Gestural Ethics: Consequences of the Mark in Contemporary Painting

Chilver, John. 2005. Gestural Ethics: Consequences of the Mark in Contemporary Painting. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The thesis considers what the difference is between generating an appearance by making something and generating it by thinking it (including naming it). By considering phenomenologies of agency in a variety of contexts, the argument questions the presumption that judgment determines the appearance. Judgment, understood as a disembodied, punctal decision-making is seen to be of little value for doing or understanding painting. Thus the (art-) theoretical acceptance of a distinction between 'craft' and 'judgment' is found to be misleading. The claim is then that painting constructs its domain of embodied thought through the gesture, and not through a disembodied act of judgment.

The mark is, however, what allows painting to be commodified with a vengeance: individuated gesture as branded signature. Given the interwoven contexts of production and reception, however, - where agency resides then becomes hard to determine. The thesis takes this up this problem through a reading of Hegel's Master and Servant dialectic. The outcome is that the commodity form can neither be side-stepped nor straightforwardly assaulted; a discussion of Haim Steinbach's work is central. The proposal at this point is that artworks nonetheless retain their power according to the kinds of series they articulate; here various concepts of seriality are considered including Badiou's.

It is then argued that the mark is best modelled through Derrida's notion of the trace. Barnett Newman's paintings are then re-considered through the lens of the trace, and vice versa. The argument here is that the critical gesture is the gesture that adequates itself to the trace. The painted mark is interrogated in these terms through close readings of works by Duchamp, Reed, Jorn and Brown among others. However, the limits of the Derridean vision are reached in thinking colour. For colour exceeds the logic of the mark insofar as the latter is a logic of inscription.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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embodied judgment, agency, phenomenology, gestural ethics

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Date Deposited:

15 Jun 2020 09:47

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:42


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