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another angle on "interpretation"

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<p><a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130154322">http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130 154322</a></p>

<p>Driving, I just happened to hear the broadcast linked above. It seems to me to relate to the "Against Interpretation" essay of Susan Sontag (earlier thread).</p>

<p>Why do some of us "interpret" rather than "describe?" Click on that link and you'll see description (the music and audio will be available this evening).</p>

<p>Why do some of us think it's impossible to find meaning in photos without interpretation, yet presumably find meaning in music?</p>

<p>Some of us approach photos using the kind of terms that explain "programmatic music" (highbrow link below...there's also Wiki and Britannica) ....they want the photo to tell a story. For example, for them a photo involving a grave stone or shadow tells a story of death or passage of time (avoiding observations like "it's a nicely lit gravestone, but it's just another gravestone... why photograph it?")</p>

<p><a href="http://www.classicalforums.com/articles/Rise_of_Programmatic_Music.html">http://www.cla ssicalforums.com/articles/Rise_of_Programmatic_Music.html</a></p>

<p>I think it's interesting that some interpret photos, but may not interpret Bach or Mingus.</p>

<p>If I identify music as "blues" or say it's "atonal" I've partially described it. I don't think I've "interpreted it."</p>

<p>What's the difference, if there is one, between responding to music and to a photograph (other than foot-tapping)?</p>

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<p>Music tends to be more abstract than photographs.</p>

<p>Though I recognize a difference between a photograph and the subject photographed, there is a relationship between the two. So, a photograph is often about something or someone.</p>

<p>When a subject is <em>merely</em> used as a symbol or as something to be interpreted, I find it usually lacks substance. Elements in photos may act as symbols or be interpreted, but my main concern is to connect with them in a sensual and present way (Sontag's "erotic"). If a symbol (perhaps a smile on a face, a tear in an eye, a tombstone) is no more than a symbol or the representation of an idea, then it might as well be written about. Presumably, a photograph would be taken because there is also something to show, right there, right in the smile or the tear or the tombstone. If I get too hung up in the idea I want to present, I can easily lose what's right in front of me: the picture, the texture, the feel, the touch, the curves, the look. Perhaps for some those sensual qualities are simply in service of an idea. For me, that would be like making love as a chore to conceive.</p>

<p>I think one of the significant aspects of photographs is that they are both literal and abstract. Music is not literal in that way. The literal is very significant in photographs and it's also overly tempting.</p>

<p>I had a blind friend who was a musician and piano tuner. He had a less abstract approach to music. He carried a tape recorder and created symphonies from street sounds, passerby conversations, etc. He was taking literal sound and abstracting it into a musical form. The abstraction was less complete than with most musical works. He was almost making a sound photograph.</p>

<p>It would be hard to see a picture of a guy standing in the doorway of a house with a vast landscape behind him and not see it as a guy standing in the doorway of a house with a vast landscape behind him. In fact, I wouldn't want to see it as only sensual, only compositional, only form or a matter of light and dark. Seeing it as "the guy standing in a doorway of a . . ." is different from then interpreting it as a statement about the smallness of man against the greatness of nature. Noticing the texture of the man's withered face against the texture of the aging wood of the house would be a description, not an interpretation. That would be a more sensual approach than the grander idea one might impose onto it.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>Yes, good thoughts re photo vs music. What about "interpretation" and "meaning?"</p>

<p>If you see that man's withered face against aging wood, does it "mean" something in a way that's different from that inherently abstracted music you've mentioned? Does it inherently say something about age, or might it say "textural" and be ideal, for reasons of the medium itself, for a certain kind of printing technique? </p>

<p>As you may (?) have hinted, <strong>music may be more absolutely literal</strong> than a photographic image "of something" can be. It is inescapably the thing itself, does not necessarily refer to anything else (unless it's "programmatic" or widely known to be intended as religious memorial).</p>

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<p>It's difficult to imagine that a serious composer, conductor or performer would disparage the idea of "musical interpretation".</p>

<p>Addressing the specific question of the listener's role (as distinct from the composer's, conductor's, and performer's roles) in "musical interpretation", here are extracts from an interesting, non-condescending, well-written essay/lecture by Herbert Brun. It dates to 1970, six years after <em>Against Interpretation</em> appeared.</p>

