Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Visual Culture Studies


I'm not certain where or how I came across this, but I did, and boy oh boy! does it have an awful lot of stuff inside. If you're too lazy don't have enough time to read it (it is 5,000+ words) I can synopsize: Michelle Marder Kamhi (the author) doesn't like the idea that current big thinkers are aiming to "treat the Nike of Samothrace and Michelangelo's David, say, on a par with Mattel Toys' Barbie and Ken dolls."

On the surface I should probably disagree with her. But things are rarely what they seem, and I do end up agreeing with her, to a point. She starts to win me over right at the beginning when (as with all good academic papers) she defines her terms.

By visual art, I mean what is broadly termed "painting" and "sculpture" (traditionally termed fine art): that is, two- and three-dimensional re-creations of reality whose purpose is to concretize ideas and values in an emotionally compelling form. In contrast with the decorative arts, the crafts, or the various fields of design, such works have no physical function, but instead serve a purely psychological or spiritual need.
My definition of visual art is "whatever makes you think." This intertwines nicely with Ms. Marder Kamhi's "concretiz[ation] of ideas in an emotionally compelling form." And while there are very significant differences between both of our concepts there are many more similarities.

As an aside, I find it humorous that the Musee des Beaux Arts is currently exhibiting Tangra sculptures (which while not exactly on a par with Nike of Samothrace or David do approach them) and they just finished exhibiting Ken and Barbie. My guess is that Guy Cogeval does subscribe to current visual culture concepts. Maybe it has something to do with getting those K-12 kids into the museum, I don't know.

Ms. Marder Kamhi goes on to decry how visual culture decodes information (or in plainer language - interprets) about the object, while explaining that art uses expression and depiction to convey things. In other words if you're a visual culture dude then the understanding of the context within which the object was created is not only important but is arguably the most important thing about the object. If you want to argue, then an understanding of the depth and scope of the object and the thought process that the person making the object had while making it, all the while having a thorough knowledge of the social context within which it was made could also be considered vital, too. From my side of the monitor, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And while using your eyes and inquiring about everything you see is a very good thing to be doing, putting Ken and Barbie on the same shelf as David just won't work.

I gotta get back to work, so I'll leave it up to you to read the rest of the article.

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