Category Archives: Section 3

The Emperor’s New Clothes

I’m distressed to discover that the notes ask me to consider whether a couple of artworks they have discussed, which have developed from accidental events, are a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.

I find the phrase unhelpful at best. In my experience it is normally used as a form of inverted intellectual snobbery by those who don’t wish to consider anything outside of their own narrow frame of reference. It attempts to set the user into an intellectually superior position, where they can clearly see the truth that the deluded other has missed, and so avoids any requirement on the users part to actually engage with the artwork/artist in question. With a few limited exceptions (including that in the original fable) it should be consigned to the same intellectually bankrupt dustbin as ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”

The notes ask us to consider  examples of critics with polarised views…but this seems to me a different issue. My experience of critics is that irrespective of their view they have tried to engage with the artwork. That is, after all, their job. Having done that, they are perfectly entitled to consider a work vapid and explain why they think that  – writing it off as the Emperor’s New Clothes without justification strikes me as poor criticism.

So…with that off my chest…we are asked to consider artists who have used  technical mistakes to further their work.

To mind mind there are three possibilities here:

  1. accidents that look interesting – the internet abounds with examples of these but I don’t plan to consider them further. They aren’t art – they’re simply pretty accidents. A more serious example would be Capa’s Normandy Beach photos that were damaged in processing. While the damage actually increased their impact, no attempt was made to replicate it or explore the idea further.
  2. accidents that inspire a line of artistic thought – Graham’s American nights series fits into this category. Graham overexposed an image accidentally, and this triggered a series of ideas that became an artistic concept. This has a long artistic history as a process – Da Vinci is reputed to have said: ‘If you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies, etc. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will be furnished with an abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new.’ (cited in Turner, 2011) and more recently Bacon has expressed a similar idea: “All painting is an accident.  But it’s also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve.” (cited in Askey-Adams, 2015) 
  3. accidents that are manufactured for their artistic impact – it is arguable that these are genuine accidents, but it is certainly the case that the outcomes are unpredictable. A photographic example of this would be Moriyama’s Farewell Photography (The Guardian, 2015) and I feel much abstract expressionism would also fit into this category.

In the latter two cases the accidents are integral to the concept…without the accident there would be no artwork. In this sense it is little different from a sculptor using the accident of the grain in the wood to enhance or develop a sculpture – and I doubt anyone would suggest that was cheating.

To quote a paraphrase of Schopenauer: “Discovery is seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought.”  (cited in Quote Investigator, 2015) The creative process, and therefore the genesis of the artwork, is in the thoughts of the artist.

References

Askey-Adams, S., 2015. The Gift of Happy Accidents in Painting | Sharing my Painted Journey. Available at: https://sandyaskeyadams.com/blog/91475/the-gift-of-happy-accidents-in-painting [Accessed March 18, 2017].

The Guardian, 2015. Snatched from the fire: the photos Daido Moriyama rescued from ruin – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/nov/12/daido-moriyama-fire-flames-farewell-photography-paris-photo-2015 [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Quote Investigator, 2015. Research Is to See What Everybody Else Has Seen and Think What Nobody Has Thought | Quote Investigator. Available at: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/07/04/seen/ [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Turner, C., 2011. The deliberate accident in art | Tate. Tate Etc: 21. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/deliberate-accident-art [Accessed March 18, 2017].

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Being Frank

Frank is a photo project developed by Alec Soth. It is based on a found photo album containing images made on a trip to Japan in the 50s by an unknown photographer. Soth shared some of the images on his blog/website and sought contributions in the form of user submitted stories to go with the photos.

I find this quite interesting as an artistic idea…it feeds directly into ideas about the death of the author, and as an artistic concept using ready–mades, its genesis can probably be traced back to Duchamp and his urinal. Unlike Duchamp’s urinal however this is a serious work, interogating, as it does, the way we all interpret visual clues in accordance with our own personal baggage.

There is an ethical dimension to consider as well. This is not just our personal baggage. It is, almost literally, someone elses. Do we have the right to repurpose someone elses memories for the sake of art? Especially if that person, through death, or simple ignorance of the activity, is unable to give consent…informed or otherwise.

My initial reaction is that we do…subject to the simple proviso that we are not defaming the individual concerned. If I understand correctly there is no legal protection for the reputation of the dead, but that does not mean we should abandon any sense of ethics when dealing with the materials they leave behind.

In this context I feel the album is different from the Sophie Calle images taken in hotel rooms which I discussed previously. The Calle images were of objects still very much associated with the live individual – they were , to my mind, stolen. The album, by contrast is lost – whether by accident or design – and the link with the original owner is broken.

Soth, A, The Frank Album « Little Brown Mushroom. Available at: http://www.littlebrownmushroom.com/blog/the-frank-album/ [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Chance – is it a fine thing?

The supporting notes for Section 3 of BoW start with a discussion of chance in photography, in the context of abandoning yourself to the process…of not starting off with the end too firmly in mind.

In a fairly widely known video clip,  Tim Minchin (Minchin 2013) says:

“…you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

I have a fairly large measure of sympathy with this assessment. It’s clearly important to have an eye on the big picture, but equally important to allow yourself the freedom to react to the things that are happening around you.

Once again I find the notes unhelpfully people/documentary centric, concentrating as they do on interactions between people and the photogrpaher. As an example to encourage us to think about chance they cite the work of Sophie Calle – especially Please Follow Me, The Hotel and Take Care of Yourself. Clearly, Calle has started these projects with the end in mind – the images she takes of/information she receives from the various random people in these works are clearly chance in that she had no control over what they did..although she clearly has control over what she captured/published.

In what seems like a side issue we are asked if we think her work was deceitful or intrusive. The answer seems pretty self evident..it is yes to both. It is clearly intrusive to secretly photograph people and then publish those images – whether this is good or bad is another issue altogether and depends on our perceptions of the degree of privacy we expect and the frequency and nature of the intrusion. If I were buying some potatoes I doubt I would care about being photographed – if I were engaged in a secret affair I might well feel differently.

Pretending to be a chamber maid made while actually being a ‘working artist’ is clearly a deceit. If they had been my possessions being photographed in my hotel room I would have been a little bit more than annoyed – irrespective of the fact that my ‘hotel possessions’ consist of little more than clothing and photography magazines. Even if she subsequently sought permission to publish it appears to me that such activities simply add weight to the cries for privacy laws which would make art, and especially photography, more difficult for everyone.

That said, there are chance encounters that I might use if they fitted the overall concept of what I was trying to achieve. For example, snatches of conversations I’ve had while out photographing, quotes from unrelated texts that strike a chord with the work, ideas from other artworks – ultimately I think inspiration is a matter of chance, of encountering material that your brain connects to your project in a way that sometimes only you immediately understand.

Minchin, T, 2013. Tim Minchin · Occasional Address. Available at: http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/ [Accessed March 12, 2017].