Discuss shock vs. documentary

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Jim Chinn, Feb 9, 2003.

  1. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    After reading the responses to the previous topic on the merits of Joel Peter Witkin's methods and images, I would like to know what are some of your opinions and ideas as to what the difference is between obvious shock art and images that may contain shocking subject matter but in the context of news, science etc. Is purpose and context the only difference?

    a couple of examples: Weegee made many images of victims of brutal violence that were extremely shocking for his day. I don't believe that his original purpose was art, yet today people collect his work. Another example, is the use of photographs of aborted fetuses by right to life groups. I would guess that many of the these images were made purely as documentation for educational purposes at one time and while shocking or disturbing to the lay person were made with objectivity in mind.

    On NPR I heard a story about a medical museum that contains specimens and images of people who had suffered all kinds of horrible disfiguring birth defects and diseases. It was originally a research center afilliated with a university but when they realized that the public was fascinated by such "freaks", they opened as a museum to educate the public and collect a few bucks. Suddenly the images change from documentation of suffering for educational purposes to shocking pictures and specimens that appeal to a public fascinated by such things. It is amazing how the context in which a photograph is understood can change over time.
     
  2. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Jim68134 @ Feb 9 2003, 06:09 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>After reading the responses to the previous topic on the merits of Joel Peter Witkin's methods and images, I would like to know what are some of your opinions and ideas as to what the difference is between obvious shock art and images that may contain shocking subject matter but in the context of news, science etc.&nbsp; Is purpose and context the only difference?&nbsp;
    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I'm not sure I understand your question. Are the images produced for the purpose of changing our emotional state (a.k.a. "Art") and those intended for the sole purpose of recording fact different wholly due to their purpose and content?

    My opinion: Yes they are. Or at least this could be fairly rational method of categorization.
    One - "art" commonly uses shock - at some level or other - as a tool in its execution. Scientific or medical - or to a reduced level, news - is not really meant to change our emotional state, but to record and inform - without emotion.

    I don't see an absolute separation between the two. Art can - and usually does - contain some record of what is happening at the time - and the others can have an emotional effect... intended or not.
     
  3. David Hall

    David Hall Member

    Messages:
    470
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2003
    Location:
    South Pasade
    Wouldn't it be fair to say that art makes you feel something...it communicates with you emotionally? Since that is what shocking pictures do, maybe it would quality them as art or more likely as a kind of art. There's impressionism, cubism, and goreism?

    dgh
     
  4. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I do see a separation, since we stayed with Witkin I will use his work as example. In it he uses props etc, to adjust his "vision" a documentary photo lacks this. Usually is one where the subject if photographed with flat lighting to show maximum detail and there is no consideration to "artistic" merit.

    There is no reason why a documentary photo cannot become an art photo but the intial intention is very clear and it shows in the print. For example I am sure all remember the photo of the vietnamese "spy" which was executed and the photographer took the shot right at the moment the person pulled the trigger. That is a documentary shot where the "shock" is secondary to the oeverall picture. In Witkins case, the shock is the priary purpose and the props and lighting are used to maximaze this effect.

    As you stated in the case of the museum and the circus freaks, there is in all of us a morbid curiosity to see the unusual. I dont think this constitutes the basis for lasting art. In any case to each its own, personally I rather have nice things to look at hanging on my wall than mutilated and deformed bodies.
     
  5. brYan

    brYan Subscriber

    Messages:
    79
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Georgia
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Maybe I look through rose-colored glasses or even worse maybe I am unenlightened, but good and lasting art to me conveys a positive feeling. Shock art is fun to look at sometimes, depending on the image; and documentary photography can open my eyes and maybe even change my ideas or ways of living. But I always go back to the image that I never tire of looking at, and uplifts my soul.

    Or maybe I'm just lazy and like something easy to look at!!!
     
  6. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    In my comments I was looking at the idea that photographs (as well as any work of art) may be produced with one set of values in mind, but used in a context that is opposite its original purpose. To clarify what I was trying to say, I don't think anyone will confuse Witkin's images for any other use than to shock, but their are many examples of art created with a noble purpose used out of context by others.
     
  7. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I have attempted to stay out of this thread but I have decided that I cannot keep myself out any longer.

    For me, art can shock. It can shock to change one's perception, but it must change one's perception. Witkin, as I see it, is only interested in shocking and not changing the viewers perceptions. This, for me does not meet the smell test of "Is It Art". I don't like that in your face approach to art. Witkin offends me and I refuse to look at it at all.

    the early guys di Vinci and the like did what they did to advance the understanding of the human being so that they could draw people better and more acurately. What they did elevates their drawings to art. Plus, this was a long time ago. Basically, in the dark ages.

    Weegee was a paparazzi. His work did not gain real art standards until well after his death. He was a pretty crude guy and I thnik that also influenced his photography.

