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  1. #1
    Pastiche's Avatar
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    Of Conceptual Art, and Photography

    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. #2
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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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:P) 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.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  3. #3

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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. #4
    Pastiche's Avatar
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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. #5
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pastiche View Post
    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.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  6. #6

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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.
    "Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
    Robert Adams

  7. #7

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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.
    "Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
    Robert Adams

  8. #8
    MattKing's Avatar
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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. #9
    Pastiche's Avatar
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    Matt - thanks for the suggestion.. I'll put some thought into the nous of polaroids...
    I have access to a great resource - http://dizzy.library.arizona.edu/bra...ollection.html
    and will see what artist's names crop up when I start looking into one-of-a-kind images...

  10. #10

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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.
    David Boyce

    When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money. Oscar Wilde Blog fp4.blogspot.com

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