Contemporary Photography’s Response to Digital

cmyk

Forget the illusions of Surrealism and Realism and History Painting and Portrait Painting and Religious Painting and the Still-life.  There is nothing but the process here, the process of painting.

 

Like American painting of the 1940’s, Photography opens itself up to the gesture and visceral connections we (once) had with paint.  No illusion suffices when the darkroom magic no longer means anything, just as the representational after WWII proved meaningless.

When the photographer’s eye loses out to digital photography’s own technological magic, when any image, all images, made, taken, shown can be easily edited, cropped, and placed into any context, when this is the new norm, Photography readjusts.

 

The “eye” of the photographer – the ability to capture something from nature ‘as is’ – print full-frame – is no longer viable.  The prestige we once placed on the skill of the photographer’s eye has been replaced with the egalitarian ‘so can I’.  Photoshop toolbars are the new darkroom and access to it all exists no matter what level or claim.

 

The Everyman’s camera with digital grip on capturing every moment before us – because we can — must somehow be distanced from the art photographer working diligently at his/her craft.  Rather than a World War to diminish the significance of painting things from nature ……we have the ubiquity of Digital diluting the democratized pool of images we now all make with abandon.

 

It is no wonder that new work in Contemporary Photography is found returning to that of origin, and, with it, possibly, an aim for the retrieval of aura in the literally-pulled-from-the-negative; a move to discussing the process of Photography itself. The subject matter contemporary artists photograph now is imbued with the process of making one.  And, the subject matter photographed is likewise ensured of greater meaning because it is indeed, a (true) photo.  Artists photograph Photography now, leaving the task of recording sunsets and snapping in successive impulse the documenting of the everyday to the now incurable digital.

 

 

In the late 19th Century, Painting went through its own self-evaluative phase with the advent of the camera –its arrival on the scene challenging artists re-presenting likenesses on canvas.  If the camera can reproduce nature as it is, (and, much more directly) we painters must give the Nature we aim to imitate with our brushes and canvas another angle, another view.  Realistic portrayal is no longer the painter’s aim, but one of creating more of an impression of what we see (one which examines the Science of light and the study of refraction, saturation and hue) rather than what the artist has worked at for centuries to achieve.  The camera changes everything.

 

Today, Photography has been taken over by the dpi pixelation of image —  computer-generated and electronically processed without any gestural, personal touch or hand in the making other than the holding-at-arm’s-length distance (no longer eye pressed tightly peering through the closeness of the camera’s lens) one of the many electronic devices we carry around without distinction, and then, the tapping of a few remote keys on a keyboard while awaiting the contrast-adjusted screen resolution’s response.

 

With digital technology we can paint photos, make photos look like paintings, scan photos and print them as if paintings, photos, or, maybe, if we wish, both.  (There is even an app that can make an image photographed look as though a painting by Thomas Hart Benton!) The origin of source is rejected for the contrivance of cut and paste and digital manipulation.  The advantage of the eye in seeing something unique in the real world is overwhelmed by the savvy nature of the digital screen’s editing options offered at the touch of a distanced keystroke.  Darkroom pools of chemicals and physical film emulsions dipped and swirled and submerged and pulled are all part of the mystical past printed in sepia-toned nostalgia.  The capturing of the observable taken by our clunky cameras and then preserved in a photograph has been replaced by the ease and facility and access and uniformity of technology’s latest picture-taking app.

 

What then, can the artist who works in Photography do to maintain a level of artistic creation, freshness, scholarship, expertise, and, add to the discipline by contributing to the evolution of Photography in offering commentary on this phenomenon through one’s art, one’s own photographic work?  How does the artist comment upon this digital world and its competing role?  Where are the Impressionists of today and what are they doing to unite past history and our current ‘taking of pictures’?

 

The photographer’s image will now, always be measured against the new paradigm, the digital world’s offering — (in both quantity and kind); the photograph no longer able to carry itself just by virtue of “its being”.  “Is that digitally created?” is the context all photography now faces.  It no longer matters if it looks one way or another.  It is now about the viewing of such a thing amidst – and, how it reads now that technology has diluted [in its own nonchemical solution] Photography’s very origin, process and meaning.

 

 

2017

 

art vs an artwork:  aka – the thought’s the thing

 

 

Don Quixote

 

The artist thrives in the unique state of being able to see things beyond surface appearance, and presents to the rest of us such a translation in an equally unique vision.

 

Art is both verb and noun.  It is an act of thinking and receiving.  It is a sinking-in of information which prompts us to consider our place in the much larger world.  Art prompts us to recognize meaning in an artist’s object, a playwright’s dialogue, an actor’s performance, a novelist’s writing, a poet’s verse.

