The vacuum?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by samstevens, Sep 8, 2021.

  1. This is from a post in a recent thread about William Eggleston.
    Makes me wonder what exactly is wrong with the beatification of certain artists. Is it a perennial problem, as the poster suggests, or is it a natural human reaction?

    I think I’m able to still take Eggleston’s photos on face value, to a great extent, regardless of his stature. But his fame, success, all that’s been written about him, his place in the history of photography do not have to be things that get in my way. What if all those things are simply part of art? Art is about human reactions. How history views it, how curators, critics, and gallery owners view it may be just as important as how any individual does.

    Why wouldn’t I let experts in the art world through the ages influence me when looking at art? They have a sense of art history and a deepened and studied perspective that often challenges me to look at work I might not otherwise have heard of and might not “get” without some background.

    Photos and art can and do stand on their own, but they don’t have to. They are cultural as well as individual phenomena.

    That the Mona has had praise heaped upon it for centuries shouldn’t be problematic to my viewing it. I am allowed to still not like it if I choose. The art police don’t show up at my door if I say negative things about it. But why not make its centuries of praise and iconic status part of my viewing experience instead of attempting, in vain, to view it in a vacuum? It’s history simply adds layers to the experience. It takes nothing away.

    Art has the world swirling around it. Museums are not places where context is left out and judgments haven’t already been made. Why not see the art as part of that world instead of expecting it to stand on its own or be isolated from what we know about it to be supposedly experienced as untarnished or pure? Why isn’t art without its context and history and already-formed judgments the false narrative?
  2. No problem here- I had never heard of him!
    samstevens likes this.
  3. Does the fact that you heard of him via PN, already reading opinions about his work, in any way undercut your experience of the photos? Would you rather have stumbled upon his work on your own, with no introduction?
  4. ". Why not see the art as part of that [the] world instead of expecting it to stand on its own or be isolated from what we know about it to be supposedly experienced as untarnished or pure?"
    For myself, give me both. It's a journey that most often starts with a gut reaction pure or not (?). After that initial response it taps into intellect, experience, knowledge, context, curiosity...
    Ultimately i am left with a combination of pure and tarnished. But the written or voiced tarnish most often enhances the relationship i have with the work.
    Eggleston was unknown to me when i first saw a book of his. I had a strong reaction to it. Snapshots but so much more. They had a power to reach me in a way that was new to me. As i learned more it informed my gut reaction.
    One very memorable & influential similar experience i had was with the book 'The Solitude of Ravens' by MasahisaFukase. I was at a bookstore browsing for Audubon books in the nature section (a vacuum of sorts). I came across the ravens book and was mesmerized by it. I had an extreme gut reaction. Later i learned about Fukase and his motivation for the series. And that is what i was getting from the collection. It also opened the door to Provoke... are-bure-boke and other Japanese photographers that i may have missed or passed over without the context provided by the written word.
  5. Yes. I think it’s probably always a combination of both. I was emphasizing that knowledge, fame, beatification, positive reviews, and all sorts of info don’t ruin anything. But, absolutely, gut reactions are significant and moving.
    I’d say I’ve more often been introduced in one way or another to art, whether through friends, teachers, books, or links. Often, that intro has an influence on me which I more often find positive than negative, since most often it comes from someone whose aesthetics I value pointing me toward something. Still, I’m able to form my own opinions and sense of wonder and appreciation and be with the work at face value, even while what I know is, of course, baked in. I don’t always have to eat everything that’s out on my plate.
  6. I didn't read much about him, only looking at some images after seeing this thread. I'm not sure reading more would have made a lot of difference. I judge photos based on the accumulation of decades of exposure to images and text, not so much whatever comments I might have read last. As for the photos, I understand what people see in his work intellectually, but they don't produce any intensity of feeling for me. Reading the backstory is interesting and, IMO, desirable, but doesn't change much at my gut level.
  7. Cool. Thanks.
  8. Yeah I got that. But I decided to be the one to state the obvious (this time). Obvious to some but not all. I think for some, many here it does ruin their experience.

    My introductions to photos/photographers, genre & styles have been almost exclusively through books and the references they have, shows, reviews and now the internet. Not even much of a smoke screen of influence just information. The praise or doubts often found in the introductions and reviews have no weight for me. Photography has always been a solitary journey for me and that includes learning about others and looking at images.
    When it comes to music fame or praise does influence me. Not as a final critique but whether i reconsider my initial reaction. After that without thinking it occasionally changes my reaction to the music. It feels organic but I think it was manipulated by reviews but I still might enjoy it and it provides a value. Ultimately tho it is not ruined because after the process of being informed i am left with do I like it or not and that stands independant of what others think.
  9. Personally, my reaction to a 'negative' comment is as likely to stir a move on my part toward the antithesis, as it is to influence me negatively.

    My very earliest teacher comment in grade school of course was "does not play well with other children". It is a theme that recurs, so there must be something to it. o_O

    I don't think I am hated, but I may just be oblivious.
  10. That’s a good twist to the discussion. Early on, I determined that some of the negative comments of PN posters about photos here or more famous photographers could serve as an introduction to more challenging and less mass-consumed photos. I’ve often told folks who don’t get as many likes as others that that can be as much a badge of honor as anything else. Here’s to the antithesizers!
  11. I think I got some of those, too.

    One that I still remember so many years later. My dad was putting in a underground sprinkler system in our
    house when I was in Kindergarten. I would sometimes model sprinkler systems with Tinkertoys, until the
    teacher made a rule against it. Sometime later, I was working on one, and the teacher mentioned how
    nice it was. But then when I told her what it was, she then didn't like it. I could not figure out at all,
    how something could be nice, and then not nice, when it hadn't changed.

