Of Conceptual Art, and Photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Pastiche, Oct 21, 2006.

  1. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    I'd like to run something by you...

    It's just one of my ruminations on my photographic practices, and how I have attempted to understand the behavior in terms of contemporary art.


    I'm faced with a project which, in theory, could result in my producing a "book" of sorts.. a "one of a kind" work....

    and here is my sticking point - I don't want to get caught up in creating "a piece" that is considered "the work". . .

    Thus far, I've produced several series of works, in which all the images together are "the work" but "the work" is NOT their collected renditions on this medium or another. Does that make sense? i.e. I see myself as creating IMAGES .. . . which are then rendered, photographically, onto a material carrier (meeting archival standards). I think what has not been evident to me, up till now, is that I'm truly only concerned with THE IMAGE, so long as the rendition on paper be pleasing (which, if you have skills, is not too difficult to achieve... and if you don't have the skills, or the time, you hire a printer. There - you're done).

    And so it is that I've come to see my reticence to "create a one of a kind, physical object which IS the artwork."

    I understand that "one of a kind" works are the bread and butter, meat and potatoes, gravy and salad AND desert to the art world.... and will necessarily remain so for so long as I will be around, for sure. However, I see my position with regard to making "art objects" as uniquely appropriate to photography, who's very nature CAN lead to almost limitless renditions of the same "art-work" . . and in a sense, this is a departure from the standard form in with which "art objects" are treated, valued, and sold in the art market.

    Interesting to note - most of the photographic art objects that have risen to great worth are images which are extant in limited numbers... the fewer the better.


    There is another vein in Art to consider - Conceptual Art - who's practice has flown in the face of the traditional "unique" art-object, standard ideas for how to appraise art-work value, and the very concept of the object as the receptacle/container of that which IS ART. That is to say - conceptual art has been grappling with these questions about "where is the Art contained", and in it's exploration of that question, they've eliminated the art object AS the art-work.

    And that's where I seem to be finding myself - I consider my works to BE the collection of tones and hues, contrast ratios and reflectance properties which are rendered in works on paper. I don't consider THE PAPER, the individual rendition, to be the ARTWORK. A print may be a wonderful exemplar, but never the Art.

    And thus, I'm balking at the idea of producing a "book" of sorts that would hold the images I'm relating to one another... 'cause I have not yet - nor do I now wish to - create an "art-object" . . .. . I see my role as a photographer, as a photographic artist, to be that of the image maker (and QC of prints, of course), but not that of image crafter.


    I'd like to hear your objections to this stance - particularly because your objections (in toto) will reflect the mainstream aesthetic of the "Modernist Canon" from which our world is still emerging (by and large) .. . ..


    In short - are prints the art work? or is it plausible to say - the IMAGE is the work of art, the print is A rendition.

    (I suspect there is room for BOTH approaches within the market..)
     
  2. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Ah, my dear Pastiche, your inner troubles spring at the most propitious of times for me while I'm reading in philosophy of art. To answer your question, you need an ontology of art.

    You're concerned with whether you want to produce a one of a kind artwork, because you believe that photography matters as a producer of multiple images. You do not want to equate aesthetic value with the restricted set of perceptual properties of an artwork, nor do you want to equate the work with its medium. In fact, I would propose (well, not me really, but more Gregory Currie whose work Ontology of Art, how fittingly, I'm glossing here) to you the idea that all artworks allow multiple instances, regardless of whether they are photos, paintings, texts, or music.

    Let us however add a caveat to this distinction: other values, such as monetary or historical value depend on artefactual properties (age, material, uniqueness, etc). It's a fact of life, but it may not need have a bearing on aesthetic value.

    Gregory Currie's proposal is that a work of art is not an artefact, a thing, a perceptual entity first, but rather a performance (his exact term is "action-type" but the technicalities are not that important here). What is the work of the Mona Lisa is not the painting you have. The painting you have is the result of Leonardo (person:tongue:) having worked through cogitations and reflections (a heuristics:H) to the realization/discovery (D) of a visual structure (S) at a given time (T). Thus, the work is not the structure, but the process of its accomplishment [P,H,S,D,T]. The work of art is the result of the work that was necessary to accomplish it. Get it? Work=Work.

