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  • Explaining AI and Creativity? Down the Slippery Slope with Noam Chomsky

    As relayed to me by a colleague, there was a guest essay in the Opinion section of the New York Times , March 8, 2023, by Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull. (As noted by the Times "Dr. Chomsky and Dr. Roberts are professors of linguistics. Dr. Watumull is a director of artificial intelligence at a science and technology company.") Noam Chomsky: The False Promise of ChatGPT (The link is to a "gift" copy of the article which should be accessible to those who do not subscribe to the NYT.) Many of its readers wrote back to the Times. I think I'll add to the general feedback that the title "False Promise" bordered on clickbait, given that AI builders generally do not promise what the irrationally exuberant populace can't seem to wait for. AI marketers do. The exuberance leads to hype-fueled disappointment, which leads to hostility towards AI. So, it's an ironic title, yes, but ironic because it is a lightweight but pervasive example of disinformation propagated by the media and ersatz intellectuals without AI being the culprit. I'm going to agree with some other observers, too, by saying that Chomsky's idea of the biggest concern is nowhere near the biggest concern. The biggest concern is that unscrupulous people with power and money will use AI to either indifferently or intentionally harm those who stand in their way, frequently by manipulating people who are not-so-intelligent. Other than that, it's weird that he spends so much time on such a good explanation of what learning machines are built to do, but leaves such a complete void of explanation of how the "human operating system" is built to do what he says it does. The effect is of making the claims of absolute difference between them a bit hollow. He doesn't establish that AI *can't* do what human intelligence can do, because he doesn't show us the mechanism behind the human intelligence. No apples to apples comparison is actually made. We expect more from Chomsky. Even so, my favorite line in his whole piece is this: "Intelligence consists not only of creative conjectures but also of creative criticism." I love that. But then, he says humans are "limited IN THE KINDS OF explanations we can rationally conjecture". Superficially, if not obviously, that makes it unclear as to whether he is saying that creative conjecture IS or IS NOT limited by "reason". His end statement is really the reason for the piece: "we can only laugh or cry at the popularity of AI systems". In other words, the popularity is the thing that is actually pretty faulty. I think he should have written, then, about why people want AI to do what it isn't built to do and then get freaked when it doesn't do what they want. The point here is that ChatGPT does not promise false things. People try to make it do things it isn't built to do. My view is that I don't attribute any of the following to automation (a machine thought of as an actor): inspired, instinctive, imaginative. And I think most people believe that those three things are essential ingredients of what they would call "creative". AND that when they say "artificial" intelligence they believe that those three things are omitted, which is the same as saying that they don't think artificial intelligence is "creative" regardless of how "generative" it is. In my words, "the spontaneous adoption of an experience as being meaningful" is a pretty consistent way to start identifying both inspiration and instinct. Imagination, differently, is when we take a "WHAT if" and treat it "AS if" it was already real. Imaginary experiences can have the same impact as actual experiences, which means that they may provoke a spontaneous adoption of the experience as being meaningful. That adoption probably depends on what we want, what we fear, i.e., what we have feelings about. Machines don't have feelings, so this particular feedback loop -- of the imaginary inspiring instincts that fuel the further creation of the imaginary -- doesn't happen for machines. Chomsky claims that "explanation" is the true sign of human intelligence but I think he's wrong. Improvisation is the true sign of human intelligence.

  • X-Rated at UMA Gallery

    Wired up with Diane Komater Feb-Mar 2023 By Malcolm Ryder Are we over-exposed? Not in the highly sex-positive Bay Area of California, where erotica is not even taboo anymore. But the notion of erotica can still have a special influence, either if it presumes to identify something even more exclusive than before, or because some audiences still haven’t really bought into x-rated material being “business as usual”. Either way, the more erotica that is easily available, the more variety it has, and the more likely that each person brings their own luggage to each encounter and unpacks it right on the spot. Erotica’s high availability is a certainty. The internet has completed what pulp fiction and cable TV did earlier to blow the covers off its market and suppliers. That seller's market includes lots of ways of legitimizing erotica's consumption, and in turn, that brings attention to whether producing it gets tailored specifically to the rationale permitting its use. Spiritual leaders, professors, and new age healers all supply. And of course let’s not forget Art. The dictionary definition of erotica invariably tells us to go find it in works of "literature or art"... Pre-Columbian craftsmen oblige, as does today’s Kara Walker. So if erotica isn’t really taboo anymore, being neither prohibited nor restricted, then where’s the excitement in it? And how does X-rated art generate excitement? Getting it to work The key, I think, is still in separation -- in whatever is done to create distance between the desiring (you) and the desired. In language, distance is the difference between what is said and what is referred to. The thing you read or hear – the utterance-- stands for something else – an idea -- and you think you know what that other thing is. In pictures, standing for something else is again the trick. The item in hand is an index (pointer), an icon (likeness), or a symbol (code) for the other thing. In visual art's form, that distance is going to be created through the difference that is evident between the fogging or sweating allure of immediately present “real” flesh -- and the artwork’s tangible material; visual appearance, or message. Oxford Art online describes Kara Walker's work in a way that addresses this distance: "“Walker initially seduces viewers with a polite, delicate, and feminine veneer; she compared the technique of silhouettes to the nature of stereotypes themselves, in which the complexities of an individual or situation are reduced and simplified into easily identifiable forms. As all figures are depicted in black or in shadows, racial identity can only be approximated by their profile or actions. As a result, viewers create their own narrative, thus implicating themselves in the creation and perpetuation of these stereotypes.” The Artnet article, Keith Haring’s Art Has a Secret Language, identifies the way he plays with likeness and code: "In Haring’s work, his fundamental message was one of devout humanism and love. Take his recurring embrace, which is often between two genderless and race-less figures, who are glowing as they hold each other." I compare Walker and Haring here to show that works by both are iconic, but are nonetheless interpreted as experiences beyond what they are similar to. Pursuing the viewer's interest, Walker's icons also give us indices, while Haring's icons also give us symbols. The abstraction that creates icons separates their appearance from their literal references but it still involves the viewer. Taboo for You? Iconography brings up the subject, but meaning relies on more. As eroticism, the work is going to have the intent to invoke desire. What seems unavoidable, with eroticism, is that as audiences we want desire and bring that with us to the works. When we arrive, the works remind us of that, but there is still separation, distancing. The erotic artist knows this, but the table stakes to play have been raised. In our now very leaky world of things slipping across the line of permitted or not permitted, maintaining the "naughty" requires more than a line; it requires a container. The container can be physical or psychological, and in fact a physical container can represent a psychological one. There is “space” within the container, and that space can of course be literal but is an analog of the room for imagination, aspiration, or other emotional uppers. And what goes in it? Explicit imagery, after all, is of course known for not leaving much to the imagination. But one of the juiciest ways to enjoy a taboo is to watch someone making the taboo thing. The making is itself seductive. Seduction still features heavily on the forbidden side of the line between tabooed and not tabooed. That leads us to an up-to-date formula – to recover taboo's thrill we need the seduction to be in a container. But what will the container be? A theater? A tableau? A sculpture? An outline? Space is the Place We're pretty familiar already with "containers" that enhance experience, even if the reason why that works has receded almost entirely into our subconscious. The influence of the container is so strong that even in commercial arenas we find that we're given the choice to have them or not. Whatever is in the container is interacting with it, and that interaction may or may not be wanted as part of our desired experience. The Saks 5th Avenue Ballerina is made more precious by the protection it has in the bell jar. The clustered figures of the Kama Sutra 10 DXF File sexual positions from CNC Industrial's Laser Cut Plasma let us decide, with framing, whether we appreciate the positions more as daring or as willing... One perspective that I have on the images made by Diane Komater is technical -- it involves the idea that a sculpture generates the sense of space around itself that is imaginatively activated, so its “container” is virtual, not necessarily seen. We think of it as a “sphere of influence” making us sensitive to how the work makes us feel about being in the space. But with her example below, outlined multiple forms are all about the space between them, and the intensity of that little space. Meanwhile, the outlining,– namely drawing – pulls us as viewers into following along the process of rendering the forms, just as we follow along a musical melody to get to a full grasp of its shape. We’re seduced; we experience the making of the thing that is taboo and yet within reach. Komater's handling of wire is her way of sculpting by drawing. In Komater's pieces, following her drawing already animates the sculptural form. But in some pieces, the container is drawn as well, as a stage, curtains fully open, the iconic gestures in the stage space exposed to us and animating it. We aren’t in it, except that even outside of it we share the space imaginatively, and we feel the process of creating it too. Her piece represents an event, and that representation has only one purpose, to have us at least imagine being part of what’s going on. So we get to say, with a lot of conviction, that the presentation is essentially "recreational" – but included in it as meaning is experiencing joy. It's an imaginary experience – the icons outlining forms of coupling, and those forms flashing what we dare to hope for. The Chapel of Love Komater's show, X-Rated, starts out with the advantage of being in UMA Gallery, a building whose biggest offering is a chapel. It advertises its offerings as “odd art in an old mortuary.” As the host for the work, UMA flaunts the unexpected; and adds important distancing to our encounter with the work. But UMA's calling card is its attitude – a grand sort of permissiveness, at least in the interest of just seeing what will happen. In a conversation I had with Komater, the thing that stood out most to me is the breadth of her view on how we relate to sexuality. Both her critique of that and her indulgence in it makes her work generous and multi-purpose – but like looking in mirrors, holding pictures of ourselves. She finds humor in our condition, but in being explicit keeps us from hiding, or hiding from, whatever is really in our minds. Comically, she also established that in some works of erotica, size does matter. As you can see in the above pictures with no measurements given, the scalability of her technique is very large. That makes her decisions about size – including smaller sizes – strategic, a strong determinant of whether we get the feeling of being "invited in" by the work. The best way to see if she is right is to go to UMA Gallery and get in front of the pieces yourself.

  • Art of the African Diaspora: Gray Loft Gallery

    February 2023, Oakland Curator: Jan Watten Diaspora is a vivid word. We sense it in two ways. Saying it feels like saying “disperse.” At the same time, our ordinary response to hearing it is in the mind’s eye; we see it – the scattering of one thing into many. Then, there’s the matter of where things scattered to, and what we see when we find them. We’ll find meanings in that, but we also imaginatively make meaning of it. It’s like looking at constellations, taking a snapshot of the diaspora of stars, stars that like all stars presumably came from the same place, but not at the same time. We see them together in the same single moment and try to connect the dots. America’s Black History Month itself creates a constellation of the African Diaspora, but to put it that way queries mostly the “American” part. While many different places subjected people of African descent to the same kinds of degradation, the descendants nonetheless crafted lives in their journeys apart that were as diverse, as different from each other, as the many different places that they reached – here being among those places. In Oakland’s award-winning Gray Loft Gallery, we get a view of that difference through one of several “satellite” exhibits of works in the Richmond Art Center’s annual Art of the African Diaspora event, which opened February 11th for a month long run showcasing eight Bay Area resident artists of African descent. Given the diaspora theme, we go to the show expecting it to connect the dots, the works, with some view-in-common of the diaspora itself. But also, we might arrive with a range of questions about how it will do that. Will that theme explicitly feature in most works as subject matter? Or does this collection of art by African Americans have a special sensibility, traceable to the experience of a shared ancestral homeland? Or instead, will the works mostly express something about African American artists in their home today, the Bay Area? --0-- The show at the gallery starts before you even get in the door. A work* by Raymond Haywood stops me in the hallway, almost arrogantly unrestrained in how it transforms a canvas into visual space that triggers an imagined environment. All of the painting’s color has a physicality revealed as if by abrasions or splatters. The shapes of the colors are captive to the energy that marked the canvas. It makes me hyperaware that the image and its illusory effect was hand-built from material, not illustrated. [* excerpt of a Haywood piece ] That work signals to me what I should most intently focus on across the show’s works: personalized technique. And, hearing several artists talk at the opening, I realize further that for them technique in these works is not just a fait accompli on display but a running current, with each artist still finding out and sharing where it can go, what works, and why. The group of works shows us that ongoing activity in three ways. In some of the works, moving from one piece to another by the same artist, I feel the pieces commenting on each other as if they are in the process of deciding what to agree on. In doing that, a group of works is in effect more forceful than its individual pieces. Some of the artists, seeking very different imaging, have recently taken on some technique new to them, amounting to a big change of style from earlier accomplished work. With these works, while a single piece is already a “finished” work, it feels like it is previewing possibilities, other future work, as much as it commands attention to itself now. And in some cases, various types of imaging– drawing, colors, lettering, cutouts, more – are mixed together in an individual work; the work’s visual composition is the container for a complex narrative, blending a set of multiple experiences but in a non-linear way.* Those three differing aspects are not mutually exclusive. And whether separately or together, they originate much of the variety experienced in the show. [* excerpt of a Tomye: Living Artist piece ] Also in that variety: autobiography, explorations of identity, and personal experiences are found in many of the works whether conveyed in abstraction, figuration, or collage. Meanwhile, in other works, despite dissimilarity to each other on the surface, there is commonality in a kind of expressionism that seems to combine memory with an offer of more philosophical idealism. The work does not merely intend to show us these things but to engage us. In that engagement, we bring our own sensibilities – our feelings and ideas – to the encounter with each piece. So, the influence runs both ways. It’s a dialogue. Sometimes, a given work’s way of handling ideas, feelings, or memories gets us to look, in its way, at what we had brought in our own minds to that artwork. In fact, several times I overheard one artist talking to another about how the other’s quite different work was making the first artist think about “trying out what you did.” But as viewers we also affect what a given work might appear to do. Here I’m thinking about my response to Jimi Evins, whose work at Gray Loft exudes what I keep thinking of as a “profound faith in paint”. His work relative to the other artists’ is immediately bolder graphically while also moodier, and the paint is aggressively gestural. It takes up the space of the canvas in a way that is architectural but also seems done fast, mainly because much gets done economically without a lot of things being manipulated. [Excerpt of an Evins piece at left.] In one Evins piece, the technique resonated with the musician in me – my memory, as a band member, of a certain big horn player’s confidence improvising in solo while knowing in advance there was limited room in which to work. Evins’s abstract graphical treatment here pushes paint into the space of the canvas like big sounds pushed into the building of a solo in real-time. Other viewers may not experience the work that way, but as we say, to each his own. Evins, by the way, has plenty of dramatically different and detail-laden figurative work, in a series called “The Village” on display elsewhere within the group of satellite galleries under the Richmond project. The display of his abstractions at Gray Loft is testimony to more than “versatility”; rather, it is to artistic diversity. --0-- So here’s a good point at which to make this observation: the artistic diversity of the show reflects a truly important political dimension of the diaspora: freedom, found and demonstrated by African descendants’ individual discoveries, expressions, and achievements; and certainly there is an argument that an “American” ideal aspires to manifest in that way. In a more conceptual vein, I’ll also bring up my well-used idea that most art is celebratory, analytical, or philosophical but can certainly blend those aspects in differing proportions. That is, we can see celebratory art amplifying, even advocating, certain cherished values or preferred qualities; see analytic art questioning the origins of given beliefs, or their validity; and see philosophical artwork proposing a worldview, whether imaginary or real, colloquial or lofty. None of these aspects are denied to the African-descendant artist of the diaspora. Nonetheless, in their respective individual freedom of expression, the eight artists address subject matter that to this viewer does appear as shared territories. For example: emotional landscaping by Raymond Haywood, Stephen Bruce, and Jimi Evins, featuring intensive use of color iconographic portraitures and identities presented by Yolanda Holley, Cynthia Brannvall and Tomye: Living Artist, combining multiple perspectives into wholes greater than the sum of their parts retro abstract modernism by Kelvin Curry and Arthur Norcome, highlighting how design aesthetics can influence feelings, and possibly renovate nostalgic art icons into contemporary expressive language. Seeing similarity helps to push us back to this review’s opening question. In a show focusing on the diaspora as the common reference, is the mission of the artwork to put some singular common legacy or consequence in high relief? Across the eight respective artists at Gray Loft, no two sets of works look alike. As travelers in time’s cultural and personal histories, the artists have individually decided what to make of the places they have adopted, as of now. In general, this show openly invites us to dwell on why they decided to show what they care about, the way that they show it. The viewer senses that invitation as the artists’ intent. The work that seems most explicitly concerned with that is Cynthia Brannvall’s dialectics of multiculturalism. It features her compositional use of contrasting materials, of “material as (information-carrying) media”. Here, some of it invokes meanings as do souvenirs, evidence, talismans, and similar signifiers of history living in the present, juxtaposed with other factually objective elements. With that, her pictorial composition first attracts us and then results in our real engagement. The work argues that one’s journey from geographic origin to now is about a difficult and uncertain opportunity for self-recognition, and Brannvall wants us to join in the challenge. Each artist, in a distinct way, invites us to join in. My take: little more than that is required of the show’s reach into the diaspora. It results in great richness, not just variety, in the work by the artists. Metaphorically at least, any ground that is shared among all of these artists is one that “let a hundred flowers bloom”. But literally, in this show, curator Jan Watten’s emphasis on the community’s powerful creative diversity is the most obvious shared ground.


    Results, Automagically We can be surprised only so much to find out that encyclopedias of everything seem now to be available. Our common experience of using web search engines easily lands us on subjects and facts that we neither already knew about ourselves nor were going to create. Even further, discovering the extent of information already developed about some new-to-us topic is usually somewhere between humbling and intimidating. We may not know any of the people involved but we compare ourselves to them as if we could be one of them and then intuitively sense how much work has already gone into making the topic, plus the fact that we either wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. But the same awe comes with simply observing any creative person who has mastered some technique in an activity we don’t know how to do ourselves. We’re caught watching the magician do their trick without even using the misdirection usually needed to leave us marveling at the impossibility. When computers do the searching or execute techniques, we of course aren't shocked that they can do it. We’ve already seen them doing it for decades, and the main difference that we notice now is how much faster they can get through so much more of it. What really matters to us, instead, is that the computing winds up being able to sort through everything to present us with something we think is either the “right” result or the “preferred” result. It is the range of our own criteria that actually makes us decide if the computing is or is not “smart”. That Ticking Sound Our idea of “smart” usually comes in any one of three flavors. There’s “thinking”, which means editing through choices to find ones that we can then relate to each other. Call it logic. There is “explaining”, which means that we can determine and describe how something that already exists DOES work or IS formed. Call it analysis. And there is “inventing”, which means describing how a new way of organizing a practical object or action WILL work as needed. Call it design. Those three things – logic, analysis, and design -- are usually somehow combined for any of three objectives. One is to Propose. Another is to Prove. And another is to Predict. The vast majority of what we consider “smart” behavior is covered by those three things. And what excites us most about “smart” is that it can get us something that we need or want, on demand. Brains and Beauty Too Among the range of needs and demands is a special case – things that we didn’t already know we needed or wanted. And second in interest level is things that we didn’t already know are possible, and that we experience as being relevant. Artificial intelligence gets its value mainly from how computers can be trained to refer to our examples of logic, analysis and design – and to apply our techniques of logic, analysis and design. By doing that, it possibly generates results (i.e., produces products) that are needed, preferable, and relevant. The most important part of the idea of artificial intelligence is the relationship between (a.) the products and (b.) their origin in being smart -- rather than just their being in the right place at the right time for us to stumble upon or receive that product. The idea that A.I. can have "originality" is entirely reliant on its being smart. But we don't have or use the term "Artificial Originality" even though we can explain it. Artifice, of course, is entirely about fabricating something that isn’t already there. Being smart enough to produce it is what we expect intelligence to enable. Intelligence is the "originality". Intelligent Art Now if we consider what it means to have logic, analysis and design within different practices, one of the most intriguing practices is that of art. Putting this in perspective: we want art because of what it provides. It meets a need or a desire, and we expect it to have relevance. First we identify what it is that artworks provide to us. Once we identify the characteristics of the art product that support or generate preferability and relevance, the means are needed to produce those characteristics. The logic, analysis and design in art are means of producing that experience of preference or relevance. That is, the artifice is driven by the intelligence. Rationally, the notion of “A.I. in art” refers to only two things. One is the notion that "intelligence" itself can be expressed by computing. The proper name for this, however, is “synthetic” intelligence. Can a computer perform logic, analysis, and design? Yes to all three. And the other reference is to the goal of applying intelligence, which is to produce an artifact that has the qualities we require from art. Creativity and the Heart of a New Machine The term "creativity" is loaded with notions of originality, inspiration, uniqueness, and other conditions that distinguish it as being "special" and, really, a manifestation of a certain kind of consciousness that is not shared even by all humans. This makes it somewhere between implausible and insulting to think that a machine would have it. But what A.I. increasingly presents to us is something that we find harder and harder to distinguish from what many people present to us as creativity. Here is the important thing to recognize: entertaining though that idea of creativity may be, it is dis-informative, and unreliable to say that the computer is “creative” as if that creativity was at all possible without its essential task, production. When we specifically say “production” we are not meaning to intend “creation” in any lofty other sense. And frankly, when we say "creative", despite our interest in its special glow, we are often only talking about production that is being executed at a level hidden from us like the secret of the magician's trick. That's just not hard for A.I. to do. What matters, instead, is how we need or want to make use of what it does.