 

Art is not something which one can visit without having some sort of thought-process, some act of thinking immediately following.  This is where the art happens; with the thought—the thinking-about – usually in response to [the] contradictory nature of what is observed.  A contrast in size, shape, material within an environment prompts us to think in symbolic terms, and, here, we begin to venture into the realm of Art.

All of this makes me consider Melville’s description of art in his poem of the same name, for he posits just this with his lines: “A wind to melt, a flame to freeze, sad patience, joyous energies – such unlike things must meet and mate” and, also, Wilde’s “Art can make an almond tree blossom in winter, or make snow fall upon the ripe cornfield”; …. or Blake’s “Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine” or, in Berger’s sharper prose “the wooden bird is wafted by the warm air rising from the stove in the kitchen while the real birds are outside freezing to death!”

These are all effective definitions of what art is – for they all contain within them an engagement of opposites, an irony, a new angle in the way things are seen.  This is art.  Art jolts us out of our accepted narrative, and makes us consider the veracity of that narrative, and, then, has us question our nominal acceptance before we came to our newest point of questioning.

This is why we need the art, artists = to keep us from slipping into a world where there is no contrast, no quest, no questioning, no new view presented to us, no way to really see our world and our place within it.

Whether through Alice’s Looking-Glass prompting us to look at the society of Victorian England or Don Quixote’s Chivalric-Lens in realizing Spain’s place in the advancing modern world, both of these works, (especially) and, all works of literary fiction, works of successful art lead us to a significant and greatly-appreciated truth.

 

July  2019

 

 

 

 

the potential for Art: where dialogue and emphasis seem to matter

 

 

The Wrestler:  An Unrealized Potential; (at least from where I was sitting)

 

 

“The Wrestler,” directed by Darren Aronofsky was one film I had always wanted to see.  This was mainly due to the much-hyped screen “debut” of a long-lost Mickey Rourke.  I was even willing to stomach the idea of watching professional wrestling in order to witness something extraordinary…

 

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To begin, it is a given that the story line of this film almost demands sentimentality.  This is not a problem.  We think of the quintessential sentimental film “Rocky” * and its improbable story line, but somehow it renders our sentimental hearts moved.  We are moved by a well-written script (Stallone), its rough-edged camera work and editing, good direction (Stallone) and supporting role performances in Shire and Meredith.  It need not court a realistic turning of events, nor contain the acting performance [a] Rourke can give, but rather, in its honest dialogue and warmth in originality – it has no problem at all reeling the viewer in.

 

*In revisiting (viewing on my tiny television screen over a holiday weekend) the original “Rocky”, I came to appreciate the skating-rink scene, and this, far more than I recall the first time viewing it over 30 years ago.  Why was this?  I remarked upon the dialogue in each scene, how refreshing and original it was (despite its out-dated-ness).  For a full five minutes we watch Stallone woo Shire as he stomps around the ice rink mumbling things about what it means to be a southpaw.  Was it the cold outside in contrast with the warm couch and wood stove filling my need for a nice holiday weekend escape?  Or, was I displacing the disappointment I have in current films that had me slipping into a mythical “new remembering” of this film?  Was it desperation at trying to consider anything I see these days as wonderfully written that had me adopting such nostalgia?

 

 

 

In “The Wrestler”, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke is shown to us from the very start of the film, from the back – not through a subjective camera point of view, (as if seeing things through his eyes) but an objective one – he is our object given —  to watch, to look at, to get to know.  Aronofsky uses this technique over and over, creating for us a nice figurative motif.   It us up to the director, (the painter of the canvas) to have us meet metaphor with motif and realize what is offered here (given the story line) as a possible redemption, real-life resurrection or return.

 

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“Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience . . . We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible.”  DFW

 

It is of no coincidence that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is mentioned in this film.  Though briefly, and, only once, it is purposeful in that the director of this film hopes to have the suffering of Randy realized by the moviegoer.  It is here, with the idea of sympathy from the viewer, [a pathos realized for the story to succeed in its telling] where the dilemma for Aronofsky exists, and where the reference to Gibson’s “Passion” is ironically relevant.

 

Gibson’s film, in giving to us his story of Christ’s suffering, concentrates on the ‘how’ of his protagonist’s suffering. The film spends its time showing us the actual graphic depiction of a crucifixion.  For art, this approach becomes flawed, for part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience.  If all we are given are images composing [a] crucifixion, what would cause us to feel anything for the specific person suffering if we are not given his story?

