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Category Archives: debate

“…That there could be art without beauty is preposterous. The artists who imagine that they can accept or reject beauty have obviously never known the power that beauty wields.” -Jed Perl, The Beauty Trap

Beauty is a touchy subject these days. Make something beautiful, and its integrity is questioned. It is only when art shuns beauty and traditional aesthetics that it is hailed as worthy. Let me back off for a moment and admit that, perhaps, I am being too critical. Artists have some appreciation of craft. But it isn’t embraced; it is an option. Craft, for an artist, should not be optional. It should be a necessity. I applaud concepts and am interested in ideas, but I am more interested in beauty. My favorite artists are the ones who move me emotionally, and on a level that is not able to be picked apart and deciphered, at least not completely. There is always something within their pieces that I cannot describe or completely understand. And I get the sense that the artist was wrestling with something within herself, she was making art to discover something about herself, not to communicate something explicit and one-dimensional.

Looking at the variety of other art forms that exist, it appears that visual art is the only form where bad equals good. Within writing, authors are judged by their ability to manipulate words and juggle sentences, where no matter how modern the writing appears, basic craft and beauty is a priority. Nobody wants to read writing that isn’t beautiful, even if it is only beautiful in an ugly way. Music is the same. Talent is defined by a musician’s ability to handle an instrument, to piece together chords and generate something new, exciting, and pleasing.

I am not railing against the usage of ideas and the illustration of concepts. I am simply asking that artists consider utilizing their artistic talent and creating something that is visually stunning to draw in the viewer. Then, by all means, caress the intellect and whisper ideas and philosophies, but do it gently. Prettily. Pleasingly. The result is much more layered and lasting than an artist’s statement could ever convey.

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I heard Barrett Whatten speak a few months ago, a presentation he called “Against Ekphrasis.” I have been trying to come to terms with this idea since then. Ekphrasis has many extended connotations and nuances of meaning, but its base definition denotes poetry or poetic writing that provokes highly visual imagery. “Against ekphrasis” is a stance that claims the concreteness of words on their own terms: the word “red,” for example, referring not to the color, but to the word. When you extend this idea to media other than words, it leads to an examination of the meaning inherent in the medium itself, stripping away all metaphor and symbolism. (And from here it is a small step to musing about the idea itself as a concrete entity, independent of any referrent – but I digress.)

Yet I pause and wonder if this is altogether possible. Can we ever perceive the medium as sole content independent of its cultural role? Is it possible, for example, to view a photograph, not as a cultural object but as a collection of captured light?

Being an intermedia artist, I am particularly interested in the conceptual boundaries between things. In an installation when you place objects in the same room, they become related. By being in the same perceptual space, there exists between the objects an intermedium, itself a third meaning. Likewise, images seen together cause us to create meanings in their relationships. Words placed in the same perceptual space as these images multiply this effect. Working against ekphrasis, questioning assumed references, stripping away and examining the layers of acquired cultural meaning, is an important deconstructive step in the conceptual processes of creating artwork – it pops you into a new point of view. What really interests me, however, is the step beyond this deconstructive process, when the pieces are reconstructed to create something else.

“Five” video

Contemporary African Cinema:The Emergence of an Independent Cinema in Nigeria


“The ability to picture oneself is a vital need. In fact, if a man were to live without the capacity of forging a picture of himself, he would have no aspirations, no desires, and no dreams of his own.

The same applies to a community, a society, and a people. A society daily subjected to foreign images eventually loses its identity and its capacity to forge its own identity.

The development of Africa implies, among other things, the production of its own images.”

 


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Camera LucidaHidden in the shadows of posh antique stores lurk secondhand shops. These overlooked treasures are bursting with both history and small remnants of human life–reminders of those that have flitted in and out of this world leaving behind nothing but a stack of photos or a selective record collection. You walk through the doors, your fingerprints joining the other smudges on the doors glass window. Dank and musty smelling, walking room is limited to a six inch space between the chipped china and the basket of ripped stuffed animals. Stuck in the back, there is inevitably two or three large bins filled with photographs. Subjects range from traditional family portraits to spontaneous snapshots on the family hike. A certain sadness encompasses this area of the store. The bins hold the lives and memorials of more people than a small cemetery. As you idly flip through the photos, nothing arrests you. You toss aside the remnants of hundreds of people’s lives with barely a second thought. And then, one grabs you.

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