<p>Titled <em>The Listener's Interpretation of Music; An Experience Between Cause and Effect</em>, it focuses precisely on the questions raised above, and in the cited earlier thread. Its approach, however, is very different. (And unlike Sontag's opus, it is not presented as a manifesto.) Many of Brun's terms and concepts apply equally to other nonverbal arts, including photography. He addresses the necessity of "definitions" and "a language common to all", then explores their limitations, and deals (I think) with some of Fred's repeated concerns, in a way that Fred might find useful.</p>

<p>These extracts are lengthy, about 50% of the original, but it's difficult to do them justice in a brief summary:</p>


<p>"At a given moment <em> the language</em> considered <em> common to all</em> is able to pave the way to an agreement on the <em> facts</em> which have happened and could have been perceived. But to agree in terms, understandable to all, on the effects which such perceptions may have on the perceiver, <em> a language common to all</em> must be looked for, found; if necessary, be invented...</p>

<p>"<strong>A composer causes an event, which reaches me, the listener, in an acoustical way, causing me to have an experience.</strong> <strong>My reaction to the experience causes an effect</strong> which I can communicate to myself and, if I find words for it, to others. [<em>emphasis added</em>]</p>

<p>"And the other way around: The communication of my reaction permits you to deduce from it my attitude towards an experience, of which I maintain that it was caused by a composer's work.</p>

<p>"<strong>In both directions we get to a certain point where the relationship between the composer and the listener seems to be a very close one. At that point, namely, where we have put the word experience...But from this point on the listener is on the job.</strong> And (depending on how much of the event is experienced), <em> the listener</em> will be the cause of the effect which can be communicated to the listener or, if words are found for it, to others. <strong> The relationship between the composer and the listener is the closest at the moment when the composer can not do anything any more, when the work is being performed, and when the listener still can do everything, that is, let as much as possible of the event become an experience.</strong> That is the moment in which the new can become venerable and the old can become fresh: where the unheard of is heard and the unknown taken cognizance of; where private possession can turn into common good. I am speaking of that moment in art which lies between real life and artificial commotion, in short of the moment of art. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"The responsibility for it, that such a moment be fertile and worthy of all the questions and wishes attached to it, rests of course with the composer as much as with the listener. <strong>It is absurd that throughout the history of music and its social functions, the word <em> genius,</em> frequently applied to composers, never yet has been applied to a listener.</strong> But I shall offer you a reason for this negligence...[<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"In fact, of course, the listener alone is competent for the personal experience. <strong>The listener is not responsible for the composition which causes the experience, and is not entirely the master of the effects which the experience causes. But the listener is completely and absolutely free in the matter of personal experience.</strong> [<em>e.a.</em>] I shall soon elaborate on this claim...</p>

<p>"Most people develop their wishes and desires out of experience. They wish to be something too, to have something too, to experience something too. <strong>Few people invent wishes and desires. If they do, one speaks of them as those who possess imagination and a talent for having ideas. If such a person also presents an example for the fulfillment of the invented wishes, then that person can be called the author of a work of art. </strong> And if the example is produced by musical means, then the author, who invented the wishes, is a composer of music, and the example for the fulfillment of these wishes a musical composition. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"The composers find pleasure in that they first invent a wish or a question and then compose for themselves a fulfillment or an answer. <strong>The listeners to whom the composition is played can find their pleasure if they now find or invent wishes and questions for which this music means fulfillment and answer. The listener's pleasure depends on just the same talent for imagination and for having ideas as the composer's pleasure,</strong> and the title <em> genius,</em> or some less abused equivalent suitable to 20th century taste, is actually waiting to be granted to deserving listeners of music. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"<strong>As soon as the listeners have understood the work</strong> which was heard as a function of wish and fulfillment, of question and answer, of problem and solution, <strong>even though the understanding is based on the wishes and questions which the listeners contributed</strong>, they then are ready for the next step in the process of appreciating the music.... [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"In short, I maintain that <strong>the composer causes the music and the listener causes the effect of the music. In between lies the experience of the listener, consisting of a mental activity, which is looking for pleasure. This attitude of listening to music, diligently active between cause and effect, is neither the analysis of the composition nor the criticism of its effect.</strong> To listen in such a way to music requires neither a professional musical terminology nor an aptitude for sociological diagnosis. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"<strong>It is at this point where the language common to all occasionally seems to be inadequate, and where many music lovers, who wish to communicate their firm and honest opinions on some musical experience, hesitate</strong> and then come up with the apparently apologetic remark: ``I do not really know anything about music, but... etc.'' They mean that they do not know the professional terminology. Would they really believe that they do not understand anything about music, I think they would remain silent. <strong>In fact, no musical experience can be described in professional language. This technical vocabulary is irreplaceable only when we attempt to explain how and by what means the experience was brought about. And that is a job for musical and psychological analysis.</strong> [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"<strong>The freedom of a person to have an <em> own opinion</em> is not disputed. But this does not justify the assumption that the person made use of that freedom</strong> when the opinion was adopted, nor does it justify the belief that a freely maintained opinion could be free of inevitable consequences. <strong>The law in several civilized countries declares the personal opinion of a witness to be incompetent and irrelevant when the purpose lies in finding the truth.</strong> Honesty reflects on what a person actually knows, not on what that person could have known. <strong>Assuming now that you in all honesty make use of your freedom to form an opinion on some experience, we could say with other words that you apply to the experience all that you know. But not more than you know, if you are honest.</strong> Doubtlessly, honesty is a credit to a person. But the more a person knows, the more credit the honesty deserves. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"<strong>As long as listeners of music ask whether they liked or disliked the composition, the listeners alone are competent for the answer.</strong> And unless I want to change these listeners and their attitude towards listening, the listeners' decision is not open to dispute. <strong>But should they ask whether it was a good composition,</strong> which they liked or disliked, <strong>then they propose to separate the information on themselves from the information on the work. That is, they propose to criticize the <em> cause</em> for their experience separately from the <em> result</em> of their experience,</strong> namely the effect it had on them. Here, I believe, a dispute, a discussion, a controversy will prove fertile and interesting... [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"<strong>`In what way and by what means did the series of events constitute a coherent context?'</strong> is the next question. One frequently hears how after the performance of some new music, listeners complain: ``All I heard was a series of disconnected events, which did not make any sense''. These listeners should investigate whether they do not use the term <em> connection</em> in a too limited way. <strong>In music, contrary to language, it is not the connection which makes sense, but it is the sense which creates the connection.</strong> [<em>emphasis added</em>] Therefore, these artificial connections do not have to imitate the progress of causal, evolutionary, or dramatic connections. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"The next question, and for today the last I have time to mention, is: <strong>`What did the music intend to mean, and how does that compare with what it actually meant to me?'' This is really the listener's question and the composer's question and, last not least, the question which the music itself asks the listener.</strong> For this is to be remembered when one seriously means to speak about art: Works of art do not possess the kind of reality which forces people to take cognizance of it for the sake of their lives. They are not necessary unless one needs them. <strong>This need is a creation of the mind.</strong> At the risk of being reproached for exaggeration through simplification and accused of attempting gross flattery, I'd like to express my opinion as follows: <strong> Music is initiated by a need which listeners created in their minds. Music takes this need seriously.</strong> If listeners occasionally neglect or even ridicule their creation, the need, no wonder if then serious music seems to them to be needlessly aggravating. [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>

<p>"T<strong>here are three kinds of music for three kinds of listener.</strong> [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>


<li> "First the music which reorganizes already established music elements into new patterns. This is music for the listener who enjoys the status quo, to be looked at from different angles. </li>

<li> "Second there is the music which enlivens old patterns with new musical elements. This is music for the connoisseurs, the listeners who enjoy looking at themselves from different angles. </li>

<li> "And last, but not least, there is the music in which <em> new</em> musical elements create <em> their</em> new patterns. This is music for listeners who are still conscious of the fact that, after all, <em> they</em> had once created the need for music in their minds, and who now are happy and gratified if this need is met, in that at last they <em> can</em> hear what they <em> never</em> had heard before. </li>