 

For Gibson’s approach to work — the story must already be known; the audience already having a knowledge of the ‘story’ before even entering the theatre.  With the person of Christ, this is possible.  We care despite not being given the story of Christ’s life here, by the director, in this film being shown before us only because we are inclined to “already know the story”.   The director knows this, and, is thus afforded this “luxury of neglected story line”—– for we are able to tap into an already-existing (however fraught with controversy) story line template.  The director then, can concentrate on giving us the far-easier-to-produce shock-value graphic tale.

 

All of this leads to the showing of suffering, or, its counterpart, the conveyance of an inner suffering with which an audience can identify.  The former relies upon the literal; and for the two films involved here, is destined to be graphic, violent, bloody.  The latter relies upon storytelling and metaphor, allusion and symbol.  The endgame for the director of a film is to make his audience care.  It is easy to show blood pour; it is difficult to make an audience care that it’s pouring.

 

The potential of “The Wrestler” resides in this very distinction made between the two methods of depicting suffering (literal graphic vs metaphorical symbolic) and the two types of audiences (collective crowd vs sympathetic moviegoer) involved.  Here is where the film succeeds in one respect, and yet, overall, where an otherwise surefire motif loses its potential power in metaphor.

 

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With the world of professional wrestling, we have the boundary well-secured between detached viewer and spectacle:  the viewing is of a collective nature, where the event watched is encouraged by [an] audience kept at a sympathetic distance.  The collective viewing of pain and suffering as object, and not as subject, precludes sympathy while preserving spectacle.

To watch Randy suffering in the ring is simply abiding by professional wrestling’s intended design, where each blow has no consequence, each spill of blood only serving to further the distancing and preserve the lack of any emotive connection with the person(s) in the ring.  The wrestler knows this; the audience knows this. The audience will never understand what it is like up there in the ring if kept at its required distance.  This is deliberate on the part of the spectacle itself; the act is understood by both those in the ring, and, those not.  And, furthermore, the audience not only need not understand, but cannot know anything about the real-life person in the ring in order to successfully complete its role as spectator.

There is this nice boundary maintained – and, one which must be for it all to work.  It is the same boundary created for the mob-like crowd who gathers at the foot of the platform upon which Hawthorne places Hester Prynne amidst 17th century Boston Puritanism.  With boundary maintained, no sympathy is possible.  The collective crowd no more wishes to know Hester Prynne and “follow her to” her story than do the crowds who gather along the road to Calvary.

But, as spectator of this film, (a film where I will no doubt be asked to watch some violence, blood, depictions of physical and graphically-portrayed suffering) I must know the story for me to complete my role as satisfied (sympathetic) moviegoer.  My role is as subjective viewer, not objective.  I cannot survive “outside the ring”.  I need to know why this specific person’s blood pours, not see blood pouring in an overall general and distanced way for “an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience”– to be realized. 

 

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The essence of art, be it film, literature, visual art, etc. is to “make us see”.  If we are prevented from seeing, from identifying with, from knowing, no amount of clever motif will get us there, bring us in the locker room, so to speak, up on the platform with Hester, or knowing the historical figure in Christ.  And to find a given motif symbolically powerful, we must appreciate its context – its surrounding story.

 

A way in which this can happen, [and, to Aronofsky’s credit, does] is in the staple-gun wrestling match scene.  By employing the use of flashback, (a film tool which disturbs the real-time sequencing of narration) – showing both the blood inside the ring, and then, outside it, afterward, in the locker room – the crucial distinction between the two audiences, objective and subjective is made.  Yes, blood flows in both scenes, [and the graphic nature is equal in intensity in each] but the pain in the latter, we now realize, is far greater.  Why?  Because we’ve been allowed a glimpse into this person’s pain, the pain outside the spectacle with which we, as sympathetic human beings must identify.  We never need to have been punctured with staples and razors and glass in order to realize that the pain Randy suffers is not to be found in the ring, but rather, outside of it, fumbling with his hearing aid, begging for more work hours, seeking reparation, reflecting upon his life, enduring his self.

 

…its rough-edged camera work and editing, good direction (Stallone) and supporting role performances in Shire and Meredith. 

 

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Given the powerful performance of Mickey Rourke, the symbolic ‘motif to metaphor’ potential set up by Aronofsky in direction, and the multi-level story line of resurrection and return, one would think this film to be able to succeed beyond expectation.  But, why didn’t it?  What was lacking in the film?  Why didn’t the showing of Randy from the back throughout the entire film materialize into something more?

