Unreal Nature

November 17, 2017

Get Lost

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost.

This is from Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (2017):

… If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that ou will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. If you say you see things differently and describe your efforts positively, if you tell people that you “just love to write,” you may be delusional.

[line break added] How could anyone ever know that something is good before it exists? And unless you can identify what is not succeeding — unless you can see those dark clunky spots that are giving you such a low opinion of your prose as it develops — how are you going to be able to tone it up and make it work?

… There are psychological differences from phase to phase, and the first is the phase of the pit and the pendulum. After that, it seems as if a different person is taking over. Dread largely disappears. Problems become less threatening, more interesting. Experience is more helpful, as if an amateur is being replaced by a professional. Days go by quickly and not a few could be called pleasant, I’ll admit.

[ … ]

… To cause a reader to see in her mind’s eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer needs to deliver only a few words and images — such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.

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




November 16, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… It’s absurd — I don’t know what it is — I don’t know why I’m doing it — I do know what I want it to do — that is — I know when it looks right and when it looks wrong —

This is from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume 1, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough (2011). These bits are from the beginning of their relationship, when O’Keeffe had just arrived in Texas, to teach art at West Texas State Normal College:

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 3, 1916]

… I have been here less than twelve hours — slept eight of them — have talked to possibly ten people — mostly educators — Think quick for me — of a bad word to apply to them — The little things they forced on me — They are so just like folks get the depraved notion they ought to be — that I feel it’s a pity to disfigure such wonderful country with people of any kind —

I wonder if I am going to allow myself to be paid eighteen hundred dollars a year to get like that — I never felt so much like kicking holes in the world in my life —

[ … ]

The sound of the wind is great —
But the pink roses in my rugs! And the little squares with three pink roses in each one — dark-lined squares — I have half a notion to count them so you will know how many are hitting me — Give me files and mosquitos and ticks — even fleas — every time in preference to three pink roses in a square with another rose on top of it —

[ … ]

Living? — Maybe so — When one lives one doesn’t think about it I guess —
I don’t know — The Plains sends you greetings — Big as what comes after living — if there is anything it must be big — and those plains are the biggest thing I know —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 8, 1916]

… I don’t know what I wrote last Sunday only I remember I was just snorting mad at the educators —

Well — even if I was I’m glad I’m here — In fact — I like it so much that I wonder if it’s true — The country is almost all sky — and such wonderful sky — and the wind blows — blows hard — and the sun is hot — the glare almost blinding — but I don’t care — I like it —

The work? I like that too — rather — I am going to — I think — because — well —

You know I get such a ridiculous lot out of living myself — and these boys and girls from the plains — get a lot out of it too — in a way — but I believe I can help them to get more — to get something they don’t get now — in a way — I like them like the country — I’ve lived out here before you know — twenty miles from here — and it’s absurd the way I like it — like to work in it —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 26, 1916]

It was your letter telling of the warm quiet night — still — dark — just the clocks —
Isn’t dark curious — Sometimes it is still with you — Sometimes you are just alone — and it’s way off — Sometimes it chases you — it’s such an enormous — intangible — awful thing when it chases you on the plains —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [October 9, 1916]

… I had a think I had been twisting around in my mind and on paper for a long time — I told you about making something I liked some few weeks ago — But I wasn’t through — It has hung here in front of me and I”ve liked it all this time — I’ve been doing it again — and for some reason — I don’t know why — I wanted to work on it today and have — all day —

It’s absurd — I don’t know what it is — I don’t know why I’m doing it — I do know what I want it to do — that is — I know when it looks right and when it looks wrong —

— But what amuses me is — that — I think there is a right and a wrong about it and — still I don’t know what I’m making — that is — I can’t say it in words —
I haven’t any words for it — What is it? I wonder if you could tell me —

Why should a person want to put down marks like that — Some way or other it doesn’t fit into any kind of reasoning I know of — It sounds so unreasonable that I wouldn’t try to say it to anyone else I guess — They wouldn’t understand how something I can’t explain could be so very definite to me —

I can’t understand — I don’t care either — and still I do care — I’ve had a great time all day — working — cloudy out — and the tearing wind — thinking I knew what I wanted to make — what I wanted it to look like — but not having any idea of what it was —

My most recent previous post from this book is here.



November 15, 2017

Aesthetic Investigations

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Rather than emotion, projection or identification, these works emphasize vision and cognition.

