Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce has been working with shapes, pattern and forms inspired by French artists Jan and Joel Martel's concrete trees, designed for a garden at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.

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In this video from TateShots, he discusses the way the forms he derived from the trees have been incorporated in and informed his work.

Talking about Boyce in the Guardian, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate said, “He has consistently reinvented the language of early modern art and he is deeply engaged in that. But he makes work that does not depend on an understanding of early modern art: it is beautiful and arresting in its own right.” But does knowing that Boyce’s work is so thoroughly immersed in these specific early modernist forms and ideas make a difference to you as the viewer? Do you think you have the same connection with a work if you know nothing about it and the artist, or is your experience enhanced (or even diminished) by knowing about the processes behind a work? How much of the story behind a work do you need (or want) to know?



no, the Constructivists did not create a 'negative background' because they were still working with issues of perspective and harmony / drawing (OK and proscenium arch)


It depends what the artist want us to know. Free association or maybe want to tell us something special?


Boyce? wots his angle ? mebe what Cassirer would call "ideal correlation" dunno (Substance and Function 1923) Bit like that other artist, a woman, can't remember name, who makes primary coloured analytics of Cezanne paintings ? This Boyce'room' is a painting REALLY , a sort of three dimensional display of something like that Tim Head Cow pattern .Boyce is making placings in these 'gaps' he also acknowledges the importance of ( Duchamp of course speaks of the "rasa" or "gap" the viewer fills with a "phenomenon of transmutation " !) And yes these angles appear in Caulfield. Martin Creed also gave us a room full of painterliness of course in his on off light piece presenting us with a bowl of light that one can see in a Vermeer painting between the buildings and the surface of the painting ( how does Vermeer put that bowl of light there ? ! ) Aaaaanyway,no reaching the unknown by "derangement of the senses"(Rimbaud) here !


yes I KNOW, 'why not'... a virtual reality painting in the round experience. But what worries me is that this can descend into the arbitrary . The medium is the message but no longer the messanger ?

cheryl gruendemann

It's a balance, isn't it? I mean how much does the price of a work buy the viewer? Does that depend upon how many people the industry is feeding that particular day? I would hope that I would not need to give a lecture to those who view my work, but I have no problem offering insights. I also hate the idea of some pompous wannabe making a buck off defining my work as if he had a clue what I was thinking at the moment of inception. But that will happen regardless. The industry stokes the moment.


and I see DH is coming back with his spotty dotty wotty.Ha,may as well be coming back with pointillism. Its as though we are searching for an aesthetic Higgs boson ;where will it come from ;not from orange, blue or pink ;square, circle or triangle but probably from the usual place,blood and guts on the floor and human desperation.

M.K. Hajdin

Modesty is a virtue, but there's no need to limit yourself with an "inferior" label. None of us were experts in anything when we started; we are all lifelong works in progress.

M.K. Hajdin

Inferiority doesn't stop something from being art. Art is art whether it's good or not.

M.K. Hajdin

I always look at the work first, process my own reaction, and read the artist statements last. I like to compare what I got out of the work with what the artist says they put into it.

For me it depends on whether I had a strong initial response to the work, or not. If the work didn't speak to me, the story behind it won't change that.

Sometimes even when I really like a work, I don't want to read the story behind it. I want to understand the work in my own way and not have someone else explain it to me - it's too much like having someone else tell me what to think.

Other times knowing the story behind a work adds to my experience by clarifying things that I was not able to understand on my own. It's like having a cheat-guide to a video game, which can get you past a place where you're stuck, but makes things too easy if you depend on it all the time.

It's really a case-by-case thing.


a fashion friend corrects me that design did move on to angular origami type folds and now to more floral/organic softer shapes ,less geometric !

Marc Hill

Behind every picture there is a story. or so we are told. Stories however are an art form. I teach art history, often to those with no concept of history or even why its relevant, they view art on an imediate and often superficial level not understanding deeper content, skill levels or what makes a good painting, ie good enough to show in public. Thanks to Simon Schama and others, the telling of art stories has transformed how we see art, enabling those with limited knowledge to engage with empathy and fresh insight. Its a two way exchange, so those telling the story need contemporary skills in order to better reach their audience. The architype 'art speak' and stilted academic drone will now only reach that increasingly limited audience. As a mater of interest I find Baudelaire's writings on such as insightful and relevant now as they were then.


gerry, if it is really inferior, i'm afraid it is not art...


why "inferior", gerry?