    One might think that this proposal is merely an answer to recent conceptual approaches but it is not. One's accomplishement in the medium of painting in the 15th Century is not embedded only in the canvas at hand, it is also in the historical process behind it, the fact that it required invention and struggles, masterly resolved problems, i.e. the Making Of. Ever wondered why making-of extras on DVD are so popular? Because they allow us to appreciate more fully the work whose structure we just watched.

    (As an aside, I recently derided a conceptualist artist on APUG for keeping open his shutter during an entire movie. I would now revise partially that judgement, and am willing to debate it again in another thread).

    What does it mean for mutliple copies? A copy of an artwork is not a copy of the work, because we have defined the work as an action, a performance, a making-of. A copy of an artwork is just a copy of its perceptual structure, nothing more, nothing less. Thus, all arts allow multiple instances, some of which may happen to have other specific values, and the limits on reproduction technology are the limit at which a given copy will allow us easy insight into the work that is an artwork. Some arts like painting are notoriously hard to reproduce, while others like photography or literature are not as hard.

    If you have a good quality instance of an artwork, you can observe a lot more of the skill that went into its production than you would with a lower quality copy, for example: brushtrokes, brilliance of colors or tone, contrast, "tri-dimensionality" for photos, etc. But nevertheless, we always use external, art-historical knowledge to appreciate a work of art because the structure is not enough.

    I think that Currie's thesis has a lot to give for clarifying the distinction between artefacts and artworks. Traditionally, people considered that an artwork had to be first of all an artefact, a physical thing, but the mere example of literature shows that this is a dead-end. A novel does not exist as a physical object, nor does it exist only as a pattern of words. It is an action-type, a performance as I have exposed above, and while radical conceptual art just happens not to use an artefact, it nevertheless contains a heuristic, a making-of.

    Hope that will help you.
     
  3. Mark_S

    Mark_S Subscriber

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    I throw out the work of Andy Goldsworthy as something to think about - he creates a something - which he may be the only person to actually see, but he makes photographs of the ephemeral work which are his work. These photographs are reproduced in the thousands - more along thelines of the literary examples given by Michel.
     
  4. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    Yes, indeed there is meat on that bone Michel.
    Thank you for the thoughts.... I'll add what I can take from your writing to the stew in my noggin...
    [snip] ... a great deal of WHY I work artisticaly is just to that I might speak ABOUT the ways in which we engage media... and, I guess that by refusing to make "one of a kind" works, I am attempting to call attention to how the PUBLIC sees art-objects/media. . . .
    Because photography is the truest of the "objective" 2D-arts it makes for a perfect pulpit from which to analyse itself, and our relations with photography. . . i.e. it's the perfect self reflective medium.

    Interesting refference to Currie's book... sounds like an apropriate read for someone in my position. I'll have to Amazon it... thanks.



    Mark - thanks for the Goldsworthy ref. I'd seen his work in the past, but it's been a while... definetly more interesting ideas to be mined from his words and images. Thank you.
     
  5. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Most welcome, Pastiche, I hope you find the read useful. Regarding engagement with the media, you will find that Currie also talks about that, when he makes a distinction between structures that are embodied versus those that are not. A painting, a drawing, or a sculpture is an embodied structure because it depends on the interaction with a specific media to create itself. Literature does not (in general), because the shape of the O and the A does not participate in the artwork's meaning. This is debatable, but that is his point of view.

    You are right to engage into the issue of art perception, because one can argue that we misconstrue the question of one-of-a-kind vs. reproducible artworks. The basic project of aesthetics (and academia in general...) is to show that common assumptions are misguided. But remember that YOU are also part of the public, so don't make too quick a dialectic between the two.

    Finally, the objectivity of photography is another hugely debated issue, as you must know, and I think you will find that after André Bazin and Roger Scruton, philosophers do not consider photo as essentially objective. I can post some references if you're interested. My own take is that objectivity is a function of the surrounding practices rather than of the medium.

    If you have access to a good university library, try to get a hold of either the Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, or of the Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Those are the best references I know of on these matters.

     
  6. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    If you want to make a photograph a unique piece of art, after you make the ultimate print from the negative, punch a few holes in the neg and provide it with the print when you sell it. Destroy all other proof or work prints. Also provide a written gaurantee that the print you are selling is the only print in existence. Problem solved.

    The reason for multiple prints is to either get your work out in front of a larger crowd or make money. What is easier to sell, 100 prints for $1000 each or one print for $100,000? You might never get past selling ten prints but at least you are $10,000 ahead of the alternative.

    As far as what is the "art" of an image, the final print or the subject captured, there are two ways of looking at it. The subject, either a found thing or created for the camera is the brain child of the artist. Even with found objects the photogrpaher must consider composition, lighting, format, choice of materials, how to render color or tonality etc. No matter how unique or interesting the subject, it must still be skillfully rendered on film and then printed. Yes the photographer can turn the printing over to an expert printer, but I imagine there is a high level of colaboration between photographer and printer to acheive the final result. And yes, all the things that go into printing are as much a part of the final image as a painter choosing color and how he produces a brush stroke.

    But once the critics and collectors decide you are part of the avant garde, the subject matter or skill matters little as long as your work will continue to grow in value and the print can be flipped in the future for a profit. Now the print becomes the art in the eyes of the marketplace.

    Actually, the final creation of a sculpture, painting, photograph, etc is only a residue of the process we call art. We call completed works, "works of art".
    Perhaps to really see the art is to be in the studio, in the darkroom or under the darkcloth with the master as he works. The aftermath (artwork) is just the ephemeral results of the struggle to master the material.

    Not to get to much farther off subject, but one of the great joys of photography is that through workshops you can stand next to a "master" and see the art side of the process.
     
  7. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I don't think you can seperate being an image maker from being an image crafter. The very act of selecting a small piece of the world to fit on a piece of film be it 35mm or 8x10 inches puts you into the "crafter" category.
     
  8. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Polaroid materials

    I wonder if you might find it interesting to spend some time reviewing the work of photographers who work extensively with Polaroid materials.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the different mindset involved in using photographic materials that yield just one copy might result in work that could lead to insights about the questions you ask.

    I don't have any specific suggestions. I just know that I have always had a sense that the Polaroid work I've seen comes from a different "space".
     
  9. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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  10. livemoa

    livemoa Member

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    Pastiche, very thought provoking indeed. You have me pondering.

    To add to the Michel HV post I would suggest looking at Amie L. Thomasson,
    The Ontology of Art in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. PM me if you want a copy of the chapter.
     
  11. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    Jim - some item:item thoughts...


    Nope - this is exactly what I wish to avoid... making a "unique" THING .. . besides that which is the collection of hues, tones, values, reflectance/transmittance per se. i.e. the image, not the medium, is what I see as unique and irreproducible. The prints - they are carriers for the information gathered in the "capture". (more to follow on prints)



    Well.. I can see how this statement arises.. but I think the more fundamental aspect of multiple prints is that it is in the nature of the medium to allow for multiple copies of the original negative to be made.. i.e. that plurality of prints, and the subsequent way in which they have been handled by the market, is dictated by the medium, not vice versa. Consider that some photogrpahic processes don't yield multiples... yet find their way into and through the market just fine :smile:


    I'm sorry, I missed the "TWO" in two ways of looking at it... I'm only seeing a description of two aspects of creating images...

    I do, in fact, mostly agree here.. However, I'd say that it is the goal of much art to inspire in it's viewer a moment of artistic understanding... a "sympathetic" responce/recognition/understanding . .. so true, the art object IS a residue of something formative and artistic.. but it's also often intended to create a spark in the observer....

