I have mentioned in previous posts my dislike for, to put it politely, convoluted ‘art speak’.
I recognise the need to go into detail when explaining a complex concept, of which there can be many, when dealing with art. What I dislike, however, is the tendency for some artists, critics, or commentators to use excessively verbose language when describing something that is, in reality, quite simple. Using six pages to describe something that could be explained in half a page, not only doesn’t impress me, it annoys me to the point that I will put the book down and not pick it up again.
To deliberately make it more difficult to read a book, which is supposed to be sharing ideas and information, to the point that it excludes a large part of the potential readership, is, to my mind, counterproductive. Or to speak my mind more openly, it’s pretentious elitist rubbish, and I reject it utterly.
I must confess to some concern regarding my prospects for passing this degree course. I don’t know to what extent I will be required to partake of or participate in such nonsense, but I fear a refusal to do so may result in a fail. We shall see.
Now, with all of that in mind, I come to the topic at hand… Art Photography Now by Susan Bright, and I must say immediately, it is a breath of fresh air.
Susan’s own words, while far from being dumbed down in any way, manage to convey complex and detailed ideas in a way that is pleasingly intelligible.
‘The grandeur of landscape painting reverberates through this series by Finnish artist Brotheurs, whose title plays on the relationship between photography and painting and on the changed status that photography now enjoys in the art world.’ (Bright, 2005:51)
As person of merely reasonable intelligence, I can read that, and appreciate both the meaning, and eloquence.
To be fair, some of the featured artists do occasionally plunge into explanations of their work that cause me to pause for a moment, but then no-one said art was supposed to be easy.
Counter to this though are the artists who eschew the pretentious or elitist concept altogether, just do what they feel like, and then let others make up whatever explanation they like about it.
‘…I don’t theorize when I work. I would read theoretical stuff about my work and think ,”What? Where did they get that?” The work was so intuitive for me, I didn’t know where it was coming from. So I thought I had better not say anything or I’d blow it.’ (Sherman 2005, cited in Bright 2005:25)
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate such an open and honest explanation.
In addition to the quality and intelligibility of the writing, the included images are of both a size and quality that allows the viewer to appreciate them in some detail, rather than just get a vague impression. Obviously, this will never come close to seeing the works in a gallery, but in this form, it is possible to decide whose work is of interest and worthy of further investigation.
In conclusion, I have found this book to be a very good starting point. It covers several artists/photographers working in each of the various different fields of photography, gives an explanation of their ideas and concepts, and shows us examples of their work.
This is not a ‘be all and end all’ of art photography… it’s an index… a stepping off point. Start here… see what interests you, and investigate at your leisure.
Bright, S. (2005) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson