another angle on "interpretation"

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by jtk, Sep 27, 2010.

  1. jtk

    jtk

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130 154322
    Driving, I just happened to hear the broadcast linked above. It seems to me to relate to the "Against Interpretation" essay of Susan Sontag (earlier thread).
    Why do some of us "interpret" rather than "describe?" Click on that link and you'll see description (the music and audio will be available this evening).
    Why do some of us think it's impossible to find meaning in photos without interpretation, yet presumably find meaning in music?
    Some of us approach photos using the kind of terms that explain "programmatic music" (highbrow link below...there's also Wiki and Britannica) ....they want the photo to tell a story. For example, for them a photo involving a grave stone or shadow tells a story of death or passage of time (avoiding observations like "it's a nicely lit gravestone, but it's just another gravestone... why photograph it?")
    http://www.cla ssicalforums.com/articles/Rise_of_Programmatic_Music.html
    I think it's interesting that some interpret photos, but may not interpret Bach or Mingus.
    If I identify music as "blues" or say it's "atonal" I've partially described it. I don't think I've "interpreted it."
    What's the difference, if there is one, between responding to music and to a photograph (other than foot-tapping)?
     
  2. Music tends to be more abstract than photographs.
    Though I recognize a difference between a photograph and the subject photographed, there is a relationship between the two. So, a photograph is often about something or someone.
    When a subject is merely used as a symbol or as something to be interpreted, I find it usually lacks substance. Elements in photos may act as symbols or be interpreted, but my main concern is to connect with them in a sensual and present way (Sontag's "erotic"). If a symbol (perhaps a smile on a face, a tear in an eye, a tombstone) is no more than a symbol or the representation of an idea, then it might as well be written about. Presumably, a photograph would be taken because there is also something to show, right there, right in the smile or the tear or the tombstone. If I get too hung up in the idea I want to present, I can easily lose what's right in front of me: the picture, the texture, the feel, the touch, the curves, the look. Perhaps for some those sensual qualities are simply in service of an idea. For me, that would be like making love as a chore to conceive.
    I think one of the significant aspects of photographs is that they are both literal and abstract. Music is not literal in that way. The literal is very significant in photographs and it's also overly tempting.
    I had a blind friend who was a musician and piano tuner. He had a less abstract approach to music. He carried a tape recorder and created symphonies from street sounds, passerby conversations, etc. He was taking literal sound and abstracting it into a musical form. The abstraction was less complete than with most musical works. He was almost making a sound photograph.
    It would be hard to see a picture of a guy standing in the doorway of a house with a vast landscape behind him and not see it as a guy standing in the doorway of a house with a vast landscape behind him. In fact, I wouldn't want to see it as only sensual, only compositional, only form or a matter of light and dark. Seeing it as "the guy standing in a doorway of a . . ." is different from then interpreting it as a statement about the smallness of man against the greatness of nature. Noticing the texture of the man's withered face against the texture of the aging wood of the house would be a description, not an interpretation. That would be a more sensual approach than the grander idea one might impose onto it.
     
  3. jtk

    jtk

    Yes, good thoughts re photo vs music. What about "interpretation" and "meaning?"
    If you see that man's withered face against aging wood, does it "mean" something in a way that's different from that inherently abstracted music you've mentioned? Does it inherently say something about age, or might it say "textural" and be ideal, for reasons of the medium itself, for a certain kind of printing technique?
    As you may (?) have hinted, music may be more absolutely literal than a photographic image "of something" can be. It is inescapably the thing itself, does not necessarily refer to anything else (unless it's "programmatic" or widely known to be intended as religious memorial).
     
  4. It's difficult to imagine that a serious composer, conductor or performer would disparage the idea of "musical interpretation".
    Addressing the specific question of the listener's role (as distinct from the composer's, conductor's, and performer's roles) in "musical interpretation", here are extracts from an interesting, non-condescending, well-written essay/lecture by Herbert Brun. It dates to 1970, six years after Against Interpretation appeared.
    Titled The Listener's Interpretation of Music; An Experience Between Cause and Effect, it focuses precisely on the questions raised above, and in the cited earlier thread. Its approach, however, is very different. (And unlike Sontag's opus, it is not presented as a manifesto.) Many of Brun's terms and concepts apply equally to other nonverbal arts, including photography. He addresses the necessity of "definitions" and "a language common to all", then explores their limitations, and deals (I think) with some of Fred's repeated concerns, in a way that Fred might find useful.
    These extracts are lengthy, about 50% of the original, but it's difficult to do them justice in a brief summary:
    ------------------------------------
    "At a given moment the language considered common to all is able to pave the way to an agreement on the facts which have happened and could have been perceived. But to agree in terms, understandable to all, on the effects which such perceptions may have on the perceiver, a language common to all must be looked for, found; if necessary, be invented...
    "A composer causes an event, which reaches me, the listener, in an acoustical way, causing me to have an experience. My reaction to the experience causes an effect which I can communicate to myself and, if I find words for it, to others. [emphasis added]
    "And the other way around: The communication of my reaction permits you to deduce from it my attitude towards an experience, of which I maintain that it was caused by a composer's work.
    "In both directions we get to a certain point where the relationship between the composer and the listener seems to be a very close one. At that point, namely, where we have put the word experience...But from this point on the listener is on the job. And (depending on how much of the event is experienced), the listener will be the cause of the effect which can be communicated to the listener or, if words are found for it, to others. The relationship between the composer and the listener is the closest at the moment when the composer can not do anything any more, when the work is being performed, and when the listener still can do everything, that is, let as much as possible of the event become an experience. That is the moment in which the new can become venerable and the old can become fresh: where the unheard of is heard and the unknown taken cognizance of; where private possession can turn into common good. I am speaking of that moment in art which lies between real life and artificial commotion, in short of the moment of art. [e.a.]
    "The responsibility for it, that such a moment be fertile and worthy of all the questions and wishes attached to it, rests of course with the composer as much as with the listener. It is absurd that throughout the history of music and its social functions, the word genius, frequently applied to composers, never yet has been applied to a listener. But I shall offer you a reason for this negligence...[e.a.]
    "In fact, of course, the listener alone is competent for the personal experience. The listener is not responsible for the composition which causes the experience, and is not entirely the master of the effects which the experience causes. But the listener is completely and absolutely free in the matter of personal experience. [e.a.] I shall soon elaborate on this claim...
    "Most people develop their wishes and desires out of experience. They wish to be something too, to have something too, to experience something too. Few people invent wishes and desires. If they do, one speaks of them as those who possess imagination and a talent for having ideas. If such a person also presents an example for the fulfillment of the invented wishes, then that person can be called the author of a work of art. And if the example is produced by musical means, then the author, who invented the wishes, is a composer of music, and the example for the fulfillment of these wishes a musical composition. [e.a.]
    "The composers find pleasure in that they first invent a wish or a question and then compose for themselves a fulfillment or an answer. The listeners to whom the composition is played can find their pleasure if they now find or invent wishes and questions for which this music means fulfillment and answer. The listener's pleasure depends on just the same talent for imagination and for having ideas as the composer's pleasure, and the title genius, or some less abused equivalent suitable to 20th century taste, is actually waiting to be granted to deserving listeners of music. [e.a.]
    "As soon as the listeners have understood the work which was heard as a function of wish and fulfillment, of question and answer, of problem and solution, even though the understanding is based on the wishes and questions which the listeners contributed, they then are ready for the next step in the process of appreciating the music.... [e.a.]
    "In short, I maintain that the composer causes the music and the listener causes the effect of the music. In between lies the experience of the listener, consisting of a mental activity, which is looking for pleasure. This attitude of listening to music, diligently active between cause and effect, is neither the analysis of the composition nor the criticism of its effect. To listen in such a way to music requires neither a professional musical terminology nor an aptitude for sociological diagnosis. [e.a.]
    "It is at this point where the language common to all occasionally seems to be inadequate, and where many music lovers, who wish to communicate their firm and honest opinions on some musical experience, hesitate and then come up with the apparently apologetic remark: ``I do not really know anything about music, but... etc.'' They mean that they do not know the professional terminology. Would they really believe that they do not understand anything about music, I think they would remain silent. In fact, no musical experience can be described in professional language. This technical vocabulary is irreplaceable only when we attempt to explain how and by what means the experience was brought about. And that is a job for musical and psychological analysis. [e.a.]
    "The freedom of a person to have an own opinion is not disputed. But this does not justify the assumption that the person made use of that freedom when the opinion was adopted, nor does it justify the belief that a freely maintained opinion could be free of inevitable consequences. The law in several civilized countries declares the personal opinion of a witness to be incompetent and irrelevant when the purpose lies in finding the truth. Honesty reflects on what a person actually knows, not on what that person could have known. Assuming now that you in all honesty make use of your freedom to form an opinion on some experience, we could say with other words that you apply to the experience all that you know. But not more than you know, if you are honest. Doubtlessly, honesty is a credit to a person. But the more a person knows, the more credit the honesty deserves. [e.a.]
    "As long as listeners of music ask whether they liked or disliked the composition, the listeners alone are competent for the answer. And unless I want to change these listeners and their attitude towards listening, the listeners' decision is not open to dispute. But should they ask whether it was a good composition, which they liked or disliked, then they propose to separate the information on themselves from the information on the work. That is, they propose to criticize the cause for their experience separately from the result of their experience, namely the effect it had on them. Here, I believe, a dispute, a discussion, a controversy will prove fertile and interesting... [e.a.]
    "`In what way and by what means did the series of events constitute a coherent context?' is the next question. One frequently hears how after the performance of some new music, listeners complain: ``All I heard was a series of disconnected events, which did not make any sense''. These listeners should investigate whether they do not use the term connection in a too limited way. In music, contrary to language, it is not the connection which makes sense, but it is the sense which creates the connection. [emphasis added] Therefore, these artificial connections do not have to imitate the progress of causal, evolutionary, or dramatic connections. [e.a.]
    "The next question, and for today the last I have time to mention, is: `What did the music intend to mean, and how does that compare with what it actually meant to me?'' This is really the listener's question and the composer's question and, last not least, the question which the music itself asks the listener. For this is to be remembered when one seriously means to speak about art: Works of art do not possess the kind of reality which forces people to take cognizance of it for the sake of their lives. They are not necessary unless one needs them. This need is a creation of the mind. At the risk of being reproached for exaggeration through simplification and accused of attempting gross flattery, I'd like to express my opinion as follows: Music is initiated by a need which listeners created in their minds. Music takes this need seriously. If listeners occasionally neglect or even ridicule their creation, the need, no wonder if then serious music seems to them to be needlessly aggravating. [e.a.]
    "There are three kinds of music for three kinds of listener. [e.a.]
    1. "First the music which reorganizes already established music elements into new patterns. This is music for the listener who enjoys the status quo, to be looked at from different angles.
    2. "Second there is the music which enlivens old patterns with new musical elements. This is music for the connoisseurs, the listeners who enjoy looking at themselves from different angles.
    3. "And last, but not least, there is the music in which new musical elements create their new patterns. This is music for listeners who are still conscious of the fact that, after all, they had once created the need for music in their minds, and who now are happy and gratified if this need is met, in that at last they can hear what they never had heard before.
    "So everything is nicely organized, and everybody could find whatever anyone likes. The only difficulty seems to be that usually you are not quite sure to which category you belong and to what kind of music you are listening. And if you confuse the three kinds of listener and the three kinds of music, your judgment will inform us of the confusion and not of the music or the effect it had. Now everybody has the ability to want something. So you can want to look at the status quo, at yourself, and at something new. You can, if you want to, adopt all three attitudes towards listening to music. The adoption of the attitude most suitable to the music in each case will guarantee the maximum of pleasure and the necessary minimum of understanding. To find this attitude demands a certain effort, a certain elasticity, and a considerable sense of humor. The pleasure in seeking and finding the suitable attitude, and the critical evaluation of the conditions under which it could be adopted, enable you, if you so wish, to pass the very important judgment of a listener on a musical composition which you heard. [e.a.]
    "The listener's interpretation of music refers to an experience between cause and effect. The experience is the pleasure in the cause. The effect is the expression of your approval or disapproval of this pleasure. Your criticism is its communication. (Provided that you are not a person who happens to have the radio on, but a person who for one reason or another is intent on listening to some music.)" [e.a.]
    ------------------------------
    The complete essay is at > http://www.herbertbrun.org/listener.html
     
