we realise that spectatorship is not a banal passivity, it is our normal operation rather than a hypnotic mindlessness or a relinquishing of power. We all create stories from other peoples dramas. We do not need to do away with all forms of art that require a separation between artist and audience, nor do we need to turn “spectatorship into activity by turning representation into presence.”15 Ranciere believes there is no distance between worker and academic, between philistine and cultured, no clearly defined roles for us in today’s republic, in theory anyone can climb the philosophical mountain and enjoy the view.


One artist directly feeding the desire for spectacle, but subverting it in order to provide information and meaning, is photographer Taryn Simon. Simon’s recent work “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” is a catalogue of sinister conspiracy images that are alluring and disturbing, appealing to the most basic of our tabloid sensibilities. The images are of restricted locations that are the stuff of urban legends, carefully and meticulously documented with lengthy informative captions that include all the juicy details:


White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas on February 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to his deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny’s litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow coated, cross-eyed, and knock-kneed.16


There is a sense in which these works give the public precisely what they want: Detailed, incredible, spectacular images designed to evoke a response. They also are firmly rooted in the strategies of conceptualism and its forms such as lists, diagrams, indexes, systematic ordering, serialization and information systems that were the main-stay of conceptual art  around 1965 to 1975 and evidenced in the work of Stanley Brouwn’s 1 Step to 10,000 Steps, Alighiero e Boetti’s The 1,000 Longest Rivers, On Kawara’s 1,000,000 Years, Hanne Darboven’s accounting procedures of years and centuries. 17 


The Fall and Rise of the Art Object.

Awareness of the entrapment of the spectacle has had a large influence on art and reinforced the distrust of materiality, strengthening the growing dominance of conceptualism. Conceptualism is “A school of abstract art or an artistic doctrine that is concerned with the intellectual engagement of the viewer through conveyance of an idea and negation of the importance of the art object itself.”18 The art object was rejected due to its power and dominance in art, in order to expand the critical vocabulary of art. The absence of “presence” called into question the foundations of its power structure and allowed for new conversations that art had not been able to partake in. Text and language became critical equals with the art object as well as being a threat to its autonomy. One of the driving forces behind this revolution was that the art object had become another commodity in the hands of capitalism. The post-WWII optimism had faded and discontent with consumerism was rising. Even as far back as Manet and the beginnings of modernism there was a rebellion against the mass culture of the spectacle and it’s parent industrial capitalism.  

The avant-garde schism had, after all, been prompted in the first place by the surrender of the academy to the philistine demands of the modern marketplace – the call for finish, platitude, and trivial anecdote. The purpose of modernism was to save painting, not to sacrifice it to the degraded requirements of yet another market, this time one of common amusement and cheap spectacle.19 


Modernism refused to hold to the accepted standards of finish and refined technique, instead opting for what was referred to in Manet’s work as crude immediacy more akin to carnival backdrops than serious art. Conceptualism continued the cause of the avant-garde and resisted the spectacle and the mass consumer by removing materiality and sensuality and allowing art to occupy new domains. This is what some have called “The End of Art”; the parameters and definitions of art have been pushed so far that all parts of life and existence could be called art, in effect, the dissolving of boundaries have diluted art away to nothing. If the spectacle is used at all, it is always in a negative, critical manner. Seemingly to expose the dangerous and dispossesive nature of  the spectacle, with it’s associations of power, corruption and bondage. What is favoured is information and data, the raw facts. Often what remains is a difficult exercise in philosophical discourse that has the best intentions, and can be enjoyed if the viewer is given sufficient additional supplementary information,  but with such effort required, few will engage with it.  


Modes of Engagement

It is this distrust of visuality as a form of primitive bodily enticement that leads me to  examine modes of attention, in order to better understand something of sensual engagement and its connection to art and spectacle. According to Dave Beech there are four types of onlookers to art. The first two are visitors who make an effort to engage; the viewer (time based observation) and the audience (the listener). The second are the spectator (viewing only if it is spectacular), and the passer-by, who is distracted by a thing and may not give any more than a moments attention. Adorno believes that film provides a continual state of distraction with its carefully timed and managed sequences of action, tension and resolve.  Those involved in the manufacture of spectacle pay close attention to the numerous studies on the physiology of perception and what was involved in “an engagement of the body, an inhibition of movement, a state of consciousness arrested in the present.”20 Art has always called into use devices that have the capacity to engage the viewer. Formerly these were for some moral or didactic purpose, now simply for arts sake. This is the enduring power and also problem of art. It can grab and hold attention and deliver communication. Those forms of art that are representational or mimetic have come under criticism due to their ability to present an object that appears to be a real thing even though we know it to be an image, a simulation, a fraud. The progression of devices and technologies for representation have increased to such a degree that the communication is no longer relevant or appealing, it is the distraction itself that is the end. Benjamin states: “Clearly, this is at bottom the same ancient lament that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator.”21 Conceptualism sought to do away with all distractions and demand the viewer concentrate in order to get anything from the artwork. 


In a recent studio discussion about a work by abstract painter Will Bradley, a fellow student stated that that they felt they had no way of connecting to the work, no way of engaging with the confusing array of marks, gesture, shape and colour presented to us. Someone else replied with the comment “Are you human?” It was assumed by the latter that there is something fundamentally basic about our relationship to such raw sensory information. Bradley asserts that, as well as the sensory experience, it is impossible to not search for meaning: 

What is it to experience a painting, what is the viewer to feel through the eye? Is it really possible to experience a painting in a sensory way without attempting to attribute any further meaning to it? I don’t believe it is possible as the viewer always has points of reference, will always search for meaning and will bring to mind ‘similars’.22


In response to Dan Perfect’s paintings Bradley says:

For me the figures and forms derived from external references enrich the experience of Dan Perfect’s work. They give more to interpret and react to, something to find meaning from rather than a simple, initial response to the painted surface or a simple sign to read.23 

Tugging at the Past

 Dan Perfect    Brujo   2005, Oil and acrylic on linen, 183 x 253cm.

 This could be a vital point in our understanding of engagement: the philistine is constantly looking for meaning and classification as opposed to the learned who appreciates that many artworks are meaningfully meaningless; deliberately opposed to any clear definition. The learned know (or pretend to know) that if they do not understand maybe it is  “adding to the world’s knowledge by stirring up the system upon which that knowledge depends”24 – to quote Gilbert-Rolfe. The learned believe the philosophical concerns presented in such difficult art are advancing (or deconstructing) knowledge in unseen ways. The philistine’s response is similar to the people viewing “the emperor’s new clothes” actually parading himself nude. Keep quiet or everyone will see you for a fool. 


The mass consumer/ philistine wants more than dry philosophy. They want something to marvel at, a sense of devotion and dedication that is lacking in much of our contemporary culture. Matthew Collings sums up his review of Matthew Barney’s “Drawing Restraint” and a group show at 176 with this reflection on tourist interest in old art:

Those Live Duane Hansons with their guidebooks in Ravenna and Rome and Istanbul are getting something important from what they are seeing. They’re not there only because their minds have been distorted by the society of the spectacle. They are actually taking pleasure in something that seems a bit reflective and at the same time marvellously crafted. Renaissance art and medieval art really are uplifting. Both were probably still being paid homage to in the art of the 1950’s, but gradually since then the past has been dropped by art as anything to take seriously on its own terms; it is constantly “referenced” but only in a way that doesn’t mean anything. There are one or two artworks now where you do feel the presence of skill, but the accepted general level or mode is tolerance for a lack of artistry or of a sense of anything being made, and the lack of making is depressing. It’s strange to think of El Greco making a bit of purple fabric on a green table seem full of feeling. You wonder where it all went – the interest in doing it and the hunger to see it done.25

