Initial on-line meeting with my Visual Culture Studies tutor

Yesterday I had a very useful first meeting with Peter Haveland, my new tutor, and here are my thoughts on the meeting.

I was able to technically arrange and participate in the hang-out, which will enable me to take part in group hang-outs for visual culture from now on.

I learned that the old oca webmail oca-uk.com does not work, and that I must use the new address oca.ac.uk. This should help me with the difficulties I ve had accessing my e mails and entering the OCA site.

I have now clarified with Peter that I have a deadline of September 2017 to finish my current module.

I mentioned to Peter that I’d found the required texts quite difficult to read. Peter reassured me that they were quite difficult articles, but that it was not necessary to understand the whole of every piece. This is a level 1 course and it is sufficient to gain a broad understanding of the historical and political context which the articles were written in.

I also mentioned that I’d written rather a lot for most of my projects so far, including quite structured answers to the blog questions, and that I’d probably need to cut down the amount of written response, given that I have a deadline of next September. Peter looked at my wordpress blog and agreed that there was a lot of content, but said that it had all seemed to make sense, and that would have been a valuable experience.  He also said that there were very few projects and assignments which needed an essay style response, and that many of the assignments could be done by scanning and annotating an image or images. I definitely do need to stick to my assignment deadlines though, and will need to complete my projects more efficiently.

I told Peter that I needed to submit my Painting 1 coursework after Christmas, and would need to take a few weeks off in order to do so. I also need to reorganise and make changes to my Painting 1 learning log. Peter said it was important that I took time to make a good submission, and that it was ok to take time off to do this- and it should still be possible to complete my current module on time.

I discussed that my Painting module had not gone to plan and that I had needed an extension in order to complete it. Also my tutor had had to be rather critical, and I had struggled to produce good quality work. This had been a disappointment, but had also left me feeling a little that I did not know the difference between good and bad quality paintings. It had also become apparent that I no longer thought of myself as simply wanting to paint and be a painter, but that I’d begun to discover other areas where I was enjoying being creative (including my visual studies course which has been extremely interesting and stimulating so far). It was therefore possible that I might rethink my degree pathway following my Painting 1 experience. Peter said that a discussion of these things would be a valuable addition to my learning log for the painting module.

I told Peter that I intended to take part in a Visual Culture weekly hang-out with other students, because it would help me engage with other students, and also help clarify my learning so far on the module.

 

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Photography: the new reality

Project: Photography: the new reality

New media

Modernism occurred within the context of urbanisation and industrialisation in the late 19th Century. Photography, film, developments in printing, and mass production of images fundamentally affected the way artists thought and worked (Haveland, 2009:29).

Photography versus Painting. By Osip Brik (1888-1945).

Photography constantly tries to push painting to one side, with painting resisting the action. This process began with the invention of the camera and will end when photography finally displaces painting completely. This sentence seems somewhat tautological at first glance; it seems to say it will only end when it ends. On reflection the author may wish to suggest that the battle will be all or nothing, and that whichever wins, the victory will be absolute.

Photographers say that photography is quicker, cheaper and more precise than painting, and painting cannot rival the photograph for faithful reproduction. Photography moved from portraits through other genres like landscape and genre pictures. Its popularity prompted painters to fight back.

Painting could never be cheaper or faster than photography, so painters built their battle around the claim that painting is more precise. For example, paintings, unlike photos, are coloured. The author then clearly states for the first time, what he thinks about the debate, and where he stands on it; that ‘painters were wrong, and many are still wrong today’ (Brik, 2003:471).

The author admits that humans see in colour, and that painters use colours to reproduce the objects around them, but these colours are not identical to those in nature, because the artist’s media have a ‘different effect on our eyes than the rays of light which give diverse colours to objects’ (Brik, 2003:471). This sentence seems clumsily written (or is it clumsily translated?); he seems to equate colours in media with rays of light transmitted by real objects. This does not compare ‘like with like’. I think there is an argument to be had, but it should compare the rays of light transmitted from real objects with those transmitted from artists’ media. A second argument pertinent here, is that photography when compared to painting, is the product made when light from the object hits the photosensitive paper- there is a direct physical connection, which is missing from the communication of objects via painting. This ‘indexical nature’ of the photograph (Evans, 1993:13) makes it more real than a painting, in this sense at least.

It strikes me at this point that this article is written in a less complex style than many previous articles, and it is more easily understood, but somewhat less sophisticated (so far) in argument and language.

The author then becomes a little more precise saying that the quality and quantity of the colours coming from a palette can never match those of real objects (more precise still would have been an argument involving hue, saturation and possibly tonal value). Photographs cannot reproduce real colours exactly, but at least they do not ‘falsify’ them. This argument seems a little flawed too. It is known that photographs do not accurately represent either the colour or the tonal values within a real scene. Thus black and white photography pushes the natural tonal values of a scene towards the two extremes of light and dark, and colour photography overemphasises the hues blue and red (Albers, 2013:13-14). On the one hand, Brik’s monochromatic photograph seems to falsify the colours, by omitting them and representing them with tonal values, and on the other, these values themselves are distorted from reality.

Returning to the painter, he explains that they do not hold reproduction of reality as the ultimate goal, and realise that ‘painterly colouring’ is more than just reproduction of colours in real objects (Brik, 2003:471). In fact painters, he expands, see their job as using the images of nature to give them ideas which they expand upon and change during the painting process- otherwise they (not Brik) feel they will be merely copyists – like photographers. This argument seems consistent with the view of traditional academic or classical painting held by modernist painters – that they must create using the ideas of reality-and that to simply mimic nature is unacceptable (Malevich,2003:173; Matisse, 2003:72; Schevchenko, 2003:100 ).

At this point I became a little confused again about just where the author stands on the issues. However, rereading the text it is clear that he is on the side of the photographers, but that when he discusses the painter’s ideas, he often discusses them favourably, through their own voice (not his). This communicates an ambivalence of feeling which may be deliberate.

The author then continues, that painters do have a different task to photographers; that photographers ‘reproduce nature’ whilst painters create paintings from reality. This function of painting has been declared since the mid 19th Century in progressive movements such as Impressionism, Cubism and Suprematism, amongst others. Note however that if here the Impressionists are cited as modern re-creators of reality, this classification is not universal, and other writers and painters have considered them just the opposite, producing a ‘superficial realism’….’where even more than with Courbet , the retina predominates over the brain;’ (Gleizes and Metzinger, 2003: 194-5).

Brik now introduces a new painting movement in Soviet Russia. The AKhRR (the Association of Visual Artists of Revolutionary Russia) is striving to return to the idea of reproduction of reality in it’s paintings. The reasons for this are: because it is a time of revolution, and these important times need to be recorded realistically, because many artists using the painterly style found it difficult to sell their work, and that there are many less cultured buyers who do not differentiate between an exact reproduction and an approximation. Brik feels that the AKhRR are foolish to attempt to resurrect ‘so-called painterly realism’ (Brik, 2003:472), because although not perfect, photography will triumph completely over reality painting, if not now, certainly in the future.

He reiterates the photograph’s strengths (cheap, quick and precise) and states that these make it socially more important. Despite this photographers do not think of themselves as important- rather, as inferior artisans when compared to the painterly artists. Brik lists the practices (rituals?) of the painterly society, which reinforce the idea (ideology?) that painting is art, but that photography is ‘merely an insignificant craft’ (Brik, 2003:472). These include exhibitions, catalogues, lengthy analysis of paintings, and the accoutrements of cultured events.

Brik now flips to his own ‘anti-painting’ voice. Photographer’s who try to make realistic photos painterly destroy their craft and reduce its social importance. Understandably, painters follow this path because they seek the recognition given to painters, but Brik strongly believes that they must not attempt to play painters at their own aesthetic game- but to take them on via the defining characteristics of their own medium- the photograph’s faithful reproduction of everyday reality.

This journey is not an easy one, as no artistic theory of photography exists, other than a few tips on technique, and how to make a photograph more painterly. However, some painters have left the discipline of painting, and taken up the challenge of photography, and have even produced results.

Brik believes that if photographers communicate with each other, about their experiences, and fight against painterly photographic technique, a new theory of ‘the art of photography’ is possible (Brik, 2003:473). Like a ‘poacher-turned gamekeeper’, the former painters are best placed to create artistic photography. One such former painter is A. M. Rodchenko, who is now a photographer, producing experimental work. Knowledge of him will help photographers to develop as a profession.

Other questions arising from the piece:

What were the technical characteristics of photography at this time? Monochrome colour , Black and white? How was the camera made?

Brik does not say much about the painter’s counter-attack- what did it entail?

Is this less sophisticated language and argument? Or just translation effects?

How well does the distinction between painting and photography fit the characteristics of Althusser’s ideology?

How important were paintings and photographs in the Russian revolution and Soviet Russia ?

In your Blog

Do you think that Brik’s article points to a practice that was taken up by photographers or other artists to any great extent?

Photography is definitely a practice which became, and still is massively popular in the world. The scholar Nicholas Mirzoeff admits that he and many others were wrong to predict the fall of photography in the 1990’s, and that ‘precisely the reverse has happened with the quantity and significance of photography being greater than ever before (Mirzoeff, 2013:3). The evolution of affordable and easy-to- use cameras has progressed from Brik’s time, through black and white to colour, and from complicated machines and processes, through instamatic cameras, sophisticated digital cameras, and mobile phones, many of which will have a camera built in. This technological age allows the execution and sharing of pictures in seconds. Personal photographs can be uploaded into virtual spaces such as the cloud, instagram, and facebook, and shared with hundreds of people. Because of these modes of sharing and storing pictures, we live in a world which is more dominated by personal images than we have ever known. In 2014 the Independent reported that the number of hand held gadgets (overwhelmingly mobile phones) had increased from nought to 7.2 billion in 30 years- though interestingly, more than half of the world’s people do not have one (Davies Boren, 2014). In the third quarter of 2016, Facebook, driven largely by shared photographs and text, had reached 1.79 billion monthly active users (Statista, 2008).

Photography has proved massively popular as a tool for sociological recording, from amateur family snapshot albums, through Facebook galleries, and including the work of professional photographers (the paparazzi and famous war photographers to name just two genres). The ubiquity of cameras has meant that not just professional, but even amateur still or moving pictures can prove highly socially important. Just as Brik foresaw that the photograph would help record the reality of revolutionary events in USSR, the ubiquity of mobile phones has allowed and facilitated revolutions globally in the 21 st Century.

