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Wednesday, 12 December 2007


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I did read on and I understood very little of it. Perhaps I am becoming more dense in my old age or perhaps that is just poor writing. What is he trying to say David? Translate for this poor cowboy. E

This essay reads like a college kid's term paper in an art class. I'm neither informed nor impressed by it.

For those who are genuinely interested in this subject and would like to pursue the issue further may I recommend Charlotte Cotton's "The Photograph as Contemporary Art". ( http://www.amazon.com/Photograph-Contemporary-Art-World/dp/0500203806/ ) It's one of Thames & Hudson's "World of Art" series, featuring a wonderful collection of 222 images (mostly color) to illustrate Cotton's somewhat less pretentious text.

So I wonder if Mr. Bedford passed that class?

If the rest of the article is written in the same academic-speak as the lead-in, I'm very afraid to READ_ON. But if they link said READ_ON_FOR_DUMMIES, then I might do it.

Well, I'll give it a shot, anyway...

Oops. Just as I thought. I can't understand it.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm a bad photographer.

Andy Frazer

I read the first paragraph and skimmed the last. Does Google have a translator for this stuff? Cause I am just as clueless as ever now.

TOP = The Online Pedant (just kidding)

In other words, does photography exist as photography in art history and criticism today? And if not, why not? Is photography—and by derivation photography criticism—all it can be?


Come on, you guys, you all went to college. As artspeak goes, this is pretty straightforward. Try Clement Greeberg sometime....

Mike J.

I was at art basel this weekend. I saw at least 100+ photographs of $250,000USD+. 90% of it was shlok I wouldn't even use for wallpaper on my computer monitor.

They were selling just fine.

Does that answer your question?

Amusing. I did catch something of what he said but then kept losing track again... didn't he say we didn't need to actually look at the images... that the process was the message... but also that art critics were not informed enough about photographic process to properly criticize them... or something... and I thought, well no wonder: if you have to write like that to be an art scholar.

I went to college but I studied physics. It wasn't this opaque and physics too is an "indexical cohort to reality".

You lost me at, "With medium specificity a passé historical concern confined chiefly to the pages of art history, it may seem prosaic and anachronistic to question the position and relative validity of a single medium—photography—within the world of contemporary art."

Unless, of course, this whole thing is a very early April Fool's joke, and then it would be brilliant.

Mike -

Of all the photography sites that I visit, based on the comments section, I would say that your visitors are among the most perceptive, introspective and educated I encounter.

If so many comment on how poorly written this article is, I would take their word for it.

The purpose of writing is to communicate. This article does a poor job of communicating - unless its obfuscations are an attempt to communicate to the reader how many more words the writer knows.

I agree that this is a quite poorly written article.

I do, however, understand what he is saying. I can't imagine that "advanced criticism" will help anything. Viewers will always deicide what is art and what isn't, not critics or those who pretend to the true arbiters of taste.


Well he's no Robert Adams but i thought he made his point well enough.

People like Cindy Shermen see themselves as artists above all else; photography is just a means to an end and its by no means the beginning. People may well find the process of her work more interesting then the final image and vice versa. I think the message is that the more you understand both sides of the image the more you can learn to appreciate it as something more then just a final act—an image.

I could be wrong, I often am.

> You lost me at, "With medium specificity...

Well, let me translate that for you. You see, until some time before WWII, almost everybody in the art world thought that great art is always tied to its medium. This was called Modernism. The medium was looked at as something holy. Mixing media was completely out of question. If you did a painting, it must have been a straight painting, done with your hands and sweat. If you did a photograph, it better had been a straight one as well, a la Edward Weston.

Then postmodernism came along in the 60s and declared all media to be equally valid. Sounds great, isn't it? But in practice, photography still had a hell of a hard time getting into museum and gallery spaces, pretty much until the late 80s - early 90s.

Now, if you went to the art school, this is such common knowledge that any freshman worth his/her salt would recite it to you while half-asleep.

Obviously, Christopher Bedford's intended audience was at least those with a BA in art or those who went to the trouble to learn this material by themselves, so he condensed my two paragraphs into one sentence.

Really guys, this material is somewhat dense, but there is no way this could be rocket science. Anti-academism in photography circles has really started to annoy me lately. I wonder what any of you would think of sentence from the Victorian prose. It used to be much worse than this. And why dumb down everything?