Kim Popplewell

I like to know more about the artist and their intentions. Art is such a personal medium that simply knowing more for me feels excitingly voyeuristic.


I think a real masterpiece doesn't need any stories behind. And you can feel artist's feelings without knowlege of his biography and a story how he made that. However it works only toward Real piece of art.


I remember at the end of the 80's WJ writing that if he saw another "significant looking spiral" he would "puke" Certainly as we approached the millennium and still ongoing we have now seen a proliferation of the circle motif,especially in graphics ,decorative art,fashion/fabrics interiors,display etc; it did come from fine art I guess. A spread of dynamic circle presentation does leave all that negative space on the page,around .... whatever space ,the 'background'-just sitting there empty,an awkward shape .The circle has been used so much I suppose because we no longer can make any other compact image ? Boyce using no curves and trying to activate apparently negative space an attempt to address this,maybe not even consciously ?


I found Martin Boyce's explanation of his work really helpful and interesting. The concept was far simpler than I had expected it to be, basically a repetition of a shape he was attracted to. You might take away an interesting personal interpretation or feeling viewing the work with no other information but you will never take away the meaning with which it was intended or created unless you are told it.

As a previous Interpretation Assistant I have seen lots of people scoff at gallery labels but I have heard far more people angered by a lack of information and dismiss the work instantly.

Fenton Art and ...

Its a question we wrestle with a lot as we work with artists to inspire our fabric designs. I think if the back story is relevant as it is about respecting the whole work. Also we are very influenced by how the piece was constructed as that is crucial in our representations.

However saying that it is the interaction and communication between the artist, the art and the individual that is important and regardless of the depth of that exchange.

James Russell

It depends on the artist and the work, and also on the person doing the viewing. On some occasions the fame or notoriety of the artist actually detract from the simple pleasure of looking: it's very hard to look at a Picasso without thinking 'ah, Picasso' and consequently changing one's view of the piece.

I really enjoy visiting Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, because none of the many artworks in the house is labelled: work by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and many others is presented 'anonymously'. You HAVE to make up your own mind about it; only later in the tour can you actually pick up information...

Having said this, I believe that many people are put off gallery-going and fine art in general by the lack of exciting, emotionally resonant stories attached to the work. A painting comes to life - and is retained in the memory - much more powerfully when the viewer has a story to see it through or in relation to.

Art historical theories and technical language have the opposite effect.

I think people of all ages and, as they used to say, all walks of life, have the capacity to love and be thrilled by art, but it needs to be presented to them in a way that is meaningful but not academic.


I truly believe that knowing the story behind a work of art invariably enhances the viewer experience and expands the power of the art. And for me, it does not in any way diminish my own personal feelings and experiences that I may be projecting on to the work.

robert studer

This is the same question we can ask about living life. Do you REALLY want to know why you go to work? Pay taxes? Like one brand over another? And if you did know, would it change you opinion or habits? I appreciate the artists vision and it becomes clearer when he shares his perceptions in the spoken word. This provides another viewpoint for me to consider for my vision of this time and how I relate to it.


Sometimes the story behind the work can be also be a art work, but a art work must be independent from the story behind it

Gerry Tanner

Why must it be independent? especially if you have crafted a work of art and are representing an 'emotional' aspect of an idea, but not a 'personal' involvement....the 'story' could be based on a realistic situation or knowledge of certain emotional issues etc. I represent such issues in my own [inferior] photo-art.


I think that at the first sight you can experience the art work as if it was nacked. you feel what you feel.

you feel something much different if you know the story behind it. the historical moment influences a lot the way you watch a piece of art, for example. if you know something about the feelings or the behavior or the story of the artist you cannot see his work the same way as if you know nothing... although i agree with nsyll, i think we mix our sensorial experience with our cognitive experience. the art work must be independent from the story behind it, but it not always can be.