Modern art by 1960 saw rising ideas by artists that form could be expressive even if it became divorced from appearances, example would be abstract art. Sontag writes when art was dominated by Formalism, but moving towards Postmodernism. I want to consider her discourse as a reaction to American art critic, Clement Greenberg, the Freudian interpretations and what is called mansplaining from a strong conservative male dominated establishment. The separation of form and content is traced back to the Greeks and Christianity, however, Sontag is writing in a time when Conceptual art takes this to its extreme;American Minimalist artists were making work that they claimed was devoid of content altogether. Sontag argues that the attempt to extract content from form and the privileging of content means that the sensory experience of art is impoverished. (What really was happening is the reality that artist lost representational realism art has up to then assumed as its referent……..Ideas I am forming)

Early criticism was merely explanatory, interpreting what was there but encoded or dependent on some additional knowledge on the part of the critic —something that was “specific-dependent”. As Sontag points out, hermeneutics, the theory of interpretation, was originally applied specifically to the biblical text, but since the 19th century has been applied to literature and art as well. Later modes of hermeneutics “excavated” texts to impose meanings rather than reveal them. In today’s post-structural/postmodernist context, where there are no longer meta-narratives or “truths,” interpretation has exploded into its own discourse, and some would argue, art form. Being very mindful here that the role of photos/video have become very important in terms of how people place value on truth…as if you believe when you see…the photo is the “representation” of truth. (see this daily playing out in politics and social activism)

I do like to consider the ideas of Deleuze in this regard an like the way it is said by, E Jeannes and E de Kock: ” Deleuze explores creativity as an intellectual activity, with particular reference to philosophy (although also the arts and to a lesser degree the sciences) and the creation of concepts. Deleuze argues that philosophers should not reflect on things; that mere representation alone imposes rules on our thinking and is inherently limiting (Deleuze, 1994:135). Instead Deleuze believes that what (good) philosophers actually do is create, by generating new concepts: “To think is to create – there is no other creation – but to create is first of all to engender ‘thinking’ in thought” (Deleuze, 1994: 147). His concern is to open us up to new powers of thinking, and its power of becoming. This creative thinking is a freedom, although a freedom not entirely our own, for thinking is transformed by what is outside us and by chance events. Deleuze looks to a form of thinking that strives for “production, mutation and creation…we do philosophy to expand thought to its infinite potential” (Colebrook, 2002: 15).

This process of becoming, the creation of what is not yet, is achieved through extending the virtual; thinking in new, perhaps previously unimagined, modes of thinking. For Deleuze, the concept of difference – thinking differently, becoming different, and the creation of difference – is key to maximising the potential of life. The concept enables us to move beyond that which we know and experience and think how this might be extended. It provokes us, dislodges us from our ways of thinking. It creates whole new lines of thinking; new possibilities. This i

Being reminded of Kant and considering judgment of art as aesthetic, (Kant…..must concern itself with the given object, and the meanings that we attribute to the object are those that we see in and experience) Then I have these ideas of Akenson (2008) (academia article) who discuss Hegel from a perspective that for Hegel judgment is objective or productive of the work of art, “but only in retrospect, as the verdict of positive or negative judgments coalesce over time, around the empty place in the art structure opened up by the offensive object, filling it with art meaning. Art is not outside or prior to judgment but a result of judgmental activity working with the intrusive object.” ( article sited:

I remember listening to the artist, T Saraceno, after I saw his spider installation at the Venice biennale in Sept 2019,,,,,he talks about what we “allow” ourselves to see …it was there, but not been present or visible to you…( video, art of noticing). I went back to Dubai, downloaded the app his team created, and started looking for spiders…. great adventure and interactive learning about how we life within the natural world. I also understand and learnt something about my own curiosity of things, I like the taxonomy and classifying of the natural world. Here is SA where I am again confronted with my love for nature, plants and trees ( having spent many hours identifying flowers and trees). I dream of creating my own herbarium with plant species of this area, called the Swartland.

Why do certain configurations of line, colour and form excite us so? Scientist have started questioning beauty by integrating neuropsychology and neuroscience to answer the why and how of beauty in terms of how humans view faces and form, 1. averaging (represent known tendencies) 2. Symmetry versus flaws, 3. effect of hormones. We engage with beauty within our pleasure and vision centers in our brain when we look at faces/objects…..experience of beauty. Anjan Chatterjee on TED

Studies suggest that our brain automatically responds to beauty by linking beauty and pleasure. We also have a beauty is good stereotype embedded in the brain….also to goodness. Our brains reflexively associates beauty and good……(biases on what we see). Beauty is a work in progress, universal attributes in beauty, selection criteria changed, preference and trait combinations is challenged, we should allow it to happen…..

