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Wednesday, 15 December 2010


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I liked the one with the two figures in it best.

The sense of scale adds something to the effect.


Don't know if I ever sent you this link before, but apropos the Colbert 'art' discussion, its worth a look.


Joe Cameron

I'm with Jeff. I call it "psychobabble". An older term - "waffle" - is not strong enough to describe this outpouring of nonsense. The more obtuse the language the more portentous the output is held to be by a self-appointed elite in the photographic art community. It actually spoils the experience of trying to understand and appreciate what the photographer was attempting.

A good friend of mine is an artist, and a very good one at that. When she tells me why a work of art is good or even great, I have no idea what she is talking about. She and her friends in the art world have a language all their own. The little I think I understand is that, for her, the "lines" have to point toward or away from each other unless, of course, they are parallel. If the line thing doesn't work, then the artist can make up for it by having the colors complement each other.

It's not all psychobabble, though, just because some of it is. Some of it is also experts communicating with each other in jargon that they expect each other to understand, just as experts do in any field (certainly computer experts strike laymen as speaking and writing nonsense sometimes, as do doctors or specialists in many other fields); it seems like code to us, but they have knowledge of the antecedents of the terms and they know what the terms refer to. For instance, A.D. Coleman's word "reify" is one that he's written about at great length, so if an art critic says "Colemanesque reification" it might seem like posturing to you but it has very real meaning to a scholar or critic who's familiar with Coleman's work.

And in other cases it is a genuine attempt to struggle to communicate difficult ideas. It's a mistake to automatically dismiss anything that seems opaque to you as posturing and BS, because that judgment is only true for a subset of artspeak. We still have to make an effort to distinguish deliberate obfuscation from sincere attempts at communication--and we have to realize that sometimes we lack the tools or the knowledge to make the distinction by ourselves.


Is Tree #3 a real one too?

There's a larger collection of much larger images, as well as a very accessible plain-talk interview with the photographer here:


I'm unconvinced. I like the one used here, because there's an element of mystery about it. It's not clear what's going on, and for me, it maintains that even after learning the "secret". On the other hand, the rest of them at that link fall into the "conceptual art" category; they're more about the concept, and not so much about the art. And just because they're difficult to do doesn't necessarily make them good, IMO.

As a "computer expert" myself, most computer experts seem to speak and write nonsense because we actually *do* speak and write nonsense. The standard of written english in the IT industry is very poor.

Honestly, this particular body of work seems to be a bit of a strain to me. Straining to be insightful, different and important, like so much work that's held forth these days. I wonder if this stuff has suffered in my eyes because there have been at least two ad campaigns that have used these portable backgrounds placed behind people; it's become an attention-getting gag. Not to mention at least two renowned portraiture photographers that have used the wide-shot/small-backdrop during the mid/late 20th century. That is, it's a technique that's become a cliché, at least to me.

You are right, Mike, that the art world has a language all its own. And I agree that, as you wrote, "It's a mistake to automatically dismiss anything that seems opaque to you as posturing and BS, because that judgment is only true for a subset of artspeak." Yes, some of the lingo has evolved to describe the visual/emotional experience with some degree of precision and is very much worth trying to learn if you want to get beyond the most primitive reactions to visual arts.

But there's also a great deal of utter bullshit that flies forth from many curators' and "art experts'" mouths, too. Keep in mind that they live in a world where they're measured mainly by what they say and write. So younger and weaker folks work hard to be more profoundly insightful, often at the expense of intelligibility to the other 99.99% of the planet's population.

So while your entreaty to gain familiarity with some art lingo is a suggestion I eagerly second, you'll have to also admit that the task is not as simple as learning other trade-specific lingo. It's slippery stuff and often requires subjective judgment and perception.

In my experience the best art scholars, curators, and other experts keep the art-speak to a minimum when communicating with a diverse audience. They know their subjects so well and are so self-confident that they don't have to remain submerged. They will also often more broadly educate their audience to the concepts and language that they use to more precisely circumscribe the visual experience.

And doesn't this observation also apply to nearly every field? Aren't those with the greatest mastery and achievement in a professional specialty often the best communicators of it to the greater world?

"And doesn't this observation also apply to nearly every field? Aren't those with the greatest mastery and achievement in a professional specialty often the best communicators of it to the greater world?"

That has certainly occurred to me while reading Oliver Sacks recently. He's very much concerned with writing plainspoken English, but every now and then he dips just enough into medical jargon that you remember he's fluent in that, too, and could throw a lot more of it at you if he wanted to. If he doesn't, it's because he wants lay people to understand him.


Sometimes words can get in the way of a simply pleasing visual experience. Other times, a bit of contextual insight and explanation can help to increase the appreciation of a work of art. Here is a link to an article I wrote about Myoung Ho Lee for FOAM magazine. It might be too much art-speak for a lot of people, but it was my effort to articulate in words some of the the thoughts and ideas that Lee's conceptual series triggered in me. http://www.lensculture.com/Myoung-Ho-Lee-FOAM-2008.pdf

I've also been living with four of Lee's prints hanging in my living room for almost four years now, and I never get tired of them. http://www.lensculture.com/store/

Hmm, I'm glad I came back to this for another look (after reading Trees & Bees. I think the concept is very thought provoking, and it certainly started a very interesting conversation about how we perceive 2d vs 3d objects when represented via a 2d medium. The aspects of de-contextualization so neatly illustrated with the Avedon picture should give us all something to think about, as we all play this game to varying degrees as we compose each shot. (Wouldn't de-contextualization make a great photoshop slider?)

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me were a couple of thoughts relating to execution.

1) Just how did he erect those huge backgrounds out in the field?

2) Would the images be more effective if he 'fixed' the creases and folds in photoshop. Or would manipulating the images, even just a little, detract from the artistic endeavor of creating the illusion in camera?

2.5) ...or have we all been had, and the images are already photoshopped, and there never was a 20ft canvas blowing in the wind...

If art should engage the viewer and make us think, then it would seem this is successful art.

On the art-speak, while a healthy dose of skepticism is appropriate, we should also allow that translation is difficult when dealing with the highly conceptual. What comes across as pretentious may have started as subtle emphasis in the original.


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