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VISUAL ARTS - STAGE 6 Case Study. ICONS. WHAT IS AN ICON? Historical Overview. An term icon traditionally applies to a religious image of a saint painted on wood with tempera. The word icon derives from the Greek eikon , which translates as “likeness”, “image” or “representation”.

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WHAT IS AN ICON?Historical Overview

  • An term icon traditionally applies to a religious image of a saint painted on wood with tempera.

  • The word icon derives from the Greek eikon, which translates as “likeness”, “image” or “representation”.

  • During the Byzantine period (A.D. 330-1700’s) the Orthodox Greek and Russian churches placed icons on an elevated surface .


  • Iconoclasts or Image-breakers, demanded that religious images be removed from churches as their presence caused idolatry.

  • The iconoclast movement (8th-9th century)had the support of the emperors.

  • The destruction was extensive and included panel paintings, frescoes, mosaics and illuminated manuscripts.

  • Only a small number of icons from the 5th and 6th century were not destroyed.

Icons and symbolism

  • In early Christian times many people were illiterate and so churches encoded religious paintings with symbols to “speak” to parishioner.

  • The audience was very familiar with the coding of the artworks and had astrong sense of visual communication.



  • A medieval painting workshop would have resembled a science lab.

  • Artists made all of their own tools and materials, including their paints.

  • Master painters took on apprentices to do much of the work of preparing materials. In exchange for their labor in the workshop, the apprentices learned the techniques of painting from the master painter.

  • Russian artists used egg yolk mixed with colored pigments to create egg tempera paint. Pigments were made from ground minerals and other elements, prepared and blended according to a specific recipe.

  • Because egg tempera dries very quickly, artists had to paint small areas at one time.

  • Source: Guggenheim Museum


Structural: Artist

  • The artist adheres to a procedural practice and employs a formalist system of visual language, using symbols that communicate meaning

  • Structural: Artwork

  • Artworks are the medium for communication through signs and symbols. They are constructions of pictorial devices that communicate artistic principles. They exhibit material processes.

  • Structural: Artist

  • The structural world is a source of symbols and signs that are employed by artists. Codes and conventions in the world form the visual language of representation.

  • Structural: World

  • Audiences decode the meanings of artworks where they are cognisant with the language of its symbols. They read meaning through compositional systems, materials and processes.


The class will break into four even discussion groups. Each group will take one of the questions on this page (1-4) and discuss. When working in groups create a page of ideas in bullet points and have your group do some additional research which will provide you with enough material to do a class presentation.

Work can include images and can be presented with the aid of visual resources and ICT’s.


  • Deesis : The Greek word for a humble request or prayer. This tier of an iconostasis would include a representation of Christ Enthroned between the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist, who was thought to be able to intercede on behalf of humans.

  • Egg tempera : a painting medium that uses colored pigments, ground into powder and mixed with egg yolks, to create paint. Bright colors are derived from minerals including cinnabar (red), lapis lazuli (blue), and malachite (green).

  • Icon : Derived from the Greek, meaning any image or likeness, but commonly used to designate a panel representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint venerated by Orthodox (Eastern) Christianity.

  • Iconoclasts: Group of society who called for the destruction of icons and other religious imagery.

  • Iconostasis : in Eastern Christian churches, a screen separating the main body of the church from the altar; it was usually decorated with icons whose subject matter and order were largely predetermined.

  • Source - The Guggenheim Museum Online –



  • The Face of Russia. Companion to the PBS series focusing on Russian culture.


  • Russian Painting. A site designed by Dr. Alexander Boguslawski, Rollins College,

  • Winter Park, Florida

  • The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Includes information about

  • their extensive collections and virtual tours.


  • The Society of Tempera Painters. Technical and historical information on the

  • use of egg tempera.

  • The State Tretyakov Gallery is the national treasury of Russian fine art.

  • The collection consists of more than 130 000 works of Russian art.


  • Index of Russian art, with images of Russian paintings.


  • Source - The Guggenheim Museum Online –


Kasmir Malevich

  • Kazimir Malevich was a Russian artist born in Kiev on February 28, 1878.

  • In 1905 he moved to Moscow, where he studied religious icons with great interest.

  • He wrote: "Moscow icons turned over all my theories and brought me to my third stage of development.”

  • In early 1913, he started to become interested in cubo-futurism.

  • In July 1913, he was invited to create the costumes and sets for the opera, Victory over the Sun .

  • These works marked the beginning of his Suprematist period. His style moved from the figurative to the abstract.

  • At the time Malevich was developing Suprematism, Russia was experiencing serious social upheaval.