Reading on form, content, context

What is form: Form means the constituent elements of a work of art independent of their meaning (e.g., the colour, composition, medium or size of a flag, rather than its emotional or national significance). Formal elements include primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance (i.e., which do not carry meaning the way a word does): these include colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value, and their corollaries. The secondary features are the relations of the primary features with one another: these include balance, composition, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. A third or tertiary level concerns the way form interacts with content and/or context.

What is content: There is less consensus here. Some distinguish “subject matter” from “content” – – i.e., denotations vs. connotations, more or less — while others prefer terms like “meaning” vs. “significance.” To simplify matters, content means “message,” however that message may be organized…The primary content is the simplest way of taking inventory of what you see, as in literal images; straightforward subjects and imagery; and describable facts, actions, and/or poses. You might think, “what you see is what you get.” …The secondary content includes things which push “what you see” into “what you understand,” so to speak.

What is context: Context means the varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and/or interpreted… Conventional wisdom would have it that primary context is that pertaining to the artist, although there are equally good reasons to assert the primacy of historical and material conditions of production, as in Marxism. Primary context is thus that which pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, and values; education and training; and biography.Secondary context is that which addresses the milieu in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work at hand; religious and philosophical convictions; sociopolitical and economic structures; and even climate and geography, where relevant.

The question as I would like to reposition it is, “is Sontag categorically against interpretation?” I would answer that Sontag is not against interpretation per se, but rules of interpretation; she is against the practise of using an interpretative grid over and over to “decode” disparate works of art. When done indiscriminately the films in question begin to look alike, and the process reveals more about the critic than the film. These type of interpretations are reductive (reducing the film to a preconceived model) and prescriptive rather than descriptive (based on sensual surface properties of the art).

Sontag cites two examples of these prescriptive interpretative grids: Freudianism (or psychoanalysis) and Marxism. She quotes a Freudian reading of a scene in Bergman’s The Silence –a tank rumbling down an empty street as a phallic symbol– as an example of a critic relying on “content” (a tank in an empty street), but stripped of the filmic context: “Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.”  2 For Sontag this is “an overt contempt for appearances.” The appearances are what is seen and heard on the screen and what should be described by the critic, and they should be supported by extra-filmic evidence only when textual evidence supports it.

Ted talk: Richard Seymour…How beauty feels

Limbic system…Sensorily arrive at the brain before we cognition, before we can manipulate. Electro chemical party tricks…….intrinsic and extrinsic beauty….universal, to everybody, without information impacted before, most is mediated before of after the experience.

I have discovered David Salle….author of How to see, downloaded the audio book on SCRiBD

Image taken from the website of the Toledo museum. “Note the dotted line connecting Interpret to Look. While the shape of the diagram is a V, it is also cyclical. Interpretation leads back to the first act of looking. An object can never be interpreted the same way after it has been interpreted once.”
Toledo museum.

Social media has a strong influence on what we think or believe is real: I think for things to be real, we need to see it…. iPhone video footage is our truth. I am thinking of Sontag writing about interpreting images of religious nature, iconography .

the boy and his father die as victims of IDF soldiers, and it was widely seen as a diorama of Israeli heartlessness. The pose of the father and son ended up on posters and postage stamps. In The Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows writes, “The image of a boy shot dead in his helpless father’s arms during an Israeli confrontation with Palestinians has become the Pietà of the Arab world.”

Excerpt from: “The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens” by Stephen Apkon. Scribd.

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e George Seurat a century earlier, who died at 32, their art practices are now in the possession of history rather than voices in the current debate. They are rendered powerless in the services of interpretation and the work can only be judged on its behaviour within the classical canon. These artists successfully expounded their concerns and critical reflection on the world around them through pioneering achievements in their chosen media. They interrogated the relationship between private and public space and examined role patterns and their attributions. Now’s the time reflects on the diversity of recent manifestations in art practice and these artists’ seminal contributions to it. It also explores the infinite here and now, the zeitgeist of a generation and the transmission of these aesthetics and art forms into contemporary life, as they themselves become embedded in historic appreciation. Each of these artists has significantly added to the recent history of western art and, true to that tradition, their work continues to influence art practice today.

RESEARCH About Kentridge the artist

I will attempt to place the artist into context with his work. William Kentridge (b1955) is a White, Male, Jewish South African born artist who is known for work in which he uses his social consciousness and self awareness as narrative. Being born in “Apartheid” South Africa he responds to his experiences and those of others within this context to remind and remember. For Kentridge, the process of recording history is constructed from reconfigured fragments to arrive at a provisional understanding of the past—this act of recording, dismembering and reordering crosses over into an essential activity of the studio, where he uses mainly charcoal drawings and most of the times creates these into series of animated films. Charcoal as he applies it, is the way how he thinks….drawing, erasing, change, drawing.. a repeated making process. It tells me he see the world as process and not fact or static…..always changing, uncertain.