  • The Not Male Show

    Project overview Critiquing a specific legacy archetype of maleness, the Not Male Show extends beyond feminism to a more inclusive representation of self-determining identities that are alternative to that archetype. It will simultaneously exhibit an overall group contrast to that legacy and argue against the ambiguous generalization of catch-all categorizations (such as "LGBTQ"), through art works concretely expressing interpretations and experiences that distinguish these respective newer cultural identities. Why this show? The increasing emergence and acceptance of self-identities beyond the POV of maleness is an evolutionary tipping point for future society – a change in the psycho-social climate we call culture. Based on works by Princeton alumni artists, the show will investigate how the realities of this accelerating change are experienced and expressed. What the show is about: With emerging social self-identifications, people often attempt to disassociate themselves from what is viewed as “male cultural identity”. This features increasingly specific alternative identities. Ironically, dominant male culture continues, through the POV of its language, to generically bundle and confuse these identities as “not male,” blurring the distinctions which they count on having recognized for gaining their respective social progress. Society’s broad acceptance of that language use has inhibited the reshaping of dominant cultural norms by individual new identities. The visual arts, in comparison, are uniquely able to expressively embody the distinguishing realities of having “Identified As”— offering an audience direct experiences beyond naming and explanations. For example, over the past fifty years women artists, in an early self-identifying declaration of "not male", have provided a pictorial vocabulary, methods and tools that define “womanhood”. See the research "male" stereotype versus which works in this show are presenting our emerged cultural diversity, here. This exhibition will showcase art works about a very wide range of such contrasting alternative identities. By gathering the works together, it will sharpen the distinction of their respective realities. Development process: The Not Male show is an experimental and collective effort, produced by the 185v76 artists collaborative. During January through April, it will set out with a provisional working definition of “Male”, and acknowledge a current panorama of autonomous “not male” self-identities. The project then will seek, include, and exhibit works submitted by artists representing their respective interpretations and experiences of “Not Male.” The project will build a curatorial team, an editorial team, and two exhibition rosters: Princeton alumni artists, and community artists selected by those alumni artists. The exhibition will be both online and offline and will evolve over time. To participate in this project, as a curator, exhibitor, writer, or media coordinator, please fill out the contact form here.

  • Shades of Gray: Photography at the Gray Loft Gallery, Dec. 2022

    Arriving After turning twice up the narrow stairway, a type exactly halfway between rustic and industrial chic, one enters the Gray Loft gallery on Oakland's Ford Street, a space rewardingly larger than it first appears to be. The first thing that registers is the excellent wall-by-wall grouping of the types of images – so successful in that task that it almost seems the photographs were made-to-order for the show. It is the 10th Anniversary celebration show for the gallery, and it is focused on black and white photography but it has a wide enough view to include some others. The unity theme goes strong. It is assertively pressed by the spare black frames keeping each of the art works set on their space against the white walls. Scanning the rooms from a distance reinforces that after ten years, the group of artists is not just those who "made the cut" but all members of the same community. In the crowd at the opening, there had been just as many of the artists there, talking to each other, as there were visitors, which included family. Having the smiles and shoulders and wide range of comfort clothes for cocktails all together finally post-COVID fear, it was still more like a homecoming. Now, a couple of weeks after that event, there will be far more floor and sightlines visible. And what will be remembered quickly from the opening is that the collection on the walls is dominated not just by ideas about black and white imaging, but about printmaking. Label after label finely articulates the attention to craft, to whether the black or gray was conveyed to the paper in this way or that, digital or analog, one step or two. The price tags, somewhat modest, show a balance between rewarding the labor implied and the artist’s generous willingness to at least share this piece if not make more. The papers, identified by their exotic names of source or substance, suggest scrutiny, exclusivity, and sensitivity. They are not by and large “photographic” papers; they are fine papers holding photographic marks. The Work The legacy of black and white photography originates in constraints on chemistry but also immediately leaned on the precedents of black ink. Many photos celebrate opportunities that the photographers had to lean into calligraphy, or atmospheric washes, or detailed renderings of surfaces. The majority of the photographs did not fight for visual innovations, but instead showed full appreciation of how various “schools” of images have usually provoked feelings the way music can. The physical properties of the print were there to trigger emotion, rather like abstract expressionism regardless of the literal “information” offered in the picture’s detail. But with photography, there is a built-in tension between the picture as an object and the picture as a communication. Some pictures emphasized this tension by the way they used their edges -- to define how much of what in front of the lens was relevant to portray. That decision – to create a “scene” from the “seen” -- could be a more important reason for the picture being made than the aesthetics of the picture’s composition. Some other photos furthermore emphasized an aesthetic effect unusual for a given scene, found mainly through how the print established the scene’s look. But still others went further – using prints mostly to “capture” peculiar characteristics of photographically recording viewing. For decades before now, in most photographers’ lives, there has been a period in which there are unintended effects – mistakes – that are targeted for elimination in printing; but perhaps later these mistakes are effects that get created intentionally, exposing a “vocabulary” of photography that is not from painting These are effects deliberately chosen and used as gestures arranged to illustrate or represent an experience such as memory’s complexity, real-time mystery, or drama. These graphic effects included optical, chemical or digital things like blurs, multiple exposures, flares, distortions, and the outer boundaries of image negatives that were not trimmed or hidden from view by the frames. or drawing. In this show, the importance of it is that it shifts attention from the photographer’s eye to the photographer’s hand, and from sights to visions. Yesterday, as I was typing this, a software program called Grammarly insisted on changing my phrase “make a photograph” into “take a photograph”. That irritating yet charming naivete unintentionally pointed at the default expectations that broad and casual audiences may still bring to photography as an activity. But in the show we are discussing here, nearly all of the work is highly self-conscious regarding the role of the photographer as an imagemaker. With “black and white” being the anchor approach for the show, a side effect of that self-consciousness jumped out at me: there is a near total absence of any work referring to the fact that we are in the age of the digital internet. The entire show is almost kind of a throwback experience. It guards the gates to a kind of classicism that, with only a few exceptions, seems disinterested in any notion of a subsequent avant-garde that we have, in fact, already seen. The Exceptions I think that this is important about the show, because a group show becomes a conversation between the works, not just a gathering. As I noted initially, this aspect of the show – the choices made curatorially to put certain pictures near each other – is fantastically effective in having one work’s features drawn out more persuasively by another work taking a shot at it too. Having said that, I think also that there are two big issues raised about how this work fits into our larger personal experience as viewers and, for some of us, photographers. One is the now overwhelming dominance of the use of “filters” as a starting point in the broad population of camera users who “create” images. Automation has converted exactly the labor of most of the printmaking effects seen in this show into styles. Given this new default, the show throws down a bit of a gauntlet in its self-confidence that younger web-native viewers can – or even want to – really grasp the virtue of what is on the walls. In a celebratory show, that may not be relevant to the show’s intent, but it begs questions about where the work should go from here. My guess is that the answer is Collectors, and if so, then limiting the editions of the work becomes highly important. The second issue is at first more subtle, even odd, but ultimately is the most important thing I took from the show. On the opening night of the exhibit, tucked into a corner spot nearly alone, behind almost all other pictures on display, there were two Polaroid pictures. I’m going to elaborate a bit on them. First of all, almost nothing in the history of photography has been as important as Polaroids to the population’s desire to make pictures. What comes to mind as potential challengers are the Kodak Brownie Process and now of course the Smartphone. What all three have in common is that there is no consumer darkroom necessary, and that the camera can go almost anywhere. When Polaroid prints became obtainable in color, they became, basically, and obviously, the first Instagram of real life. But Polaroid usage always had, and still has, the incredible tangibility of making a photo – very close to the direct, immediate, and emotional feedback of playing a musical instrument. Its result is a print, but the experience is photography as a medium. Second, as if to emphasize that experience in the most explicit way, the Polaroids on view in the show are entirely encased in larger conventional glassfront frames. These frames instantly become archival boxes – completely unnecessary for viewing the images in the prints, but making the prints themselves special, protected from the chaos of being tossed around carelessly among unrelated other small items. The framing and visibility of the Polaroids say, “Remember that time when I made that picture while …” I am reminded that in today’s artworld, small physical images have market value in an entirely different way than the giant works increasingly found in many commercial galleries. They are compelling because they are intimate -- and in the case of a Polaroid, also one of a kind. This makes the photograph quite undeniably a piece of a life. It doesn’t have to convince you that it was; it just is. So third, the Polaroid becomes more than a print; it is an imprint. Its image is almost more like an animal track, or a fingerprint, or a handwritten note. Something that was peeled right off the physical or emotional skin of somebody, carrying clear traces. Or, it is like a captured butterfly, preserved in the same press that caught it. These particular Polaroids also have a visual quality that offers two outstanding features above and beyond the figures noticed in them. One is a kind of lacquered transparency – a visibility through their surface that is reached only by first tuning the “translucence” setting all the way to its maximum limit. It’s not a property of the subjects in the image; it’s a property of the square photo objects presenting the image. The other is the steep lean towards being monochromatic. Compared against the vividness of ordinary life in color, their tone represents distance, and symbolically that distance makes the viewing a recall. Here, recall is an overt intention to navigate the distance from the source moment where the photographer was, to the later moment where we are. Less of the Same Finally, being more monochrome than not in this show means that the graphics of their images go right to the same point that half or more of the other prints in the show labor for. The Polaroids actually set a bar against which all the black and whites can be measured, by pointing out that the photoprints did not actually need to be black and white. So, what does the true black and white of other prints do to communicate the energy of the moment that caused their birth? I keep thinking the same thing: it's inkpress... This comparison with the Polaroids really lets them set a high bar, and the Polaroids, unexpectedly, are nearly the most powerful images in the show. Sporting what can only be called a subdued mood, and being the smallest things on the walls, they still dare nearly half of all the other pictures to emanate as much psychological presence as the Polaroids do. But stepping away from all that... Some other pictures almost uniquely hold their own way of making stillness dynamic. In one work, a diptych compares two nearly identical scenes in a way that tells us time has passed between them but asks us whether the differences are more important than the similarities. If our answer is no, then what does that mean about time? In another work, what is typically rendered as a nature scene is agitated with just enough “camera shake” to remind us that grasping the scene was actually doing something active, not passive, in that place at that time. It is also more interesting as printmaking because it reminds us that the image maker was part of the scene, making decisions about having us see something in a certain way. I think what these pictures emphasize is the idea that the prints are not just terrific two-dimensional compositions; they do this interesting thing of skipping right past the third dimension (space) into the fourth (time). In one more work, maybe the only one in the show that is not in a frame, what we see is a collage, lacquered in what feels like amber, that layers moments of a movement spanning time. Through the Lens Dwelling on some of the exceptions in the show is easy mainly because the full group of pictures is a generous helping. I’ve taken up your time with revisiting how the show’s strong organization by style is instantly helpful in unifying the show yet sets the stage for a healthy variety of experiences. Since I’ve claimed that printmaking dominates the show, it is important to respect how much camerawork is on display and not take it for granted. Several works are most engaging because it is obvious that the image simply couldn’t exist except for the vantage point of the photographer, regardless of printing. In such cases, printing has one job – to not dull the distinction of the vantage point, and if possible, to amplify it. There is something that maybe is called hyper-realism in these pictures, and part of their excitement is that they do not rely on “special effects”. Surprisingly, there are exceptionally few portraits in the show. The ones hanging are simply expert, but they are nameless and so they make us wonder whether the intent was to be iconic or biographical. That curiosity is a good thing, since it makes us want to see more of them and find out. There are, by the way, no selfies. Lastly in this article, I’ll mention that some works attend to enhanced “documentation” – not billed as such, but examples include the capture of a decisive moment; the unusual appearance of an ordinary place; or what can only be called closeup evidence, of something that cannot be tolerated as is and must get changed. In each case, the difference felt is that the shots are not just opportunistic snaps. Rather, they are a refinement of attention and skill that promises more focus on the subject to come rather than being concerned with what I called Collectors of classics. Next Time Throughout this review I intentionally omitted names of artists and titles of works. My reason for that is in my hope to provoke you to visit the show. Then, while there, to use these notes and thoughts as clues to which ones I’m mentioning, by considering how each piece you see works one way or another. Likely there will be several ways to get the show's images in front of you and do this match game at your convenience. But this is, after all, an exhibit of prints, not screens or projections. One should get into the gallery space itself and really feel the way they look. - MR, Dec 12, 2022