I guess if you make something sound academic, then it must be important.

For simpletons like me, here's a much easier read: It a photographic print sells, then it's art. If it sells for a LOT of money, then it may be considered REALLY good art.

There's no accounting for people's taste, particularly in those "art" circles where someone is held high in the role of "leader" and upon who's every word an adoring "art wanna-be" populace hangs.

I agree with all of you that the writer has a big Thesaurus and tries to pack those big words in, but I find it interesting that "artspeak" is attempting to define what is happening in contemporary photography. I am certainly not agreeing with what he is attempting to say, nor do I like the work he speaks about, but it is an interesting read.


Ok so I read the whole piece and am left with a few things.

Photography has never gained a rightful place in modern art due to the fact that it has historically been viewed as a mechanically generated "view" of something. That is; photo journalism, street, and observational photography as well as vernacular stuff etc. etc. For it to be considered "Art" it must include a pretext of intention, and all of the potentially understood and historically significant acts or actions that have precluded the snapping of the photograph. It needs to be about more than just what you see in front of you

In other words, it needs to have pretense and can't just be an interesting picture to look at because the art world and lay person can't understand how you got from point A to point B. Cameras are all just hocus pokus and people don't have the simple understanding of it like they do a painter adding paint to a canvas with a brush. It needs to be more like painting and less like witchcraft or science.

We don't have a readily understood vocabulary and the medium is NOT the message. So Mike and others (many of the past posts here seem to really make more sense) go about trying to define, and more importantly describe what all this hocus pokus is all about in order to shed all the mystery and doubt. This is in order to prove that not just anybody can do this and it's not just clicking a button. That it takes human know how, a pretentious beginning and a bit of education to be any good at it.

I think it would be more digestible to read Fried's stuff first hand.

Am I even close?

Sorry for my poor writing and ability to articulate.

Way too many big words. If this is what it takes for photography to join the elite Art circle, then count me out.
Pious words will never replace the emotion and grace of a good image, be it silver based, ink jet or oil on canvas.
I'm with you Joe, hoping this is some sort of joke.


Indeed I did go to college - ironically, to do rocket science (well, aerospace engineering) and then a dull higher degree. Along the way I learned a language. And after all that boasting, it's time to pay you a forehanded compliment. Us non-humanities majors come to your site because it saves us the nausea of splitting all the subordinate clauses out into separate sentences and then replacing all the romance-root verbs with germanic ones in order to make head or tail of what people like that are wearing out my phosphor dots with.

Mike, you amuse and educate us better than he does. Thanks for the reminder about some of the people in the art world - now, could you resume a normal service for us please ;o) ?


It's just "academic speak" - and it's not confined to "the arts". Try reading some of the academic journals relating to the social sciences. If you want to get ahead in the academic/arts world, that's the way you have to write.

All the discussion as to whether photography as "art" is all it can be is of interest to a limited segment of the universe of photographers - and more power to them if that "floats their boat". The fact is that, unlike painting, or music, or dance, photography is practiced by many more people than those who consider themselves "artists" - professionals who are involved in the many commercial applications, as well as millions more who love it as a hobby. Articles like the above are interesting sociologically, but not for their content, to most of the people who practice photography.

I got through it, but it did take a few different reads and rereads. It seemed to me, as others have inferred, that it was written in such a way as to impress either academics, art insiders, or both, rather than as an informative call to action for general consumption.

For those of you not getting past the first graph, or two, the basic point is that art critics do not, as a whole, have a solid foundation, either knowledge or appreciation, of the photographic medium and are thus prone to think of images more in descriptive terms rather than advancing towards more critical thought. (think: "pretty pictures")

I guess it's understandable, in a way, as many in the art community view photography as little more than simple reportage. Aim and click. Also, photography is, in the greater realm of art, rather new. Many of the masters of painting, sculpture, music, etc. were considered masters long before even the cameras obscura or lucida were invented. In a way, I guess, we're sorta like kids in our late 'teens trying to be taken seriously as adults.

I'm not sure how, as Bedford suggested, that can be remedied other than with patience and persistence

Unreadable: I cannot read a page onscreen when it is not broken up into many paragraphs.