Kentridge is especially interested in what happens when people forget their traumas so easily. ”All my works are part of the same project, I don’t see a great difference between them.” (Zeist MOCAA) Kentridge says he often refers to certain local events that are clearly recognisable in his own country, but he also stresses the universality of human tragedies and believes they can be understood without the local references. The most important thing is to remember. I am reminded of artwork of Kara Walker, where form is the silhouette, which is essential to the meaning of her work. (a potent metaphor for the stereotype, which, as she puts it, also “says a lot with very little information.” The silhouette also allows Walker to play tricks with the eye. There is often not enough information to determine what limbs belong to which figures, or which are in front and behind, ambiguities that force us to question what we know and see.) Walker’s images are really about racism in the present, and the vast social and economic inequalities that persist in dividing America. Like Kentridge, her work is like riddles, are complex and multi-layered, which reveal their meaning slowly and over time. A viewer need to spend time with the work.

I used the Kentridge painting, Procession Diptych on canvas, and asked my husband about his experience of the work, which he could only view as a photo on my iPad. He described the work as gloomy and depressing, a war scene……people are walking from a WWII scene of devastation on the first canvas, with the second showing them walking into an after war scene, a desperate place. For him the first image is the horror of the war and the second the painful image of dealing with loss after the war. He says the dark figures are cubist like, and put into the scene intentionally by the artist to portrait the desperate situation. the monotone colour and barren landscape add to the feeling of despair he experienced.

Reading point 2

Barthes challenges the idea that there is a ‘secret’, ‘ultimate’ meaning behind the creative work. He argues that the author does not create a ‘new’ or ‘original’ work, but rather that it is a synthesis of many already existing cultural phenomena, current and past, to which the reader is a contributor. The work should not therefore be interpreted through biographical considerations regarding, for instance, the author’s political beliefs, psychological state, ethnicity etc. because this form of interpretation only limits the text. In order to liberate

the work, the author must be separated from it. This would mean that the whole notion of authorship would have to be reconsidered, as meaning does not depend upon the author, but in fact, it is created by the reader.

Like ”The Pleasure of the Text” (1975), in which Barthes speaks to a sense of erotic play in literature, ”Camera Lucida” forsakes the analytic methods on which the author built his reputation in favor of a more personal discourse. Barthes contends that a photograph, because it is ”never distinguished from its referent (from what it represents),” resists semiotic analysis, which presupposes a division between an image and its referent. But one suspects a more personal motive behind his impulse to abandon semiotics. Barthes writes of his ”uneasiness” at being ”torn between two languages, one expressive, the other critical,” of his ”ultimate dissatisfaction” with the critical discourses of ”sociology, of semiology, and of psychoanalysis,” and of his ”desperate resistance to any reductive system.” Seen in relation to ”The Pleasure of the Text,” his reflections on photography merely confirm his growing disaffection with semiotics and his decision to use his own emotions as a prime source of insight.

Times. to a more intimate mode is not fully accomplished, though, and much of ”Camera Lucida” reads like a battle between the two languages. Following his ”old” manners, he categorizes the effects that photographs can have upon viewers. His primary insight is to divide the source of a photograph’s affect into two categories, which he labels studium and punctum. The studium of a photograph, according to Barthes, is its culturally determined context; the studium is the source of the viewer’s usually mild, ”polite interest” in a photograph, ”the same sort of vague, slippery, irresponsible interest one takes in the people, the entertainments, the books, the clothes” that one finds ”all right.” The punctum breaks through this complacency of response, provoking a more intense and personal reaction in the viewer; it is usually that detail, ”that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”

Citing a 1926 James Van der Zee portrait of a black family dressed in their Sunday best, he locates the studium in its general context of ”respectability, family life, conformism … an effort of social advancement in order to assume the White Man’s attributes.” The punctum, for Barthes, arises from the details of the younger woman’s low slung belt and strapped pumps: ”Mary Janes – why does this dated fashion touch me?” he asks. While the mystery of the Mary Janes remains unsolved, the point is clear: the punctum is that part of the photograph that cannot be casually, disinterestedly observed. In the case of the Van der Zee photograph, the punctum gave ”the black woman in her Sunday best … a whole life external to her portrait.”

The ultimate effect of punctum is the intimation of death. This Barthes realizes in the personal context of his bereavement over the still recent death of his mother; looking at a portrait of her as a young girl (a picture he declines to reproduce in ”Camera Lucida”), he sees that her death implies his own. From this he arrives at the broad conclusion that every photograph contains the sign of his death, and that the essence of photography is the implied message: ”That has been.” It is no coincidence that Barthes is given to quoting Proust; Proust’s obsession with memory is Barthes’s obsession with death. Proust’s immense powers of recall embody all that Barthes hopes to extract from a photograph but which, intractably, the photograph refuses to yield.

