Unreal Nature

March 31, 2011

Green Tomatoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:50 am

… There the electrons are, floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them.

… as consumers speed down the market aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds.

This first two segments below are from the introductory chapters of Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay (2004):

… one day, I arrived in Melbourne to cover the city’s arts festival for the South China Morning Post. I spent a spare hour between shows in a university bookshop. Casually picking up a heavy art book, I opened it at random and read these words: “INDIAN YELLOW: an obsolete lake of euxanthic acid made in India by heating the urine of cows fed on mango leaves.” And then these: “EMERALD GREEN: the most brilliant of greens, now universally rejected because it is a dangerous poison . . . Sold as an insecticide.” Art history is often about looking at the people who made the art; but I realized at that moment there were also stories to be told about the people who made the things that made the art.

My heart started beating, and I had a bizarre sensation that was rather like being in love. This was an annoying feeling to have in a bookshop so I tested myself. Even the (arguably) more boring “DUTCH PINK: a fugitive yellow lake made from buckthorn” made me swoon with its paradox. I was smitten …

… The first challenge in writing about colors is that they don’t really exist. Or rather they do exist, but only because our minds create them as an interpretation of vibrations that are happening around us. Everything in the universe — whether it is classified as “solid” or “liquid” or “gas” or even “vacuum” — is shimmering and vibrating and constantly changing. But our brains don’t find that a very useful way of comprehending the world. So we translate what we experience into concepts like “objects” and “smells” and “sounds” and, of course, “colors,” which are altogether easier for us to understand.

… When light shines on a leaf, or a daub of paint, or a lump of butter, it actually causes it to rearrange its electrons, in a process called “transition.” There the electrons are, floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them. Imagine a soprano singing a high C and shattering a wineglass, because she catches its natural vibration. Something similar happens with the electrons, if a portion of the light happens to catch their natural vibration. It shoots them to another energy level and that relevant bit of light, that glass-shattering “note,” is used up and absorbed. The rest is reflected out, and our brains read it as “color.”

… The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something “being” a color but of it “doing” a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering — or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe — in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red — meaning paradoxically that the “red” tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance — absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.

The rest of Finlay’s book is about “the people who made the things that made the art.” Before settling down to do individual colors, she skims over art history to give a sampling of how the crafting of colors has affected art history. For example, talking about developments in painting alfresco:

… For centuries, artists had stored their paints in pigs’ bladders. It was a painstaking process: they, or their apprentices, would carefully cut the thin skin into squares. Then they would spoon a nugget of wet paint into each square, and tie up the little parcels at the top with string. When they wanted to paint, they would pierce the skin with a tack, squeeze the color onto their palette and then mend the puncture. It was messy, especially when the bladders burst, but it was also wasteful, as the paint would dry out quickly. Then in 1841, a fashionable American portrait painter called John Goffe Rand devised the first collapsible tube — which he made of tin and sealed with pliers. After he had improved it the following year and patented it, artists in both Europe and America really began to appreciate the wonder of the portable paintbox. Jean Renoir once told his son that without oil paints in tubes: “There would have been no Cézanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissarro: nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism.”

Next, below, I am jumping to Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman (2000) … because, when juxtaposed with Finlay’s book, it makes me laugh. This is from the introduction:

… as consumers speed down the market aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds. In that blinking-of-an-eyelash timing, the package must rivet the observers’ eyes, inform them of the package contents and, more importantly, appeal to their psyches.

After earning the shopper’s attention, the package must visually express the value of the goods. If a product is more expensive than a competing product, the color must convey that it is worth the cost and, when goods are priced competitively, the appropriate colors can make a greater impact than the competition’s product. With thousands of products lining the market shelves and millions of dollars frequently at stake, the clever use of color can make or break a product line.

For truly effective marketing, package colors must satisfy a “wish fulfillment” or need that the product promises to fulfill.

I plan to post further from Finlay’s book, and to pair her book with the Pantone one, color for color.

In Finlay’s book, she mentions Philip Ball’s book Bright Earth which covers territory similar to hers. I posted from Ball’s book back in 2009 here, here, and here.



March 30, 2011

Into Avernus

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

… The trace is appearance of a nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. The aura is appearance of a distance, however close the thing that calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura it takes possession of us.