I can read a book with long paragraphs (witness American Pastoral that I have just finished) but onscreen, no.

So I have not read the article and after the opening words, which are "With medium specificity a passé historical concern" I gave up.

A pax upon his houses

The anti-intellectualism around here really bums me out. Sure, this guy's writing style is about as fluid as a bag of rocks, but it seems like some commentators here don't want to even try to understand the article.

You can't have it both ways -- if you guys are going to get into big philosophical discussions about the state of photography in the art world, then you're going to have to engage the existing discourse.

There's an upsetting trend in online photographers to be both "know-it-alls" and uninformed at the same time. There are a lot of people essentially saying "traditional photography is more pure and true than digital photography," or "digital photography is not photography in the true sense." Unless you do a lot of reading and can back your positions up, then you're just having an emotional reaction.

Emotional reactions are fine, but don't dress them up and present them as logic, only to retreat at the first sign of "academic speak," saying "hey, I just take pretty pictures." If you don't really want to participate in the discussion, then just stay out of it completely. Posting "Richard Prince is a thief and that's that" is a worthless addition to the discussion and this site. It does nothing to further the conversation.

Too prolix. B+.

It always makes me uncomfortable this art stuff. I'm comfortable with painters, photographers, sculptors, musicians. Start thinking of yourself as an artist, and wham! ...you end up having to treat as your peers people who cut cows in half or 'dress the Reichstag'.

There really is some good photography criticism out there. The incisive, witty and crystal-clear work of A.D. Coleman comes to mind. But Mr. Bedford's turgid imitation of the Derrida/Foucault mafia gives criticism a bad name.
Just sayin.

Tom Wolfe wrote a book titled "The Painted Word" that deals with this exact topic of Art and Art Commentary, and, as usual, he peels back the top layer and lets the reader peer inside at what is really going on, this time in the art critics world. It's an old book, a short book and a wonderful read, true Tom Wolfe style, changing forever how one will view Art and those who write about it.

I can sympathise with:

"You can't have it both ways -- if you guys are going to get into big philosophical discussions about the state of photography in the art world, then you're going to have to engage the existing discourse."

...but only to a point. If the cost of engaging said discourse is high, yet yields little insight once its decoded then I for one stop bothering.

If the writing looks too close to output from The Postmodernism Generator, then I give it a miss. If that makes me anti-intellectual then so be it.

The Generator:

As described in "“On the Simulation of Postmodernism and Mental Debility Using Recursive Transition Networks”


I'm a-goin' out and shoot some pitchers, Dag Nab It!

I think I ought to remind people that I don't allow insults on this website. Feel free to say whatever you want to, but please do it respectfully and politely.

(This is not aimed at any particular person.)

I think T.O.P. is a more pleasant place for everyone when we observe these conventions.


Mike J.

Dear Folks,

ES nailed it perfectly.

Look, you want to play with the big and deep concepts, you better learn a vocabulary that can express them concisely, or every damn sentence in going to turn into two long paragraphs, ala ES's example.

If you don't like the quality of the prose, get over it. You don't spend your time criticizing every post here because it doesn't meet your grammatical standards. Most people can't write well. Most people HERE can't write well. We all deal.

No one is making you read this essay or discuss those concepts. If it's too tough for you, move on and let others discuss.

If an essay goes over your head, that's your legit concern. But fergodsakes don't brag about it!

I am heartily sick of people who behave as if being anti-intellectual is a positive character trait.

pax / Ctein

One of the problems that the contemporary powers in the art world have, or see, in photography, is the component of sentimentality.

I do believe that photography, more than the other disciplines, lends itself handily to this quality. It's a natural for the medium. I think a body who wants that fine art recognition has to be careful of this THESE days. Sentimentality is a bruised constituent in the progressive and/or contemporary art scene and there is much photography that is dripping with it. I'm guilty of it..anyone who has ever had a camera their hand has played with sentiment. In contemporary art it might just be deemed "toooo easy"

Cerebral is the way today and it currently beats down the pure emotional response that many photographers and photo fans enjoy. Though, I believe that is changing...seem to be seeing more contemporary work from the cerebral, intellectual set, paying more homage to craft and the slaphappy visual.

