Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment

Started Jan 28, 2013 | Discussions thread
Vlad S
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Re: Rules vs. insights
In reply to amalric, Jan 29, 2013

amalric wrote:

The trouble with the absence of rules, is that you cannot teach with it.

This statement implies that rules is the only possible framework for teaching and appreciating art. I disagree with that. There does not have to be a set of pronouncements of what is good and what is bad. For example, a common technique for teaching and studying art is comparative analysis. It does not need a rule to validate a work of art, but only a point of reference - any kind of point, be it response of the viewer, or a different work of art, or a real life situation.

Cultural relativism might well be the rule in some countries, but photography CAN be criticised, as well as Literature. They are both part of the realm of Semiology, i.e. the science of Signs.

Cultural relativism is not what I had in mind (more about what I meant below), but since you brought it up, I do think it's important. One does not exclude another. Cultural relativism is not a rule, it's a fact of life. Whether we approve of it or not, our perception is biased by our circumstances. It becomes less pronounced as more people share the information space via the modern mass media, but even then the same events are evaluated differently. Semiotics does not suggest that all symbols are common to everyone.

Therefore Barthes took an inteterest. Interpretation is not whatever goes, interpretation has limits. Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder. You can judge, condemn or save an image according to a certain set of rules, be they formal, psychological, biographical, historical etc. In Literature I was taught at least a dozen criteria.

All these criteria are post-factum analysis. There has not been a system of rules that would produce masterpieces on demand. It may not be even possible in principle, because if we look for outstanding qualities in a work of art, then anything that can be churned out by simply following rules cannot be outstanding by definition.

One can learn to create pleasing images, and one can probably to say with a high degree of certainty that certain images will be unpleasant, but IMO this "paint by the numbers" art has all the inspiration and meaningfulness of the corporate portraiture. Of course there's a market for that too, but is it something that touches you?

Now are some of you implying that photography cannot be taught, or that it is a loss of time? That a camera can do all?

I think it's very difficult to say what can be taught and what can't. As it is with many skills, the ability to see things can be developed, as well as the presentation skills. But consider Thomas Kinkade. He came upon a formula that resonated with so many people, and made him a commercial success. His studio planned to keep producing "Thomas Kinkade studio originals" even after his death, so his method was taught. But at the same time his style became the showcase of bad taste and kitsch, and mass production. Did Reichmann write about such mass produced stamp work, or was he trying to just give a direction for a personal search?

That a camera can do all? Even if you go hunting or fishing you'll take pride in your technique, and leave pride in the equipment to noobs. And what if you are a surgeon, will you take pride in the last brand of your scalpels?

I think I saw only one person in these forums who expected the camera to produce images without any work from the operator: Photoperzon. I think that in general the expectation is that knowledge is important, but if the camera is not a capable tool then your abilities can run into its limitations. I would mostly agree with this sentiment.

Vlad

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