  5. I don't really know that music or any art is really approached differently, just differently by different people most likely.
    As a visual artist, I have more interest in the visual and sometimes a piece can take me somewhere else, just as music can, for that matter. But with an image in front of me, I can start to see relationships and meanings that are there in the little things. I can many times determine the social class of the subject of a portrait or maybe their sophistication or interests, especially in an environmental portrait done in their space by paying attention to the details and even detritus that might be laying around. Even not having the musical knowledge of some, I can get a sense of a piece just by how it is put together, the gait and the phrasing just as one might read the rhythm of a photographs texture and feel something concrete from it. The funny thing is that interpretation is generally the product of a good description, verbalizing what is seen and therefore actually seeing what is there. (not as maker but as beholder)
     
  6. Both involve rhythm and change. Photography is the arrangement of time, music is an arrangement within time. Perhaps their difference - or what they would be without each other - is to be found in how they may and can complement : like in cinema.
    In any case, I see flashes of images when I interpret music, but I have to imagine music when seeing images.
     
  7. John A, what you just wrote called to mind what I think is the single most lucid, succinct line in the abridged essay by Brun:
    "In music, contrary to language, it is not the connection which makes sense, but it is the sense which creates the connection."
    The same with photography, I think.
     
  8. "Why do some of us "interpret" rather than "describe?""
    Possibly because interpretation is often nice, warm, subjective, mind-provoking and related to communication in art.
    Possibly because description is often too scientific, assumedly objective, cold and dull.
    "it's a nicely lit gravestone, but it's just another gravestone... why photograph it?"
    To He who has trouble critiquing his own work but quite adept at continually knocking attempts of others or making other underhand comments when some idea doesn't suit his concept of photography:
    Elementary, Watson, we photograph it because it is there, because it inspires us, and not because some unimaginative critique might think it "not worth the candle."
    00XNOC-284937584.jpg
     
  9. Why would we want to read the line of a poem twice ? Because we want to interpret what the poet describes.
    Why would we want to photograph something when we've already seen it ? Because...
    ----
    I don't quite agree though - like Arthur seems to conclude - that description is to be "cold" and interpretation is to be "warm". Without description there can't be interpretation, and without interpretation, nothing is described.
     
  10. jtk

    jtk

    Remarkable responses, all bell-ringers for me.
    Regarding Bruns, his understanding of "interpretation" seems very different from Sontag's idea...they seem only marginally related. Nonetheless that's a great set of insights and I will read further. Thanks.
    Sontag's " interpretation" refers to verbal conversion of a work into an entirely other kind of work (eg a critic's brief and often third-rate reconception of the work s/he is commenting upon) rather than Bruns' which has mostly to do with gut level response ("I like it" ...someone else might say "It makes me tap my foot because got that swing!" ... analytic about response rather than the piece itself). Sontag addressed verbal interpretation, not performance interpretation...didn't address one conductor leading her/his orchestra to a different interpretation of a piece than another would.
    On radio from Santa Fe Jake Hegge recently talked about his composition for the opera version of "Dead Man Walking." The opera "interpreted" Sister Prejean's book, but it did so without explanation...it accomplished its own parallel life, did not try to tell us what Prejean meant.
    http://www.amazon.com/Walking-recording-world-premiere-production/dp/B000059ZHR/ref=pd_sim_m_1
    Arthur, your stunning and emotionally evocative snowstorm image seems (to me) to live at an entirely other, infinitely higher level than the gravestone images (one of which seemed troubled compositionally, which was discussed at the time...the better of gravestone seemed (to me) a handsome postcard...hence "why?").
    For me your snowstorm image is above interpretation and (thankfully) isn't burdened by it. There is no need for "why." The gravestones were explained in case we missed the point. The snowstorm is (for me) profoundly more significant, while "meaning" nothing verbally. Who needs "meaning" when appreciating a strong photograph? Snowstorm is art to my own elitist eyes, gravestone isn't.

    I don't recall Hegge telling listeners what his music means, despite the fact that the movements are each attached to specific very dramatic operatic acts.
     
  11. jtk

    jtk

    Phylo made a nicely subtle point that actually seems akin to my Sontag/Bruns comparison.
    Reading poetry (or anything else "artistic") is a performance to oneself. That is the biggest distinction between reading and watching TV. One is active, the other passive. One has to work to read. One gets to work with the author to make the piece work. The poem is nothing without the reader, may be reduced by interpretation.
    I think "interpretation" of a photograph encourages passivity, working to obscure whatever it was the photographer actually delivered.
     
  12. I think people do tend to hang an interpretation to music. "This movement is angry", "this was obviously written when the musician was high", "this was written to get revenge on an old lover".
    More than that, I think people frequently personalize the message within a song to their own life (e.g. "this song is about MY breakup") .... when clearly the musician did not have that intent.

    I think it is this interpretation & personalization that makes art meaningful to many. I may be stimulated by the colors in a photo, or a beat in a song ... but to get me interested in the "meaning" of a song or photo takes my own buy in. I really am not personally involved in Mick Jagger's failing relationship song, or your grave stone image.

    I become moved when you make me care about you or your subject, or when you allow me to make the meaning my own.
     
  13. "If you see that man's withered face against aging wood, does it 'mean' something in a way that's different from that inherently abstracted music you've mentioned? Does it inherently say something about age . . . " --John K.
    I got hung up on these questions for a while. That's good. Maybe provocation is a better place to go than interpretation? I see the pic of the withered face against aging wood and may feel provoked to think about aging and relationships of aged things or may myself be provocative in making pictures showing naked, middle-aged or older men. (Provocative can be stimulating but not always controversial.) No, the pic doesn't inherently say something about age. But it likely does provoke thoughts about it. Imagination is something that can be sparked and talked about. I'm getting more and more used to having viewers' imaginations projected onto me and my photographs. I
    may provoke a response yet not have strict control over it and not have the intention a viewer may project. A photo may provoke ideas without representing them. It seems more honest for a viewer to say her thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions are provoked by a photo than that she is interpreting the photo in such and such a way. Interpretation suggests much more of a direct and literal linkage than I think is at play. I've used the word suggestive a lot. Maybe suggestiveness goes hand in hand with provocation. Interpretation, on the other hand, is a package often too neatly tied.
     
  14. The last three comments by John, Thomas and Fred, prompted somewhat by Phylo's post, are interesting in that they refer to what John describes as the active or passive response to various visual communications. The photographer and the photograph can try to suggest something (or provoke/suggest, good words introduced by Fred) but ultimately the interpretation may have little to do with what the former may try to suggest.
    Mixed amongst the small busload of alumni from a college who were visiting our little gallery last week, some dozen couples of retirement age, was the independent visit of a young man of about half their age. I hardly noticed his presence in the melée, but after the group had left he walked over with a small framed print of an image I had made when travelling through Wisconsin on a west-east drive a few years ago. The subject of the color print was the still upright remains of a dead oak or other tree of ample girth, behind which at some distance was the remains of an old farmhouse, the paint of which (green) was not completely effacced, although the structure, like the tree, had seen better days. The young visitor, from 200 miles to the west of here, was very personable (a social worker, I learned from him) and we spent some time talking about this area (he last visited the island when he was 5 or 6) and some common interests of old architecture. During this he mentioned that he was recently divorced from his ex-wife (an active medical doctor) and the photograph of the two wooden structures (decaying tree and farmhouse) spoke to him of that event or relationship.
    I didn't feel it acceptable to pursue his comment further, as it was clearly a private personal impression, but realised that whatever that image might have meant to me was quite different from his perception. He actively interpreted in the image what he felt and not passively seeing it simply as nature and man made structures undergoing similar transitions. It reflected for him an important period in his life (we did talk about how we are so little in real control of many things in our lives and I shared with him some of my own examples) and my simple image provoked in him a very personal response. I guess that is a good reason to do what we do, even though the manner of interpretation is not predictable. This may be a particular and ordinary case, but I think (notwithstanding some of my defensive comments of past) that we can learn from the perceptions of others who look at our work. We just have to realise that those perceptions/interpretations can vary quite widely.
     
  15. Arthur, I can't relate to your claims that interpreting is active and looking/seeing is passive.
    The guy at your gallery, in fact, may not have engaged your photo at all. He may simply have been too wrapped up in himself to do that. There might be something very passive about that. Looking at the photo, on the other hand, may have required him to step out of the the comfort zone of self-analysis and actively engage what was before him.
     
  16. If you go to concerts, you will notice how often the word "interpretation" is used for describing the performer's individualized rendition of someone else's score.
     
  17. Luis, I do notice that. Just as playing a score that someone else wrote requires mastery of reading music and playing an instrument, looking at a photograph may require some learned discipline as well. As you've said, there's a lot of visual illiteracy around. If I am in the process of a breakup with my partner, I could interpret or make every photo I see to be about breakups with partners, rather easily. There would be some amount of illiteracy and self-absorption in that.
    I think "individualized" may be the turning point here. It can be so individualized that it is merely egocentric and therefore blind to a lot else.
    Photographs are personal and also shared.
     
  18. As Sontag noted, interpretation, like so many other things, can either fuel or stunt the creative process on both the individual and collective levels: ""It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling..."
    When interpretation becomes mired in its negative aspects as expressed in that last sentence (and I mean both in the overarching cultural way and specially in the personal), it's definitely time to punt and revitalize.
    Yes, Fred, there's a balance to be struck in the continuum between individualism and the larger contexts.
     
  19. Fred and Luis,
    I don't think the visitor who acquired the photo in question had read Sontag. His interpretation was probably simply that of "expounding the meaning of" what he was looking at. That he didn't necessarily relate that to the question of decay in both nature and man made things (the decaying tree, the decaying farmhouse, the "leitmotif" of the photograph, if there was one) I might have even regretted, but I have found from experience that most photographs are viewed quite individualistically, and that any "collective" induced response (societal, paradigmal, or other) or any dispassionate "objective" (arms length) response, is, if not very secondary, then often less powerful.
    Individualistic, as opposed to collectivity-induced viewing and intepretation, may be a good topic in itself for this forum.
    Whatever, I do think he related to the image in a non passive and quite individualistic (personally active) way. The manner he comported himself during our conversation afterwards led me to think that while he was undergoing a difficult time no doubt (it was his wife who had pulled the plug and run off with another) he was certainly very calm and happy and perhaps already well resigned to the fact and (I almost added, opportunity) for change in his life (At 35, we can easily make major changes).
     
