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Elisabeth Reissner

Thesis: Testing the boundaries of a material-based approach: Can meaning be found in the making of the works of Paul Cézanne?
Supervisor: Paul Smith

There must be an account of how brute materials of painting are converted into a medium, and there must be an account of how the medium is used to generate meaning and of the different varieties of meaning in which this can issue.’ (Wollheim, Painting as an Art, 1987)

Research Summary:
Part 1: A critical reflection on the methods, theory and strategies of a material-based approach, its forms of writing and claims to meaning.
Part 2: Questions the ‘different varieties’ of meaning which might be found when an art historian studies how materials are converted into medium. A range of possible meaning will be explored, moving from consideration of what ‘technical art history’ can elucidate about creative process and contribute to the description of paintings to how its findings might be historically significant. I will ask whether knowledge of how something has been made can give us access to what an artist might have meant not only in respect to subject matter but also in terms of philosophical or political thought.
Part 3: Tests the efficacy of a material-based approach by addressing a number of research questions pitched at various levels of potential ‘meaning’ relating to Cézanne’s work. I hope to develop a model of practice that challenges discrete definitions of technical art history, art history and philosophy in an attempt to deepen understanding of the works of Cézanne. This will include evolving a form of material-based writing that it more self aware, discursive and confident in its authorial voice. One that is more able to move in a transparent way between description and argument and levels of relative objectivity and subjectivity and that manifests a more nuanced notion of artistic intention and the relationship between maker, work and subsequent viewers.