… Jonathan Jones.
On the 13th of November, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones published a blog post about photography that provoked something of a reaction within the photography community. His article (which is here) takes offence to the fact that at this moment in time, photography appears to have gained in popularity and is being exhibited in galleries. After viewing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the Taylor-Wessing Prize and some scientific images taken by a robot, his assertion is that only painting is good enough to be framed and exhibited, and that all photography should only be seen on an iPad or some journal. I’ve already posted something about this, but as part of the writing workshop, this had to be pared down to 200 words, so that is what I have done below:
I have a problem with Jonathan Jones’ comparison between photography and painting, with his assertion that photography cannot be art but merely “flat, soulless and stupid”. One second he talks about photography on the gallery walls, the next about some robot beaming images from a comet thousands of miles away. They’re different products for different purposes. I can make a similar comparison between his beloved Caravaggio and my lounge; both are painted, so by these (clearly flawed) guidelines, the same.
For a so-called critic, his observations are incredibly short-sighted, generic and, let’s face it, wrong. Art is not simply about the craft of a painter, but the communication forged with his audience, his “art” aspirations and the manner in which it is intended to be viewed. It would appear that Jones fails to appreciate the evolution from the Baroque, through an age of mechanical reproduction and the “flatness” of the Modernists painters and Post-Post-Modernism, etc. Photography is currently in ascendancy, perhaps at painting’s expense, and will no doubt fall away too, replaced by something else. At the moment though, photography is where it is, and there’s not a lot Jones can do to take it from those gallery walls.
To be fair to Jones, if you look at the fact that he mentions the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, then here we have a more “scientific” form of photography. Many of the photographs will not have been intended to have been viewed on the gallery wall as “art”, but then is that what they’re being touted as? It will be a photography exhibition, not an art exhibition. Where he does overstep the mark, at least in my reading of the piece, is the broad brush approach he takes to all photography. He would be outraged if someone was to do the same with all painting, to lump Caravaggio in with Pollock or Reinhardt’s black squares that were mentioned in another recent post of mine. They’re not the same, so similarly Philae’s photographs from the far side of the galaxy are not the same as a Hockney joiner or one of Crewdson’s composite images, or any number of other photographs intended to be viewed as art. A huge oversight in my view. So yes, I will agree to disagree with him.
I missed the first reading and writing workshop, and whilst I did get to see the material that was discussed in the hangout, it wasn't really a great help without the context of the discussions. This time, I took part.
The first thing discussed was a piece of writing by Christopher French about Ad Reinhardt's proposition that "Art is Art and Everything Else is Everything Else". He starts of in his introduction that he is against the proposition: "As much as I admire him, I am here to argue against one of Reinhardt's more famous pronouncements...". A clear statement of intent, but one I didn't feel was followed up in what came next. He spoke about Reinhardt's work, about a catalogue of black canvases that would work as a flip book, albeit one that needs to be seen only through first hand experience (contradictory?), and some work presented as a series of 2000 slides so boring that parts of the audience left. There's no direct talk about art being art, or not.
The language being used is sometimes self indulgent, featuring long sentences of long words, or at least a complex vocabulary not normally constituting an inherent component of the common parlance, and arranged within a convoluted syntax (see, I can do it too, and it doesn't make it "good"). His sentence "I think his image bank provided the evidentiary underpinnings that allowed him the freedom to generate the cruciform geometries that infuse and enliven the otherwise too-severe reductiveness of his black paintings." is an example of this. Yes, it makes sense once you've worked you way around the mental gymnastics involved in deciphering it, but is it really necessary to write in that way?
I guess the answer to that will depend largely on your audience. French was writing for The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture, so there may actually be an expectance for this sort of writing. His audience will also be a reason for not including any direct reference/illustrations to Reinhardt's work. Personally I don't know it. I've never heard of the artist, and I can't say I'm particularly "aware" of a large number of painters. Actually, I may have seen one of these black paintings - I recall a visit to MoMA in New York about 6 years ago when I spent some time trying to work out if there was anything specifically within a solid black square painting. I don't believe there was, but I've no idea who painted it either, so this little anecdote carries no weight. The point I was trying to make before it was that I didn't connect with his writing at all, I felt nothing. I suppose I could've gone and researched Reinhardt, but I didn't feel a burning desire to. Plain black images that need to be seen first hand and a series of photographs that are so boring, his audience left. No, I'm not hooked into further looking.
And after all this, he finally returns to his point, to the raison d'être for the piece, and his objection to the proposition. Rather than anything else, he "argues" (or should that be "simply states"?) that the proposition "was a provocative act of misdirection ... what continues to make Ad Reinhardt such an able role model for navigating the ever-more complicated waters of art and life." Personally, I don't see it, but then I don't really know what he's talking about...
Post from The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture January 16th 2014 (located at http://www.brooklynrail.org/special/AD_REINHARDT/artists-on-ad/against-the-proposition-that-art-is-art-and-everything-else-is-everything-else) by Christopher French, painter and writer, and President of AICA-USA.
The second part of the session was somewhat thrown upon us with no preparation or warning - we had to write 100 words about an experience with a piece of art, writing in the present tense. I chose to write about the first time I saw some Daido Moriyama prints on a gallery wall, at Polka in Paris a few years ago.
“Seeing Daido Moriyama's photographs first hand for the fist time, I am surprised. The print is so large (about 1.5m across) and very different to anything I've seen of him before in books or the computer screen. There is still the grain and the movement - the are, bure, boke - but now there is a previously unknown sense of size. I'm conflicted. The images used to be intimate but now that has changed irrevocably. Here is something that can also be immersive, something bigger. But is it better?”
89 words written in less than 10 minutes with no preparation, slightly under the target but ok. It was a tough ask, especially as we had to read it out to the rest of the group. I think it's ok though. If we hadn't run out of time, the next part of the task would've been to pare it down by about 30%, to 66 words. I'll try that now:
“Seeing Moriyama's photographs first hand for the fist time, I'm surprised. The print is large (about 1.5m across) and different to anything I've seen before. There is still the are, bure, boke, but now there is a sense of size. I'm conflicted. The images used to be intimate but now that has changed. Now it can also be immersive, it's bigger. But is it better?”
I've managed to remove 25 words, but added a couple too, so it still makes sense. Which is better? I'm not sure there's a great difference at this point, other than making it fit in a 66 word limit, something that might be useful when it comes to filling in submissions for exhibitions, awards and whatnot... (and the academic essay that will no doubt be coming soon)