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Why do we like what we like?


Landrum Kelly
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<p>I like this shot, but I'm not sure why.</p>

<p><a href="/photo/9552395&size=md">[LINK]</a></p>

<p>The grain is a bit overdone, and I have seen a lot of similar shots, but this one strikes me as a cut above. I can more often tell what I do not like about a photo than I can explain what it is that I like.</p>

<p>I am puzzled by all this. No matter what the genre, I often am at a loss to explain what it is that appeals to me in a photo. We can talk about rules of composition and other formulae for making good photos, but when it comes to analyzing what makes a particular photo appealing or compelling (or simply beautiful), I often find that I am at a loss for words. I read the forums, and I pay particular attention to those who feel compelled to write at length about what is noteworthy in this or that photo. That is fine, but most of the time all of those words do not help me understand precisely what it is in a photo that makes it special. In fact, for me, all those words really are quite often just a waste of time.</p>

<p>Can anyone out there explain what makes them like a given photo, whether their own work or someone else's? Examples would be most welcome.</p>

<p>I came to this question while thinking about an exchange on another forum, one that is still active--the thread over the issue of whether or not there is or can be anything really new in nude photography. As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that persons often seemed a bit confused when they said, "This is not new." What they really seemed to be saying was, "I don't consider this worthy of being called new." Those were not the precise words used, but that was often (not always) the message. Again, I was struck by the ease with which we explain what we do not like, but the difficulty in really explaining what it is that we do like, and why.</p>

<p>I sometimes wonder if all of the intellectualizing is mostly just a waste of time. Maybe Facebook is right after all: thumbs or thumbs down. I don't much care why people tell me that they like or dislike about one of my own photos. I just want them to cut to the chase and tell me whether they like it or not. If they say, "I like the way the light comes off the wall," I can accept that; but if they go on for several paragraphs, it's just snooze time for me. In other words, there usually are only one or two things that I can identify in a photo that make it special for me--if that.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<p>I meant to say, "Maybe Facebook is right after all: thumbs up or thumbs down." I know that that is overstated, but--for me--not by much. I sometimes wish that persons would try to explain in just twenty-five words or less what they like or do not like. I suspect that that would get to the core of what it was about the photo that caught their attention in the first place. Most of the rest of the critique (positive or negative) is all too often simply fluff.</p>

<p>I'm not trying to be contentious here. The problem is not any particular individual or individuals. It can even be the rare person who really likes one of my photos. Just say it, friend, in a few words, and then move on. All of the verbiage does not really improve my eye, my compositional skills, etc.--with rare exceptions. If I have made technical errors, a few more words might be required to tell me how to do it better, but if the issue is finally about aesthetics, it is rarely the case that more words will add much insight, in my opinion. In general, I think that the photo pretty much speaks for itself, at least in terms of aesthetics.</p>

<p>I know that there are certainly exceptions to what I have said. There are a few photos that really are deserving of considerable analysis. I fear that they are few and far between. Most of the verbiage is unnecessary, I think--at least most of the time.</p>

<p>I am not necessarily happy to come to this conclusion. It is simply the conclusion that I have come to. Give me a volume of Eggleston or whoever. There's really no need to hang around and explain it to me. I appreciate your drawing it to my attention. Thank you for the gift. Now please just go away and let me enjoy it.</p>

<p>"Go take a picture. Your words are just getting in the way." I have never actually said that to anyone. Maybe I should.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<p>That photo you linked to doesn't do it for me. Perhaps because there is no deliberation, no discipline. I suspect that the subject has a great body, though!</p>

<p>We tend to talk about photos because we like to talk about what we like. We just should not take it too seriously. I love it when someone writes about a photographer I like, but this usually expands into tangents etc, so it's not merely a clinical dissection of the photos.</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>Well...why do you need to know why do we like what we like then?</p>

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<p>Why are you puzzled at my puzzlement, Leslie? Why are <em>you</em> asking why I am asking why?</p>

<p>Why do we have why questions, Leslie?</p>

<p>Perhaps there is an aesthetic sense after all?</p>

<p>If so, why is there such an aesthetic sense? Why might there be? (I use the subjunctive mood deliberately: there might not be, although I suspect that there is.)</p>