  • Fake Deep - The Age of Intelligent Artifice

    Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., rages on in the world of visual art, it’s current ability to automatically compose being the new apex of its functionality. While A.I. continues to make progress at cognition, its most exciting influence on image making has now moved to showing what it “knows” about methods used to combine parts into arrangements that make a whole, that is, composition. It presents a challenge to human image-makers who have placed high value on their own use of methods because of either the difficulty of mastering them or the uniqueness of applying them. Getting past that challenge is comparable to the permanent effect of industrialization in creating the default expectations of a modern life. A.I. makes both difficulty and uniqueness nothing more than legacy conditions that henceforth will be merely choices. Meanwhile, mastery of a method has always required two things: understanding why to do something a certain way and rehearsing the action to refine its consistency on demand. Because A.I. is a function of computers, it makes the rehearsal part trivial – the computer can practice the same thing millions of times a minute, record its own variances, systematically avoid the variances, and reach virtually perfect consistency in exactly the same way that factory automation became viable and obsoleted the need to build cars by hand. Computing is constrained only by the scope and volume of tasks that is demanded of it. And against challenging workloads, the computing answer can usually be simply to increase its brute force. But methodology, too, can account for higher or lower labor efficiency in working on progress. As part of computing, programming is mainly about defining the way to achieve acceptable efficiency levels against any inclusions of useful variances and/or inconvenient exceptions. Programming supports methods. Function The mystery of an artist’s method has always been attractive based on the appreciation of it being exceptional both as labor and as strategy – as action and as idea. The combination is what underpins our sense of it being important, in effect, of being valuable. But for conventional image-makers in the “fine” (non-utilitarian) arts, one of the most challenging things about A.I. is that A.I. as a production tool does not inherently care why a method is meaningful. A.I. only cares about whether a stated goal correlates well with the choice of method. If that goal is not given to the A.I. factory, A.I. doesn’t even decide what goal to pursue. This can result in dazzling A.I.-generated outputs that are still felt to have very little meaning – like an invention that no one knows how to use. Artists, however, may frequently go into process, without having made a decision beforehand about their goal. Instead, through experimentation, they discover that a technique allows something identifiable when the technique is incorporated into a method. Whatever amount of time and labor is spent doing this is something presumed to be an inalienable right of being an artist. But for A.I., this level of effort (experimentation) is just an action that it executes and can keep track of, “mindlessly” and easily. As it also excavates repeatable patterns from its repeated execution, A.I. builds a collection of known actions that produce known effects – effects which can be intentionally combined and arranged. In short, A.I. can readily generate designs but it doesn’t inherently care what they mean. Meanwhile, the main difference between what an artist considers to be a design and a “composition” is not found in the artifact showing the design. The difference constituting “composition” is found in the artist’s intention to have the arrangement psychologically affect a user (listener, viewer, whatever) to invoke a “meaning”. Similarly, A.I. itself is programming that also pursues a goal; but the difference between “artificial” intelligence and an artist’s “natural” intelligence is found not in the output of A.I. being successful. Instead it is in the artist’s knowledge of how outcome derives from using the A.I. output. The user – an artist – makes a decision about what outcome is a goal. A.I. simply performs some or all of a method to realize that artistic decision. Clearly more than just by analogy, A.I. is an “instrument”. Operating A.I. can generate effects that are already compelling in some ways, but those effects are literally instrumental and contribute to a further intent—the performance (execution) of composing. Form With that understanding, we can place A.I. in proper context going forward; just as composing may be predisposed by using certain instruments, composing can be done specifically for certain instruments. Instruments affect the decisions made in composing through a process called orchestration. A given version of a composition may get modified into another version if the composer decides to render it with instruments different than those previously used. For example, the “same song” can be performed using a piano or a guitar or a clarinet or a voice, and if the instrument is specified beforehand, the arrangement of the composition that is accepted can be clearly different from what would be designed for a different instrument. Orchestration marries the instruments and the desired effects, for the arrangement (design) of the composition. Showing this in practice, visual artists are increasingly using A.I. as their technical tool to find and apply methods to use as their instruments for something further – composition. Value But because of that, there is a popular (casual) perception that A.I. imitates artists. While the recognition of A.I. as an instrument is nearly intuitive for an artist, the inclusion of A.I. in the production of the artwork is still causing confusion among art users (audiences) about why the work produced with A.I. has value. As already mentioned, value is customarily attributed to artwork because of an appreciation of the distinction of how it causes a meaningful experience. If A.I. is perceived to eliminate the distinctiveness – by sheer automated repetition destroying uniqueness, or by production efficiency minimizing the labor – then it faces pressure to generate something else compelling on its own. So far, most of that A.I.-based value is in the drama of surprise – namely, A.I.’s producing the unexpected, or doing it unexpectedly. A.I. can “create” renderings of imaginary states such as bringing a deceased person back as an apparently lively actor in a “real” event. The enormously high degree of detail used to create the illusion– aka the depth of specificity employed – “fakes” the overall appearance of reality, imitating an “actual” condition. The “intelligence” of artificially creating a fake instance of an actual condition is far from being unfamiliar to artists. Counterfeiting is a longstanding reality in the artworld, and the “intelligence” to do it is itself an appreciated achievement and characteristic of the counterfeiter. But A.I. is able to counterfeit – and imitate -- more and more actual conditions that can be imagined beforehand – a so-called virtual reality. And as A.I. production of items becomes increasingly familiar, devaluing the product on the basis of its A.I.-based methodology will be increasingly rare, while humans’ decisions about what to do with it will naturally become the basis of attributing more value to it. We get to raise the question: would A.I., without human involvement, ever reach a point where it generated a new defined form to a degree the equivalent of the invention of cubism, or of jazz, given what it had already worked on? A.I. in art will, in other words, be subjected primarily to the same question that all art faces regarding its production and provision: Why make this thing this way? And the answer will be: the artwork’s target experience ... relies on the characteristics of ... effects that ... were made available ... in a way distinctive to ... what instruments are used ... in the method of composing it.


    Ghost Busters The experience of time’s passage takes place only due to the perception of change, and if the noticeable events don’t happen on their own then cultures have more than compensated by creating commemoration and rituals of marking time. The most important of the commemorations are ritualized to ensure they are distinct from ordinal and ordinary experiences, but moreso that they keep bringing the past back to the present. In the age of being green, mausoleums are an anachronism to everything socially or community-oriented except for the wealthy. Above-ground tombs and crypts don’t recycle the bodies out of existence but rather mimic preserving them in a last act of defiance against disappearance. Taking up space monumentally that way is political. It's an occasion of someone's fierce intent, amplifying privilege earned or taken during their days amongst the living. In addition, they are barely concerned at all with their impact on further history; their intent is to stop time where they want it to be stopped. But further, the Mausoleum organizes its exhibits specifically to call attention to the individuality of its contained guests – each and all of whom, however, have run a gauntlet of specific qualifications to get in. The similarity of a mausoleum and a museum is pretty clear. But of course, the museum is holding not just the idea of its guest; it's holding the actual guest. Still, like the mausoleum, the museum holds its content with the intent to remove it from the ongoing changes of passing time. Instead, it carves up time into segments that have only one purpose – to hold memory, of the importance of the entombed. Here is where we might, by comparison, feel the difference between a museum and a gallery. The gallery promotes awareness of its content specifically by arguing that the existence of its content gives importance to the time that we call Now. It is energetically discovering and showing how the particular importance that needs to be noted comes not from the past but from the present. All that said, it's hard to prevent any one of them from trying to do another's job if somebody wants it to. Ruins are in here too. Ruins convert museums into either mausoleums or galleries – depending on whether we are looking for the living or the dead. In the history of cities and towns, imperialism, colonialism, larceny, and evolution all exploit ruins to some degree that we can point at on a spectrum of appropriation. And on that same spectrum, art makes an appearance. Reincarnation The entrance to Adeline Graffiti Palace is not walled. The walls merely leave openings vulnerable to being entered. The structure has an architecture of ruins. Things that remain standing or structurally stable are just the survivors of invasions, collisions and interventions, still signifying a kind of important role in the past but indifferent to the present, and which have not been undone. In this location, almost entirely ignored by passersby on a major north-south route through Oakland, the spaces left formed by man’s or nature’s demolition offer a set of sightlines from one extraordinary vertical wall to another, and sometimes over them or through them. On display is an enormous collection of mid-to-large scale graffiti – not murals, graffiti. A giant graffti gallery. The emphasis in this space is not that so-and-so was here. It is that so-and-so is here. Street artists have entirely repurposed the ruin of the original building. On encountering it myself, I immediately felt the tremendous pull of its dazzling overall visual array versus the resonance of any single part being given a good hard stare. I've dubbed this a "palace". The first impression of this place is the overt organization of the display space created by the street artists’ wall writing – an expressed sensibility expected from professional exhibition planners or… interior designers. The works on view, by over a dozen different graffitists, gather together on the surfaces to create distinctive room-like areas within the outer confines of the site. One walks through the space in a way that is prepared by the raw ground paths letting the walls have their great felt scale. The writers' and taggers' arrangements unabashedly celebrate the space with their display; they do not advocate, argue, or subvert anything in particular but instead make the entire location a sensory experience featuring size, color, scale and emotional energy. The images are not in the service of any other event; the site is not a host or facility for anything but making an impression on the person within it. Collectively, the works are an enclosed environment completely different from anything else near it, celebrating its own aesthetic force. The Takeover One compelling impulse was to thoroughly document the entire location in exhaustive detail, to protect against its future disappearance. But another impulse, stronger and more personal, was to gain control over the force of its visual heterogeneity, by reorganizing my mental intake of its images within the perspective I chose with my camera. In effect I would be appropriating again what they had already appropriated. Doing that immediately also brought up the ongoing artistic challenge of discerning what my work would be doing that their work was not already doing. To me, that is largely referenced by any conversation that considers how documentary and landscape relate to each other. Some may say that it's about the difference between showing facts and showing a truth: editing will always do that, and using a camera is always editing visually. But not always mentally. On that count here, I’m modeling another new order from what might too casually be presumed to be disorderly (i.e., unauthorized, unformal, and perhaps assertively blighting) - a presumption typical of those who neither made it nor want it. And recognizing it as palatial – not a temple, not industrial, and not a park – is key to recognizing its community function, its social authority, and its legitimacy: it's a demonstrative sanctuary of a cultural aesthetic. The power of its display is significant as an event; it is a statement piece. Despite its off-road visibility, it is an emphatic announcement of the presence of its community. But the entire thing is at extremely high risk of being suddenly non-existent in the foreseeable future. As a result, the photographs could become the ready-made memorial of not merely its prior existence but the importance of it. Post-demolition, what will remain to be seen, actually seen with the photos, is wrapped up in the perspective that proxies my own presence there - documenting but also imagining. To some, that will offer a vicarious experience otherwise out of their reach. To others, perhaps it will invoke suspicions of what other agenda may be attached to my selectivity. I believe that the goal is to have both of those reactions occur together, creating a higher sensitivity and curiosity that will persist and, from then on, become part of the viewer’s own predisposition when observing their environment.

  • PHOTOGRAPHY TODAY: The End Of Genres

    One of the more bizarre things that occurred in the past but that still persists is the phrase “art and photography”. For simplicity’s sake, I‘ll place that statement at the beginning of a historical narrative of culture. It refers to the point where, unlike today, photography was new and not recognized as a possible form of art. From there we fast forward, through the cultural battle to have photography recognized as a possible form of art, then speed further on to the battle within photography “communities” to formalize criteria distinguishing art photography from non-art photography; and finally on to an endpoint: the 20th century’s conceptual enlightenment about how any given photograph may be experienced as art. But during this same stretch of time, arguments also waxed and waned about what makes an image a “photograph” in the first place. That debate of course was significant to practices. The casual and intuitive definition of photography naturally became “the activity of making photographs”, soon enough surrounded by special interests in how to convert that activity into benefits of influence or money – of status, or markets. Arguably, we have no need for categorizing the products of artworks other than to announce their availability in terms that are attractive. Artists want audiences, and audiences want artists to supply experiences. Categorization is part of the matchmaking of the two. But what lies beyond productization – or before it? – as a reason for a taxonomy of art? In the following I’m going to look deeply into the typical efforts to categorize art. My expectation is that at the end, it will be clear that the differences established by categorization are not about intrinsic characteristics determining worth, but instead are just devices that provide contexts for experiencing art. This will include considering photography as a medium, as a form, and as a method, offering meaning artistically. The overall statement to take from this will be that in our current period, it is non-sensical to ask whether a photograph is art; rather, the question is, is an artwork photographic, and if yes, how does that contribute to the meaning of experiencing the art work? Experiencing photography A medium is a channel of communication. In terms of communication, a meaning is the understanding of a message that has been received. Messages are intended to influence a recipient. In a typology of messages, the primary practical consideration is of how to transmit meaning successfully and making an appropriate choice. The “message” is, in other words, an “artifact” used to store and carry retrievable meaning. A “medium” transports a message. Art that was made for communicating visually offers an experience that is dependent on both expectations held by the viewer and purposes attempted by the maker. The relationship between the two – viewer expectations and maker purposes -- is therefore the goal of the artwork’s makeup. Typically, if only by analogy, a medium is expected to “transport” the maker purpose to meet the viewer expectation. Meanwhile, the two factors, separately, are each highly sensitive to the affects of the environment in which the artwork is being formed. Uncontrolled, the range of environments and affects is innumerably large. Because of that, the number of variants possible as particular instances of any “type” of such relationship is virtually infinite. Most controls on that variability intend to predispose some alignment, not just meeting, of purpose and expectation. Typecasting Experience A Genre is a conceptual tool for identifying types of those relationships. In defining it, I start here with a compilation of descriptions currently offered in Wikipedia’ discussion of “Genre”: A Genre is a category of artistic composition, characterized by similarities in a wide range of characteristics, methods they used to influence their audiences' emotions and feelings. The concept of genre began in the works of Aristotle, who applied biological concepts to the classification of literary genres, or, as he called them, "species". They generally move from more abstract, encompassing classes, which are then further sub-divided into more concrete distinctions. The distinctions [among] genres [or] categories are flexible and loosely defined, and even the rules designating genres change over time and are fairly unstable. In the same Wikipedia discussion, the following additional details are mentioned; but here I have grouped them myself, with my own headings as well, in a way that applies universally across different types of artwork: Concepts · subject matter · content Bias · tone · style Structure · form · size Method · composition · technique Those variables are the basis of the following examination of why classification is used as a part of experiencing artwork -- in particular, visual artwork that is distinguished as “photography”. Photo Imaging To understand photography now as a distinct approach to image-making requires clarifying our language about the idea as well. The most important thing to initially consider about the idea is the use of a camera to produce a selective image for display. What distinguishes a camera from being just an optical scope has always been the camera’s inclusion of a second mechanism that could re-produce the image seen and arranged by the lens, to display the image. That second mechanism, the display mechanism, rapidly evolved in history from externally lit viewed surfaces such as glass, paper/fabric, or even smoke, to self-lit viewed surfaces such as electronic video screens, but the evolution of viewing surfaces did nothing to additionally distinguish cameras from scopes. Between the camera lens and the display surface, a third mechanism must be identified – a transmitter – something that helps move what the lens detects without interference, from the lens to the display. So we have a lens-transmitter-display “architecture” that distinguishes a camera from anything else. As technology advances, we realize that the lens and transmitter are increasingly integrated into what is called a sensor. The purpose of the transmitter is to assure that what reaches the display meets expectations. But in the conventional non-technical idea of photography, the combination of a lens and film is what people recognize as the sensing apparatus. The expectation is that both components are always connected to each other. We also already know that simply exposing photo-sensitive film or paper to light, without a lens, uses the film or paper itself as both a sensor and as a display. In this case, however, it can be very unpredictable as to what will be visible or recognizable in the display… That makes intention, not just circumstance, an issue worth considering as a factor in what we choose to call photography. And in art, our special interest is where the selecting and directing of light is intentional. So, most importantly, within this architecture of the camera, we are more specific about what the lens does. When we put a lens in a sensor, the importance of the lens is that it effectively selects and directs the exposure. Having stated the matter that way, we realize that intention applies equally to the mechanism used and to the purpose of its user.One is not more important than the other; they each call for the other. In fact, now, we recognize the mechanism as an instrument and its user as a performer. Regardless of any technological advances at any time, this architecture (form) of the “camera” is also the operational model (function)of the activity called “photography”; the goal of both is to selectively determine what is detected; to begin its transmission, and to complete it as display. In terms of art, what matters most to us about it is how that transmission results in an experience with meaning. Our conventional term for this is “expression”. Production Values Instrumentation “provides” the universe of sensory effects that become the raw material of composition and invention. Mastering use of the instrument (craftsmanship!!) maximizes the range of ways that its user can produce a communication as a designed expression that creates an experience for the receiver. Throughout the history of “photography”, users have explored and demonstrated different ways of creating designed expressions to create experiences. Obviously, this exploration is also what has always been done by users in all forms of work called art. Our question, now, is this: what meaning is intended, and needing to be satisfied, by declaring that some work is “photographic” or is not? What difference, having what kind of value, is highlighted by positioning any work as “photography”? Photographic Method An image maker always has at least two options as production paths. One is to have the image in mind (the “imagination”) at the start, and then take steps with means to realize it as a communicable (sharable) expression. The other is to experiment with what kind of image(s) can be produced with a given technique, and to assess what kind of meaning is invoked by the product. There is no special reason why both of the two things should not be active and affecting each other in real time. The initial idea of an image may exist before there is a decision about how to render it for display. In the process of rendering it, many different options may be tried, with some discarded and some not. And what is discovered along the way can alter the initial idea into something else. Discovery increasingly plays as much a role as does intention. The simultaneous evolution of imaging technologies from chemical to digital, and from mechanical to electronic, has generated a vast array of effects and, likewise, abilities to combine them. Meanwhile, “mixed-media” has made it clear that the image may find its particular expressiveness only by allowing differing techniques to blend in one purpose. There is nothing unusual about this in “art”; for example, theater exists almost entirely in the mixed-media mode. And most importantly, anything that we have previously experienced as a “photograph” can now be digitally simulated beyond any practical difference in impact on experience. This means that nothing in the displayed image is something that necessarily actually existed visually as a precondition of making the image. All appearances are manufactured by the image-making following the pre-existing mental idea of the image. What that just described is exactly what people typically expect with painting and drawing; the point here is that computers are the newest imaging instrument, beyond styluses, pens, brushes, and even cameras. Today, when it is possible to generate images digitally and physically that are indistinct from even artifacts made with no use of electronics or automation, calling any image a “photograph” is primarily an effort to predispose how a viewer is intended (by someone) to interpret the image. In the above example, the left square is a “photo” of a white paint chip. The middle square is a photo of the left photo. And the right is a completely unrelated white graphic created in a digital art application. Having been told, in that way, how to interpret the imagery, we can choose to either accept it or not, but if we accept it we actually experience the respective images differently from each other. In this display here, it is otherwise impossible to identify which one is “not a photograph”. We demonstrate that interpretive difference to emphasize that selectivity and direction form the basis of generating meaning with an image. While the image has a form, the form is essentially a rhetorical instrument. More on that point, below. The Mystique of Technique Beyond some factual historical legacies, the notion that “photography” is a “medium” or “technique” is effectively obsolete. But interpretation (whether anticipated or actual) is still quite current, bound up in certain ideas about how the artist’s selectivity and decision-making are affected by choosing certain instrumentation. Let’s examine… The essence of the difference between photographic technique and others is in the distinguishing use of a lens. Whether this is appreciated as a literal practice or as a metaphor, the significance is the same. The most significant aspect of using a lens is that it leaves things out of the view, in order to emphasize what is in the view. Then, by being the selector, and possibly modifying what is within the view, it begins to create a resulting visual “element” – an item that will be a compositional feature of what is finally displayed. There is nothing prohibiting that element from being the “whole” of the composition instead of being only a “part”. The choice is simply an artist’s decision to make. That decision will be one dimension of the interpretation of the image. That dimension begins to shape interpretation ((the meaning in the display) during the formation of the image. Technique is one way that artists predispose interpretation. In painting, for example, we are familiar with the difference between a brush stroke, a figure, and a illustration. These are all in the range of visual description. We are likewise familiar with the difference between a gesture, a depiction, and a representation. These are all in the range of intention. Intention “gives meaning” to description, and that is exactly why the “expression” of the image is mainly what we can call visual rhetoric. There is nothing about that rhetoric that tells us what “the difference” is between a so-called painting and a so-called photograph. Both images feature characteristics that we deign to be the “materials” of the display for the image. However, with language, we typically attribute the rhetoric directly to materials that we say distinguishes, for example, a painting from a photograph. Materiality We have a long-standing convention that classifies works by identifying their materials – that says some things are paintings because they are painted, made of “paint”… and other things are made of “ink” or “sound” or “words” – so what then is the corresponding material distinguishing a “photograph” from some other type of work product? With a so-called photograph, we of course must say that the “material” directly experienced in the display is light itself – not really anything else. We have to say this because the display mechanisms in photography range so widely, from glass to paper to fabrics to electronic screens. The same picture can appear simultaneously on all of those displays, and any one of them as displayed can be experienced as the “original” form of the image. Being printed does not make it a photograph. Being projected does not make it a photograph. Being on a video screen does not make it a photograph. The image is rendered in the display. Among the various clauses in dictionary definitions of “render”, two of the most prominent are: · to transmit to another: deliver. · to cause to be or become; make. Seeing What is Viewed At this point, our line of thinking about classifying something as photography leaps to two conclusions. One: the very term “photography” decomposes to photo (light) and graph (drawing). “Drawing with light” is the essential description of photography as an action. Two: We think of the products of the activity as a type of media. The term “media” cannot avoid referring to the term “medium”. However, we understand that a “medium” is a transmission channel, and that “media” is the formexperienced in the medium. If we identify an experienced display as a photograph, we are allowing the experience to assume that what matters most is the effects that are created as visual elements by using a mechanism to optically select and direct light. It is inevitable that the meaning intended by photography is based on the experience of seeing. In real life, seeing is not just sensing light; rather, it is completely about resolving images to a point of recognition. We literally measure our existing “ability to see” by testing how much visual information is needed to result in recognition. Current and Future In art, Categories and Types of influence are describing something more important than any particular type of form or instance of form. However, as a viewer, recognizing the use of the form adds more information about the intention of the artist, because the use of the form as an instrument is strongly associated with techniques of influence. That does not in any way preclude or prevent the invention of unprecedented associations of materials, techniques, forms, and messages as influencers on experience. But what so-called “photography” has as its home turf is not the meaning of what is seen. Instead, photography’s home turf is the meaning of seeing, itself – as produced or provoked through display. That said, the more this is done by emphasizing the discipline applied with an actual or virtual (metaphorical) lens, the more likely the image is to be deemed “photographic” in display. Ultimately, being photographic is both more interesting and wider in scope than is dwelling on “what is a photograph?” And it is more interesting especially now – given that any new work of art is so much more open to being a product of multiple integrated approaches to visualizing ideas for display. Being photographic is a concept superseding “medium”, “media”, “method”, and “genre” as a useful categorization within the effort to understand the making and experiencing of art. Four Important Paintings in the History of Photography These are examples of things that occurred in works absolutely not categorized as photography. Rather, the history of experiencing art images has always been very strongly conditioned by the culture considered “local” to its viewers. In that context, changes that added new expectations and experiences have been highly relevant to similar evolutions in the way photography has been received and even subsequently solicited. Expulsion of the money changers from the temple Giotto 1305 Representation of the “real”, not mythological or symbolic. Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. The first version was done in 1915. Presentation of imaginative space in lieu of illustration The Treachery of Images (French: La Trahison des Images) 1929 painting by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. It is also known as This Is Not a Pipe[2] Exposing the artifice of “realism” McDonalds Pickup Ralph Goings 1970 Simulated documentary, questioning the appearance of objective truth - October 2022


