to abstract or not to abstract, that is again the q

Martha Schwendener in the Voice gives a nice roundup of photography shows going in the City and posits a question that I ponder in both directions:

Why, for instance, are contemporary photographers—or, if you like, artists working with photography—obsessed with abstraction, materiality, and process?

After years of doing that, I’m trying to respond to politics, thank you very much, but I still have several series of abstraction going. Here’s Ms. Schwendener’s analysis (it’s anti-analysis):

What Words Without Pictures demonstrates most, perhaps, is that photography—or art, in general—needs a new discourse that doesn’t rely on the straitjacket demands of “criticality.” Beshty, in his essay, quotes Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello from The New Spirit of Capitalism (2006): “Artistic critique is currently paralysed by what, depending on one’s viewpoint, may be regarded as its success or its failure.”

Thank you for saying that. I don’t know too many artists who consider trends or criticism when making work, though. I think rather, we look for the conjunction of uber-subjective almost subconscious notions of “beautiful,” “cool,” “sexy,” “important,” “new,” “me,” and other self-actualizing motives. Throw in a dose of the accidental, and you have the work. Sometimes those motives find expression in abstraction and other times in, umm, everything that’s not abstraction. The gallery and museum system, though, has directors and curators with those same motives, but who also look for some measure of “what the public will like” aka what is important, per theorists.

One could propose that the content of art (photography and otherwise) has exceeded all bounds of critical structure. In a society with as much luxury as we have, it’s possible to indulge any creative thought in any field of endeavor. The art world has opened its arms to it all (a very creative stance), so I am afraid that if we un-straightjacket criticality, what we’ll find is everything. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps photography reviews in journals of sociology or cooking magazines would be just the ticket to break through the crit-speak of the contemporary age. But I think we will still have abstractions and not. It is in our nature.

One Reply to “to abstract or not to abstract, that is again the q”

  1. thanks to sky for this reference from Robert Storr: Most theory has little bearing on art. here’s an excerpt:

    A lot of artists don’t want to tip their hands and show how selective and shallow their understanding is; a lot of people who do theory full time don’t really want to acknowledge that the process of making art is fundamentally different from the process of writing theory. And, therefore, even though you may share a vocabulary, you don’t share at all the same kind of generative process or goals.

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