The Icon through the Subjective Frame

  • Subjective: Artist

  • The artist is motivated by feelings, intuition, emotional experiences and

    imagination. Their responses in making artworks are expressive and sometimes spontaneous responses to their world

  • Subjective: Artwork

  • Artworks are places where emotions and evocations reside. Artworks are sensational or expressively confronting. They conjure up memories and associations

  • Subjective: World

  • The world is the place of imaginings, fantasy, passion, spirituality personal memories and associations as a source for representations

  • Subjective: Audience

  • The audience finds personal and emotional connections with artworks. They reflect on their memories and associations. Meaning and value is gauged by emotional response of the viewer.

Questions for Group SummaryThe Subjective Frame & The Conceptual Framework

  • Students break into groups of four with each student choosing one aspect of the Conceptual framework and answering the question that applies to their agency (either the Artist, Audience, Audience, World). Once the group has collected and shared their material, each student writes a summary of their findings.

  • Artist: How does the artist express his own experiences?

  • Artwork: What emotive responses does the artwork provoke? Why?

  • Audience: How important is an emotional response to an artwork?

  • World: Are the spiritual, psychological, emotive and aesthetic sensibilities of the audience and the artist related to world events? How?

  • Source: Revise HSC visual art in a month - Craig Malyon


  • Abstract Art: the construction of art objects from non-representational (geometric) forms. The reduction of natural appearances to simplified forms.

  • Constructivism: An abstract movement in sculptural art founded by Antoine Pevsner and Naum Pevsner (GABO) on their return to Russia in 1917.

  • Suprematism: An abstract movement launched in Russia by Kasimir (Casimir) Malevich in 1913, maintaining that painting should be only from the geometrical elements the rectangle, circle, triangle, and cross.

  • Source: The Oxford Companion To Art, 1970.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Andersen, Troels. Malevich (exh. cat.). Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1970.

  • D'Andrea, Jeanne, ed. Kazimir Malevich 1878–1935 (exh. cat.). Los Angeles: Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990.

  • Douglas, Charlotte. Kazimir Malevich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.

  • Hilton, Alison. Kazimir Malevich. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.

  • Milner, John. Kazimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Marcel Duchamp

  • Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French artist who lived most of his life in Paris and New York.

  • After one of his artworks was rejected from a cubist exhibition he set on a new course of artmaking that did not require the approval of others.

  • Duchamp entered his artwork “Fountain” (anonymously, it was signed R. Mutt) in the 1917 Society of Independent Artists Exhibition “The Big Show”. It was rejected from the exhibition and once again set Duchamp on a path of “anti-art” creation.


  • Duchamp’s inclination to push the boundaries of artistic conventions continued with his manipulation of a postcard image of the Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q, 1919).

  • This technique became known as “appropriation.”

  • This concept of an artist making manipulating another artists work gained prominence in American Conceptual art of the 1970’s.

  • Today appropriation in art is common and is defined as a convention of “Postmodernism.”

  • The irony today is that Duchamp’s original artwork L.H.O.O.Q. is now worth a fortune.

The Icon through the Cultural Frame

  • Cultural: Artist

  • The artist depicts socially collective ideas and beliefs. Artistic practice is informed by cultural deals of style or artistic expression, which is often a historical phenomenon.

  • Cultural: Artwork

  • Artworks are the products of culture, socialist expressions of ideas, beliefs. They represent community interests, for example about religion, gender and events. They are historical records.

  • Cultural: World

  • The cultural world is informed by institutions; religious, educational and political. Galleries, media and technology are part of the cultural dynamic. Collective ideology and identity influence art making

  • Cultural: Audience

  • Audiences are art consumers; collectors, critics, patrons, curators and historians. Art is assessed by its cultural, political and economic value in the marketplace

Art Criticism

Practice – Art Criticism

  • The readymade is Duchamp's way of creating Dada anti-art. He wishes to counter the pre-conceived notion that art must have personal expression ("I wanted to get away from the stink of artist's egos") by removing all traces of the artist's hand. He thereby challenges bourgeois assumptions of originality, authorship, craft and skill, taste, precious materials, uniqueness, and even gender certainty, since he suspends Mona between male and female here.”

  • Dr. Karen Kleinfelder / Professor of Art History, California State University Long Beach

  • “Unlike more traditional works of art, which rely primarily upon visual comprehension for understanding their importance — and, thus, financial value — a work by Duchamp (particularly the readymades) relies upon more complicated processes of thought.”

  • Marcel Duchamp- Money Is No Object: The Art of Defying the Art Market by Francis M. Naumann.

  • “Marcel Duchamp shifted the epicentre of Art from making an object to choosing an object and so questioned the distinction between Art and non-Art objects.”

  • Michael Carter – Framing Art

Practice and Art Criticism

  • Art criticism is concerned with the expression of evaluative judgments about artworks and the critical exploration of issues in the art world. It allows for an opportunity to interpret and evaluate works by expressing responses, systematic analysis and value judgments about artworks.

  • Writing about art is a self-conscious attempt to make more sense of art.

  • Writng from the Cultural Frame relates the artwork through values and beliefs embedded within a specific context of society, e.g. race, gender, class, economics, politics, principles.

