The limitations of "feeling" in viewing photographs

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by cyanatic, Sep 1, 2014.

  1. Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.” - Walker Evans​
    Recently, I've been reading and viewing a book on Walker Evans put out as a catalogue in 2000 by New York's MOMA in conjunction with a showing of Evans' work.
    The text of the book is broken up into different sections, by different critics, each one talking about a particular phase of Evans' work. Unfortunately, I cannot find the specific section that inspired me to write this post. Essentially, it dealt with a particular photograph by Evans and discussed, in detail, the specific elements of the image that caused the writer to praise it so highly. I studied the photograph, and although I could see what the writer was talking about, I failed to find many of the elements on my own, and even upon finding them questioned the validity of them.
    Very often – too often, I fear – I look at another photographer's work and allow the feeling it gives me to guide me in my appreciation of it. I am capable of discerning certain basic technical elements (composition, color, tonality, etc.) but I am often at a loss to “see” what critics praise so highly in certain images.
    For me, this applies especially to some contemporary work, and to many abstract works from the past. (A few brief examples and not limited to these – Minor White, Man Ray, or some of the selections made for the annual photography show in Paris.)
    My impression of much of certain contemporary work which seems highly regarded is that it seems to be possessed of either an extreme post-postmodern ironic banality, or it is a highly produced, fantastical neo-pictorialist construct. I am not railing, as some are fond of, against the so-called “Art World”. I am seeking greater understanding.
    Another example (and here I can present an actual link) might be the work of Tina Barnes (I came across an article about her in a recent issue of Vogue). Her 1982 photograph, “Sunday New York Times” hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When I showed it to a friend (one who is far from being an aesthetic neanderthal lacking in sensitivity to significant/artistic photography) to ask her opinion, she dubbed it “awful”. Perhaps the director who selected the photo moves in the same wealthy, East Coast WASP world as Barnes and it struck a chord that only those from that world might understand. I don't know, but here is a link for those who might be interested:
    http://mobiletest.moma.org/collection_images/resized/019/w1024h1024/CRI_117019.jpg?moma_url_type=img&moma_title=Sunday%20New%20York%20Times
    Regardless of the work of Barnes, or Minor White, or some contemporary wunderkind currently making the rounds of the “Art World”, I still feel that whatever critical faculties I possess need to go beyond mere “feeling”, or a simplistic technical understanding. I have no problem relying more heavily on feeling in regard to creating my own photographs, but I think I need to temper my review of the work of others with something more. If that makes sense...
    I often feel that many of you who post regularly on the POP discussion board are more experienced and well-read in certain areas than I am. So, to Arthur, or Julie, or Anders, or Fred, or the many other posters here – What do you see when you view a photographic work? What do you draw upon in viewing? Is there a prevailing (or more than one) aesthetic outlook that is currently in vogue in the Art World?
    I realize I have left this very broad and open-ended, but I'm very much interested in what anyone has to say on whatever aspect of this post strikes them.​
     
  2. Steve Gubin wrote, "
    Very often – too often, I fear – I look at another photographer's work and allow the feeling it gives me to guide me in my appreciation of it. I am capable of discerning certain basic technical elements (composition, color, tonality, etc.) but I am often at a loss to “see” what critics praise so highly in certain images.
    For me, this applies especially to some contemporary work, and to many abstract works from the past. (A few brief examples and not limited to these – Minor White, Man Ray, or some of the selections made for the annual photography show in Paris.)
    My impression of much of certain contemporary work which seems highly regarded is that it seems to be possessed of either an extreme post-postmodern ironic banality, or it is a highly produced, fantastical neo-pictorialist construct. I am not railing, as some are fond of, against the so-called “Art World”. I am seeking greater understanding."
    Your view is entirely valid. What is said in reviews and professional critiques is heavily biased by the fact that almost all of the contributors have a vested interest. Their livelihood depends upon their acceptance within a very closed group (both numerically, and psychological). They must adopt the current jargon, and respond in the current fashion when considering 'Art' in any form. this in turn is aped by the ignorant, and smelly masses.
    At the more mundane level of say Wedding photography we are being inundated by over-exposures. While other photography is being viewed as good only if over processed to the point of being fit for only fantasy comic books. Any critic who points out that such things are not artistic will be shunned and have no say, or place (paying) in which to say it. Ten years from now those so-called techniques will be as pooh-poohed as pink glossy lipstick and plastic hair of the 60's.​
     
  3. Steve,
    It may be as much a how and a why as a what. For a minute, let's not think about elements or qualities or feelings or even messages or ideas (which can be important). I'm not dismissing these things. I'm just suspending them for a moment.
    Take any work you're not getting that seems to be getting attention. First choice is, you don't have to like or appreciate it yourself. There's plenty of trash out there. But let's say you want to give it a fair shake but start off not liking it, not getting it. What to do?
    Empathy is where I start. What in the world might the photographer (or artist) have had in mind? If I see the Barnes photo as awful and want to give it more of a chance, I think to myself "What are the most awful things about it and why?" I may pretend for a minute that someone I know, love, and respect created it and really search for clues as to what someone I have the utmost respect for might have been trying to show or say or express. I look especially for traditions or rules or comfort zones or expectations that it might completely flout. I try hard to see if it's reaching beyond something likable, something already relatable into some new territory. Is there something significant here that may be so personal that I have to work to get it? Is there something off-putting that I have to push through in order to empathize? In failing to rise to certain pre-existing standards is it saying something that sounds like a foreign language but might really just be stated with such a strong accent that I have to simply slow it down to understand it? Can I tap into my dislike? Can I explore my sense that it's merely banal and pretend for the moment that I'm the stupid one and it's more significant than my ability to recognize. Can I humble myself?
    Sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn't. Sometimes my first impression is right and sometimes it's not. It's OK for me to think something's awful and it's OK for me to admit not getting something or to even think there's nothing there to get. It's OK to change my mind.
    Back to the what question . . . in addition to feelings, some stuff that might be present are ideas, references to other photos and art of both contemporary and historical periods, internal coherence, subtlety of look, beauty in everything from a superficial to a deeper "Greek" sense, symbolism, meaning, politics, social comment, and sometimes most importantly, commitment.
    It's rare that I would toss away a photo of someone who gets others' respect without looking at a portion of their body of work to see if the one photo seems part of a greater vision. Even if I still don't get it, that it may fit into something bigger than itself might be reason enough to keep coming back to it.
     
  4. And the Sunday New York Times photo . . . reads a little like a patchwork quilt . . . which is sometimes how the Times reads . . . and families.
     
  5. I am often at a loss to “see” what critics praise so highly in certain images.​

    I wonder whether some critics attempt to influence trends. If they support a trend and the trend becomes popular, they can claim to be the one who discovered that particular artist or approach.

    The product of the critic, i.e. what puts bread on their table, is commentary on something. If they can offer commentary that creates a popular buzz, they put more bread on the table. Or they get to keep trading comments for money. Little of this has anything to do with the attributes, real or imagined, of the image or artwork.
     
  6. Very often – too often, I fear – I look at another photographer's work and allow the feeling it gives me to guide me in my appreciation of it. I am capable of discerning certain basic technical elements (composition, color, tonality, etc.) but I am often at a loss to “see” what critics praise so highly in certain images.​
    As others have said above and I've said in other threads, these things exist only in the minds and pocketbooks of the reviewers and critics. You see this in all the arts. Most of it is presumptuous, self-serving, and ego driven by people with a highly inflated sense of importance. BS if you will. The un-washed public has more common sense and feelings for aesthetic value.
     
  7. "I am often at a loss to “see” what critics praise so highly in certain images."​
    We've probably all shared that experience at some time. I usually accept it as a challenge to try to see what the critic saw. Often that involves studying their other critiques, reading their references - expressed or implied - and making an effort to learn the same language.

    For example, learning to appreciate poetry in general and haiku specifically required not merely reading but hearing, if only the internal voice, the rhythms, intonations, stresses and everything that goes into a language. Grasping the concepts of on and mora finally helped make sense of the English language departures from the 5/7/5 syllable constraints imposed by misinterpretations of the "rules" about haiku, the slavish adherence to which often resulted in damned silly sounding stuff. I wrote the world's worst haiku to remind myself of that lesson:
    "scented moonlight full
    of cherry blossoms in my

    girlfriend's kimono"
    Also, John Cage's 4'33" finally made sense when I heard it on shortwave radio. Actually, I heard four minutes and 33 seconds of atmospheric static, rising and fading with propagation, along with intermittent local radio frequency interference. It wasn't the silence, the absence of "music" or the radio noise, but the act of listening, of finally hearing the composer's intent, that made sense of it.

    Through learning to hear, I was finally able to see what others saw in imagery.
     
  8. For me, it's much what Lex wrote - I take it as a challenge, sometimes a guide (if described better). Sometimes I come out liking it, sometimes not, but the attempt always leaves me understanding more (and I think understanding and the empathy Fred described are either the same thing, or very close neighbours). It's easy to bash something because I don't like it, or put down a whole "movement" or era as empty, banal, inferior, not worthwhile or similar, but in doing that, I don't get any wiser. There is plenty I don't like, and I can live with that. There is plenty that I do not understand, and that itches.
    Sometimes, though, I also cannot loose the somewhat more cynical idea that Dan expressed - to which extend are critics generating their own waves? It's often the language they use - write reasoned, structured and I'm hooked. Write flowery, estaltic and with a lot of big words, and I'll get cyncical. And writing skills are unfortunately more rare than is good for us.
    Another thing that comes to mind, though, is also the aspect of timing. The impact of a work when it was released, when you see (or hear) it for the first time is different from consequent visits. Some stuff hits you like a hammer in the face, some grow on you, some have this sudden revelation despite already knowing it (being in the right mood, more perceptive?). It affects the level of adoration, a certain level of forgiveness on the flaws of a piece. And assuming that critics are educated well on the subject and literally critical, I cannot escape the notion that also their opinion starts as it does for all of us: plain awe, or step-by-step discovery, a blind love or a more reasoned adoration.
     
  9. There's a lot to be said for guided self-study courses and extension classes in all of the humanities. The frame of reference for art necessarily includes everything, the more extensive and detailed the knowledge the better. http://shc.stanford.edu/what-are-the-humanities . There's really no other way and all we can realistically do is dabble in it a little.
     
  10. In addition to a common language and frame of reference, there's also the zeitgeist - the historical and place reference, or site-geist. Some art is timeless. Others don't translate well outside of their contemporaneous era and culture.
    Tina Barney's "Sunday, New York Times" photo may be one such work that depends heavily on the zeitgeist and lacks the timelessness that would translate to another era and culture. A quote from this study:
    "For example, in 'Sunday New York Times' (1982), Barney captures the family ritual of reading the Sunday newspaper together. The camera catches the man’s hollow expression at the head of the table, the frustrated face of the mother holding her child, and the alienated comportment of each member engrossed in their own world. When critics commented on the coldness inherent in her family images, Barney replied, “I’ve tried not to show negativity or criticism…people think my photographs are lonely or tense. I don’t want them to be but I guess that’s there.” Although the families are aware that Barney’s camera is present, it still picks up the accidental in her work. This type of situation reveals the failure of the ideal family life, even for those who seemed to have perfect lives and also reflects Barney’s own reality growing up. While reflecting on capturing people during family gatherings, Barney explains, “the kind of family scene that is in this photograph, I don’t think happened that often in my family. Or if it did, it was forced. The people did not connect that well …. basically, no one really knew each other very well …I don’t even know if they cared about each other. They knew they were supposed to, but I don’t even know if they actually felt.”"
    From that perspective Barney's photo may perfectly convey what she felt. But does it translate outside of a limited context? Probably not.
    That's why criticism is not merely "presumptuous, self-serving, and ego driven by people with a highly inflated sense of importance." In the best circumstances criticism provides a common language and frame of reference which may help enable us to see what the artist saw... even if it's not necessarily what the artist intended for us to see. It is no more highfalutin than it would be for a traveler to tote a translation guide and a brief historical/cultural guide in order to better communicate with people wherever he or she travels, and to better enjoy the journey.
     
