Aesthetics and Critical Judgement: Charles Harrison and Modernism Revisited
Charles Harrison’s writings testify to a long and contested attitude towards modernism and its legacy. As a member of Art & Language, Harrison regarded himself as a modernist apostate, setting out to analyse and debunk its claims. Towards the end of his life, however, in Essays on Art and Language (2003) and Since 1950: Art and its Criticism (2009),Harrison expressed a greater degree of scepticism towards what he regarded as the more facile orthodoxies of postmodern critique. This presentation considers the ambivalent attitude at work in these writings, especially in relation to two over-riding issues: the aesthetic and critical judgement. It will assess Harrison’s claim that criticism and practice, rather than academic scholarship, provide a more fruitful path for culture to follow.
Writing about Art as a Form of Conversation
This presentation attempts a reading of Harrison’s late writings, particularly Essays on Art and Language, in relation to his affiliation with the Art & Language group. It argues that this long-lasting partnership had a direct influence on the methodology he adopted and on the critical views he formed in relation to the history and work of Art & Language (as well as conceptual art and, more broadly, on the status of the artwork). This influence can be detected in a number of factors characterising his approach to art writing, including: his concept of the artwork as a discursive site that establishes its own theoretical frame of existence, which it is the critic’s duty to relate to and account for; his interest in the role of the spectator, as it emerges from a variety of texts; his involvement of the reader in the artist’s dialectical process of making, ultimately adopting the ‘conversational’ type of writing that he identifies as distinctive of Art & Language; and his reading of conceptual writing as a performance of sorts.
Charles Harrison and Studio International
Charles Harrison officially became Peter Townsend’s assistant editor for Studio International in April 1967, when he decided to abandon his post-graduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He had already been working with Townsend for some fifteen months, although this was off the record because he was in receipt of a grant for his studies. This paper will present some of the articles Harrison wrote for the magazine as well as some of his editorial projects. The focus of the presentation will be on a selection of contributions that Harrison retrospectively considered to denote the evolution of his critical position – an education which was conducted via the magazine’s pages, recalling Greenberg’s comment on his early career, in the preface to Art & Culture, that he would not ‘deny being one of those critics who educate themselves in public’.
The Artist Out of Work
The Artist Out of Work was an exhibition at PS1,New York, held in 1999, that surveyed the work of Art & Language on both sides of the Atlantic from 1972 to 1981. I would like to suggest that Charles Harrison’s position during the time he was part of Art & Language was not so much about integrating art history, art criticism, curating and exhibition organising into one body of practice but undermining the social and cultural certainties that these practices carry by inviting those outside the field to consider what a division of function in a collective/discursive art practice might look like.
Charles Harrison, the Open University, and Art in Theory
In talking about my experience of working with Charles Harrison at the Open University and of co-editing Art in Theory, I shall say something about his attitude to art, education and by extension society, and will consider his understanding of the ‘autonomy’ of art, and of the importance of ‘value’.
Charles Harrison and the Importance of Observation
Charles Harrison taught me how to write. He did this in large part by editing texts I had to produce when I worked for him as a researcher at the Open University in the early 1980s. Before that, when I was a Foundation Course student at a small art college, Harrison had played a large part in teaching me how to look. And while he may not have taught me how to read, he certainly had a big influence on my reading list. I shall try to describe something of the role of observation in Harrison’s work, and in the relationship between works of art and the things we say and write about them.
Michael Baldwin, artist
David Batchelor, artist and writer
Michael Corris, Professor and Chair of the Division of Art, Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University
Elena Crippa, Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain
James Finch, Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Award candidate, University of Kent and Tate
Adrian Glew, Archivist, Tate Britain
Christopher Griffin, Collection Research Manager, Tate
Martin Hammer, Professor of History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent
David Hodge, PhD candidate, University of Essex
Helen Little, Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain
Jo Melvin, Senior Lecturer, Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London
Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research, Tate
Mel Ramsden, artist
Sam Rose, Research Fellow, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
Andrew Wilson, Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain
Paul Wood, Senior Lecturer in Art History, Open University
* Stephen Moonie could not attend but his paper was read by Christopher Griffin