    Actually, this dives straight at the heart of the conceptualist's concerns... because part of what is being gotten at is that the formative artistic moment still exists, as well as the sympathetic reaction/understanding in the viewer.. but there is no object... there is no "medium" .. . only thoughts... which, if you think about it, makes for a very elegant argument for the notion that ART is NOT in this or that combination of materials... it's something that leaps from one mind to another.. it's a kind of perception... attention... consideration.. aprehencion... appraisal . .. experience.. mood... feeling.

    Which is where I get off again - not making physical objects d'art. The message is NOT in the medium.. it's in the image.

    (unless one looks at the medium's manipulations AS part of the message.. and so, by negating the "original object d'art", a nuance is being added to the work.. catch 22- and now the medium {here: a lack-there-of}, becomes part of the message.)

    Absolutely 100% in agreement there bud...
    Obviously though, each person chooses how to best distribute their time between crafting and creating... it's almost like pie.. there is the eating, and the making of the pie... and they are irrevocably tied together... but we don't need not be able to bake the best pie in order to enjoy eating one.
     
  12. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    LIVEMOA

    Cool!

    Thanks for the refferences.

    I'm at the University of Arizona campus right NOW.. and will swing into the Lib to see what I can score.

    Mucho garcias... ;.)
     
  13. zenrhino

    zenrhino Member

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    If you happen to have a bibliography for art philosophy (and in particular, the epistemology of photograhy and double bonus points for any comparison/contrast between film, latent images, and prints in a Kantian epistemological framework) please PM me with any recommended reading!

    Thanks!

    -Clint
     
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  15. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Clint, if you have access to a good library, go first check out the Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, and the Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. In the Encyclopedia you will find a good article on Kant with pertinent references. I can check it out next time I'm at the library if you need.

    The Kantian framework is a bit superceded nowadays, because of the gradual inclusion of intention/practices/history of production/etc in the nature of the artwork. The Kantian framework limits the scope of appreciation to the artefact and the human mind. That is not to say that Kant is outdated, in fact he's pretty hip in the cognitive sciences. But the recent developments in aesthetics usually include a pragmatics, contextual approach.

    Regarding photography, there is a good list in the Oxford Handbook, so for the benefit of all here I will mention some important titles:

    * In the classics category:

    Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida (La chambre claire)
    Baudelaire, Charles. "Photography" in Beaumont Newhall (ed.) Photography: Essays and Images.
    Bazin, André. "The Ontology of the Photographic Image" in What is Cinema?
    Sontag, Susa. On Photography
    Schaeffer, Jean-Marie. L'image précaire (sorry, I don't know if there's an english translation).
    Scruton, Roger. "Photography and Representation" in The Aesthetic Understanding
    Walton, Kendall. "Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism." Critical Enquiry 11 (1984). 246-277.

    Stanley Cavell also is foundational, but he worked mostly on film, so only part of what he says is applicable to still photography.

    Of course there is also the indispensable Photographers on Photography, edited by Nathan Lyons, which contains all the important artists arguing about their art.

    * In the more current category, all of which have an axe to grind with the above authors:

    Currie, Gregory. "Photography, Painting and Perception" Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1991): 23-29.
    Friday, J. "Transparency and the Photographic Image." British Journal of Aesthetics 36 (1996): 30-42.
    Savedoff, B. Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture.
    Warburton, Nigel. "Seeing Through 'Seeing through Photographs.'" Ratio 1 (1988): 173-181.
    ---, "Varieties of Photographic Representation" History of Photography 15 (1991): 203-10.
    ---, "Authentic Photographs". British Journal of Aesthetics 37 (1997): 129-137.

