Thursday, November 30, 2006

Compelling Fiction

Arthur, in the comments to this post over on Art and Perception, wrote

This is so, I think, because great (or even merely good) art is not primarily concerned with presenting literal truth. (This is more the role of science and philosophy). Rather, the role of art is to present compelling fictions. By “fiction”, I don’t mean necessarily a conventional narrative. I mean that works of art create their own worlds, with their own rules.

Robert Adams expressed some thoughts that I think are related to this in his book Beauty in Photography. First thought - "The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope." And the second thought is "There is always a subjective aspect in landscape art, something in the picture that tells us as much about who is behind the camera as about what is in front of it."

It seems to me that quite a lot of landscape art (painting, sketching, photography) is not so much about presenting a compelling fictional world, separate from reality. It's about presenting a glimpse into how that reality is seen by the artist.

I'm not sure if that's agreeing with Arthur or not. But I think Arthur's got a fascinating insight, and I'd sure like to see more discussion along those lines.

(photograph above not particularly relevant to this discussion. I just think the blog looks nicer with images embedded in the stream of posts.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since we know that perception itself is subjective, a landscape painting is necessarily a product of the artist's vision - perhaps with Van Gough at one extreme in landscape painting. While photography can be more objective, it still has this dimension. We see this in the folks who go to Yosemite and seek out AA's tripod holes, yet, for better and worse, still produce their own pictures. The art always shows us the vision of the artist, we just think the work is objecitve if the artist's vision is close to our own.

AA talked about this explicitly as the process of previsualizing a print, which is intentionally taking a picture in a why that the final print will represent the artist's vision, rather than the default objectively of the film.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is great danger in lumping the arts together when making statements like Arthur's. While they do share some common traits, they really are quite different.

Although both are visual in nature, Sculpture is 3D and can be touched and felt, painting is 2D and it's rarely a good idea to touch and felt a painting. Big difference, not only in the object itself, but in the manner in which they can be experienced.

There is also a big difference - a defining difference - between photography and its most closely related art, painting. Although both are primarily 2D, photography is bound by its relationship to the "real/literal" in way that painting is not.

In photography's infancy, most painters realized this and abandoned the domain of the "real/literal" to the medium of photography. Oddly enough, early photographers also abandoned this formal characteristic of the medium in order to be considered more like painters, that is to say, "artists" rather than mechanistic operators of recording "machines".

In fact, except for photography that relies on heavy-handed (not necessarily bad) manipulation, all photography begins with much more than a passing sense of literal "truth".

Photo theorists and academics have spent a great amount of intellectual coinage trying to convince that this just isn't so. This seems to be driven, in large part, by their need for things to conform to a theory in order for it to be understood. Hence their near slavish devotion to concept-based photography that references their theory.

Because photography, even very "literal" photography, has the capacity to deal with "intuition and hope" - what some might label "compelling fictions", ideas that are subjective, they seem to come to the conclusion that photography cannot be objective.

Well, how about the "theory" that photography can be both without abandoning it connection to the real/lteral?

How about reveling in photography's formal and defining character to portray to the "real/literal"?

Hell, forget photography, how about deciding as a culture to start dealing with the "real/literal" instead of being enthralled by the "compelling fictions" that are very often foisted off as "truthiness"?

Photography, apart from the other arts, is uniquely capable of dealing with and presenting the real/literal in a way that compellingly change the way we see reality.

9:52 AM  

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