    Oakland, CA – The Black Lives Matter movement brought Oakland back into the political foreground in a way not felt since the Women’s March and before that, Occupy. But the granddaddy of them all was the Black Panther Party activism born and bred in Oakland. Only recently has the tremendous role of artwork in that movement been receiving its due attention. But the urgency of the current BLM activism makes newer works the full focus of attention, daily, in the same way. · · Art itself is known most broadly for having two key characteristics. The first is that it can communicate universal themes across time, place and cultures. The second is that individual artists will likely either express their common affinity with each other by using similarities, or they will differentiate themselves by tending their expression away from commonality towards uniqueness. In that light, it is both expected and surprising how artists come together to articulate, cohere, and enhance the universal theme of Black Lives Matter – its insistence on freedom from abuse of power – through a wide variety of styles. The word “style” itself is often taken for granted. We rarely think of anything artistic as being without a style, but we also do not always consider style to be sufficient as an indicator that something is “art”. This leaves a mental space between what something graphic or visual might do to simply indicate an idea (such as visible writing), and what it might do to represent an idea (such as pictures). The most noticed exploration of that space in the public outdoors has for decades been graffiti. We have long ago become accustomed to recognizing graffitists (aka “writers” and “taggers”) as artists, and to call what they do “work”. But for many people, the habits of art talk have actually inverted, psychologically, the relationship of the words “art” and “work”. It is for them as if Art is a primary thing in the universe of manufacture, like “meals” – and the output is called “work” simply as a kind of respectful compliment. The truth is, rather, that art is fundamentally work, before it is anything else, and a fundamental question about all art production is this: what kind of work is being done? This is not a question about genre. Rather, the work that is called art is always effort being made to discover and display how meaning can be created, and that is precisely why we do say “the art OF this, or the art OF that”… Motorcycle maintenance, war, cooking, pitching, farming, design, conversation, composing, seduction, and so on. Political and religious expression is work, and there is an art OF each. Considering style again, I am reminded of how the idea of style invariably makes sense to me. I always think initially of the mark that is made on a surface with a stylus. The mark left with a stylus is evidence of a presence, an intent, and a circumstance. The more intentional the mark is, the more likely it is trying to be a sign – whether about something or to something. And the more familiar it is within certain types of situations, the more it is also a signal. We know that signals have two functions – to alert, and to attract. These are the same two major influences of the large assembly of wall art triggered by, and made for, the Black Lives Matter movement. The BLM movement is, by definition, a demonstration of the presence of victims, who now insist on social justice through respect from holders of power and who announce their intent to improve social equity through maintaining solidarity of allies. The works of art literally make their mark directly on the very devices and surfaces that were constructed to shield established power-holders — business interests — from harm. Once there, those marks were, and are, rallying points for the like-minded in any community regardless of location, occupation or status. In the variety of styles and imagery, the range is full spectrum from writing to glyphs, icons, symbols, drawings, portraits and scenes, encompassing all kinds of animate and inanimate items while referencing people, places, ideas and events. This taxonomy of the imagery could not by itself predict or predispose any of the works displayed except in the fact of their diversity, of their range of explorations in how to convey the relevant “meanings” held in common by the Movement. Easily, the most important impression made by the aggregation of the display is the implication that the works were pre-imagined independently but made with great awareness of each other. Being outdoors, the space between the works was filled with walking, and arriving at each one of them was a very typical gallery-like experience. But because of the streets being nearly empty during a fabulously sunlit afternoon, each piece radiated in the way that a performance does from a stage. However, more importantly, there was the dual-track nature of the installations. On one track, pieces were clearly site-specific, literally appropriating the many buildings for their different and special purpose. On the other track, pieces opportunistically, but in large number, exploited a line of sight usually felt either from a distance or in passing. In this track, the directness of the message projected from the space simulated the presence of persons who at other times might have been on the walkways calling out or shouting. As a result, the overall effect was that the group of works created their own environment and then populated it. I’ve said that this was done on two tracks – but they were not really so binary in presentation. Rather, there were those two different directions on a span of effects, with many points along the way that could also blend some of one with some of the other. Meanwhile, the messages were consistent, and clearly fashioned to be a record of testimony and witness… history made live by being told in the first-person.


    Contents: READING THE IMAGE. THE WORK DONE IN THE IMAGE. THE WORK DONE BY THE IMAGE. DESIGNING THE IMAGE. THE VIEWER AT WORK. THE WORK OF VIEWING. THE WORK BEYOND THE MAKING. THE MAKER’S MOTIVE. MEDIATING THE IMAGE. RECOMMENDED READING. We all want to understand the “meaning” of art, but telling someone how to arrive at that understanding is about as easy as telling someone how to understand the meaning of clouds. My concern with this is to be able to embrace both the “instinctive” reaction and the “studied” reaction, without having either exclude the other. In other places and discussions, I’ve said that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think about what they feel, and those who feel about what they think. This is just a device I invented for myself, to remind myself that neither one is subordinate to the other. Looking at photographs, we are as likely to react in one of the above ways as in the other, except for being swayed by something in the moment. For example, it’s fascinating that an image that seems mundane on a table top suddenly seems very significant when picked up and positioned on a wall inside a gallery. It’s the same picture – but, what happened? Said loosely but explicitly, the context of viewing the picture changed. We can do deep examinations of the image itself, but that is never sufficient without considering how it will get seen in display. Will it be presented with a foregoing introduction, or does it need no introduction? Will similarity to other pictures make it more accessible or instead obscure important differences? Does the viewer come to it with an “open mind” or with predispositions that feel necessary? The potential gap between an expectation and a first impression can predispose everything that is noticed afterward. And the potential gap between a first impression and subsequent ones is what may make enduring experiences out of seeing pictures. Experienced image-makers are aware of both gaps and decide what (if anything) to do about them. Saying that a picture gives enduring experiences is another way of saying that it can “have a life of its own”... But on that point, one of the key challenges a picture faces is how much the first impression commands the interest of the viewer. The strength of that command may stem from anything between a fetish on the one end of a spectrum, and a necessity on the other. Or between taste and vital news; or maybe sophistication and naivete. Said yet another way, some images “work” because they are tailored to a certain first impression; others because they overtly fight against it – and what lies between may or may not require choosing sides. The topic here: what makes people pay attention to pictures? What are they really doing when they do? And how does that wind up “making sense” of the picture? As both a maker and viewer of photography, I evolved a practice of looking at the same work repeatedly to allow an understanding to kick in. It involves looking for different things each time, then finally “letting the chips fall where they may”. For me, this is not “seeing” the picture; it is reading it. READING THE IMAGE Each time we come to a work, we might treat it as an object held in hand; we might keep turning it around to look at it from different angles. By analogy, each of those angles – those points-of-view -- largely pre-exist in our minds, but at any given time many things determine which perspective we bring to the looking. From the different viewings, the mind begins creating a composite idea of the image. That composite – whether it consists of many perspectives or few -- is, in effect, the “meaning” of the image that time. Most of the time, most people do not read most images. Why? Because images—whether in an ad, a story, an Instagram post, or even an exhibit —are most often presented to us in a context that is already trying to tell us how to experience the image. We are supposed to buy, remember, click a heart emoji , or feel cultured. The image is offered as a product for a consumer – already finished, no work on it left to be done, functional. Reading the image is therefore an intentional exercise. It gets rid of the default consumer attitude and shifts the attention from “What the maker wants the image to be” and "What I want the image to be" to "What the image wants to be." We allow the image to somehow speak for itself instead of us telling it what to do. Now, I'm not saying that this must be done. I'm saying that there is a big difference between doing it and not doing it. The first step in the exercise is to ask ourselves what knowledge we bring to bear from our prior experience, the instant the image comes into view. Let’s take an image of a bicycle. Do we own a bicycle? Do we understand a bicycle’s function? Do we grasp the mechanical aspects of a bicycle? Did we own a bicycle in the past? Do we have childhood memories of a bicycle? Because of our experiences, does the bicycle hold emotional valence for us? Is it a symbol—of athleticism, freedom, the simple life? On the other hand, what if we’ve never seen a bicycle before? What kinds of things would predispose us to recognize what the thing "is," what it "does," what that might "mean"? If we have general mechanical knowledge, we might figure out that the structure of the thing will effect locomotion. But will we also deduce that the structure is for endurance versus speed, or riding in a city, or riding on a country road, or riding off-road? If we lack mechanical knowledge, is all of that interpretive potential even there? Clearly this affects what we think the image is showing us, and maybe even why. Whether or not we’re familiar with a bicycle, the next questions ask whether the image imparts additional knowledge to us. Might the image actually generate an additional experience, whether that is a repetition of the familiar, a new possibility previous bikes have not dangled before us, or some new flight of imagination? OK, enough of the bicycle. That is simply a subject, a thing in the image, not the image in its totality. The next part in the exercise of reading the image is to pay attention to how the image tries to show us what we see – how the image is "built." THE WORK DONE IN THE IMAGE As a viewer trying to sense the maker’s effort, mentally recomposing the image is one part of reading it. This consideration calls for noticing – even testing or arguing -- the vast array of decisions that the maker took. Could the picture have been built differently yet still have the same effect? Or -- for that matter –have a predictable other effect? To test it, now we must mentally take the image apart and put it back together again – both its structure, and its apparent purpose. This effort will NOT be the same for people who either have little experience of this type of image or don't know how to make images themselves. Their perspectives are simply too limited to start emulating the process that the artist used in making the myriad decisions that led to the final form. But what all people can be told beforehand, regardless of their experience, is that every image begins life as a blank surface (a white page, a dark viewfinder). Over time, in the end, the artist has taken responsibility for anything that is left on the surface. So what about how the image maker decided to use things in the image? Mainly, it involves whether to include or exclude some object, or to play up or subdue any of a number of characteristics in evidence like parts or wholes, shapes, position, size, light, color, or empty space, when organizing the image as a final composition. Each of those choices at minimum is a decision to not use other possibilities. Above: "old-school" image editing before printing, in the pre-digital Film era. Any part of a picture, or even the whole picture, would be examined for its fitness as part of a final presented image. Digital images make these decisions nearly trivial to implement in a composite image. That is, think of the resulting construction as something cultivated from many options, “extracted” and brought together on the image surface. While the conventional discussion of this is called “editing”, I call this extraction "drawing", in the same sense that we can draw (pull) anything from the material or circumstances of a surrounding. (Speaking as a photographer: to me, it goes by definition that available light is doing “drawing” as if it is a pen; while the eye, with the camera, extracts ("draws") what is meaningful from what is visible.) THE WORK DONE BY THE IMAGE This sensitivity to cultivating the arrangement of the image characteristics gives us better awareness that they generate certain intentional effects. Logically, like the ingredients in a recipe, the effects in turn tell us how the image wants to influence us. Or said differently, they tell us how the picture wants to “Per-Form”. This is of course what a picture’s very first viewer – it’s maker – is experiencing with the image. But makers and observers, who are both viewers, can share most aspects of that experience. As viewers, once we have a sense of what influence the image intrinsically wants to have, we next think about the “external” factors -- WHY and WHERE the impact of that influence might matter as a viewing experience. Things that stand out or that matter in one set of viewing conditions – the context – may not matter the same way (or even at all) in another one. Let’s take a single given image, featuring, say, a dagger , In theory, that picture could serve any number of purposes, ranging for example from crime scene evidence to historical souvenir to marketing collateral to art gallery showpiece. It's the same image in each case; but each respective viewing context immediately pushes the viewer to "read" it a certain way. As evidence, the size and shape and apparent weight of the dagger might be most noticed, because of the importance of knowing that. As a souvenir, the image’s details that associate the dagger with its origin or location may count more. To a marketer, details of its style and visible suggestions of being in use could make it represent some story or other manner of being valuable. And so on… This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC DESIGNING THE IMAGE As an image maker, one might begin with attention to what will make a “good” crime scene image, or a “good” marketing shot, or “good” for whatever certain purpose is foreseen. The anticipated use of the image is the imagined context of its presentation. In that case, the maker may favor certain characteristics – certain compositional choices – that are expected to be more compatible with the objective of using the image. Importantly, that purpose (a context) usually exists before the image does. The purpose does not care whether the image "presented" for the purpose is created in the heat of the moment or found pre-existing elsewhere and recruited to serve it. If we take a given image and start re-purposing it across the multiple contexts (points-of-view), we may notice certain characteristics more in one context than when when we view it in another, but all the characteristics are in the picture all the time. And as we become aware of some of them here and others there, all the characteristics of the given image collectively become more explicit to us. Reading the image includes mentally considering which of its characteristics are responsible for supporting an intended use of the image. Having more experiences that way with images builds our familiarity with how effects and purposes match, and those associations become a “language” of the picture. Language, of course, is an instrument specifically developed to allow communication to create shared recognition of a meaning. While we usually think of language in terms of words, visual language has the same purpose. The experienced image maker understands this beforehand. Because of that, the maker can consciously choose – or at least instinctively decide – to select and arrange the effects in a rhetorical manner for generating an intentional influence. THE VIEWER AT WORK This is not just about the image "affecting" the viewer; the influence is the beginning of what most people think of as the "meaning" of the image. As viewers, we have a response to the influence; our response completes the sense of the “meaning”. The critical issue in our response is a matter of balance. The balance is a result of whether our response is predisposed by something before we view the picture, whether the picture succeeds in directing how we respond, and how the co-incidence of those two things affects what we acknowledge and think the picture is doing (or as we conventionally put it, what the picture is “saying”). THE WORK OF VIEWING The next part of reading the image is consideration of how it is “performing” in the purpose assigned by the viewing context. Is this picture from a high school yearbook, a police file, an acting audition, or a magazine cover? When we look at a picture, we may already have a certain purpose or expectation in mind and it likely affects how we read the image. In this case, the person shown (Lindsay Lohan) is a world famous actor and singer who is also a very expensive fashion model, a convicted lawbreaker, a business executive, and a recovering alcoholic. This image was created by a police department as a mug shot; but it is very “portable” across different expectations of different viewers. The most likely situation is that people who did not already know what she looks like will read the picture in terms of why they are told they should see it. They will notice the characteristics that “fit” their expectation, and other characteristics will go relatively unnoticed. But if they are told to expect something different, the picture will seem different because other things will be more noticed. A fashion photographer, conventionally, will make pictures of Lohan that include visual cues specifically to influence the viewers attention and interest towards glamour. Or in a step further, if a photographer intends to address an audience that is already very familiar with both glamour and Lohan, the photographer may aim for getting attention – with the first impression – by intentionally contrasting against those expectations, presenting the widely recognized Lohan to a fashion audience in a stripped-down look, and in that way arguing that the look is true to Fashion; Fashion is about making difference and change desirable. In a different example, with photography, we might realize that a super-colorful microscopic laboratory image of bacteria, enlarged and framed, works well as a great piece of abstract art, not only as a scientific record. For one viewer, not knowing that it is showing bacteria may be important to the way the image can affect the viewer. But for another viewer, knowing that it is showing bacteria might increase the picture’s appeal by emphasizing that experiencing nature is very compelling or proposing that “nature is an artist”. Those are all types of “artistic experiences” that we have, knowing that something was not just found to be a certain way but made to be that way. Bacteria (micro-organisms): JUAN MIRO: THE WORK BEYOND THE MAKING Artworks are made somewhere, in a studio, a spare room, on a piece of land, in a factory or some lab. Wherever, it may or may not ever make it out of that place of origin. Before it has an audience other than the maker, it must be exposed. Unless it is merely discovered somehow, we might call the work released, exhibited, or some other verb, but any of which means the work is presented. Most deliberate efforts to present artwork include telling the viewer what POV to bring as an audience. Advertising pushes provocative or sensitive messages to “frame” a product's appeal. Captions appear in news papers or magazines. Wall labels at galleries and museums give mini-essays, or quite nearly instructions, on why something makes a work important. Typically, the Presenter, such as an exhibitor, seller, magazine, or other agent of exposure, has a vested interest in the Viewer agreeing with the Presenter's objectives. And of course, agreement validates the presenter’s effort as being valuable in some way. The question for the presenter is, what does it take to get the viewer to agree? When the Maker is the presenter, the usual assumption is also that the maker intends for the viewer to have a certain experience. That assumption makes a viewer’s knowledge about the Maker a part of the context of seeing the picture -- and therefore also a part of how characteristics in the picture are noticed. In effect, the assumption establishes the basis for experiencing virtual communication with the maker. This communication raises recognition of the maker as a go-to provider of the type of experience obtained. Having a loyal audience is valuable to the maker. That loyalty increases the audience’s familiarity with the maker an raises sensitivity to how the maker has made choices. However, a picture does not necessarily offer such communication. We may read a picture with no knowledge of the maker or maker’s intent. That case simply means the context of viewing – the elements that make up our perspective and predisposition -- is different for us than for viewers who know the maker. Further, when we read a picture, we may even conclude that it is essentially a new thing in the world that has no intended purpose other than to be experienced as a discovery, a catalyst, or an entirely new idea -- that is, an experiment with a potential of changing how we can experience things. THE MAKER’S MOTIVE Because of what motivates a Maker, an awful lot of art has a dominant objective, which is to set the way you experience things. The maker can consciously choose to work more with existing expectations, or more against them. This intentionality can take several different directions or modes. Modes are ways that the picture intentionally relates to the viewer’s prior experiences. Aside from a default “documentary” or “evidentiary” mode, there are three important other ones. When the picture is used to present an alternative but identifiable experience, I call this the Philosophical mode. It expands your knowledge by giving you a way to have an unfamiliar experience of something thought to be familiar. MARCEL DUCHAMP SALVADOR DALI (c) Copyright Cindy Sherman CINDY SHERMAN PABLO PICASSO There are two other primary modes: the Celebratory and the Analytic. The Celebratory amplifies the experiences already being brought to an image by the viewer. For example, we are accustomed to scenic images that reproduce and emphasize the sensations and moods we may have in the environment. Similarly, portraiture of famous people or coverage of events aim to convey our direct experience of the subject, not just the recognition. Even a still life qualifies here. Famous Movie Star Famous Athlete The Analytic critiques, deconstructs, or otherwise subverts prior experience without providing a replacement; it just wants to break all your habits and free you up to create or recognize new experiences beyond what you already desire or know. The newness may or may not persist as much for one viewer as for another but that is not an issue for the maker. Twiggy “Heroin Chic” vs. "beauty" conventions Guy Bourdin vs. fashion tableau Jan Groover still life Picasso portrait These modes (evidentiary, philosophical, celebratory, analytic) are not the same as “genres”. In fact, they do not predict what the picture will finally look like, because as intentions they are more influences on the maker’s decisions than they are required final outcomes. And, in making a given picture, they are not mutually exclusive. The importance of them in reading the picture is that they can make us as viewers more sensitive to our predispositions – those experiences that we bring with us to the viewing of the picture. But reading a picture gives us a conscious opportunity to consider holding or relaxing our predispositions as we allow the picture to show its characteristics to us. In that way, we more actively participate in a real-time re-creation of the picture in our mind. MEDIATING THE IMAGE Finally, then, we must talk about those other parties who mediate between us as viewers and the image, who deign to tell us what the image means. We arrive at the respective functions of the Reviewer, the Collector, the Critic, the Curator, and the Editor -- all of whom operate beyond the origination of the image by the Maker and mediate the relationship of the Made to the Seen. · The Reviewer may say to some audience, "Hey, this new show has pretty good work for people who like x, y, and z." · The Collector says, "I gotta get one of those; in fact I want the *best* one." · The Critic says, "Here's what the artist was trying to do in/with this piece, but here's what actually happened." · The Curator says, "Works done by artists trying to do X or Y vary in how they got it done, but despite the variations the commonality among the works is evident." · The Editor says, "Some of the variations are much more important than others to defining and refining the maker’s effort. But I have a particular situation in which I need to display pieces representing my own POV on what matters." Those roles are not mutually exclusive in practice. An audience may attend to more than one of them at a single time or over time. And of course some individuals practice multiple roles concurrently. But most audiences are easily confused about the differences of the roles and are cowed by the “authority” of their pronouncements. Many presentations basically tell the audience that we don't need to differentiate between the roles, and we don’t need to read the image on our own, either. Because, they say, "We're gonna tell you why to appreciate something,” or “We're going to price it the same, regardless." The important matter here is that when we as viewers pay attention to the differences between these roles – these various types of mediators -- we realize that they become part of our experiences and part of the predisposition that we next bring to seeing pictures – in counterpoint to what the maker may intend. or to what the picture de facto shows. RECOMMENDED READING Reading an image mainly means actively considering the variety of ways that our perception of the image is affected by the will of the maker, the presenter, and our pre-disposed selves as the starting point of forming a full experience of the picture’s presence. This more intensive involvement with the picture does not mean that there is a right way to understand the picture. Instead, it means that there is a higher probability of noticing ways that the maker may be distinctive, the image may be unique, or that the impact may be special, even if the picture initially seems uninteresting. Naturally, if not always, we enjoy the desirably familiar; we’re curious about the unusual; and we appreciate becoming more sophisticated. Loosely parallel, then, the three modes of images – celebratory, analytical, and philosophical – readily offer value to us as viewers. And while this next thought is not the main point of this discussion, there is also something to be noted about how our relationship to images changes over time due to reading them. Reading images creates an experience of them that, through repetition, we can easily find desirable and familiar (that is, celebrate). But because we are reading, we may also investigate (analyze) that prior experience, with the result being an expansion of what we discover is possible to experience (that is, “come to know”, or philosophy). So it is from that process that fully engaging our experience of viewing echoes the key ways that the image may individually influence us – but moreover, this: that celebration can become more sophisticated; that analysis can become more insightful; and that philosophy can likewise become more enriched; overall, making images more powerful as we increasingly learn to really “see” what we’re looking at.

