U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: Re: More than 2 worth - much more

Re: Re: More than 2 worth - much more

On Thu, 7 Sep 2006, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:

.... and even though tampering with photographs has been done since photography began, that does not make the concept any less important to teach to students.
It's easy to lose sight of the fact that "tampering" is a very elastic concept. Writing a few years ago about "Violating the Medium" (as the term went in the days of Weston, Kirstein, et al) after exhaustive study of the topic (that is, I was exhausted) I surmised that "tampering" was anything not done to make the photo more "realistic." To "improve" contrast, color, definition, grain, etc., using conventional post-camera "controls," was expected. The same or similar to be "poetic" or "creative" was "violating the medium."


I continually feel frustrated when slugging through art history writings
Rosalind Krauss, for one) which use the word "trope" and "slippage" and "elide" and "hegemony" and blah blah blah--or artist statements that I read over and over and don't understand what the hell the artist is trying to say.
Chris, here I think you elide two topics-- style & vocabulary.

There was a style of writing popular in the '80s and early '90s, influenced by, in fact imitating, semiotics, which was the rage (blame the French -- where was Rumsfeld when we needed him?)... Even the course descriptions in the ICP catalog were written in that jargon (quite delicious actually, I wish I'd kept them).

Donald Kuspit, Rosalind Krauss and Robert Pincus-Witten may have been the champions (I clocked one 264 word Kuspit sentence in an old Artforum, of which no more than 3 consecutive words made sense). But, as with most fads in art, it eventually wore out and lo and behold, every one of them could write a coherent sentence & often did. Kuspit, for instance, writes now just like a regular person (that he's usually wrong is beside the point).

But there's also specialized vocabulary that can be used badly (as can any vocabulary), but used well enhances expression and concision. What would you say for instance when you mean "trope" but "trope"? The closest my (old) dictionary comes is "figure of speech," but that's lame. For instance, when a T-shirt says, as Frank Rich recently wrote in the Times, a propos of "voters of faith," that "all they got for their support of Republicans in the previous election year was a lousy Bush Cheney T-shirt," he's using a familiar format (I have about 6 variations, beginning with "My mommy and daddy went to Florida but all I got was this lousy T-shirt") best described as "trope." (Tropes are RAMPANT on T-shirts, which feed off each other 24/7, and as I comment re a particularly obscene one, which I will not quote for fear of folks fainting at their monitors, finding a new one is like finding a new form of clay tablet in Mesopotamia.)

But your comments made me get out an old book -- "Artspeak" by Robert Atkins [Abbeville,1990] which bills itself as A Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements and Buzzwords. Flipping through now, I'm annoyed because there is no contents or index entry for "buzz words," despite claim of the cover, but was fascinated to find that about half of the "schools" and artists are vanished (& not a moment too soon, mostly). I didn't buy the book, it was sent to me, & MUCH more interesting now than then. But if "hegemony" is used badly doesn't mean it's a bad word. (NPR does the BBC at night, and -- do you know Brits pronounce it hedge-EH-mennee? Where do they GET these ideas?)

The artists' statements you complain about are probably just bad writing. (When I was editing an artists' publication, and tried to nudge something totally incoherent toward the light, the artist complained that I was cramping her style, and if I were an artist I'd "understand" what she meant. (The word for this is "narcissism.")

Anyway, you can't expect every word in any specialty to be familiar. Art words can be extremely useful in expressing abstractions or intangibles. And, frankly, I'd expect they'd be just your meat... In fact I'd expect you to compile and define them with good and bad examples. (And if not you, who?)

But that doesn't make the message or the artwork any less valuable, merely frustrating to the uninitiated.
So write the guide -- might count as "research." (Try "oneiric" heh heh!) As noted, once semiotic-speak was passe, many of them (even Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe) wrote English.