Myself, I enjoy the brainy stuff but I do need some relevant visual candy to keep me holding on until I can decide what it is that I'm standing in front of.

As for Ben's comments, I agree, much slamming (internet photo venues) of the art world without really giving it much thought. They seem to knee jerk credence in the cubes before it can get a word out...An "important" museum's refusal to include pictures of aged, bleached wooden relics in the foothills under black skies, made by a photographer over the last ten years...something that was chronicled on another website some months ago. It made me laugh and then frown to see the way people jumped to his platform and tried to bolster that case..basically a sarcastic and short sighted opinion on "the art world" as pretentious and wearing black clothes...high concept over things that make you go swoon.

Somewhat on topic for this thread, but really inspired by the last few ... from A History of Photography by Robert Leggat (http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/photo_se.htm) - evidence that the current discussions re photography and art, digital versus "straight" , etc. are quite similar to arguments being made and answered a century ago ...

excerpted from the above:

The movement was not without its critics. Sadakihi Hartmann reacted strongly to the idea of manipulating photographs, and decried those who strove hard to make their pictures seem as if they were not photographs at all. In American Amateur Photographer (1904) he wrote: "We expect an etching to look like an etching, and a lithograph to look like a lithograph, why should not then a photographic print look like a photographic print?"

It was not that he objected to retouching or "dodging": "'And what do I call straight photography,' (one might) say, 'can you define it?' Well, that's easy enough. Rely on your camera, on your eye, on your good taste and your knowledge of composition, consider every fluctuation of color, light and shade, study lines and values and space division, patiently wait until the scene or object of your pictured vision reveals itself in its supremest moment of beauty, in short, compose the picture which you intend to take so well that the negative will be absolutely perfect and in need of no... manipulation."

Specialized fields of study use specialized vocabularies. Using or just understanding that vocabulary is a function of training and study, but I don't think it has anything to do with being an intellectual, that is, whether or not you are are able (or interested) to think deeply about things.

I studied physics for years 30 years ago, wrote software for 25 years after that, and both those fields use jargon that is incomprehensible to people outside the fields. But no one is accused of being anti-intellectual when they don't understand what specialists are talking about.

Things change a bit, it seems, when it comes to "artistic" subject matter. Many people can feel deeply about what they see, but few can articulate what they feel. So we get different reactions to the sometimes obscure prose of artistic criticism (certainly, a lot of it is obscure to me). But just because something is obscure doesn't make it irrelevant, pretentious or meaningless. But nor does obscurity make it important either. Sometimes, sonorous academics are pretentious snobs who take pleasure is using jargon to diminish others; yes, Virginia, it happens. But sometimes, though, it is the only way to speak accurately about something, and not understanding it is not a reason to denigrate it.

Something struck me in something written above about the one-time strict delineation between usage of different media. In some period of art, it was considered verboten to mix media. Then, at some point, a revolution in thinking emerged and that changed. That struck me as odd because it would never have occurred to me to have anything against mixing media; do whatever you like, I say. But there appears to have existed a learned orthodoxy about that. It was interesting to learn that there was, and somehow, I feel lucky to have been spared that dogma. Creating those dogma, i.e., telling others what to do, is one of the unfortunate side effects of specialization. Experts emerge, and no one else is allowed to speak without first proving to the experts that their opinion is worthy. A system primed for misuse, I'd say. It's (relatively) easy to test deep knowledge in science, but generally not so easy in the arts.

As an engineer I find the style rather laborious - clarity & precision ought to be everything.

That said, I perservered. I observed 3 manners of art criticism that he writes about:

1. Result is everything and the artists intentions should be viewed from the concept, regardless of medium

2. Intention & medium mean nothing—we critique based on how we personally connect with the work

3. We cannot critique without understanding the how and why of the artist and his medium.

I believe that the final conclusion about photography, coming from camp 3, is that art critics don't understand the photogrpahic process, cannot deconstruct the results technically & therefore cannot get to the intent & concept. He also says the only way to understand the photographic process is to be a regular practitioner.

Hokum, I say. I cannot believe that every (any?) art critic is an expert practitioner of any of the other arts that they review, so why should photography be any different? There is no espousal of art critics actually going out and learning about photography. This gets to an underlying problem—from the critical direction, photography is treated differently to other visual arts forms.