  20. Arthur, just as all photographs are not equally well executed, all views aren't equal either.
    One wouldn't have to read Sontag to learn how to look at a photograph. There are many ways, as many as there are to learn how to take one.
    Avoiding interpretation (especially the kind this man has given us) is neither dispassionate nor objective.
     
  21. "If you go to concerts, you will notice how often the word "interpretation" is used for describing the performer's individualized rendition of someone else's score."
    True, but when you have listened to the Beethoven 5th by several conductors it becomes quite apparent that there is some quite variable interpretation of the original score going on (tempo, relative tempo, relative importance of instrumental sections, their balance, etc.).
    Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended? How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria? "Visual illiteracy" can be related to education and experience, of course, but it can also be related to the stifling acceptanbce without question of the visual paradigms of others. As most major movements in art faced considerable opposition before being finally accepted*, those paradigms are everpresent.
    * Der Blaue Reiter, Stravinsky's first performance of "Le Sacre du printemps", the Impressionist's exhibitions, etc.
     
  22. Fred,
    My mention of his not having read Sontag is just my own personal dig at the importance of reading Sontag, or any other specific single critic of modern society or art. There are many writers and I was simply mentioning that Sontag is but one, however relevant. Her thesis has to be compared with those of others (and it is interesting that she does not appear often in modern learned anthologies of art and photography, but that may be due to the fact that our academic breatheren find more professional profit in quoting one another).
    "Avoiding interpretation (especially the kind this man has given us) is neither dispassionate nor objective."
    I think you missed my point here. He did actively interpret the work, but in his own way. Whether I think his interpretation, which incidentally I have only fragmenatry communicated knowledge of, is a good one or not, is unimportant. It is easy for us to sit on a high horse and suggest that his interpretation was in fact avoiding interpretation, or one of "visiual illiteracy". One would have to test his ability through several images and questioins to perceive that.
     
  23. "Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended? How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria?"
    Well said.
     
  24. Arthur - "Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended?"
    Sometimes we have some idea. In some cases, we may never know. What then?
    Arthur - "How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria?"
    You have to work with what you have, and be mindful of what you don't have. Part of that, of course, is the knowledge that connoisseurs have deemed that picture one of the greats. One is, of course, free to reject any or all of it, of course. I was at a party the other day when a fourteen year old hipster with great gravity revealed unto me that MIA was the greatest musical genius that ever lived. She was working with her own baggage of knowledge and experience.
    Arthur - "Visual illiteracy" can be related to education and experience, of course, but it can also be related to the stifling acceptance without question of the visual paradigms of others. As most major movements in art faced considerable opposition before being finally accepted*, those paradigms are everpresent."
    Only a simpleton (like my hipster acquaintance) would be oblivious to that. The crusading and championing of one idea over all others is very liberating and often dead wrong. Understanding is hardly the same as blind acceptance. Let's not confuse literacy with dogmatism.
    [I prefer to explore the landscape of possibilities (including opposing views) than to forcibly simplify from the complex constellation of the possible via arbitrary exclusion towards a cozy monad in the absence of compelling evidence.]
    * Great examples from other disciplines. Can you cite any in photography?
     
  25. "He actively interpreted in the image what he felt and not passively seeing it simply as nature and man made structures undergoing similar transitions."
    Arthur, the above theme runs through your recent posts. You have suggested again and again that a more sensual (erotic) and less interpretive way of looking at photos is passive and objective. In fact, you labeled my description of The Scream objective. Sensuality, looking, textural descriptions, for me, are not objective or passive matters.
    My own dismissal of much "personal interpretation" comes from the ridiculousness of hearing over and over again how all art is whatever you make it and everything about art is subjective. Such thinking reduces art to nonsense. If every photograph is whatever any individual wants to interpret it as, then we should all be putting up solid black or solid white prints or images, because the images themselves don't matter. There's got to be something beyond a lame subjective interpretation. Judging from your telling of the story, your patron wasn't looking at your photograph. He was in his head. That's certainly an OK place to be, if he needed or wanted to be there. But it's got nothing to do with appreciating a photo. If that's me being on a high horse, so be it.
     
  26. Luis: "If you go to concerts, you will notice how often the word "interpretation" is used for describing the performer's individualized rendition of someone else's score."
    ---------------------
    Arthur: "True, but [sic] when you have listened to the Beethoven 5th by several conductors it becomes quite apparent that there is some quite variable interpretation of the original score going on (tempo, relative tempo, relative importance of instrumental sections, their balance, etc.).
    "Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended? How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience?"

    ----------------------
    Ernest B: "[Arthur,] Well said."
    ----------------------
    Arthur and Luis, I feel obligated to refine and amend my brief comment above.
    Arthur, I read your post too quickly, and the "but" didn't register. I misinterpreted your point, thinking it a further elaboration of Luis's observation. (I.e., I read it as if you had written: "True. When you have listened to....")
    To me, Arthur, after a more measured consideration, your insertion of "but"-- rendering your idea contrary to Luis's--seems misplaced.
    Luis, your point (as I read it) was simply that the concept of "interpretation" permeates the entire field of musical performance.
    With the exception of a composer who is conducting a (first) performance of his own work, or of (non-conducted) performers playing or singing their own extemporaneous inventions, interpretation is a concept central to all musical performance.
    For that reason, Arthur, your rhetorical question (how can anyone alive today say with any certainty, how nuances of early music were intended to sound?) and its implicit answer (no one can, thus all modern performances of it are interpretive) struck me as reinforcing the validity of Luis's observation, not contradicting it.
    For that matter, the whole idea that the field of music could serve as an example of an art form in which there's less "interpretation" going on than in photography seems fatuous.
    Just my own interpretation, but I wanted to be clear.
     
  27. When a performer "interprets" a piece of music, he doesn't tell us what it means. He performs it.
    When a viewer interprets a photograph, he often resorts to telling us what it means.
    That's the difference.
    We can use "interpret" differently and say it applies even more to music than photography. But when we use it the same way in each case, and say that an interpretation supplies meaning, a musical performance/interpretation does not provide anywhere near the same kind of meaning as many verbal interpretations of photographs.
    Music has to be performed to be heard. Photographs don't have to be interpreted by a viewer to be seen.
     
  28. Also: The interpreter of the score is the performer, not the listener. By comparing the interpretation of the performer to the interpretation of a viewer (of photographs) we are comparing apples to oranges.
    Observation: When a thread becomes a word and analogy stew, it usually is avoiding tough ideas.
     
  29. "When a performer "interprets" a piece of music, he doesn't tell us what it means. He performs it."
    By performing a piece of music, the performer communicates what it means (to him).
    ----------------------
    "Music has to be performed to be heard."
    So how did Beethoven, deaf, compose his final, greatest, works?
    -----------------------
    "Photographs don't have to be interpreted by a viewer to be seen."

    Photographs have to be made to be seen. Music has to be made to be heard.
    In both cases, interpretation--the issue of their meaning/significance--is a different set of questions from their "existence".
    ----------------------
    "We can use 'interpret' differently and say it applies even more to music than photography. But when we use it the same way in each case..."
    Yes, Fred. And so we arrive back at the same point we started from, about two threads ago.
    You repeatedly have said you "don't care about definitions". Yet, without an agreed set of definitions, all discourse eventually ends up...nowhere.
     
  30. "Observation: When a thread becomes a word and analogy stew, it usually is avoiding tough ideas." ----------------------------------
    Fred, that's one way of looking at it.
    But for me, in the present context, speaking of "tough ideas" seems odd.
    When words and concepts are applied without rigor, in non-agreed ways that suit the individual preferences of participants, "soft, flabby ideas" might be more apt.
     
  31. I have performed many musical pieces on the piano and never once have I communicated what those pieces mean to me. I have performed the music. I have considered melodic line, swells of sound, how to touch the keys, how my fingers should move, rubato when it sounds right, pedals for an overtoned legato. I don't fantasize or romanticize about what all of that means. It's absolutely unnecessary and virtually impossible. I may occasionally discuss how a piece makes me feel but never once have I engaged in discussions about what a musical passage might mean, how it translates or transfers to ideas.
     
  32. As I wrote, Fred:
    "By performing a piece of music, the performer communicates what it means (to him)."
    You may be entirely unconscious of your own interpretive processes, and you may never speak or write of "interpretation" to anyone.
    But if an audience of reasonably intelligent, reasonably sensitive people were to listen to you playing a given piece of music--immediately after they'd listened to a different pianist playing the same piece--many of the listeners, I suspect, would be able to point out distinct differences in your "interpretation".
    You're faced with the same question that was raised in the earlier threads, but left unanswered: what does it mean, in the field of art, to "interpret"? When using the term in its broad, generally accepted sense, it seems intuitively obvious that "interpretation" occurs at many levels of the brain and the mind. You're now using the term in Susan Sontag's narrow, self-defined, special sense of "misplaced criticism"--which would be fine, if you were conversing only with believers in her frame of reference.
    But you've already written that you are not, yourself, a defender of her frames of reference; and as you know, you're presenting your ideas to others, in these threads, who've made clear that they do not accept such a narrow restriction of the meaning of the word.
    The fact that musicians and music critics and musical theorists all employ the word differently from the way it was used in Sontag's 1964 treatise means...what, exactly?
    (I wold suggest that it means, at a minimum, that many well-informed, sensitive people do not subscribe to the limited scope of the term she prescribed.)
     
  33. I'd suggest that the term simply applies differently to the performance of music and the viewing of a photograph.
    When we say a performer interprets a score we don't mean the same as when we say a viewer interprets a photograph. Words apply differently in different contexts. A dictionary won't help. Read Arthur's interpretation of his own gravestone image and read his patron's interpretation of the photo he talked about and there is little similarity to that and performing ("interpreting") a piece of music. Of course, my "interpretation" of the piece is different from someone else's. But I don't refer the musical notes or passages to something else, to some idea. I don't need to think that this passage represents fate and this one represents a lush countryside in order to play it or listen to it. Arthur and his patron did just that with the photographs.
     
  34. "When we say a performer interprets a score we don't mean the same as when [I, Fred] say a viewer interprets a photograph."
    Fred, did you read the extracts I posted from Herbert Brun's essay?
    Others may (do) approach the same ideas differently than you do. A photographer may "interpret" a landscape before him in the same, or analogous, way that a performer "interprets" a musical score.
    And a listener may "interpret" (in Brun's sense) a musical performance, in the same way that a viewer interprets a photograph.
    Moreover, as he wrote, in the first line I quoted:
    "At a given moment the language considered common to all is able to pave the way to an agreement on the facts which have happened and could have been perceived. But to agree in terms, understandable to all, on the effects which such perceptions may have on the perceiver, a language common to all must be looked for, found; if necessary, be invented..."
    In these threads, "a language common to all" was never established. Instead, fiats were declared, and the outcome was predictable.
     
