Art stuff

Links? Yeah, I remember that concept.

Consumptive has been ferreting out some very interesting links. A NY Times story about Hockney has some real gems in it. It seems that Hockney has some new theory that many painters after 1430 started using photographic devices like lenses, mirrors, and camera obscura to work out their paintings. The argument is a sort of reverse-engineering sort of approach, and certainly questionable, but I have to love the responses that it stirred up. Especially from Susan Sontag:

Susan Sontag went after Mr. Hockney’s ideology of picture making. To say that there were no great painters before optical devices, she said, is like saying there were no great lovers before Viagra. It is a “very American” kind of argument. Although Mr. Hockney was born British, she said, in his thinking “he is one of us.” To argue that there is a “direct line from van Eyck to television,” she said, is to use present-day mass visual culture as the lens through which the past is examined. It represents the “Warholization of art.”

I also enjoyed this new bit of vocabulary from a Vermeer scholar:

Mr. Steadman accused Mr. Liedtke of “mimesophobia, the morbid fear of slavish imitation.”

I suspect that most artists suffer from that fear. I suppose that’s why I don’t link so much. Especially to sure-fire hits like the flashy Arthur Tress website. Something about him bugs me. It’s like I feel cheated by intentional obtuseness. But it’s all the rage, these days especially. Sometimes I enjoy the links that aren’t as fresh, like this 99 interview with Nan Goldin, also from Consumptive. I’m not all that excited by her work, but she has some really interesting things to say. The interview had me from the first line:

Nan Goldin started taking pictures during photography’s “rock and tree” days.

Hey, so did I! I never did like it that much, though it sort of beat the camera club “fur and feathers” alternative, but not by much. However, I can’t say that I totally embraced the marketing of marginalia that Goldin and others ended up promoting, willingly or unwillingly:

I’m glad that I grew up in the ’70s thinking that art was about making art and not about a market … not about marketing a product.

The only thing is, her work clearly became a marketable commodity; the backlash she was involved with created the market that she so swiftly condemns. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. But I’ve got to admire her honesty about the “soft focus” look:

I always wanted to be in focus, but sometimes I was drunk.

She steers clear of a type of work that I personally hate, while granting it a certain amount of credibility all at the same time:

Right now there’s a real style that’s coming out of Yale and it’s this “believable fiction” thing that Philip-Lorca DiCorcia does really well. And now there’s a whole generation of students coming out of this graduate program that are doing that. They’re setting up fictional narratives, and they said to me they don’t see that there’s a difference between real life and fiction in photography – that all photographs are some kind of fiction, which I don’t believe. I was really upset that most of the teachers and students did not think there was any difference between something that was set up and something that you go out and photograph.

I think fiction works because we know it’s fiction. That’s part of the “common ground” of assumptions about it. Making overtly fictional photographs seems like masturbation; it can be fun, but it’s hardly as satisfying as the real thing. It seems like Goldin went to the same theory school I did, though:

I’ve never read any art theory. I took enough LSD, so I don’t need to read theory. It’s the same thing, you know … LSD shows you that reality is a very subjective and mutable thing and once you know that from an early age, your whole life is affected by that. I think theory has hurt a lot of young artists – they’ve gotten too bogged down in making work in response to media instead of life.

Things change though; theory can be fun if it is applied after the fact. But then, this assumes that the photographs you make are facts. There’s the rub. Most photographs that hang in galleries are not very close to being considered factual. Theory is really self-reflective consideration of the processes involved. LSD is the same sort of thing, but it has a much shorter usable life-span. Theory is much more durable, and these days I find it far more useful. After the fact.

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