This is from Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013):

… They have become ubiquitous in museums, galleries, private collections and corporate boardrooms: monumental, ultra-detailed photographs of places, people or objects arranged right in the middle of the frame. Their style has been called deadpan, a term originally used to describe an expressionless face. These works have undeniable presence. They are made with large-format view cameras and usually printed very large, as if intended for the walls of museums, commercial galleries and the spacious homes of collectors.

… We may be tempted to take such images as transparent depictions of their subject matter. Yet it is important to remember that the desire for objectivity is itself a position. For those most involved in thinking and writing about such work, the cool, uninflected surface of deadpan photography provides a springboard for some of the most ambitious aesthetic investigations in contemporary art. For many viewers, however, this work remains perplexingly blank, impersonal and boring.

… in the context of American photography, objectivity refers to a styleless style that may — or may not — allow aspects of subjective vision.

… The most frequently cited influence on contemporary deadpan work is the photography associated with the German Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity tendency in the 1920s and 1930s. Although there were differences between them, these photographers were united by an understanding of photography as capable of capturing the essence of objects and people. Their search for essence was not conceived as metaphysical but rather as material and scientific, a position supported by the use of typologies, serial images of a single category or thing, collected into archives. The risk of such an approach is that it equates seeing with knowing and can flatten out important differences.

[ … ]

… This work rejects the personal, pointing away from the subjectivity of the photographer and creating an abstract space for disembodied thought. Rather than emotion, projection or identification, these works emphasize vision and cognition. They offer what is ultimately an academic gaze, painstaking, informed and informing, imbued with authority, yet often turned towards subjects that power might not choose to examine directly. The work is presented and received with such seriousness that it has come to dominate contemporary art as well as photography.

… The separate projects benefit enormously from being read in relation to each other and in relation to the work of the Bechers; being grouped together has given these photographers extra clout. Yet individual photographs stand or fall by the visual experience — which will be personal and idiosyncratic — that they produce for the viewer.

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




November 14, 2017

The Way Art Ought to Look

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… At the heart of conceptual art is the ambition to return to the roots of experience, to recreate the primary experience of symbolization uncontaminated by the attitudes attached to traditional visual modes, whether representational or abstract.

This is from the essay ‘Sol LeWitt and Drawing’ by Bernice Rose found in Sol LeWitt edited by Alicia Legg (1978):

LeWitt’s transposition of his drawings from the restricted if traditional format of a sheet of paper to the architectural space of a wall with which it became absolutely identified was a radical move. It suggests transformation in the role — and the very nature — of the drawing medium, within both his own work and the history of the medium.

LeWitt’s move was catalytic, as important for drawing as Pollock’s use of the drip technique had been for painting in the 1950s. Both opposed, through radical transpositions in the way in which the thing is made, expectations of the way art ought to look — what it ought to be.

LeWitt’s working method for his wall drawings is simple. As Lawrence Alloway described it:

A site becomes available, not necessarily one that the artist has seen in advance. After consideration of the dimensions and physical properties of the walls, LeWitt stipulates a certain kind of mark, and a certain form of distribution of marks by a sketch and/or verbal or written account. The instructions also serve as the work’s description after it has been done, so that the wall is bracketed verbally, both before and after execution. The process-record is abbreviated, compressed between identical accounts of conception and completion.

… By establishing system as method for himself, LeWitt had created a way of working that was almost infinitely elastic and open-ended, one idea leading to another and still another, in intuitive leaps, from suggestions inherent in the work. Later work expanded to incorporate circles and sections of circles (arcs), irregular lines and, later still, a new use of color. The new permutations were systematically exploited to produce variations.

The use and disuse of systems in intellectual history was outlined by John Chandler in a discussion of LeWitt:

The current concern of artists with “systems” recalls the rejection of systems by the eighteenth-century philosophes. The seventeenth-century philosophers, following the model of Euclid’s Elements, constructed elaborate systems, long chains of deductive reasoning where every link depended on all those which preceded it and upon which all further links depended. The eighteenth century, following the lead of Newton and natural philosophy, rejected this kind of deduction and rejected a priori systems. Rather than beginning with principles and arriving at particulars, the process was reversed.

