Last night I went to a roundtable called 'The Psycho-Neurology of the Photographic Arts' at the Philoctetes Center. I've blogged about roundtables that I've been to before, and I still feel like I have the smallest IQ in the room when I go there, but considering how much reality TV I watch and how many brain cells must have died after each episode, is it any wonder? Still I had to look at my blog Scandalous Women just to remind myself that I am indeed intelligent and can put two sentences together.
While some of things that were discussed went way over my head, there were some pertinent subjects that I found particularly interesting. And the panelists were incredibly lively and engaged, which is what you want. I would rather see disagreements and heated discussion than everyone kind of being polite to each other. There was a lot of talk about optical nerves and whether how we look at and interpret an image is cultural or biological. I'll spare you the answer to that since I was totally confused at this point. And the panelists couldn't agree either!
I was particularly struck by Robert Polidori who is a photographer who seems to specialize in photographing rooms instead of people. I found that incredibly interesting. There was much ribbing and questioning when he said that in the act of photographing a subject or a room, he has no emotion at that moment, before and afterwards yes, but not at the time that he clicks the shutter. That right then he has to be objective.
There was also a discussion of black and white photography versus color, which was better or worse. I personally prefer black and white photography unless its fashion photography, although I've seen some stunning images from the 1950's. Robert Polidori made a funny comment about his use of color is related to the acid trips that he took in the 60's. I totally get that even though I have never indulged myself (I'm a child of the 80's although apparently acid made a brief comeback in the 90's at least according to this artist I used to know who dropped it frequently). There's something about color photography that's particularly modern, whereas I feel that black and white photography is timeless, a black and white image from the 19th century can look just as modern as one from the 1960's in many ways.
Images in color can also be more shocking. I went to see this exhibit at the American Museum of Folk Art called Dargerism, which is about artwork influenced by a man named Henry Darger. Wikipedia can explain who Henry Darger is better than I can here. I can tell you that his artwork features little girls with angelic faces who also for some reason have penises. A photographer who was inspired by his artwork had created pictures where young women had been photoshopped onto the bodies of prebubescent girls. The colors in the pictures were incredibly bright and I found the images much more shocking in color than the photos that Lewis Carroll took in the 19th Century. Maybe its because Carroll wasn't trying to shock whereas this photographer clearly did.
It also struck me how in the Darger paintings the girls had an innocence about them which wasn't present in the photographs. Even though in several of them the girls were naked (and had penises). While Darger may have had sinister intentions for the girls, its under the surface, whereas in the photographs it was clearly blatant. I found afterwhile I couldn't look at the photos, I had to move on.
One of the panelists, who I was calling in my head, rather pompous posh dude (his real name is David Freedberg and he teaches Art History at Columbia. He has one of those hybrid accents, in his case South Africa via Yale and Oxford. What my Impossibly Handsome British friend calls a passion killing accent) made a comment about emotion in art and how good art should have been made without emotion or something like that. Which kind of ticked me off. Because how can you say that an artist isn't trying to invoke an emotion with his artwork? Or that he wasn't emotional when he chose the subject or when he was in the act of creation. Van Gogh's artwork is all about passionate emotion.
I'm one of those people who totally responds to a piece of art emotionally. I don't know anything about brushstrokes or chiascuro or anything like that. I can admire a painting but unless it evokes an emotional response in me, I'm not going to love it. Which is why I love the pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionist painters and most modern art leaves me cold. I believe that most artists create out of some sort of emotion or they're trying to invoke something emotional response in the viewer. If you've ever seen any of William Blake's paintings, they are very passionate and totally correspond with his world view and his poetry.
The Sleeping Princess (Frances MacDonald)
Which do you prefer painting or photography? Black & white or color? Do you believe that most artists create out of emotion or is it more calculated than that?