<p>"So everything is nicely organized, and everybody could find whatever anyone likes. The only difficulty seems to be that usually you are not quite sure to which category you belong and to what kind of music you are listening. And <strong>if you confuse the three kinds of listener and the three kinds of music, your judgment will inform us of the confusion and not of the music or the effect it had.</strong> Now everybody has the ability to want something. So you can want to look at the status quo, at yourself, and at something new. <strong>You can, if you want to, adopt all three attitudes towards listening to music. The adoption of the attitude most suitable to the music in each case will guarantee the maximum of pleasure and the necessary minimum of understanding. </strong> To find this attitude demands a certain effort, a certain elasticity, and a considerable sense of humor. <strong>The pleasure in seeking and finding the suitable attitude, and the critical evaluation of the conditions under which it could be adopted, enable you, if you so wish, to pass the very important judgment of a listener on a musical composition which you heard.</strong> [<em>e.a.</em>]<strong> </strong></p>

<p>"<strong>The listener's interpretation of music refers to an experience <em> between</em> cause and effect. The experience is the pleasure in the <em> cause</em>. The <em> effect</em> is the expression of your approval or disapproval of this pleasure.</strong> <em> Your</em> criticism is <em> its</em> communication. (Provided that you are not a person who happens to have the radio on, but a person who for one reason or another is intent on listening to some music.)" [<em>e.a.</em>]</p>


<p>The complete essay is at > http://www.herbertbrun.org/listener.html</p>

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<p>I don't really know that music or any art is really approached differently, just differently by different people most likely.</p>

<p>As a visual artist, I have more interest in the visual and sometimes a piece can take me somewhere else, just as music can, for that matter. But with an image in front of me, I can start to see relationships and meanings that are there in the little things. I can many times determine the social class of the subject of a portrait or maybe their sophistication or interests, especially in an environmental portrait done in their space by paying attention to the details and even detritus that might be laying around. Even not having the musical knowledge of some, I can get a sense of a piece just by how it is put together, the gait and the phrasing just as one might read the rhythm of a photographs texture and feel something concrete from it. The funny thing is that interpretation is generally the product of a good description, verbalizing what is seen and therefore actually seeing what is there. (not as maker but as beholder)</p>

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<p>Both involve rhythm and change. Photography is the arrangement of time, music is an arrangement within time. Perhaps their difference - or what they would be without each other - is to be found in how they may and can complement : like in cinema.</p>

<p>In any case, I see flashes of images when I interpret music, but I have to imagine music when seeing images.</p>

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<p>John A, what you just wrote called to mind what I think is the single most lucid, succinct line in the abridged essay by Brun:</p>

<p><em>"In music, contrary to language, it is not the connection which makes sense, but it is the sense which creates the connection." </em> <strong><br /></strong></p>

<p>The same with photography, I think.<br /> <strong><br /></strong></p>

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<p><strong><em>"Why do some of us "interpret" rather than "describe?""</em></strong></p>

<p>Possibly because interpretation is often nice, warm, subjective, mind-provoking and related to communication in art.</p>

<p>Possibly because description is often too scientific, assumedly objective, cold and dull.</p>

<p><strong>"<em>it's a nicely lit gravestone, but it's just another gravestone... why photograph it?"</em></strong></p>

<p>To He who has trouble critiquing his own work but quite adept at continually knocking attempts of others or making other underhand comments when some idea doesn't suit his concept of photography:</p>

<p>Elementary, Watson, we photograph it because it is<strong> there</strong>, because it inspires us, and <strong>not</strong> because some unimaginative critique might think it "not worth the candle."</p><div>00XNOC-284937584.jpg.4b0de475903b62b4dc54b6116cb53b53.jpg</div>

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<p>Why would we want to read the line of a poem <em>twice</em> ? Because we want to interpret what the poet describes. <br>

Why would we want to photograph something when we've already seen it ? Because...<br>


I don't quite agree though - like Arthur seems to conclude - that description is to be "cold" and interpretation is to be "warm". Without description there can't be interpretation, and without interpretation, nothing is described. </p>

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<p><strong>Remarkable responses, all bell-ringers for me.</strong></p>

<p>Regarding Bruns, his understanding of "interpretation" seems very different from Sontag's idea...they seem only marginally related. Nonetheless that's a great set of insights and I will read further. Thanks.</p>

<p>Sontag's " interpretation" refers to <strong>verbal conversion of a work into an entirely other kind of work </strong><em>(eg a critic's brief and often third-rate reconception of the work s/he is commenting upon)</em> rather than Bruns' which has mostly to do with gut level response ("I like it" ...someone else might say "It makes me tap my foot because got that swing!" ... analytic about response rather than the piece itself). <strong>Sontag addressed verbal interpretation, not performance interpretation</strong>...didn't address one conductor leading her/his orchestra to a different interpretation of a piece than another would.</p>

