Permanent light green, the stumblebum and the show-off: the historical sublime, Philip Guston and Sophie Calle
This thesis examines historical and philosophical enquiries into the notion of the Sublime. It looks at works such as Edmund Burke’s ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful’ and Jean François Lyotard’s ‘Analytic of the Sublime’ to understand its role in the historical discourse. By later applying their theories to the practice and analysis of works by American artist Philip Guston and French artist Sophie Calle, the research demonstrates the relevance of the sublime in contemporary art. At a certain point in history we see a division between what we call experiences of the sublime and the discourse of the sublime. The identification of this divide means that we can categorise the experience and identify its signifiers. Where it was previously associated with the natural world and God, it now comes to represent the ability of mankind to comprehend totality and the infinite. It also becomes twinned with ideas of social empathy and civic/political agency. This research demonstrates the importance of that realisation and proposes that without it, an evolution of the sublime would not have been possible. The thesis also discusses the emergence of a contemporary discourse on sublimity. Having looked at the philosophical and historical treatises, it examines its resurgence in 1950s Abstract Expressionism. It argues for its place in contemporary art, away from the Romantic empathetic, awe-inspired ideals of the eighteenth century or the ‘transcendent,’ shapeless forms of the abstract. It also looks at the role of the ‘ready-made techno sciences’ and their impact on the sublime. Finally it deals with the idea of the ‘Other’ and the notion of the ‘Void’ – definitions commonly prescribed when dealing with twentieth century ideas of sublimity and asks if the philosophy of the modern sublime can only be defined through paradox and conflict.
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