This widespread interest in old art could stem from a variety of sources. The cynic might say it is simply another commodity in the tourism trade. Others may be seeking a time of sacred ritual in the hope of some uplifting experience. Painting in particular in recent times has died and been resurrected. In 1936, when Benjamin wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, it was seen to be losing it’s long held position of prestige.  “Painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience, as it was possible for architecture at all times, for the epic poem in the past and for the movie today”26 But still it remains. John Currin is a painter whose work addresses both high and low culture. Currin’s work is a double wammy, by using busty pin up girls for subject and painting in a style reminiscent of old masters he appeals to our desire for craftsmanship and illusionistic wonder while including a subject matter that reminds us of obsolete sexism and primitive urges. He clearly is committed to the craft and grandeur of oil painting but allows it to be rudely shaken by an overwhelming silliness. High and low culture are thrown together with equal measure of devotion and disregard. It causes a stir and it sells. He is now one of the most bankable living artists fetching six figure sums in resale of his work. His latest work digs even deeper into the bottom of the barrel of spectacle using porn as subject matter – perhaps as a response to the legions of wealthy conservative New Yorkers desperate to hang his work in their living room or perhaps this is just another stunt to ensure notoriety. (These images are now the first to come up in a Google image search of John Currin.) Currin’s work exemplifies a continuing desire to see work that reminds us of a time when art had boundaries. It is also unashamedly a commodity  that Currin has no problem profiting from. 


John Currin


The work of Ged Quinn also expertly plays with art history and modes of attention. Many of his paintings in a recent exhibition were direct appropriations of well known paintings by Claude Lorraine but with intrusions of items of derelict modernity in the foreground. These paintings have a comforting familiarity, a retrograde referencing of a time of civilised, pastoral gentility that is disrupted by decrepit items of a much more recent history. They seem to initially be something we can interpret and classify but this is subverted by a haunting psychological element. It would be difficult to understand an artist investing so much time and effort into works such as these without there being a strong affection for the medium and process of painting. Perhaps the items of dereliction nestled so comfortably in these idyllic settings speak of the degradation of art and “are always reflexively concerned with their own status as paintings. They are paintings, yes, but also allegories of painting.”27 Currin and Quinn both give the philistine more than an intellectual exercise, they give  something marvellous.


Ged Quinn The Great Art of Light and Shadow  2007, Oil on canvas, 183 x 234cm.


Cultural Division

“Philistine” is is a term used to describe those outside or disinterested in art and culture. It is  mostly used as a pejorative term describing individuals who might also be considered ignorant or narrow minded, such as the members of the flat earth society. Today it is fashionable to be considered “cultured” in the sense that it is equated with advanced enlightenment, but there is a vast spectrum of cultural appreciation and those at the conservative, liberal or populist positions all consider the others to be in some way philistines. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe talks of resistance to difficulty coming from three groups: the innocent, the left wing and the right wing. The type of philistine I want to examine is the naïve; what was earlier referred to as the mass consumer, those who indulge in the types of sensual engagement that aesthetics and art theory have taught us to be suspicious of. They may occasionally visit galleries and museums but are ignorant and confused on matters of advanced art and avant-garde culture and see it as a world of nonsense that isn’t worth the effort of engagement. Primarily they are unsophisticated rather than completely disinterested. Gilbert-Rolfe has a familiar attitude of disdain in describing the innocent as naïve consumers who feel aggrieved that culture is not always handed to them neatly packaged and easily digestible. “The consumer is a pig at the trough, a recipient of nutrition who does not pause to ask what place in the food chain may have been reserved for him by those who provide him with food.”28 The naïve enjoy what Duchamp called “Retinal Art” and are a constant source of disdain from conceptual or situational artists due to their complicit approval of the commodification of art. Jean-Pierre Criqui states about the work of Lisa Milroy: “These works are likeable at first sight and therefore provoke some kind of feeling of distrust, since modern art in general has taught us to be wary on principle of anything which immediately appeals to us.”29  It is these things of illusion, representation and spectacle that have been rejected by the likes of Plato, Adorno and Debord as things that serve no good purpose to community but lure them away to falsity. It is understandable to be suspicious of these things as they have been used to trick, manipulate and control people. It is also understandable to feel exasperated at the naïve for their uncritical acceptance of whatever comes easiest, brushing off advanced art as something with nothing to offer. But artists cannot and should not ignore them. 


Nicolas Bouriaud comments on Dave Hickey’s writing on beauty in Hickey’s essay The Invisible Dragon: “Nowhere does Hickey challenge the nature of this pleasure-giving “arrangement”: does he regard as natural the concepts of symmetry, harmony, sobriety and equilibrium, which is to say, the pillars of aesthetic traditionalism which underlie the masterpieces of both the Renaissance and then Nazi art?”30 Here we see the scepticism prevalent towards notions of beauty or any sort of voluptuous excess, due to the association with the sort of exclusionary bigotry such as Hitler’s unnecessary censorship and classification. Artists have moved in the opposite direction of the spectacle because of its associations with domination, choosing to avoid promoting any firm belief or manifesto. 


Problems arise with art that is elitist and exclusive, and also art that strives to please as many as possible. Both are insulting in some way. One suggests that the viewer is never going to comprehend therefore makes no effort to acknowledge him, the other treats him as too stupid to deal with challenging material. Modernism opened possibilities of enjoying the material and formal qualities of the medium and sought to shake off the rigid requirements of the bourgeois academy in favour of a fresh essentialism. In Baroque and Neo-Classical art genre distinctions were arranged into a clear hierarchy based on the Aristotelian observation that human presence and general truths were paramount. The highest rank went to history painting, then to portraiture, picturesque scenes, landscapes and lastly still-life.31 One of the criticisms of cubist painting was that it objectified the human form. The hierarchy was broken down and the face was just as much a soulless object as a vase. It also was the era of the supremacy of the author, modernism emphasised the individual genius creating work according to his own standard and for his own pleasure. No longer was entertainment or education of the masses any grounds for making art as it had been. Cultural division is still present but now on different grounds.  Advanced art is no longer the domain of an exclusive genteel minority and is promoted as something good for the public. Division remains because only a small percentage can afford to own art made by an even smaller percentage in ways prescribed by an even smaller group of philosophers and theorists. Many works are only accessible to a superior educated, enlightened elite. Viewers must have a grasp of philosophical and cultural discourse in order to engage  in any meaningful way with such high-minded works. Michael Fried talks of the successful abstract work being “an enterprise… inspired by moral and intellectual passion… informed by an uncommon power of moral and intellectual discrimination”.32 It is an uncommon level of cultural awareness that allows the viewer into the superior society of the visually cultivated.  

Unrelieved high-mindedness, it had long been recognised, was impoverishing; its narrowness undermined the very claim of high styles, with their protocols of “nobility” in theme and expression, to represent the widest possible compass of knowledge and experience. Several centuries of European art and literature had taught that the celebration of heroic values in art could best survive comparison with reality by including the contrary voice and outlook of common life.33


Should we seek to engage the philistine? Is it important that we make culture accessible for the “uncultured”? Terry Eagleton believes culture is vital: “Culture is not only what we live by. It is also, in great measure what we live for”.34 This does not need to be a patronising way of reaching out to our less enlightened brothers, but utilising the tools of spectacle and material engagement as “verification of the equality of intelligence”35 to speak of goodness and life, not to convince or sell something we don’t need. It is a balance between doing something conceptually original and saying something important and worthy of communication and clarity. “The “withdrawal of visuality” or “suppression of the beholder”, which were operative strategies of conceptualism, decisively set aside the assumed primacy of visual illusion as central to the making and understanding of the work of art.”36 

Perhaps artists who employ a conservative acceptance of a historical mode of art production, whether as a strategy or preference, will continue to appeal because we long for enchantment. Painting has been tossed from its throne and now can rejoin critical discourse as an equal, but with a wealth of history and appeal, which can work both for and against it. We should not refuse the spectacular just because it is dominated by capitalism. We can redeem the act of looking, illusion and materiality by making art that has integrity and give something sincere to the viewer, something that appeals to all of his/her being. All the baggage and history of painting, its associations with antediluvian world-views, its primitive delights and ease of acceptance, can obscure its critical potency.  However, as important as criticality is, it is not the totality of human experience. 










Beech, D, (2004)  I Fail to Agree. Sheffield. Site Gallery

Examination of modes of attention and an introduction to Philistinism. The philistine is a      rival to culture on the horizon of art.


Beech, D. & Roberts, J. (Eds) (2002) The Philistine Controversy. London. Verso.