This is more from The World at a Glance by Edward S. Casey (2007). In what I’m giving below, Casey is using Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project as his main source:

… Not only does the casual walker look out with his vagrant versatile eyes but the denizens of the street (human beings as well as built places) look back, much as one windowpane mirrors back to another its image. Benjamin continues:

The whispering of looks fills the arcades. There is nothing here that does not, where one least expects it, open a fugitive eye (ein kurzes Auge), blinking it shut again; but if you look more closely, it is gone. To the whispering of these looks, the space lends its echo.

… The flâneur, that paradigmatic walker of the late modern epoch, is a threshold figure of a decidedly Janus-faced cast — always looking forward and back at once: pursuing a project of pure observation on the streets while being drawn down into the labyrinthine underworld under his feet (“Easy the way that leads into Avernus“), pursuing the near future in the very undertow of the primal past in which he is caught up — and both in an irrecusable, refulgent present; creating a path as well as following a street; and moving between street and residence, indeed between room and landscape itself. The flâneur is bi-directional at the sensory level as well; primarily visual, he is also closely attuned to what he happens to hear on his sojourns: “his eyes open, his ear ready, searching for something entirely different from what the crowd gathers to see.” This search is itself paradoxical: it is not the simple pursuit of a definite goal, it is not a particular project; for the flâneur’s very leisure is his work, his avocation his vocation.

No wonder that the first epigraph in the Convolute on the flâneur in The Arcades Project is this: “A landscape haunts, intense as opium.” Only a landscape can encompass all the paradoxical and Janusian aspects of the flâneur, including the various reversals to which he (equally she, in the rarer case of female flâneurs) is subject or of which he or she is the witness. As Erwin Straus says, “To be fully in the landscape we must sacrifice, as far as possible, all temporal, spatial, and objective precision.” In a landscape setting the vaguely sensed triumphs over the exactly perceived, accustomed dichotomies dissolve; blinks and winks, rather than fully articulate signs and words, become the primary means of communication, phantasmagorias flourish, and in general the indeterminate takes precedence over the determinate.

… This is a circumstance where (in Benjamin’s own descriptive terms) aura triumphs over trace, colportage/collection/montage over serial ordering, and the simultaneous over the successive.

Casey goes on to thoroughly dissect all three of those oppositions. I’m only interested in the first: aura as compared to trace:

… The aura is the resonance of the past as it is borne forward into the living present — temporally distant from the present wherein it appears, yet reverberating there in its literal absence. It is the unique being of something that, however much it ramifies into the present, appears to be out of reach. An exemplary case of aura is to be found in Benjamin’s own experience of arcades that were built in the nineteenth century, his vivid sense of their original presence, at once remote from the present moment and yet still quite accessible to the ordinary shopper in the early decades of the twentieth century. Aura connotes the ongoing duration of something, its perdurance into the present even as its origin belongs to the distant past. In experiencing the aura of something, we sense “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be,” yet only as stemming from a primal past that is removed from the present. It is aura that disappears in “the age of mechanical reproduction,” in which every exemplar comes clean-shaven and without allusion to the past of its creation, its source in ritual and its subsequent history …

… A trace, in contrast with aura, imports the past right into the present — brings it into our proximity rather than keeping it at a remote distance. Benjamin puts the distinction this way:

 The trace is appearance of a nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. The aura is appearance of a distance, however close the thing that calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura it takes possession of us.

A trace is a mark by means of which we can interpret and understand the past. The dream image or psychoneurotic symptom is a trace in this sense, since it is an imprint (however distorted it has become) of a pathogenic or traumatic past: a past that we can repossess only by dint of concerted techniques of interpretation.

… Precisely in its capacity to surprise us, [an aura] takes possession of us. Where a trace puzzles us by its encrypted character (for example, in hieroglyphic inscriptions in a language we do not know) and thus calls for acts of interpretation, an aura captivates us by the way in which it delivers the past to us at once and in whole cloth. Remote as this past is, it does not call for interpretation: for it is a matter of the very image of the past, its “presentation” (Darstellung). Instead of puzzling us, it surprises us — takes us over. And it surprises us all the more when it takes us over suddenly, as in the rapid perception; in a glance, of the skies brooding over an immense railroad station, or when we pass through other, more modest such stations that proffer to us the essence of a town …

… Rather than taking control over them as we attempt to do in figuring out traces, they pervade and seize us by their atmospheric presence.