<p>If there is such a sense, perhaps there is no verbal improvement upon it. "I like this. It pleases my eye. I wonder why it pleases my eye." Then we try to explain why we like this (whatever it might be)? We hedge about what we like visually with various visual descriptors. We describe why we like this or that in a photo or in a scene that we might photograph (or would photograph if we had a camera with us)? When we have finished our verbal rambling, have we truly come any closer to understanding <em>why</em> we like it.</p>

<p>I would submit to you that the more we try to describe why we like this or that visual feast, the more we show that we cannot go very far beyond simply saying, "I like it!" We throw words at the problem, and in so doing we think that we have accomplished something, but all too often we have only shown that there is no way to express in words anything very helpful.</p>

<p>What a fruitful line of inquiry you have opened up for us, Leslie!</p>

<p>Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>That photo you linked to doesn't do it for me. Perhaps because there is no deliberation, no discipline. I suspect that the subject has a great body, though!</p>

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<p>I wonder why I like it but you do not, Karim.</p>

<p>I wonder why Stephen Hawking wonders why the Big Bang occurred? He really and truly believes that it happened. He does not believe that there was any God behind it. He does not see the necessity for positing the existence of God as the cause of the Big Bang.</p>

<p>If we were to put the question of this thread to Hawking, he surely would not think of saying, "You like what you like because you were made to like it by God." He would not because he does not believe in God. Therefore he will continue to search for naturalistic explanations.</p>

<p>Maybe I like this <strong>CAUTION:</strong> <strong>NSFW PHOTO</strong> of <a href="/photo/10535613">the model Rebecca</a> of Jim Phelps' photos because God made me that way. Maybe others do not like it for the same reason: God did not make them to like it. Perhaps God made me feel or think or say, "She is beautiful, especially when unencumbered by clothing." Perhaps someone else might look at her in that condition and say, "Euw! How revolting!" Perhaps both of our responses are authentic expressions of the fact that we are what we are and that we like what we like--even though we cannot explain why we like what we like.</p>

<p>Why do you suppose this is?</p>

<p>Why do I think that a photo of Rebecca is beautiful? I don't know. I gave up on trying to put that sort of thing into words a long time ago. Stop talking, guys. Enough words! Can't you see that you are interrupting my visual meal? Please be quiet and let me enjoy my visual feast.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>"[W]e cannot explain why we like what we like."</p>

</blockquote>

<p>There. I have just said it--at the end of one of the last paragraphs in the preceding post.</p>

<p>So let's just shut up and enjoy the view. Or perhaps we will rave on a bit, perhaps call our ravings "criticism"--but let not our ravings be mistaken for explanations!</p>

<p>Just don't rave too much about my wife or girlfriend, though. Watch your mouth.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p><em>"I wonder why I like it but you do not, Karim."</em></p>

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<p>I think people tend to develop an affinity toward things they have some felt significance to - it's only natural. <br>

<br>

That grainy B/W nude appears to be in a settings from the 1960s which was at the time presumably thought to be artsy, so if I'm right, and you lived through the 60s with an appreciation for that kind of mood, then your felt significance to the setting and mood will be greater than someone who has either no connection to the period, or intrinsically dislikes that type of image. <br>

<br>

I think more than academic analysis, ones better understanding of the story behind the picture will generally allow greater appreciation, so I think more people will be more accepting of the photo had there been a couple of paragraphs to explain the shot. <br>

<br>

This is the reason why I generally write the comments in my photos to explain the background notwithstanding those who emphatically believe a picture should speak for itself. </p>

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<p><br /> I think more than academic analysis, ones better understanding of the story behind the picture will generally allow greater appreciation, so I think more people will be more accepting of the photo had there been a couple of paragraphs to explain the shot.</p>

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<p>I think that you have offered an academic analysis, too, Michael, although I have to say that it is one that I like. Okay, so perhaps I like it because it reminds me of the sixties or the seventies. But why did I like it (or something like it) in the sixties or seventies? Well, I think that you are right in suggesting that it might then have been embedded in some narrative that gave meaning to my life.</p>

<p>Still, why was the narrative meaningful? Where does beauty come from?</p>

<p>Now I am asking where meaning comes from.</p>

<p>Stephen Hawking (last I heard) is still out there wondering where the Big Bang came from.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<p>Good grief Lannie, what will be the next?<br>

You are really a guy with great unanswerable questions. </p>

<p>If anyone really have a go on this one, I would expect that the wealth of knowledge from : psychology, social psychology, history, sociology, cultural sociology, and neural research (to mention a few) are drawn upon and that any answer of the like: "I like what I like because I like it" will be denounced strenuously.</p>