One thing I did find especially interesting in the essay, however, is the suggestion that Wall & Sherman (amongst others) have become successful because they have explained their methods & motives in a way art critics can understand. Once the critics have the knowledge, they can view the work in a positive light. Maybe therein lies the essential message to photographers.

Oh, and another thought - I think LA County Museum of Art should be applauded for this project and their positive effort towards photography as art.

Look, you want to play with the big and deep concepts, you better learn a vocabulary that can express them concisely….

…. by all means. It could have been a constructive intervention had you recommended some URLs or books where such an education can be obtained, as some others have done. Me, I’m happy to struggle a bit from time to time, but around 33% of your commenting readership are less so. Perhaps this is because they have found this blog to be a venue where their relationshps with the world of hard art were mediated a bit by some people who were smart, credible and generous of spirit – a standard which a further 25% or so of your readership felt was barely reached by the article.

I can explain aircraft stability and control to you in terms which would interest you, assuming only the minimum predisposition on your part to learn. I’m proud of my ability to do that. I’m more proud of my willingness to take the time and effort to do that. Of course, it’s easy for me to talk only to “intellectuals” (well, grubby-tied zero-eye-contact and mildly autistic engineers in my case – and “intellectual” is never an unmitigated compliment as an epithet); to hide my light under a bushel and to refer to any non-specialist attempt to engage with my peculiar specialism as “Cocktail Party Physics.” Sure, anti-intellectual bleating is a shame, but it’s easier to excuse than sighs of “pearls before swine” and the wish that 50% of us would hasten away to join the pixel-peepers.

ES’s beration may have nettled a little, but his display of generosity and patience in offering some explanation not only gained him some karma, but may even have inspired some of us to try and pull a little harder on our own bootstraps.


"Hokum, I say. I cannot believe that every (any?) art critic is an expert practitioner of any of the other arts that they review, so why should photography be any different?"

Indeed--one of the leading photography critics of the past 40 years, A. D. Coleman, is not a photographer himself.


Phew! That was fun!

Thank you Michel for your insightful comments, I too studied Margolis in grad school. "Art and Philosophy" - great stuff!


Criticizing "academic speak" is not "anti-intellectual" - far from it. Intellectuals are clear thinkers and writers. Check out Brian Greene (astro-physicist) for example. Discussing photographic art in the terms usually seen on TOP (Mike J, being a stellar examplar) which are accessible and forthright is more productive of useful conclusions than a turgid piece like that which started off this thread.

Dear Yanchik,

I'm one of those people who can explain QM and GR physics in lay language. I do it routinely. The people I lecture to get informed and educated, and with appreciation of it, but it doesn't leave them able to usefully DISCUSS the topics-- that requires a deeper and more precise volocabulary and knowledge than is possible in lay terms.

The same is true in aeronautical design. You may be able to explain to them what you do in terms they can understand. That will not make them capable of creating a new and interesting design concept for you. (Except for the very few and rare individuals who can leap from a lower conceptualization to a higher one).

In short, what you have is not a discussion but a monologue with modest audience participation.

Same, by the way, does apply to the PRACTICE of photography. Try teaching someone much about doing it without teaching them ANY of the technical terms and jargon. ("OK, what dos f-stop mean? Well, what do you mean by an 'aperture'? Why does the size of the opening in the lens even matter?") It's gonna be a long haul.

In a related vein, I've been mulling over Martin's Point #3. I think there's something there, Alan Coleman not withstanding. I need to mull it over. The practice of photography does behave a lot differently than most other vehicular media, and that *might* require different behavior and background by most critics for them to say meaningful things. (Again, with a few very rare exceptions.)

I'm not sure-- the thought is only 1/4-baked at this point. Mebbe it'll turn into a column... or not .

pax / Ctein

Dear Tim,

It is if you don't understand the content and are just criticizing the form, AND you're acting like this is something to be proud of. Which many (not all) of the posts on this board do.

Some years ago, a reader wrote in to one of the photo mags I wrote for (can't remember if it was DARKROOM or PHOTO TECHNIQUES-- Mike, you recall?). They were complaining about an article by Alan Coleman-- he'd used words that they hadn't known and had to go to the dictionary to look up. He felt this as a genuine failing of the magazine and the author.