… The surprise occasioned by the perception of aura, by its sheer survival, precipitates a state of wonder that extends beyond the immediate givens of what we experience.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.



March 29, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 1:03 pm

New project called “BioGraphy” (or ” Biography” if the first is too cute/obvious). Taking a much-needed break from the birds.

This (second below) is a prototype — still being tinkered with. Collecting the ingredients for it has been conceptually exciting but in-fact-ually a big pain in the ass. The red clay background is actually macros from the caulking in an old log house (first below) that is in the process of being torn down. I had to get my supply (I need at least 100 to have a good selection) before the thing disappeared. I needed to use f16 to be sure to get reasonable sharpness which meant I had to use a tripod — all 120 times. I don’t like using a tripod. I used a monster one for all the years that I was shooting 4×5 but that was one or two or three set-ups per shoot. Doing 120 in rapid succession made me ill, made me want to cry, made me have to stop and come back later.

source for my red-clay background

Next was all those entangled sticks. Doing “random on purpose” is harder than you think. If you just sort of stir them around, they don’t look random at all. So, again, lots of head-banging episodes to get a sufficient supply (again, more than 100). The berries were no problem. Those are the same kind as is in my Red Line series. I love them. The little metal beads were photographed in batches even though I probably only need a few. They managed to jump off my macro set-up and roll under either the freezer and/or the washing machine.

The black snakey looking cable is an old electrical thingie from the same old house as the red-clay caulking. It is covered with some sort of nasty black rubbery stuff that, when you bend it as I did repeatedly,  flakes off and smears on the floor and then won’t come up. But I have, after much cursing and do-over-againings, gotten enough components in multiple configurations to be able (I hope) to build, Lego-like, any shape I need out of it.

unfinished prototype — and this is a low quality .jpg in order to get the file below 100 kb

Each configuration can be a day or a year or an “episode.” Like the Red Line series, each picture can be mix and matched with others because they will always come in and go out at the same place (entry = left-side middle; exit = right-side middle). I’m planning barrel rolls, twistings, figure-eights and even out-the-bottom to reappear in the top topology style (sure it happens; think about it). You’ll be able to spot “me” by the little metal bead that shadows me. I’m the only one who gets one of those because … I can’t see your metal-beady self. (If you look really, really close at the bead, you can see the reflection of my torso bent over the camera-on-the-tripod. Or you can at full resolution. Probably can’t at this 600 px size.)



“Say Alive”

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:11 am

… There’s a moment in La dolce vita which can easily slip by unnoticed. It’s a chaotic scene where Anita Ekberg is being interviewed by the press. She plays an American star who doesn’t speak Italian; so there’s a constant cross-talk of translation. One of the questions is “Is Italian neorealism alive or dead?” — and an off-camera voice is heard to say, in English, “Say alive.”

This is from For Documentary: Twelve Essays by Dai Vaughan* (1999). The essay from which I’m quoting is “Competing with Reality (Sketch for a Lecture).”

… When this film was recently shown on television, it was preceded by a documentary on the making of it: and this documentary included an extract from what seemed to be a promotional film, made at the time, which included a sequence on the shooting of the famous scene of Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni slopping about in the Trevi fountain. As with all such examples, there was a distinct frisson in seeing the documentary and the fictive representation of the same thing within a short time of one another. The most obvious difference, apart from the presence of Fellini’s crew and lights in the documentary, was the presence of huge numbers of casual spectators — sightseers — in what was presented, in the fiction, as a piazza empty but for the two protagonists. It was difficult to believe they were the same location: and that’s because, in a sense, they weren’t.

We read a documentary as constituting some sort of trace of things that happened in a particular place at a particular time. What leads us to give this documentary reading? Well, in our particular instance, it is the fact that Fellini’s cameras are in shot and the fact that we are told — in a way external to the material itself — that that is what it is. But I can’t actually swear, in retrospect, that those massed spectators were ever seen in the same shot as Ekberg and Mastroianni. Suppose they weren’t. And suppose, to go one step further, that they weren’t even there at the time of filming: that the whole thing was a con constructed in the editing room, and that, except for the film crew — or rather, the two film crews — Ekberg and Mastroianni really were alone in the piazza?

