Mea culpa ... or whatever.
I have a tendency to revert back to the original (~ two millenia ago) definition of "aesthetics" ... or "esthetics" ... or however one chooses to spell it: "Not subject to reason, but only there by the process of perception" ... and I welcome correction here. Later philosophers have changed that to something like "The science of ART, and a REASONABLE framework for determining what is, and what is NOT "art" - something I find diametrically opposite.
I will submit that we need another word, one the expresses the same thought as the original: "It WORKS, and I don't know WHY ... and from what I've been able to gather, no one else knows WHY, either."
I have been a student of "composition", for a long time now ... since when the earth cooled... and as far as I can tell, it is an "after the fact" analysis. In trying to determine common characteristics of art that is considered to be "great", there are certain weak correlations: the idea that points of interest will fall at the intersections of a grid based on "thirds"; that the same may apply to the "golden section"; that there is a "balance" between heavy and light; that the foregrounds - generally - are lighter than backgrounds. Renoir 's famous `warm and cold limbed' "X" ... the list is far more extensive.
I doubt ... make that DOUBT that any of the great art works were created to satisfy the "commonalites" ... they were found to "fit" after - many times long after - the intial studies of "composition".
It certainly is POSSIBLE to create a work that will accurately FIT the "commonalities" ... RULES ... of composition, and the result will be completely lifeless. One only has to consider the illustrations in the composition books, of cubes, pyramids, cones, and spheres placed in the "proper places" to see the lifelessness.
If we eliminate all the artwork that dies not conform, we will have eliminated much of the really GREAT art that now exists.
Music? I do not profess any level of knowledge about music, other than I have heard that there are mathematical "commonalities" that seem to be present in many of the great works. I would GUESS there are truly great works that do NOT follow the "rules" as well.
What about it, gang? A word - polished, esoteric, suitable for "artspeak" ... that expresses, "It WORKS".
Mea culpa ... or whatever....
Ed, I think I understand the distinction you're trying to articulate, but looking for a word may be futile, because if I understand what you're trying to say, the crucial distinction may be between verbal and nonverbal communication, or between what we used to call "right-brain" vs "left-brain" mental operations. That hemispheric distinction was oversimplified in terms of how the brain works, but the distinction between the types of operations still holds: there are linear-sequential operations, of which language is the most important, and there are holistic, intuitive, nonverbal, operations where things are grasped suddenly as a whole without the mediation of language. I don't remember whether this is the thread where someone talked about the elegance of a mathematical solution; the thread is too long to go back and try to find it. At any rate, most higher-order mathematical thinking is of this second kind. Mathematical thinkers often speak of "seeing" the solution as a geometric symbol or some other visual image, and then taking weeks to write down the equations that the image requires.
Originally Posted by Ed Sukach
The response that you and I give to a particular work of art is of this second kind, I think, more visual-emotional-nonverbal than logical-sequential-verbal. And I agree with you that the response can't necessarily be determined by how well the work matches a set of conventions that have become so ingrained we're not even aware of them.
I also think that those ingrained rules can be a barrier rather than an aid to making great photographs. Several years ago on another forum, Michael Smith said something that really made me think about this. I wouldn't want to try to quote him, because I don't remember it exactly, but something to the effect that you have to go beyond your first idea of how to compose a scene, you have to keep looking at it until you see a new way to compose it.
I've always had a natural sense of composition, people say, but what he said helped me realize that my "natural" sense of composition follows the rules of that same conventional, cliched kind of composition, and that in order to make more interesting pictures, I need to go beyond conventional ways of thinking about composition.
But back to the original question: "What do you guys think about subtle photographs?" I prefer subtle photographs, as I wrote earlier in the thread, and though the thread has rather left the original question behind, I've just now got my scanner back from the shop and want to share a photo that I love, that is subtle indeed.
It's a copyright violation, because I don't have permission to copy it, and what's more I don't even remember the photographer's name, and it's not written on the print, so I can't even give proper due to the photographer. It would be nice if she happened to be here and saw it and spoke up. I do remember that it was a woman, and that her bio said she taught photography at Portland Community College. I bought this platinum print at a gallery in Portland several years ago; I liked it so much that I paid several hundred dollars for it, even though it's just 4x5." I never tire of looking at it.