I'm guessing our editor did NOT instruct Alan to write down to that reader's level. Though I don't know that for fact.

pax / Ctein

Dear Tim,

It is if you don't understand the content and are just criticizing the form, AND you're acting like this is something to be proud of. Which many (not all) of the posts on this board do.

Some years ago, a reader wrote in to one of the photo mags I wrote for (can't remember if it was DARKROOM or PHOTO TECHNIQUES-- Mike, you recall?). They were complaining about an article by Alan Coleman-- he'd used words that they hadn't known and had to go to the dictionary to look up. He felt this as a genuine failing of the magazine and the author.

I'm guessing our editor did NOT instruct Alan to write down to that reader's level. Though I don't know that for fact.

pax / Ctein

Robert R.

I think "mixed media" was less ideology and more craft, having to do with the permanence of the "object". Verbotten only because a good craftsman respects the material, or at least they used too.


Dear Ctein,
Far from criticizing the form (and I do understand the content) I am questioning its relevance to those whose boat it don't float. And that is not being anti-intellectual. It is simply putting forth an opinion that a more accessible, less "insider speak" article contributes more to general knowledge.

'Nuff said. I respect your position, and hope you respect mine.

Ecclesiastes 6:11

"The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?"

Ah, the Preacher--easily my favorite book of the Old Testament.

Nothing new under the sun,

Mike J.

In my opinion to separate form and content is to draw a somewhat artificial and not always useful distinction when talking about art.

I don't see why a piece which purports to illuminate the nature of art should be subject to any less rigorous examination than art itself.

I guess it's hardly fair to just sit on the sidelines and jeer though, so I'll put my head over the parapet...

Here are some of the things that art is: -

Art is the pinnacle of a mountain called craft.

It is born out of talent and effort whose other child is skill.

Art is opportunistic.

It acknowledges rules, although it may break them, or create its own.

It is novel in its context.

It speaks to the essence of quality.

It affects us.

Art is the universe talking to us through those it finds worthy. Some are found worthy often, some rarely and some never.

And also something which art is not: -

It is not conceptual. It is immanent only in the execution. It may be ephemeral, as in music, but it has physical expression. Artistry in thought is properly called genius.



It's probably no surprise that I view much of what we are currently presented with both by critics and artists as art as the result of an untimely congruence of fools and charlatans. About as meaningful as astrology and every bit as venal.

No surprise there then Mike.


Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.

Fred, well spoken!


Dear Tim,

I do respect your position, and I hope I was clear that it wasn't your earliest remarks that I considered nonintellectual.

I also think the essay was irrelevant to many of the readers of TOP. I find some of the essays here irrelevant to me. I figure it's like any magazine or newspaper-- every piece doesn't have to speak to me, so long as it speaks to some constituency.

I fear too many folks are universalists (in either direction).

pax / Ctein

Dear Ctein,

The Universalism point is well made - publish an article like that on a site with such an audience as this has, and for the most part you'll get what you described - a monologue with modest participation.

I consider that it's usually our duty to participate in those monologues. I sparked up because I didn't feel that was reflected in your 10-03 comment, although I'd be amazed if your view was substantially different from mine on this. Those monologues demand patience from us. Few result in new aeroplanes or photographic ideas, but some do by making us reconsider the fundamentals of our subject ("out of the mouths of babes" etc.) and many of them strengthen our own knowledge.

In that spirit, I look forward to the last three-quarters of the Martin's #3 baking !


I find this topic useful and more interesting than the definitions type and more engaging than some others of recent vintage. What interests me as a photographer is that I really would like to have a better understanding of the art world and how I may make photos that are more relevant in that world. At this time I just plain don't get it. It seems like the idea is just to be as weird as possible and see if that is weird enough to get attention. You have essays like the one posted here and on the opposite end of the spectrum there are the regular type artsy folk who generally wander around talking about "expressing themselves", "having a vision" and "personal style". Is this a known division in the art world? Do you either "express yourself" or you "express some intellectual ideals" or are you expected to "transmorgify"* yourself with current established intellectual ideals so that your expression of yourself is acceptable and hence recognized?