    The estemed photographer said something to me in an email several years ago. It is something his ex-wife told him about art. I will have to paraphrase but i is something like this: "Art is about ideas and Illustraion is about things". I think that pretty well sums it up for me.

    lee\c
     
  8. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I need to clarify the post above. The esteemed photographer I referenced is Michael A. Smith.

    lee\c
     
  9. David Hall

    David Hall Member

    Messages:
    470
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2003
    Location:
    South Pasade
    Jorge (and others),

    Just because you wouldn't put something on your wall doesn't make it Not Art, does it? I go back to what I said originally...isn't art supposed to make you feel something, as it evoked emotion for it's creator originally? Maybe not the same emotion or feeling, but emotion nonetheless?

    dgh
     
  10. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    David,
    If I step in dog doody, it evokes an emotion. There has to be more than that. Intent needs to be involved. I am not sure I can explain it but the intent is as important as emotion. Witkin, for me, displays none of that.


    lee\c
     
  11. David Hall

    David Hall Member

    Messages:
    470
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2003
    Location:
    South Pasade
    lee,

    I am not sure I understand. Are you saying Witkin doesn't have intent to make you feel something? It seems like he's long on intent, and pretty focused on a very short list of feelings to evoke. And not the usual feelings.

    dgh
     
  12. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    If you say so. I don't want to waste my time discussing this pig any more. You can have all the respect for him you want if that is what you want. You can see all the intent you want. This is the most typing about this sort of drivel I have ever done.

    lee\c
     
  13. RAP

    RAP Member

    Messages:
    476
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2002
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Then what happens to all the war photographs of carnage? Before the start the reality of the photographic process was discovered, war was glorified, glamorized, romanticized in paintings. Brave, courageous generals on powerful steeds slaying and crushing the enemy undr foot are on display in musuems all around the world.

    Then the photojournalist came on the scene. Who was it, Mathew Brady and his images of the Civil War? Those photos must have been shocking the first time they were published for a public auidience. Since then, WWII and WWII, Vietnam, Korean and many others have been fought and the photojournalist has rcorded all the reality of thousands of horrors.

    The Holocost of WWII is probably a perfect example. Images of the German atrocities, of Jews, Slavs, Jehovah's Witnesses are now on public display in the Holocost Museum in Washington DC. Why? To educate the public as to what happened. Imagesof piles of emaciated bodies, buthered in gas chambers, starved into scarecrows. Are these displayed for shock purposes or to educated? If someone is shocked, horrified, saddened at the sight of such human perversions, I would think that would indicate someone who has a good moral conscience.

    So then what would be the difference between images of of humans deformed by war, or birth defects? Both can be shocking. But to display them to educate, inform poeple is proper.

    You want to talk about images that are displayed for shocking purposes, what about all the so called artistic nudes? Where do you draw the line on art vs pornography, vs even child pornography which is illegal.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (RAP @ Feb 10 2003, 03:58 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>Then what happens to all the war photographs of carnage?
    Are these displayed for shock purposes or to educated?&nbsp; If someone is shocked, horrified, saddened at the sight of such human perversions, I would think that would indicate someone who has a good moral conscience.

    You want to talk about images that are displayed for shocking purposes, what about all the so called artistic nudes?&nbsp; Where do you draw the line on art vs pornography, vs even child pornography which is illegal.</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    There are even more example of shock in art.
    I went to my bookcase ... St. Sebastian is a martyr used as a subject in a number of classical works ... from "Art Treasures of the National Gallery London" - commenting on "St. Sebastian", by Matteo Di Giovanni, ca. 1475:
    "At least twelve arrows are imbedded in the Saint, for he was shot with arrows before execution".
    Not a pleasant image. Not intended to be a pleasant image - and most probably done with the intent of promoting a particular emotion.

    My point is that "pleasantness" is not, necessarily, a pre-requisite for art. After all, some Crucifixes .. accurate images of someone dying a most horrible death on the cross - are some of the most significant works of art man has ever made.

    Pornography ... whoo ...!!!

    This is an opening for the widest variety of opinons imaginable ... I have heard everything from "It should not even be consideration in art" to "The exposure of ANY flesh below the chin (come to think of, those who support the wearing of Burkhas are even more intense) is absolutely disgusting pornography."

    I don't know what it is ... If the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, in all their "augustness", couldn't figure it out, what chance do *I* have?
    My opinon:- When I see *any* viable evidence (Please!! - NOT "everyone knows") I will be against it. Until then, I'm not going to burn out my internal fuses trying to force others into limiting their art.