  11. BTW, Barney's photo doesn't particularly speak to me. Yes, I've known families like that, not only in New York but everywhere. Alienation, isolation within a family, detachment, aloofness... those feelings are no respecter of persons, places, times or cultures.
    But they're nothing like my extended family. My own version of that photo would show a messy house and a mixture of seeming chaos from kids running wild while most of the adults placidly ignore the hubbub and carry on their conversations about church, or what they saw at Walmart the other day, or the neighbor they need to feed later because his goodfernuthin kids won't look after him, and by the way how 'bout them Cowboys. These are my people and that sort of photo might make sense to visitors at the Amon Carter Museum's photo collection.
    But in NYC? Probably not. Unless the visitors were like my Jewish/Italian/Irish neighborhood just outside NYC in the 1960s, where the families and kids were pretty much the same, separated only by different heritages of culture, language and religion, but in actual practice almost identical to one another in family dynamics - messy, loud, and loyal if not always loving.
    [​IMG]
    Sunday, Texas, not the New York Times.
     
  12. Lex, interesting on Barney's photo and going by my feeling, the review you quoted was the gist I got out of viewing it. But I couldn't have gotten there too without my niece having pointed out to me at LACMA a similar essence in what I believe was a Georgian era painting of 'disconnected' people in a sitting room. In the painting that atmosphere was conveyed by poses where none of the people made eye contact with each other, by posture, and by frowns. With today's props, the painting, the photo could be redone with all being around the kitchen table engaged with their data phones instead of with a newspaper. So there may be something in Barney's that translates across time.
     
  13. I'd say "disconnected connected" people. This is based both on what I see and what I experienced as a kid growing up having spent many a Sunday around a NY Times with family, extended family, and friends. A single paper is strewn around a single family table. All eyes and minds reading from the same paper, discussions later ensuing about the same articles and reviews, even some harmless fights breaking out about those movie, theater, and book reviews. Some benign political disagreements spawned by all the news that was fit to print that day. Sign of connectedness and even intimacy in the photo . . . the bare feet. Touching, familiar.
    For me, different from what cell phones bring to the family table.
    That foreground baby bottle with its yellow nipple. The intro.
     
  14. I was curious enough about Barney's work to read other reviews dating back to the 1980s-'90s. While the particular photo Steve linked to apparently was a candid, many of Barney's family photos were staged or semi-staged. That does seem to confirm Steve's impression - which I share to some extent - regarding "post-postmodern ironic banality".

    I'm not sure that Barney's more deliberately constructed photos have quite reached the level of ironic banality - that might better describe some of Cindy Sherman's constructs. But the family-photo-as-art concept does seem to have evolved/devolved to something approaching facile snark over the past decade. I don't want to name names because I actually enjoy some of them. But there isn't much there there, at least not as much as the photographers and critics seem to believe.

    This Salon article suggested, "David Foster Wallace was right: Irony is ruining our culture." Too often obvious but shallow cleverness is substituted for humor with depth and layers that demand the viewer dig and explore a bit.
     
  15. Interesting article http://www.salon.com/2014/04/13/david_foster_wallace_was_right_irony_is_ruining_our_culture/ from Lex above.
    I don't know what a hipster is though.
    Maybe there is answer to that article in the idea of embracing our legitimate suffering. E.G. young fellow I know doesn't want to, in one particular anyway, embrace his suffering, but he suffers anyway. He wants a Her as a finance, but she drinks, will live the elements of a syndrome (or may not) and drag him into it. She was at home drunk and angry, he was at the dog park walking her dog and agonizing about it (enabling). He was from India and I asked him if he were his own father, would he arrange as a father to himself, such a marriage for he the son. He said "No." I said "Then you know."
    Does great art come from living by what we know? I posit that the young man knows that his legitimate path, must be what jihad really is, is to walk away, because he knows it's so. Yet the young man wants her so much he can't yet walk away. After a point, his suffering from staying isn't legitimate. There's no irony worth uttering really. All I really know is that she just can't drink, can't ever drink.
     
  16. Great article from Salon, Lex, thanks.
    Had an interesting discussion with the friend who initially dubbed Barnes photo as "awful". I said, "While I don't think I would choose this to hang in MOMA, I don't find it awful. I just don't find enough going on there to think all that much of it." To which my friend explained that it wasn't so much the photo that was awful, but more the critical acclaim it was accorded by the very act of hanging it in a gallery at MOMA. Fred points out some interesting details that do help lay down some disconnected connectedness. And I do know the feeling of sitting around with family, or extended family, on a lazy Sunday and reading the paper. It reminds me of a scene from Woody Allen's movie "Stardust Memories". Allen's character reminisces about just such a Sunday with a former lover played by Charlotte Rampling. The simple, bittersweet memory of having spent that moment with someone you cared about. But I think Barney's photograph relies on more than just that. The Vogue article expresses it nicely, but I can't seem to pull up the article on Vogue's website (an aside -- why in the hell did Vogue decide to send me a free subscription? It started arriving, addressed to me, about 6 months ago.) In a nutshell, there is a quiet, unspoken code of behavior among the moneyed class of this region. The photo supposedly captures it in this moment somehow. Okay. I won't disparage it, but not being of that class (I come closer to that messy, loud, loyal "Jewish/Italian/Irish" background to which Lex referred) I can only really see the subtleties to which Fred referred.
    But enough of Barney. Where is Anders? I know that he has sometimes attended the Paris photography show. The 2013 offerings are at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/paris-photo-paris-photo-2013-preview#slide-1 Going through them, some I like, some mystify in a good way, and some leave me scratching my head.
    Highly produced constructs -- An interesting sub-genre of these types of photographs is the scantily clad female self-portraitist. There are a number of them (many grew out of flickr), but a good representative of the type is Natalie Dybisz. Again, not knocking her, or other women who do this, but I do wonder how many have parlayed good looks, photoshop skills, and predictable social media popularity (sex sells, claims by some practitioners of this sub-genre to actually be mocking T&A prurience notwithstanding) into a photographic career.
    http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l9l2ozLSvL1qbhixe.jpg
    More food for thought for anyone interested...
     
  17. As to Dybisz one sample: adolescent themes are so tiring.
     
  18. Well, I can't argue with you there, although I see it as just being silly. "Look what I can do in photoshop!" Or maybe it's a statement on...vulnerability? The angst and ennui of being a contemporary twenty-something female in a First World country? A latter day Francesca Woodman? Who knows. Whatever you want to call her work, she has done quite well for herself. Nikon ads. American Photo magazine. Published books. Workshops. A creator of modern masterpieces. A Nikon ad tells us so...
    http://a4.format-assets.com/image/private/s--l2teEzI0--/c_limit,g_center,h_900,w_65535/a_auto,fl_keep_iptc.progressive,q_95/13814-8873171-MISS_ANIELA_NIKON_D810_DEEP_SEA_DREAM.jpg
    http://delsolphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/AmericanPhoto_2009_Cover.jpg
    From all that, to fashion photographer ("Miss Aniela" is her original flickr handle...)
    "Miss Aniela has become a reference in the domain of fashion photography that flirts with fine art, creating magical glamorous spaces and suspending them in memorable images, with a dreamy aristocracy and a surrealist subtext." (Faena Sphere)​
    *sigh* Whence photography....?
     
  19. Here's a link to a 1990 NY Times review of Tina Barney. I mention it not to emphasize Barney's work in particular, but as an example of how a well written critique can help a viewer understand a photographer's intentions, subtext or subconscious influences and motivations. This can be useful in viewing photos that seem, at first glance, merely banal, snapshots that are too personal to be of interest to outsiders, or staged photos that initially seem merely hyperrealistic recreations of mundane life.
    In my own case, Steve's mention of Barney, enhanced by perusing some reviews and revisiting her photos, helped me to better appreciate what Barney is doing. I'm still not sure it would make me a fan, for what that's worth, but it did help me to see better. Perhaps that's more important than liking something that the creator knows isn't particularly likeable.
    "In Ms. Barney's world, nothing, not even drinking beer or cooking steak, is straightforward or transparent. Everything is a system of reflections without beginning or end. Every single action is layered with meaning."
    --Michael Brenson, NYT, 1/26/90.​
     
  20. Lex -- Had I been less lazy, I could have looked up reviews of Barney's work (or possibly any other photographer whose work I might not initially "get"). Although Barney was only an example for me, what you did by finding something which helped you to understand her work better is part of what I was trying to get at in this thread. The other thing I was hoping for was perhaps finding someone on PN whose experience of aesthetics and the "art world" might allow them to speak a bit about it. Or perhaps a current, or recent, fine arts college student who might be able to talk about what aesthetic points of view (if any) are being taught, presented, or favored (if applicable).
    This is curiosity and a desire to increase knowledge and understanding, not slavishly follow or necessarily believe in any art world flim-flammery. I do not disagree with those of you who have expressed disdain and mistrust of certain types of critics and high-flown explications. But like anything else in life, I don't think it is that black and white. I believe there is wheat too among the chaff.
    As for those who mention "unwashed masses" and a gullible public: If anything, I think the general public is far more likely to favor some of the oversaturated landscapes, exotic locales, and highly polished fashion shots that are popular here on PN and other sites (flickr, 500px, etc.) than they are some ironic banality or surreal faux-scratched polaroid that might be currently championed in the art world. The unwashed masses generally want the pretty and the easily accessible, not something like Gursky's 99 cent store.
    [Regarding Lex's "Sunday, Texas, not New York Times" -- I think Lex presented it a bit tongue-in-cheek, as a contrast to Tina Barney's world and also as a bit of a "ha-ha". But in looking at it more closely, I promise you that I could write a laudatory critique about it, and not in a sarcastic or insincere manner either. This brings up a whole other topic -- one that has been discussed in other threads, I'm sure -- and that is "Why raise up and spotlight Barney, Gursky, Mary Ellen Mark, and Ryan McGinley, and not Jenkins, Goldsmith, Evans, and Plumpton?" Not necessarily those people specifically, of course, but the notion that once one "breaks into" that world, subsequent works are given more visibility and thought, questionable or not, while the work of equally (or more) talented photographers pass by in anonymity.]
     
  21. The online Oxford Dictionary defines art as:
    The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
    Add to this the OP’s Walker Evans quote:
    Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.”
    So, anyone with a smartphone to a view camera can produce photographic art. I think the crux of this conversation is about: “who is your audience?” The most popular type of photographs are the most common: ocean beaches at sunrise, mountains, flowers, birds, etc. This is the large audience. Art galleries are not interested in common, clichéd work; they are looking for the original, the unique, the challenging. Different audience completely. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the road. I’ve seen quite enough sunrises on the beach, mountains, and so forth. On the other hand, I find the overly “conceptual” photography often to be uninteresting, forced, and even clichéd in its own way. I prefer my own type of spontaneously created images (of course!), and others that fall into this middle category. I try to avoid the obvious clichés, but I still want some kind of emotional connection and or visual stimulation/beauty too.
     