<p>On radio from Santa Fe Jake Hegge recently talked about his composition for the opera version of "Dead Man Walking." The opera "interpreted" Sister Prejean's book, but it did so without explanation...it accomplished its own parallel life, did not try to tell us what Prejean meant.</p>

<p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Walking-recording-world-premiere-production/dp/B000059ZHR/ref=pd_sim_m_1">http://www.amazon.com/Walking-recording-world-premiere-production/dp/B000059ZHR/ref=pd_sim_m_1</a></p>

<p><strong>Arthur, your stunning and emotionally evocative snowstorm image</strong> seems (to me) to live at an entirely other, infinitely higher level than the gravestone images (one of which seemed troubled compositionally, which was discussed at the time...the better of gravestone seemed (to me) a handsome postcard...hence "why?").</p>

<p><strong>For me your snowstorm image is above interpretation and (thankfully) isn't burdened by it. </strong>There is no need for "why." The gravestones were explained in case we missed the point. The snowstorm is (for me) profoundly more significant, while "meaning" nothing verbally. Who needs "meaning" when appreciating a strong photograph? <strong>Snowstorm is art to my own elitist eyes, gravestone isn't.</strong><br /><br />I don't recall Hegge telling listeners what his music means, despite the fact that the movements are each attached to specific very dramatic operatic acts.</p>

<p> </p>

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<p>Phylo made a nicely subtle point that actually seems akin to my Sontag/Bruns comparison.</p>

<p>Reading poetry (or anything else "artistic") <strong>is a performance </strong>to oneself. That is the biggest distinction between reading and watching TV. One is active, the other passive. One has to work to read. One gets to work with the author to make the piece work. The poem is nothing without the reader, may be reduced by interpretation.</p>

<p>I think "interpretation" of a photograph encourages passivity, working to obscure whatever it was the photographer actually delivered.</p>

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<p>I think people do tend to hang an <strong>interpretation</strong> to music. "This movement is angry", "this was obviously written when the musician was high", "this was written to get revenge on an old lover".</p>

<p>More than that, I think people frequently <strong>personalize</strong> the message within a song to their own life (e.g. "this song is about MY breakup") .... when clearly the musician did not have that intent.</p>

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

<p><br />I become moved when you make me care about you or your subject, or when you allow me to make the meaning my own.</p>

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<p><em>"If you see that man's withered face against aging wood, does it 'mean' something in a way that's different from that inherently abstracted music you've mentioned? Does it inherently say something about age . . . "</em> <strong>--John K.</strong></p>

<p>I got hung up on these questions for a while. That's good. Maybe <em>provocation</em> is a better place to go than <em>interpretation</em>? I see the pic of the withered face against aging wood and may feel provoked to think about aging and relationships of aged things or may myself be provocative in making pictures showing naked, middle-aged or older men. (<em>Provocative</em> can be stimulating but not always controversial.) No, the pic doesn't inherently say something about age. But it likely does provoke thoughts about it. Imagination is something that can be sparked and talked about. I'm getting more and more used to having viewers' imaginations projected onto me and my photographs. I <br />may provoke a response yet not have strict control over it and not have the intention a viewer may project. A photo may provoke ideas without representing them. It seems more honest for a viewer to say her thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions are provoked by a photo than that she is interpreting the photo in such and such a way. Interpretation suggests much more of a direct and literal linkage than I think is at play. I've used the word <em>suggestive</em> a lot. Maybe suggestiveness goes hand in hand with provocation. Interpretation, on the other hand, is a package often too neatly tied.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>The last three comments by John, Thomas and Fred, prompted somewhat by Phylo's post, are interesting in that they refer to what John describes as the active or passive response to various visual communications. The photographer and the photograph can try to suggest something (or provoke/suggest, good words introduced by Fred) but ultimately the interpretation may have little to do with what the former may try to suggest.</p>

