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Trompe l'oeil

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    Vili Maunula

    The following quoted text was posted by Coco here, but I felt that it needed its own thread, so I have moved it here instead.

    Coco: I am reading Jean Beaudrillard’s “”Art as Simulation” and what stops me up is…”..art is first of all a trompe l’oeil [art that seeks to creat the illusion that one is seeing real objefcts rather than representations of them], a ‘trompe life”, just as any theory is a “trompe meaning” and all painting far from being an expressive and therefore supposedly true version of the world, consists in creating snares in which the presumed reality of the world is naive enough to get caught. Just as theory does not consist in having ideas (and therefore of flirting with truth), but in setting snares, traps in which meaning is naive enough to get caught. Finding, through illusion, a form of fundamental seduction”.

    I am reading this in an anthology by Wartenburg.

    So, it occurs that:

    1. art is not “expressive”

    2. art is not a true version of the world

    I want to look at those statements in the historical perspective, and in relation to the culture and socio-economic moment of a work’s creation.

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    lawless

    Coco – First, an inquiry into definitions. What does Beaudrillard (and what do you) mean by art here? I’m thinking visual arts, but the term itself covers performance art (theater, ballet, music, and the like), the visual arts (painting, sculpture, film, photography), and written art (poetry, novels). Was it meant to be that broad, or was he talking about or concentrating on one subset? Or is he talking about Art with a capital A, which is usually set against Science?

    I feel a little out of my depth discussing aesthetic philosophy, but I disagree with the first part of your summary, that art is not expressive. I believe it is. Moreover, I think Beaudrillard is being overly simplistic, probably to make a point. I don’t think creating traps and snares is art’s only or in some cases primary purpose, nor do I think its artificiality is always the point, although I’ll grant you that artificiality and trickery probably plays more of a role in film than sculpture or theater simply because of differences in media. Or is sculpture, because it is 3D and is more or less what it appears to be — let’s say, a bronze statute of Robert E. Lee on horseback or large wooden rectangles painted red and yellow (just examples out of my own head) — an even bigger snare because it fools the viewer into thinking it is merely a physical phenomenon?

    As expressed here, his theories seem to have more to do with art’s effect on the viewer, listener, or whomever than the artist’s motivation. I think the artist’s motivation is in fact expressive. As for art not being a true version of the world, that seems a pretty obvious conclusion, except for the following consideration: Novels are often more convincing, moving, and powerful than non-fiction precisely because they’re not factual, but they’re true, and convey an experience or a meaning in a way that is impossible for non-fiction. All the ranting in the world about civil rights, for example, doesn’t have the same impact as a novel (or film) showing us what it’s like to be [insert name of group] and to be looked down upon and discriminated against. Ditto for other forms of art.

    As for my personal aesthetic philosophy, it consists of: Art is amoral. Some great art is expressive of pain or of impulses we might find repellent. (The Doors’ The End comes to mind here, and Apocalypse Now — which I haven’t seen — would be less powerful without its use in a climactic scene.) Art is expressive and not necessarily beautiful, although there’s a place for beauty in art.

    As I said in the Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Write Women With Agency thread,

    My bottom line is that an expressive work (which is my definition of art) needs to be art first — a good story, well-acted and directed, etc. — before it needs to make a greater point, fulfill a societal objective, or advance an agenda. Art has its own reasons.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I feel a little out of my depth discussing aesthetic philosophy

    I feel more than a little out of my depth!

    I will enjoy reading this thread, but I am certainly not in a position to make a meaningful contribution.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – Alas, feeling out of my depth doesn’t usually deter me from wading in anyway. 😀 Besides, it’s useful in clarifying my own thinking about the subject.

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    Vili Maunula

    Lawless asks what Baudrillard means by art. My first question would be what he means here by a “true version of the world”. In his view, is it ever possible for us to observe or comprehend the world as it is?

    If we observe two identical incidences that (for the sake of the argument) have no direct relevance to us, I wonder whether it makes any real difference from our point of view if one of those is spontaneous “reality”, and the other pre-planned “performance”, especially if we have no idea which is which?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Wow, Vili, absolutley fascinating proposal…and worth thinking about…:?:

    First, lawless, your courage is valuable. I am at a point where I am questioning my own and other’s assumptions about what art is, how it functions, and what its purpose is in society, because how you think impacts your ability to engage. I think it’s allright to be broad in discussing ideas. Of course media has some relevance, but the “art” part that is trans-medial is what I am interested in discussing. So painting, film, poetry-fair game.

    We have the Platonists saying that art is essentialist-that’s the “thingness of the thing” that I have yabbled about before. A chair has the “essence” of chairy-ness. It’s like when Homer Simpson eats a donut and says, “Donutty”. Platonists thought the “donutty” of the donut more important than the donut that Homer ate, and the edible donut more important than the painted donut. Thus, all phenomena is an “imitation” as Beaudrillard says of something-an idea-that is imperfectly realized in the living plane.

    Therefore, play is a mockup of lives lived, music is in imitation of sounds heard, a sculpture is an imitation of the animal observed. What am I missing?

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: Therefore, play is a mockup of lives lived, music is in imitation of sounds heard, a sculpture is an imitation of the animal observed. What am I missing?

    Remember, in Plato’s view regular objects are already once removed from the ideal (Plato’s “reality”). In his view, art is then twice removed — an imitation of an imitation — and therefore of little value.

