08 April 2006

for your consideration

'White Box/Black Box: The Modernist Iconography of Art Historical Powerpoint Presentations'

Since the 1960s Greenbergian revolution that (re?)focused art historical attention on the object and (in)famously on 'art for art's sake', museums have been working through and against the 'white box' phenomenon, wherein objects are literally put on a pedestal, spot-lit, and surrounded by white, unmarked (although not, as the critics would have it, non-signifying) space. This world of the white box has seen numerous critiques both in text and in museum re-installations, some more successful than others, and most of which focused on the problem inherent in extracting art from its contexts--of making, ritual, or history--through this white space that sought to eliminate everything aside from the phallic pedestal with its concomitant white-male-straight-dominant organizing episteme. [inhale here]

This paper seeks to interrogate the new white space of art history: the powerpoint. Oft critiqued in other disciplines as a veil of text and flashy graphics behind which social scientists or hard scientists hide in a futile attempt to mask inadequacies in rhetorical presentation, this art historical case is of a different character. For, long dependent on images in the form of the dual and often dueling slide projectors, art historians are now faced with a new technology through which to share knowledge. Seeing the fallacy in merely repeating the dual-slide paradigm in digital form, most art historians have now shifted not to more images but rather to single images, one per slide. The importance of this shift is allied to its visual presentation against, most commonly, the white space of the powerpoint default slide, headed or occasionally footed by a caption, generally again in the default Helvetica or Arial 48-point font. While some presenters (including the current author) opt for a black background in order to approximate the darkness of the slide lecture theatre, this white-box, single image space is now widespread and, intriguingly, reasserts a modernist, Greenbergian voice in an art history seemingly past such backward notions. The critique of this has not yet begun. This paper seeks to begin it, and mount a critique of art history's new modernist whiteness out of its recent 'powerpointed turn' with the view to sound the clarion call of danger that this turn represents, not because of the medium but because of the narrowness of its current usage.

aren't conferences fun?.....


Number Three said...

Truly a great "ready-made" post. Conferences are fun.

sageblue said...

Oh my god, that sounds like so much fun. I would also refer you to Edward Tufte, who has a pamphlet on the evils of PowerPoint: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint

I bought it and am now attempting to rebel against TPTB at Ursinus and the allure of PowerPoint.