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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Left Brain = Bullshit Producer, Right Brain = Bullshit Detector

"Many series on the environment now come with screeds of essentially feeble obfuscatory prose, claiming relevance where the pictures themselves have little," writes  Francis Hodgson in the end of the decade BJP,
echoing numerous critics who believe that what artists say about their pictures might be a whole lot less than it seems

But if that's the case, how come people don't call bullshit on it more often. There are a few exceptions such as this and this, but most of the time we show our respect by not calling bullshit on each other or ourselves. 

Why do we do this. Possibly it is because we are polite, possibly because there is nothing more gratuitiously offensive than casting aspersions on writers, photographers or artists when they really aren't deserving of our insults and contempt.

Another possibility is we have been so blinded by the repetitious droning of a particular form of meta-language that we can't understand what it means anymore. Everyone's doing it so it must be right and we don't want to be do negative - we Smile or Die.

I think this acceptance of obtuse verbal statements (and the obtuse work that it refers to) is related to what Mary Midgley notes in her review of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist in The Guardian. She writes:

"McGilchrist's suggestion is that the encouragement of precise, categorical thinking at the expense of background vision and experience – an encouragement which, from Plato's time on, has flourished to such impressive effect in European thought – has now reached a point where it is seriously distorting both our lives and our thought. Our whole idea of what counts as scientific or professional has shifted towards literal precision – towards elevating quantity over quality and theory over experience – in a way that would have astonished even the 17th-century founders of modern science, though they were already far advanced on that path."

 Anyway, on that note, my New Year Resolution is to avoid this 'obfuscatory prose'. Not many people can do this, especially where photography is concerned. There was one man who could do it though. He was called Larry Sultan and he created Pictures From Home, a book where words complemented pictures, where the left and the right sides of the brain worked together, where pictures had multiple meanings and text was emotional, geographic, economic and sociological all at the same time. No obfuscatory prose guaranteed.

 RIP Larry.



Jenny Woolf said...

Like the photograph. Agree with you about bullshit. It's to do I think with the fact that most of us are unsure of what art really is now. My suspicion is that the real genius of many celebrated modern artists is in their self promotion. Will their work last after they are no longer there to cavort in the public eye? Or will they, like Andy Warhol, go on and on?

There's a mysterious spark in really great art, whatever form that art may take. Nobody can pin it down, thank goodness.

Angela Ward-Brown said...

Oh, I hadn't heard that. What a loss. Pictures from Home is such a beautiful piece of work. I remember reading an interview with him years later, and he said the reason he did it was because he was just "trying to keep them alive". I guess we all do that.

Stan B. said...

Hasn't that always been the case in countless writings that preface photographic monographs no matter what the subject? You read them and ask yourself- what the hell are they babbling about? It's as if they think they're called upon to create some fictional work of literary art that will equal that which they are, in fact, merely meant to introduce or describe. Basta!

colin pantall said...

Nobody can pin it down - absolutely, Jenny. And it is something to be thankful for.

It is a great loss, Angela. I read something (in the NYT obit?) about how when he did something he really did it, he dramatised it, he made it epic - which is what Pictures from Home is - epic, but also thoughtful, quiet, considered, rough-edged and poised. He got so many supposedly opposing factors in there, and he did it quite deliberately. But you know just how hard it must have been. Wonderful.

colin pantall said...

Basta, Stan, Basta! It's quite problematic really and creates huge barriers to great work - both making it and, in a strange way, seeing it.

I can be prone to the condition myself - so Basta for sure.

Oh, and yours was my favourite of the bloggers' pictures - no bullshit shadows for you or hatstands. Nice one.