 

This motif found itself in Randy’s searching for his own front door, the door to his daughter’s apartment, his boss’s office door begging for more hours, and ultimately, his entering the ring.  It was so intentional an attempt by the director to show this hulking tattered outdated down-jacket in front of us throughout the entire film, moving away from us while confronting symbolic thresholds in the form of literal doorways which either open or reject.  Rourke’s character is shown continually walking away from the movie-going audience and toward those things he was in search of; a faceless large figure shown from the back in continual pursuit of something, and, for added allusion for Rourke himself, something other than that of the movie-viewing audience

 

This is the closest thing we get to art in this movie, and yet, it never really makes it to this realm.  The outdated down jacket walking away from us is the perfect symbol of the actor himself, — as equal to, or, maybe even more, the character he plays.  Rourke the actor snubbed his audience years ago, and his real-life search for reparation and return could not be better portrayed.  But, why didn’t it work?

 

One has to again, look at the scenes in which this motif has been placed, and consider the time we spend as “distanced spectator” versus “sympathetic viewer”.  The supporting performances (by E. Rachel Wood and Marissa Tomei) seemed to never get past cliché.  The father-daughter template is the centerpiece, and yet there was nothing offered to make one want the two to reunite, make reparation.  Their story, their narrative, is never tapped into nearly enough, nor, without stereotypical image, so we are left at a distance unable to sympathize.  Without the narration, we are stuck with appearances, and can only respond to the character as something to look at, and not someone to know.  The dialogue contributes greatly to this in its substance and delivery; neither Wood nor Tomei able to do much with the script given them and the lack of their story.

 

Tomei’s character is given to us primarily as spectacle; a strip-club act her version of the wrestling ring where we cannot see who she really is.  Why did the director choose to exhaust so much film time with the audience kept at the collective-crowd level and not that of the sympathetic viewer?  One scene in a clothing shop ‘outside the ring,’ and, without much more than this was not enough to make us care about her character.   The lengthy pockets of pulp-fiction-viewing give us nothing [except maybe some ratings issues] and – what does this all serve other than to keep the viewer at a distance watching her “act”?  Maybe this is the parallel intended by the director – to show us the parallel lives of empty spectacle.  But, to do this, one must counter it with the sympathetic.

 

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If anything, this film offers tons of irony.  My whole worried-over wariness in having to watch a film about professional wrestling ends up being completely misguided.  The wrestling scenes were probably the strongest ones Aronofsky offers, the ones I most enjoyed, (and, yes, from my sympathetic role as moviegoer); the most real and the least spectator-like despite their heavy doses of Passion-ate bleeding.  It is ironically the storytelling aspect (the part which should reel me in and make me care about all that blood) which leaves me unnerved and detached.  Stomaching the stuff in the wrestling ring was nothing compared to the dialogue, the non-dimensionality of the characters.

 

 

If a film’s dialogue is weak, the created characters one-dimensional, and the emphasis placed on the “how” rather than the “why” we end up with a well-devised metaphor with no narrative in which to place it.  We then have a great performance given by an actor whose own offering of self (Christ figure complete) is there to save the film from its unfortunate mediocre reception.  Rourke as ‘Saviour’ – again, is maybe the best metaphor yet – (to be realized here) – though, one devised not by the director, but by the viewing audience.

 

 

In an ironic way, Aronofsky’s passionate portrayal of his Christ figure in Rourke need not be realized through the Gibson spectacle but rather, through the slowly-before-our-very-eyes painful realization that Rourke has found himself not in a realm of resurrection, (that which brought us to see the film in the first place) but in one having to carry the burden of trying to save yet another film.

 

 

This film gave me the actor Rourke in his other ring, the real-life ring of professional boxing, unleashing his own barrage of blows to the audience in the form of his acting genius, yet all we can do is wince and suffer with each glove to the face as we recognize [once again], the wasted talent before us.  Rourke’s performance as Randy rings true to life, true to form in the furthered echo of his own acting career, where his films (barring “Diner”, “Rumble Fish” and his part opposite William Hurt in “Body Heat”) have been just that; mediocre at best, artlessly awful at worst.  This is the real tragedy.  The more devastating destruction of Rourke doesn’t come from the receipt of blows he endures in the boxing ring all those years, but rather, from the landed gloves of suffering and loss recognized by the moviegoer.

 

The only thing holding anything together in this film is Rourke himself; his unique talent evident in even the worst of dialogue given him.  Loss is the theme here, as it is always in the examination of life; our loss as viewer unable to appreciate a gifted actor, and, Rourke’s, in plying his talent in a constant swill of bad films.  Just add “The Wrestler” (despite his outstanding performance) to the already-too-long list.