  22. If you have to read a critique to interpret what feelings you should have, then the photo fails.
     
  23. Steve J. Murray: "“who is your audience?”
    Great point, Steve. Seems obvious when you see it written out, but the distinction is easy to overlook and it's an important one to make. This is also an area where there are shades of gray. People do not necessarily fall into only one category or the other (popular or art) in terms of what they appreciate. While I may gaze appreciatively at work by Arbus, Klein, Frank...whoever, I can also look at a cute picture of a cat and go "Awwwww!".
     
  24. Whatever importance is accorded to a work or a series of work, whether it hangs in Tate Modern, or the MOMA, or Albright-Knox, whatever is the consensus of the circle of renowned critiques, whatever intellectual and artistic criteria one can personally apply to evaluate it, the work is ultimately felt, and appreciated, or not, by the viewer. The question of "feeling" is simply a shorthand designation for a multitude of responses of the viewer which have as much to do with his or her personality, training, aesthetics, emotions, prior experience, psychology, and whatever. Ttrusting one's feeling is a first step to the appreciation of an image. It is not I think wholly satisfactory and an honest critique will then further analyse the work(s) more methodically to understand it, the artist's motives, and other possible intellectual or emotive responses to it.
    Apologies to Steve and others for a very summary consideration of his important OP. I am slave to other work challenges at present, but hope to later read more thoroughly the discussion and interact to it.
     
  25. For Steve Gubin . . .
    “The critic will certainly be an interpreter, but he will not treat Art as a riddling Sphinx, whose shallow secret may be guessed and revealed by one whose feet are wounded and who knows not his name. Rather, he will look upon Art as a goddess whose mystery it is his province to intensify, and whose majesty his privilege to make more marvellous in the eyes of men.”
    ― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist
    _________________________________________
    I think I'd be making a mistake if I thought art criticism was about telling me what or how to feel. As responsible as the critic would be for writing such criticism so would be the viewer for reading it that way.
    _________________________________________
    "What's with you men? Would hair stop growing on your chest if you asked directions somewhere?"
    —Erma Bombeck
     
  26. THIS ARTICLE in Forbes addresses some realities about how much money and clout can be gained these days through art criticism.
     
  27. Interesting article, Fred (despite the disconcerting website glitch that has peoples names repeated twice throughout the article). The growing role of curators in advancing art careers, as opposed to favorable reviews powering such advances, was something I was not aware of. Also, the blurred line between "objective" critics and critics acting more as subjective "champions" for a particular artist made me realize that much of what I had been calling criticism was actually forwards, or accompanying text, for a book about a particular author. These, of course, would fall into the category of subjective "champion".
    While I agree with Arthur and others who have emphasized the importance of feelings, I see a more intellectual understanding of a photograph as an accompaniment, or enhancement, to those feelings. In some abstracts or highly conceptual photographs some grasp of intention or meaning may be all that yields itself to some viewers, there being no real feeling at all.
     
  28. Steve, what you say in your last sentence jives with my experience (or feeling) from selling abstract art in my seasonal gallery during the first decade. In much of the work the take away is not a feeling so much as a mind interaction with the composition, symbolism or elements of color interactuion, point, line and form. Only one or two of these artists provided works that (sometimes) seemed to go beyond those intellectual interactions, but these are personal things.
     
  29. Steve, what you say in your last sentence jives with my experience (or feeling) from selling abstract art in my seasonal gallery during the first decade. In much of the work the take away is not a feeling so much as a mind interaction with the composition, symbolism or elements of color interactuion, point, line and form. Only one or two of these artists provided works that (sometimes) seemed to go beyond those intellectual interactions, but these are personal things.​
    Arthur, I don't want to beat this thread to death, but I didn't want to leave the impression that I think abstract or conceptual art is incapable of eliciting feelings from a viewer. I think you touch upon this when you speak of work that goes "beyond those intellectual interactions". There have been abstract works I have seen in galleries and museums (paintings primarily, occasionally a photograph) that definitely bring forth a feeling in addition to intellectual understanding and appreciation. Not surprisingly, any work that can accomplish this is the type which remains with me the longest.
     
  30. Steve G - "In some abstracts or highly conceptual photographs some grasp of intention or meaning may be all that yields itself to some viewers, there being no real feeling at all."
    No real feeling at all. I feel that way. Those abstract or highly conceptual types of pictures can boil down to what we already think, or that we could think if given directions. Which is fine.
    In the Barney's photo, what we don't know, and what Barnes seems to say she didn't know, was the extent to which the family members were disconnected. From the quote above "I don’t even know if they cared about each other. They knew they were supposed to, but I don’t even know if they actually felt." Nor do we so that photo doesn't reduce the way abstract or conceptual works do to a pictorialized language game. At some point in the viewing of the Barney's example, we lose language. In contrast, with the abstract or highly conceptual: we acquire our appreciation of those only by language and that's all that is there, that which is discoverable by language. (Something of Wittgenstein in what I'm grappling with??)
    The Dybisz photo example from Steve does reduce to language, and that is it's failure: ultimately it is a visual expression that only elicits sort of shallow thoughts about feeling's that aren't shallow and feelings whose depth isn't addressed, IMHO, in Dybisz's photo because hers is an immature work. Even if Dybisz is exploiting a known theme: that's shallow of Dybisz given the subject matter, a trivialized approach to a weighty topic, trivialization the mechanism by which a highly individual collision with culture is co-opted out of existence by rendering it in 2D. In 3D, or with some transcendent function included in the picture: one way to get something more there would perhaps be to inform the viewer more about what is in the carton.
     
  31. Alan Klein [​IMG], Sep 03, 2014; 11:22 a.m.
    If you have to read a critique to interpret what feelings you should have, then the photo fails.​
    "Joe, did you see my new photo I posted in PN's critique forum?"
    "Yes, I did, Sam. But I didn't get a chance to post a critique."
    "Why not?"
    "Well, I haven't had a chance to read the other critiques."
     
  32. If you have to read a critique to interpret what feelings you should have, then the photo fails.
    "Joe, did you see my new photo I posted in PN's critique forum?"
    "Yes, I did, Sam. But I didn't get a chance to post a critique.
    " "Why not?"
    "Well, I haven't had a chance to read the other critiques."​
    Alan, I get your point. But I don't think that's the sort of thing that anyone is suggesting. Certainly not me. I see it more like this:
    Viewer 1: "When I look at Sam's photo, it makes me vaguely uneasy, but it's kind of a cool uneasiness. A tension, like something eerie is about to happen."
    Viewer 2: "Sam is a photographer who had a lot of experience shooting stills for French film noire in the 1940's and 1950's. That experience carries over into his other work."
    Viewer 1: "Ah. I didn't know that. I still get the same feeling from his photo, but now I understand a little more about Sam and why some of his photos have that feeling."
    Viewer 3: "If you look at the person on the left of Sam's photo, you'll notice that part of them is in darkness, while the other part is in light. And their body language is part defensive, part getting ready to flee. And their gaze is looking off into the darker part of the frame at right, as if they see something we do not."
    Viewer 1: "Yes, now that you mention it I can see that the way he lit and composed his photo contributed to the feeling it gave me."
    Viewer 1's initial "feeling" about the photo has now been enhanced by some personal historical background provided by Viewer 2, and also by the slightly more detailed visual analysis provided by Viewer 3. This is a simplistic example, but a good critic (or "analyst" or "scholar" if you prefer) can serve the same sort of function as Viewer's 2 & 3.
    Of course, there can always be Viewer 4: "Sam's photo bears the stamp of an ontological nihilist. The initial display of contemporary angst is deceptively relieved by an explosion of negative space intended as a representational counterpoint to human attempts at grappling with the void. The relief is deceptive because the figure of the woman serves more as a symbol of failed neo-Marxism than it does as a simulacrum of feminist vacillation in an oligarchic democracy."
     
  33. Steve, this is why I steal your examples of postmodern criticism for my profile page. It inspires me to photograph toward a critical standard, rather than asking a critic to analyze my photographs.
    It's also more politically correct than saxophonist Bobby Keys' response to Yoko Ono's attempt to describe how to play on a particular song, according to an anecdote by Gram Parsons (which I remember from a book on the Rolling Stones history from the 1970s):
    "Bobby was doing a session with Yoko Ono at which Gram said everyone was snorting Excedrin and “bouncing off the walls.” At one point, Yoko said, “Bobby, imagine there is a cold wind blowing and you are a lonely frog.” As Gram Parsons said, “Bobby Keys a frog. He just laid down his sax and played marimbas and tambourine and said, ‘Lady, yew shore got a strange slant on things. Yeah, starting with your eyes.”"​
     
  34. Of course, there can always be Viewer 4: "Sam's photo bears the stamp of an ontological nihilist. The initial display of contemporary angst is deceptively relieved by an explosion of negative space intended as a representational counterpoint to human attempts at grappling with the void. The relief is deceptive because the figure of the woman serves more as a symbol of failed neo-Marxism than it does as a simulacrum of feminist vacillation in an oligarchic democracy."​
    Steve: You caught my point perfectly. It's those damn Viewer 4's I'm talking about.
     
  35. Viewer 5: "I like it cuz it's purty."
     
  36. Hey, that's almost exactly what I wrote on one of Lannie's photos on Facebook just an hour ago: "That's right purty." Which would apply to almost every bit of scenery in that part of North Carolina.
     
  37. Alan -- The Viewer 4's. Yes, I often find them in gallery catalogs, and sometimes even in books I read about other photographers. Why? Why do they do that? I mean, I have read some off the wall stuff that I like, but it's understandable. Obtuse puffery for the sake of obtuse puffery just seems silly.
    Lex -- I haven't looked at your profile page in a while. Good stuff (what you wrote, not that ridiculous postmodern babel of mine that you quoted).
    And yes, Fred, good point about Viewer 5. I think we've just about captured most of the possible stereotypes. Wasn't there a particularly obtuse critic mentioned in that article that was linked to earlier in this thread? I'd like to go back and look him up to see if I can find an example.
     
  38. Criticisim in art is as multi-faceted as is art. It can be very illuminating, or not. For some work, it can provide certain "cliff notes" of interpretation. But it can be as valid or invalid as anything else. I would say definitely, some work is intentionally conceptual and you may need a framework to understand it. Most photographs not. Some critiques can be interesting in and of themselves and shed real light on art, life, photography. So I wouldn't just put it down because one doesn't think one should have to rely on it. That's not what criticism is in my view. Yes a lot of the museum /gallery literature are just puff pieces that are basically marketing to the art collection world and don't mean squat. But there is some really great critical writing as well.
    As far as Steve's OP regarding the limitations of feeling. I always try to remember what a good photographer friend, who is very thoughtful about photographs and ideas told me. He always says, he doesn't necessarily depend on his first impression, feelings, thoughts on first looking at photos. Instead, he always looks again, and maybe several times and tries to see if he can discover something about what the photographer is getting at. This, after getting through the technical aspects sometimes allows him to appreciate work that he might not have if he judged on his first impressions. It takes him out of a certain perception/reaction of work, and more into a contemplation. He interesting is a fashion/portrait photographer where he controls most of the aspects of his photographs. Myself, as a street and event type photographer tend to react from my "gut" when I look at photographs and more or less trust my own feelings, thoughts etc about them. But I have adopted this mantra, to always try to see what the photographer is presenting to the degree that I'm able before really deciding if I think something is "good" or not. Sometimes this changes my perceptions and it is awarding, and sometimes not.
     