    But does art really need to imitate the reality that we see and experience, or can it too go directly to the source, therefore being once removed, just like everything else? Why would a chair-maker be closer to the idea of a chair than an artist who similarly specialises in chairs? And wasn’t much of what we today consider ancient “art” actually “crafts” to the actual people who made those objects? I think Gombrich’s Story of Art, a book you once recommended to me (and a brilliant recommendation it was!), talked about this.

    Consider also the case of the couple who (supposedly) went to the newly opened museum of modern art in Helsinki, and stopped to admire a beautiful coat rack where hung a single plain green coat and an umbrella with the word “fuck” written on it. The couple agreed that it was a brilliant commentary on the condition of modern Western society (or some such idea). Until, that is, a museum keeper came and asked them if he could take their coats and hang them onto the coat hanger, so that they could then proceed to the exhibition rooms.

    In my view, art is what you perceive as art. It cannot be removed from reality, since it is part of reality. In other words, it is not an inherent quality of an object, but rather something that the subject/perceiver assigns to it. If you approach art from this angle (and I’m not saying that everyone should), the Baudrillard quote above seems to have very little to say in the end.

    But perhaps it is now me who is missing something?

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    lawless

    Coco – I think art is multifunctional and multifaceted and can also be analyzed from more than one angle. Its function and meaning from the creator’s point of view (and, depending on the mediium, the performer’s point of view) is something different from its function and meaning to the ultimate consumer or recipient. I still think that at the creator’s level, art is primarily expressive; sometimes meant to communicate a message or something concrete, sometimes meant to express a feeling, and sometimes just meant to be. (I’m thinking particularly of geometric, form-based visual art, like Mondrian’s paintings.)

    I tend to agree with Vili that the ontological and epistemological distinctions Baudrillard makes are not helpful and that art is not the Platonic object/thing at a second remove, but its own direct imitation of the object/thing at first remove that is meant to exist alongside, in dialogue with, and as commentary on whatever real world object or phenomenon it resembles. (Frex., David’s death of Marat.) With great art, the artistic representation is even truer and more meaningful in its effect on the viewer than experiencing what’s depicted would be, even if many “facts” of the scene are changed or rearranged, and in many ways substitutes for direct experieince. Frex., Gruenwald’s Crucifixion or David’s death of Marat, or, better yet, Picasso’s Guernica, which is not at all representational but thereby conveys the chaos and confusion of war in a way a mere representaiton could not.

    Positioning and context matters in art. That’s what makes paintings, drawings, and graphics more powerful than unposed reality. Fiction, where stories can be interwoven, told backwards, and with jumps forward and backward in a way that would be false to our experience of reality, does the same. Poetry can compress and juxtapose. So art uses the very artificiality of the form to go behind the surface of reality to find a deeper truth.

    Baudrillard seems to be choosing deliberately loose and provocative wording, but to the extent I understand what he’s getting at, I either disagree or don’t think he’s making an especially profound point. Viewed from the point of view of the consumer or recipient of art, I’d echo Vili’s statement:

    [A]rt is what you perceive as art. It cannot be removed from reality, since it is part of reality. In other words, it is not an inherent quality of an object, but rather something that the subject/perceiver assigns to it. If you approach art from this angle (and I’m not saying that everyone should), the Baudrillard quote above seems to have very little to say in the end.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I am not certain that Baudrillard is saying that art is second remove, and therefore useless. He is saying

    …all phenomena is an “imitation” as Beaudrillard says of something-an idea-that is imperfectly realized in the living plane.

    That’s his starting point, it seems, I just happen to trace it back…(but I also think Plato’s distinction of degree of removal not particularly helpful in understanding Baudrillard’s main point).

    So, if all art is a “simulation” (Beaudrillard’s favorite term), it is a banality, and the only authentic response in light of that realization is irony. If all art is in the eye of the beholder and both of you suggest, and the coatrack (Vili-Duchamp did a bottle rack-same idea as the urinal..you know about those, right?) is art and the madonna’s face is in the morning toast and all of it is our banal reality, all transactional, minor. I suppose the end is whether or not you think each human perception is valuable in and of itself or if it is commonplace signifying nothing.

    Beaudrillard goes on to talk about how art makes reality disappear. He says that the main task of contemporary art (Iconoclasts who make the sign stay but the meaning disappear) manufactures a profusion of images behind which there is nothing to see. He illustrates this with a look at the Byzantines:

    “If you think about it the problem was the same for the iconoclasm of Byzantium. The Iconolaters were subtle people who claimed to represent God for his greater glory but who, in reality, simulated God in images, thereby dissimulating the problem of his existence. Each image was a pretext to avoid raising the problem of the existence of God. Behind each image, in fact, God had disapperared. He was not dead, but He had disappeared. In other words the question was no longer asked. The problem of the existence of the non-existence of God was settled by simulation.”

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    lawless

    Coco:

    I am not certain that Baudrillard is saying that art is second remove, and therefore useless. He is saying

    …all phenomena is an “imitation” as Beaudrillard says of something-an idea-that is imperfectly realized in the living plane.

    That’s his starting point, it seems, I just happen to trace it back…(but I also think Plato’s distinction of degree of removal not particularly helpful in understanding Baudrillard’s main point).

    That gives it a different spin than the initial quotation does. I lean toward Platonism, but I believe that Platonic analysis, which distinguishes between the phenomena we experience and their true forms, is limited and not entirely correct. As contradictory as it may seem, I believe that only some things — basic concepts, for example — are forms (it might be more helpful to call them categories) of which what exists on this plane are examples, and other things (or even the same things) exist in and of themselves without reference to forms or categories.