<p>Mixed amongst the small busload of alumni from a college who were visiting our little gallery last week, some dozen couples of retirement age, was the independent visit of a young man of about half their age. I hardly noticed his presence in the melée, but after the group had left he walked over with a small framed print of an image I had made when travelling through Wisconsin on a west-east drive a few years ago. The subject of the color print was the still upright remains of a dead oak or other tree of ample girth, behind which at some distance was the remains of an old farmhouse, the paint of which (green) was not completely effacced, although the structure, like the tree, had seen better days. The young visitor, from 200 miles to the west of here, was very personable (a social worker, I learned from him) and we spent some time talking about this area (he last visited the island when he was 5 or 6) and some common interests of old architecture. During this he mentioned that he was recently divorced from his ex-wife (an active medical doctor) and the photograph of the two wooden structures (decaying tree and farmhouse) spoke to him of that event or relationship.</p>

<p>I didn't feel it acceptable to pursue his comment further, as it was clearly a private personal impression, but realised that whatever that image might have meant to me was quite different from his perception. He actively interpreted in the image what he felt and not passively seeing it simply as nature and man made structures undergoing similar transitions. It reflected for him an important period in his life (we did talk about how we are so little in real control of many things in our lives and I shared with him some of my own examples) and my simple image provoked in him a very personal response. I guess that is a good reason to do what we do, even though the manner of interpretation is not predictable. This may be a particular and ordinary case, but I think (notwithstanding some of my defensive comments of past) that we can learn from the perceptions of others who look at our work. We just have to realise that those perceptions/interpretations can vary quite widely.</p>

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<p>Arthur, I can't relate to your claims that interpreting is active and looking/seeing is passive.</p>

<p>The guy at your gallery, in fact, may not have engaged your photo at all. He may simply have been too wrapped up in himself to do that. There might be something very passive about that. <em>Looking at the photo</em>, on the other hand, may have required him to step out of the the comfort zone of self-analysis and actively engage what was before him.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>Luis, I do notice that. Just as playing a score that someone else wrote requires mastery of reading music and playing an instrument, looking at a photograph may require some learned discipline as well. As you've said, there's a lot of visual illiteracy around. If I am in the process of a breakup with my partner, I could interpret or make every photo I see to be about breakups with partners, rather easily. There would be some amount of illiteracy and self-absorption in that.</p>

<p>I think "individualized" may be the turning point here. It can be <em>so</em> individualized that it is merely egocentric and therefore blind to a lot else.</p>

<p>Photographs are personal and also shared.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>As Sontag noted, interpretation, like so many other things, can either fuel or stunt the creative process on both the individual and collective levels: "<strong>"</strong><em>It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling..."</em></p>

<p>When interpretation becomes mired in its negative aspects as expressed in that last sentence (and I mean both in the overarching cultural way and specially in the personal), it's definitely time to punt and revitalize. <em> </em></p>

<p> Yes, Fred, there's a balance to be struck in the continuum between individualism and the larger contexts.<em><br /></em></p>

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<p>Fred and Luis,</p>

<p>I don't think the visitor who acquired the photo in question had read Sontag. His interpretation was probably simply that of "expounding the meaning of" what he was looking at. That he didn't necessarily relate that to the question of decay in both nature and man made things (the decaying tree, the decaying farmhouse, the "leitmotif" of the photograph, if there was one) I might have even regretted, but I have found from experience that most photographs are viewed quite individualistically, and that any "collective" induced response (societal, paradigmal, or other) or any dispassionate "objective" (arms length) response, is, if not very secondary, then often less powerful.</p>

<p>Individualistic, as opposed to collectivity-induced viewing and intepretation, may be a good topic in itself for this forum.</p>

<p>Whatever, I do think he related to the image in a non passive and quite individualistic (personally active) way. The manner he comported himself during our conversation afterwards led me to think that while he was undergoing a difficult time no doubt (it was his wife who had pulled the plug and run off with another) he was certainly very calm and happy and perhaps already well resigned to the fact and (I almost added, opportunity) for change in his life (At 35, we can easily make major changes).</p>

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<p>Arthur, just as all photographs are not equally well executed, all views aren't equal either.</p>

<p>One wouldn't have to read Sontag to learn how to look at a photograph. There are many ways, as many as there are to learn how to take one.</p>

<p>Avoiding interpretation (especially the kind this man has given us) is neither dispassionate nor objective.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p><em>"If you go to concerts, you will notice how often the word "interpretation" is used for describing the performer's individualized rendition of someone else's score."</em></p>