  39. Why do they do that? There are 'fashionable ideas', fizz that soon fizzles, that I'm sure some mimic in critiques from sincerity and some don't. Since they are imitators, those critiques aren't going to be all that good with the language of the faux disciplines. Plus it's hard to imitate nonsense.
    Deconstruction, for example, isn't a rigorously defined analytical method/tool, isn't reproducible, and post modernism as a whole is just a complex path to a collection of wrong answers. Correct answers can be postulated from discoveries in neuroscience, a field that is beginning to ground our psychological inheritance in biology (including morality - amorphously), across time and cultures. Fizzle post modernism, though it does take a little time.
     
  40. I'm not sure if one is looking for right or wrong answers from deconstruction that is within the bounds of post-modernism. But I think I know what you mean. Its ironic that a tenant of post-modernism is the use of deconstruction to arrive at meanings, however by the very terms of PM deconstruction is not a scientific method and there can be no real empirical test. However, not all criticism is post-modern and not all application of post-modernism is nonsense. I suppose determining if a critique makes sense, gets us back to the OP's original questions regarding the limitations of feeling. Does it ring a bell? or if not does further exploration provide usefulness to understanding the critique and the work. It always gets down to is authentic, is it good, does it evoke meaning and does studying it enrich the experience or not. I've seen some pretty forced critique, and I've seen some great critique.
     
  41. You caught my point perfectly. It's those damn Viewer 4's I'm talking about.​
    Alan, I'd like to respectfully ask you why? I've noticed that when questions of art criticism come up, you tend to bring up Viewer 4 which, as Steve notes, is a stereotype. As a matter of fact, my tongue-in-cheek Number 5 was meant to be a response to you to show how much of a stereotype your hypothetical critic was.
    Consider, if we were trying to have a discussion about Jewish people, how it would come across if a participant continually brought up a Hollywood-studio-owning, money-grubbing cheapskate to poke fun at. Or if we were discussing African Americans and someone consistently talked about gun-toting poor people who ate watermelons. Wouldn't we find those stereotypes objectionable? Well, honestly, that's how I see you generally treating critics and I'm not sure it really is a helpful way to approach art criticism, via stereotype. Can you say why it is you dwell on the exaggerated critic stereotype instead of the more enlightened, informative, and instructive critic or art historian or theorist, of which there are so many?
     
  42. Fred G. [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], Sep 06, 2014; 08:23 a.m.
    You caught my point perfectly. It's those damn Viewer 4's I'm talking about.​
    Alan, I'd like to respectfully ask you why? I've noticed that when questions of art criticism come up, you tend to bring up Viewer 4 which, as Steve notes, is a stereotype. As a matter of fact, my tongue-in-cheek Number 5 was meant to be a response to you to show how much of a stereotype your hypothetical critic was.
    Consider, if we were trying to have a discussion about Jewish people, how it would come across if a participant continually brought up a Hollywood-studio-owning, money-grubbing cheapskate to poke fun at. Or if we were discussing African Americans and someone consistently talked about gun-toting poor people who ate watermelons. Wouldn't we find those stereotypes objectionable? Well, honestly, that's how I see you generally treating critics and I'm not sure it really is a helpful way to approach art criticism, via stereotype. Can you say why it is you dwell on the exaggerated critic stereotype instead of the more enlightened, informative, and instructive critic or art historian or theorist, of which there are so many?​
    Because the stereotype is unfortunately the more common of the two. Re-read the OP's opening quote: “Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.” - Walker Evans.
    When a photo critic goes on and on intellectualizing the photo beyond what's really there, you know there's more in the critique than in the photo.
    As an aside, why do you always have to compare everything I say and believe with racism? It's beneath you and I don't like being insulted.
     
  43. Because the stereotype is unfortunately the more common of the two​
    Alan, a couple of things. First, Walker Evans is a photographer, not a critic. He is telling me how he feels. I don't see that as intellectualizing a photo.* He's not even talking about a photo in the quote you reproduced from Steve's OP. Second, a question. You say that the stereotype is more common, which suggests that there are some photography critics who don't fit the stereotype. Can you give us some examples of photography criticism you appreciate and that don't fit the stereotype? That would give me a better idea of what type of criticism you find constructive or helpful.

    [I did not in any way, shape, or form mean to suggest racism on your part. If you read what I wrote carefully, I even said that all of us would find those types of racial or religious stereotyping objectionable, and I was including you in that. I have no doubt you would find such stereotyping objectionable. That's why I used it. So I could then ask why you were OK with stereotyping critics. You answered with a claim that most critics fit the stereotype. There's really no way to prove or disprove such a claim, since that would simply be subjective. So I think it would be more productive to look at criticism you don't find stereotypical or boorish and see what we can glean from that, what we might learn, etc. from some criticism that you have found beneficial. That, I think, would be a constructive way to proceed. On the other hand, arguing whether or not most critics are stereotypical jokes would be, IMO, a colossal waste of time.]
    _____________________________________________
    *What exactly is the problem with "intellectualizing" a photo? It's just another way of looking at something. One of the strengths of being a person is having intelligence. Why would it possibly be so objectionable to utilize one of the strengths?
     
  44. Fred: When a mother goes on and on telling people how beautiful her unmarried daughter is, it only takes one look from the prospective husbands to draw their own conclusions.
     
  45. Thanks, Alan, I now have my answer.
     
  46. Steve, of course I know you meant your Viewer 4 as a tongue-in-cheek example, and it is hilarious to read when it all adds up to gibberish. Nevertheless, I have found over the years in Philosophy that to the inexperienced reader of Philosophy A WHOLE LOT can appear on the surface to be gibberish. I mean, read some long passages of Kant or Sartre or Hegel sometime without actually studying them and I think most people would simply laugh them off. Spend the requisite time studying what they're actually saying, putting their long sentences into cultural and historical contexts, parsing the words and choosing from among various translations, and you have some of the most profound ideas about a lot of the very simple subjects we're faced with every day. We can argue here in Casual Conversations whether a photo is real or not or looks real or not. And people are willing to do that for hours and days on end, repeatedly. Kant, Sartre, and Hegel can, if I put in the time and energy necessary, put some very significant perspective on just what we're arguing about and might actually even help effect a different way of seeing. But they would be laughed at because of the way they would say it and what it might sound like, by those who don't quite understand that Philosophy is a language all its own and it's not until you understand the grammar and syntax that you really have access to its secrets. I think something similar goes along with good criticism, which is not always easily accessible or easy to read and understand at a quick glance.
    In your very funny hypothetical critique, you mention negative space, nihilism, angst, negative space, and counterpoint. Though the way you've put them together might add up to a funny bit of exaggeration, these are all important concepts and tools the photographer has. Studying, understanding, and utilizing any of these could help someone who wants to make more than superficially pretty pics move to a deeper level of visual expression and insight. It's not for everyone, of course. But neither should it be sneered at. (I know you're not sneering as you've expressed so much openness in your OP and other posts to want to understand more of this, even though you're able to maintain a healthy level of skepticism and humor toward it all.)
    HERE'S an interesting photo essay about negative space. I don't think many of the photos are great in themselves but even those that aren't great significantly illustrate how negative space can be used and what its importance is . . . and how many permutations of it there are. I first heard about negative space back in college and have developed over the many subsequent years a comfort level with switching back and forth in my mind's eye between positive and negative space and I'll tell you it really opens up a lot of doors for me. What's NOT obviously a subject, and what elements can go into the formation of a subject as if out of a void, can be really interesting to photograph. It can literally help me see things that aren't there. Though they are, of course.
     
  47. Fred G: Nevertheless, I have found over the years in Philosophy that to the inexperienced reader of Philosophy A WHOLE LOT can appear on the surface to be gibberish. I mean, read some long passages of Kant or Sartre or Hegel sometime without actually studying them and I think most people would simply laugh them off. Spend the requisite time studying what they're actually saying, putting their long sentences into cultural and historical contexts, parsing the words and choosing from among various translations, and you have some of the most profound ideas about a lot of the very simple subjects we're faced with every day.


    Fred -- I'd like to discuss more than just your quote above, but I'm pressed for time at the moment. But what you said is, to me, a very important point related to this discussion, and to me personally in my desire to expand my understanding.
    I took two, very abbreviated, philosophy courses in college. I did not put in the time and study it required to get a decent grasp on a lot of the material. Enough to get a B, I think. But I never followed up or pursued it further. I completely accept, and agree, with what you say. Much of it is very difficult, or at least it is until you get into the flow of what is being posited by a given philosopher and can follow both their writing style and the progression of their argument for a given point or outlook. I think it can be that way with certain critics as well. Yes, there are pointless obscurists, but there are also good critics who it takes some work to understand.
    Example: a personal one -- I was reading an essay by Max Kozloff on Helen Levitt. Kozloff is not supremely difficult, but at times I found myself having to stop and ask myself if I really grasped a particular passage. Sometimes I didn't understand, in the context of his essay, how he was using a particular word. "Atomistic" at one point. It is a word I have heard, but have not really used and do not see too often. I made myself get up, go to the computer (in the old days it would have been a dictionary), and look up the definitions of atomistic. In the past, I would read things like this, enjoy them, but just go through them without really completely grasping certain passages. Sometimes a critic may spout gibberish, but other times it is worth making the extra effort to understand what they are saying. The style of someone's writing, the rhythm of it, the progression of thoughts, can take some work. Take Shakespeare (not a critic, but I'm using his works and writing as an example) -- Once you grasp his rhythm and understand the language, what seems difficult at first, becomes both simpler, and a joy to read or listen to. Simple example: In Hamlet, when he is about to duel. He tries out different rapiers, and finally says of one, "This likes me well." If you don't understand the rhythm, the context, and the style of Elizabethan English, it seems a very odd and awkward statement. Experience with Shakespeare and his writing, however, makes that statement perfectly clear and even elegant in its way.
     
  48. A picture is a picture. A 1/100th of a second snap of a moment in time that you look at for a moment in time as well. It's not a 600 page thesis on existentialism, or some novella, that you have to read to decide whether you liked it or what it means. Or read a review to help understand its finer points as a critique of a book would do.
    Which raises an interesting sideline point. The critique the photographer places in the form of a caption beneath his photo to influence the viewers to the concept and value he had hoped the picture would do on its own. I'm guilty of that at times when I don't trust the picture does the job by itself. How does that effect the "feelings" of the viewers? What about its legitimacy? Do captions add value or do they devalue the image? Should the critiquer eliminate the caption from his review?
     
  49. "The style of someone's writing, the rhythm of it, the progression of thoughts, can take some work."​
    Yup. A year or so ago Fred wrote something regarding the nature of context in narrative as being essential. I've tried several times to find that particular post but it's eluded me.