  35. Ernest, thanks for your lucid remarks, for your attempts to establish rigour in the comments of this forum and for a not so prevalent drive for progress and meaning in discussion. Like the streets of Rome, the "fiats" are omnipresent, while the "lectures" are too predictable and rather ill conceived, the misreading of considered comments frequent, and the genuflection of some before chosen authority embarassing for thinking persons. This is less a philosophy forum and more that of unruly question time in (e.g., Canadian) parliamentary democracy, or whatever the analogue may be in America.
     
  36. "This is less a philosophy forum and more that of unruly question time in (e.g., Canadian) parliamentary democracy, or whatever the analogue may be in America."
    Arthur, the analogue in America to your "unruly question time" may be "all the time."
    (Just kidding, I love this place.)
     
  37. "Ernest, thanks for your lucid remarks, for your attempts to establish rigour in the comments of this forum and for a not so prevalent drive for progress and meaning in discussion. Like the streets of Rome, the "fiats" are omnipresent, while the "lectures" are too predictable and rather ill conceived, the misreading of considered comments frequent, and the genuflection of some before chosen authority embarassing for thinking persons. This is less a philosophy forum . . ." --Arthur
    Speaking of high horses. Definitional obsession at the expense of photography.
     
  38. Fred,
    I think Ernest is to be thanked for seeing how some little fencing matches and obsessional speaking down to others has limited the usefulness of the discourse and continues to turn off others. As for "at the expense of photography", that's a value judgement. I for one have no problem with your evocation of musical examples, for instance, at least in the manner discussed. Consideration of other analogies, from painting or sculpture or poetry, and a desire to be definitionally rigorous in discussions, are they to your mind at the expense of photography?
     
  39. "Definitional obsession at the expense of photography."
    Fred, there are many excellent photographers (I would suggest) who talk and write little about the "artistic dimensions" of their own photographs, much less the "philosophy" of photography in general. They create the best, most interesting pictures they can, and study the pictures of others to find, assess, and assimilate new visual ideas; they navigate their way visually.
    But to state the obvious, this particular online forum is a place of verbal exchanges. We are writing to each other, using words, to address complex concepts. We are presenting and defending divergent views on issues that are verbally defined (and we're doing it under the rubric of "philosophy", no less).
    In this context, your complaint of "definitional obsession" seems misplaced.
     
  40. John, an invitation. A while back, you asked:
    "If you see that man's withered face against aging wood, does it 'mean' something in a way that's different from that inherently abstracted music you've mentioned? Does it inherently say something about age . . . " --John K.
    And I answered:
    "I got hung up on these questions for a while. That's good. Maybe provocation is a better place to go than interpretation? I see the pic of the withered face against aging wood and may feel provoked to think about aging and relationships of aged things or may myself be provocative in making pictures showing naked, middle-aged or older men. (Provocative can be stimulating but not always controversial.) No, the pic doesn't inherently say something about age. But it likely does provoke thoughts about it. Imagination is something that can be sparked and talked about. I'm getting more and more used to having viewers' imaginations projected onto me and my photographs. I may provoke a response yet not have strict control over it and not have the intention a viewer may project. A photo may provoke ideas without representing them. It seems more honest for a viewer to say her thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions are provoked by a photo than that she is interpreting the photo in such and such a way. Interpretation suggests much more of a direct and literal linkage than I think is at play. I've used the word suggestive a lot. Maybe suggestiveness goes hand in hand with provocation. Interpretation, on the other hand, is a package often too neatly tied."
    I'd like to get back to that because your question was challenging and helping me. Thanks.
     
  41. I should have inserted my comment about music this morning without being worried about not having time to go on.
    The musician has no choice but to fill in the gaps the written score leaves out in order to perform the piece. She can't do nothing about the decisions she has to make and she can't just leave it to chance that she might do one thing in one performance and another in a subsequent performance of the same work. These are the issues study and rehearsal are meant to work out. And yes, the musician can be said to interpret the work because there are places requiring her to draw on her own sensibility as a guide to exactly what she must do to make the sounds the piece requires. Written documentation can never tell you everything you need to know to make sure every performance is exactly the same. This would seem to be the heart of interpretation: do the work required to fill in the gaps necessary to make sense of a work. (It sounds trite to say, "to make a work work," but that is my drift.)
    I hope I'm not oversimplifying anything here. The audience's experience with previous renditions of the work and similar ones, and their estimation of how successful the orchestra is in its current performance will win or lose the day.
     
  42. I reread the article used to kick this thread off. It is a music review of a group of jazz artists that have been successful with their unique improvisational style. The other reference is a survey of music history that describes various styles that have been explored over the years.
    I think that the description - criticism - and interpretation are all part of the same thing. The difference lies in how much juice the speaker/writer brings to the table. I should be clear in telling you that the viewer, not the artist, is the subject of these comments. So what do I mean by juice? I mean the sophistication one gets through exposure to the work, similar works, performances, & etc., that all go together to inform one's opinion. It seems almost too easy to comment that the more one has to say about a work, the more you might expect them to.
    All of these terms point to a person's effort to make something of a work and her experience of it. The spectrum runs from "tell me what you see there in front of you" to "connect the dots: fit the work into a context that helps explain the artist's point of view and its significance" to "use the work as a springboard for you to reflect on wherever it might lead you." All of these activities are worthwhile in my estimation, but they do different things.
    So... You're all right! But in different contexts and from different perspectives. It seems to me to be eight guys and an elephant all over again.
     
  43. Albert wrote
    I hope I'm not oversimplifying anything here. The audience's experience with previous renditions of the work and similar ones, and their estimation of how successful the orchestra is in its current performance will win or lose the day.
    The spectrum runs from "tell me what you see there in front of you" to "connect the dots: fit the work into a context that helps explain the artist's point of view and its significance" to "use the work as a springboard for you to reflect on wherever it might lead you." All of these activities are worthwhile in my estimation, but they do different things.​
    I think this is very well formulated and somewhat clarifying. The important thing is that the very different usages we make out of works of art whether fine art in the form of paintings or photography or music performance.
    I don't know whether you in the US have something similar, but in France, every Sunday afternoon during some three hours, France Musique, the main classical music radio channel, has a program where a panel of music experts discusses a long series of interpretations of the same smaller passage of a classical work. What Albert writes is a very good short description of what happens in such a program and I see it as an important aspect of appreciating music interpretation. It increases my ability to hear music and understand interpretations. To add to that what ever one can find of written testimony of the part of the composer is adding to the quality of the exercise. For example I think knowing what Stockhousen or others has said and written on "spatialization" in his music gives added value to any interpreter and any listener to his music. Listening to Hymnen, for example can be one experience without such knowledge but a somewhat different with. It gives meaning to the music, puts it in context and makes for the listener reference to ancient antiphon in christian music and rituals that might not come to the fore without.
    All that is music literacy. Other approaches are totally valid, but we need to admit that there are different approaches and not one best way.
    When it comes to the "fine arts", again Albert's second paragraph quoted above is clear and in my eyes very just. Many approaches are possible and equally valid. To confront them might not be the best way of filling this forum. It might be more optimal for understanding each other to separate them because they are of very different order.
     
  44. As I think was mentioned by Albert and Anders in a slightly different way, the personal "baggage" of knowledge and experience that the viewer or listener brings to a work is important in terms of the nature of the appreciation she can derive from it. Not having any knowledge or experience when considering and viewing "Pop Art" or, (in regard to a more local movement here), "The automatists" (1940s and 50s abstract art), can be a handicap in interpreting what we see or hear. However, I believe that "literacy" in these arts is not a universal quality. It can exist in different forms. As an Asian, I might listen to classical music of the West in a different way than the westerner, and vice versa.
    In North America, many orchestras, including our local QSO(OSQ) hold a half hour or hour session before selected concerts, in order for the conductor or an orchestra member to describe and discuss interpretation for the audience. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the earlier users of a similar approach was Leonard Bernstein, whom I remember discussing ABBA (Not the Swedish pop group) musical composition form in a Saturday lecture to youth, and comparing some of the compositions of the Beatles to that classical form. Some interviews with singers in radio opera broadcast intermissions analyse different interpretations and try to relate them to the orginsal intentions. But I think that not much compares to the various music commentary programs of "France Musique". Travelling the long autoroutes in France is made more enjoyable by listening to such programs. I once felt compelled to pull off to the side of the road at a rest stop to better concentrate on understanding the descriptive and interpretative comments being made. It was that captivating.
    Given the universal presence of an excellent means of communication, TV, why do we not have more programs (I tacitly assume there may be a few) which critically describe and analyse visual works, especially fine photographs? Does some sort of taste or "level of comprehension" governor wheel kick in to inhibit that, or is it simply considered something that won't sell to the advertisers?
     
  45. Arthur - " Given the universal presence of an excellent means of communication, TV, why do we not have more programs (I tacitly assume there may be a few) which critically describe and analyse visual works, especially fine photographs?"
    The cable TV company where I live carries a channel called Ovation that regularly has shows devoted to multiple aspects of visual works, including description, interpretation and criticism. Mostly with non-photographic art, but a few are devoted to photography.
    There are also more than a few blogs devoted to this at different levels and quality.
     
  46. Ovation can be seen online too...
     
  47. The best I have seen on photography on TV is "Genius of photography". Here is the second in the series of five.
     
  48. Anders, it's excellent!
    I just downloaded and installed "Veoh", to be able to watch the whole thing.
    Thank you for posting this.
     
  49. Now and then Ovation re-airs the entire series.
     
  50. Luis, is the series linked by Anders ("Genius of Photography", 5 one-hour parts) the same one you're referring to, on Ovation?
    (Veoh's index only lists 4 parts, but those listed are numbered #1, #2, #4, and #6. (?))
     
  51. I subsequently did a bit of googling, and found the answer to my question (I think).
    Ovation's website does list the same "Genius of Photography" series--in six parts--and it provides a 3- or 4-minute teaser for each part.
    However, there appears to be no way, through Ovation, to watch a full episode online. The website just allows you to get Ovation's future TV-scheduling info, if/when the series is scheduled for re-broadcast.
    So, for anyone who may want to watch this series (at least, 4 of its 6 parts) on your computer, Anders's link to Veoh will allow you to do so.
     
  52. Yes, it's the same series. How about these on You tube?They seem full length.
    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=genius+of+photography&aq=f
     
  53. FotoTV has also lots of photography videos / photographer interviews.
     
  54. Luis, I just checked out the YouTube index.
    "Ovation TV" is the listed uploader for almost all the "Genius of Photography" videos available on YouTube. When I called up the first four listings, they all turned out to be just the 3-minute teasers.
     
  55. Phylo, that's a very interesting website. Thank you.
     
  56. If we think of art in a performance context, including photography (Adams' "...print is the performance" comes to mind). What happens afterward? For many types of art, there is applause as feedback. Is it enough? Or the comments from the coterie of inner-circle friends? Awards? Print sales? Getting into pricier galleries? Does the art end at the point of contact with the recipient/viewer/listener etc and simply speed up entropy? We'd like to think that at the very least the experience is somehow integrated with or absorbed into the lives of those who witnessed the art, no?
    Criticism, description, analysis, etc. are more complex forms of feedback/intercourse. Leaving out a myriad other significant issues, there is a point in the process when the art begins to perform back to the artist (and between viewers) through the viewers/audience. I'm not saying this, or any part of it, is better-or-worse than anything, just another aspect of the art process.
    __________________
    Ernest, sorry about the You Tube teaser thing.
     