Would that mean that the documentary was really a fiction? No, I don’t believe it would. What defines a documentary as such is the way we approach it: the fact that we look to its images as records of the specific, not as envisionings of the possible. The film would remain a documentary; but it would be a dishonest one, a mendacious one. Documentary, after all, can tell lies; and it can tell lies because it lays claim to a form of veracity which fiction doesn’t. (Factual drama lays claim to veracity, but in a different sense — what you could call a legalistic or even a documentational sense, without ceasing to be, in film terminology, fiction.) Of course, once you knew the thing was phony, you might then wish to avail yourself of the fiction option. That would be up to you.

So everything’s wrapped up neatly. Except that I have a niggle of doubt. Because it seems to me — and you may not agree with this, and I wish I didn’t, but it does seem to me — that if we were to know that those sightseers had not been present during the filming at the fountains, this knowledge would considerably lower the level of frisson in the comparison between the “two” locations, the documentary and the fictional. And yet it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t make any difference at all. Fiction inhabits its own world. Doesn’t it?

[As I can’t find an online bio of Mr. Vaughan, here is what’s on the back of his book: “Dai Vaughan, who resides in London, has been an editor of documentary films for more than thirty-five years. His previous books include novels and a biography.”]



The Frightening Vanity of Their Would-be Purity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am

… the virulent, insolent, deceitful, pitying … running and searching … of two angry … youthful intelligences in the service of an anger and of a love and of an undiscernible truth, and in the frightening vanity of their would-be purity.

This is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (text) and Walker Evans (photographs); first published in 1941.

… It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and for profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and for a reputation for crusading and for unbias …

… Who are you who will read these words and study these photographs, and through what cause, by what chance, and for what purpose, and by what right do you qualify to, and what will you do about it; …

The next bit is about himself (Agee) and Walker Evans:

… the virulent, insolent, deceitful, pitying, infinitesimal and frenzied running and searching, on this colossal peasant map, of two angry, futile and bottomless, botched and overcomplicated youthful intelligences in the service of an anger and of a love and of an undiscernible truth, and in the frightening vanity of their would-be purity.

… [The sharecropper’s] early laboring, subservience, acclimation to insult and slendering of forms of freedom, the hideous jokes of education and their sharp finish into early worse, the learning of one’s situation relative to the world and the acceptance of it, the swellings and tremblings of adolescence, the bursting free from home into wandering, the fatal shining and sweet wraths of joy in love and the locked marriage and the work, the constant lack of money, need, leanness, backbroken work, knowledge of being cheated, helplessness to protest or order this otherwise …

… Here at the center is a creature: it would be our business to show how through every instant of every day of every year his existence alive he is from all sides streamed inward upon, bombarded, pierced, destroyed by that enormous sleeting of all objects forms and ghosts …

…We undertake not much yet some, to say: to say, what is his house: for whom does he work: under what arrangements and in what results: what is this work: who is he and where from, that he is now here; what is it his life has been and has done to him: what of his wife and of their children, each, for of all these each is a life, a full universe: what are their clothes: what food is theirs to eat: what is it which is in their senses and their minds: what is the living and manner of their day, of a season, of a year: what, inward and outward, is their manner of living; of their spending and usage of these few years’ openness out of the black vast and senseless death; what is their manner of life:

All this, all such, you can see, it so intensely surrounds and takes meaning from a certain center which we shall be unable to keep steadily before our eyes, that should be written, should be listed, calculated, analyzed, conjectured upon, as if all in one sentence and spread suspension and flight or fugue of music: and that I shall not be able to sustain it, so to sustain its intensity toward this center human life, so to yield it out that it all strikes inward upon this center at once and in all its intersections and in the meanings of its interrelations and interenhancements: it is this so paralyzes me: yet one can write only one word at a time …

… let this be borne in mind, in order that, when we descend among its windings and blockades, into examination of slender particulars, this its wholeness and simultaneous living map may not be neglected, however lost the breadth of the country may be in the winding walk of each sentence.

I have mixed feelings about Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. While there is a lot of really awful way-over-the-top stuff in this book, there is also much that is good — even if not what or in the way that Agee intended (I read it as a book about Agee.)



March 28, 2011

Our (Unduly Insistent) Imaginative Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:51 am

… either the nude became a dead abstraction or the sexual element became unduly insistent.

… To scrutinize a naked girl as if she were a loaf of bread or a piece of rustic pottery is surely to exclude one of the human emotions of which a work of art is composed.

… the nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it, by analogy, to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience.