    * Other works of more general concerns but which are useful for reflexion

    Art in Theory: 1900-1990. Edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood.
    Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception
    Carroll, Noël E. Theories of Art Today.
    Currie, Gregory. Ontology of Art.
    Lopes, Dominic M. McIver. Understanding Pictures.
    Gombrich, E.H. Art and Illusion
    Walton, Kendall. Mimesis as Make-Believe
    Wollheim, Richard. Art and its Objects
     
  16. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    In consideration of the question is the print the art work or is the image (subject) the artwork, Andy Warhol comes to mind.

    In the current issue of Art News Christies has an advertisement for a Warhol print (Orange Marilyn) with an auction price projected n the millions of dollars.

    This is a silkscreen of a photograph taken by someone else of Marilyn Monroe.
    What is the artwork in this case? Monroe? The orginal photograph Warhol copied or the actual Warhol print?

    This may be a unique peice from Warhol which is the opposite of what you are discussing, but he cranked out a lot of similar work.

    Another person that comes to mind is Christo. Once he dismantles one of his wrappings/installations the only thing left are the photographs. The photographs are not the orginal art, but I imagine that certain "signature" images of his projects are seen as works of art in themselves.
     
  17. livemoa

    livemoa Member

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    and into the mix you might add Jean Baudrillard's Simulations from 1983 who was, it appears, influenced by Kant.
     
  18. Black Dog

    Black Dog Member

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    See also: Approaching Photography (Paul Hill)
    Dialogues With Photography (Paul Hill & Thomas Cooper)
    Towards A Psychology of Art (Rudolf Arnheim)
    Beauty In Photpgraphy (Robert Adams)
     
  19. zenrhino

    zenrhino Member

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    Another totally rockin' geek-out thread. I dig APUG more and more every day.

    Re Kant, what got me pondering it was the whole data/framework thing and how it applies perfectly to contemporary data storage and thus d*gital shooting. If you have data on the card/drive but no FAT or way to read it (say, if your RAW files are no longer readable because noone makes a RAW reader for your system in 50 years), no photos. Likewise, if there is that framework but no data, no photos.

    I spent some time discussing this with the guy who is the VP of future storage tech for IBM. He wrote a book we used in my grad epistemology class, but I cant remember the title off my head -- but long and short, he says that long term storage (of which my interest is mainly) isnt an issue of technology, but one of epistemology -- will we be able to get the information from data to experience in X years?

    Phew. Enough of that for a bit.

    I have access to the MCAD, MIA and U of MN libraries, so I will definitely dig in to your reading list.
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    This will be a LOT shorter than necessary - I'm again struggling with a freezing PC...

    I agree - "Art" is NOT the "Artwork". Art in its pure form is in the concept and vision of the Artist.

    There lies the usual burden of "portability" - conveying something so nebulous and devoid of concrete form to the consciousness of someone else. The only ways available WILL degrade the "pure" image to SOME extent - but there is nothing else to do but choose a medium that we THINK will cause the least corruption.

    Combine our flawed means of tramsmission with the flawed means of reception in our audience, and it is a true miracle that it "works" so frequently.
     
  21. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    That, and also all the hours of work and cogitation he/she (it?) puts into getting some results.

    There's no such thing as art that is not realised at least partially. Lots of people have had grand visions that they failed to accomplish: Spenser never finished the Faerie Queene (thank God!), and I didn't have the energy to take the camera out after work today. On the other hand, Joyce did finish Finnegans Wake.

    Pure art does not exist. What differentiates an ordinary artist from an accomplished one is that the latter delivered the goods, while the other is still dreaming from the pipe.
     
  22. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I disagree, but trying to resolve that issue is equal to PROVING that "soul" or "self" DOES exist. It will take someone with FAR more intelligence than I have to do that.

    I can "cite" one example of "conceptual" art, from a display in MOCA - The Museum of Contemporary Art, In Adams, Massachusets: An exhibit entitled "To The Sea" (Not at all sure of the title - if memory serves - and it doesn't much lately, this is it). The descriptive brochure explains the inscriptions on the wall, which read, "To the Sea", "By the Sea", Under the Sea", "On the Sea"... The physical work is NOT the work of the artist. He adamantly adheres to the premise that if he were to make his "art" (vision, concept - whatever) into a physical reality it would be unacceptably degraded and corrupted, so to keep it "pure" (no, I won't argue this) he will only describe the work: The words; font, type and size; color; letter spacing ... etc., and the result - interpretation - of these directions - was painted on the wall by someone else.