 

 

January 

 

 

 Addendum: 

One scene which may be on par with Stallone and his southpaw is the video game scene played in Ram’s trailer.  The outdated Nintendo game with images of wrestlers barely discernible, [stiff and obsolete in geometric form] are a perfect symbol for Randy as he sits in front of us now, worn out, out-of-fashion, tired.

He wins, but he wins at a game so far in the past that his “opponent” (an eight-year-old kid) has no interest in a re-match.  This is metaphor at its best.  Rourke’s minimized little victory on the video screen (in its equally sad and outdated state of technology) on par with the minimal and spare existence inside a trailer was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that venue for showing art

 

caa show announcement

 

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – which includes taking along our image-conscious selves – neither of these seems possible.

 

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedence, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018

Language and its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology

“Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another.  Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously.  As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information.  Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.  We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”1

Marshall McLuhan

1967 from”The Media is the Massage”

 

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detail from “mapping art’s genome”

 

 

Speech units or phonemes are represented by sign and symbol which evolve through repetition and convention into a working tool of communication.  Signs become letters, and letters, alphabets; ideas become pictures which, [in symbolic representation and combination], become words.  Words, arbitrary in origin, [extended in translation through derivative root, added suffix and prefix] are then made conventional by use. Use, in response, becomes contingent upon convention.

 

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In origin, writing systems were generated by the need to tally and record food production.  Counting grain and creating seasonal calendars of planting and harvesting demanded a uniformity of mark-making in order to retain utility.  From the earliest tallying of crop production to the flow of dissemination of information to the masses in reaching our contemporary state of universal literacy, writing systems have continually evolved and produced for us both the necessary invention for ultimate mass communication, and, in their respective states of physical record and object preservation, provide for an extensive anthropological and cultural/literary study.

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Other than a spontaneous human utterance of fear or joy, what else can be noted in its origin, its original context that has not gone through some sort of historical transcription? 2

J. G. Herder

 

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detail from “a shifting of variables”

 

 

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Every academic discipline contains a language, a patterning of elements, be they composed of number, word, letter, shape, color, symbol, image, or any repeated system of mark-making.  The repetition, structuring and replication make possible the language; the physical (legible) mark-making acting as both the means (to a communication) and an end (that which is [eventually] communicated).  The written shapes and letters in their manufactured pattern create as they record (in real time) and, if remaining active in communicating, continue to offer meaning within an ongoing historical context.  If no longer used in the act of communicating, the language [in its (now) purely formal state] resides in residual pattern.

Whether composed of letters, words, mathematical symbol, numerical notation, etc., all written language systems rely upon a conventionalized patterning (structure) for their survival.  In order for the individual voice to be heard, it must conform to an existing convention.  Here lies one of the many paradoxes of language regarding its utility and unique reception.

“The more alive a language is, the less one has thought of reducing it to letters, the more spontaneous it rises to the full unsorted sounds of nature, the less, too, is it writeable…” J. G. Herder

 

If the overall goal of language is communication, the formal language with which the artist ‘speaks’ is contingent upon the language of the society it intends to speak both to and about.  The artist who breaks with the traditional language of its discipline in creating a new form of communication (i.e.: Courbet, Millet, Van Gogh) is initially rejected due to this change in form.  Eventually, within the context of history, the society catches up with the new form, [the artist is then identified as being one “ahead of his time”] and the discipline itself is altered, and cannot return to its “time before”.

Language too, moves in this linear fashion, and is as mutable as the society which uses it.  The paradox of language is shown here, with the unique voice of the artist “the less, too, is it writeable” having to submit to the conventional in order to be heard.  The proverbial misunderstood artist with his “illegible handwriting” is often misread (or, unread?), only to be deciphered much later by the privileged spectators of history.

 

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The way in which we communicate is no doubt being altered by 21st century digital technology with its pace, immediacy, and accessibility.  Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”.  This poses all sorts of changes made in how we write, read, gather and assess, streamline and interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.  The form is inseparable from the content, thus, our language can only reflect our existing medium.

 

If the medium for writing changes from handwritten correspondence to instant messaging, the language in turn, follows suit.  The limited time and space of the text message and the tweet makes no room for the contemplative lengthy passage, the periodic sentence.  The abbreviated word in the rising use of acronym is just one of the changes taking place in the field of digital communication.  The phonetic translation of these acronyms could certainly find their way (back?) to the logogram.  A three word expression taking the form of three letters in acronym could eventually turn into a furthered shorthand symbol.  The new shape is no longer phonetic, but logographic.  Our written language is changing.