  • What The Critic Saw

    Why do we think that we can know with confidence when something is or is not an "art" work? What is the unifying idea underlying our belief? And what if we see something that we decide is not art -- what other meaningful experience do we expect from the way it presents visual stimulation? Those questions lead me to one special question above all: how does a photograph, my primary medium, design its content such that its content designs the experience of seeing it? I. I've been making, critiquing, teaching and using photographs for over 45 years, and during that time there are in my memory only two or three occasions where explaining photography's distinction has significantly shifted the prior breadth or direction of understanding. As a very good example: one time was when technology allowed photograph makers to work with colors as a before-the-fact material, as a default, as (by analogy to writing or music) the actual vocabulary or notes not just available to be used but suggesting how to even think about things, what to imagine -- in the case of pictures, literally what to look for when seeing. The opportunity to cross-reference decades of material discussing images and art set up a task that ironically might get done in just a few days with todays artificial intelligence and machine learning computers. But here, it has been done old-school style: exhaustive personal examination of my notes to distill common and recurring concepts from the many ways they have been brought up. The task was to identify the smallest vocabulary necessary to model what is going on while an artist is developing a "work" (product) of art (production). To stage this, first we have a definition of art that applies. Art is an intentional effort to discover and convey how the arranging of materials can generate the perception of meaning. The artist carries out the activity; the critic studies the activity to see how its actual effects become probable, in particular effects that have high priority to observers. Critics are essentially analysts. (In contrast, "Reviewers" have only the responsibility to measure whether the priorities of given observers are more or less satisfied by the work and and to notify observers of that.) Art critics most often presuppose that they will be able to detect three things: something that the artist was trying to accomplish (an effect); some way that the artist tried to get that done (a cause); and what relationship was established in fact between the intent of the effort and what actually happened (what effects were actually caused versus hopefully caused). In the course of criticism, some particular aspect of that relationship is usually highlighted as a special reason for whether the work is "successful", "important", "flawed", or otherwise qualified with some expertly subjective designation. Some of those evaluations are more about how the work compares with other works, with preceding trends, or with prior efforts. Those references to things other than the present work usually reflect a sense that the critic knows as much about how to meet the artist's intent as does the artist. So of course it reflects the idea that there is a model of what is required to be deemed effective, which presumably is already known by the critic if not by any critic who could be considered "qualified" themselves. But of course it is the very nature of art work that the effort can produce something that doesn't exactly match any work that already exists. The norm is that any additional new work produced will be at least a variant on a predecessor, or at most an outright innovation that perhaps "breaks the mold" or entirely replaces it. The critic is responsible for identifying what difference in particular is supposed to be the origin of the meaning attributed to the work. The analysis and distillation of my experience as an observer (of effects) and student (of causes) of art product boils down the semantics of a vast range of ways of talking about art, into a logical "architecture" of art production. As a hypothesis, this architecture argues that no critical discussion of an art work ever gets beyond the concepts and relationships shown here, but instead winds its way through the items. The discussion omits some of them and selects others; dwells on examples of those selections; and emphasizes the specifics of those examples in terms of history, uniqueness, culture, preferences, resources, psychology, or other contexts that say how the critic thinks something has importance. The central single subject being described in the critical discussion is "Create". It is about deliberate activity to produce something. This "critical" model describes what the activity involves in its progression from origination to outcome. Inspiration or instigation to create -- We immediately think of the effort to create in terms of Why, What and How. These are considered to be the three essential dimensions of the activity, just as a solid object has 3 dimensions (length, width, height). Constraints of creation -- In production, the artist develops areas of concern that have boundaries; these concerns ( shown here as expectations, rules, and intentions) are each in effect a translation of a dimension into a particular condition that predetermines the particular work. Evolution of creation -- During the development of the work, the artist allows their concerns to vary as much as is felt to be interesting, relevant or necessary. You can see that the variations --turned actual versus imagined -- are accountable in terms of key influencers. Development of creation -- Each dimension associates exclusively to one aspect of development that the artist "works with" -- How refers to Means, What refers to Ideas, and Why refers to Motive. Category of the created -- The result of creation is an item of a certain type. The distinguishing essential dimensions of the type are Form, Function, and Class. We can see that each dimension of creation (why, what, how) contributes to how we can account for the distinctions of the created. Each dimension of creation (what, why, how) relates to each other, and each of those relations accounts for one of the dimensions of type. For example, together, Why and How together account for the Function of what is created. Elements of the created -- Each separate dimension of type (form, function, class) is entirely distinct from the others, but it includes particular influencers on creation such as concept, technique, and object. What we see in the critical model is that Form involves the influencers "objects" and "concepts", but in a specific way that differs from how objects are considered by Class and how concepts are considered by Function. The influencers are logically associated with the dimensions of creation, and the strength of a type of influencer is strongest where it most directly serves one of those related dimensions. Overall, the diagram's map of connections between the above factors provides a model for managing the consistency of how discussions about the work identify and communicate meaningful observations. Since it is a model, it also can be used at least experimentally as a prescriptive guide to creating a discussion. That in turn offers a common frame of reference to the artist and the critic. Most importantly, the artist and the critic are not necessarily separate individuals; instead, they are distinctive roles and perspectives that in fact can be in constant cooperation or dialogue during creation, about such matters as priorities, values, and options in creation.

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