Sunday, August 01, 2010

Within the Lines

What if there was nothing to discover? No story, no thousand words, no answer to a non-riddle? What if it was really, really, just a game of forms and colors?
Would it be a sin?
Does this lady need a past?
Is it really so bad for something to be "just" a pretty picture?
We know of the danger of beauty, we know the seductive spectacle means flirting with submission, yet is it really so immoral?

We possibly wouldn't say it about Rafał Wilk's works. They are often witty, playful, insightful. They play with the idea of light, of bi-dimensionality, of what a work is.
But, to continue on my doubt - does having a story constitute a challenge? Or is it just because we like the indolence of layered thinking, the safety net of there being "something else", so as to let our imagination ride a little further...? But haven't we turned it into a rule for (a lot of) contemporary art? This story-telling capacity? (Can someone say a good story about this? If so, the author of the story and the author of the work get a bonus.)
What if it's a pretty picture? What if it's pretty, pretty, pretty, a thousand times pretty? What if it's so damned pretty you don't want it to be a story, to go beyond it being pretty?
Of course, I have the right to omit the depth. And then also, every good story is many stories deep. But some of the best works I know present a fascinating resistance to storytelling. They are like a stone, at once attractive and opaque. They make me want to read within the lines.

And here, somewhat related, is a summer holiday bonus:


douglain said...

The question of whether a modern work has to critically engage with its time (and this is a question that is perhaps not exactly the same as whether a work has a story) or whether modern art should be independent from any social imperative has always been a key question for modern artists. To ask this question in terms of whether or not it's okay for a painting to "just be pretty" seems to me to lean fairly heavily toward art for art's sake. It's also a bit of a false question. No painting is just pretty, because that experience of what is pretty, what is aesthetically pleasing, is socially constructed, and because even a painting that stays on the surface as much as possible is still entering into a world of signs. What you're really asking isn't whether it's okay for the painting to be "just pretty" but whether you as the viewer have the right to just enjoy it without thinking. Is there a space where you can have your visual pleasure without it being complicated by critical thought and ideologies? You call these ideologies "stories."
What, in fact, you are asking permission to approach art in precisely the way the dominate ideology of our society requires. You are always called upon to enjoy in today's society. That's the story of the capitalist game we're in. Always enjoy and maximize your enjoyment: these are the two rules of the day.
I would point out that your question about enjoyment and art isn't even about your enjoyment, it's about other people talking. What you're saying really is, "shut up. Just Enjoy! No talking. No thinking." And of course that injunction serves the current ideological state apparatus. That's the way to make sure the unconsciously assumed story, the prevailing ideology, is never contested by pretty art.

vvoi said...

Douglain, don't put words in my mouth. I am not telling anyone what he should or shouldn't do. I am thinking out loud, asking questions.

It's your business if you pray to Zizek, and I don't mind you trying to convince me you are (or rather: he is) right. It's the arrogance with which you judge another person's attempt at thinking honestly his experience of the world that I find offensive.
"What you're really asking"
"your about"
"And of course that injunction serves the current ideological state apparatus".
I wonder if you say that to someone when they say "what a pretty, pretty flower". If you dare impose your liberating voice under any circumstances.

Also, it seems to me like you really haven't been following the blog. Which is fine. But I really don't think your accusations make much sense in the context of the blog. The above text is the expression of a need for seeing pretty flowers in the world which is not, as you describe it, one of the uncontested prevailing ideology. This world (the world I have been writing about for the last couple of years) is a world of constant contenstation, rethinking, of trixters and transgressions. It is a world where nothing is innocent, every prettiness has strings attached and we are all oh-so-involved. Call it stories, ideologies, I don't give a rat's ass about the terminology you use in this case - it's here. No need to lecture anyone about that.

The question I ask at the beginning is a proposition of a mind experiment. If you are too scared of the bad Empire's invasion the moment you try it, it's fine. But your disdain for someone else's questions and profound conviction that you know the way it all works (which strangely enough corresponds in every single word to the most academic marxism I can think of) combine into an image that to me seems neither pretty or "complicated by critical thought".

Oh, the fighters for the right cause.
Those who manage not to enjoy a single Hollywood-made production. Who don't drink Coca-Cola, watch TV, who only ride bicycles, who are so superior to those other poor mortals.
The saviors of humanity.
The ones who know that, and why, we are all doing it all wrong.

I do not envy you.

douglain said...

I'm not sure how else I am supposed to express my answers to your questions. If I were to have said, "It seems to me that perhaps your questions might also contain imperatives" that would be pretty weak tea, especially when I absolutely am not claiming that you made the conscious choice to demand that we "Enjoy!"

I'm not making any claims about your subjective mental state. I am not telling you what you think, I'm stating my opinion (see how nice I'm being) that your questions were in fact ideological and that they acted as injunctions.

I don't have disdain for your questions, nor for you.

You asked, "Can't a picture just be pretty?"

I answered is, "Just by asking that question (which is really a request) you're already taking a stance in a cultural war."

I'd point out that objecting to my audacity to state my position clearly and with force is itself ideological. Why not pick apart my academic Marxism rather than focus on the way you perceived my tone?

In any case I'm glad to have discovered your blog.

vvoi said...

What I made was a set of question, a sketch of a hypothetical proposition, not a request. There were a few times in modern times when ideology led people to slip from a proposition to a request. I see the Soviet Revolution as largely taking such a turn. I see it also as the fruit of a certain arrogance in imposing one's views and declaring there is a war that has to be fought on all fronts. The 'how' is part of the 'what'. And I don't like it.

