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Thread: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

  1. #11

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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    This is a facinating and important thread. In many ways it goes to the heart of the modern creative dilemma. The issue of irregularities or imperfections may be central. As inherently irregular and imperfect beings, we may have a real psychological need for such qualities in our cultural experience to quell feelings of alienation. At the same time, who among us does not strive to eliminate imperfections in our work. Part of the appeal of digital printing is the quantum leap in our ability (at least potential!) to control imperfections in the print. I think it hard to argue that it is somehow intrinsically preferable to use highly refined analogue tools such as grain magnifiers and darkroom photometers to achieve higher degrees of precision than to use digital electronic means to do the same. Yet each ratcheting up in achievable perfection results in a subtle increase in psychic dislocation or alienation, hence the distrustful and grudging acceptance of it. (Witness the hard feelings toward digital seen on this forum.) I think that this tension between our conflicting needs for perfection and imperfection is a manifestation of future shock, i.e., the uncontrollably breakneck pace of change and the removal of comforting certainty in our lives.

    I also suspect that this conflict may play a role in the inexorable shift toward the conceptual at the expense of the aesthetic over the last hundred years. (The recent rise in our midst of a conceptual artist in what is surely one of the last conservative aesthetic bastions attests to the trend.) In all areas of production, technology has made routine what used to be unattainable perfection. The anti-aesthetic thread in contemporary art may be at least partly rooted in a distrust of the "easy" attainment of perfection enabled by technology. The consequent denial of the importance of aesthetic "perfection" may be fueling the shift to the
    conceptual.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that the conceptual mode of expression dos not necessarily have to sacrifice aesthetics. To my sensibilities, however, it mostly does. Maybe reconciling the two is the way forward.

  2. #12
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    There are a couple of separate issues. The first one, already raised, is whether the book is supposed to be an object itself, or whether it's supposed to be a container of images or information.

    Second, even if it is supposed to be an object, there's the question of appropriateness of the design and craft to the content--what best serves the whole and what doesn't.

    It's easy to get caught up in the romance and nostalgia of 3-dimensional letterpress page. I think they're beautiful and seductive, and love looking at them (and feeling them). But they are not appropriate for everything. If your work is contemporary, unless you are deliberately trying to be anachronistic for some purpose, or unless you are directly commenting on hundred-plus year-old conventions, letterpress isn't going to work. This is true for many reasons.

    Three dimensionality of type is a particular esthetic tied to particular periods in history. Modernism was marked in part by different type designs, and in part by type that sat on the surface rather than below it (this could be achieved with letterpress, too). All contemporary type is actually designed for offset printing, so it simply does not work properly with letterpress. You can have a plate engraved from a computer file made with contemporary type, and hand-print it by letterpress on uncoated paper. But it will probably look like shite, because the type was designed for the way narrow strokes become narrower in offset printing, rather than fatter as they do in letterpress. Besides this the overall esthetic effect will be jarring--a bit like a team of horses hitched to an airplane. You'll be distorting the letter forms as well as the historical logic of the page by using a technologically and esthetically inapropriate process.

    Saying that two-dimensional type lacks the soul of three-dimensional is like saying the Modernist photographers lack soul compared with the Pictorialists. That might be a reflection of your esthetic, but it's not an absolute. And it's worth recognizing that such an esthetic is tied to the norms of over a hundred years ago.

    It's likely that more care went into type, in general, back in the days when it all needed to be set by hand and was only done by people who were trained. But it's no absolute. I see gorgeous type produced today (sometimes), and many of the worst examples of type and book design that I've seen date from the mid-to-late 19th century (probably the low-water mark for typography, at least from typographers who lacked the excuse of being completely untrained).

  3. #13

    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Great thread!

    “...the commercial article at its best is simply physically serviceable and, per accidens, beautiful in its efficiency; the work of art at its best is beautiful in its very substance and, per accidens, as serviceable as an article of commerce.”

    from Eric Gill's "Essay on Typography"

    Its a short little book that bears somewhat on this discussion. Here's a link to it at Amazon -- http://tinyurl.com/35vc2j

    (Go read page 6 of the book at Amazon to get a real taste)

    While I can go along with "if its art its art no matter how made" I can also feel the pull of process, whatever it is that the maker finds appealing. If you feel like a slave chained to your computer or your darkroom it won't be much fun to use either.

    Perhaps at some point all this is buried in personality. I know that I like hands-on things that I can see, feel and touch. Sometimes I feel like a computer and inkjet can be another layer of distance or separation from reality. I use them every day for commerce. Sometimes I use them for personal creative tasks with success and enjoyment. But I rarely have the same feel that I have when I walk out of the darkroom after making some nice prints or even one nice print.

    Sometimes the vastly improved possibilities of altering and perfecting digital work astound me and at other times I feel the need and pull to be restricted by old ways. I don't think either excludes art or craft being made.