  • Student Activity

  • Referencing the critical writings on the previous page take on the role of the critic. Pretend you are viewing the works of Marcel Duchamp for the first time and write a half a page review of his exhibition. Writing should be focusing on the cultural frame.


  • Readymade – a found object which an artist situates in a gallery setting.

  • Appropriation -manipulating or adjusting somebody elses work, then claiming the final work as your own.

  • Anti-art is the definition of a work which may be exhibited or delivered in a conventional context but makes fun of serious art or challenges the nature of art.

  • A work such as Marcel Duchamp's Fountain of 1917 is a prime example of anti-art. It is a Dadaist work of art. Much of Dadaism is associated with the quality of being anti-art. While the Dada movement per se was generally confined to Western Europe in the early 1900s, anti-art has a wider scope.

  • Since then various avant-garde art movements have a position on anti-art and the term is also used to describe other intentionally provocative art forms, such as nonsense verse.

  • Anti-art source: Wikipedia

Websites for further research

  • Andrew Stafford: Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp - animated explanations.

  • Étant donné - annual review published by L'association pour l'etude de Marcel Duchamp.

  • Toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal

  • - Personal website dedicated to Duchamp.

  • - Art Science Research Laboratory site about researching Duchamp.

  • Marcel Duchamp - Olga's Gallery pages with biography and images.

  • Marcel Duchamp Rotoreliefs - animated.

  • The Essential DADA: Marcel Duchamp - biography and images


  • Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928.

  • His family came from Czechoslovakia (now known as The Czech Republic).

  • In 1945 he entered the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he majored in pictorial design.

  • Upon graduation, Warhol moved to New York where he found steady work as a commercial artist.

  • Warhol befriended wealthy patrons who commissioned him to create large-scale portraits of them.

  • The portraits were made by transferring a photographic image onto a silk-screen and printing with ink.

  • This type of printmaking had not traditionally been used by artists before the 1960’s.

  • Many of Warhol’s iconic images were of famous actors.

  • Warhol became famous for the statement “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

“What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”– The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again), 1975,

  • Warhol took banal images from everyday life and elevated them to the “ iconic”

  • With his background in advertising he was able to “ sell” his new concepts and challenged artistic conventions about what could be considered a worthy subject for artmaking.


  • Postmodern: Artist

  • Artists question mainstream values and beliefs. They parody or challenge artistic conventions. They question originality

  • Postmodern: Artwork

  • Postmodern artworks are unconventional; they up-end their relationship with audiences. They recontextualise previous ‘texts’ and narratives. They question notions of originality and the masterpiece.

  • Postmodern:

  • The postmodern world is a clash of viewpoints, that challenge authoritarian notions. It is an eclectic world that parodies and satirises conventional ideas. It is a world of the simulacrum

  • Postmodern

  • Audiences are agencies who question the power figures in the artworld. They accept multiviewpoints and reject traditional artistic wisdom

  • Discussion Questions:

  • Compare and contrast the formal aspects of the portraits (e.g., Warhol’s use of colour and shape, each artworks overall balance and unity, and the sitters’ poses)

  • Andy Warhol not only made portraits from photographs he shot himself, but also from images he appropriated from mass media. What portraits do you see all the time on the television and in magazines and newspapers?

  • What effect does this repetition have on culture?

  • Are there different types of fame? Which type is most valuable?

  • If you could make a portrait of anyone in the world, who would it be? Why?


Websites for further research

  • Warhol Foundation in New York, New York.

  • The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Warhol Family Museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia

  • Two short articles about Warhol's 2002 museum retrospective from the art magazine "X-TRA"

  • Andy Warhol at Gagosian Gallery

  • Time Capsules: the Andy Warhol collection

  • Andy Warhol at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Postmodernism - Appropriation of the iconic “Mona Lisa”

High Brow vs. Low Brow

  • One lasting device of postmodernism is to appropriate or modify an already famous image or icon.

  • Added to this are the elements of high-brow vs. low-brow. Which brings a clash of cultures, sensibilities and aesthetics.

Yasumasa Morimura An example of an artist who works from the Postmodern Frame. He appropriates and parodies the conventions of Western art history


  • CriticalAnalysis.doc

Australian Icons

Essay Questions

  • Please choose one essay topic, using the relevant supporting document to plan your essay.

  • Frames (25 marks)

  • Evaluate the ways different artists represent ideas and interests in the world through the development of a visual language.

  • Conceptual Framework (25 marks)

  • ‘Museums exist in order to acquire, safeguard, conserve and display objects, artefacts and works of art of various kinds.’ Peter Vergo,art writer and curator)

    Critically assess this statement with reference to role(s) that galleries and/or museums and/or collections play in the artworld.

  • Practice (25 marks)

  • Evaluate the use of different materials and techniques in the development of an artist’s body of work.

  • *All questions sourced from the NSW Board of Studies HSC examinations.

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