    An interesting study would be the elimination of pornography laws in Scandinavia - around the mid 1970's(?). The guardians of the public morality were outraged - this would be the end of all civilization - the would be a holocaust of sexual crimes - no woman wold be safe on the streets ...
    What happened? - The polar oposite -- Pornographic magazines were flying of the shelves for about a month - and then died. The crime statistics were closely monitored ... there was an immediate REDUCTION in all sexually related crimes - and all violent crime. The incidence of rapes dropped dramatically.

    In light of the cause and effect - dare I say it? Apparently the change - to the easy availablity of out-and-out pornography - was a - gasp - good thing!

    I've often wondered about our value system - where pornographic videos are tightly restricted to "behind the swinging doors" - and ONLY FOR THOSE OVER EIGHTEEN"; and "The 40 Faces of Death" - actual scenes of horrible deaths of human beings - and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - are available to every impressionable twelve-year-old.
     
  16. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (David Hall @ Feb 9 2003, 07:54 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> Jorge (and others),

    Just because you wouldn't put something on your wall doesn't make it Not Art, does it? I go back to what I said originally...isn't art supposed to make you feel something, as it evoked emotion for it's creator originally? Maybe not the same emotion or feeling, but emotion nonetheless?

    dgh </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Absolutely, but just because the images are unusual and concerned with the morbid and purient side of our nature does not make them art either.

    If we follow your reasoning then the body by the side of the street that has just been run over is art. Most people slow down and try to look, out of morbid curiosity, but I bet not many would like to put it in their front lawn.

    Like I said, is not that he has done this. But that he has done it and keeps doing it without his work evolving. See one of his pictures and you have seen them all....The first one might have been art, the rest are just morbosity dressed up as art..
     
  17. edbuffaloe

    edbuffaloe Member

    Messages:
    132
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Austin, Texa
    My comment on this is that everyone assumes that "art" is one and the same for everyone--something eternal, like a Platonic idea. I maintain that art is a purely subjective phenomenon. What is art for one person may well be garbage for another. I have seen what some consider pornography that I personally feel is art. I have seen the Mark Rothko paintings at the MLK memorial in Houston (for which an incredible sum was paid), but I think they are garbage. Even if there is such a thing as "significant form," as articulated by Susanne K. Langer, it relies on a subjective "feeling" being evoked in the percipient, which "feeling" can only be subjective and may therefore differ from one subject to another. The "feeling" evoked may be rapture or revulsion. I have no doubt that for some people Joel Peter Witkin's work is high art--I appreciate some of it myself.
     
  18. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

    Messages:
    963
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2002
    Location:
    New Jersey
    Thanks, Robert, for starting this topic. Even before I saw Jorge's first response, Serrano's "Christ in Piss" came to mind. As a believing Catholic, I found Serrano's work to be extremely offensive. But, except for it's shock value, his work is throughly mediocre, and therefore, transitory,as well.

    I, respectfully, disagree with Ed, about the subjective relativism of art. Art like Philosophy, Theology or Literature often (mostly) responds to events, i.e., is topical. As an example, Philosophy, after the Renaissance, increasingly became concerned with examinations of Scientific Method and Phenomenology, to the point, in the early 20th century, Philosophy was mostly about epistemology. Socrates question, What is the good?" was just as relevant, it just wasn't being asked. Metaphysics, queries concerning the transcendent, eternally part of Philosophy were being ignored. Most of art, too, responds its time and circumstances. Most of it is transitory, but the great non-subjective work is not. Think Pieta, Stary Nights, Mona Lisa, Cantebury Tales, and maybe, Clearing Winter Storm.

    Great art, though created in time, is that which outlasts the subjective and temporal evaluation. Serrano's "work", whatever the immediate impact, will be forgotten very quickly.

    Take care,
    Tom
     
  19. avandesande

    avandesande Member

    Messages:
    1,246
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Tijeras, NM
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I think that we are ignoring the role of artwork as a type of social commentary. Although it isn't very useful out of context(except for a historical perspective), it does have life in its own time. Take for instance the anti-natzi artwork in the netherlands, or the pro-communist artwork of the soviet union (often with hidden anti-communist sentiments).

    All though I haven't seen any of Witkin's work, I am guessing that he is challenging the unhealthy and somewhat bizzare judeo-christian views on death that is prevelant in america.

    If everyone was only interested in making 'Great Art' and 'Great Music', the world would be a pretty boring and stiff place. Sometimes it's more fun to play with our inadaquecies than with the idea that we are made in God's image.
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Tom Duffy @ Feb 10 2003, 12:08 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> ... (Serrano's)... work is throughly mediocre, and therefore, transitory,as well.

    ...&nbsp; Most of it is transitory, but the great non-subjective work is not. Think Pieta, Stary Nights, Mona Lisa, Cantebury Tales, and maybe, Clearing Winter Storm.
    Great art, though created in time, is that which outlasts the subjective and temporal evaluation. Serrano's "work", whatever the immediate impact, will be forgotten very quickly.