 

The earlier theories of Johann Herder realign themselves with the current flow of our digital language.  Noting Herder’s claim that words are rooted in verb form seems to make perfect sense today, with our activity demanding a new word to be formed to not only identify it, but (actively) participate in its identity.  In order to understand the world around us, we naturally, by our given nature, give things names.  ‘To blog”, ‘to Google’ and ‘to tweet’ are infinitive forms of verbs which have successfully risen out of the necessarily mutable nature of language and its newest placement in the medium of electronic communication.   Conventional use mixes with historical change and gives to language its life.  Without both components operating, (and, both seemingly contradictory) [a] language would cease to exist as a language, and would become instead, an historical record of a once-used (but now antiquated) pattern.

 

In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf claimed that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.  If this is true, the culture of the tweet, text, and blog (the form) alongside the globalizing power of the Internet (the context of influence) will invariably alter our existing language, or, evolve into a completely new system of sign and symbol all of its own.

 

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Our earliest use of the computer gave to us the Word Processor, a tool further advancing our facility (of writing) while distancing ourselves from the uniqueness of a personal penmanship.  The term “word processing” itself gives us a reading of [a] manufactured item being distributed large-scale and to the masses [in the same manner as did Warhol’s images, with the ‘making of’ image through the mechanism of factory-built process, and then, engaging both marketing strategy (the selling of image) and the mass assembling (in the gallery exhibition) of its parts.  Image was the subject; mass production (and, mirrored manipulation), the content.

 

As for image, the computer software program Adobe Photoshop also gives us change in the way in which we take photographs.  We no longer take photographs, we “make photographs”.  Again, facility and ease of doing this run alongside the distancing of the personal; all images can be manufactured with this software tool, and, the tool, made available to anyone with a computer and the purchasing of the software.  The “Photo-Shopping” of image denies any such vestigial concept of “original” or “authentic”.

The shattering of aura (of an art object) with the advent of mechanical reproduction [unveiled for us by Walter Benjamin in 1935] (and made real by Warhol) can now be compared to the advent of the blog, twitter, and text in terms of its own altering of established academically ruled fields.  Journalism seems the most affected, along with that of publishing and the copyright.  As for language itself, its rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling along with the formal nature of [its] written translation is transforming as rapidly as is the technology we use to communicate.

On another level, the digital transcription and then storage of texts in electronic form [without the need of any actual physical written record, any tangible piece of paper, or reel of microfilm, [or, furthered – any clay tablet, carved vessel or hidden scroll] is the current stage set for the recording of a culture’s history.  Electronic blips of translated shapes of 1’s and 0’s house the “history” we now make.  The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of literature turns what used to be individual books and references into one large electronic ball of page-less citation.  If we are lucky, the works existing in their secured digital form will not be lost to technical whimsy, or, political nightmare.

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might
“might ( possible)”

 

After years of creating odes to writing’s formal cadence and aesthetic script, there is now the revolutionary text message, hypertext translation and abbreviated use of an existing alphabet.  I am trying to concentrate my own work in this direction, with the idea of writing and its grammatical form and physical translation of history losing itself in this same stream of advancing technology;  both out-running  society’s own comprehension of its quickly changing form.

 

2/2017

 

 

  1.  Marshall McLuhan/Quentin Fiore  “The Medium is the Massage”.  copyright 1967
  2. J. G. Herder – from “On the Origin of Language” – copyright 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                          cropped-monop-bd-edit1 

Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.

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Artists were once our sole image-makers.  Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few.  Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas.  The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.

Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s.  In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy);  the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.

Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.

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detail:  Berger/Hals 

A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves:  wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.

(blog post update:  wanting our cake and eating it too = Art Basel Miami Beach_

 

 

So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood.  If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?

For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable.  It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us.  We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.

It is noted that Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire.  They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage.  I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience.  The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed.  In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century society – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain an awed silence] remain firmly in place.

With Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane but, gratuitous and random.  It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”; the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust.  The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default.  Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this.

So, to look at this whole established system — to look at  “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art‘.  Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object.  Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.

(blog update:  contemporary art gallery as an experience, an event – cite Amanda Hess – “American Dream” shopping malls for the experience_

 

 

Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it —  in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.

 

Nov.  2016

Subject: digital & the making of images

We live in a world where digital transmissions of images and ideas are only eclipsed in quickness by the changing of the very technology itself and its effects on our society.  We seem momentarily remiss of a cumulative history while we capture with a digital ferocity every current changing element of our own very-now life.  Thousands of digital photographs live and breathe on our tiny hand-held cameras. Thousands.  And thousands which will never see the form as “printed photograph” in which to record history.  It is all a digital blur which will change the next time we “load our cameras”. 