This is my final post from The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark (1956). This chapter is “The Nude as an End in Itself” and it begins:

In this book I have tried to show how the naked body has been given memorable shapes by the wish to communicate certain ideas or states of feeling. I believe that this is the chief justification of the nude, but it is not the only justification. At all epochs when the body has been a subject of art artists have felt that it could be given a shape that was good in itself. Many have gone further and have believed that they could find there the highest common factor of significant form.

Skipping over the many historical examples that support the above, to mid-chapter:

… Since Michelangelo, few artists have shared a Florentine passion for shoulders, knees, and the other small knobs of form. They have found it easier to compose harmoniously the larger units of a woman’s torso: they have been grateful for its smoother transitions and above all they have discovered analogies with satisfying geometrical forms, the oval, the ellipsoid, and the sphere. But may not this argument reverse the order of cause and effect? Is there, after all, any reason why certain quasi-geometrical shapes should be satisfying except that they are simplified statements of the forms that please us in a woman’s body? The recurrent search by writers on the theory of art — Lomazzo, Hogarth, Winckelmann — for a “line of beauty” ends, not inappropriately, in a question mark; and he who pursues it further is soon caught in the sterile fallacy of one cause. A shape, like a word, has innumerable associations that vibrate in the memory, and any attempt to explain it by a single analogy is as futile as the translation of a poem. But the fact that we can base our argument either way on this unexpected union of sex and geometry is a proof of how deeply the concept of the nude is linked with our most elementary notions of order and design.

We have come to accept this almost as a law of nature, but medieval and Far Eastern art proves that we are mistaken. It is to a large extent an artificial creation owing to the system of training that came into being at the moment of transition from medieval to modern art. From the antique room to the life class: this progression, inaugurated in the workshops of Renaissance Rome and Florence, has lasted till the present day, and Western artists have unconsciously derived from it their sense of scale, their system of proportion, and their basic repertoire of forms. A return to the fundamentals of design has always meant to them a return to the nude; and yet to a creative artist the nude was deeply compromised by its subjection to the formulae of academic training. This is the dilemma that confronted the great revolutionaries of the present century.

Matisse nude etching [this is not one of the “animal” drawings Clark refers to below]

… [The] contrast between the calculated formalism of Matisse’s painting and the animality of his drawings supports one of our chief conclusions about the nude: that the antique scheme had involved so complete a fusion of the sensual and the geometric as to provide a kind of armor; and the words cuirasse esthétique, used by French critics to describe the formalized torso, struck deeper than was intended. Once this armor had grown unwearable, either the nude became a dead abstraction or the sexual element became unduly insistent.

Matisse, Blue Nude

… The death of the antique system, which had split Matisse’s conception of the nude in two, produced a similar duality in the mind of Picasso. But his response to the situation was less narrowly aesthetic. For one thing, he retained, and even exploited, erotic images in his abstract work. For another, he saw as clearly as any church elder that the flaw in the whole respectable edifice of the academic nude was the relationship between the painter and his model. No doubt an artist can achieve a greater degree of detachment than the profane might suppose. But does this not involve a certain callosity or dimness of response? To scrutinize a naked girl as if she were a loaf of bread or a piece of rustic pottery is surely to exclude one of the human emotions of which a work of art is composed.

… This does not mean that the attempt to create an independent form on the basis of the human body is a lost cause; only that the old approach by which art-school nudes are, so to say, scrambled into a new pictorial language involves too great a sacrifice of fundamental responses. such a metamorphosis, in so far as it seems to be necessary to our peculiar needs, must take place deep in the unconscious, and not be achieved by trial and elimination. I may take as an example the work of Henry Moore.

… Two of Henry Moore’s most satisfying works are the stone Recumbent Figure of 1938 and the wooden Reclining Figure of 1946. Many different associations converge in these carvings: in the former there is the feeling of the menhir, the memory of rocks worn through by the sea; and in the latter there is the pulsation of the wooden heart, like a crusader’s head, burrowing in the hollow breast. But in both, these conflicting memories are resolved by their subordination to the human body, and in fact they develop two basic ideas of the nude first embodied in the Dionysos and the Illissos of the Parthenon, the stone figure with bent knee rising from the earth like a hill, the wooden figure with averted thorax and open legs, struggling out of the earth like a tree, not without a powerful suggestion of sexual readiness.