    Also elusive was an interpretation of the Poor Tom character, Edgar's alter ego in King Lear. Even after having watched several performances of Lear, on stage and screen, the dialect and interpretation of Tom/Edgar in Act 4, Scene 6, eluded me until I was fortunate enough to have a minor spear carrier role in Lear at Stage West in Fort Worth. It gave me an opportunity to observe up close some masters at work. Actor Nick Sandys finally made sense of Tom's opaque dialect in the fight scene with Oswald. But unlike most actors and directors who rush through that scene, Sandys combined the vocal mannerisms of the peasant Edgar pretended to be, with the high born sense of pride, confidence and a bit of sarcastic swagger you would expect of the son of a nobleman. Sandys, also a skilled stage combat expert, deftly evaded Oswald's sword lunges - like Muhammad Ali toying with Ernie Terrell, snarling "What's my name?" - and when Tom/Edgar spoke these lines...
    "Chill pick your teeth, zir. Come! No matter vor your foins."​
    ...it was with icy disdain and chilling sarcasm. It doesn't matter what you try, sucker. Between your sword and my cudgel, I'm gonna bust you up, break out your teeth, humiliate you, and kill you when I'm finished playing with you. And there ain't a damn thing you can do to stop me. Enjoy your last few moments on Earth, Oswald.

    That's the power of a good critique. It unravels knots, peels layers, clarifies mysteries, and enables us to see in art what no actor I've seen besides Nick Sandys could reveal in that fight scene. Occasionally a fellow photo.netter will offer a pithy critique, only a sentence or two, that finally clarifies for me one of my own photographs. That's a thrilling moment. Because I don't often consciously think about what I'm doing, or plan anything out. I just see something and react intuitively without hesitating to examine it. It's like trying to write out our stream of consciousness, an impossible task. We can barely even speak quickly enough to keep up with the mind's abstractions and leaping connections. But on rare and wonderful occasions, someone else can offer a single pithy observation that makes sense of what we're trying to do.

    Unfortunately, nothing and no one, not even Derrida himself, can make sense of deconstruction in a way that anyone other than Derrida can fully comprehend. But I've always suspected it might be an elaborate prank, Derrida's way of saying even if you're foolish enough to try to get there, when you get there there's no there there.
     
  50. Wow. Every time I come back here, someone comes up with other thoughts and avenues that interest me.
    Alan Klein:
    A picture is a picture. A 1/100th of a second snap of a moment in time that you look at for a moment in time as well. It's not a 600 page thesis on existentialism, or some novella, that you have to read to decide whether you liked it or what it means. Or read a review to help understand its finer points as a critique of a book would do.

    I agree with you, Alan, to a certain extent. Depending on the situation and the photograph (I'm going to limit my comments to photography only for the moment), there can be over-kill and obscure verbal masturbation. I can only speak for myself, but in some situations I want to hear or read someone else's interpretation of a particular photograph or collection of photographs. In other situations, interpretations or critiques other than those of a strictly technical or compositional nature are ridiculous and unnecessary. Any photograph can be critiqued for its technical and compositional aspects, but that's not what I'm addressing here. I'm talking only about the type of critiques that address "deeper" aspects of a given photograph such as aesthetics, symbolism, atmosphere, political implications, sociological implications, etc.
    An example....what might be an example? Okay. Two examples, off the top of my head, to try and explain what I mean. Photos from Trey Ratcliff and Diane Arbus:
    Ratcliff, "July Fourth on Lake Austin":
    http://3.burstdb.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Fourth-on-Lake-Austin.jpg
    Arbus, "Teenage Couple":
    http://www.rosegallery.net/data/photos/4794_1arbus_teenagecouple_hudson.jpg
    Ratcliff is, from what I can tell, an extremely well known and popular photographer in social media. Like Dybisz, I believe he first became known through flickr, and also like Dybisz, he has published books and teaches seminars. The majority of his work seems to be HDR, often dramatic scenes of foreign locales. His photo of Lake Austin on the 4th of July won an award in a Smithsonian magazine competition and, according to a blurb, is also the first HDR photo to have been shown in the Smithsonian itself. I think it was a series of long exposures (HDR merged) taken from a bridge. So there is some blur. It may not be his best, but I think it is fairly typical of the kind of dramatic HDR "landscapes" that he is known for. I'm not here to judge or sneer at him because he is popular or because he works in HDR. What I will say is that is that I do not think his photo (nor most of his entire body of work) merits much explication or discussion. It is eye candy, some of it very well crafted, but it is not significant enough to spend much time writing about. In terms of "feeling" I don't get much of anything. There are some of his sunset landscapes that I do think are "purty". But that's about as far is it goes for me.
    Arbus' photo on the other hand....without even reading anything anyone else may have written or said about this particular photograph, it hits me in the gut and I could write several paragraphs on the things I see in it. How it represents a particular time and place in American history, how it gives a strong and powerful impression of each of these kids (both as a couple and as individuals), how it could be seen as a symbol of American class, race, and adulthood, and teenage emulation of adulthood. When seen in the context of Arbus body of work, it could stand as a bookend, or "ten years earlier" version, of another Arbus photo of a young Brooklyn married couple posing with their two children. And there is also an odd, surreal atmosphere I get from it. Like a quick shot of some odd faces in a crowd in a Fellini film.
    http://www.foam.org/media/3063355/A%20young%20Brooklyn%20family%20going%20for%20a%20Sunday%20outing%20NYC%201966%20C%20The%20Estate%20of%20Diane%20Arbus.jpg
    Which raises an interesting sideline point. The critique the photographer places in the form of a caption beneath his photo to influence the viewers to the concept and value he had hoped the picture would do on its own. I'm guilty of that at times when I don't trust the picture does the job by itself. How does that effect the "feelings" of the viewers? What about its legitimacy? Do captions add value or do they devalue the image? Should the critiquer eliminate the caption from his review?

    Good point, and it would make for an interesting discussion. It is something I have strong feelings about which I hope do not offend anyone. I have a strong dislike for overly descriptive titles, whether for my own work, or the work of others. I find it very amateurish, and for work that truly has some depth and substance, it does that work a disservice. (I do know some people who use amusing or ironic titles, but they are not aiming at art or significance, so I don't mean to disparage its use in all instances.) I also think it limits the possibilities for alternate interpretations of a photograph. I haven't looked, but I'd be willing to bet that 98% of my photographs have titles like State and Madison, or Three Pedestrians, rather than titles that point toward a particular interpretation. I suppose there's a downside in that some viewers could see such captions and think, "Well, he doesn't think there's anything going on here, and there's nothing immediately apparent to me, so I guess there isn't anything here. Why did he bother posting this photograph?" On the other hand, someone like that is not my ideal target audience anyway. Along these lines, I have seen "leading" captions by other photographers that practically make me cry because their work has so much more to offer and I think they are doing themselves a disservice. Let me, as the viewer, find it. I don't want to be led to an interpretation any more than I want to lead someone to an interpretation of a given photograph of my own. ("Laughing Man" and "Helping Hand" are my own two major exceptions that I can think of, and I'm not sure if I'm even happy with those.)
     
  51. Derrida, Foucault who I took Chomsky as dismissing as 'great' thinkers: oh it causes intergenerational problems for me when it's for me sooo difficult to sensitively communicate anyway. But really, in some specific Derrida essay I read after 9/11 it was too easy to see Derrida's Western cultural preach to the East bias and the 'there there' was all of Derrida as just another co-opted intellectual not pranking, but as lost as the rest of us in the subject matter.
     
  52. For Fred:
    It was your link (below) to the Forbes article on the waning power of critics that contained mention of a critic who is considered particularly obscure, Benjamin Buchloh.
    http://www.forbes.com/2005/04/19/cx_0419conn.html
    Indeed, while external factors undermine the impact of critics, their often impenetrable writing hardly helps matters. British author Simon Winchester , a man sufficiently literate to have traced the Oxford English Dictionary‘s origins, once set himself to the task of parsing esteemed critic Benjamin Buchloh ‘s texts. He abandoned the mission after two years, confessing that Buchloh “remains as obscure and unyielding for me as Assyrian or the grass script of the early Chinese”.​
    A section of Buchloh's article "Between Ideology and Poetry" from Brooklyn Rail website:
    http://www.brooklynrail.org/special/AD_REINHARDT/ad-and-artists/between-ideology-and-poetry
    Both critiques of the traditional practices of representation in the American postwar context had at first appeared mutually exclusive and had often fiercely attacked each other. For example, Reinhardt’s extreme form of self-critical, perceptual positivism had gone too far for most of the New York School artists and certainly for the apologists of American Modernism, mainly Greenberg and Fried, who had constructed a paradoxical dogma of transcendentalism and self-referential technique. On the other hand, Reinhardt was as vociferous as they—if not more so—in his contempt for the opposite, which is to say, the Duchampian tradition. This is evident in Ad Reinhardt’s condescending remarks about both Duchamp—“I’ve never approved or liked anything about Marcel Duchamp. You have to choose between Duchamp and Mondrian”—and his legacy as represented through Cage and Rauschenberg—“Then the whole mixture, the number of poets and musicians and writers mixed up with art. Disreputable. Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg. I’m against the mixture of all the arts, against the mixture of art and life you know, everyday life.”2

    What slid by unnoticed was the fact that both these critiques of representation led to highly comparable formal and structural results (e.g., Rauschenberg’s monochromes in 1951 – 53 and Reinhardt’s monochromes such as Black Quadruptych in 1955). Furthermore, even while made from opposite vantage points, the critical arguments accompanying such works systematically denied the traditional principles and functions of visual representation, constructing astonishingly similar litanies of negation. This is as evident, for example, in the text prepared by John Cage for Rauschenberg’s White Paintings in 1953 as it is in Ad Reinhardt’s 1962 manifesto “Art as Art.”​
     
  53. Steve, without getting too mired in the weeds, some of the things Buchloh's article is addressing have actually been addressed in this thread and are regularly addressed in photo discussions and art discussions. It's the old Idealism/Empiricism saw. It's whether a more transcendental IDEA is at play in art or if it is more the contextual and changeable, sensual experience that is at play. As you posed in the OP. Thought (Idea) on the one hand. Feeling (experience) on the other.
    [Plato addressed it long ago. We can be fooled by individual chairs because they can look and SEEM so differently, depending on the situation and conditions. Better to trust our IDEA of chair—what we might call "chairness". The Idea, our KNOWLEDGE of what "chair" is, if we truly know it, won't ever lead us astray. But our vision of the chair could and usually will mislead us. Because today it will have these shadows cast on it and tomorrow it will have different shadows. This chair will be one color and that chair will be another. This one short, that one tall. So Plato wants our MIND and our KNOWLEDGE to continually inform our senses of the greater truth, the transcendent reality that can get lost in the mere appearance of things. The Empiricists, on the other hand, suggest that knowledge is not transcendent and that all we know is because of what we see, hear, and experience and that, ultimately, that's what we must rely on.]
    So, in the article, Reinhardt is the positivist, the perceptually-based empiricist, the one for whom art is art, a champion of MONDRIAN. Compare that to DUCHAMP, who said "All my work in the period before the Nude was visual painting. Then I came to the idea..." Mondrian seems to be tapping visually into the rhythms of NY City Streets. His are very experiential pieces and very much of the senses, IMO. Duchamp, with his L.H.O.O.Q., took a readymade, a mundane postcard of the Mona Lisa and defiled it with his pencil, thus defiling an icon and attacking the IDEA of traditional art. Were I offering a critique of Duchamp's version of the Mona Lisa, I wouldn't go into the sensuality of his brushstrokes in pencil that create the mustache. I'd be more likely to address the ideas he's conveying.

    Apropos of the latter part of the discussion, Duchamp's title does lead the viewer and is an integral part of the work. The letters, as pronounced in French, represent a vulgar expression, again meant to undermine the traditional values Dadaism was seeking to destroy. "Elle a chaud au cul." Imagine talking this way about La Gioconda! This is about more than "what you see is what you get."

    For photographic examples, compare Steichen to ManRay.
     