But beyond that, let me be clear on something:
One reason I wrote this post is because I am so tired of this talk about the cultural war, of the inclusion of other stories (narratives, layers, ideologies) into every possible experience
Yes, you will say, but that's how things are.
And this, to me, is a ridiculous way of addressing the issue. Because when you kiss a girl, you might be described as being political, just as you might be described as being made up of mainly water, but it is completely missing the point of the kiss.
So, also, when your mom shows you a picture of the dog she took, involving all the Zizeks in the world will not help anyone. If you and Zizek find it's so horrible to enjoy it, well, to the simpleton I am it is but the proof of your frustration. But that, of course, is my take on it.
You are ever so welcome to state yours whenever you drop by.

Rosemary said...

Interesting questions. I'm currently earning my BFA in photography, and after years of critiques and theory readings it is hard for me to view art with virgin eyes.

I think that we have killed whatever was "pretty" to us to better understand it. Ultimately, we can't return to thinking it is just pretty- now that we know the inner workings.

Anonymous said...

I'm not even remotely well educated when it comes to modern art but I do like to read about it and try to visit as much exhibits as I can wherever I go. I particularly liked the work of Soulages which I caught in Paris last September. I do find it beautiful thought there is no story that I can seem to make out of it whatsoever.

Planning a trip soon to NY and found this list. Seems you'd know which exhibits are worth going on. Which ones from this list are actually good visits and which ones are just blahh? Would be good to get advice before I end up wasting time going into galleries than are merely popular

I would also love to know which galleries or exhibits are worth seeing from your personal list.

Venus said...

I think mystery often breeds more fascination and attention than straight up pretty... Symbolism, story telling, and reading between the lines, as you said, that's what made me want to be an artist. I think that is a lot of the draw of contemporary art, and well, I've noticed that historians seem to be more fascinated with the mysteries surrounding the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci's other works and 'what he meant' rather just accepting it is a 'pretty' picture.


I'm more interested in your idea about a "story" connected to an image, largely because images are born to give birth to words, or grunts or thought bytes. There are many artists who have turned words into images (Kosuth, Barry, Weiner, etc.) for a range of visual philosophical reasons. The effects, of course, unleash more words.

Is it fair to say that all images generate text, or words or thought, even if it's nothing? Silence? Description. And what if you flip past it? No comment? A popular book by Malcolm Gladwell discusses "snap judgements" ... BLINK, it's called.

"Story" is way more complex, I think, with a dynamic set of wheels. But it's not always the story that makes the picture or art work interesting; often times you don't get the story right away, or ever, but the work can stick with you, dog you. And in the end, I think, you create the story in your own mind. Does that pass for critical engagement? Not sure...



Erin said...

Yes, some art is "art for art's sake". Art developed purely for aesthetics becomes decor. Retailed for profit, this art still engages with its time. We just can't see how it engages, and to what extent this interaction will be interpreted, as we are within the moment.

When we observe art history we see several categorizations of art: Art as record of society, art as story of historical or mythological event, art as a conversation or a response; be it a rejection or a or a modification of a previous style or concept, and most recently art as concept.

So does the intent lessen or increase the chance of longevity and recognition within the art critic's sphere of influence? Who knows. Only time can tell what future generations of art historians will consider worthy of dissected and glorification.

Perhaps it is age alone that makes art relevant...

Moon River said...

this question you've posed is so relevant
i often tend to indulge my self in to
beauty for the sake of sheer beauty, why not?
thing is, unless there is some subtext in this beauty, it will eventually get boring
when makes the image immortal, is something else, a layering of story, of meanings, of meanings into meanings..

Zog Kadare said...

But, if an object is just pretty, how are we to know that it is art and not just one of the infinite number of pretty items we come across in daily life? The object must already be art before we can speak of it as just being pretty, otherwise it is just another mundane object, but to become art it needs to be presented - in some fashion - as art. It needs to be put in a gallery - that is a story in itself or to be given an exam by a critic or writer. It needs a tag of some kind such as a title and a provenance. It is already awarded a kind of Aura - in the sense of art theory - always already before it can be encountered as art, it is become a subject of a manner of iconophilia (it has become one of the mundane - pretty - objects in the world raised above it fellows) before we can even ask, is it enough for it to only be pretty.

Of course, (in all likelihood) when the narative is not suficiantly opaque, much of the power of the object is lost.

But maybe the issue you are touching on is something like - is art only comodity and not genius (qua a certain x factor) i.e must we accept the 'naive materiist' evaluation of Art?

Skew said...

This is an issue I've been struggling with for a while now. Is a piece that is intended to be aesthetically pleasing ALONE is "mere" decoration? If this were the case, I'm not sure that this would require, then, that it is not art.

I think it's an issue of content, intention, and purpose. A piece can be without a story but still have a purpose that is beyond the aesthetic alone. One can produce an artwork that has no inherent content but still intend to serve as a catalyst toward thought, to provide a space for interpretation even if no interpretation can reveal the intended content (as there is no intended content). This is definitely art.

I'm inclined to say that the beautiful is actually art, even if it serves no storytelling or content-full purpose. I can't seem to support it with arguments, though. And maybe that's what makes it more genuine as soulful art than something that challenges this or rejects that or contains a narrative. Perhaps it's more linked to meta-narrative than the particular? But I don't even feel comfortable taking that step. Being an existential artist myself, I'm inclined to do away with metaphysics altogether. I think, at the end of the day, that the questions you raise in this post are more important than any statements that could be made about such pieces.


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