    For example, as a human being, I am an expression of what it is to be human; according to Christian theology, I am an imperfect expression of that of which Jesus was the perfect expression. That would, I suspect, be the neo-Platonic view. But as an organism, I am also unique and complete in and of myself. That would be the Aristotlean view. (Keep in mind my knowledge of Plato and Aristotle stems mostly from having read about them, not having read them, with Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as my primary source.) We can then break my existence down into further categories, such as female, American, etc.

    That said, I’m not sure how helpful either Platonic or Aristotlean philosophy is to an analysis of art. The older I get, the more suspicious I am of theoretical analysis and the fonder I am of practical (or functional) analysis, maybe in part because I think answers to the big questions — to “why” — are ultimately unknowable. Art may be an imitation (though some art is more consciously so than others), but how does that advance the inquiry? It seems more like a tautology.

    And yet art is also a thing in itself with a power of its own. Isn’t that part of what makes it art? Makes it capable of eliciting a response from us that what it’s “imitating” never would? I therefore disagree with the conclusion that:

    So, if all art is a “simulation” (Beaudrillard’s favorite term), it is a banality, and the only authentic response in light of that realization is irony. If all art is in the eye of the beholder and both of you suggest, and the coatrack (Vili-Duchamp did a bottle rack-same idea as the urinal..you know about those, right?) is art and the madonna’s face is in the morning toast and all of it is our banal reality, all transactional, minor. I suppose the end is whether or not you think each human perception is valuable in and of itself or if it is commonplace signifying nothing.

    I guess for me it is similar to the way Western medicine used to think of acupuncture before learning something about how it works. (Not that I think we have all of it mapped out.) The traditional Chinese explanation for it doesn’t make sense from the perspective of Western medicine, but it works. It’s hard to argue with something that permits a patient to undergo general surgery without use of an anesthetic. Art works on us in a certain way. Not every piece of art does it for every person, nor is each piece of art’s effect the same, but the generalized phenomenon has similarities. This functionality is why humans continue to make and consume art, and always will.

    If anything, that last quote seems to back me up. If I’m reading it correctly, Byzantine icons were so powerful that they halted any questions about whether God existed or not by becoming simalcrums for God’s questioned existence. That’s pretty darn powerful, and not at all banal.

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    cocoskyavitch

    There you go, lawless: that’s right.

    …Byzantine icons were so powerful that they halted any questions about whether God existed or not by becoming simalcrums for God’s questioned existence.

    “Disappearing behind the image” is what Beaudrillard sees as the function of art-and Beaudrillard says that we have a proliferation of images-it is our banal reality. Therefore we are disappearing reality behind images.

    I…think.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: So, if all art is a “simulation” (Beaudrillard’s favorite term), it is a banality, and the only authentic response in light of that realization is irony.

    I may not understand this fully, but let me ask one clarifying question. What if the piece of art that I am working on is a “simulation” of an idea or a feeling that I have, but which I have no other means of communicating — would Baudrillard still consider it a worthless banality for me to try to create it?

    This is perhaps relevant to Kurosawa in that when asked about the meaning of his films he tended to answer along the lines that the works should speak for themselves and that he could not explain what he wanted to say in them, because if he could, there would surely have been no reason to make the films in the first place.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hi Vili, Beaudrillard did not say worthless, but he did say banality.

    Definition of BANALITY

    1: something banal : commonplace

    2: the quality or state of being banal

    Commonplace. That’s different from what you are suggesting.

    The reluctance of artists to “explain” a work is that of a reluctant translator going from one medium to another…fruitlessly. If the work does not communicate on its own terms, it is a failure, and a translation should never be necessary (as an ideal). Max Beckmann, my beloved Expressionist, says as much, too-then goes on to write a little book about his work.

    Because:

    1. All of us love to talk about ourselves and our interests and our “children:”

    In this light, Kurosawa’s memoirs are very rewarding!!!!!!

    I may not understand this fully, but let me ask one clarifying question. What if the piece of art that I am working on is a “simulation” of an idea or a feeling that I have, but which I have no other means of communicating — would Baudrillard still consider it a worthless banality for me to try to create it?

    I think the answer is that all art is a “simulation” of a feeling or idea that you have…therefore banal, as it is removed from the idea plane into the realm of commonalities.

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    lawless

    Coco – While “banal” does not technically mean “worthless,” it has that connotation, seeing as calling something — especially something meant to communicate, whether an idea, an emotion, or whatever — “commonplace” suggests it is unimportant, hence worthless.

    I not only have a hard time following Beaudrillard, but to the extent I do, I don’t find myself in agreement, nor do I find the way he frames things helpful. He seems unduly dismissive.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for pointing that out Coco! I don’t know how I got the idea that he meant “worthless”. While lawless is right that the word can have that connotation, I’m not sure that we should automatically make that leap, unless Baudrillard specifically made that leap himself.

    So, all art is a “banal simulation” of an idea or a feeling. But how would that in Baudrillard’s view differ from, say, a philosophical treatment? Isn’t that also a “simulation”? Which then begs the follow-up question: is there anything (in Baudrillard’s view) that we can do communicatively that is not a “simulation”?

    Similarly, moving from communication to perception, is what we perceive around us the thing-in-itself, or simply a “simulation” of it, created in tandem by our senses and our brains?

    My point being, is there anything that is not a “simulation” to us? And how do we decide what is banal and what not?

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    lawless

    I echo the questions (and implicit conclusion(s)) in Vili‘s last post, which probably reflects my thinking more fairly than my last post. But I am feeling more than a bit frustrated with Beaudrillard, if you couldn’t tell. 😉

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili and lawless I so appreciate your struggling with me to understand the point of Beaudrillard’s thoughts.