  54. Fred: You might be the only person who understands Buchloh. Well, maybe his students. Certainly I didn't and his ponderous way of describing art is the very thing I'm talking about. However, the art of communication should be to express oneself simply so people can understand your points without checking a dictionary or an obituary. We should be impressed by the art not the review.
     
  55. Steve I liked both of your selections for different reasons. The first is candy for the eye; the kind of picture you'd mount on the wall in your living room for aesthetic appreciation. The picture just works despite the blur or maybe because of it. The colors, balance, lighting is just right. Is getting lucky ever mentioned by reviewers or does the photographer have to always plan his shots and meaning? (I'm not trying to demean the photographer; only present another idea for you to consider regarding your OP question. What if the picture has great meaning because the shooter got lucky. Food for thought.)
    The second picture seems like it was taken at the side show in Coney Island where you can peek in to see the performers on their day off. Typical Arbus. Something to talked about but not purty.
    Which reminds me of a recent experience. I was in Manhattan and had some time to kill. So in walking around I stumbled into Aperture Gallery (Foundation). http://www.aperture.org/ They had loads of Arbus books and all the other most well known photographers in their book sales section, After all these years, people still are buying their books. Are they so good? Or are they buying them because these are the photographers most talked about (and pushed) by people who sell their books or by people who only know their names because of their notoriety? More food for thought.
     
  56. Certainly I didn't and his ponderous way of describing art is the very thing I'm talking about. However, the art of communication should be to express oneself simply​
    I disagree. Much of the art of communication throughout history has been the ability to address complexity and nuance and doesn't need to be made simple. When I don't understand something, I usually take responsibility for that and try to learn how to understand what I'm reading or hearing, if it's at all important to me. Only the very last resort is to blame the writer or speaker and it happens rarely.

    2 + 2 = 4 is relatively simple. But it's not any better than the Pythagorean Theorem which takes a lot more to understand and requires a lot more study to fully appreciate. Now it can be simply symbolized by
    [​IMG]
    but when you write it out, it starts to sound a little like gibberish, especially if you've never taken a math course and don't know some of the terms, but it's not. "The sum of the square of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse."

    Touch a hot stove and burn your finger gets learned pretty early on and without much intellectual trouble. But it's not any better than atomic theory which requires more study and understanding and intellectual prowess, reading source material and consulting a dictionary now and then.

    "See Jane run" is relatively simple and not that difficult to understand. But it's not any better than Buchloh or Kant because of its simplicity.

    And "I like it cuz it's purty" is simpler but no better than a lot of tough-going art criticism.

    ___________________________________________________

    Here are a couple of quotes I thought could be considered.

    “The specific use of folks as an exclusionary and inclusionary signal, designed to make the speaker sound like one of the boys or girls, is symptomatic of a debasement of public speech inseparable from a more general erosion of American cultural standards. Casual, colloquial language also conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war is the equivalent of describing rape victims as girls (unless the victims are, in fact, little girls and not grown women). Look up any important presidential speech in the history of the United States before 1980, and you will find not one patronizing appeal to folks. Imagine: 'We here highly resolve that these folks shall not have died in vain; and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.”
    ―Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
    ―Isaac Asimov
     
  57. Fred: Steve, without getting too mired in the weeds, some of the things Buchloh's article is addressing have actually been addressed in this thread and are regularly addressed in photo discussions and art discussions. It's the old Idealism/Empiricism saw. It's whether a more transcendental IDEA is at play in art or if it is more the contextual and changeable, sensual experience that is at play. As you posed in the OP. Thought (Idea) on the one hand. Feeling (experience) on the other.
    There's getting to be too many things to comment upon in this thread! I wanted to go back and talk about Lex's Shakespearean actor story & Jacques Derrida. Well, the story is a wonderful one, and a good example of someone helping create a greater understanding (actor or scholar, no matter). Likewise those PN members whose pithy remarks can sometimes bring greater understanding. Derrida: I know of him through studying deconstruction in literature, but am not that familiar with his ideas. The opening segment of the video made sense to me. Less so the narrator who then took over. But I was not exactly giving it a full, studied attention. Which can often be the problem, at least for me. You have to take the time to understand. One of those things where I think, “I want to go back and look into that more.” It sounds like Lex and Charles W are more familiar with him.
    Back to Fred's quote. You should have been my philosophy professor. Very clear the way you describe it. Granted, the quote from Buchloh was only excerpted from a longer article dealing with different critical viewpoints so he wasn't intending to teach a lesson in Idealism v Empiricism. And the audience he is addressing are probably familiar with the ideological turf battles of the art world. I grasped some of the sense of what he was saying, so maybe he wasn't especially obtuse in that article. Still -- and to Alan's point -- had you written the article, you could have phrased it in a more readily understandable fashion.
    So, in the article, Reinhardt is the positivist, the perceptually-based empiricist, the one for whom art is art, a champion of MONDRIAN. Compare that to DUCHAMP, who said "All my work in the period before the Nude was visual painting. Then I came to the idea..." Mondrian seems to be tapping visually into the rhythms of NY City Streets. His are very experiential pieces and very much of the senses, IMO. Duchamp, with his L.H.O.O.Q., took a readymade, a mundane postcard of the Mona Lisa and defiled it with his pencil, thus defiling an icon and attacking the IDEA of traditional art. Were I offering a critique of Duchamp's version of the Mona Lisa, I wouldn't go into the sensuality of his brushstrokes in pencil that create the mustache. I'd be more likely to address the ideas he's conveying.
    Clear as a bell, but still makes the same point.
    Alan Klein: After all these years, people still are buying their books. Are they so good? Or are they buying them because these are the photographers most talked about (and pushed) by people who sell their books or by people who only know their names because of their notoriety? More food for thought.

    My opinion is that they are purchased primarily because people think they are good. I'm sure some people purchase them because they think it might impress their friends or look good on their bookshelf, but that's a small minority. You can only peddle dreck for so long before people catch on. There are trends and fashions in all the arts, but the good work, even while it too might wax and wane, lasts. Steiglitz, Steichen, Evans, Adams, Weston, Bresson, Levitt, Capa, Parks, Lange, Lee, Frank, Arbus, Klein, Avedon, Burrows, Shore...and many many more, all different, appealing to different tastes perhaps, but lasting on the virtue of their work. Often, their work doesn't require a critic to tell other people that it is substantial and significant. Or so I believe.
     
  58. had you written the article, you could have phrased it in a more readily understandable fashion. Why couldn't Buchloh?​
    Steve, as always, it would depend on context and the audience. Writing for you here in this thread, I phrased it the way I deemed appropriate. But phrasing it that way meant simplifying certain concepts which, when simplified lose some subtlety and richness.
    Sure, your Philosophy professor should probably have done a better job of simplifying things. But I could send you a copy of some of my own more advanced papers that I'm sure you would think read much more like Buchloh. They needed to use a more academic vernacular, needed to make references to more esoteric concepts and historical observations, needed to cover a lot more territory and therefore needed to be a little more "long-winded" (though I always strove for an economy of words which sometimes necessitated the use of $10 ones, ones I wouldn't use here or in ordinary conversation).
    Philosophy and criticism can be very much like a chess game. You are always anticipating a counterargument that could come six steps ahead of where you currently are. So you include words and phrases and sentences and sometimes pages worth of argumentation that might not seem necessary but are, in fact, necessary to defend against arguments you yourself have considered and see coming. That's why philosophers and critics write with so many qualifiers and qualifying phrases which often seem confusing but are necessary at a certain level of discourse.
    Bringing it back to photography. Is your purpose with a photo always to make something clear? Always to approach something in the simplest way? Or is it sometimes a more ambiguous endeavor? Some philosophy and criticism requires a certain kind of ambiguity as well. Aren't some street photos more messy, more complex, less linear? How many times have you heard PN critics dislike a photo because it has so many "distractions" when you, yourself, realize that it is precisely those so-called distractions that give the photo the complexity and energy that is so compelling? In photography, in philosophy, in literature, and in criticism, you don't always know where you are at all times. And the use of big words and technical language is often more precise, nuanced, and descriptive to the initiated and just as often a turn-off to the uninitiated.
    How Buchloh might be applied is in considering aspects of our own photos that deal with the more flexible and changing experiences we have in various moments on the one hand, and the more permanent and wide-ranging or solidly-felt realities on the other. Are we shooting THIS scene at the moment because it's THIS scene in particular or is there a more universal application it may have? And are the two mutually exclusive? Can the scene have both local meaning and a more far-reaching degree of significance? And what tools can we use photographically to communicate or express these things? How do we make a picture that would speak of some of our ideals, whether they be ethical or political or social? And how do we make a picture that speaks to our feeling of the moment, that really locates us in time? What's the difference and what's the overlap? And even if we don't think about those things as we photograph, what things in photos give us those different flavors and textures and how do those things affect the viewer's experience, the viewers FEELINGS and THOUGHTS?
     
  59. For photographic examples, compare Steichen to Man Ray.​
    So Steichen would be Mondrian, the empiricist, and Man Ray, Duchamp, the idealist? Philosophy 101 stuff to you, I'm sure, but I never quite looked at it in that way. Fascinating. But not mutually exclusive in all cases, correct? One could derive both feeling and idea from a given work of art. I know I'm simplifying greatly here, but still...
    But as I think of it more deeply, I seem to run into a possible paradox, or maybe just a bit of confusion. Let's say I take a photo of, whatever....two people on a sidewalk. One can look at the photograph and say, this is a photograph of two people on a sidewalk. Is that the empiricist? But if you believe, as I do, that the photograph itself is its own reality, and that it can carry its own meaning, symbols, and atmosphere, separate and different from the three dimensional reality of the two people at the time that the photograph was taken, then...what is that? Still empiricism, but applied to the experience of the photograph itself, rather than the experience (which only the photographer would have had) of physically being with those two people at the same time and place? If I attribute symbolism, or sociological meaning, to a photograph is it then idealism? If the idea of a photo's symbolism or sociological meaning gives me a feeling (as it does to a certain extent in the case of the Arbus photograph), how does one categorize that if we limit it to empiricism and idealism? I realize I'm being a bit silly here in that we are not limited to a two category framework. But I am trying to grasp what to make of the notion that a photograph as being its own reality.
    I'm trying to formulate what I mean even as I write about it. Which is probably not the best way to go about it and expect people to read what I'm writing. How best to put this?
    I look at a photograph of two people on the street. A putative "straight" photograph in the sense that it doesn't have critical elements that weren't there added to it (other people, a different background, unreal coloration, a message in text, etc.), nor any critical elements removed (I don't count color missing due to a black and white conversion as critical, nor the removal of dust spots, etc.). In this sense, the photograph is a two dimensional representation of what was in front of the camera, at that particular angle, at that particular point in time. Reality, or a representation thereof. A person walking down the street, pausing in that moment to look at the two people from that same angle at that same time sees the same thing. The photograph is published or hung in a gallery. Viewers of the photograph see that same moment, but for them it is frozen. And the condition of being frozen lends it a certain significance. Every photograph, good or bad, has at minimum this level of significance. This particular photograph also has, for some viewers, a surreal atmosphere that elicits a feeling from them. For some viewers (who may or may not also be receiving a feeling, but let's say for argument's sake that most of them are) the photo possesses signifiers (certain elements and details) of sociological ideas that reach beyond just the two people in the photograph, but which they seem to represent. The photograph, for these viewers, now represents a reality unto itself, conveying both feelings and ideas...a reality different from the reality experienced by the passerby who glanced at the two people over the shoulder of the photographer who originally took their picture. Okay, fine. Now what? Where am I going with this? I'm not really saying anything particularly new or unique. I was reaching toward something here, but it seems to have eluded my grasp.
    [I was writing this while you made your last post, Fred, so I've only just now seen what you last wrote. I understand that there is a necessity in some cases for a different, more complex, style of writing. My questioning him on the lack of simplicity was more offhand than serious. Everything cannot be reduced to its simplest terms without some things losing nuance and richness, I understand that. The very topic we are discussing, or a portion of it, deals to a certain extent with trying to understand those nuances and richness and how they might be conveyed to those who don't initially grasp them. Your post deserves more commentary than this, but it's late and I'm already babbling as it is.]
    In photography, in philosophy, in literature, and in criticism, you don't always know where you are at all times.​
    Absolutely. For me, personally, least of all now. ;-)
     
