Tuesday, February 16, 2010

But Is It Art?

The discussion about Art and Photography has raged for far too long.
The uneasiness surrounding all art works which got fully into its stride in the 20th Century continues to puzzle and alarm.
A discussion on French radio in the early 1970's seemed to state the problem clearly enough
for my uncomplicated mind. There is a piece, consisting of an egg placed on a stool on display,
one of the contributors explained. It is presented as a work of art.
But if one were to be present at the moment when the person making this piece
placed the egg on the stool, would one call him (or her) an artist?

I cannot answer this question.
It makes me laugh, though nervously.
Emphasis on the consciousness of the artist is now old hat.
I used think that if the egg is placed in the allocated spot chosen by
the active agent, the artist, the ensemble is art.
Now I'm not at all sure.
Lurking, always, now is the question as to what unconscious impetus may be
at work when such a piece is created.
Grappling with unforgiving materials, as sculptors do,
always seems to be a more valid artistic activity,
but to think this is probably old fashioned.
I sound like Théophile Gautier, who saw that art must, to be true,
emerge from a struggle with the material world.

The art market has made terrifying demands on artistic merit,
purely by valuing some works at prices that are almost bizarrely
beyond reason. Gursky holds the record for the most expensive
photo ever sold, as the link in the title bar explains.

Whether or not I would be happy to part with millions for such an iconic artefact
raises so many questions about the art world and its inner workings that I feel,
quite understandably, giddy.

Photography, the democratic and mechanical capturing of images in light,exists somewhere in a realm
of disquiet. The macine captures the image, a split second activity that could be executed by remote control
and, nowadays, often is. The question of perception is what makes the photo live.
No machine exists that can interpret a photo truly. The communication between the work made by the
photographer and the viewer, a collusion of perception, is what makes the artwork.
The machine records, the artist arranges, the viewer perceives.

Probably enough for today.

(This, BTW, is not a work of art...
It is a piece of documentary, capturing what the rock face of The Grampians looks like during the day.
Here I am, happily, on much firmer ground...)

Mt Stapylton, The Grampians, Rock Profile