Between Impure and Pure: The Sketch for a History of Blotch

Milovan Novaković


Throughout the history of Western painting the blotch often exposed its capacity to operate in seemingly opposite directions, to be simultaneously engaged in engendering material impurity and optical purity. While in earlier instances it mostly obtruded on the picture's integrity, with the rise of non-mimetic painting blotch became the main vehicle of purity and cohesion. However, its unstable and versatile nature is revealed in a vetero-testamentary passage, where the purity or impurity of blotch is measured according to whether it invades the whole or just a part of the infected surface. In this brief sketch, the bipolarity of painterly macchia is described by pointing to its predominantly blemishing function from the Renaissance to 18th century; to growing acceptance of its material and formless impurity, and its consequent purification during the formation of pictorial formalism; and finally, to its revived uncleanness in the artistic interventions of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. The survey ends with the conclusion that the being of blotch resides in its itinerant, ever-shifting character, and that our experience of it as pure or impure depends on its quantity and pervasiveness.

How to cite this article: Novaković, Milovan. "Between Impure and Pure: The Sketch for a History of Blotch.AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 25 (September 2021): 173-183. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i25.456

Article received: April 25, 2021; Article accepted: June 21, 2021; Published online: September 15, 2021; Original scholarly paper


blotch; tzaraath; macchia; tache; pictorial impurity/purity; materiality/opticality; formalism; all-over painting.

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