[line break added] Knowledge became more elastic, open-ended and concrete. Since then, attempts to make systems have been negligible, and when they have been formulated, they have been useless. The formulator of a system of aesthetics has nothing to say to working artists because he has not observed the relevant phenomena — in this case, contemporary works of art. Nevertheless, some of the most beautiful of human productions have been these philosophical systems. What is more beautiful than the systems of Aquinas, Spinoza, Hobbes and Descartes?

[line break added] Every part in its appropriate place, deduced from those prior and antecedent to those that follow, the whole being an attempt to reduce the apparent variety to unity. Even their uselessness enhances their aesthetic quality, just as a ruined Gothic cathedral is perhaps more a work of art now than it was when it was functional. Although systems are useless for philosophy and science, their inherent adaptability to art must now be evident. It is perhaps in art that systems have found their proper domain. Not all art should be systematic, but all systems are art.

Systems have other attractions, too. A simple system may yield a complex field. Systems may seem logical but can be used to confound logic when extended to absurdity. Systems have no purpose outside of themselves: they engender purposeless, therefore aesthetic, mental processes.

… At the heart of conceptual art is the ambition to return to the roots of experience, to recreate the primary experience of symbolization uncontaminated by the attitudes attached to traditional visual modes, whether representational or abstract. For LeWitt, system was one means of achieving an art as free from previous stylistic associations as could be conceived at that moment.

LeWitt was anxious to avoid subjective decisions in order to remove the obstacle of ideas of quality (in the work itself) and in order to think in terms of kind. Therefore he made the initial intention more important than the execution. He wanted to concentrate on sensitivity of decision and so he made it a rule not to deviate from original decisions; he refused the idea of changing a work because it didn’t look right. His view is that the same thing can look different on different days, one day right, one day wrong. He wanted to concentrate on the whole conception rather than on the day-to-day decisions.

… Lines themselves have always been meaningless. LeWitt’s strike at formalism is a deliberate reminder that it is always and has always been the idea that is important, even more than the emotion. Only the unifying idea that creates the structure of the work can make the work manifest. This precedes the content of any work; in LeWitt’s case it is identical to the content.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




November 13, 2017

What Remains Is the Wit

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… [color] had become a commodity whose supply was abundant and devoid of mystique.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… if craftsmanship has been rendered objectively useless by industrialization, then skillful making must also be subjectively felt as impossible by the sensitive artist. This is, “even in normal painting,” that “inner necessity” which drove Kandinsky and the other early abstractionists toward the abandonment of almost every traditional convention of painting, and Duchamp toward the abandonment of the craft itself. Gone is the making, what remains is the name. Gone is the skill, the talent, what remains is the genius, the wit.

… But painting has not become impossible. The fact that industrialization has bereft painters of their traditional social function as purveyors of images — the fact, for example, that photography has taken over the market for portraits and other representations — does not in the slightest make the practice of painting objectively impossible. It makes it useless in regard to this traditional function, but it does not forbid it nor does it ipso facto suppress its know-how or repress the desire to paint.

[line break added] On the contrary, it can be argued that economic progress has made it possible for many more people to find the leisure to paint than was ever the case prior to the industrial revolution. The impossibility of painting is merely a feeling, the subjective signal accompanying the awareness of its objective uselessness in a society where the production of images has been mechanized and from which painting has withdrawn, like a relic from an obsolete artisanal past.

[line break added] Though merely a feeling, the impossibility of painting is a mandatory feeling, however, a quasi-moral one, a feeling that should be felt by any artist who is sensitive to his or her time, to the inventions that propel it towards economic progress, to the ideas that carry the hope of social progress, to the technologies that upset the cultural status quo. It is, in other words, the feeling of any artist who, like Duchamp, around 1912, understands or senses that there is more art in photography or cinema than there is in painting because these new cultural forms, far from being deprived of social function, allow a glimpse of the possibility of a truly popular art.

… Competition with photography was the most obvious threat; competition with the pigment industry was a more insidious but no less crucial one and, by the way, linked to the first. Historians usually agree to date the beginnings of modernist painting from the moment landscape painters abandoned the artifices of workshop practice to seek daylight. In submitting their skill to the constraints of on-site production, of course, the plein-air painters entered into explicit competition with photography.