A thorough study of cultural division and exclusion, with responses from leading scholars.


Benjamin, W. (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Retrieved 10 July, 2008 from:  


Bouriaud, N. (2002) Relational Aesthetics.  Paris. Les Presses du Reel

  A study of the current trend of relational and situational art that only exists in the encounter.


Buchloh, B. H. D. (2000) Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry. Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975.  Massachusetts. MIT Press. P99


Collins, M. Art is the New Religion. Modern Painters, Dec 07 – Jan 08 issue.

Review of recent show at 176 and Matthew Barney at the Serpentine. Interesting last section on a call for a return to skill and artistry as evidenced in the renaissance.


Criqui, J-P. (2001) Lisa Milroy. London. Tate Gallery Publishing Limited.

Exhibition essay.


Crary, J. (1989)  Spectacle, Attention, Counter Memory. October, vol. 50. pp96-107 

Insight into the history of the spectacle and its relationship to attention and engagement.


Crary, J. (1999) Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Massachusetts. MIT Press.

A psychoanalytical and cultural study of attention and its role in western society. Focusing on the period from 1880 – 1905 with analyses of the work of Manet, Cezanne and Seurat.


Crow, T. (1996)  Modern Art in the Common Culture. New Haven. Yale University Press. 


Danto, A. C. (2005) The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. New York. Columbia University Press.

A collection of essays that explore the relationship of art to philosophy in the time after 1960s. Include Danto’s key text “The End of Art”.


Debord, G. (1967) The Society of the Spectacle. Translation by Ken Knabb, retrieved 17 December, 2007 from

A work comprising 221 theses in an attempt to clarify the nature of the society in which we find ourselves and the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. Written at a time when industry was replaced by technology it has a sombre prophetic   tone to much of it, with a clear disapproval of capitalism. 


Debord, G. (1988) Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. London. Verso

Pessimistic follow up to The Society of the Spectacle. Mostly about the political implications. 


Eagleton, T. (2000) The Idea of Culture. Oxford. Blackwell.


Emerling, J. (2005) Theory For Art History. New York. Routledge.

An introduction to key contemporary theorists, including their lives, ideas and major works.


Foster, H. (1985) Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. Seattle. Bay Press.

A collection of essays on concerns about the limits and myths of postmodernism, the uses and abuses of historicism, the connections of recent art and architecture with media spectacle and institutional power, and the transformations of the avant garde and of cultural politics generally.


Gilbert-Rolfe, J. (1995) Beyond Piety. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 

Critical essays on the visual arts, 1986 – 1993. Of particular interest is chapter 3 “Seriousness and Difficulty in Art Criticism.” 


Green, N. (1990) The Spectacle of Nature. Manchester and New York. Manchester University Press. 

Looks into the vision of the countryside in early nineteenth century France. A type of Parisian perspective of the countryside that reinforced the identity of the metropolitan bourgeoisie. 


Hickey, D (1997) Air Guitar. Los Angeles. Art Issues Press

This book is a collection of essays which demonstrate how art functions in American society on a day to day, experience to experience way. Each essay is written in a conversational tone, as to invite the reader into the story through personal experience and avoid the frequent erudite, elitist, and exclusionist text commonly associated with art theory. Each story is easy to relate to and encourages one to think about everyday incidences as a form of art and its relation to formal art. Taken from Amazon review.


Lange, C. Access All Areas. Frieze, May  08 issue. P131 – 135.


Ranciere, J. (2007) The Emancipated Spectator.  Artforum, March issue. 

A look at pedagogical relations and its connection to our approach to the spectacle.


Scruton, R. (1998) The Aesthetic Understanding. South Bend. St Augustine’s Press.

A collection of essays on the philosophy of art in a variety of disciplines. Chapter 9 “Photography and Representation” and chapter 16 “Upon Nothing” very interesting.


Stangroom, J. & Garvey, J. (2005) The Great Philosophers. Hertfordshire. Eagle Editions.

An introduction to key philosophers from Socrates to Foucault.


Schwabsky, B. (2002) Vitamin P. New Perspectives in Painting. London. Phaidon Press Ltd.