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The quickness of a ten year old’s hand and mind as he moves the mouse to edit a photo that he took of a tree against the sky from his own backyard is the subject.  The photo, in origin, having the tree a bit out of focus, transforms itself from an “okay” photograph taken by a child to an exposition of technical facility by this very same child who downloads it and edits it and crops it and saves it to his file.  This action changes everything. 

All of a sudden the idea of a “good photo” precedes documentation of both tree and sky, trial and error, and the focus shifts to the child’s ability to use the computer skills he has mysteriously acquired in order to “technically adjust” his photo.  The photo then begins to talk about the incredible facility this ten year old has already assumed in his role as “photographer”, as seer, as observer, as “maker of images” , and most amazingly, as technician:  a child responding to the availability of a digital world before him.  

The actual (original) photo of the sky, or the tree, may never see the light of day again, but that’s okay.  The art is not in the printed photo, but in the observation of, and extension of this newfound facility. 

In looking at a child’s activity of photographing a tree against the sky — what is the significance of [our] attempts to capture something with our cameras and then somehow [given technology] be able to then ‘fix it’ later ?   The photo as documentation of the actual world becomes secondary to the activity of manipulating it to a preconceived liking. 

Where does this process of alteration come from, and where does the actual tree fall in all of this, and why, in the end, [upon reflection of both the ‘tangible’ digital picture and method of technical facility ] did we stop to take a photo of [a] tree to begin with?  Do we applaud the visual given us (in the form of a photo of a tree against a sky) or do we applaud the facility which got us there?  What is it that we are actually taking a picture of ?

April  2016

From Mail Order Catalog to Amazon Prime or, the loss of aura (all over again)

 

blog era 2

When Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe off-register onto a painted canvas and painted cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, (placing both on the platform of High Art) — he did two things: he called attention to the distance between the mythical and the real, the iconic and the ordinary, and, at the same time, with the same motion, he closed that very same distance.

Not only does he erase the platform of High Art itself, — but, ends up making the platform even larger in significance in order to grasp the meaning of his ‘act of doing this”. The gesture’s the thing with Warhol; his art found in the placing upon in the ironic erasing of.

This whole closing of space between high and low, iconic and ordinary we note in Western-rooted Greek Antiquity’s anthropomorphism. This is then re-echoed in the Renaissance’s distance-closing humanism where the artist’s introduction of man-made formulae applied to theories of perspective disavow the mystery of spatial differences between the heavenly and the earthly and shatter the mythical distance once again. Warhol’s Marilyn, his Jackie O. his Elvis fall from their pedestal as he places them (off-registered silkscreened-smudged in mass reproduction as the ink itself, runs its mechanically-printed course) simultaneously upon it.

The point to note is that there is a line there for Warhol to blur; the distinction existed; the fall from the distant and the sacred, real. This is what accounts for the disillusionment we, [as a generation living through it] experienced. We experience the tragic when he does this.

Today, though, is quite different.

Today, we are not given the distance needed to note any such fall. We are as close to our Beyoncé’s and Lady Gagas as we can be, just in terms of sheer mediated enumeration. There is no mythological goddess in the distance for us to worship – for, the form in image that they take, and, the one they took from the start – one of enumeration and accessibility makes this no longer applicable. Lady Gaga was never mythic, sacred. She was never that far away from us.

 

The use of the tally mark eventually morphs into numerals to signify ‘all of those many marks’. A threshold reached; the realizing of an amount unmanageable results in a change in form. Degree influences kind.

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We are no longer a society of manageable quantities: _the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, Life Magazine and The National Geographic M., only three broadcasting networks on our television sets, the tangible vinyl records of the music of the ‘70’s taking up only one aisle in a Caldor Dept. store, and, a handful of books found on high-school- requirement reading lists, and, these lists fairly standard: manageable, finite. We all read Animal Farm in 8th grade; Lord of the Flies in 9th; The Great Gatsby in 10th; Our Town in 11th, and The Grapes of Wrath in 12th.

Today – there is no end to the amount of books, musicians, writers, bloggers, magazines, publications, artists, news cycles, references, television entities [and, options for viewing], videos, movies, images, data, tweets, texts, opinions, information, margins, status, standards, trends, and, more importantly, those which we have access to: our access to it making all the difference.

