Bush + Greenberg + Berners-Lee

All 3 of these articles (As We May Think, Modernist Painting and Long Live the Web), pose interesting questions about the intersection of art and science. Or art and science as poles, the conflict between (which could be a way of describing the internet). All 3 articles, with some urgency, ask and propose ideas about how to move forward.

Bush examines current technology as of 1945 and its capabilities in service of imagining new and improved technologies. The goal of these technologies is to provide a wider record of human knowledge and an easier and faster way to access it.

Berners-Lee seems to be asking for the same thing in many ways, a free and open web, specifically when he writes about linked data. He imagines databases, records, so full of information, so easily accessible that it becomes a way to “cure diseases, foster business value and govern our world more effectively” (Berners-Lee, 85). My immediate question is about privacy and he does address this though without idea of solution.

Of course, it is thrilling to hear the 1945 imaginings of a walnut-sized camera with a “lens of universal focus”, automatic exposure, “full color” and “film… for a hundred exposures” (Bush, 7). It’s interesting to think in this moment in time, what was possible in that perspective to imagine, and what wasn’t. For example, extensions or enhancements of the already familiar mechanics were imaginable but an entirely different set of mechanics (ie digital photography) was not.

I was also struck by the way Bush wrote about association: “With one item in grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain” (Bush, 22). Obviously there is an easy connection made to the way the internet functions as well as the way we have come to experience it as it has become woven more deeply into our lives. Yet there is also something about this that makes it human, reminds us that we are in control of it and it is not objective.

Greenberg’s piece was an interesting compliment to the Bush and Berners-Lee readings. It provides a way of thinking, self-criticism as a necessary and inherent part of the evolution of art. Substitute science for art, or technology, or the internet. What came before does not disappear. It is not “a break from the past. It may mean a devolution, an unraveling, of tradition, but it also means its further evolution” (Greenberg, 6). Again, there are ways that we can create better, more equitably, based on where we have come from. Greenberg, like Bush, reminds of us our humanity in this when he writes, “the limiting conditions of art are altogether human conditions” (Greenberg, 6).

Berger + Debord

I’ve seen Ways of Seeing before and I appreciated seeing it again.

I like the idea of “seeing things in the context of our own lives” as a way to inform contemporary practice. I am interested in ways of working with that concept, peeling away layers of process, reflection, and meaning throughout the whole life of a piece of work.

His thoughts about authenticity and preservation that he uses to contextualize the series raise some questions for me, particularly about the time when this was made. How have we come to prioritize authenticity and preservation above all else? Berger clearly unravels these ideas and shows how meaning has been destroyed and recreated with the invention of the camera which makes art “transmittable”. Debord provides more of a context for the political and economic ways in which we have arrived at this moment in history.

As it’s own moment in time, Ways of Seeing, is clear and and makes precise use of the film form (i.e. his idea of the “silent and still” painting vs. the “movement and sound” of film) to illustrate concepts about how that exact form has transformed meaning and art. Or as Debord might say, “Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world” (Debord, 12).

Understanding a Photograph was an interesting complimentary piece to the film. I felt that many of the concepts were very similar, a clear extension of ideas in Ways of Seeing. I was particularly interested in the idea of negation, something I recently learned about in a poetic context. As Berger writes of a photograph, “What it shows invokes what is not shown” (Berger, 3). I think this is a beautiful thing about photography. It poses the form as a question rather than an answer, like poetry.

This idea also appeared in Debord’s writing, relating to what he terms “the spectacle”: If the spectacle is “affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life”, it is also "the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible” (Debord, 3).

Ultimately, Berger makes a strong case that trying to define photography as fine art is simply the wrong way to be thinking about it, that thinking about it as a language of images, frees us from the political and economic restrictions that are inherent in that defined as art.

Society of the Spectacle was challenging but relative. Debord outlined a distinct binary between spectacle and reality and described a contemporary society that is built on the tension between the two.

The idea of “the obvious degradation of being into having” (Debord, 5) and commodity as spectacle/spectacle as commodity expand on Berger’s concept of art being defined as property.

Additionally, there were several quotes I found personal creative ways of relating to in the ways that I experience my identity as an artist and filmmaker in the current digital world, including:

“The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep.” (6)

“This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.” (9)