  57. "Does the art...simply speed up entropy?"
    Luis, you compressed a lot of potential meaning into this one sentence. Although I'm imagining possibilities for "speeding up" entropy, I'm not sure I grasp your intent.
    Could you elaborate?
    ----------------
    Luis, no problem (re. YouTube). Thanks for making the suggestion.
     
  58. Ernest - "Does the art...simply speed up entropy?"
    Luis, you compressed a lot of potential meaning into this one sentence. Although I'm imagining possibilities for "speeding up" entropy, I'm not sure I grasp your intent.
    Could you elaborate?"
    The part you snipped out was what distilled out a lot of other potential meanings. What I mean was is the energy simply dissipated into the background? Or as a moment's distraction for the witnesses? Or does it do more? And if so, how do we know?
     
  59. To finish the intermezzo on "Genius of Photography" the original BBC version was in fact in six parts and can now be found on DVD (2) (google it) for some 30 dollars. It has been or is still to be found in its full version on Ovation. It is also one of the most pirated video series, but that is another story. As you have seen some of the parts can regularly be seen on Youtube.
     
  60. Luis, I was just on google, refreshing my non-scientist's understanding of the ramifications of entropy (of which there are many).
    Assuming you're referring to the concept in the sense of "nature's tendency, in isolated systems, to take things from order to disorder" it seems to me that an act of (artistic) creation embodies the opposite of entropy (i.e., the bringing of disparate elements into a new order)--no matter what may happen, subsequently, to the created art itself.
    But as you say, your intended focus is on the effectiveness of the audience-artist feedback loop. That's what I don't quite understand. Is anything actually speeded up?
     
  61. Thank you, Anders.
     
  62. jtk

    jtk

    "...it seems to me that an act of (artistic) creation embodies the opposite of entropy (i.e., the bringing of disparate elements into a new order)--no matter what may happen, susequently, to the created art itself." - Ernest B.
    Bringing purported "disparate elements into a new order" is not similar to appreciating a photograph...it's more similar to interpretation, which is more similar to theft than to creation. "This is a picture of a duck" is interpretation, surprise or puzzlement etc are cut short, yet they're the locii of "art" ....if indeed art is being addressed.
    Intepreters and critics are inherently downstream from artists and IMO from people with developed aesthetic/intellect who have learned to appreciate passive perception (as in Zen, for example). Scholars and critics interpret...do photographers address them? If they do, isn't that an iffy practice? (thinking of Lee Friedlander here, perhaps Alex Soth).
    An earlier claim was that we're dealing complex ideas. I think some are and some aren't. When someone claims all perception is a matter of interpretation s/he is asserting that everything is everything, "it's all a matter of interpretation," and the artist's non-explanation is indicative of an unfinished creation (awaiting input from interpreters and "loops"). That is primative, not "complex."
     
  63. Luis, while reflecting on the questions you raised above in the context of entropy, one particular category of artistic creation/destruction came to mind. In its original setting (remote Himalayan monasteries) the art's "audience" consisted of its creators--plus, presumably, "the universe":
    (short, creation process only - 2 min, 10 sec.) > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6b7iro-qZ4
    (longer, destruction ceremony - 22 min, 26 sec.) > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k33zYkrfq1k&feature=fvw
    (creation and destruction, interesting content but low image quality - 8 min, 38 sec.) > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSLU9PiXgRk&NR=1
     
  64. Does the art end (?)​
    Not withstanding what "art" Luis is referring to, most art is rooted in the time it was made and losses, or changes, its value/function/relevance/meaning ... over time.
    Religious art of the 15th century as for example Lippi's Madonna of humility can be said "never to end" but it has surely outplayed its role of counteracting societal entropy in the Italian renaissance society - it functions maybe especially now together with so much other art of the renaissance, counteracting entropy of esthetics as well as entropy of history and our place in history. At least seeing the thousands that every day, year long, passes by such art in Italy and elsewhere, it must have some kind of function also in contemporary society.
    I'm aware that I do not even try to answer Luis's much more complex series of questions especially concerning
    "when art begins to perform back to the artist"
     
  65. jtk

    jtk

    Art doesn't "end" because "art" means nothing in that frame of reference. That frame of reference entails dumbing-down the work in order to make it easy for everyone. The belief that critics/scholars obtain the meaning of the work is a way of passing the buck to a "professional." The person who produced the work did it for her/his own reasons. S/he wasn't capable of doing the work better in words, so any explanation/analysis is the work of someone who misses the point. We all miss the point to a degree, but that's the fun of the work, that tension is where the significance resides. Interpretation attempts to kill the tension and claim responsibility for the work. A critic attempts to steal the work. Nothing wrong with a little theft, but I think that's what Sontag was addressing.
    Appreciation of artwork (or any human production) continues and changes over time and it does reflect the sensibilities of people who deal with it. That doesn't change the work, and the interpretations are not the work. We change, the work does not. The best remains a mystery, which is why we value things we don't fully understand and make postcards of things we (think we) do understand.
    People who are incapable of quiet perception will force interpretations on the work. If the work was intentionally religious (eg African objects, Sistine Ceiling) a contemporary Western person may force Born Again or athiest or craft/engineering or the ever-popular deconstructionist perspectives on it. Or that contemporary Western person may be sufficiently alert to turn the interpretation off and turn the perception up.
     
  66. "Interpretation attempts to kill the tension and claim responsibility for the work."
    John, yes, perhaps in Sontag's sense, and particularly in regard to the evaluations made by some critics.
    However, interpretation for the viewer of, say, a work in an an exhibition is also perception in the sense of the viewer sensing and trying to understand the mystery in the work. Interpretation is indeed a result of quiet perception. Otherwise the viewer would have no thoughts about what the work means to him (allowing of course that also that can happen).
     
  67. John, I appreciate how it is always possible to anticipate your input but I still believe that it would be more constructive if you would admit that
    Many approaches are possible and equally valid. To confront them might not be the best way of filling this forum. It might be more optimal for understanding each other to separate them because they are of very different order.​
    Sorry for quoting myself.
    John, let's take at a later point of time the discussion on "postcards" that you keep coming back to. There might be mysteries hidden there also, that you have not bothered confronting up till now. Maybe because you think you understand.
     
  68. "Many approaches are possible and equally valid." --Anders
    John's confrontational style is one of them.
    And, in the real world, many approaches are NOT equally valid or useful. Some photographs, some critics, and some approaches are downright lame.
    Confrontation shows respect. Pandering to each other shows a lack of it.
    "Interpretation attempts to kill the tension and claim responsibility for the work." --John
    " . . . perhaps in Sontag's sense, and particularly in regard to the evaluations made by some critics." --Arthur
    No, not just in Sontag's sense. Some interpretations given here in the last few weeks attempt to kill tension and impose significance where it is not. Not only that, but the proclivity to interpret (in advance of creating a work) can kill the photo before it even begins. Because often the idea is grander than the vision and the vision doesn't bear out the expected interpretation. The vision is often overwhelmed by such aiming toward meaning.
    Believe me, I've been pissed at John on many occasions, but luckily I realize how much of that was my own armor not wanting to be pierced. The minute I opened up to some of the things he was saying, I started to get something out of them. Making photographs and the entire process, including a level of honesty I've been seeking when I shoot, criticisms I've received, ideas (and even writing style) I've been called on, a big ego and simultaneous insecurities I've had to confront, has not been easy. These forums are not easy. The tougher the better. I say bring it on. Who here can't handle it?
     
  69. Geez Louise, Fred. Sounds like you're organizing a knife fight.
     
  70. "Academic quarrels are so vicious because the stakes are so low." -- attributed to Henry Kissinger
     
  71. John, we do differ in the way we either approach non-interpretive viewing of photos or at least in the way we describe it. I don't see myself as a passive viewer at all. For me, a lot of it is about acceptance. But even that, to me, is an act. It doesn't just happen for me. I don't receive another's photograph so much as I bring myself to it. I question, I wonder, I imagine, I get angry, whatever. But I don't think of it as passive. I engage photos.
     
  72. Confrontation shows respect.​
    Nonsense !
    To confront antagonistic approaches is in the nature of things. Systematically to create artificial confrontations is anything but showing respect to others or for that sake to the subject we are discussing.
    What is being confronted is two archetypes of modes of appreciating art.
    One based solely on a personal appreciation and projection when contemplating a work of art (I like it; it reminds me of a friend of mine or of a good meal etc).
    Another is an interpretive approach to works of art based on accumulated knowledge and (often contradictory) expert analysis. The reality is that neither of these approaches are substitutional.
    They are to different degrees both in play in all cases and for all people.
    Where we might have a problem agreeing, and where "confrontation" is certainly needed, is maybe when either of these approaches are presented as "better" than the other.
    My personal view on that "confrontation" is that anyone that exclusively cultivates the personal appreciation of works of art as the only valid and genuine approach is not only taking an easy ride, but risk, as we have often seen, to be buried up to the neck in narcism without having touched more than the very surface of a work of art.
    On the other hand anyone that believe they can "understand" art by merely parroting experts and repeating accumulated lexicon knowledge is nowhere nearer to the work of art than the former. The two modes of approaching art are complementary. Confrontation between the two is a waste of time - or pure nonsense.
     
  73. "Nonsense !" --Anders
    That's the spirit, Anders. Confrontation at its finest. I like it!
    I prefer that one of these modes of viewing art and photographs is seen as better than the other. That's where commitment comes in. I don't like things necessarily balanced. Some people like pretty pictures, all in harmony. Others don't. Some people like all approaches to photographs and/or art to be considered equal. Others don't. Count me among the ones who don't. I think one is better than the other and I am happy to say that. I value some photographs more than others, some pieces of music more than others, and some paintings more than others, though I can appreciate all of them. I photograph and view and discuss with passion. I do take sides.
    By the way, Anders, neither of your two "archetypes" comes close to describing the way John and I are talking about viewing photographs.
     