    The nearly unlimited ways that digital imaging work can be used to pursue perfection can seem nebulous, or almost unfathomable - where do you stop? The certainty of limit imposed by older processes seems to bring forth a feeling of magic being done or valiant struggle and slaying of dragons. Its more blood and guts than precise cauterization by laser.

    For those familiar with woodworking, I think we might look at properly hand-cut dovetails versus those made with a finely machined template and router. For some one of those is hand made and the other is not. Good arguments have been and can be further made for both methods.

    Is a trout caught on a tiny dryfly "more well caught" than one hooked on a glob of chicken guts or nightcrawlers impaled on a treble hook? Will the fish taste different in either case?

    In photography the question might be this: Which has more value to you, a handmade carbon print that takes half a day to make or a handmade inkjet that can be, after its first iteration, spit out endlessly? Does the fact that you can ruin a half-days' work in one misstep in the darkroom and have to start over from the very beginning have any bearing on the final "art"?

    I claim that the final object is always the "art" and it does matter how its made - all is included in the final object - the thing photographed and how it is translated into the object "art". Its all wrapped up together. In that bundle of art and craft are various parts that sum to the whole thing and in the end its "art".

  4. #14

    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    If your work is contemporary, unless you are deliberately trying to be anachronistic for some purpose, or unless you are directly commenting on hundred-plus year-old conventions, letterpress isn't going to work. This is true for many reasons.

    Three dimensionality of type is a particular esthetic tied to particular periods in history...
    Paulr, when these discussions play out, there always seems to be implicit in your contributions a principle that one should work with contemporary materials and approaches. You're very careful not to criticize those who choose otherwise for the mere fact of that choice, and I appreciate that, but you seem to be always at pains to emphasize the anachronistic character of such work.

    The observation that most work at any given time will use contemporary materials and methods is hard to argue with. That shouldn't be any surprise: in most cases it's the path of least resistance, and certainly the availability of new materials and methods offers new expressive territory to explore.

    But if one argues from a perspective that sees novelty or originality as an independent source of value in creative work (even if not the only source of value), it's easy to cross the line between the empirical observation that people do, and the expression of an implicit normative principle that one ought to work with contemporary materials.

    I'd be interested in hearing more about whether you see this as primarily an empirical/descriptive issue or whether you do think there's a normative element in it. And if the latter, why.

  5. #15
    Scotty333
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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Quote Originally Posted by r.e. View Post
    In the last 24 hours, I've read every one of the recents posts about the implications of making a photograph by stitching together digital images.

    I wonder about what is lost, if anything, when people adopt a process for creating a plastic work, whether a book or a photograph or a drawing or a sculpture, that distances an individual's physical hand from the creation of the template of the work and the copies that are generated. It seems to me that this is what has happened to book publishing, and it is an interesting question whether the same thing is happening to filmmaking and photography. And if so, does it matter?
    To me the viewer, if it's 'fine art' (a whole nother topic) it matters a lot. I look at the historical, aesthetic and the craft. Do I like the image? YES, what is the historical context? I.e. is the image revolutionary for it's time?, Unique? What methods for making the image were available and how difficult was it to make? (Craft). I.e. Is the craft good? For the tools avail at the time it was made. My wife sells handcrafted silver jewelry...it's unique..it's very well crafted, but machines can solder and cut better, certainly machine casting does a better job....but do you want something unique, handcrafted, or 'push of a button' - Now we get to price . IS it worth it to you to pay for something hand crafted? Some folks appreciate handcrafted and buy from her....others don't care and would rather have a machine punched out piece that is common to many....

    Same for me in photography. I can appreciate the effort of a wet print and the tactile hand crafted nature (I am NOT critizising photoshop creativity/brilliance, etc....I personally just don't put it in the same 'handcrafted' category....

    The more distanced the artist, the less 'value' I give it.. books are costs less than prints? I still buy lots of photo books, just don't pay print prices....

  6. #16
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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Quote Originally Posted by scott_6029 View Post
    What methods for making the image were available and how difficult was it to make? (Craft). I.e. Is the craft good? For the tools avail at the time it was made...
    Applying the notion of craft and how difficult something was to make to the value of a piece of art is often, I think, a mistake. (or are you making a distinction between "art" and "fine art"?).

    There is little correlation between how difficult a work is to make and how good the work is (the true creativity in a photogrpah is in the moment of its making - surely then the more difficult the photogrpah was to take, the better it should be?)

    Certainly, most good artists have mastered their craft in the course to producing their best work, but consider van Gogh. Certainly, by the time the last month of his life arrived, he had mastered certain techniques - even "classical" ones (though his approach was often idiosyncratic - the sketches often coming after the paintings), and much of his technique was close to revolutionary.