  60. Buchloh begins "Both critiques of the traditional practices of representation in the American postwar context had at first appeared mutually exclusive and had often fiercely attacked each other."
    Those two critiques formed around two camps: "Ad Reinhardt’s empiricist American formalism (condensed in his art-as-art formula) and Duchamp’s critique of visuality (voiced for example in the famous quip: “All my work in the period before the Nude was visual painting. Then I came to the idea...”
    Yet both of those camps were 'critical' camps. Critical of "the traditional practices of representation".
    What were the traditional practices of representation? The traditional practices that were absent in these:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=Rau..._igLXioCICA&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1626&bih=1200
    Of which Cage in 1953 wrote praise for what they weren't, per Steve's link: http://www.brooklynrail.org/special/AD_REINHARDT/ad-and-artists/between-ideology-and-poetry
    To whom, No Subject, No Image, No taste, No object, No beauty, No talent, No technique (no why), No idea, No intention, No art, No feeling, No black, No white no (and). After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not destroyed by the action of shadows. Hallelujah! the blind can be seen again; the water is fine.​
    And though in the opposing camp, seeming praise for non traditional representation that also consisted of:
    No lines or imaginings, no shapes or composings or representings, no visions or sensations or impulses, no symbols or signs or impastos, no decoratings or colorings or picturings, no pleasures or pains, no accidents or ready-mades, no things, no ideas, no relations, no attributes, no qualities —nothing that is not of the essence.​
    Which camps (the two 'critical' camps) Buchloh observers are praising similar new representational elements, praising no lines, no taste, etc. "Furthermore, even while made from opposite vantage points, the critical arguments accompanying such works systematically denied the traditional principles and functions of visual representation, constructing astonishingly similar litanies of negation."
    That is to say, both camps negated litanies of taste, symbols, signs, that is, negated the traditional elements used in the traditional practice of representation in art.
    But nevertheless, those two critical camps were still divided along linguistic v. visual lines. At this point, do we much care? Still, along came LeWitt: "Rather than privileging one over the other, LeWitt’s work (in its dialogue with Jasper Johns’s legacy of paradox) insisted on forcing the inherent contradictions of the two spheres (that of the perceptual experience and that of the linguistic experience) into the highest possible relief."
    The highest possible relief being an enumeration:
    1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
    2. Rational judgments repeat rational judgments.
    3. Irrational judgments lead to new experience.​
    Honestly, LeWitt sounds high, and Buchloh sounds like an apologist, scraping together an intellectual framework from philosophy from which a salvage operation can be launched. It's as if we're waking up after a long drunk and wondering "How did we ever do these?" Repeated link to blank canvas: https://www.google.com/search?q=Rau..._igLXioCICA&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1626&bih=1200
     
  61. Steve, I'm a little tired right now because it's late here but as I read your post I thought it was wonderful. Not wonderful in terms of right or wrong but wonderful in terms of outlook and possibility. You've provided several frameworks from which to launch. And I think you're getting at something significant in your wondering about the reality on the street and the reality of the photo and how they relate and how the photo is different from a bystander's view of the scene itself. I would add that it's not just because it's a moment frozen in time, as you note, but because it's also a framed scene isolated from the rest of its context* . . . the context being the implied space and maybe even negative space within which the frame always operates but which remains to varying degrees elusive. So if the photo itself is the subject or the reality or whatever we want to call it, the ground against which the subject is usually seen or the reality is usually known is not really there because it's outside the frame, though still implied. That's why it's so hard to grasp.
    *As important as this or that reality may be the kind of attention we pay to frozen vs. fluid moments and framed vs. unframed scenes.
    _____________________________________________________
    A person walking down the street, pausing in that moment to look at the two people from that same angle at that same time sees the same thing.​
    Not necessarily. I understand what you're saying in contrasting being there to seeing the scene in a photo hung on a wall. But keep in mind how different witnesses of the same crime so often give different accounts of what they saw, even when they were there at pretty much the same angle of view and at the same time. You can never be quite sure that someone else is seeing the same thing as you even when they're looking at the same thing.

    Anyway, when we talk about these various so-called realities, I tend to think more in terms of flux than in terms of something fixed, even when it's the reality of a still photo. A moment may be frozen in time but I'm not sure it's "reality" can be.
     
  62. "Do captions add value or do they devalue the image? Should the critiquer eliminate the caption from his review?"​
    Alan, that's a good point, something I often consider in my own photos and those of other photographers.

    As journalists of course we were expected to write photo captions (based on information provided by the photographers), headlines, good ledes for stories, teasers for the front page and jumps, and find pithy pull quotes to break up large blocks of grey text and keep the reader interested. Writing a good caption, title or headline may not be quite as difficult as writing a good joke, but a poorly written caption, title or headline can inadvertently become a bad joke.

    Wherever practical for subjects that lend themselves to such descriptions, a simple descriptive title or caption is usually preferable to "untitled" or numbers. But some abstract or unconventional photos may not lend themselves readily to simple descriptive titles and captions. And in some cases "untitled" or numbers might be preferable to another smirky reference to eyes, starfish, rosebud, balloon knots or "don't be afraid of the dark" in photos of a woman's buttocks and anus. Not every visual artist or viewer has a knack for the written word. On the other hand, many photographers manage descriptive titles or captions that are no worse than droll (notably Joel Peter Witkin's deceptively bland titles for his grotesquely and darkly humorous constructions).
    I'll admit to being partial to the baroque titles of scenes in the theatrical play The Elephant Man: "HE WILL HAVE 100 GUINEA FEES BEFORE HE'S FORTY", "THIS INDECENCY MAY NOT CONTINUE", "THE ENGLISH PUBLIC WILL PAY FOR HIM TO BE LIKE US", and "ART IS PERMITTED BUT NATURE FORBIDDEN". (These scene titles were all caps in the script and programs for the play I attended many years ago, to emphasize the sense of era.)
    And the often fanciful titles of impressionist painter Walter Sickert seem so pregnant with meaning that an entire dissertation was devoted to it: The Power of the Title and the Crisis of Meaning in Walter Sickert's 'The Camden Town Murder Series'. Before then, in 1976, author Stephen Knight speculated that Sickert's titles may have been hints to Sickert's knowledge of a conspiracy surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders. (Knight's book was never credited for the plot of the post-Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes movie Murder by Decree.) Infamously, author Patricia Cornwell took Knight's speculation to an extreme, declaring Sickert himself was the Ripper murderer and his haunting paintings and elaborate titles were confessions. Sickert retitled one particular painting - of a hangdog man sitting on a bed next to a nude woman - at least three times, variously as "The Camden Town Murder" and, earlier, "What Shall We Do for the Rent?" and "What Shall We Do to Pay the Rent". Variations of this nude on a bed painting, often with a woman whose face and features are obscured by rougher than usual brushwork, were compared with police photographs of the horrifically mutilated body of Mary Kelly, said to be the Ripper's final victim.
    Analytical critique is part art, craft and historical anthropology. I can't imagine a critic who could eliminate the title or caption from at least some consideration.
     
  63. in that fight scene. Occasionally a fellow photo.netter will offer a pithy critique, only a sentence or two, that finally clarifies for me one of my own photographs. That's a thrilling moment. Because I don't often consciously think about what I'm doing, or plan anything out. I just see something and react intuitively without hesitating to examine it. It's like trying to write out our stream of consciousness, an impossible task. We can barely even speak quickly enough to keep up with the mind's abstractions and leaping connections. But on rare and wonderful occasions, someone else can offer a single pithy observation that makes sense of what we're trying to do.​
    That's great.
    Re Derrida, my bro-in-law attended some of his classes at UCI (B in Law is a professor of Jewish literature and has been involved in Hermeneutics for many years in his work) I think he would say that deconstruction wasn't really a prank, but, Derrida probably enjoyed the implicit paradox it offers.
     
  64. Really i enjoyed that you had to say in your post. Thanks :)
     
  65. really I enjoyed what you had to say in your post.
     
  66. I read as many of the responses as my eyes would manage, got lost quite a few times but here is my feeling about photography and criticism, essentially unaffected by what has been said before.
    Any photograph has two possible components - content and meaning (or idea). Too often, 'critics' have addressed the idea only, perhaps just because the 'idea' can be well expressed in words and words are their tools and thus the 'idea' portion has become inflated in importance.
    So I see photographs/shows where there is purportedly some grand unifying idea and concept and yet there is nothing new or original or fine within the frame that justifies the excitement. I saw a two-person show in Baltimore where this concept was demonstrated in both extremes. The first photographer made very lovely, even beautiful landscapes all with and within her phone - and that was the extent of the art. It was lovely but no more. The other artist constructed a series of still life images, all reflected off of some surface; the idea was interesting, but the images not very skillfully executed.
    The discussions of these two artists were extensive and full of high flown ideas and emotions that weren't represented in the frame. Words and ideas are essentially no cost additives to pictures. Art is hard and using words and injected ideas to make any specific attempt at art more important is easy and critics like it because it makes the critics part of the creative process rather than being on the sidelines.
    There is a balance between totally pre-digested art, like Hummel figurines, where everything is solved and there is no effort required from the viewer to understand and relate and what I see too often in galleries where the art doesn't carry any meaning or idea and that all must be supplied by words added on afterwards.
    For me, I hope my work is a communication between me and the viewer. I am showing them something I think is important or interesting and I expect only a certain minimum amount of shared knowledge for what I am showing to be understandable.
    If I have to explain anything then the art has failed.
    Yes, I accept that this is an almost primitive attitude but my gut feeling is that is the only way I know that what I am doing is real and successful. A comedian does not want canned laughter, I don't want extra words telling anyone why my work is meaningful/good/important/etc.
    [to be clear and honest, no one has ever yet said that my work is 'meaningful/good/important/etc' so my last hope is that I will be recognized as a great photographer after I'm dead but I am putting off the inevitable fame as long as possible. :) ]
     