  74. Ernest - "Assuming you're referring to the concept in the sense of "nature's tendency, in isolated systems, to take things from order to disorder" it seems to me that an act of (artistic) creation embodies the opposite of entropy (i.e., the bringing of disparate elements into a new order)--no matter what may happen, subsequently, to the created art itself."
    It would seem that way, or that life does the same thing, but in reality, both speed up overall entropy. Whether in the materials and energies spent in production, or in the case of life, think of what we turn the food of our sustenance into. The rest of what I said is more important, IMO, than the entropy comment.
    ___________________________
    Anders - "Not withstanding what "art" Luis is referring to, most art is rooted in the time it was made and losses, or changes, its value/function/relevance/meaning ... over time."
    Anders, I do not disagree with you, but am talking about much shorter spans of time. When I am addressing art from the viewpoint of performance, I mean in real time. Whether a sculpture or a dance. After the art-is-viewed event, what happens? What do we take with us? How is that shared? As I wrote earlier, we might hope that something of the work becomes absorbed or integrated into the viewer's psyche. The viewer claps, (on PN, like two characters on the street ogling women, give a 0-5 number) or whispers "That's great", but criticism, description, and analysis, IMO, all play an important role in the transmission and diffusion of information that the artwork itself originates. They also play a role in the echoes of the artwork's energy going back to the artist.
    ________________________
    John Kelly "The belief that critics/scholars obtain the meaning of the work is a way of passing the buck to a "professional." The person who produced the work did it for her/his own reasons. S/he wasn't capable of doing the work better in words, so any explanation/analysis is the work of someone who misses the point. We all miss the point to a degree, but that's the fun of the work, that tension is where the significance resides."
    Two things: First, I do not see criticism in as negative a light as John does. La Sontag also did not see it entirely that way either. Here: " It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past." I also agree with the darker aspects of criticism, that it can kill art en utero, stunt growth, retard development, dampen l innovation and change. But in my view, it is neither intrinsically positive or negative. And I can imagine descriptions that could also have similar effects.
    Second: There is no "the meaning" of the work. The work potentially has as many meanings as it has viewers, no matter what the artist intended. It always did, but during Modernism, art was more like a puzzle, in that it tended to have one "solution" that was more correct than others. Post-Modernism, which Sontag was ushering in with her essay, accepted the idea of a multiplicity of meanings. Since the days of Walter Benjamin, and earlier, there were railings against many of Modernism's tenets, and photography was central to one of them: The uniqueness and preciousness of the art object.
    _______________________
    Fred - "The tougher the better. I say bring it on. Who here can't handle it?"
    (like a cheer) M-a-c-h-o, that is where we want to go.
    FG- "These forums are not easy"
    Ewwww...I'm feeling that! Don't you love it when Fred talks boot-camp dirty? This is so Marlborough Man (where'd I put my lilac Alcantara chaps?)/Sgt. Gunny/Kong/Dirty Dozen/Top Gun - ish! Can we cross swords now? At least slam bellies? These forums tough? (should that be a "booyah" or "huzza" here?). John Kelly makes them tough? I'm feeling massaged and whipped by a thousand pom-poms. Aren't you?
    Fred, I think one of just trespassed into a parallel universe.
    The real question is not who can't, because they're already lurking, but who wants to participate? :)
     
  75. Ernest B. wrote: "Assuming you're referring to the concept in the sense of "nature's tendency, in isolated systems, to take things from order to disorder" it seems to me that an act of (artistic) creation embodies the opposite of entropy (i.e., the bringing of disparate elements into a new order)--no matter what may happen, subsequently, to the created art itself."
    Luis wrote: "It would seem that way, or that life does the same thing, but in reality, both speed up overall entropy. Whether in the materials and energies spent in production, or in the case of life, think of what we turn the food of our sustenance into. The rest of what I said is more important, IMO, than the entropy comment."
    --------------------------
    * "It would seem that way, or that life does the same thing, but in reality, both speed up overall entropy."
    Luis, I still don't understand how, or why you perceive this to be the case.
    --------------------------
    * "Whether in the materials and energies spent in production, or in the case of life, think of what we turn the food of our sustenance into."
    We turn "the food of our sustenance" into either energy or new forms of biochemical matter, in order to sustain and transmit our genes to the next generation (and to create art). The detritus of these processes, in both the biochemical and the artistic senses, is excreted back into the environment--where fungi, bacteria, oxidation, Photo.net fora, etc., are constantly at work breaking it down further, preparing its constituent elements for reconstitution into new forms of life (or art), in a new "anti-entropic" process within new or different "isolated systems".
    And all the various "isolated systems" in which entropy (2d law of thermodynamics) is at work, are combined within a general system governed by the principle of conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics)--the principle that energy can be changed from one form to another (from "matter" into "energy" in layman's terms, or vice versa) but cannot be created or destroyed: i.e., the total remains unchanged.
    But again, that's just my non-scientist's understanding of the concept. You may have a much deeper insight.
    --------------------------
    * "The rest of what I said is more important, IMO, than the entropy comment."
    Okay, Luis. But I understood the rest of what you said.
    I didn't (still don't) understand the "speeding up" entropy comment
     
  76. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, I accept some of your secondary points about Sontag, and your history lesson is OK but I don't think it relates well to discussion of "interpretation". Maybe I'm missing something.
    I'm suggesting we consider what she wrote without reference to history and especially to ignore the old sexist stuff (most of the reason she was attacked sprang from the jealousy of mere critics and had to do with her beauty and sexuality).
    Ideas don't just die. Did hers? (probably yes, in Wasilla) What essay is of comparable impact to "Against Interpretation" and what photo essays to either of hers? What accomplished writer has had as much intellectual currency among photographers? (granted, photographers may not always be serious readers)
    I think that if we suspect ideas from the past have some utility today we might want to remember hers on interpretation...and we might at least initially discount or ignore other people's interpretations because they are typically the least likely folks to see what others see. We might even want to put our own interpretations on hold...Emperor's new clothes, etc.
    Fred, I think your "commit/engage" non-passivity is akin to my half-baked faux-zen idea of "passive." Applying my idea to viewing photos suggests beginning with a disciplined alertness, before jumping to conclusions. I know from experience that interpretations can create mis-apprehensions if I've not had a chance to digest my own initial and non-verbal perceptions first. Perhaps a parallel: koans have obvious answers but aren't typically the first thing that comes to mind: the first thing might be interpretation if the photographer insisted on providing it.
    In Japanese traditional archery one develops form before even considering release of the arrow. In American traditional archery one attends to the smallest possible "spot" at the instant of release, confident that anything other than that surrenders to luck. If we tell ourselves to hit the spot we miss. If we have good form and attend clearly we do better.
    Anders, your middle path approach makes all sorts of sense to me.
     
  77. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, I accept some of your secondary points about Sontag, and your history lesson is OK but I don't think it relates well to discussion of "interpretation". Maybe I'm missing something.
    I'm suggesting we consider what she wrote without reference to history and especially to ignore the old sexist stuff (most of the reason she was attacked sprang from the jealousy of mere critics and had to do with her beauty and sexuality).
    Ideas don't just die. Did hers? (probably yes, in Wasilla) What essay is of comparable impact to "Against Interpretation" and what photo essays to either of hers? What accomplished writer has had as much intellectual currency among photographers? (granted, photographers may not always be serious readers)
    I think that if we suspect ideas from the past have some utility today we might want to remember hers on interpretation...and we might at least initially discount or ignore other people's interpretations because they are typically the least likely folks to see what others see. We might even want to put our own interpretations on hold...Emperor's new clothes, etc.
    Fred, I think your "commit/engage" non-passivity is akin to my half-baked faux-zen idea of "passive." Applying my idea to viewing photos suggests beginning with a disciplined alertness, before jumping to conclusions. I know from experience that interpretations can create mis-apprehensions if I've not had a chance to digest my own initial and non-verbal perceptions first. Perhaps a parallel: koans have obvious answers but aren't typically the first thing that comes to mind: the first thing might be interpretation if the photographer insisted on providing it.
    In Japanese traditional archery one develops form before even considering release of the arrow. In American traditional archery one attends to the smallest possible "spot" at the instant of release, confident that anything other than that surrenders to luck. If we tell ourselves to hit the spot we miss. If we have good form and attend clearly we do better.
    Anders, your middle path approach makes all sorts of sense to me.
     
  78. Ernest - "And all the various "isolated systems" in which entropy (2d law of thermodynamics) is at work, are combined within a general system governed by the principle of conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics)--the principle that energy can be changed from one form to another (from "matter" into "energy" in layman's terms, or vice versa) but cannot be created or destroyed: i.e., the total remains unchanged."
    Yes Ernest, the quantity of energy/matter remains the same, a constant. But not the orderliness. Any process increases the entropy of the universe. The second Law of Thermodynamics is about the quality of that energy, which is always shifting and not a constant (as far as we know, of course). Entropy is about the lesser-known arrow of heat transfer. How the quality of energy goes from usable (concentrated) toward unusable (diffused) at a given temperature.
    Any process, including making, hanging, viewing, critiquing and describing art, or those that locally increase order, ultimately increase entropy in its universe.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-nature-breaks-the-second-law
     
  79. John - "I'm suggesting we consider what she wrote without reference to history..."
    I am explicitly considering what she wrote and repeatedly returned to her text, quoted the distinctions she makes between the two poles at the end of the operational definitions of "interpretation". I think those are extremely important, though not everything, of course. In other words, interpretation can be useful, and like all systems, when it fails to justify itself, it needs to be overthrown, or turned over into fertilizer for new, more inspiring and useful ideas. Ideas don't die, but the context in which they exist are used and understood/etc. is always shifting. The gestalt of SS's essay is fascinating. Once we start to either drown the thing in formaldehyde or cut it up, the corpus is disintegrated by our approach. I'm not arguing for balance of any kind when it comes to interpretation. I think it varies widely, and we elect or alight on our place in that continuum. In our time, critics and criticism of the kind SS was attacking are almost extinct. In other words, "interpretation" is currently significant in a personal sense far more than in a cultural one. If it's useful to you, do/use it. If not, don't.
    Sometimes I find it very useful, others I bypass it without a second thought. For me, it is crucial that interpretation be, like science, an open-ended system. If you can't hold opposing thoughts in your head without having to champion one, or keep possibilities viable, interpretation can be a deadening, crystallizing thing. If you understand that it is open-ended, and subject to revision as evidence comes in, then it can be a useful living thing, an elegant system of propulsion.
    JK - "I know from experience that interpretations can create mis-apprehensions if I've not had a chance to digest my own initial and non-verbal perceptions first."
    Here we agree. Unless a project or idea has a strong derivative aspect, I tend to start out in a new direction "cold". Well, more like warm, by that I mean responding to intuition, feelings, emotions, or simple vectors without doing a lot of research, in a very open-ended (if not scattered) manner. I want to preserve my native fresh impulses intact. If research is to follow, it does so after an initial excursion into the work. That way I have some insight and guiding evidence into my initial notions as opposed to any exterior ideas, images concepts, etc that may (or likely will) enter later. This is more of an issue nowadays than it has ever been creatives.
    [A wee connected rant follows]
    It is true that one can remain like a shuttered solitary saint these days, but it's damned near impossible. The effects of having unimaginable resources at our disposal in ways scholars and artists dreamt of, but never have before, are bringing forth a wave of hyper-hybridism in many disciplines. The weight of history is not gone, but the ratio of what came before to what is happening now is shifting as never before. We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg in the arts. And it is complicated. History as resource is much more of an influence than it ever has been, and it is being transformed into unrecognizable forms, collaged and visually hypertexted in the arts (as it is in everything else). We are seeing unbelievably multifaceted works, synthesizing a large number of periods, styles, etc. coming through. A lot of these are juvenilia at present, but some are well beyond that already. Genius will still out, and certain kinds of personalities are going to fluorish in this shift, and they will be more gatherer than hunter, neither total geeks nor old-school photographers, but hybrids.
    [End rant]
     
  80. Luis, thanks--interesting article.
    However: having accepted its premises, if one considers the implications of "entropy" as defined in this manner (i.e., if one considers them through the lens of "philosophy" per this forum, as they would apply to your earlier comment), one must draw a number of conclusions:
    (1) Earlier states of our universe having been less "entropic" than its present state (just as its present is less entropic than its future), the least-entropic state of our universe would have been that which prevailed just prior to the big bang;
    (2) Everything that has occurred since the big bang has been a continuous unfolding of entropy;
    (3) The expansion and scattering of matter and energy, creating conditions conducive to the eventual appearance of life, were manifestations of entropy;
    (4) The appearance of life in the universe, and the evolution of homo sapiens on earth, were manifestations of entropy;
    (5) Birth, the development of human abilities, the refinement of human society, and the development of human "art" are manifestations of entropy -- every bit as much so as death, the loss of individual human abilities, the degradation of human society, and the corruption of human "art";
    (7) Everything that occurs anywhere in the universe is ipso facto a manifestation of entropy (An "occurence" being a function of "passing time" and "changing condition"--and "entropy" being inherent in any passage of time and any change of condition);
    (8) Every action we take, no matter what, is therefore a manifestation of entropy;
    (9) To characterize any human action as "entropic" is a tautology;
    (10) Doing more (of anything) will "speed up" entropy;
    (11) Substituting one activity for another (e.g., acting"creatively" or "destructively", pursuing "evil" or "good" objectives) can have no effect on the pace of entropy, if the one action will induce an equal amount of change away from the status quo (whether for good or ill) as the other;
    (12) The only way to "slow down" entropy would be to do less of everything, thus slowing the rate of change away from the status quo.
     