The ‘’Arab Spring’’ of 2011 comprised a wave of revolutions against dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East, and was closely aligned to the ‘Occupy’ movement which sought to highlight the social inequalities in the world. Downtrodden people began to see more clearly the social and political situations they were enduring, and organised revolutions to escape.The media, including social media, Facebook, and at it’s centre the photograph, was fundamental to this process, both allowing people to see the reality of their own situation, and by allowing the outside world to see the situation through media broadcasting.

Additionally, there are daily media examples of self-recorded, or by-stander recorded images of socially and politically important events such as controversial police shootings, or the close-up images of disasters such as the 9/11 disaster in New York, or the 7/7 train explosions in London. These relations of photography to political and military power struggles, are discussed in ‘Introduction: For Critical Visuality Studies’ (Mirzoeff, 2013). The author claims that a key part of these studies is identifying ‘who claims to control the authority to look’, who ‘is willing to claim the right to look’, and ‘the demand to look on that which authority holds to be out of sight’ (Mirzoeff, 2013).

As Brik wished, the practice of photography has become widespread and socially important. It has also become an artistic discipline in it’s own right, worthy of scholarly analysis and discourse, exhibitions, and artistic and critical respect. Fine art photography is also bought and sold for high prices rivalling paintings in the international art markets. These developments are clearly shown in a criticism of the work of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (Mercer, 1993). Whilst the author is severely critical of the underlying racial fetishism shown in his work ‘Black Males’, he acknowledges that Mapplethorpe has become a star in the eyes of ‘journalists, critics, curators and collectors’ (Mercer, 1993:435). The author discusses the technical skill, thought, and artistry behind these photographs at length, saying the artists ‘characteristic signature (is), the pursuit of perfection in photographic technique’. The price of Mapplethorpe’s photos in the International market in art photography is described as ‘exorbitant’.

Do you find any resonances with Brik’s ideas in contemporary discussions of photography and painting ?

Find and annotate two examples of images that demonstrate the impact of photography on painting. How do these images acknowledge the shift in visual culture that came about with the advent of photography

 

Carole Bezanken

Carole Benzaken is one of the contemporary artists listed in the book Vitamin P: Painting. The text tells us that she is primarily a painter and is interested in the question of abstraction v representation. This has been a central theme in Art since the mid 19th Century, and Brik acknowledges this debate through his discussion of realism v painterliness (Brik, 2003). This artist allows herself to work between both environments, and takes no ideological stance (unlike most Modernists). Benzaken is also interested in the techniques of photography and painting, often and often integrates both in the same painting. She often uses several styles within a painting showing the range of ‘painterliness’, and often uses photos as the starting point of her work.She is particularly interested in collective public events, such as the funeral of Diana princess of Wales, or busy public scenes such as urban life in LA, and her work focuses on ‘looking and seeing’(Dailey, 2002:40).

Figure 1. La BreaNight, 2002.

bubble-2

  1. The background scene is quite abstract. Is it a busy road with car lights and streetlights at night ( a very photographic scene), or just abstract shapes and colours (a more painterly scene)?
  2. The style is very free and impressionistic, suggesting lack of focus (like an unfocussed photo?).
  3. Within this background we have several circular formats- in the traditional position of the ‘subject’. Except, rather than a main painting subject, the artist has presented several subjects- suggestive of photography not painting (we might even call them ‘snapshots’).
  4. These snapshots are painted in a less painterly, more realistic manner, more representative of the photograph than painting, and are urbanesque, containing buildings and people
  5. Some contain images of sport and musical performances (suggestive of crowd events)-highly ‘photographic’ but less common in paintings.
  6. Compositionally this piece is rather modern- it seems balanced, but in the manner of an exploding planet leaving swirls and vortices in its wake- very different to the compositional techniques of the painter’s at this time.

 

Merlin Carpenter

David Bussel gives the following thoughts on this contemporary painter, in the book Vitamin P. His work is sceptical to art history and the problems of image making today. He is interested in Painting, authorship, commodity fetishism, translating from photos onto an abstract ground, and the relationship of modernism to technology. He enjoys playing in-jokes with references in paintings, believing these to allow an ‘emptying-out of the signifier’ which allows ‘freeing up (of) meaning and possibility’ (Bussel, 2002:58).

Figure 2. Chairs (1999-2000).

mc_1999-2000_chairs_a7268

  1. The main subjects are a car and a half dressed woman- typical commodity items in the 21st Century- probably copied from advertising photographs, which are the sine qua non of the modern photographic image. They seem to be painted, but in a more realist, less gestural style than the background, perhaps because they are iconic photographic images. There is little perspective between the two main subjects (reinforcing the modern).
  2. The background is rather complex, looks somewhat like a ‘classical’ painting ( like a Claude landscape). It is less focussed and painted more gesturally (more painterly) than the main subjects. It is a typical painterly genre and incudes painterly compositional ideas such as linear and aerial perspective. It is also Modern however- as it contains modern motor cars.
  3.  The incongruous positioning of the subjects on the background inevitably questions what relationships the two could have in the viewer’s mind. Relationships about importance, subjects, background, message coding, and ideas about Classical and Modern.
      • How much is the woman’s body equivalent to a classical ‘nude’, or to a modern ‘commodity’, is there much difference?
      • The same could be said for the car- is it a form of transport or just a commodity to be bought and sold?
      • The background is more complex, gestural, than the woman-car –cap trio. Does this imply that it is more delicate and important (suggested by the signifier technique) or less important (suggested by the signifier position in the background) than the subject trio?
      • Many of these suggestions hinge around the ambiguity within the language of these images. One may interpret them in several ways

 

Illustrations

Figure 1. Benzaken, C. (2002) La Brea Night [acrylic on canvas], at http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tMLTi0t0TTQ/U2LTJRnlkYI/AAAAAAAAB

_0/WKoFQDbZRqQ/s1600/bubble+2.jpg (accessed on 11 December 2016).

Figure 2. Carpenter, M (1999-2000). Chairs  [Acrylic on canvas] at  http://www.simonleegallery.com/artists/merlin_carpenter/selected_works.html. (accessed on 11 December 2016).

Bibliography


Albers, J. (2013) The interaction of Colour 4th edition. New Haven and London. Yale University Press.

Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p317-324

Barthes, R (1993). ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Brik, O. (1993). ‘Photography versus Painting 1926’. In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 470-473

Bussel, D. (2003). ‘Merlin Carpenter’  in Vitamin P . Breuvart, V (ed.). London. Phaidon Press. p58-61

Dailey, M. (2003). ‘Carole Benzaken’ in Vitamin P . Breuvart, V (ed.). London. Phaidon Press. p40-41

Davies Boren, Z. (2014). ‘There are officially more mobile devices than people in the world’ in The Independent [online] at http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/there-are-officially-more-mobile-devices-than-people-in-the-world-9780518.html. [accessed on 10th December 2016].

Evans, J. (1993). Introduction to ‘Rhetorics of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 11-21

Gleizes, A. and Metzinger, J (2003). ‘from Cubism 1912’ In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p.190-194

Haveland, P. (2009) Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Madrigal, A.C (2011). ‘The Story Behind Last Night’s Iconic Photo From the Egyptian Protests’ in The Atlantic [online] at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/01/the-story-behind-last-nights-iconic-photo-from-the-egyptian-protests/70274/%5Baccessed on 10th December 2016].

Malevich, K.(2003) . ‘From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. 1915-16’. In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p.171-173.

Matisse, H.(2003). ‘‘Notes of a Painter’ 1908’. in Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 69-75

Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’. In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.    p435-448

Mirzoeff, N. (2013). ‘Introduction: for Critical Visuality Studies’ In The Visual Culture Reader. Mirzoeff, N (ed). Routledge, OXON. pⅨⅩⅩ- ⅩⅩⅩⅧ.

Schevchenko, A (2003). ‘‘Neo-Primitivism’ 1913’ in Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 99-102

Statista (2008). ‘Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 3rd quarter 2016 (in millions)’ [online] at https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/ /[accessed on 10th December 2016].

 

An investigation of the journal of visual culture.org website.


  • This is an International refereed journal
  • Published by SAGE 3x yearly
  • Articles from a range of historical periods, geographical areas, methodological positions

August 2016 (Vol. 15, issue 2)

ARTICLES:

Here I have listed the academic articles, and have analysed the abstracts, suggesting my own keywords or phrases, on the basis of their importance to the article,  their relevance to visual culture, and their interest to me.

  1. The Art of Social Reproduction by Victoria Horne

Museum, feminist politics, framing, social reproduction, care labour, activist artworks, neoliberalism, age of austerity, ambiguous relocation

2. Monroe’s Molly: Three Reflections on Eve Arnold’s Photograph of Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: by Griselda Pollock

Marilyn Monroe, still photography, secondary archive, ‘still Monroe’, gender inflection,  modernist woman,  sex-goddess, modernist text, Warburgian art history,  postcolonial feminist class analysis,  sexist and racist cultural institutions, psychoanalytically-inflected image analysis, double agency,  the gendered voice

 3.Parallax Effects: Epistemology, Affect and Digital 3D Cinema by Kristen Whissel

Stereoscope, stereoscopic 3D aesthetics, immersive sensory experience, z-depth (positive parallax), affective seeing, epistemic seeing, emergent images (negative parallax),  forms of connectivity, locatability

  1. The Painter of Dematerialization by Kris Cohen

Dematerialization, Conceptualist practices, the property form, intellectual property law, digital culture

 

Book Reviews

Here I have listed details of the book reviews, and some keywords and phrases based on the review extract given online.

  1. D Medina Lasansky (ed.), Archi.Pop: Mediating Architecture in Popular Culture: Barry Curtis

Archi.Pop,  Architectural Historians,  complex sign systems, repositories of association, popular media, Walter Benjamin, mediation, semi-conscious memory,  fabulate,  everyday ‘architectural’ experience,  viewing context,  Barthes, Banham, secondary environments,  expanded cultural realm of reference

 2.Giuliana Bruno, Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media : Luci Eldridge

Materiality, the virtual age, artist films, installations, re-theorization, a surface of transformation. space of crossovers, metaphorical, textural effect, substrate, the fabrics of the visual,  ‘assemblage and clusters of thought’,  interdisciplinary approach, recurrent theme throughout, thresholds, ‘folding operations’, ‘multimedial terrain’, narrational, analytical, creative, abstract

 3.Dana Arnold (ed.), Interdisciplinary Encounters: Hidden and Visible Explorations of the Work of Adrian Rifkin : Ajay Hothi

The riddle, externalises itself,  reason-to-be, paradigmatic structure,  writing about art, writing as art, plurality,  Janus-faced,