[line break added] The camera was the principle mechanizing device that the painters had to reclaim, which they did by mimicking it and behaving as if their eye and their hand, coupled to their canvas, constituted a light-recording machine. They sought to give their craft a reprieve by “internalizing” the technology threatening it and by “mechanizing” their own body at work. Whereas this strategy of resistance was still implicit in impressionism (“Monet is but an eye,” said Cézanne), it was made explicit by Seurat’s divisionism, which was simultaneous and parallel to the invention of “autochrome” color photography by the Lumière brothers.

[line break added] Since Van Eyck, color and light had been one and the same thing for the true painter. With impressionism, they began to split: the instantaneous imprint of light is what Monet tried to capture in his Rouen Cathedrals or his Haystacks. Color, on the other hand, became the means to an end. And it could do so because, being readily available in tubes, it had become a commodity whose supply was abundant and devoid of mystique.

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




November 12, 2017

Manifested Externally

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon …

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… For the classical Greek, every aspect of existence could be seen and heard. In principle (in essence) he did not know an invisible and mute reality. This applied to existence as a whole, but preeminently to human existence. A mute internal life, a mute grief, mute thought, were completely foreign to the Greek. All this — that is, his entire internal life — could exist only if manifested externally in audible or visible form. Plato, for example, understood thought as a conversation that a man carries on with himself (the Theaetetus, the Sophist).

[line break added] The concept of silent thought first appeared only with the mystics, and this concept had its roots in the Orient. Moreover, in Plato’s understanding of the process, thought conceived as a “conversation with oneself” did not entail any special relationship to one’s self (as distinct from one’s relationship to others); conversation with one’s own self turns directly into conversation with someone else, without a hint of any necessary boundaries between the two.

There is no mute or invisible core to the individual himself: he is entirely visible and audible, all on the surface. But in general there are no mute or invisible spheres of existence either, of the sort in which a man might take part and by which he might be shaped (the Platonic realm of Forms is thoroughly visible and audible). To locate the basic controlling nodes of human life in centers that are mute and invisible was even further from the classical Greek world view. This is the defining characteristic of the remarkable and immediate exteriority we find in the classical individual and in his life.

[ … ]

… mythological and artistic thinking locates such categories as purpose, ideal, justice, perfection, the harmonious condition of man and society and the like in the past. Myths about paradise, a Golden Age, a heroic age, an ancient truth, as well as the later concepts of a “state of nature,” of natural innate rights and so on, are all expressions of this historical inversion. To put it in somewhat simplified terms, we might say that a thing that could and in fact must only be realized exclusively in the future is here portrayed as something out of the past, a thing that is in no sense part of the past’s reality, but a thing that is in its essence a purpose, an obligation.

This peculiar “trans-positioning,” this “inversion” of time typical of mythological and artistic modes of thought in various eras of human development, is characterized by a special concept of time, and in particular of future time. The present and even more the past are enriched at the expense of the future. The force and persuasiveness of reality, of real life, belong to the present and the past alone — to the “is” and the “was” — and to the future belongs a reality of a different sort, one that is more ephemeral, a reality that when placed in the future is deprived of that materiality and density, that real-life weightiness, that is essential to the “is” and “was.”

[line break added] The future is not homogeneous with the present and the past, and no matter how much time it occupies it is denied a basic concreteness, it is somehow empty and fragmented — since everything affirmative, ideal, obligatory, desired has been shifted, via the inversion, into the past (or partly into the present); en route, it has become weightier, more authentic and persuasive. In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon, if not on earth then underground, if not underground then in heaven.

[line break added] There is a greater readiness to build a superstructure for reality (the present) along a vertical axis of upper and lower than to move forward along the horizontal axis of time. Should these vertical structures turn out as well to be other-worldly, idealistic, eternal, outside time, then this extratemporal and eternal quality is perceived as something simultaneous with a given moment in the present; it is something contemporaneous, and that which already exists is perceived as better than the future (which does not yet exist and which never did exist).

… In its own way each of these forms empties out the future, dissects and bleeds it white …

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




November 11, 2017

Events That Play with Our Minds as a Cat with a Mouse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… The swaying of the ship has been so violent that the best-hung lamps have finally overturned.

This is from the essay ‘The Crisis of the Mind’ (1919) found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

We later civilizations … we too now know that we are mortal.

We had long heard tell of whole worlds that had vanished, of empires sunk without a trace, gone down with all their men and all their machines into the unexplorable depths of the centuries, with their gods and their laws, their academies and their sciences pure and applied, their grammars and their dictionaries …

… Elam, Ninevah, Babylon were but beautiful vague names, and the total ruin of those worlds had as little significance for us as their very existence. … [But] we see now that the abyss of history is deep enough to hold us all.

