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Monday, 15 October 2007


Very impressive article -- used autodidact and praxis, not just in the same article, but in the same sentence. WOW!

Whatsamatter, your computer doesn't have a dictionary? ;-)

Mike J.

"Whatsamatter, your computer doesn't have a dictionary? ;-)"
Mike, it's got all sorts of stuff that I don't know how to use (or even that it's available).
PS, Neither word is in the Webster's Scholastic which is always right by my keyboard, and very heavily used.

Autodidact, n., A self-taught person.

Praxis, n., 1. Practical application or exercise of a branch of learning. 2. Habitual or established practice; custom.

Just a hint about computers and dictionaries: if you type a word into Google and hit return, look at the blue band near the top that's labeled "Web" on the left. On the right it will give you the number of hits the word pulled up, plus a link that says "definition" and the time the search took. When I looked up "praxis," this line said,

"Results 1 - 10 of about 75,900,000 for praxis [definition]. (0.12 seconds)"

If you click on "definition," it will pull up definitions from several online dictionaries, which you can then compare. "Praxis" also has a discursive little entry from the Oxford Philosophy Dictionary which relates the word to its Aristotelian origins and its recent Marxist elaborations.

Pretty handy--I actually got rid of my paper dictionary last year, something I thought I'd never, ever do.

All best,

Mike J.

There's an interesting junction here between the Szarkowski article and the previous post on style -- Szarkowski being notable (IMHO) as probably the most well-known photographer who didn't have one. And it reflects something I was arguing on that post, that a great photographer needs an obsession, and you really can't find that in Szarkowski's work. You look at his stuff on roads and crossroads, and it looks like something he sat down and thought up, rather than something that really hooked him. His obsession, I think, was photography itself -- he was a metaphotographer -- and he might have done some serious work if he'd thought of rephotographing photographs, or photographers at work & play, or Leicas in the sunshine & in fog...8-p

But, basically, I think he was one of those guys who was in love with the art and the life, but didn't do the actual work that well.

I have to add, if somebody threatened to carve on my tombstone, "Used autodidact and praxis in the same sentence," I'd opt for cremation.


Interesting read. A particularly, interesting comment in regard to his feelings about formal art education, to wit:

While democratically delighting in the vernacular of the species, Szarkowski could not help preferring photographs that consistently revealed keen “intelligence, precise intention, and coherence”—in other words, pictures made by talented, committed artists. This elite was not likely to be found among those who labored to make their pictures look artistic, like Impressionist or Constructivist paintings, for example, nor among those who earned academic degrees in art (propositions he found faintly ludicrous). Rather, to his mind, true artists were generally autodidacts who discovered in their photographic praxis a school of experience and in their subjects the resonance of larger meanings. He had learned that neither the older arts nor the classroom afforded adequate instruction in photography; this, he felt, could only arise from the individual’s vital examination of the world.

Kind of interesting in light of the recent discussion regarding MFAs and photography programs.

I found it a bit sad that Szarkowski didn't take many photos in his later years as his knowledge and experience with world class imagery probably made him hesitant to shoot himself. I guess, perhaps, that too much knowledge may not be all it's cracked up to be.

Of course, I'm inferring this from the end of the article rather than from any first hand knowledge, but it's still an interesting thought. I can now be grateful for my ignorance.

May I humbly suggest that a collection like "The Idea of Louis Sullivan" does not emerge without "an obsession." JS was an excellent photographer who, in my opinion, put aside his art to better promote the "Art of Photography." His later book "JS Photographs" offers many superb photographs. That said, in his position as the director of the Department of Photography at MoMA he needed, more than the ability to produce art, and showed a vision to place the art of photography squarely in the field of art.

I do agree with John Camp that "His obsession ... was photography itself" and that "he was one of those guys who was in love with the art and the life". Wonderful qualities in a person I might add.


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