    Beaudrillard was trained as a sociologist. His studies into the impact of technology on society led him to beileve that our current state is one inundated with images-to such an extent that it is hard for us to imagine what life might be without advertising, movies, television, cinema, newspapers, electronic devices…that we live in a kind of hyper-real world. The images have become the fundamental reality-the simulacrum-and replace the reality of the thing with the image.

    Our basic reality is one of simulacra-detached images in which the image has replaced the thing it is an image of in importance. What is the relationship of art to this reality? In Beaudrillard’s theories everything shares in the characterics of art-the imagistic. There’s no room for the “artist” as creator of images, since that’s the banal curency of our reality.

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    lawless

    Coco said:

    Beaudrillard was trained as a sociologist. His studies into the impact of technology on society led him to beileve that our current state is one inundated with images-to such an extent that it is hard for us to imagine what life might be without advertising, movies, television, cinema, newspapers, electronic devices…that we live in a kind of hyper-real world. The images have become the fundamental reality-the simulacrum-and replace the reality of the thing with the image.

    I agree with and follow what Beaudrillard says, as you have paraphrased him above, up to and through the next to last sentence. It’s the last sentence of the paragraph that’s the stumbling block for me. That’s not how I experience the world, nor do I think that’s universally true, or even close to universally true. Maybe it’s more true the younger someone is, but I’d like to think that even among the most technologically savvy or tethered of our youth (possibly those are not the same thing) there’s an awareness of a reality separate and apart from images.

    It follows, therefore, that I disagree — fairly strongly, actually — with the final paragraph:

    Our basic reality is one of simulacra-detached images in which the image has replaced the thing it is an image of in importance. What is the relationship of art to this reality? In Beaudrillard’s theories everything shares in the characterics of art-the imagistic. There’s no room for the “artist” as creator of images, since that’s the banal curency of our reality.

    I deny that my basic reality — or that of many other people — is that of images that have replaced the things they replicate in importance and disagree with equating art with the imagistic that replaces the thing that it is an image of. Art is also a thing-in-itself, an expression and there is plenty of room for the artist as creator of images. If there weren’t, why the publicity for artists? Why adulate performance/situational artists like Christo or Brian Eno? Why do people still talk about directors like Kurosawa or Terence Malick or Spielberg?

    It’s true that the ability of amateurs to make movies and videos, like the fanvids I see marrying popular songs to clips from such shows as BBC’s Sherlock or various anime, have narrowed the gap between professional artist and consumer, and what Beaudrillard is suggesting sounds a bit like “death of the author” theory (isn’t that postmodernist?), only from a visual perspective.

    I happen not to subscribe completely to the “death of the author” theory either; readers will walk away with whatever impressions they have irresepctive of how well supported they really are, but I think those that can clearly be demonstrated from letters, cultural context, and biography not to be what the author intended when what the author did intend is equally as clear should not be offered as serious interpretations of what’s actually going on in the work but instead as reflective of changed societal circumstances or of the reader’s own interests and mindset, not the author’s. For example, there is a trend — I’m not sure how much it’s driven by scholarship and how much by fandom — to interpret the relationship between Holmes and Watson in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon as homosexual, and not merely homosocial, in nature; to, in essence, view their relationship as a deliberately hidden, but clearly, queer, to use the current terminology. In this view, Watson’s wives are all beards and when Holmes stays over at the Watsons’ home, there’s hanky panky afoot.

    I have little to no patience with this because all the things people point to as “clues” to the “queerness” of their relationship are things that were common and accepted in Victorian England. Men spent more time in the company of men — that’s part of the reason why middle and upper-class men, which is what Holmes and Watson are — just as women spent more time in the company of women, and there was more of a division of labor within the household along gender lines than we have today. I find it hard to believe that the solidly middle-class, conventional (other than his belief in spiritualism) Arthur Conan Doyle intended such an interpretation of his characters’ relationship, and I don’t buy that there is such a thing as an unconsciously queer text, at least not when there are plausible and reasonable alternate explanations.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I’ve spent a delicious hour writing you, lawless only to have navigated the post into oblivion. Oh well! Here it goes again:

    I’d like first to address Beaudrillard’s ideas and your posts by discussing three ideas:

    1. Images and Reality (Byzantine Icons and Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe)

    2. Images and Technology (The Revolution will be Tweeted)

    3. Images as Currency in a Market Economy

    1. Images and Reality: The images have become the fundamental reality-the simulacrum-and replace the reality of the thing with the image. It is a fundamental function of an image to replace a thing seen, thought, felt with a thing visioned (by extension, written, photographed, filmed, etc.). The “thing” could be an idea or anything-the replacement of the initial impulse/experience/thing with an image is the “iconization” process-

    a. i•con/ˈīkän/Noun

    1. A painting of Christ or another holy figure, used as an aid to devotion in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches.

    2. A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: “icon of manhood”.

    Represent means “stand-in”. The stand-in replaces the thing it is purportedly about. So, if there is an icon of manliness, it replaces questions about the nature, conditions, and qualities of manliness with the fact of the image, for example. (I believe this is what we call the amorality of images. Images present as “facts”-partaking of the physical world, thus on the level of what we think is “reality”-but do not have built-in moral constraints. This rootlessness, wandering, existential). Beaudrillard mentions Byzantine Icons in his writing in this way: “The Iconolators were subtle people who claimed to represent God for the greater glory, but who, in reality, simulated God in images, thereby dissimulating the problem of His existence. Each image was a pretext to avoid raising the problem of the existence of God. Behind each image, in fact, God had disappeared. In other words, the question was no longer asked. The problem of the existence or non-existence of God was settled by simulation.”

    Now, that is not to say that the Iconoclasts didn’t find fault with the system, not to mention the faithful Iconolators who still could think and wonder about God whilst still kissing the Icons in Hagia Sophia. People still can question, think. It is simply that the function of the image is to replace or simulate God or whatever it is you are drawing, painting, photographing or thinking.

    That’s the hilarious bit with Magritte’s “This is not a pipe”. It is an image, not a pipe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images How clever, how ironic to point out the weak, soft belly of art! It appears “real”, but it does not function as such, and how problematizing (in an interesting way) of our relationship to images and language!

    Foucault said the painting, “allows the old space of representation to rule, but only at the surface, no more than a polished stone, bearing words and shapes: beneath, nothing.” In other words, the painting of a pipe by Magritte is a “gravestone” of representational realism. So early, too! 1928-29! James Harkness, in the introduction to Foucault‘s essay on Magritte’s painting says, “a painting is nothing other than itself, autonomous from the language that lies buried in representational realism.” In fact, a painting is both a thing in itself, and an indication of something else right up until it isn’t.

    Beaudrillard states that the world has concealed itself behind a profusion of images. Once, the purpose of the image was to hold up a mirror- to reflect meaning from reality. Now, he says, the world of images have swallowed the mirror, and entered into things themselves. Images have become hyper-reality. He calls this a “…residue of a surface without depth”. And he goes on to say we are at the end of aesthetics, left with critical irony as our consolation prize.

    2. Images and Technology: Digitized and wireless communications form our primary interactions with the larger world. Is it too strong to say that some people prefer to text rather than to have a face-to-face conversation at times?

    How do we know anything of science, art and social customs of tribes in the rainforest of Brazil if you’ve not studies, looked or been there? The interface with the world is the screen- the digital image has replaced the world. It tells us how to look, act, dress, what to eat, what to aspire to, how to dance, move, sing, how to dream, and what the content of those dreams should be-at the same time not pointing to the real world, but rather a world of images. We should aspire to be an image-Madonna knew that well, and lady GaGa is the updated version of that model. The self-referential closed circle-the digital image having swallowed the mirror and reflecting only images of itself-brings us to the post-illusionistic world. An illusion is hiding something, right? An illusionist is a magician. So images, now transparently self-referential are only themselves. We end up with an image having disappeared any significant relationship to anything other than itself. This is both ubiquitous, banal and our hyperreality.

    James Burke, PBS host of a 1970’s Brit pseudo-science show called “Connections” was interviewed years later in a show called “Re-Connections”. He looked at how technology had changed the world and he said, “Look for news to be written by the people in blogs, social media, cellphone images, digital video”. He said that news may finally reflect the unmediated experiences of others thanks to digital and wireless communications. Haven’t we seen this recently in the Arab world? The revolution will not only be televised, it will be tweeted, Youtubed, and blogged. If news is changing thanks to the ability of everyman to take a picture, post a story, how is art changing?

    3. Bill Rauhauser, a great classic American photographer, now 93ish, posted a comment on some photographs the other day, “Just what you would expect now that everyone has a camera”. I wrote “Damn everyone…the nerve of getting a camera and taking pictures!” Bill said, “You misunderstood me”. I said I was just kidding. He’s 93 and documented a world now gone: http://www.thebookbeat.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=24792#butblack

    I have great respect for his body of work, all safely in the hallowed past. And bless his once-transgressive soul, but when he put the “photographer” shingle out, at some point his work was co-opted by the market, and once art is a commodity, it is de-fanged, neutered, and removed from transactional, dialectical space into object/commodity space. The kids with the Flickr accounts are every bit as much photographers. The function of the “artiste” has vanished -long live everyone as artist!

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    cocoskyavitch

    …is there anything that is not a “simulation” to us? And how do we decide what is banal and what not?

    Vili you ask really good questions.

    If the making of “art” requires the “simulation” of what would otherwise be authentic-sound, visual stimulus, language, human interactions, etc., are there qualitiative rankings of simulation?

    Beaudrillard suggested there are, and ranked Warhol’s early Campbell’s Soup Can series as authentic simulacra, and his decades-later reprise of the theme as hollow simulacra.

    I am not necessarily 100% sold on this idea, nor have I ever been quite pleased with the Platonic definition of art-but then, this thread does address some problems in art that do exist-certainly the self-referential nature of contemporary art is an airless space for many. It’s just clear that the “art” of the present does not enjoy the same social space it once did. Beaudrillard suggests that it all may have been an historical oddity. After all, my love of this Robert Campin portrait: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24364447@N05/2328999454/in/photostream

    Has absolutely nothing to do with why it was created, the intent of the artist, nor anything to do with my participation in the morals, beliefs or values of the time of its creation. Yet, I have had this image in postcard form on my bulletin board at work for 10 years, and always delight in looking at it. Why?

    Here comes the part that lawless refers to above in her discussion of “intentional fallacy” theory (Monroe Beardsley) and readers of Sherlock Holmes stories. What is it that viewers/appreciators get from “art”? What is reasonable to get, what are the limits of interpretation? Some years ago I went to see the poet John Ashbery speak at Yale. (I was a student in Color Theory and Design living in Calhoun College at Yale in the turret-best dorm ever!) and I knew of his work from reading him in the New Yorker magazine. He read from his (then- new) book of poems “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”. (The title refers to Parmigianino’s miraculous youthful self-portrait: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65859642@N00/4092392653/

    And what I recall from the evening, other than sitting next to my Calhoun friends, and drawing as Ashbery read, then spoke about his work, this statement: “Art must be reinvented by every generation, and art of the past participates in this as well. Unless the new generation looks and thinks, and reinterprets, the work dies.” This is very like the sentiment of Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space in which he states that a woman polishing a table is actually re-creating that table. Her care and work and attention re-make the table.

    I have always cherished these ideas-that our attentions…our reinvestment gives life. I think this is true of everything and especially of art, which is dependent on our attentions to live-and sometimes in a very literal way!

    So what is it that I get from Robert Campin’s fat man? For me it is aesthetic delight. The painting fills me with joy and good humor and thoughtfulness.

    1. There could not be a less-attactive haircut possible. The frame of the hair squeezes his head until he looks like a pear with a wig. This is funny to me.

    2. His stubble, pendant nose, shaved sideburns, wrinkled brow, small chin, wattling neck, sparse brows all make him seem more real than real. The extraordinary focus, the reflected light under his shin on the left, the light in the left eye turning the cornea transparent, the sun freckles on the ear, the lovingly painted ermine collar all are absolute treasures of observation and examples of the artist’s intelligence and skill. I feel smarter just by LOOKING.

    3. The facial expression changes for me as I look. There is self-doubt alongside a contradictory smugness. How is that? And there is a kind of weariness, but also a certain youthfulness in a face turning middle-aged. These contradictory indicators make the character seem interesting, complex.

    4. There is visual distortion…I am not convinced that it is absolutely “right” in terms of perspectival projection. The side facing away from us to the left of the picture plane, bathed in a reddish shadow seems both squeezed and pushed forward in the picture plane as if Campin is painting what he knows of the full-face view rather than attending clinically to the perspectival view. And that is where magic happens, in part. I won’t bore you much more with this, (but it’s a wonderful painting isn’t it?) except to say that what I get from this is a wonderful thing to ponder and gloat over. I celebrate the artist’s triumphs of vision and skill and intellect, delight in my own ability to see, take pleasure in the haptic sensibility of fur, hair, stubble, dry cracked lips, soft pudgy under-chin flesh. I take pleasure in puzzling out the character of the man with these painted clues.

    And, in this appreciation, I believe that Beaudrillard is right-the painting has disappeared the man. I can’t say I care too much about the flesh and blood man, except inasmuch as he relates to the painting… my guess is if I saw him on the street without having seen this painting (well, minus the haircut, let’s say-because that haircut is pretty distracting!) I wouldn’t actually “see” him most likely. The painting is a simulacrum.

    The banal or commonplace reality today is that I can google this image in less than 2 seconds and pull up a full page of reproductions of the painting (and how interesting to see that there are so many painted reproductions available!!!!) We are indundated with images (Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction-Walter Benjamin) of every sort, and the relationship of Campin’s circle to this painting -when this one image was the only one-and it was not reproduceable to our relationship with this painting is light years apart. technology has changed us and our world. Nu?

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    lawless

    Coco – The stumbling block is that I have a fundamentally different view of the nature of reality than Beaudrillard does. While Plato’s theory of forms, which appears to be a supporting foundation, is appealing on a gut level, ultimately it seems to me to be only a partial and incomplete explanation.

    I disagree with the idea that art simulates that which is authentic. Art – at least good art – is authentic in and of itself. Sometimes it is authentic with reference to what it represents, like Magritte’s pipe, which is so hyper-realistic as to raise eyebrows at the statement “This is not a pipe,” and sometimes it is not, like Picasso’s “Guernica,” which represents the horror of war in a non-representational manner that would not be considered factually authentic but is “true” in a deeper sense.

    I therefore can’t take the first step he does by calling images a simulacrum. Or at least they’re not a mere simulacrum. Images have their own existence independent of what they represent. Moreover, I don’t relate to images in the way he describes, nor is his description universally true. Instead, he takes trends and tendencies and turns them into universals. I find his analysis sloppy, both because he universalizes trends and leaps to conclusions he doesn’t justify logically.

    As you quote:

    The Iconolators were subtle people who claimed to represent God for the greater glory, but who, in reality, simulated God in images, thereby dissimulating the problem of His existence. Each image was a pretext to avoid raising the problem of the existence of God. Behind each image, in fact, God had disappeared. In other words, the question was no longer asked. The problem of the existence or non-existence of God was settled by simulation.

    While I agree that by simulating Christ and the saints (themselves stand-ins or representatives of God, not God hirself)* in images, iconographers avoided addressing the issue of God’s existence head-on, the statement that “[e]ach image was a pretext to avoid raising the problem of the existence of God” is Beaudrillard’s opinion, not a proven fact nor a factual statement about the iconographers and their motivation. Even if Beaudrillard is correct that icons were a pretext (i.e., dissimulation or means of fooling people) to avoid raising the problem of God’s existence (not an entirely convincing proposition because icons technically were meant to embody the holiness and stimulate veneration of Christ and the saints, not God hirself), I don’t believe that the historical record confirms that this is what the iconographers thought they were doing, which is what his words suggest to me.

    Perhaps I’m being too literal, but since icons are on the surface, at least, images of people who existed or who were believed to have existed (and I think there’s a fair amount of consensus that Jesus and the saints were actual people who actually existed, even if some, most, or all of the facts about their lives are legendary), not of God, to say that God had disappeared behind those images isn’t to say much. What I suspect Beaudrillard meant, but didn’t outright say, is that icons intended to point the way to God and godliness through the viewer’s awe and veneration of the Christ and saints thus embodied instead shortcircuited such consideration because the images and the responses they provoked became a substitute for the underlying awe and veneration they were meant to stimulate.

    My response to that is somewhere between a shrug and a shake of the head. As for the images themselves evoking responses that might have nothing to do with what’s behind them, as would be the case if an non-believer felt the same awe a believer did on viewing them, that’s the power of art and of representation. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a complete disconnect either. I find it hard to believe that they never provoked further thought about the reality or non-reality of the motivating force behind what they attempted to portray. And since the iconographers pretty universally were believers, the image would of course settle the question of the existence of God in the positive. Bringing the glory of God as epitomized by those whom the icons depicted to the benighted masses was the point of the whole enterprise.

    Coco says:

    Once, the purpose of the image was to hold up a mirror- to reflect meaning from reality. Now, he says, the world of images have swallowed the mirror, and entered into things themselves. Images have become hyper-reality. He calls this a “…residue of a surface without depth”. And he goes on to say we are at the end of aesthetics, left with critical irony as our consolation prize.

    Contemporary art, with its self-referentialism, swallows the mirror more often than was the case before, but I’m not convinced that images no longer reflect meaning or that art never overwhelmed the mirror before. It’s a logical leap that Beaudrillard fails to explain to my satisfaction to dismiss images turning into a hyper-reality as a “…residue of a surface without depth” or to call this an end of aesthetics that leaves critical irony as the only possible response.

    I mostly agree with your discussion of the relationship between image and technology, but reiterate that this is not the only way people experience art and image. I may look for an image on the Internet, but I look at it and interpret it the way I would if I saw it on the walls of a museum, allowing for the fact that color reproduction may not be completely accurate and that I am not, generally, seeing it in its original dimensions. Not much different, in my mind, other than quality issues, between seeing the original and seeing a reproduction in a book. Technology may to some extent degrade images, but it also makes them available to far more people than before.

    The interposition of the Internet and other means of disseminating images may result in images pandering to the lowest common denominator. Rule 34 (if it exists, there is porn of it) governs. On the other hand, not everything that is new, popular, or dispersed by the Internet is inferior artistically. For example, I consider Lady Gaga artistically superior to Madonna: she’s a more talented songwriter and a better singer. These judgments, however, are based solely on their music, not their videos; I find Lady Gaga’s videos distracting (since they bear little to no relation to the song) and overproduced. Then again, I can barely watch most music videos; the vast majority are either boring or distracting, sometimes both.

    Coco says:

    The kids with the Flickr accounts are every bit as much photographers. The function of the “artiste” has vanished -long live everyone as artist!

    The kids with Flickr accounts are every bit as much photographers in the sense that they take photographs, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s photographs are of equal artistic merit. I don’t expect most photographs originally displayed on Flickr or Photobucket to become part of MOMA’s collection, nor do I believe that the democratizing effects of technology, which has given the masses the tools to create films, etc., have eliminated the function of the “artiste.” It may have made art less elitist and given us a wider net to cast to find artistic talent, as well as potentially expanding and degrading the notion of what is artistically worthy, but that in itself does not mean that everyone is an artist or every work is of equal merit.

    In closing, I don’t think what’s depicted always disappears behind the image. Sometimes it matters what or who the image is of. While you’ve convinced me that the existence of the anonymous peasant whom Robert Campin immortalizes disappears behind the painting, that is not true – at least not to me – of this painting of Richard III:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_III_of_England.jpg

    Josephine Tey wrote a famous book of detective fiction (The Daughter of Time) based on this painting that argues (fairly persuasively) that the common view of Richard III as a monster is incorrect. The painting is reproduced on the cover of a biography I read of Richard III which points out that the accusation that he had his nephews killed only surfaced after he was overthrown and originates with the victors – in other words, that there’s every likelihood that it’s propaganda and lies. That’s a good example of the image pointing back to the person behind the image rather than replacing or erasing him.

    * I use non-gender-specific terms to refer to God to get away from the heavily anthropomorphized and masculinized image of God common to the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks so much Coco for having the patience to deal with our questions and the understanding to make Baudrillard more or less accessible for the rest of us.

    I agree with Baudrillard that we live our lives in a simulacrum. Having not experienced any other eras than the one I do live in, it is difficult for me to comment on whether our current age is more dependent on these simulations than previous generations. While there certainly appears to be more visual and other sensory bombardment going on, I am not sure whether the increase in the quantity of such information corresponds to our lives being more detached from reality.

    I think that we as human beings are simply fairly good at escaping from reality. We create gods and spirits and a wide range of other such entities to live our lives under, which results in a huge range of fairly artificial social rules and conventions that we impose on ourselves. We also have other similarly artificial constructs like our way of timekeeping, our financial transactions, nations/states, and so on, which all contribute to our simulacrum. A couple of Lady Gagas don’t then really make that much of a difference considering the enormous scale of the simulacrum that we have built for ourselves. And while the nature and purpose of those simulacra may have changed — most of them are now there to help us part with our money — the underlying fact that they have always been there, hasn’t really.

    So, the simulacra have always been there, and the building of them starts very early on in human development when we first start to construct our identities. We look at the world around us, interpret it in some particular way, and then reflect that interpretation internally, starting to build our understanding of the self. Once this process begins it never ends until the brain carrying out the processing dies. Therefore, I don’t think that our relationship with ourselves is any more “real” (or less of a “simulacrum”) than is our relationship with the world.

    Considering that in my view everything that we experience and do is already filtered and layered through our artificial understanding of the world and ourselves, I find it really difficult to say that something is “more real” than something else. Hence, art for me cannot really be less real than non-art.

    Based on the examples given in this thread, Baudrillard’s definition of “real” seems to fairly often be my definition of “traditional”, and he therefore comes across a little like that old man yelling at kids to stay off his goddamn lawn. If Baudrillard for instance considers face-to-face interaction more real than texting, all I am able to say is that from my point of view they are simply different modes of communication, and comparing them is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Face-to-face communication is certainly at our point in history more traditional, but in a larger scheme of things, “traditional” is almost always just “temporary” — communication by language is, after all, an incredibly recent development in human evolutionary history. I don’t therefore really consider it any more “real” than digital communication.

    And perhaps that is where the major differences between my personal views and Baudrillard’s originate. As a sociologist, he studies society, and the way it changes. I am more interested in the individual (well, I’m just interested in “me”, to be honest), and consider society to be just another layer in the way we understand ourselves and the world around us.

    However, if I try to approach the world from what I understand is Baudrillard’s angle, I see that there is much to be gained from his take on art and the world around us. I would certainly not dismiss his ideas, even if on a fundamental level his axioms are not the same as mine.

    Robert Campin’s Fat Man is indeed a wonderful painting. I can’t say that I really like it (in terms of deriving pleasure from it), but it is a wonderful piece, especially with your introduction to it. Thanks for sharing! I think I’d enjoy being an arts student in your class. Maybe I should join your university class trips to European one year.

    Anyway, for me it is not really that important whether the painting disappears the man. The man would disappear in any case. Would I see him alive today, and then again next year, I would have two at least slightly different interpretations of him, simply because I would have changed, and so would he, and so would the world which we inhabit. Yet, I don’t think that I would call either version of him (or me) more real than the other.

    Such is also the case with the fate of the author. I do believe that the author can be very much dead and buried. But only if you as the interpreter decide to kill him. It’s your world. I encourage you to do as you please. Explore your options, don’t let any artificial restrictions tell you what to do.

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    lawless

    Vili says:

    art for me cannot really be less real than non-art.

    Anyway, for me it is not really that important whether the painting disappears the man. The man would disappear in any case. Would I see him alive today, and then again next year, I would have two at least slightly different interpretations of him, simply because I would have changed, and so would he, and so would the world which we inhabit. Yet, I don’t think that I would call either version of him (or me) more real than the other.

    While the path I travel to those conclusions is different from his, that pretty much sums it up for me, too.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Drat! Time has slipped away from me, and yet, here is all this rich and intriguing thinking and I have no time to spend to do your writing justice. Thanks, Vili and lawless…let this hang in cyberspace until my return! ( I am off to Switzerland in a couple days, and there’s so darn much yet to do. )

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    Vili Maunula

    Have a great trip, Coco! And greetings from Madrid. Baudrillard was very much in my mind today at Museo del Prado!

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    lawless

    Enjoy your trip, Coco. Right now my daughter is visiting China along with eight other students, her Chinese teacher, a social studies teacher (the school they’re visiting requested a teacher of US history), and a parent. It must be something in the water!

    Vili – I’m envious. It’s been awhile since I took Spanish, and thus was more on top of Spanish art and culture, but if I’m not mistaken, the Prado is rich in paintings by such painters as Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco, as well as other artists from other continental European countries. I hope you enjoyed your visit to the museum and the city.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Strangely small world…next spring we offer a China program I hope to lead (and hope we recruit enough to go to Tibet), and before that in Winter I hope to do a Madrid-Barcelona museum tour for ECA (early college alliance) students. Some of the work that’s kept me from this site entails program details, budgets and itineraries for these programs!

    I fly out to Zurich tomorrow, and have a few days to hit up the galleries and mountains and take a then my group of 20 moves down to Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples then Delphi, Athens, Crete and Istanbul.

    I will peek in on the conversation as time allows, then return in the first week of August!

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    Vili Maunula

    Madrid was great, and offered quite a number of museums to cover.

    It was also a fun surprise to see Robert Campin’s Fat Man at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. It’s one funny picture, now that Coco pointed it out. To be honest, had she not mentioned it before, I would probably have just walked by it without really noticing it. While I love museums, they aren’t very optimal places to appreciate paintings, at least not if you know you’ll probably not be coming back any time soon, and therefore try to cover as much ground as you possibly can.

    Yet, I don’t know if there are any other equally convenient solutions. Looking at paintings from a book or on the computer screen has never really felt right to me — the sizes are all wrong, you never know whether your colour settings are good, and most importantly you completely lose the three-dimensionality of a brush stroke. I must have seen Dalí’s Pierrot Playing the Guitar a number of times in books, but it was only at Museo Reina Sofía that I really saw the painting. It was one of the high points of my trip. I don’t think that the picture I linked to here actually does the painting much justice.

    Related to all this, going to Toledo and seeing a couple of El Grecos in their (more or less) intended surroundings was a great experience. The El Greco museum there is very much worth visiting (at least for an admirer of his style like myself), as it is a reconstruction of what his house and workshop may have looked like. Not the real deal of course, but good enough.

    And wherever I went, this thread about art and simulacra travelled with me. Not least because of the number of religious paintings that we saw, but also on a more general level, I was thinking about the museum experience, and how that affects the way we receive and perceive art. If I had nine lives, I think I’d spend one of them working at a museum.

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