… It was not enough for our generation to learn from its own experience how the most beautiful things and the most ancient, the most formidable and the best ordered, can perish by accident; in the realm of thought, feeling, and common sense, we witnessed extraordinary phenomena: paradox suddenly became fact, and obvious fact brutally belied.

I shall cite but one example: the great virtues of the German peoples have begotten more evils than idleness ever bred vices. With our own eyes, we have seen conscientious labor, the most solid learning, the most serious discipline and application adapted to appalling ends.

So many horrors could not have ben possible without so many virtues.

… science is mortally wounded in its moral ambitions and, as it were, put to shame by the cruelty of its applications; idealism is barely surviving, deeply stricken, and called to account for its dreams; realism is hopeless, beaten, routed by its own crimes and errors; greed and abstinence are equally flouted; faiths are confused in their aim — cross against cross, crescent against crescent; and even the skeptics, confounded by the sudden, violent, and moving events that play with our minds as a cat with a mouse … even the skeptics lose their doubts, recover, and lose them again, no longer master of the motions of their thoughts.

The swaying of the ship has been so violent that the best-hung lamps have finally overturned.

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




November 10, 2017

Expecting a Runway

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night.

This is from Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (2017):

… Robert Bingham, my editor at The New Yorker for sixteen years, had a fluorescent, not to mention distinguished mustache. In some piece or other, early on, I said of a person I was writing about that he had a “sincere” mustache. This brought Bingham, manuscript in hand, out of his office and down the hall to mine, as I had hoped it would. A sincere mustache, Mr. McPhee, a sincere mustache? What does that mean? Was I implying that it is possible to have an insincere mustache?

I said I could not imagine anything said more plainly.

The mustache made it into the magazine and caused me to feel self-established as The New Yorker‘s nonfiction mustache specialist. Across time, someone came along who had “a no-nonsense-mustache,” and a Great Lakes ship captain who had “a gyroscopic mustache,” and a North Woodsman who had “a timber-cruiser’s guileless mustache.” A family practitioner in Maine had “an analgesic mustache,” another doctor “a soothing mustache,” and another a mustache that “seems medical, in that it spreads flat beyond the corners of his mouth and suggests no prognosis, positive or negative.”

Writing has to be fun at least once in a pale blue moon.

[ … ]

… Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night. You see the lights. They imply a structure you can’t see. Inside that frame of reference — those descending lights — is a big airplane with its flaps down expecting a runway.

My previous post from McPhee’s book is here.




November 9, 2017

Little Singing Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Yes, you are living.

This is from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume 1, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough (2011). These bits are from the beginning of their relationship:

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Charlottesville, Virginia] • [July 3, 1916]

… And — then there are more things and more things — It may be painful — may hurt — but it’s a great experience —

If everything had gone smoothly I’d not have learned — not have had a chance to feel and think it — all —

When I try not to think I sometimes want to kick myself — for not thinking and feeling all I can — I don’t dare you know —

Thanks again for your letters —
It’s a wonderful night — cool and dark and little singing things —
Goodnight —
Georgia O’Keeffe

[ … ]

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Charlottesville, Virginia] • [July 11, 1916]

… I don’t know what I wrote you a few nights ago — remember — that was just one little part of me — a part that I probably wouldn’t have showed you if I had talked to you —

I know you know it but just the same I want to tell you anyway —
It is nice to know that you are — somewhere —

Tonight is very quiet — little singing things out there in the dark — the night feels so cool and damp — it is very nice — and the moon — only part of it — seems very near — it’s hanging — just a little way off — over the trees.

[ … ]

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Charlottesville, Virginia] • [August 6, 1916]

… When I crawled out of my shell here and took the first step toward doing things — they kept coming and I kept doing them so that I have hardly had time to think — The walk that I told you of started many things —

… From what I’ve been doing I guess you know that I am all right again — I’m not afraid of things anymore — am feeling fine — and it is great — I appreciate it so much more having been sick —

Oh — I simply can’t tell you how I like it — but you know.

… The moon is very hot tonight — and red — hot looking — I slept on the porch — way up in the tree-tops — a large patch of sky.