<p>Good luck with this one.</p>

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<p>And what, Julie, do you imagine could be found with a question on why I like what I like ? I see the killing but not really the joy. </p>

<p>Reading frequently Lannie's posts, I know that he is totally able to come up with something better, but coming from a Scandinavian academic background we did in fact regularly give the following oral exam question to students in basic philosophy classes : "Why is the Moon made of green cheese ?" - resulting in much fun and serious reflections and rhetorics. </p>

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<blockquote>

<p>to name it or to put that feeling into words would be negating it.</p>

 

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<p>I think that Barthes is right on that point, Phil. I do realize that I have over-stated my position in the original post. There is really quite a lot that we can say--up to that critical point at which we have to explain the core issue of the aesthetic appeal.</p>

<p>I have deliberately dropped the "God issue" into the conversation, not because I have any greater insight on the "God v. not-God" debate than anyone else, but because both the existence of God as well as the ultimate foundation for aesthetic judgments are probably both metaphysical questions and thus ultimately unanswerable. We can speculate, but evidence is hard if not impossible to come by. We have at some point, that is, moved beyond the realm of the falsifiable (science) to the realm of the non-falsifiable (metaphysics, philosophy). </p>

<p>Science has a lot to say, that is, about both the workings of the physical universe as well as the internal workings of the psyche (including what gives us pleasure)--up to a point. It is my general view that, once we reach that point, we are up against the metaphysical wall, such that science can carry us no further. Exactly where that wall is is the question. We cannot demarcate the limits of scientific knowledge prematurely. Science has blown past some metaphysical claims in the past, but I am still inclined to think that some claims about aesthetics (and everything else) are ultimately unanswerable using science alone.</p>

<p>I do not think that aesthetics is totally separable from issues of "pleasure"--with the caveat that at some point intuitive judgments seem to enter, and these possibly transcend judgments of "pleasure." I might be able to scientifically explain good sex, for example, but "being in love" might or might not be within the purview of science. I would not want to try to rule on that last one <em>a priori.</em> One never knows what science is going to come up with next. After science has had its say, however, the ultimate questions yet remain. That is what seems to torture Hawking. He wants it otherwise. I personally think that he might as well accept that, even if the Big Bang is the final scientific explanation about the origins of the universe, it will not end metaphysical speculation about the "cause" of the Big Bang. Rather than conclude with Hawking that "philosophy is dead," I would say instead that philosophy will always be there--science can take us only so far. The ultimate metaphysical questions will always remain--at least for us mere humans. So, though I would not dare try to match wits with Hawking on physics, I will gladly take him on on the philosophical questions. Sometimes he sounds like an eighteen-year-old kid in philosophy class. He wants everything to be amenable to some kind of scientific reductionism. I don't think that he is going to get what he wants there. Science, I believe, does have its limits. I don't think that he wants to acknowledge that.</p>

<p>Howzat for a friggin' tangent?</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>Reading frequently Lannie's posts, I know that he is totally able to come up with something better. . . .</p>

 

</blockquote>

<p><br />To paraphrase one of Jack Nicholson's characters out of context, Anders, "Maybe this is as good as it gets!"</p>

<p>The old science v. metaphysics divide is what we are up against here, I think.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<p> I am able to talk about aesthetics without having to reach a conclusion about "why I like." I can talk about the things I see in a photo, the achievements of a photo, the historical place of a photo, without it necessarily being about what I like. Aesthetics and narcissism are separable.</p>

<p>I can talk about subject matter and how it's handled. I can talk about how shadow and light reveals that subject matter. I can consider whether I, myself, have a purpose in making a photo and whether I have achieved that purpose. I can consider the difference between those who are making a claim to express themselves, to make art, and those who are making a claim to relax and entertain themselves with a hobby after a hard day's work. </p>

<p>Philosophizing about aesthetics is different from discussing photos. That's likely why this thread was moved to the Philosophy forum. If it were about the aesthetics of a photo or series of photos or body of work, it might have remained where it was originally posted. If it had been a concrete discussion of the photo linked to, it might have remained. But it was none of that. It is a philosophical foray into whether aesthetics can be meanifully discussed rather than a meaningful discussion about the aesthetics of a photo.</p>