Moore, Recumbent Figure

Thus modern art shows even more explicitly than the art of the past that the nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it, by analogy, to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience. The Greeks related it to their geometry. Twentieth-century man, with his vastly extended experience of physical life, and his more elaborate patterns of mathematical symbols, must have at the back of his mind analogies of far greater complexity. But he has not abandoned the effort to express them visibly as part of himself. The Greeks perfected the nude in order that man might feel like a god, and in a sense this is still its function, for although we no longer suppose that God is like a beautiful man, we still feel close to divinity in those flashes of self-identification when, through our own bodies, we seem to be aware of a universal order.

Moore, Reclining Figure

My most recent previous post from Clark’s book is here.



March 27, 2011

Acts of Making

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:12 am

… My inclination is to understand appreciation by performing, rather than appreciation by listening …

… There is no sense in which the ultimate aim is to please (or edify or entertain) passive observers.

This was supposed to be a post from the last chapter in Mimesis as Make-Believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts by Kendall L. Walton (1990) … but I didn’t like anything that I found there. So I’m giving the beginning of one of his essays in Marvelous Images: On Values and the Arts (2008). The essay is “Style and the Products and Processes of Art.” I only like the beginning of this essay. Walton often starts with some really good ideas but then he seems to inevitably lose focus the farther he goes with those ideas. I’m going to give the first sentences of the essay, because they’re mildly interesting:

A curious fact about our concept of style is that we seem unable to make up our minds about what sorts of things have styles. Works of art — paintings, plays, buildings, sculptures, operas — are said to be in one or another style, and so are objects such as bathing suits, neckties, and automobiles. But we often think of styles as ways of doing things, ways of performing actions. There are styles of teaching, styles of travel, styles of chess playing, and styles of selling insurance. Are styles attributes of objects, or of actions?

After a page or two of wandering away from his starting questions (as usual), Walton describes the “cobbler model” to serve as a contrast to an art/aesthetic models:

… The cobbler model has a three-part structure. There is the producer, the product, and the consumer, that is, the cobbler, who makes shoes, which are worn by consumer. The point of the process consists in how well the shoes fit the feet and the needs of the consumer, that is, the proof is in the shoes. The cobbler’s work is merely a means to this end. Once the consumer has the shoes he has no reason to concern himself with the cobbler’s act of making them. What is important is the nature of the shoes themselves. Natural objects with the right properties would serve just as well as the cobbler’s artifacts, and it makes no difference whether the wearer thinks that his shoes are artifacts or that they grew on trees.

Applying this model to the institution of art, we have the artist, who, perhaps together with a collaborating performer, counts as the producer of the work of art which counts as the product; and the appreciator in the role of consumer. The artist, the work, and the appreciator are supposed to have functions analogous to those of the cobbler, the shoes, and the wearer of the shoes, respectively, although of course the kind of value that the work has for the appreciator is not the same as that which shoes have for wearers.

… the act of appreciating the [art] object (or should we say the act of pretending to appreciate it?) is closely analogous to the act of making it. Both are ritualistic or symbolic affirmations of probably similar attitudes or points of view.

… The cobbler model is misleading even when our interest is directed toward the product of an artist’s actions, rather than the action itself. What matters in the cobbler case is the value of the shoes for the wearer. There usually would be little point in making shoes if they were not to be worn. But works of art are not made exclusively for the sake of their appreciation by spectators, listeners, or readers. One way to appreciate music is by playing it. And musicians frequently do play for the fun of it, with no thought of an audience.

The point here is not just that playing music is enjoyable, for the cobbler may well enjoy making shoes also. The enjoyment of playing music strikes me as very much like that of listening to it; both activities deserve the label of “aesthetic experience” if anything does. Playing and hearing music are simply different ways of appreciating it. But the cobbler’s experience, by contrast is not at all like that of the wearer of the shoes. His enjoyment of the activity of making the shoes has little in common with the value that the shoes have for the wearer.

It might be thought that the similarity of the musician’s experience to that of the listener is explained simply by the fact that the musician is a listener also; he listens to the sounds as he makes them. But the player does not listen in the same way that a listener does. He is too occupied with what he is doing. … My inclination is to understand appreciation by performing, rather than appreciation by listening, as primary, even though the latter is much more common, at least in the tradition of Western art music.

