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Thursday, 07 February 2008


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The response to art may be personal, but the fact that this is evidently a very important and meaningful work for Bush, but that he's never bothered to find anything about its original context is a sign of his lack of curiosity.

The fact that no one has bothered to fill him in is a sign that he surrounds himself with yes men and doesn't listen to anyone who disagrees with him.

The fact that he can't tell the difference between a hero and a horse thief--and this is the real point of the article--symbolizes the self-delusion that has characterized the entire Bush presidency, particularly since 9/11.

I ran across this quote for the first time this week, and since then it's been popping up everywhere, like a theme, even in places where it isn't explicitly quoted:

"All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth." - Richard Avedon

The exhibit you described also does a fine job of refuting that peculiar notion some purists have that a photo must stand on its own without accompanying text. Clearly the emotional and aesthetic impact of this show was the joint result of photos plus text.

pax / Ctein

This is another example of the Tyranny of Printed Text. My students experience it when they are asked to be critical of published articles - if they're published, they must be beyond reproach.

TPT is why I don't give my photos titles at shows, and why I resent being manipulated by uninteresting portraits of blank-looking young men entitled "Prisoner, Nottingham Gaol, New Year's Day, 2001".

That this exhibit is by Taryn Simon I find more than a little ironic. She is a master at making or placing images out of a truthful context for her own artistic ambitions. I'm not going to dredge up the painful details other than to say that members of my own family will forever regret the day she intruded into our lives.

What if your first impression was correct? I was a reporter for many years, and did quite a bit of work with courts and cops. Rarely (actually, never in my 20+ years of direct experience) was somebody convicted simply on the basis of eyewitness testimony. It always was eyewitness testimony (which is notoriously bad) plus a lot of other detail on the accused person's background. Most of the people you looked at were probably criminals with violent histories, they just didn't do what they were accused of in the case at hand. Cops even used to joke about this kind of situation -- "If he didn't do this one, he did another one." Most criminals (we're not talking about the rare criminal mastermind) are pretty stupid, and not particularly mobile. They tend to commit crimes close to home, and to commit the same crime repeatedly. Word gets around, and the cops hear. Before a guy is arrested, the cops usually know he's a criminal -- they just haven't caught him yet. So sometimes, a crime gets committed which fits a particular guy's known history, he gets picked up, erroneously identified, and there you are -- he's toast.

He's innocent of the crime, but he is a criminal.

Sometimes, you should trust your first impression.


p.s. -- I'm a liberal.

We are all prone to interpret ambiguity in the way that best fits our preconceived notions. It'd probably be hard to function in the real world without such a bias, but being able to set it aside is a valuable and difficult skill.

David, not to beat a dead horse (ahem) but it seems that the people who paid for the painting also couldn't tell a thief from a hero. The exact same painting was apparently used to illustrate other stories including one in 1918 that was, indeed, what Bush described. It's really not uncommon for commissioned illustrations to show up in all sorts of different contexts. Enjoying a particular bit of art does not require me (or the President) to be aware of all of those contexts. And it certainly doesn't imply endorsement.

I am somewhat familiar with the work you reference, Joe. Yes, it is one of those wipe-egg-from-face-while-leaving, prejudice revelation experiences that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. But go easy on yourself. There was a skillful trick played on your judgement in much the same way that filmmakers pull these tricks. You're probably not as small-minded as the exhibit might have suggested.

Separately this "power of context" observation is far from an oddity. It is and has long been, in fact, perhaps the strongest propellent in the art world. Who, for example, would have paid any attention to much of Jasper Johns' depressing canvases of gray splotches if some skillful 1950's New York gallery owner had not convinced a cadre of insecure but deep-pocketed wives of the day's Wall Streeters that it was "important". Ditto for the work of any number of photographers. Stephen Shore happens to be my personal favorite symbol of undeserved admiration.

My point is that context sells. The art world has know this for a very long time and there are countless wealthy gallery owners to prove it.

You DO agree, don't you? [grin]

It's like being shot for the first time..you really don't know what you are in for

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