Tate Modern

Matisse Cut-Outs

Posted by PH on September 20, 2014
Visual Culture / No Comments

The weekend before last—how time flies—we went up to London to catch the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at the Tate Modern. This being the last weekend of the show the Tate scheduled an all-nighter. We duly turned up at about 9:30pm and the place was absolutely heaving (although it did quieten down at about 10:30 and was actually quite civilized by about 11:30 when we left).

Anyway. Thank goodness we went. Despite being a huge admirer of Matisse’s paintings—noted in several earlier posts on this blog—I had been somewhat sceptical and had never really been enthused by his later work. But, as usual, seeing the actual works rather than reproductions made the world of difference. Firstly, the sheer scale of some of the works completely transformed their effect and their affective power:



Secondly, the intensity and inter-relationship of the colours was simply astonishing. The cut-out method gives every colour block a clean and definitive edge, emphasizing contrast. The vermilion in The Dragon (below) was was almost unbelievably rich and deep. And placed next to that blue? Not obvious, but very effective:


The Lagoon series. Note how certain shapes are the negative of others i.e. they were all worked on together:




Which brings us nicely onto number three: repetition and rhythm. There is a lot of both in this series of works and in this respect it remains very modern. However, unlike most contemporary imagery of this sort—which relies on the computer’s ability to copy-and-paste ad infinitum—there is no exact repetition in Matisse: each motif in a given series is slightly different from every other because they are all hand-made. This organic element gives his work a humanity and interest simply not possible with mechanical reproduction: in fact, humanity is exactly what the repetition of identical elements destroys. There is an important lesson to be learnt here for those churning out modern computer-based music:


Finally, when you see these works in reproduction they lose their depth and texture. When you see the originals it is incredible how rough they are: you can see where the cut-out elements have been sliced, ripped, and torn; you can see the pinholes where they were temororily tacked up before fixing; you can see the scribbles and outlines of the pencil marks on the paper; and you can see where the colour blocks have been modified by layering. This is a detail from Blue Nude IV:


Similarly, there are often different versions of these works in various media. Note the simplicity and flatness of the lithograph of Woman with Amphora and Pomegranates with the complexity, texture, and apparent depth in the relatively huge original:



Summing up then, I think it is both exposure to the simplified lithograths and the flattening effect of reproductions in general that, in the past, have put me off these works. However, seen in the flesh, the signs of intelligent and skilled human activity are all too clear. They are a magnificent achievement.


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Designs on eLearning

Posted by PH on September 23, 2007
e-Learning / No Comments

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently attended the Designs on eLearning conference, organized by the University of the Arts, London.

Over the two days I heard a dull introductory speech by Charles Saumarez Smith, an excellent keynote address by Gráinne Conole, and attended a series of parallel sessions where 17 presentations were made on various subjects including: blogging, podcasting, the use of 3D environments in design teaching, visual literacy, teaching rhetoric online, Second Life, and various always fascinating takes on e-learning practice. I met some very nice people and exchanged a lot of useful information with colleagues. One balmy summer evening we were all treated to a superb dinner at the Tate Modern, and whilst chatting amiably on a terrace high up on the river side of the building watched the sun go down over the city. Marvellous.

I came away from the conference with two over-riding impressions. Firstly, that teaching staff universally loathe the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) they use. I didn’t meet a single person who had one good word to say about either Blackboard or WebCT. Frankly, I’m not surprised: as pieces of software they’re slow, clunky, lumpy, and plain butt ugly. The only VLE anyone seems even vaguely enthusiastic about is Moodle, which I can’t comment on because I’ve never used it.

Secondly, a theme that emerged from the presentations was that students were using a wide range of services and devices as technological support for their learning: iPods, mobile phones, blogs, wikis, search engines, and other “peer approved” social networking sites. Communication was seen as being mixed mode, and, importantly, not necessarily routing through institutional channels. (For example, how many students use their university email account? That would be roughly, er, none.)

Now clearly these two observations are related! They suggest to me that the current generation of VLEs are not fit for purpose. They’re totally outmoded; huge, lumbering, expensive dinosaurs. The softwares available on the open market—usually free—are vastly superior in terms of both their technical implementation and the underlying design principles: they’re open, adaptive, ever-evolving, personal, social, creative, involving, and yes even fun.

They are truly software.


That’s it. An excellent conference that provided much food for thought (if not necessarily any answers).

[Note: Looking at the Blackboard and Web CT websites it seems they’ve now merged into one company. Shudder….]

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