4.Sean Cubitt, The Practice of Light: A Genealogy of Visual Technologies from Prints to Pixels Swagato Chakravorty

 materiality, duality, underlying ideologies,  ritualistic, the longue durée, negotiated and reconfigured, distinctive code, the manifold senses of practice, printmaking, pixel and screen technologies, image compression,  vector imagery, historiographies

5.Tristan Garcia, Form and Object: A Treaty of Things Yuk Hui

systematic treaty, metaphysical project, form and object,  logical operators, geographical forms, formal relations, ouvrage, philosophical paradigm, thingification, the dialectical tradition, reification of things

 

Blog articles: Titles

Here I have listed several recent BLOG titles, and their content 

1.Themed Issue: Architecture! (To be said excitedly but with real frustration)  11/27/2016

Essays and short pieces about  ‘the failure of contemporary architecture to address the full complex of issues engaged by visual culture studies’ and to identify ‘what is significant and vital about architecture for visual culture’. (Sage Publications, 2016)

2.IAVC Conference: THE SOCIAL, Sept 28 – oct 1  9/1/2016

This conference has called for papers on :

“papers, presentations, interventions, collaborations, and events from researchers, artists, academics, curators, and activists on post-democracy, post-society, anger, violence, future visions, crisis, zombie democracies, social media, neo-slavery, post-capitalism, post-data, social evolution, revolution, actionism, post-state, interventionism, cannibalizing corporativism, post-colonialism, economic vampirism, neo-serfs, globalized thievery, art activism, red art, insurrectional art and social exploitation.” (SAGE publications, 2016)

  1. Flashback: Revisiting Our 2009 Obama Issue at the End of an Historic Presidency 8/4/2016

In 2009 the JVC sent a questionnaire to people asking about the election and early presidency of Barak Obama, including questions such as

“Is Barack Obama the most ‘visible’ US president to date, and if so how?”.

This issue looks back at the issues involving Obama and his relationship to visual culture..

 

4.Themed Issue: Visual activism   4/15/2016

Explores ‘’how art can contribute to political discourse and how activism takes on specific, and sometimes surprising, visual forms not always aligned with or recognizable by art-world frameworks’’  (SAGE publications, 2016)

5.Horror Issue Interview with Noël Carroll: Full Audio

Noël Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart (1990), looks at form and structure of horror movies, and has caused a revival of interest in  horror studies.

6.JVC December 2015 issue: The design and componentry of horror  12/7/2015

7.Announcing our August Issue: CUT :  10/15/2015

‘’ poses questions concerning financial cuts and their impact on contemporary society and the arts.’’(SAGE publications, 2016)

 

Bibliography

SAGE publications, 2016.  Journal of Visual Culture at :  https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/journal/journal-visual-culture.   (accessed

Reflections on Learning : Visual Studies course                                          

8th Dec 2016

Introduction:

Over the last two months I have been undertaking work on my Visual studies course. This has consisted of plenty of background reading.  I have begun to read articles in ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000, and ‘ Visual Culture: a reader ‘.  The first book has helped me gain a perspective on the politics, philosophy, historical factors which were shaping modern art and the debates around it. The latter book has been especially enjoyable. It has helped me realise that visual culture is concerned with topics such as sexism, racism, colonialism, signs and language, ideology and politics, and much more! This is the first time I have really begun to learn and understand these issues. During the reading I have been attempting to develop a more rigorous reading technique. This has involved

·        Increasing my vocabulary by learning the meaning of newly encountered words

·        Making plenty of annotations on the page to help me to work through and understand the complex ideas

·        Make comments about the articles themselves eg. their quality, characteristics (wordy v concise, clear v abstruse) etc.

·        Identify arguments about specific issues and various quotes which may be useful during my writing.

·        Identify any learning processes which I have developed

·        Noting any connections with ideas in other chapters/books

 I have been enjoying completing the projects by summarising texts, reflecting on the issues, and answering questions in my BLOG. I have begun to develop a way of summarising the text which allows my voice to be heard as well as that of the author. This has entailed summarising and signposting the authors words and ideas, adding relevant ideas from other authors (with correct citation and referencing), and introducing my own ideas and commentary into the same text. I hope it has become clear which ideas are my own. 

One aspect of my studies which I have neglected is the researching of other sources of ideas on Visual Culture, other than the required texts. Regular reading of these sources of information will enable me to get a better understanding of contemporary issues in visual culture.

 I have therefore decided to look at some of the suggested sources. I will attempt to use these regularly to complement my learning and project work throughout the course.

 

 

 

 

 

Project : Ideology and Interpretation

Summary: The OCA guide

Alienation: Marx conceived that the working class was alienated from the totality of  the product of his labour. Groups and individuals become alienated. William Morris introduced the idea of workshop production in Arts and Crafts partly as a response to this.

Hegemony: Antonio Gramsci introduced the idea of Hegemony, as the control exercised by the ruling classes over the working classes, via their confidence and position in the production system.

Ideology: Marx used the term critically for ideas only without any empirical evidence, but later began to change the use to mean a system of philosophy, economics and power. Idealism (Utopianism) is different. Althusser changed the classical Marxist view of society by saying that the Arts had some influence on it (he was a Structuralist).

False Consciousness:  is the state of the working class in thinking they have similar interests to the ruling class. This is due to self delusion but also the influence of the dominant ideology.

(Haveland, 2009:25)

 

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Althusser defines ideology in his initial thesis as ‘a ‘‘representation’’ of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their existence’ (Althusser,1993:317). He goes on to discuss 2 important aspects of ideology-it’s structure and function, which I think of as what and why it is.  Several ideologies (religion, justice, duty…) are cited, and we are told that these are understood by some (eg. Non believers-in the case of religion) to be imaginary or illusion/allusion, but which can be interpreted to show the underlying reality.  The ‘interpretation’ by ‘non believer’s’ allows that the imaginary illusion represents the actual world of men. Althusser then reposes the what and why question by asking why is the relationship of man to his world/society set up as this imaginary ideology, and what the nature of the imaginariness is.

Althusser’s second thesis states that ‘Ideology has a material existence’, and he remarks that Ideological State Apparatuses exist to subject the ideology of the people to the ruling ideology. Additionally ideology is always present in an apparatus and how it functions. Whilst the existence of the ideology is not material (like something we can see or touch), it is material in the sense that it is rooted in material things. This then leads the author to deduce that the imaginary relation of the people to their world/society/class and production relationships is real too.

I agree with this idea that an imaginary thing is to some extent real. It seems to be accepting that words can be used to define ideas, and that words can be imbued with subtle shades of meaning (is this semantics or semiology?), which allows for subtle arguments and conclusions. Is this deduction or induction in process? I think the author defines his basis, using words like  ideas, ideology, practice etc  and then draws out further meaning, statements, and structure  based on this; which therefore implies an Inductive argument. (Deduction = working from the general to the specific, and Induction is working from the specific to the general (Trochim, 2006).

In the case of the individual subject, Althusser posits that the ideas which his own consciousness freely accepts, require him to behave in a certain way, practice according to his own ideology’s particular ISA’s, and that not to do these things is ‘wicked’ ie he must ‘act according to his ideas’ (Althusser, 1993: 319).  Even if he does not do these things it is not because he has no belief in the ideology, but that he does not conform to the good of the imaginary scheme-rather to the bad/wicked in it.

As I understand it Althusser has thus attempted to extend the hypothetical idea of the material nature of an imaginary belief, by example of the material actions which an individual does to demonstrate his imaginary belief. In a final clarification of the different material manifestations of this imaginary belief, the author suggests that the individual’s  imaginary ideas are made material through his material acts, which are themselves subsumed into the  larger material concepts of practice-ritual- and the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) of his belief system.

Althusser now (rather arbitrarily?) says that the word ideas has disappeared from the system, whilst other words remain (eg. beliefs, subjects), and new words have appeared (eg. practice, ritual, ISAs) (Althusser, 1993:319). Although the arguments here are subtle and difficult, the author uses plenty of highly illuminating concrete examples throughout, which clarify the argument for the reader.  I can easily visualise how these word lists might be used to label the individual constituents within the framework of a church mass, for example.

Due to the complexity of the language and argument here, many of the conclusions almost seem like arbitrary word trickery! The only way to discount this would be to read and reread the passage carefully, in order to follow and ascertain that the argument is logical and fair given the assumptions (this is an inductive argument). My lack of experience of following this style of argument makes it difficult to follow.  My difficulties and my  assumption of a certain amount of arbitrariness and trickery is most likely due to the vague and narrow definition I preconceive of the important words eg idea, belief, etc… These words seem almost identical to me, but for the purposes of the argument here they are not, and must be, mutually exclusive -otherwise how can one drop out but the other survive? On closer inspection the word idea here implies a free consciousness, whereas belief implies an enslaved agreement with a set of material acts. Perhaps this argument could be rewritten  in the alternative language of mathematics and set theory?

Althusser clarifies his argument saying that ideas (as defined spiritually) have been replaced with a set of objects thus;

Ideas (spiritual/freely accepted)–beliefs–actions—practice—ritual–ISA–ideology of ISA

and that crucially, the nature of the existence actually flows from Right to left (beliefs are determined by the system of ideology), and not left to Right (beliefs inform all the consecutive concepts-ending with ideology). By now the underlying argument has become much clearer

Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects

There follows a rather complicated and subtle section, from which I understand that according to the clarification summarised above, ideology is determined by the subject alone, and that the category/actions of the subject determine the category of the ideology.  Another useful clarification is now made –that we exist as subjects of ideology (which is obvious) to the same extent as the concept of an elephant exists in the word ‘elephant’- which Althusser calls the ‘elementary ideological effect’ (Althusser, 1993:320).

The ideological recognition function is clarified by an example of the dual  meaning within the words ‘’it’s me’’ uttered from behind a door. As I understand this example the voice  is the voice of X (and it is the person of X), clarified only as the person (X) when you open the door to them. We are recognised as individual/ subject in the same way as ‘its me’ is a voice which may not be specific to a person, but is a part of a bigger subject of a specific person.

Althusser continues ; Ideology acts or functions on individuals by interpellation, rather like the exclamation ‘Hey you! acts on (by interpellation)  an individual, (who becomes a subject when he thus turns round showing it was he who was hailed-not another). This rather complicated argument then states that by analogy the ‘hey you’ scene acts both inside the street/outside ideology and also outside the street/inside ideology and that everything that takes place within ideology can also take place without ideology. The subtle and complex language used in this section can be appreciated by the following statement

‘one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says ‘’I am ideological.’’ (Althusser,1993:321)

Another concrete example of an analogous example follows. That humans are already subjects before they are born (its assumed that it will be a happy day, they will be a boy or girl, be given a form of  first name according to this, and that they will take the paternal surname, and that once born they are subjects of a system which expects them to develop as sexual subjects in set ways, and into adults through education etc.

Here again words seem to be used in complicated ways with many shades of meaning. Is it possible to think of words here in the same way as we do during semiological arguments? Althusser suggests this is so by stating earlier that we are subjects, and this is obvious, in the same way as we know that a word can both ‘name a thing’ and ‘have a meaning’(Althusser, 1993:320). If we take an analysis of a bunch of roses given to represent passion (Barthes, 1993:52), Barthes analyses the language through the use of the roses (the signifier), passion (the signified), and roses given with passion in mind (the sign). He suggests that the rose and passion exist beforehand, and they are both united to give the sign. Barthes states that there are ‘functional implications’ between the 3 semiological terms, which seems to me to make them useful tools in the analysis of ideology.

With this in mind my attempt to analyse the relationships between the words given in Althusser’s next  example of ‘Christian Religious ideology’(Althusser, 1993:321) might proceed as follows.  Peter is an individual-the signifier, a Christian is one who believes in God and the Church-the ideology – here labelled the signified, and Peter the Christian, is the subject (the sign) -who is at the centre of a specular relationship with God. These words seem somehow to have taken on different amounts of carrying capacity for ideas, which may loosely equate with semiological terms?

I would like at this point to broaden the scope of ideology, from the examples given within this essay to other ideologies. The two ‘ism’s’ colonialism, and racism,  may be less  obvious ideologies, but they do fit Althusser’s definition of the word.

The first example comes in a brilliant discussion of Alexander Von Humboldt travels in South America in the late 18th – early 19th Century, and the reinvention of the continent for his European readers, through dramatic travel writings and descriptions which concentrate on  the dramatic untamed power of the plains, mountains and lakes of this continent (Pratt,1993). The author intelligently argues that Van Humboldt’s approach to his description of the continent for his European readers is not informed solely by the Romantic ideology (spiritual aesthetics, industrialism, occult forces and scientific developments etc.).  Instead, we must recognise that the factors at work within this Romantic style ‘were conditioned by a particular historical and ideological juncture, and particular relations of power and privilege’ (Pratt,1993:430), and were rooted firmly in Spanish colonial infrastructure.

Kobena Mercer’s sophisticated  discussion of  racism in the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (Mercer, 1993), seems to suggest that it has aspects of ideology. The author discusses the stereotyped way that Mapplethorpe photographs black male nudes.  He suggests that aspects of the practice of Mapplethorpe’s photography ‘facilitate the imaginary projection of certain racial and sexual fantasies about the black male body’ (Mercer, 1993:436). These include subjects being uniformly nude, and having no other context, suggesting stereotypical anxiety about white male sexuality and black male hyper-sexuality.

In Mercer’s discussion we meet ideas as acts/practice, and an ‘imaginary projection’ of reality, so I feel that an alternative way of stating the charge is that the artist is accused of being what Althusser would call the subject of racist ideology. The idea of a fixity imposed by the white man’s stereotypical view of the black male image is also discussed, and could correspond to Althusser’s idea  that ideology corresponds to  ‘imaginary distortion’ of reality (Althusser, 1993:318). Fixity is also central to the ‘idealogical construction of otherness’ (Bhabba cited in  Mercer, 1993) which is important to colonialism, and presumably to many other prejudices.

To return to Althusser’s essay, he next develops the idea of ‘subjects’ of ideology further. Through the example of the Christian religious world  Althuusser lists the many interpellations/callings which religious subjects are subjected to  as individuals (this seems to be important to the argument, though why can’t they be god’s children ie a group?) by GOD. These include- the things you must practice (rituals etc), that you will be saved, will go to heaven (or hell), and the wide range of doctrinal and behavioural ideas they must accept. Althusser says that all this ‘‘procedure’ to set up Christian religious subjects’’ implies the strange fact that there must be a ‘Unique,  Absolute  ‘Other subject’ ie. God…’ (Althusser,1993:322)

The concept of a speculary (mirror like) relationship is then described. In all Ideologies, the subject is interpellated (called) through a Unique and Absolute Subject (ie the structure is mirrored), and also ensures its function (doubly speculary?). Althusser describes a quadruple system of interpellation where the individual is interpellated as a subject, is subjected to the Subject, is universally recognised (by Subject, other subjects, and themselves), and is guaranteed ‘OK ness’ if they comply. This ensures that individuals work at their assigned practice, with obedience to the Subject, and with a sense that this is OK.

I found the final discussion on the subject rather difficult to understand fully.  Its possible that rereading the text and relating the ideas to other examples of ideologies (concerning sex, social status etc…) may help me to understand this better.

Althusser’s take on Marxist Literature has a strong bearing on contemporary attitudes to the way the viewer, reader, or spectator becomes the subject.

How does Althusser’s structuralism show here?

The free dictionary defines structuralism as

‘ A method of analyzing phenomena, as in anthropology, linguistics, psychology, or literature, chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental components of the phenomena in a system of binary opposition and examining how the elemental components are combined to make larger units’   (The Free Dictionary (2016))

The structuralism probably explains some of my difficulty in following the argument- I am unused to the method.  Althusser has looked into the structure of the language and the meaning of the words in order to come up with the final theses.  The first thesis is stated ‘ideology is a ‘representation’  of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real  conditions of existence’, and Althusser begins to execute a route towards its justification (I have made bold important words).

Althusser begins to prove that each of the terms/words in this thesis are reasonable, by deconstructing it.

  1. Ideology is similar to world outlook (more similar than  dissimilar) (step 1 of the  breakdown)
  2. We admit world outlooks are largely imaginary (an illusion) (do not correspond to reality) (step 2 of the breakdown)
  3. But we admit that these imaginary illusions can however be interpreted to discover the reality behind them (they allude to the reality of the world). (step 3)

Conclusion: ideology (outlook) does not correspond to reality but does allude to it.

 

By looking at the words, and by comparing them with their opposites, and seeing which is more rational, Althusser seems to justify the words and therefore the thesis. The method is not totally clear to me, but the basics are visible.  He builds up the thesis by examining what is meant by the individual words (the meanings they carry).

Structuralism therefore adds some specific theory to help me overcome my previously more vague understanding. I thought  his argument was in some way inductive (and he does seem to define thesis by analysis of the meaning of smaller words)  and connected to the subtle meanings of the words ( the meaning of the words is connected to their relationship to one another), and a little arbitrary (representing my lack of knowledge of the method!)

What does Althusser mean by Ideology?

Althusser gives us many broad statements of the word/concept, and perhaps the most succinct corresponds to thesis 1 (see above). However, the more sophisticated breakdown of the term includes

  1. Interpellation of individual subjects
  2. Subjection of subject to a Unique other Subject
  3. Recognition of subject by subject, subject and Subject, and subject of himself
  4. A feeling that things are really like this, and will be ok if a subject plays by the rules

and the involvement of  Acts, rituals, and idealogical state apparatuses within Ideology.

 

In your Blog………

Is there in your view an area of visual culture where this idea may seem to act in an overt way? Find examples and make notes on them.

The Hollywood film industry seems to overtly satisfy the conditions of an Ideology. It interpellates its subjects by asking them if they want to be involved, via adverts which are big and glossy and glamorous (huge billboards, TV adverts etc). The moving picture ads are formulaic, often showing exciting, multiple edited clips, with plenty of emotion, flashing lights, drama, explosions, noise, often winding up into an orgasmic ending –followed by  a calmer finish with the films details and roll  call. One is attracted to the film through its story, its stars, director, or its ‘look’ and becomes the subject of the Hollywood machine for the price of cinema entry.

The unique Subject can be considered the Hollywood star or dream. It consists of actors and directors who are outrageously famous, rich, brave, clever, sexy, good etc, such as Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in the film Allied (Fig 1.). They are a distillation of ‘the perfect being’ and as such are a unique entity. We gladly subject ourselves to their glamour and fame. According to Althusser’s plan subjects recognise each other and themselves; we all enjoy going to the cinema (it is  in some ways an iconic venue), and we enjoy it because of the atmosphere we get which can’t be  matched by home viewing. The movie stars recognise us as subjects, when they discuss their latest films for us on TV talk shows, or through their endorsement of their official fanclub or website.  We carry out our cinema  ideology through the acts and rituals of  inviting a date to the cinema, queing for tickets, buying supplementary  fizzy drinks, popcorn and burgers, and the gigantic multiplex cinema is the main Ideological state apparatus.  Hollywood films often have distinctly predictable endings, consisting of heroic rescues, heroic retribution, or heroic consummation of  romances (compare to the smaller budget independent films which often have edgier content and more artistic vision). This is the dream sold to the subjects, and we believe that this is how the world is (at least for the duration of the film-or until we get through to next weekend and the next film). Because we believe in the story and people in the film our lives are made better, we are hopeful, and happy, and everything is OK.

Interestingly, the ideas and ethos behind Hollywood films could be thought of as very ‘white’. In an excellent dissection of the stereotypical portrayals of Whites and Blacks in the film Simba (1955), Richard Dyer highlights aspects of the film which are associated with the white characters, and contrasts them with their binary opposites which accompany the black ones (Dyer, 1993). White characteristics include modernity, reason, order, stability, light, high key lighting, highly technical editing processes, and emotional/character development of  the central character (played by Dirk Bogarde) during the course of the film. This is a complex film and analysis, and portrayal of people of colour has moved on considerably since 1955. However, in 2016 there were no black nominees for the best actor and actress at the Oscars, and black faces are still far less numerous on the silver screen. It would be interesting to analyse modern Hollywood films to see if the stereotypes of white and black were still working to some degree.

Fig.1 Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ‘Allied’ (2016)

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Illustrations

Fig.1 Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ‘Allied’ (2016) [poster]. At http://www.odeon.co.uk/. (Accessed Dec 2nd  2016).

 

Bibliography

Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p317-324

Barthes, R (1993).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Bhabba, H. K. (1983) cited in Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p435-448

Dyer, R. (1993). ‘White’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p457-466.

Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Mercer, K. (1993). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’. In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p435-448

Pratt, M.L. (1993). ‘Alexander Von Humboldt and the reinvention of America’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.    p421-435.

The Free Dictionary (2016). Farlex Ltd. at  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/about.htm accessed 2nd December 2016.

Trochim, William M (2006) . The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition. At [http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/], accessed on 2 December 2016.