Sunday, November 09, 2008

Understanding the Canon in Art

Critical Studies Lecture 6th October 2008 - Revisited

This lecture introduced the notion of the "canon" in art. At the time my only understanding of the word was as an instrument of war or the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. I had not come across the word in the context of art.
Since when of course I have bumped into the word a number of times, not usually in a context which sank in.

Today I was reading an interesting article in Art World [1] which referred to a new exhibition in the New York Guggenheim.[2] Described as ground breaking and titled "theanyspacewhatsoever", the exhibition involves 10 artists, Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija. They describe themselves as individuals but the art world describes them as part of a new "ism", "Relational Aesthetics", an association they have endeavoured to deny.

They are artist who have renounced the production of individual objects replacing these instead with the medium of the gallery or museum space. This they use individually or in loose collaboration to create "artwork" which creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity".[3]

Critics, academics, curators and collectors have endeavoured to pigeon hole these artist alongside the YBA (Young British Artists) of the 1990's, considered to be the foundation of the "ism", "Relational Aesthetics",

Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector gleefully suggests the collaboration of these artists in this unique event justifies their addition to this canon!

I feel that reading this article has clarified my understanding of the notion of the term canon in the context of art.


  • Canon: a term used to mean work of value or a restrictive and limited code or disciplinary practice and theory.
  • Canon: a rule or especially body of rules or principles generally established as valid and fundamental in a field or art.
  • Canonical: According to acknowledged rules.

1. (accessed 90.11.08)
2. Spector N, "Grappling with theanyspacewhatsoever".Art World.7(October/November),2008,pp.24
3. (accessed 09.11.08)

No comments: