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Latest update: August 16, 2000

Giving Greater Weight to the Spiritual, the Aesthetic

On Sunday, July 30, Marcela, a student in Argentina, wrote:

Hello. I'm writing from Argentina. I'm doing my final task, thesis of Social Communications on Postphotography. I'm a photographer, plastics artist and studied Communications, I would love to get any material which could be useful for my investigation. We had Habermas in school. The first chapter of my thesis is about modernism & postmodernism; then I'll do some interviews with photo-artists and relate their practices to what image means, how it builds our actual scene and surrounds us. Then I'll try to develop how the digital manipulation as the chemical and particular process that artists use changed the photo uses in today's art.

On Sunday, July 30, 2000, jeanne responded:

Hi, Marcela.

The first reference which comes to mind is Frantz Fanon's The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation. Alan Read, ed. Institute of Contemporary Arts, Institute of International Visual Arts, London, and Bay Press, Seattle. 1996. ISBN: 0-941920--43-7. Particularly the Artists' Dialogue, pp. 144 ff.

Renee Green, ibid. at p. 146, speaks of the extent to which artists are "marginalized to an 'artists' panel' . . . outside the central debate of . . . the 'heavier ideas.'" This certainly relates to the postmodern perspective of your thesis. How do the artists manage to refocus the issues to include their perspective at the deeper level of discourse.

Within the last few years an American artist was working on her doctorate at the New School for Social Research on experience with art as perception in Poland, recapturing images of the Holocaust. I'll have to see if I can locate her, but I know she was planning to publish the work done in Poland as a book.

Perhaps others with similar interests could join in this discourse.

On Wednesday, August 16, jeanne returned to this theme:

I have just been reviewing Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology. Edited by Kevin Anderson and Richard Quinney. University of Illinois Press. 2000. In the early pages of this text, Fromm writes that he never fit in with the Germany in which he grew up. He said that, "as a child . . .[he] found it . . .very strange that people devote their life to making money . . ." (at p.3) I resonated to that statement. There is so much more. But he did not reject the world. Instead he developed his own "humanism as the practice of reason and love." (at p. 5)

I see a link here to the question Marcela pondered: " what image means, how it builds our actual scene and surrounds us." Same thing my friend, Jean, asked of her study in Poland. How did the visual world function interdependently with the humans who comprised it and were engulfed by it? Marcela is sensing here the postmodern concern that voices have been suppressed, that whole sectors of sensory knowledge have been ignored, that the visual world has been silenced through our arrogance in refusing to credit it, only now to burst forth and bring us belated understanding that it matters.

Note that Fromm speaks of "reason and love," not reason or love. He does not see a need to deny either. Isn't this in a similar vein to what Gordon Fellman says when he suggests that there is no question of adversarialism versus mutuality, but an understanding of the healthy contributions of each? "Il faut toujours de la moderation . . ."

Now I'd like to bring that back to photography. Artists working in this medium today have extraordinary options for capturing and distorting and/or enhancing images. To use these tools creatively to bring the public to an awareness of the voice of the visual world is to function at a postmodern level. And this brings me back to the Fact of Blackness. We have had so much difficulty as humans understanding difference, understanding social justice. The artist who noted that art, in speaking of Fanon's work, was still peripheral, was reminding us of the extent to which we still rely on normative rationality to the exclusion of aesthetics. What is fair? What is disadvantaged? when we have not the language to describe it? Photography, like the other arts, may evoke an empathy which guides us towards understanding at the aesthetic level. That is what Fromm, Fellman, and so many others are moving towards.

Try Pass or Prepared on Including Aesthetics to review basic concepts.