… Shakespeare’s characters don’t know one another, they misunderstand one another, and they make poetry in the process.
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Jeff Wall: … I liked art criticism [at a young age] because I learned about art from it, I learned to test my own reactions to art (which I had mostly seen in photographs in books) against what these writers said. Art criticism for me in the 1960s was a way to have a dialogue about what I was desperately concerned with, and couldn’t always talk about in everyday life. For me, it was the important form of writing, it was what writing was all about.
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JW: … I was impatient with what I thought of as the documentary dogma that excluded any collaboration between the photographer and the subject of the picture. In these terms the photographer had to be unobserved, and the subject too preoccupied with their own affairs to notice his presence. I felt that implied a lack of intimacy, that the subject was too much at a distance from the maker of the picture. Photography seemed trapped in its own apparent uniqueness; the older arts, like theater or painting, had always been able to create the illusion that the viewer was sharing a very private space with someone else.
[line break added] At the beginning, photography seemed very different from pictorial art, since it alone was able to record the immediate appearance of things, apparently with the minimum possible illusion. But this becomes an artistic limitation in that photographers are by nature more distanced from many situations than would be someone working in one of the other arts.
The cinema seemed to be a response to this problem, since it makes use of the techniques and resources of the older illusionistic arts. It therefore is more like those arts in producing that sphere of intimacy and privacy I’m interested in. I felt that the cinema created a model of photographic practice that could itself be detached from the cinema …
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JW: … I had an experience that confirmed some of my attitudes toward art. It reconfirmed the value of autonomous art, an art that depicts but recognizes that it does not speak directly, and therefore that does not criticize directly. For example, a picture showing a violent, reprehensible event: it will affect you immediately and you might be able to disapprove of the perpetrators.
[line break added] But if the work is good, you will notice that the artist can barely frame an accusation. He can’t point a finger at the guilty party. That party is there, identifiable as one or some of the figures in the composition, but he is treated with the same attentiveness, with the same care, as is the victim. Depiction has an empathy for everything depicted.
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JW: … It is far more difficult to make an artistically valid image of something evil than it is to exaggerate the features of a criminal to turn him into a monster.
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Jean-François Chevrier: Very few people need art. A lot of people need culture, but as soon as you talk with any kind of precision, about art, there’s nobody there anymore. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that what you’re talking about concerns very few people, and that misunderstandings arise very fast. In your pictures, the viewer will, in most cases look for an answer to questions that you haven’t asked yourself, and that don’t exist in them.
JW: Misunderstanding is inevitable and interesting, and possibly it’s one of the essential elements, or moments, of artistic experience. I’m not aware of the meaning of most of what I’m doing, and I don’t think I need to be. I can’t predict or control what others make of my pictures, and I think that’s also significant. Pictorial art is radically open to the world.
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JW: … One of art’s greatest qualities is its presentation of the mystery of identity, of what people “are.” Shakespeare’s characters don’t know one another, they misunderstand one another, and they make poetry in the process.