    Yet in those last weeks he produced, literally, dozens of paintings - almost one a day, a pace he had kept up for a couple of months. Many of them his most important, turning traditions of painting and landscape upside down and defining many new directions. In terms of craft, they were produced at such a speed that it is unlikely they were technically that difficult for him to make. Conceptually, they were so difficult that they probably cost him his life.

    The level and difficulty of craft in those works is secondary at best - handmade as they are.

    (btw David Hockney argues quite strongly that photography as a whole is not quite a true art because it lacks the real connection from hand to eye to heart that is required - doesn't matter if it's digital or analogue. For every argument that is made that "digital" prints are somehow not as hand crafted or as individually created as an analogue photograph, a painter or sculpture can argue in essentially the same way about an analogue photogrpah)
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

  7. #17

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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    I think a major issue is the intimate relationship between a sender and a receiver. A great novel is a great no matter how it is printed, much like a great photograph is great whether it is a contact print or part of a mass produced calender. What changes however is when a work of art is transmitted by some method not part of the original scheme, and even this can vary depending on the situation.

    When I was shoeing horses, I used factory made keg shoes--they were just as good (from a utillitarian view) and far more practical than forming shoes from bar stock. Higher up in the Farrier's hierarchy is the making of a special board demonstrating all the techniques a an experienced farrier has acquired for making special shoes---all from bar stock. These are special shoes that will never see the bottom of a hoof---very much "art for art's sake" beyond the intended purpose of fulfilling a requirement for professional advancement. It might sound wierd, but holding one of these beauties is a powerful, emotional experience if you understand what went into it---far more than any keg shoe can ever hope to provide. OTOH in a church in Belgium there is a baptismal font (I forgot which church) commissioned centuries ago by a famous artist. So many tourists came to see it that it was removed from the church to a museum and while it is a pretty nice piece of sculpture, I found it dissappointing in that it has ceased to be what it was made to be once removed from the service the sculptor and the family that commissioned it intended. Not unlike a hand printed book is is no longer read, or a fine shotgun that is no longer taken afield (or just maybe an 8x10 contact that is no longer held in the hand to "speak" to the viewer.)
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  8. #18

    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Ambrose View Post
    “...the commercial article at its best is simply physically serviceable and, per accidens, beautiful in its efficiency; the work of art at its best is beautiful in its very substance and, per accidens, as serviceable as an article of commerce.”

    from Eric Gill's "Essay on Typography"
    But Gill was wrong. A commercial article at its best can be beautiful in its very substance.

    I'm pretty much allergic to inkjet prints myself. But my criterion for judging them is whether the particulars of their physical reality "work" for me on a perceptual level or not. I'm not interested in craft objects as bearers of an ideological program, regardless of whether the bias is toward the old or the new.

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Ambrose View Post
    I claim that the final object is always the "art" and it does matter how its made - all is included in the final object - the thing photographed and how it is translated into the object "art". Its all wrapped up together. In that bundle of art and craft are various parts that sum to the whole thing and in the end its "art".
    Art isn't any one thing, or any one weighted mix of things. It can and does play different roles and have different meanings in the lives of those who make it, those who deal commercially in it, those who purchase it and those who view it - and indeed, in the lives of different people within each of these categories.

  9. #19

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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    To me the repeatability that is offered by the computer means that the print more accurately reflects the artist/photogpraher's intentions. That certainly has merit in my book. Those differences seen in each print in a less repeatable medium aren't necessarily intentional - they are just variances given the artist's capability within that medium (or of the the medium itself given perfect skills of the artist). Which is preferable comes down to persoanl preference.

  10. #20
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Individuality, Repeatability and Computers

    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    Paulr, when these discussions play out, there always seems to be implicit in your contributions a principle that one should work with contemporary materials and approaches.
    My point here is that you should be aware of the historical context and implications of some of these choices. There are reasons someone might want to make an artist's book with 3 dimensional letterpress type. But "oooh, pretty!" isn't such a convincing reason. Neither is the (suspect) notion that one technology represents bettter craftsmanship than another.

    I doubt I've suggested that anyone should be compelled to work with contemporary materials and approaches as a matter of course. Much of my own work has been done with chlorobromide papers that are typical of papers from seventy years ago, developed in formulas that are even older. My camera is older than I am.

    I do believe that these issues of craft and technology should to be approached with the question of what best serves the vision of the artist. And I believe that if someone is doing work that's a true representation of their experience of the world, the work will look contemporary and fresh (at least in some ways), and not like the work of someone from a very different time and place.

    In my case I felt that older materials served my vision; others may or may not agree that I made the best choices. I'm at least confident that I was asking some of the right questions.

    If I sound like I'm nagging on these issue, it's most likely that I'm trying to get people to ask more helpful questions. I'm not suggesting I know the answers.

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