  81. Luis, after all the parsing-out in the above post, I ended it without expressing, clearly, my concluding question:
    You wrote: "Does the art end at the point of contact with the recipient/viewer/listener etc and simply speed up entropy?"
    It would seem that the art's ending "at the point of contact with the recipient/viewer/listener etc", as you wrote, would instead slow down entropy--i.e., the art would cease to cause change in the universe.
    Would not the alternate possibility, the one that you seem to prefer--i.e., that the art does not end at that point, that it continues to exert influence in the lives of the recipient/viewer/listener etc., thus the art continues to cause change in the universe--be "speeding up entropy" to a greater degree than if it had ended?
     
  82. Ernest ...
    (1) Earlier states of our universe having been less "entropic" than its present state (just as its present is less entropic than its future), the least-entropic state of our universe would have been that which prevailed just prior to the big bang;
    According to the currently accepted theoretical model, yes. But...there may have been much higher states of entropy before that, as per the branes-touching version of the Big Bang theory. In other words, the Big Bang (BB) may not have been the Genesis event, and conditions prior to that may have been very high in entropy. We don't know. If there is another BB, the future may be far less entropic than the present....but where? A new BB may just shove everything else out of its way, so far away as to be undetectable, or create a new universe.
    At one time it was thought that as entropy caused the universe to wind down, that gravity would become a more proportionally significant force, and pull back everything into another Big Bang. Very neat, much like the dream of Brahma and the Lotus, but the evidence doesn't back it up.
    [How do we boomerang this back to interpretation? ]
    (2) Everything that has occurred since the big bang has been a continuous unfolding of entropy
    I would use the word increase, but yep. And to throw another wrench in the works, we now believe that information cannot be destroyed (though creation is still thought possible). Where and how is this ever-expanding stack of bits being kept? Lots of physicists have worked very hard to deal with this issue and specially what happens around black holes. Information is assume to be preserved in the accretion disk, like a giant DVD, but how to play it? As Blavatsky and many others before her have intuited, it turns out there is an Akashic record, but how can it be accessed?
    <snipped Ernestinian argument development>
    (7) Everything that occurs anywhere in the universe is a manifestation of entropy (An "occurence" being, ipso facto, a function of "passing time" and "changing condition"--and entropy being, by definition, continuous with the passage of time and change of condition).
    There are theoretical variants regarding the connection between the arrow of time and entropy. They may be parallel, but not causally linked to each other. Entropy is not thought of as a dimension.
    <snip>
    (9) To characterize any human action as "entropic" is a tautology.
    If we take your position that everything is a manifestation of entropy, then that is true, as any statement about anything in the universe would be, including this post, you and me and everyone and everything we know and don't know.
    (11) Substituting one activity for another (e.g., acting"creatively" or "destructively"; "pursuing evil" or "pursuing good") can have no effect on the pace of entropy, if the one action will induce an equal amount of change away from the status quo (whether for good or ill) as the other."
    Assuming the processes are equally transforming the same amount of energy from the usable to the unusable, yes. Entropy favors no morals.
    (12) The only way to "slow down" entropy would be to do less of everything, thus slowing the rate of change away from the status quo.
    To decrease the transfer of heat, yes.
     
  83. [How do we boomerang this back to interpretation? ]
    Luis, I'm interpreting your comment about interpretation...or doing my best, anyway. :)
    Please don't overlook my concluding question at 10:46 p.m.
     
  84. Witness John's little rant against creative thinking before the photo is made:
    "Because often the idea is grander than the vision and the vision doesn't bear out the expected interpretation. The vision is often overwhelmed by such aiming toward meaning."
    First,John, it may help a little if you change the last word to "creation", rather than "meaning". Meaning may, or may not, be derived from the result. At the point you are talking about (the photographer creating an image) it hasn't yet been hatched.
    The statement is as ridiculous as telling a novelist, essayist or poet to not pre-consider anything at all, just let the pen flow because any idea you have is useless and the simple act of writing (like the simple act of photographing) with no thought is golden. The pen or the dancing keyboard will perceive all. And there, through some as yet undescribed magic, you will create something wonderful.
    Nonsense. Need it be said twice?
    And why should the interpretation be "expected". Art is an adventure, an exploration, an act that is performed with creative input but which makes no demands on the viewer for expected interpretations. The artist or excellent photographer does it because it seems to him "right". He may bring much thought to the creation table but he does not make any claims for how the result of his act wil be interpreted. That will be the viewers. He may "interpret" his subject matter and even his subject, but that is simply part of his creative process and has little to do with how the result will be interpreted by others.
    On a secondary point, I am very much amused at how a scientific parameter like entropy, first established by the fine American thermodynamicist, Willard Gibbs, in creating the three laws of thermodynamics in the early 1900s, creeps into discussion and is misunderstood by our emminent resident art philosophers. It is being interpreted à la Sontag? Is such overreaching of one's capacities a new POP tradition? Lots of positive "Free Energy" being displayed, although increase of the "Enthalpy" (read "heat") is a predictable consequence.
     
  85. Ernest - "Would not the alternate possibility, the one that you seem to prefer--i.e., that the art does not end at that point, that it continues to exert influence in the lives of the recipient/viewer/listener etc., thus the art continues to cause change in the universe--be "speeding up entropy" to a greater degree than if it had ended? "
    Sorry I had overlooked this. I don't prefer that possibility. If there isn't anything going beyond the immediate experience, then that ends there (no further discussion). If it does not end, then yes, the process and speeding up of entropy go on.
     
  86. Hey c'mon, Arthur, this (our "entropic discussion") is fun, and I'm learning something...I think.
    I appreciate Luis's patience.
     
  87. Thank you, Luis.
     
  88. Arthur - "is misunderstood by our emminent resident art philosophers. It is being interpreted à la Sontag? Is such overreaching of one's capacities a new POP tradition?"
    Arthur, don't belittle us, enlighten us instead.
     
  89. Luis, OK, you've got me in a corner. Entropy is the "state of the (personal) nation" experienced the morning you get up, wander into the bathroom, discover another dozen fallen hairs in the sink, forget where you parked your eyeglasses, perceive one or two additional little protrusions on your otherwise Hollywoodian face, empty the coffee into the cup and add salt instead of sugar, discover another arthritic joint, open up the computer to check your mail but instead check the latest reponse in the P of P forum. That's a definite positive change in entropy.
    As for photographs and art possessing increased entropy as time goes by, I am only aware of that occurring in Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Grey".
    However, I do come to P of P on all fours to seek near-infinite knowledge, and like Anders, I admire your patience with heathens as myself and await further enlightenment on entropy and creativity, the latter which I also consider a highly disordered process, and even in the absence of John's theories and statements.
     
  90. Arthur - had you actually read the original, all I meant (though Ernest read a lot more into it) was that if an artwork ends with the viewing or listening, it's nothing but a heat transfer.
    Heathens? All fours? Hah. Do I detect a wee bit of contempt? BTW, it wasn't Anders, but Ernest that thanked me. You're still indulging in insults and sarcasm.
     
  91. Luis wrote on
    Anders, I do not disagree with you, but am talking about much shorter spans of time.​
    Luis I agree but changes over time tend to go to the extreme if you take an example way back. I could have taken Abstract expressionism or Pop art or installations of the 80s, but the changes in question become maybe more subtile and difficult to detect. Long term changes are clearer to highlight. Of course we have all understood that we are discussing changes to appreciation / interpretations not to the physical artifact of art, although the chapel Sistine, for example, can be interpreted as both.
    And to close, for me at least, the exchange on "confrontations"
    Don't you love it when Fred talks boot-camp dirty?​
    No I don't! For me it is approaching vulgarity and of no interest or help in these discussions.
    Fred wrote
    By the way, Anders, neither of your two "archetypes" comes close to describing the way John and I are talking about viewing photographs.​
    Fred, with my infamous modesty, that is exactly where the quality of my description comes to the fore, although surely it can be improved. I mostly don't like the way you and John discuss either of the two mentioned approaches - or rather one of them, because I see little trace of the other (you choose!). The way you discuss photography tells me little about photography but maybe more about Fred and John.

    and further
    Some people like pretty pictures, all in harmony. Others don't. Some people like all approaches to photographs and/or art to be considered equal. Others don't. Count me among the ones who don't.​
    While counting, Fred, count me too. You could add that some are able to make pretty pictures all i harmony, others aren't. I'm not, and don't try. It seems to me that neither are or do you. Ratings on Pn is a good measure for Oh!- so - nice - prettiness.

    and...further, and I promise to stop
    I value some photographs more than others, some pieces of music more than others, and some paintings more than others, though I can appreciate all of them.​
    Come on Fred, the subject of the thread, unless it has changed, is approaches to appreciating / Interpreting art and music not whether you "value" the photo/painting or not.
    By the way concerning entropy I found it obvious that reference was made to "social entropy" as used by sociologists, and nothing else.
    Back to the good things that despite repeated intermezzos are going on in this thread. Ernest and Luis are at something of interest.
     
  92. You see a photograph. Does it make sense to try to make something of it or to understand the image before you?
    NO. Stop. You have decided to limit yourself to a sensory experience not unlike something that would happen naturally if you were unable to pay attention to it at all. Interpretation is not an issue.
    YES. Stop. You are willing to devote a little of your time and attention to the piece. One cannot predict what you would say about it if you had the opportunity to talk about it. I am willing to assert my faith in opposition to JK that this time is not wasted, and that you will in no way take possession of the piece or claim it as your own creation. JK, how do you expect to learn from the work and experience of other photographers if you are not willing to think about the things that have done? Isn't this a little like trying to learn Spanish without ever talking to others who already know the language?
    From here you may find yourself returning to the chaos everyone experiences in everyday living. You may find that you change your mind about the piece and your experience as time goes by.
     
