Posted by: keepfishing | March 26, 2008

London Notes #2: The philosophy of Modern Art

A month or so ago, I was writing an essay on the idea of coastal governance and what that meant in Mauritius. Essentially, I was making up a lot of long words and trying to make it sound as impressive as possible, because I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.I am now fairly convinced that artists do exactly the same.

On our trip to London, we had a brief visit to the Tate Modern. Apart from the largely pointless Earthquake Crack, I was intruiged by this painting.


An impressive painting it was too, about 6×3 foot. Personally, I liked it’s blueyness. My problem lies in the waffle that was then spouted to explain it. Artist Clyfford Still:

My paintings have no titles because I do not wish them to be considered illustrations or pictorial puzzles. If properly made visible they speak for themselves.’  The red at the lower edge was intended to contrast with and therefore emphasise the depths of the blue. The yellow wedge at the top is a ‘a reassertion of the human context – a gesture of rejection of any authoritarian rationale or system of politico-dialectical dogma.’

Anyone who can give me a coherent definition of a ‘system of politico-dialectical dogma’ gets a gold star. 



  1. system of politico-dialectical dogma = I’m a nonce.

  2. system of politico-dialectical dogma = I’m one of those people who likes to use big words without really knowing what they mean

  3. politico: having to do with politics
    dialectic: intending to instruct, formal system of teaching
    dogma: enforced philosophy/theology/etc

    ergo – “the man”

    which is worse: being overly obtuse about a painting, or liking it for it’s “blueyness?” 😛

  4. Beth ruins the run of lame jokes. Shame on her!

  5. shame on me…but do i get a gold star!? 🙂

  6. nope. you get shunned from the group for being a nerd.

  7. ouch. promise breaker. i bet you aren’t even coming to canada this fall.

  8. Yeah, they do have some seriously dense psycho-babble, they could give your common psychiatrist a run for their money (a contentious artist, that is).

    Personally, I liked the word ‘blueyness’

  9. That is ridiculous. I bet he doesn’t even know what that means. That definition, I will bet a tener, had absolutely nothing to do with what he was thinking when he made the painting.

  10. Okay Alasdair. Tenner.

  11. And um.. Beth.. I like your response best, as I am a geek too… 🙂 But being a geek.. I have to say.. your definition of dialectic is wrong.

    it is: “the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas logically, often by the method of question and answer, so as to determine their validity” or
    logical argumentation or.. “it is based on the principle that an idea or event (thesis) generates its opposite (antithesis), leading to a reconciliation of opposites (synthesis)”

    ie. a statement or view.. then someone takes the opposite view.. you argue til you reach a higher form of truth.

    I am a terrible dialectical thinker.. 🙂 it’s annoying.

  12. I agree Christy – I don’t think Al has a clue what blueyness means either…

    so a system of politico-dialectical dogma would be one in which it is considered a central tenet of belief that all politicians never give you a simple yes or no answer to any question. Makes perfect sense.

    How a bit of yellowyness represents a rejection of that, however, i’m not entirely sure…

  13. Cynic that I am, and latecomer to the debate, I think it’s just a painting which uses complementary and contrasting colours. Then a heavy handed layer of meaning has been applied to them.
    I also think it’s fair to say the artist fundamentally failed to get his painting to speak for itself. Unless it’s allowed to say things he didn’t want it too…like blueyness is nice! I like the blueyness too.

  14. ’system of politico-dialectical dogma’

    Talking about Talking.

  15. Thanks Mr. Salk. That at least makes it reasonably understandable.

  16. This looks like a fun blog. Can I play?

    I like Blueyness too.

  17. Never ever tease a person for trying to talk about their painting. I’d like to see you dance about your architecture.

  18. I’m not sure what you’re on about. I’m not an architect and I don’t dance.

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