Am I A Philistine?

30th June 2011

I originally started this course in September 2010 and for various reasons I withdrew and started again.  A complicated story but this manifestation of my efforts is to coincide with the September 2011 intake, which also coincides with funding from Student Finance England.

You might ask why I had to tell you all that, and it may or may not have bearing on the rest of this musing, but what it will let you know is why I’m only now questioning what I’m reading and learning.

When I received the book ‘The Photograph’ I put it to one side in favour of jumping straight in to the practical aspects of the course and didn’t even touch it until just recently.  At the time I originally joined the course the OCA website was in upheaval and wasn’t somewhere I found particularly positive; the threads and postings being here, there and everywhere, and so I didn’t really take much notice of the discussions that ensued.  I now look to the site regularly, and although I’ve not yet participated in any of the discussions, for reasons that the heading of this section poses, I’m at a loss to understand what it is I’ve entered into.

Having time before my new course starts I thought it would be wise to try to get a jump on things and have some of the work already completed and ready to present immediately I was assigned a tutor.  Part of this ‘getting a jump on things’ was to begin reading the book I received way last September and see what it would bring to the party with my work.  To say the text is difficult is an understatement!  I’m by no means uneducated or illiterate, but I find the words and structure difficult to comprehend and so I work at it, re-read it (several times if need be) cogitate and finally understand.

Am I the only one who finds this sort of text claptrap?  Why do we have to read meaning into pictures?  Can’t they be appreciated as a picture, good or bad, or do we need to analyse the hell out of them simply because if we didn’t the picture wouldn’t stand up on its own as a piece of art?  This analysis is then pursued on the web by intellectuals trying to find meaning in photographs, taken by others, without supporting context and finding hidden meanings within the work.  Why can’t the image just be allowed to stand on its own?

Take a photograph of a butterfly settled on a flower, or anywhere else for that matter, and how does one analyse that?  The picture is of a butterfly and the image should be seen as just that.

I’ve noticed that the photographs that have the most analysis are those that aren’t artistically strong, in my opinion anyway.  Take the image ‘A Family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester‘, or ‘Identical Twins’  by Dianne Arbus,  would anyone in their right mind hang this in their home as a piece of art?  They’re family snaps for God’s sake.  The only redeeming factor for them is that they’ve been taken by a well know photographer and they’re therefore accepted by the art establishment, there’s no art in it.

This situation reminds me of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson of the ‘Kings New Clothes’.  Because someone somewhere, who is considered an authority on the subject, is conned into thinking one way, the sheep follow.

Does this make me a philistine?  In the eyes of the establishment, probably, do I appreciate a well composed, technically correct and interesting image, Yes I do.  Where do you sit?


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