    As for the subject here, it seems that as with Kindergarten art, it isn't only what it looks like, but
    what the artist had in mind. We might change our views of art depending on our views of the artist.
    Or, as above, on others' views of the artist. It does seem strange, though.

    And this reminds me of a cartoon from recent months, with a Kindergartener working on an art project
    that says "Happy Mothers' Day". When the teacher comes around to correct her, the student has to
    explain: "I know how it works in English when you have two mommies!" Yes, some people will always
    want to "correct" other people's art.

    Then there are those who don't think photography is a real art, as it doesn't take weeks or months
    to make, like oil painting and marble sculpture. (Not that I agree.)
  12. SCL


    Personally I take other's opinions in many things, whether it be photography, art in general, or even the issue of getting vaccinated against a covid variant, for what they are...opinions. If the commentor has expertise and can rationally defend their opinion, I give it more weight, recognizing that often opinions change with additional knowledge or the passage of time.
  13. I appreciate what you’re saying. To me, it’s just life. Life is often messy. There is lots of info coming at us all the time, lots of opinions and influences surrounding us. Very little, if anything, comes to us as a tabula rasa. And it’s not either/or. It’s more a matter of degree. Sometimes our encounters with art are relatively free of outside influence, sometimes not. We filter in various ways and to various degrees in varying situations and contexts. We ask our doctors for referrals to other doctors and we use various consumer guidance mechanisms to get shopping recommendations. We’re almost always using others’ opinions to some advantage. Yet, we’re also invested in, and rightly so, our individuality and subjective relationship to the world. The best I’ve been able to do is appreciate the counterpoint and become aware of influences. Via doing those two things, I am developing both a photographer’s and viewer’s voice I can call my own even while knowing and embracing the fact it’s also partially shared and cultural.
  14. I think this is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to art. While most non-ignoramuses are willing to allow medical experts an influential if not final voice in their medical decisions and most rational people will let an electrician guide their decisions about circuitry in their homes, fewer are inclined to consider anyone but themselves expert enough to guide them with respect to art. Surely, art is different from medicine and electronics and a more subjective matter than both. But art’s high dosage of subjectivity doesn’t negate that there are also art experts who have a place in the world of art and can often be counted on to provide a healthy dose of more objective knowledge such as the place of an artist in history, prior influences on that artist, artist’s biographies which might give clues about emotional and subjective aspects of the art they produce, and on and on. The stubborn resistance to art criticism, expertise, and theory helps make for a lot of individuals who are art illiterate, even while they’re being entertained by it.
  15. Interesting topic of discussion … I will provide some random thoughts that come to mind.

    When I view art, I know that sometimes my perspective and taste can differ from those of art experts and I consciously make it part of the viewing experience. I also know that it’s not always a difference in viewpoint or subjective impression. I can miss things that others might have noticed, and by reading commentaries/ analysis of art critics, I can learn to see those things that I missed before. This has happened to me many times. So, I feel that the concept of viewing art in vacuum is overrated than it needs to be.

    I think, beatification of the artist rather than a specific piece of art can be misleading to some people who think that all works coming from a famous artist must be of similar quality. However, in reality, artists grow, mature, the intent and style of their works change with their life experiences. It’s important to take that into account when viewing their works.

    We have to realize that art experts are humans too, they also have their own biases. Seeing the equivalent in the academic world, I have to think that herd mentality plays a role in art reviewing too. Revolutionary works, newer styles may be derided initially. However, all that aside, I think there is overall value in learning about others opinions about art, as much as what my inner voice tells me.
  16. For example, as a child, I used to think that realism is the best thing one can achieve in a landscape painting. How close a painting can get to reality might somehow determine the quality of the work or the artist. However, as I grew up, I learned to see value in aspects of painting like color, contrast and texture that don’t always contribute to realism, but create dynamism and accentuate the emotional sensation of a scene or atmosphere, as in Impressionism. If I always viewed art in vacuum, I may not have learned that or taken a long time to get there. The history of art critics and filtering may have influenced me to appreciate such works. On the other hand, if I was born in the late 19th century when Impressionism was just getting started and there was a conflict in the art world regarding the value of the new style, it might have influenced me in different ways.
  17. This is a great observation. It reminds of one way the auteur theory of film works. Andrew Sarris, who promulgated this way of looking at films, suggested that even the lesser quality films of great directors may be more significant than the films of lesser quality directors because they most often still reflect the brilliance of their better films and can also show some of the building blocks of their finer works even while not necessarily measuring up to them. Of course, while still recognizing the beauty of rare films from directors with not a lot of successes or even one-hit wonders.
    Another important point. I want to add, though, that if herd mentality is one extreme of communal response, the other is that wonderful feeling when most everyone knows they’re seeing something great and the joy of that experience seems both warranted and infectious. Standing ovations at operas, symphonies, and Broadway plays have become de rigueur but there was a time when they were very rare, and a spontaneous standing ovation meant and felt like something very special.

    Welcome back, Supriyo. This is why I’ve missed you.
    Supriyo likes this.
  18. I think there may be an irony in this. While that may redound poorly to critics, especially in hindsight, it may also provide some inspiration to artists who are sometimes provocateurs and many of whom will appreciate that kind of reaction and also have enough confidence in and love for their own work that they consider rejection by the sanctioned art world a badge of honor. The problem, of course, is putting food on the table while wearing that badge!
  19. I think I did, and (mostly) still do.

    It doesn't mean that I can't appreciate paintings, but it is just a little different.
    And especially if they are both in the same museum.
  20. Don't like him. The big cheese curator John Szarkowski made him. Most of his stuff is boring crap. But you know the saying...opinions are like assholes...everyone's got one!
    apostolos_tournas likes this.

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