Compared to Susan Sontag’s linkage of photography to the esthetic of Surrealism, or even John Berger’s often programmatic Marxist discoveries, Barthes’s contribution to photographic theory seems meager. The studium and the punctum, tied as they are to the subjective reactions of individual viewers, are not supple tools for analytic reasoning; rather, they are the last links in a chain of reductive thinking. If the essence of the photograph is found in death, it leads only to a dead end. Part of the problem is that Barthes’s view of photographic practice is limited; his preference is for portraiture, there more clearly to find death lurking behind the photograph’s visage. Primarily, though, Barthes’s conclusions clear no space for argumentation or elaboration. (Walter Benjamin’s notion of ”the tiny spark of accident” in photographs, found in his 1931 essay, ”A Short History of Photogra-phy,” may be Barthes’s source for the punctum; however, Barthes does not follow up on Benjamin’s linkage of the camera to an ”optical unconscious.”)

”Camera Lucida” is not without provocative and debatable propositions, however. Barthes’s initial assumption, that the photograph inevitably carries with it a trace of its subject, is so unfashionable as to be enchanting. How can photography be a modernist art if it cannot shed the burden of its referent? Such a reactionary notion (also shared by Benjamin) puts more emphasis on subject matter than most contemporary photography critics have been willing to allow. Similarly, Barthes’s sense of devil’s advocacy leads him to dismiss the photography-was-invented-by-painting theory (most recently advanced by Peter Galassi of the Museum of Modern Art) in a single sentence. No, says Barthes, the essential fact is that it was invented by chemists.

But just as ”Camera Lucida” is sure to confound its photographic audience, it will dismay the proponents of semiotics. Besides repeating his earlier position that the photograph has no code, in effect making it unavailable to semiotic inquiry, Barthes summarily rejects the prevailing semiotic view of the medium:

”It is the fashion, nowadays, among Photography’s commentators (sociologists and semiologists), to seize upon a semantic relativity: no ‘reality’ (great scorn for the ‘realists’ who do not see that the photograph is always coded), nothing but artifice. … The realists, of whom I am one … do not take the photograph for a ‘copy’ of reality, but for an emanation of past reality: a magic, not an art.” For followers of Barthes’s thought the message is clear: Increasingly, Barthes sensed a disparity between the way semiotics described the world and the way he perceived it as lived.

”Camera Lucida” is at its most compelling when the text (Barthes’s analysis of photography, and the ways it can be thought about) gives way to a subtext that concerns his growing apprehension of death. Surely the death of his mother, with whom he had lived, marked a drastic change in his life, and ”Camera Lucida” is, in a sad and almost tragic way, a record of his attempts to come to terms with grief. His fascination with the portrait of his mother, leading to the discovery that the ultimate punctum is death, is the fascination of a man who is seeking, like Proust, to recover a life that has vanished. But while Barthes does not allow his subtext to consume his text, he cannot suppress it, either. This leads to a curious self-consciousness, as when he anticipates his reviews: ”The noeme (essence) of Photography is simple, banal; no depth: ‘that has been.’ I know our critics: What! A whole book (even a short one) to discover something I know at first glance?” Barthes’s reply to these straw critics is singularly unconvincing; he tries to make the medium out to be a revolutionary one, uncultured and untamed. A look at photographic history suggests that it is neither.

By the book’s end, then, the author seems totally, achingly alone. He is alone among photographic thinkers, alone among semiotic analysts, alone with the memory of his mother. It is no wonder that he sees only death in photographs. Ironically, shortly after completing ”Camera Lucida,” he was run over and killed on a Paris street, abruptly meeting the death he foresaw. Barthes also saw desire, grief and pity in photographs, however; one reads ”Camera Lucida” and encounters the same feelings.

A version of this article appears in print on 

Aug. 23, 1981

, Section 7, Page 11 of the National edition with the headline: DEATH IN THE PHOTOGRAPH. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

254 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 26 cm
Contents: Phyllida Barlow’s sculptural imagination / Mark Godfrey —
At sea : a conversation by fax between Phyllida Barlow and Alison Wilding 22.08.98-02.09.98 —
The sculpture of Phyllida Barlow / Jon Wood —
The sneeze of Louise / Phyllida Barlow —
The hatred of the object —
Travelling light : a brief analysis of the end of the work and the triumph of the photographic colour transparency —
Discussion between Phyllida Barlow, Naomi Salaman and Alex Hartley from postcards on photography —
Hearsay, Rumours, bed-sit dreamers and art begins today —
Lost for words —
Sculpture now.

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