<p>True, but when you have listened to the Beethoven 5th by several conductors it becomes quite apparent that there is some quite variable interpretation of the original score going on (tempo, relative tempo, relative importance of instrumental sections, their balance, etc.).</p>

<p>Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended? How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria? "Visual illiteracy" can be related to education and experience, of course, but it can also be related to the stifling acceptanbce without question of the visual paradigms of others. As most major movements in art faced considerable opposition before being finally accepted*, those paradigms are everpresent.</p>

<p>* Der Blaue Reiter, Stravinsky's first performance of "Le Sacre du printemps", the Impressionist's exhibitions, etc.</p>

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<p>My mention of his not having read Sontag is just my own personal dig at the importance of reading Sontag, or any other specific single critic of modern society or art. There are many writers and I was simply mentioning that Sontag is but one, however relevant. Her thesis has to be compared with those of others (and it is interesting that she does not appear often in modern learned anthologies of art and photography, but that may be due to the fact that our academic breatheren find more professional profit in quoting one another). </p>

<p><em>"Avoiding interpretation (especially the kind this man has given us) is neither dispassionate nor objective."</em></p>

<p>I think you missed my point here. He did actively interpret the work, but in his own way. Whether I think his interpretation, which incidentally I have only fragmenatry communicated knowledge of, is a good one or not, is unimportant. It is easy for us to sit on a high horse and suggest that his interpretation was in fact avoiding interpretation, or one of "visiual illiteracy". One would have to test his ability through several images and questioins to perceive that.</p>

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<p><em>"Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended? How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria?"</em></p>

<p>Well said.</p>

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<p><strong>Arthur - "</strong>Which of the 40 or so recorded 5ths is the one the composer intended?"</p>

<p>Sometimes we have some idea. In some cases, we may never know. What then?</p>

<p><strong>Arthur - "</strong>How do I regard the image made by a fellow photographer, if not with my own baggage of knowledge and experience? If someone says that the Stieglitz photo of upper and lower class passengers on a ship is magnificent, do I accept that, or do I use my own criteria?"</p>

<p>You have to work with what you have, and be mindful of what you don't have. Part of that, of course, is the knowledge that connoisseurs have deemed that picture one of the greats. One is, of course, free to reject any or all of it, of course. I was at a party the other day when a fourteen year old hipster with great gravity revealed unto me that MIA was the greatest musical genius that ever lived. She was working with her own baggage of knowledge and experience.</p>

<p><strong>Arthur - </strong>"Visual illiteracy" can be related to education and experience, of course, but it can also be related to the stifling acceptance without question of the visual paradigms of others. As most major movements in art faced considerable opposition before being finally accepted*, those paradigms are everpresent."</p>

<p>Only a simpleton (like my hipster acquaintance) would be oblivious to that. The crusading and championing of one idea over all others is very liberating and often dead wrong. Understanding is hardly the same as blind acceptance. Let's not confuse literacy with dogmatism.</p>

<p>[i prefer to explore the landscape of possibilities (including opposing views) than to forcibly simplify from the complex constellation of the possible via arbitrary exclusion towards a cozy monad in the absence of compelling evidence.]</p>

<p>* Great examples from other disciplines. Can you cite any in photography?</p>

<p> </p>

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<p><em>"He actively interpreted in the image what he felt and not <strong>passively seeing</strong> it simply as nature and man made structures undergoing similar transitions."</em></p>

<p>Arthur, the above theme runs through your recent posts. You have suggested again and again that a more sensual (erotic) and less interpretive way of looking at photos is passive and objective. In fact, you labeled my description of <em>The Scream</em> objective. Sensuality, looking, textural descriptions, for me, are not objective or passive matters.</p>

<p>My own dismissal of much "personal interpretation" comes from the ridiculousness of hearing over and over again how all art is whatever you make it and everything about art is subjective. Such thinking reduces art to nonsense. If every photograph is whatever any individual wants to interpret it as, then we should all be putting up solid black or solid white prints or images, because the images themselves don't matter. There's got to be something beyond a lame subjective interpretation. Judging from your telling of the story, your patron wasn't looking at your photograph. He was in his head. That's certainly an OK place to be, if he needed or wanted to be there. But it's got nothing to do with appreciating a photo. If that's me being on a high horse, so be it.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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