“Google estimated in 2010 that there were 300 exabytes (that’s 300 followed by 18 zeros) of human-created information in the world, and that more information was created every two days than had existed in the entire world from the dawn of time to 2003.” 1

We are not only living in more of what we used to have, but, by this very fact, are experiencing it in a new way. This translates to a change in the way we read things; our act of reading influenced by the enumeration of the readable (sheer amount available) and the form in which the ‘enumerated readable’ takes.

Digital form offers both a reduction in distinguishable style (“An electronic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark looks just like a Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban. They are treated in the same way. Calibri 11 pt. Arial Unicode MS 12 pt.) and, a far busier field of no longer static written language, but moving text and image. Our efforts to concentrate (engage in a gracious default reckoning of such change) becomes more and more like a Ray Bradbury metro-ride: “Consider the lilies of the field….”?: we try – but it is becoming more and more apparent to us that we cannot.

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For those of us who grew up in an age when the amount of media access was limited in comparison; limited in amount of options far more than we are now, we were more assured of a knowledge base we could manage, and, given the limited sources, far more willing to trust without the built-in skepticism needed for today’s source-sifting. We took our time, because we had the opportunity to, and, because we were dealing with a fairly manageable amount. Most of what we knew was determined by what was within our own tangible reach. Library aisles were walked; book pages, turned. Screens were limited to one small box in the corner of one room in our house. This was our limited-in-perspective access to (a) much larger world.

For this generation, there was far more mythical due to limited access, not unlike
Plato’s cave where shadows served us far longer than maybe? they should have. (The Christopher Columbus we learned about in elementary school back in the 60’s — not quite the Christopher C. we’ve come to know today).

For this generation, the purchase of an LP record closed a sacred distance that truly existed, brought us nearer to the music artist we cherished as much as the poorly printed photographs we clipped from magazines and posted on our (real) walls. These were larger-than-life images held up by scotch-tape — significant in a way not quite possible today.

Today, iPods hold our music — but not in tangible “cherishable” form, (a record album cover’s physical wear relative to its degree of “cherishedness”), but in an un-felt invisible digital code. Even the act of purchasing a record album has lost its recollected significance. It would be difficult to do this, I think, with an electronic purchase download onto a replaceable-when-it-breaks device –:  we probably won’t recall our favorite iPod, our favorite Kindle.

–The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of our cultural products (literature & art) turns what used to be individual hand-held objects into a field of digital code. 2

 

Where does all of this technological advancement lead us?

Our re-losing of our sense of aura “in the age of digital reproduction” is our newest change, creating a whole new context with which to view things. For those of us who experienced the 1st loss of aura with mechanical reproduction of image, living with our so-called “luxury of loss” – we will view things quite differently than those who never knew of a slowed-down time of limited choice and access.

The way we seem to be viewing our present is in an overlapping of distance and myth, closeness and real; the experienced disillusionment now viewed as our “something cherished”.

The Warhol mass-reproduced image can now be read as our Marilyn Monroe before she was silkscreened; that very gesture in demystifying as our latest version of “hand-held treasure” — as we hold onto not the myth which was lost, but rather, the memory of our personal experience of losing that myth. In a sense, we cherish our ability to have had at least the opportunity to experience it. This is not unlike Keats in his choice to reject both nightingale and urn for “being too happy in thy happiness” –like those of us experiencing now (with our Star Wars reunion of Fisher and Ford) a charged sentimental nostalgia desired over the possibility of never having the experiencing of one.

At least, with our worn-out record collections and recollected awe—– [when Lucas first gave to us ‘special effects’ (BCGI), that, at the time, were thought to be the size of galaxies ]- we have something to weigh against the present – and, one quite different in kind – and, not merely, degree.

 

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Our reliving of yet another loss of aura is worth the introspective reflecting, but that is as far as it will go.  Today’s digital is the new linear perspective.  Video Killed the Radio Star —– once again. The technology’s too good, too remarkable. We will gladly sacrifice the sacred for the access, the shadow for the indefinite pixels on our high-def screens.

As with our mythical bird’s song – a song that does not change, it “singest of summer in full-throated ease” – but, fortunately, [and, regardless of any lines blurred or distance lost], our listening does.

“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far………..” 3

 

1 In the Age of Information, Specializing to Survive By J. PEDER ZANE   MARCH 19, 2015    

2 L. Szpak – “Some Thoughts On Language and Its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology” 2010

3 THE BUGGLES lyrics: “Video Killed The Radio Star” Copyright © 2000-2016 AZLyrics.com

Image:  By L. Szpak -from Fine Art Handmade Edition Book – “A Theory of Human Nature” – 1988