<p>I see a difference between comparing a discussion of aesthetics to a debate about God vs. actually digging into a photo and talking coherently about what it offers. The latter would benefit from learning the history of photography, reading photographic criticism, and starting to put together an aesthetic and an understanding of the world of aesthetics. On the other hand, one can come home from work exhausted and not do any of that and just go out and take and look at pictures to relax. I'm not claiming one is more valuable than the other. I'm just claiming they're very different things.</p>

<p>Aesthetics and photography itself, like faith in god and religion, have rich histories, traditions, and canons. Whether I like this or that photo and why and whether I believe or don't believe in God are but one aspect of those rich areas of human existence. There's a whole lot more to each than whether what I believe in or what I like can be proved. My own curiosity has led me to explore some of the richer aspects than just my own beliefs or tastes.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<blockquote>

<p>Because we can.</p>

</blockquote>

<p>Dave, when I read this, it sounded familiar, and then I remembered George Leigh Mallory's response to the question, "Why climb Everest?"</p>

<p>"Because it's there," he famously responded (or so the story goes).</p>

<p>I know that the two responses "Because we can" and "Because it's there" are from two entirely different conversations, but they have a remarkably similar sound to my ear--maybe the similarity is only about rhythm and cadence, nothing more.</p>

<p>They are both powerful retorts, though, in my opinion.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>My own curiosity has led me to explore some of the richer aspects than just my own beliefs or tastes.</p>

</blockquote>

<p>Perhaps you are not sufficiently impressed by the fact of your own existence, Fred. Wondering about why you like what you like does not make you a narcissist.</p>

<p>I don't have a theory of narcissism, however, and so I won't pursue that further here, except to remind you of how you started:</p>

<p>"Aesthetics and narcissism are separable," you said.</p>

<p>Very well. Therefore what? Then again, "Trump makes me sick" and "Trump is a narcissist" might be linked as well. Can they be both separable and linked at once? One is a personal statement: "Trump makes me sick." The other is a more general claim: "Trump is a narcissist." We start from where we are. Yes, Trump makes me sick. Is it because he is a narcissist? (Well, that is surely part of it.)</p>

<p>Word games. . .</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>I am able to talk about aesthetics without having to reach a conclusion about "why I like."</p>

</blockquote>

<p>Of course you can, Fred, but why would you want to avoid that latter question? It's fascinating to me, and it is not only about me. Why YOU like what YOU like is equally interesting, I think--to ME! I just don't know how to answer that.</p>

<p>My opening question in the OP was not really only about what I like and why I like it, was it? I was really asking a more general question about human nature. Why, then, did I not open with, "Why do we like what we like?" The answer is simple. I noticed the Bjorn Moback picture (the one that I opened with) and immediately wondered why it is so much more interesting to me than many other photos.</p>

<p>So. . . that is why the question was posted as it was. I had no idea that I would be talking about God a few posts later. I have no idea where these threads are going to go when I start them. That's what makes them fun.</p>

<p>So what drove the thread from its inception? Well, we had been talking about nudes for some days, and suddenly here was one that I liked. It was not new, though, and so I didn't bother to post it to the other thread. It was the start of a new thread because it raised a somewhat different question--and I think a fascinating question. It's been around for a while. I didn't come up with it.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<blockquote>

<p>Why do I like anchovies on pizza but not chocolate?</p>

 

</blockquote>

<p>E.J., if I knew the answer to that one simple question, I have a hunch I could answer all questions relating to aesthetics--maybe even questions about God. </p>

<p>All philosophical questions are related, after all, and so "Why do I like anchovies on pizza but not chocolate?" seems like a philosophical question par excellence to me. If I had thought about it, perhaps I could have opened this thread with that question.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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<p>Here is another Bjorn Moback image that caught my attention:</p>

<p><a href="/photo/3746137">[LINK]</a></p>

<p>I like this one, too. I wonder why. I usually like my women with heads.</p>

<p>I think that it has something to do with the sky and that dark landscape. If the photo is part of a story, I would like to know more about the story. I want to know how we got to this point in the story, and I want to know how it comes out.</p>

<p>Yet, yet, even without the story, that sky and dark landscape are fascinating, arguably more fascinating than the woman walking alone only in a slip near sunset or dusk.</p>

<p>This is one that one hesitates to call "a nude" simply because there is a nude form in the photo. It is so much than that--depending on what the narrative is. I wonder if Moback had a narrative in mind here--not that it matters too much. </p>

<p>I wonder why MOBACK liked this enough to photograph it and post it. I would like to get inside his head on this one.</p>

<p>--Lannie</p>

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