[ … ]

Alfred Stieglitz • [Lake George, New York] • August 16, 1916

… — Your new work — I opened the package. — Out amongst the trees — the Lake at my feet — There were the drawings. — The new work — I merely glanced at it all — and then glanced once more — as if I were being watched — & wanted no one to see. — I rolled up the drawings & put them away. I’ll look at them again in a few days. — And I’ll write you soon what I think.

[ … ]

Alfred Stieglitz • [Lake George, New York] • August 28, 1916

Isn’t it queer I haven’t had the courage to look at your drawings again. They — the package — is lying at the foot of my bed — on the top of my trunk — & every time I go into my room — & I go frequently I feel tempted to look — & don’t. — And I can’t quite understand why. For I really want to look. —

— And just now — after a day or rain, when the sun broke through the clouds, & the Lake in the setting sun became intensely blue — the opposite shore golden — & the sky filled with huge breaking storm clouds — warm in color — & the sky a rich glowing blue! — As I was wandering down to the dock with my large camera to photograph some of the clouds — I really didn’t feel much like photographing but the clouds were unusual & I felt as if I ought (I oughting to??? — ??? I who don’t believe in such things) — to finally make an effort to “wake up” — just then as my mind was focused on the clouds your letter from Asheville was handed to me. —

— Instead of photographing (and how glad I was not to photograph just then!) I read your letter. — Yes, you are living. — Possibly not being as careful as you might be — or should be — but living often brings with it a seeming carelessness of self! — It’s a great state to be in. No one knows that state better than I do —

— But I had to laugh at myself. I think I know now why I haven’t looked at the drawings again. — None of them reflect any of your recent experiences — ?? — But what is the difference — they reflect you. And you under different conditions are always you. It’s that which attracts me so much to your work. Of course the hasty glance when I opened the package showed me more than months of looking would show most others. — And perhaps I see more than is — but I doubt it. — It is. —

My previous post from Greenough’s book is here.




November 8, 2017

Riddled With

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… Such interpretive conflict, which might have been regarded as artistic failure … is now regarded as a sign of desirable openness …

This is from Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013):

… In modernist art photography, prevalent from the 1910s through to the 1970s, photographers made particularly active use of formal elements of picture-making, such as point of view, arrangement of elements within the frame and printing techniques, to nuance the subject matter of their images. Although such artistry was understood to contribute to the value of the image, it was usually regarded as inseparable from the self-explanatory content (as in Ansel Adams’s sublime western landscapes).

… While autonomy was celebrated within the art-for-art’s-sake model of modernism, avant-garde movements throughout the twentieth century focused specifically on undermining autonomy in order to reconnect art and life with various levels of shock, challenging art as an institution and attempting to change the way viewers understood the experience of looking at art.

… Postmodernism in art involves a loss of belief in the truth or unique value of the photograph. If modernism prizes singular images that reflect the world with great beauty or penetrating truthfulness, postmodernism rests on the idea that reality is constructed and unstable.

… As theorists like Hal Foster describe it, postmodernism is a paradigm of recycling. But the original form or idea is reproduced with an awareness of difference, often a gap or irony. Artists go back to the past with a view towards opening up a new space of working. This is intended to be a productive backward looking that may or may not engage with history.

… Ambiguity is absolutely key to the discussion of contemporary art. Ambiguity in art or literature was once seen as a failing unless it was very specific and pointed, such as a pun with a double meaning or a representation of the internal contradictions of a troubled mind or dream state. Contemporary photography, however, embraces ambiguity on several levels. It is common for work to be ambiguous at the basic level of subject matter, resting on a visual confusion between male and female, child and adult, day and night, pleasure and pain, etc.

[line break added] Many works also offer a kind of moral ambiguity, deliberately flirting with offensive, transgressive imagery to create a politically incorrect charge. Most common of all, however, is an ambiguity of meaning in which different interpretations — even mutually contradictory ones — may be held at the same time. Such interpretive conflict, which might have been regarded as artistic failure in an earlier moment of modernist autonomy or postmodern representational critique, is now regarded as a sign of desirable openness, reflecting the layered reality of experience in our time.

… The lasting legacy of postmodernism has been its challenge to the master narratives of the twentieth century, including logic, certainty and truth. Contemporary art discourse thrives on works which are to some extent, illogical, uncertain and riddled with elements of contradiction, fiction and fantasy.

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




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