Just wondering. I take photos that I like but I also want to expand my horizons and try new things, experiment, grow. Wouldn't it be just super if people looked at my work and said intellectual things about it. I'd be sitting in the corner nodding and not knowing what they're on about of course. But sounds grand.

*Is that a real word?


"Just wondering. I take photos that I like but I also want to expand my horizons and try new things, experiment, grow. Wouldn't it be just super if people looked at my work and said intellectual things about it. I'd be sitting in the corner nodding and not knowing what they're on about of course. But sounds grand."

That only works if you don't declare beforehand that you want it to happen. It's got to happen on its own, organically, like. Ask Mike to delete your post, quick.

First disclosures:
I am an engineer, but I had the good fortune to take advanced English in high school from the best English teacher, ever (IMHO :). That was a tremendous resource throughout my professional career. I read the article under discussion, and think I got where he was going, and applaud his saying it. And I would be proud to be thought of as an intellectual; got nothing against them.
1. Who was the author addressing? Other academics and critics, or a more general readership? If the former, so be it. If the latter, he did a poor job of communicating. I have to take some exception to Ctein's comments. When I explain to a non-technically trained person why their building will fall down if they use materials of inadequate strength characteristics, I'm not expecting them to go out and design buildings with that information; I'm merely educating them so that they will appreciate that there are deeper concepts afoot. I feel that this should be even more true of the art critic. I should be able to read his discussions without a complete library of all critics back to Moses, and all of their philosophies. I'm not trying to become an art critic, merely to gain a better understanding of the piece under review. This article was somewhat tortured and, based on my very quick dictionary diving, maybe even a little abused.
2. I agree with his conclusions. This past week I attended a short tour of our local museum, the Chrysler, with some folks in an organization that I'm working with. They sponsor an annual art contest for local middle and high school kids. The organization's mission is to teach tolerance and this year's theme is "betrayal." The museum will host an exhibit of the accepted (on theme) entries and the educational director (with advanced degrees) of the museum showed us a selection of five famous works that illustrated the theme. The traditional art he discussed with knowledge and understanding; one piece of mixed media that had some photos pasted on it, he handled OK. The last piece was a photograph in a group of just as topical photographs, and he glossed right over them. The symbolism was there, the tension was there; it was perfect for our study. But he wasn't equipped to discuss it. Perhaps art based educational programs might need to stress photographic history and critique in their curriculums as much as they do the more traditional arts. Photographers on staff could teach understanding, without creating working photographers.
And, 3. For all of us fighting for wall space in galleries, if our work can't generate complimentary "artspeak," I hope you've got lots of walls in your home, or lots of attic space, 'cause those folks control who hangs and who sells for the big bucks:)

Dear Y,

We're much on the same page. I think.

Sometimes monologuing benefits me more than the audience (since they put up with it I'm happy to do it, he said selfishly). One reason is that I have to understand something pretty well before I can monologue on it in a way that will enlighten the audience. For example, I could do color management years before I dared try to write about it. I understood it well enough... but not THAT well. Another reason is that it can be a chance to run with a notion and take it beyond the obvious to see if it goes somewhere interesting. "Writing an essay" (even if it's just a chain of thought in one's head) is really good for doing that. And, as you sagely note, sometimes the 'babes' DO say something very helpful and useful-- it ain't entirely a one-way flow.

I moderated a panel at Orycon called "Space Drives-- Fact and Fancy." Four very smart techies, two of them physicists, one engineer, one ex-computer jock. I let the audience decide what we'd talk about by opening it up to questions very early. Well, we took off into the ozone (figuratively); the panel conversation very rapidly got dense, advanced, and esoteric. It sounded a lot like how Chris' essay reads ('cept the dialect was physicspeak).

The audience was kinda stunned by it. I occasionally interjected an explanatory remark or asked a panelist to give some lower-level background. But by and large I let it run. Three reasons. First was that while we'd lost the audience a lot of the time, we hadn't LOST the audience. Not one person got up and left. Second, if we'd tried to have the same discussion in simple lay language, it would have taken a whole day instead of an hour. Third, if we'd tried to have the same discussion in simple lay language, we'd not have been able to have it at all-- our brains don't work that slowly. You need high-level shorthand to hang onto high level concepts long enough to hold them all in short-term memory.

Some of these points bear on this column, I believe.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

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