It is revealing to look beyond Western art music to its roots. Audiences are superfluous in many folk music and folk dance traditions (including our own current tradition of hymn singing). People just get together and sing or dance. Anyone listening or watching is incidental. There is no temptation to say that in these cases the basic function of the artist, the singer, or the dancer is to produce something for others to contemplate and appreciate. Nor when there is no audience, are participants to be understood as merely practicing or playing at the craft of performing for an audience. There is no sense in which the ultimate aim is to please (or edify or entertain) passive observers.



March 26, 2011

To Get To Grips With Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am

… we can talk of the space of ethics, of colour, of myth.

This is the third of three posts today from Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture by Yuri M. Lotman (1990):

… For a culture to get to grips with life, it must create a fundamental image of the world, a spatial model of the universe. The spatial modelling reconstructs the spatial form of the actual world. But spatial images can be used another way. The mathematician, A.D. Aleksandrov writes:

When studying topological qualities we again are faced with the possibility of conceptualizing an abstract totality of objects having only those qualities. We term this totality abstract topological space.

And further: ‘The isolation of these qualities in their pure form leads us to the idea of an abstract space that corresponds to them.’ If by isolating a certain quality a set of continuously contiguous elements is formed, then we can speak of an abstract space of that quality. In this way we can talk of the space of ethics, of colour, of myth. In this sense spatial modelling becomes a language in which non-spatial ideas can be expressed.

How the spatial picture of the semiosphere is reflected in the mirror of literary texts is especially interesting.

Previous post (before today’s trio) from Lotman’s book can be found here.




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:04 am

… It seethes like the sun, centres of activity boil up in different places, in the depths and on the surface, irradiating relatively peaceful areas with its immense energy.

This is the second of three posts today from Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture by Yuri M. Lotman (1990):

… We have already mentioned that the elementary act of thinking is translation. Now we can go further and say that the elementary mechanism of translating is dialogue. Dialogue presupposes asymmetry, and asymmetry is to be seen first, in the difference between the semiotic structures (languages) which the participants in the dialogue use; and second, in the alternating directions of the message-flow. This last point means that the participants in a dialogue alternately change from a position of ‘transmission’ to a position of ‘reception’ and that consequently the dialogue process consists of discrete sections with intervals between them.

… If we isolate one series from the history of world culture, such as ‘the history of English literature’ or ‘the history of the Russian novel’ what we get is a continuous line stretched out chronologically in which periods of intensity alternate with relative calms. But if we look at this immanent development as one partner in a dialogue then the periods of so-called decline can be regarded as a time of pause in a dialogue, the time when information is being intensively received, after which follow periods of transmission.

… Let us illustrate this: From the fifth century onwards Italy was shattered by the invasions of the Germans, then the Huns, then the Goths and Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Langobards, Franks, Arabs, Normans, and Magyars; it became just a geographical concept and apparently lost its cultural life. But at the same time new ‘hot spots’ of civilization came into being in the cultural space which was defined by the boundaries of the ancient Mediterranean civilizations which now attracted the Germans, Slavs and Arabs. Among these ‘hot spots’ was Provence and the culture which flourished there from the eleventh to twelfth centuries.

For a certain period Italy became a ‘text-receiver.’ It ‘received’ the lyric poetry of the Provençal troubadours, together with the fashion for courtly behaviour and the Provençal language.Chansons and sonnets in the Provençal language began to be composed in Italy, and — a typical feature of this process — also grammars of Provençal language: ‘One of the two oldest Provençal grammars, Donatz Proensals, was compiled in Italy about this time and specially for Italians.’ Other cultural currents swept in as well: epic poetry from France, Hispano-Arab culture from Sicily and also mediated through Provence. Finally the influence of the classical ‘soil’ which though it had died down had never ceased altogether was felt once more. Mention should also be made of the cultural influence of the Greco-Byzantine tradition. If, then, cultural production is our criterion, this period can well be regarded, as it often is, as a time of decline. But on the other hand, it was a period of an exceptionally high degree of saturation. Italy, set at the crossroads of many ancient and modern cultures, absorbed all this flood of texts, and within her cultural space these warring and conflicting texts formed themselves into a whole.

