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Pictorial signification through praxis: an investigation into the visual fiction of American photorealism (1967-1977)

Riley, Kirsten Helene Frances (2011) Pictorial signification through praxis: an investigation into the visual fiction of American photorealism (1967-1977). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Photorealism was a movement which focused on meticulously reproducing the quotidian photograph on a large scale. Despite its popularity from between 1967-1977, it was often considered by critics to be vacuous and anachronistic. This was due to several factors, most significant of which were its focus on the outmoded practice of pictorial realism, the banality of its subjects and its apparent plagiaristic approach to the photograph-as-source. This neutral and cool aesthetic was misunderstood as superficial and served to render the movement the very antithesis of aesthetic creativity. This thesis seeks to reconsider such apparent objectivity in Photorealist painting by presenting a semiotic reading of Photorealist practice that will form the basis of the central argument in this thesis. This argument posits that there are evidential layers of signification embedded within the making of a Photorealist work which enact perceptual, conventional and historical conditions that deny the project of visual neutrality. This argument will prove that Photorealism was not a clear continuation of traditional pictorial realism, but a more conceptual movement which questioned conceptions of the phenomenological real. It will also show how, in Photorealism’s transmutation of the photographic aesthetic, it instigated the development of a hybrid visual language – a ‘route to meaning’ – which served to occupy the vacant space between the painting and the photograph. To reveal the development of such a language, and its inherently subjectivist foundations, I will inquire into the Photorealist painting from its very beginnings – from perceptual conception to conclusion – within the realm of the artist. The methodology for such an inquiry will involve the development and application of a heuristic model, informed by a semiotic approach, which will show how reality in Photorealism is mediated and transformed in the process of (re)-presenting the photograph. This model will categorise the key stages of activity and influence in the Photorealist process, showing at each stage how visual language is engendered and compounded. By adopting such an approach this thesis will show that Photorealist paintings, contrary to much criticism, managed to establish a unique and significant manner of depicting the real that is now worthy of contemporary reappraisal.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: art history, realism, representation, photography, semiotics visual language, American art, Photorealism
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Paterson, Dr. D. and Hopkins, Prof. D.
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Ms Kirsten Riley
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-3212
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 May 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:05
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/3212

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