  93. Albert, we seem to have a some here that insist on cutting approaches of relating to the real world of images and sounds (here "art") dichotomously one fitting to the right side of the brain and another to the left side. As we all would know, we actually carry both with us. We can enhance one or the other side but both sides are interconnected. To insist on confrontations between them we end up in the "split brain" experiments of the Nobelist, Roger Sperry.
    The main theme to emerge... is that there appear to be two modes of thinking, verbal and nonverbal, represented rather separately in left and right hemispheres respectively and that our education system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect. What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere.
    To replace one approach for another would be to deny socialization and learning - or emotions. Mostly emotion losses out in modern society, but to fight that by violently arguing against the verbal, cerebral (sic!) approach would be extremist. Both are needed also when we approach art. None of them should be neglected. Sperry suggested that sometimes the two sides of our brain can disagree - resulting in something we could call personality entropy.
     
  94. Luis,
    My last post had nothing to do with insulting anyone, but you asked me to enlighten you on entropy which I thought best done by a little light humour aimed at the non-scientific borrowing of a scientific term. Exaggeration is a form of humour, but I am sorry you took it to be personal, which it certainly wasn't I can assure you.
    I have erred in misinterpreting some arguments of others, mainly because I have too little time to read everything in detail (as a group we are not always very concise in our comments), but I guess that is no worse than experiencing the same misinterpretation of my own comments.
    We are asked to lighten up, but when we do so, it is taken the wrong way. What do you really want?
     
  95. Arthur, I apologize for misinterpreting (there's that word) your response. As Fred pointed out yesterday with unusual zeal, and Lannie, Tim and Dick mentioned in another thread there's a lot going on in this forum.
    What do I want? Obviously, some of what's here, because I keep coming back. OTOH, it's an approach-avoidance paradigm for me, because there are days when it all feels pointless, toxic, averse to all things creative, repulsive, tense in a draining, unproductive way, and negative, and on those days when I'm wondering why I ever set foot here, I spend my PN time giving advice on lenses for vacationers, etc.
    What do I want more of? Vapid as it might have seemed to many, I immensely enjoyed the quality and nature of the exchange with Ernest yesterday evening. Friendly, mutually inquisitive, respectful, not dismissive, eye-to-eye, communication and understanding -centered, playful, open-minded, synergistic, and a rare pleasure, for which I am grateful to Ernest.
    I know it can't and shouldn't always be that way. Everyone has their own style. Citing history again, creative types in the arts (and elsewhere) are legendary for hissy fits, spats, vendettas, fights, verbal and physical, and other unsacory behaviors, and I accept that, and don't always shy away from a good bout of some of the above. Vulgarity also happens. Some of these behaviors can be chalked off to neoteny and/or (ahem) bad manners.
    Since John apologized, which after all this time was an unexpected and welcome surprise, I've been trying to re-enter the orbit of discourse with him, something I haven't done for some time. It's funny, because although I disagree with most of the constellation of John's concerns, we connect deeply on a few, even if from different angles. Particularly some of the aspects of what he refers to as the "verbal", and I would choose to address as the "internal dialogue". I am trying to carefully and respectfully break through ingrained bad habits and hostile biases regarding John in the spirit of acceptance and renewal.
    One last thing: Arthur, those hairs in the sink gave up potential to kinetic energy as they fell, didn't they? :)
     
  96. Luis said: "Some of these behaviors can be chalked off to neoteny and/or (ahem) bad manners."
    Or entropy? [The current favored definition of entropy is "a measure of the information we lack about the microscopic details of a system." >> updated from "the measure of the unavailability of energy to do useful work" ... with which lack of good-work-doing I am very familiar ... right now, for example ...]
     
  97. Luis,
    Thanks for your forthrightness and your very perceptive analysis of the ups and downs of communication on the P of P forum, which no doubt many of us feel as well. It does get very hectic and it is very easy to get lost (which I am often victim to) and to also feel frustrated when we believe that our own viewpoints are not received as we might wish, or when we react to something (which I am often want to do) rather too quickly, which sometimes manifests itself in less than sympathetic responses. I have often more need to apologize than most. It is humbling to recognize those instances and at the same time to also reflect on the fact that this forum has provided me and probably others with a great deal of insight on art and photography, as seen through the eyes of many who are in a more knowledgeable situation than myself.
    It is great when the level of exchange reaches that of the recent discussions between yourself and Ernest. I admit I lost the current thread(s) of the OP a while back, but look forward to re-reading your exchange and those other discussions of our peers in this interesting OP of John.
    The challenge of dealing with ideas that are often difficult to come to terms with can lead to intense debate, confrontation and confusion. Phenomenon like that, and of hairs falling, can provide kinetic energy, but at least the discussion is dynamic and not just in a state of an unvarying value of potential energy. When it is time for a break, it is a soothing experience, as you mention, to take a diversion from PofP into a technical PNet forum, where we can help another photographer with a practical question, or get a solution to one of our own. But discussing ideas is not very far from the spirit of man.
     
  98. Luis, I enjoyed our conversation yesterday every bit as much as you did. Thank you.
     
  99. Luis and Ernest you are not the only that appreciated your discussion yesterday. Sometimes discussion are indeed of high quality.
    If the time is for introspection, surely I'm among those that get intermingled in not so nice exchanges. I understand that some of you loves such aggressiveness and confrontations and sees it as a way of getting people out of the box. I don't agree. I believe it must be possible to engage in civilized ways of writing even about subject matters that are near our guts or hearts. Photography is problably for all of us such a subject matters.
    If I sometimes, or even often, come with approaches and viewpoints that are way over the top for some, it is because I feel the present discussions are extremely limited in scope and very exclusive. It is for all to see that most threads in this forum is filled up by a handful of very active writers - sometimes down to three or four. I see this as a weakness and not a strenght and a great pity not to say that it is a misuse of this great forum. One of the reasons why so few participate is, as far as I see it, a very selective approach to treating any subject matter and an immediate aggressive rejection from some few of any deviant behaviour.
    I have several times argued against what I see as a very introspective, intimate, and even narcissistic approach that is presented as the one and only way of discussing photography - or at least the most valid one. The discussion we have tried to have above is an example. My fault is of course that I have failed to present alternatives in a convincing way for those concerned and too often given up trying to explain myself.
    Can I just add another aspect that should never be an excuse but just a fact. We are some that use the English language as our second or third language of communication. For me it is my second foreign language, French being my first and Danish my mother tongue. Words have different connotations for foreign speakers and I'm sure even among English/American speakers. This fact has to be taken into account when we communicate, but sometimes forgotten in the heat of exchanges. It puts a heavy responsibility on not just the writers but also the readers.
     
  100. Anders, your ability to communicate nuances of your intended meaning in English would put you near the top of any ranking against a randomly assembled group of native speakers, at least here in the USA.
    You depart occasionally from "standard English" (whatever that may be), but only in minor aspects of idiomatic usage: details of phrasing, grammatical niceties, word choice between synonyms, etc. I can't remember reading a Photo.net post by you--ever--in which your intended meaning was unclear.
    Most of us can only wish that we were as fluent, in a second or third language, as you are in this one.
     
  101. Thanks Ernest. And yet, foreign speakers do surely not feel words as native speakers. Words are somewhat "cheaper" for foreigners. The result being, that foreigners like me, do sometimes not fully master the violence (or weakness) of terms and formulations. Foreign speakers might find themselves launching wars of words that they themselves were unprepared for or find themselves in so-called "agreements" that they were unaware of. They might find enemies they have never chosen or friends they did not invite. Communication is a difficult art in any language. In a foreign language it is a constant struggle - that by the way never ends whatever fluency to achieve..
     
  102. Yes, Anders, all true.
    But that is just the unavoidable price that must be paid, in order to gain the freedom (and pleasure) of exploring the world in languages other than the one we were "born into".
     
  103. "you achieve" not "to" achieve....
     
  104. Achievement is seldom perfect...
     
  105. I fully understand Ander's point above. Although it's not my maternal language. I live in French and use it in all but my occasional and mainly long distance work via Internet (albeit for a Swiss-French speaking company, operating In Ontario primarily in English). After thirty years living in a second language, I cannot say by any means that I understand all the nuances or subtelties of that beautiful language. Thus Ander's point is well taken.
     
  106. Arthur, I agree with you that Anders' point is well taken. I too have learned other languages, and depended on imperfect verbal skills while living for extended periods in other lands.
    But we can compensate for gaps in verbal "technique" by employing other forms of communication--including, in many if not most cases, simple goodwill (even in online forums).
    The inevitable mistakes we make in speaking and writing in a different language can even be instructive: they may serve as a "tip sheet" for navigating the vagaries of life's highway, with later, broader application. For example, a verbally-clumsy foreigner quickly learns that possibilities for misunderstanding are ever-present whenever language is used, whether due to ineffective word choices by a speaker (writer), or to misinterpretation of intended meanings by a listener (reader).
    Therefore, in order to avoid "launching wars of words that they themselves were unprepared for", and to ensure they do not "find enemies they have never chosen or friends they did not invite", many foreigners become highly sensitive to the potential effects of their own words (as Anders has), taking pains to avoid needless provocation and, instead, framing their questions and expressing their views in ways that will generally be welcomed...and they may continue to do this, even as their "technique" in the new language improves, even when they revert to their native language.
    Anders knows all of this, of course; in this forum he usually sets an example of polite discourse.
    In short, I'm not discounting the difficulties Anders referred to. But to me they seem a small price to pay.
    I wouldn't trade my own experiences as a foreigner in other cultures, learning and using new languages--and being able to see the world in new ways, with new friends--for anything.
     
  107. In particular, Ernest, your last sentence resonates with me. It underlines one of the greatest pleasures and learning experiences we can assimilate.
     
  108. I have been working in international organizations all my professional life so I have been buried in multilingualism since years. What is interesting when many people work together in a foreign language is that it gives openings to new ways of thinking. It is profoundly creative and thoughts provoking all the time. Anglosaxons do think and work differently from Latins, Asians, Indiens or Russians . Work across these linguistic and cultural borders on concrete problems and solutions is highly gratifying for all. I'm convinced that also artistic creation (photography) is profoundly marked by these cultural differences. Maybe even "interpretation" is marked by it as I tend to believe. Not maybe; surely, but a challenge to detect.
    I'm not sure though that "politeness" is part of the game. Politeness comes in if one profoundly respects the point of view of others and your obligation to understand them. In foreign language communication you are tempted to interpret strong disagreements as your own lack of understanding of the point of view of others. With that comes of course also your obligation to engage and convince. Be convinced that when it comes to my photos, it is another story where nothing is like it appears.
     
  109. What's the difference, if there is one, between responding to music and to a photograph (other than foot-tapping)? @ No difference.
    For me, they are the same. I respond or I don't. As in DH Lawrence, "The tragedy of love is indifference." If I respond, then I may seek out interpretations, or intentions.
    For example, movie DVDs with commentaries. In the last two years, I've been re-viewing old movies. If I liked the movie originally, I look for DVDs with commentaries or analysis. Try the Criterion edition of Seven Samurai with the two sets of commentaries. I find it interesting. My original favorable response triggered my interest in interpretation, or analysis. But only movies which inspired a response originally.
    Same with music CDs, or in the recordings on vinyl. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, or The Beatles' Revolver and Blind Faith's Blind Faith. They inspired a response, and they still do. I can't articulate it; I just like them.
    As for photos, I rarely seek interpretation, but I do respond. The Time August 9, 2010 cover is a case in point.
    http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20100809,00.html
    I was at the checkout in my local CVS where I get 8x12's printed. I didn't purchase the magazine or seek out the story.
     

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