The result was at the next stage a burst of cultural activity unheard of in the history of world civilization. Over the next centuries Italy became like a volcano spewing out a great diversity of texts which flooded the cultural oikumene of the West. The Renaissance and Baroque periods can rightly be called the ‘Italian period’ of European culture: Italian became the language of courts and of dandies, of fashion and of diplomacy. It was spoken in the alcoves of ladies and the cabinets of cardinals. Italy supplied Europe with artists and craftsmen, bankers, jewellers, lawyers, cardinals and royal favourites. We can judge the force of this invasion by the strength of the anti-Italian feeling which broke out in England, Germany and France, and by the energy with which Italianized European culture would strive to promote a multitude of ‘its own’ national figures in the place of one foreigner.

What the Renaissance did to Italian culture, the Enlightenment did with French . …

… Of course, our picture is highly schematic. In reality the circulation of texts moves ceaselessly in all directions, large and small currents intersect and leave their traces. At the same time texts are relayed not by one but by many centres of the semiosphere, and the actual semiosphere is mobile within its boundaries. Finally, these same processes occur at different levels: periods when poetry invades prose alternate with periods when prose invades poetry; there are times of mutual tension between drama and the novel, between written and oral culture, and between elite culture and oral culture. One and the same centre of the semiosphere can be at one and the same time active and ‘receiving,’ one and the same space of the semiosphere can be both in one sense a centre and in another sense a periphery; attractions provoke rejections, and borrowings provoked originality. The semiosphere, the space of culture is not something that acts according to mapped out and pre-calculated plans. It seethes like the sun, centres of activity boil up in different places, in the depths and on the surface, irradiating relatively peaceful areas with its immense energy. But unlike that of the sun, the energy of the semiosphere is the energy of information, the energy of Thought.

Previous post (before today’s trio)  from Lotman’s book can be found here.



Our Pogany

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:59 am

… in reality no semiosphere is immersed in an amorphous ‘wild’ space, but is in contact with other semiospheres which have their own organization …

This is the first of three (!) posts today from Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture by Yuri M. Lotman (1990):

… In the centre the metastructure is ‘our’ language, but on the periphery it is treated as ‘someone else’s’ language unable adequately to reflect the semiotic reality beneath it: it is like the grammar of a foreign language. As a result, in the centre of the cultural space, sections of the semiosphere aspiring to the level of self-description become rigidly organized and self-regulating. But at the same time they lose dynamism and having once exhausted their reserve of indeterminacy they became inflexible and incapable of further development. On the periphery — ant the further one goes from the centre, the more noticeable this becomes — the relationship between semiotic practice and the norms imposed on it becomes ever more strained. Texts generated in accordance with these norms hang in the air, without any real semiotic context; while organic creations, born of the actual semiotic milieu, come into conflict with the artificial norms. This is the area of semiotic dynamism. This is the field of tension where new languages come into being.

… These same processes can be seen even within one single text . [ … ] There are many instances when the preliminary variants, both in painting and in poetry are more boldly relevant to the aesthetics of the future than the ‘normalized’ final text which has passed the author’s self-censoring. It is the same with the footage which a film director rejects during the montage process.

… the hottest spots for semioticizing processes are the boundaries of the semiosphere. The notion of boundary is an ambivalent one: it both separates and unites. It is always the boundary of something and so belongs to both frontier cultures, to both contiguous semiospheres. [ … ] In Kievan Russia there was a term for those nomads who settled on the borderlands of Russian territory, became agriculturalists, and in alliance with the Russian princes took part in campaigns against their own nomadic kin: they were called ‘our pogany‘ (pogany meant ‘pagan’ as well as ‘foreign,’ ‘incorrect,’ ‘unclean’). The oxymoron ‘our pogany‘ epitomizes the situation of the boundary.

… The extreme edge of the semiosphere is a place of incessant dialogue. No matter whether the given culture sees the ‘barbarians’ as saviour or enemy, as a healthy moral influence or a perverted cannibal, it is dealing with a construct made in its own inverted image. It is entirely to be expected, for instance, that the rational positivistic society of nineteenth-century Europe should create images of the ‘pre-logical savage,’ or of the irrational subconscious as anti-spheres lying beyond the rational space of culture.

Since in reality no semiosphere is immersed in an amorphous ‘wild’ space, but is in contact with other semiospheres which have their own organization (though from the point of view of the former they may seem unorganized) there is a constant exchange, a search for a common language, a koine, and of creolized semiotic systems come into being.

Previous post (before today’s trio) from Lotman’s book can be found here.



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