  67. no one has ever yet said that my work is 'meaningful/good/important/etc
    Lewis, have you considered why that may be the case and does it matter to you? Have you been able to articulate, for yourself, why your work is or isn't meaningful/good/important/etc. and if it isn't or isn't enough, what could make it more so, if you'd want to?
    I find, sometimes, that putting things into words, whether it's me putting them into words about my own work or, as Lex mentions above, someone else putting something significant into words about my work, can be very helpful to my own evolution and growth and ability to express through photos.
    By the way, I think you made an important point about criticism dwelling on ideas because words may be seen as more appropriate to ideas than other things which also apply to art. I wouldn't, and I'm not suggesting you are, toss out criticism or aesthetic philosophy because of that. I would simply recognize their limitations and dwell instead on some of things they can accomplish.
    When it comes to explanations of art, people tend to discuss this in terms of a photographer or artist having to explain. What if a photographer or artist simply wants to explain something, perhaps his or her motivation for doing something or the circumstances surrounding his or her making something?
    Here's an example of where a critic may help. The first thing someone coming in from outer space might notice about Mozart's music is how structured it is. And that's true and important. But a critic might point out to the person who's knowledge is limited that all of Mozart's contemporaries worked within a given structure. There was no jazz yet. And there was nothing yet resembling the romanticism of later centuries or the impressionism of the French musicians that was to come. A critic might suggest that the structure itself was more like a given, a means to work within. The space alien will then understand and also FEEL more of the daring and originality of Beethoven as he started breaking the rules. And he will be able to listen to Mozart beyond the confines of the structure, to hear what Mozart is doing within the structure that he worked. The limits of the structure itself may then fade as the importance of what's going on within that structure becomes more noticeable. Mozart didn't create or determine the structure. In many ways it was pre-determined for him. I think we hear different things and focus on different things once we know that. A good critic can provide much of this kind of information to us.
    I've always found it helpful to read philosophy, criticism, and even political essays judiciously. When someone tells me how they feel, I accept that as a personal take on something. When they start telling me how to feel, I'm a bit more skeptical.
    My own thinking is that great art is more than just a sharing between artist and viewer or listener. It's got a lot of history and community and cultural context built into it. A critic can help provide a sense of that which a lot of people aren't immediately aware of. This can greatly expand my experience of something.
    It's not necessarily a matter of the artwork's failure that it is helped by some sorts of explanation. It may also be, at times, a failure of the viewer or listener. And I don't really like the word "failure" here, so let's say it can be a matter of the limited exposure or knowledge or way of being in touch with the work of art that a good critic can sometimes help provide access to. Some photos and paintings make important references to previous work. Many are, in fact, responses to works from decades or centuries ago. Knowing that will add a level of depth to the experience of the photo or painting and there's no reason why a work can't benefit from such knowledge and it's often a critic who will provide that information, because most people are not as aware of the history of art and photography as a lot of critics are.
     
  68. Is there a limit to how long a PN thread can go on? Or some unspoken code of PN social propriety that tells one, "You've beaten this horse long enough. Please leave off and move on."? Please, no one respond, it is not a serious question. I know that there are no such rules. It's just that I can see someone coming along, trying to catch up with everything that has been written and then saying, "Oh! The hell with it. Those hot air blowhards are at it again!" I am cognizant of that. But so many posters have opened up so many avenues for me that I can't help wanting to explore them a little.
    Deconstruction and my previous paragraph above: By stepping outside this thread, so to speak, and commenting upon it and commenting upon potential participants and their reaction to it....is this not, in terms of this thread, a bit deconstructive? Just a thought...
    As much as I have tried to comment on other posters in here, lately I seem to be addressing only Fred. Last night, Charles W. had some interesting observations to make on Buchloh and where certain "camps" can lead...
    Which camps (the two 'critical' camps) Buchloh observers are praising similar new representational elements, praising no lines, no taste, etc. "Furthermore, even while made from opposite vantage points, the critical arguments accompanying such works systematically denied the traditional principles and functions of visual representation, constructing astonishingly similar litanies of negation."
    That is to say, both camps negated litanies of taste, symbols, signs, that is, negated the traditional elements used in the traditional practice of representation in art.
    But nevertheless, those two critical camps were still divided along linguistic v. visual lines. At this point, do we much care? Still, along came LeWitt: "Rather than privileging one over the other, LeWitt’s work (in its dialogue with Jasper Johns’s legacy of paradox) insisted on forcing the inherent contradictions of the two spheres (that of the perceptual experience and that of the linguistic experience) into the highest possible relief."
    The highest possible relief being an enumeration:
    1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
    2. Rational judgments repeat rational judgments.
    3. Irrational judgments lead to new experience.
    Honestly, LeWitt sounds high, and Buchloh sounds like an apologist, scraping together an intellectual framework from philosophy from which a salvage operation can be launched. It's as if we're waking up after a long drunk and wondering "How did we ever do these?" Repeated link to blank canvas: https://www.google.com/search?q=Rau..._igLXioCICA&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1626&bih=1200
    I did not comment on this last night, Charles, but I found it fascinating and spent a little time looking at the links again, looking up some other related links and images of paintings. Perhaps it was my exhausted brain at the time, but I felt that in some way I understood some of it to the extent that Rauschenberg's white/blank canvas actually made sense to me. Maybe lack of sleep at the time rendered me just as "high" as LeWitt. I really do find it interesting and it "tweaks" my view of photography just enough to make me believe that I can look at things just a little differently now. So thanks. What else could one ask for?
    Fred: Steve, I'm a little tired right now because it's late here but as I read your post I thought it was wonderful. Not wonderful in terms of right or wrong but wonderful in terms of outlook and possibility. You've provided several frameworks from which to launch. And I think you're getting at something significant in your wondering about the reality on the street and the reality of the photo and how they relate and how the photo is different from a bystander's view of the scene itself. I would add that it's not just because it's a moment frozen in time, as you note, but because it's also a framed scene isolated from the rest of its context* . . . the context being the implied space and maybe even negative space within which the frame always operates but which remains to varying degrees elusive. So if the photo itself is the subject or the reality or whatever we want to call it, the ground against which the subject is usually seen or the reality is usually known is not really there because it's outside the frame, though still implied. That's why it's so hard to grasp.
    *As important as this or that reality may be the kind of attention we pay to frozen vs. fluid moments and framed vs. unframed scenes.
    _____________________________________________________
    A person walking down the street, pausing in that moment to look at the two people from that same angle at that same time sees the same thing.​
    Not necessarily. I understand what you're saying in contrasting being there to seeing the scene in a photo hung on a wall. But keep in mind how different witnesses of the same crime so often give different accounts of what they saw, even when they were there at pretty much the same angle of view and at the same time. You can never be quite sure that someone else is seeing the same thing as you even when they're looking at the same thing.

    Anyway, when we talk about these various so-called realities, I tend to think more in terms of flux than in terms of something fixed, even when it's the reality of a still photo. A moment may be frozen in time but I'm not sure it's "reality" can be.​
    Fred: In one of your previous posts, you talk about why philosophers or scholars may go on at length, answering potential counter-arguments which, although they have not been made yet, the author can see coming. In your comments immediately above, you respond to some of my observations. As I wrote that post, I actually started to put in qualifiers, such as a parenthetical aside that I actually wrote but then deleted:
    (yes, yes, I know that due to personal history, emotional state, call it cognitive dissonance if you like, the observer looking over the photographer's shoulder does not really see it exactly as the photographer does...)

    For the sake of brevity, I did not insert all the qualifiers that I thought of. When I write in PN, particularly the POP board, I sometimes assume that a reader will accept my general premise, understanding that I realize it is not absolute, but accepting my generalized premise on the basis that I'm trying to make a point. (And now I am compelled to quality that -- I also understand that precision, specificity, can be critical in many cases to arriving at a certain conclusion and that sometimes one feels compelled to point out the qualifiers that the poster did not.)
    As to negative space, implied space outside the frame, or seeing the "frozen" moment also in terms of it being a 1/250 sec slice of a flowing action (flux) which has many slices preceding it, and many slices which came after (and which, in some ways, are still flowing even in the case of a photograph which may have been taken in 1864 or 1934) -- all of that, too, can potentially be seen as part of the reality of the photo, even while they are realities separate from the photo. Very hard to grasp, indeed.
    Okay. Finally, I am going to shut up....
     
  69. Lewis, have you considered why that may be the case and does it matter to you? Have you been able to articulate, for yourself, why your work is or isn't meaningful/good/important/etc. and if it isn't or isn't enough, what could make it more so, if you'd want to?​
    I didn't mean to imply that I don't think my own work is 'meaningful/good/important/etc.' I am my own second favorite photographer (behind Garry Winogrand) but I am very chary of talking about any specific picture because that bell cannot be unrung. Once I say what and why, the listener is influenced by my emotions and feelings, having heard them. I will go so far as setting the scene but rarely, if ever, say why I took the shot. That should be evident.
    For approximately that reason, I don't participate in shows because I don't want to consider audience reaction and let that influence what I choose to enter. I made this decision forever when a gallery committee chose what they thought the audience would like.
    I like it when people like my pictures but don't care if they don't. At this point, the only disappointment in photography that I feel strongly is when I'm not as good as I want and I don't need approval from others to support my own feeling of self worth. (All of that may be anticipatory self-defense against rejection.)
     
  70. Just one immediate comment, Steve. By adding the part about different observers seeing different things, I was in no way assuming that you were being absolutist or intentionally leaving something out. Because this is a conversation, I often simply try to build on what someone else has said and, as you just suggested in your last post, that's not because I think they don't know it but because I think it adds something to the conversation and all of our understanding. Maybe I should have phrased it differently, because I meant it in the spirit of cooperation and not as a correction. In any case, I think we understand each other well enough not to worry too much about this stuff. A little miscommunication and some amount of simple clarification is often needed in communications of these sorts.
    seeing the "frozen" moment also in terms of it being a 1/250 sec slice of a flowing action (flux) which has many slices preceding it, and many slices which came after​
    This is great. And it reminds me that the next thread I start, and I haven't started one in a long time, might address the connection between photography and "the moment." While I think moment and decisive moment are important and fascinating concepts in photography, I also like thinking beyond and outside that so-called frozen moment. Because there's so much history involved, because there can be planning involved or, if not planning, a photographer's build-up of previous experience that leads to a photo, because a photo can provide a narrative, because a photo may have symbols that reach outside the frame and the moment, because a photo has references to previous photos and to other times, a lot is packed into a photo that is more than just the moment.
     
  71. Well. Whether it is to often or otherwise is not important IMO. When the feeling is, it can only fill its room in parlance of the time, so to say, and because there is no alternative actually, the limitations has to be only imaginable. I would say, if you happend to be the one for feeling the only way is fearless cultivation.
     
  72. Steve: "...but I felt that in some way I understood some of it to the extent that Rauschenberg's white/blank canvas actually made sense to me."
    So I took a look here: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78976 )Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting) who there is quoted "The one thing to say about art and life,” he proclaimed, “is that art is art and life is life.” MoMA says further "This elimination of both subject matter and subjectivity, he argued, liberated art from the practical demands of both politics and society." Art then for Reinhardt becomes purely an aesthetic experience?
    Frank Stella (quoted by Buchloh "what you see is what you see") a MoMA: http://www.moma.org/collection/brow...5640&page_number=1&template_id=6&sort_order=1 . If you scroll the work at the top of that page, arriving at "More Works", and look at the "More", then consider http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Memantra_pic.JPG . The ask ourselves if his sculpture is just as good as his drawing/painting?
    MoMA Stella biography: "In 1950 Stella entered the Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, where he studied art history and painting; it was here that he realized that he had no interest in representational painting." Well, it had to be somewhere that Stella realized he had no interest in representational painting.
    But I'm sure there are critics who argue for traditional representation though Buchloh doesn't argue that maybe the two critical camps didn't do all that good a job for the public, compared to traditional representation, in presenting the same old aspects of that old saw of ideology v poetry (Bartles phrasing). Because the same philosophical themes are there in traditional representation and explainable to the public without having to point in the lecture to something that really just looks like an elaborate practical joke (unless you get intensely educated.)
     

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