    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I will agree that time is a greater test for art than the opinion of contemporary critics. After all, Van Gogh's work was considered to be "mediocre" during his time - but our evaluation is certainly different now.
    Serrano's work may - or may not withstand the test of time ... It is very difficult for us, as contemporary critics, to fortell the future.

    I'm trying to understand the concept of "non-subjective art". Is this meant to describe works that are devoid of the emotional influences and human biases of the artist?

    If so, I cannot think of a "great work" that fits. If humanity, and emotion is absent, to me, the work is a lifeless design -- and not what I conceive as "art".

    Certainly, Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is tremedously emotional and impressionistic. I think of that when I look at the night sky and try to imagine the person who saw the stars like that -- in myriads of swirling patterns.

    Or am I misunderstanding the idea of "non-subjective art"?
     
  21. Aggie

    Aggie Member

    Messages:
    4,925
    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2003
    Location:
    So. Utah
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    ..
     
  22. Robert

    Robert Member

    Messages:
    747
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Why is time the test? If 100 years from now the works <insert your favorite here> of are considered worthlless will it be any less good then today? We judge from our backgrounds. Our beliefs. Maybe the past critics knew more then us?
     
  23. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Aggie,
    If you are talking about Holmes, I think his first name is John. However, a search of google indicates that John Holmes died of AIDS in 1988. His claim to fame was a 13" penis.


    lee\c
     
  24. Aggie

    Aggie Member

    Messages:
    4,925
    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2003
    Location:
    So. Utah
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    ..
     
  25. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    no problem. Those porno guys all look alike.

    lee\c
     
  26. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Aggie @ Feb 10 2003, 01:09 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>One, all art from about 0 ad...on til the time of LOUISE the XIV was done purely for the church and its officials.&nbsp; read your art history!&nbsp; the catholic church had a vested interest in making the autrocities from the bible look more herendous than the next painting.

    The thing is, until the advent of photography, paintings were staged or made up in the mind of the artist doing the painting.&nbsp; They were of maybe real subjects, but ficticious in their content.&nbsp; They were interpretive of an event.&nbsp;

    ... Or do we allow anything and everything no matter what and call it art.&nbsp; You would make the Ted Bundy's of the world happy.&nbsp; I personally think the bounds of common decency have been crossed and not for the good.


    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Aggie,

    First - when I jumped into this discussion, I installed a piece of my patented Flavored Inner Tube (Amaretto) between my teeth. I had assumed that a few waves would be created - but then - waves are what keeps the waters pure. See "swamp".

    Uh .... (pause ... try to think of a delicate way to do this...) I'l have to disagree with the idea that "All art from 0 to Louis XIV (1638 - 1715) was commissioned by the church." This would include Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens, Tintoretto, ad Boticelli... and a bunch of others.
    It is true that *many* works were commissioned by the church, and many artists were more or less dependent on the church for their livelihood, but there were a lot of portraits comissioned privately, and there were a great many paintings based on Roman and Greek mythology - which would certainly not have been condoned by the church. Nudes were definitely discouraged - to the point of being burned at the stake, in some instances - and yet there were many from this period.

    "Paintings ... were ficticious in their content."?? I don't quite understand this - portriature would not be "ficticious" ... would it?

    "Do we allow anything and everthing to be called art?"
    Dr. Bergen Evans once said "The purpose of art is not to support society, but to rescue us from it." Going aganst the grain, occasionally, is probably necessary, if for no other reason than to provoke thought, to bring us to examine - and constantly re-examine our priorities, ideals, and values. There is a place - and porbably a necessity, for the Devil's Advocate.

    Now... Ted Bundy? How the heck did he get in here? No... I don't support or condone or encourage or want to "make him happy" - not even a little bit.

    I tried to convey the idea that I was neutral in my position regarding "pornography" - whatever that is. I have not and will not assume the role of a morality-based policeman. There are PLENTY of others eager - at times far too eager - to do that.
    I do not consider my work to be pornographic. I hope it is emotional -- sensual and erotic - well ...OK, I guess ... One of the significant artists - I think it was Rodan - was once asked, "Do you thnk your work is erotic?" He replied, "I certainly hope it is .. if it isn't, I've failed miserably."

    I am aware of a number of studies of the effect of uh ... "Explicit" material - a few were conducted at UCLA. None that I know of concluded that ANY harm was done to anyone. I an open to additional input here - but please, something definite - I'm really not interested in mythological "everybody knows that..." rants.

    The most "pornographic" publication I ever read ws the "Report of President's Commision on Pornography" published sometime in the mid '70's. They descibed "every wrinkle in the sheets" ... to the point where I sarted to suspect the onset of obsession.

    At a gallery exhibition, someone once asked me, "Do you do pornograhy?" I answered, "Nah! The field is too crowded."