    His "concept" remained unsullied. The museum thought enough of his "art" to buy it (with real, "concrete") money.

    It does make one think ... not about the judgement of the "buyers", as much as the "artworks" of all the great artists - just how accurate and true they were to the "music being played in their heads ..."

    ... And here I am - busting my buns in the darkroom, trying to make really *good* prints ... which, sadly, will never be as fine as the "concepts" I have.
     
  23. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    I can't say about the soul, but about the self, there is a good deal of research in cognitive science about it.

    My previous reply probably was not clear enough, but I meant to say that it's not the artefact that is the artwork. I said earlier in the discussion that some conceptual art dispenses altogether with the idea of the artifcat, and I think you have given a fair exemple of it. What I mean is that the artwork is identified by combination of its structure and of the work that went into achieving it.

    Think of woodworking: when we mean "fine woodworking" we don't just mean that the product we hold in our hand is looking good, useful, etc. We also mean that the process whereby it was created is fine. The woodworker worked with craft, with intelligence. She solved problems that involved her material, her intentions, accidents, bursts of inspirations, practical needs, etc. All in all, she did a good job: the sixty hours of work that went into the fabrication of this table have been spent intelligently.

    That's why I don't agree that everything is in the vision, because art is as much a process (a work, a job) as every other human activity. The artefact gives us insights on this process; the learned critic will discern probably more than the layman, but even with just a little of context we can get a sense of what went through the making of a fine table.

    And while artists DO have visions they set out to realize, I don't agree that their realization is inherently flawed compared to their original mental form. If so, it would mean that all artists have a fully formed and perfect conception of what they want to achieve before they do so, and that would negate a whole set of artworks that arise out of experimentation, cogitation, trial and error, or mere luck. Is Capa's falling Spanish soldier the result of a grand design? Think of Michaelangelo talking of "liberating" forms from the marble blocks he used rather than imposing his ideas on it. Art is also a discovery, not just imposition of form over substance.
     
  24. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Neither do I agree that "everything is the vision." The "vision" is an important part of the work, however ... I can't imagine another scenario. When the vision comes into play is another question. I don't believe that it MUST precede the "art" ... it may occur from some sort of synapse after the initial image (broad sense), in which case, it is capture instead of creation.

    Again, the idea of "conceptual" art is exactly that ... a "concept" in itself. It is one way of looking at the modus operandi other artists may choose ... in an effort to receive and react "along the same lines (the best that can be expected).

    An observation: neither the "artist" or the "craftsman" (not to say there is a clear distinction between them) are, in my opinion, EVER "satisfied" with their work ... possibly a true craftsman less so than the artist. There is a gut-wrenching decision, always, of when to stop and abandon the quest for perfection - and abandon it at some point, we must. It is said that Ansel Adams continued to work on "Moonlight Over Hernandez" until he died ... a space of many years. Many great oil paintings contain an awful lot of paint ... put there by significanlty great artists who simply kept trying to improve the work.

    Now is the "craftsmanship" inherently "flawed" to some degree? I think it is ... and the desire to keep at it - a manifestation of that sense of inadequacy.

    In the last analysis ... We are all "flawed", certainly our dexterity - far less certainly, our vision. I have never made anyhthing I have considered to be "perfect", and when - and IF I do, I'll expect a great surge of temple building, every one dedicated to ME.

    In the meantime, I'll continue - even without reasonable justification. Nothing else makes any sense to me.
     
  25. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Don't worry Brad, it's like you entered that V for Vendetta's guy lair...
     
  26. Black Dog

    Black Dog Member

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    A netherworld where neither the illusion nor its armature prevail:confused: :confused: