Art and Politics

Brett Wilson asked a while ago if conscience should go into toy photography. I think it should, and it should also go into art (and obviously into toy photography that aspires to be art).

Why don’t I like political art?

However, there is one kind of art that usually does not do the job for me. It’s what they call political art. Most political art is very efficient in getting its message across. A Parthenon made of forbidden books: Once you know all these books were sometimes forbidden somewhere, it seems to be hard to misunderstand this work. The artist may mean well, but I am not satisfied.

I do not care for the good intentions of the artist. I care for the kind of art that stays with you because you can never really figure it out although you would really like to.

“Great art poses questions, and the more questions it poses, the better it is.” Robert Longo

“Trash Island” (Study)

What’s art?

For lack of a better explanation, let me start from this one: A work of art is a self-referential configuration (of elements) that challenges the recipient to become active. The recipient’s activity in the face of the work of art can be called interpretation. It encompasses dancing, playing, singing (in music); making sense of forms and colours (in the fine arts); filling narrative gaps, reciting, making sense of rhyme and rhythm (in literature) – among other things. These activities are relevant to the sphere of human action, partly in that they change the way we see and understand our world.*

As far as I understand, seeing art like this implies two more things:

1. There is no meaningless element in a work of art. Everything you hear, read or see is an ‘element’ that contributes to the constitution of the work. Every word counts. The choice of instruments makes a difference. There is no saying, “oh, that’s just the picture’s background and can be ignored.”

2. Because everything means something, works of art are complex. Due to this complexity, the interpretive activities never come to an end: orchestras can play a symphony again and again, re-reading a book opens new perspectives, revisiting an art exhibition is quite rewarding.


Art’s social relevance

Based on this, I would like to suggest that conscience does have a place in art because art is tightly interwoven with our everyday lives. If art helps mould the ways we exist in this world, then there is always a political, social, moral aspect to it. Each work chooses to be avantgarde or conservative, a challenge to or a confirmation of our worldviews.

I might like the moral but not the art

If interpretation really never comes to an end, this might explain the tendency of totalitarian states to subjugate art. Because art is everything but totalitarian. On the other hand, the work of art that succeeds in getting the political message across in the most efficient way might not be a great work. It often brings interpretation to a quick halt.



* These ideas are not mine. This is my attempt to give a short summary of the most intelligent text about art I have read so far: Georg W. Bertram, Kunst als menschliche Praxis. Eine Ästhetik, Frankfurt/Main, 2014. (Apparently also available in Spanish but not in English.) Based on Bertram’s description, it should also be possible to decide whether a toy photograph is a work of art – but that’s an altogether different question.

La Ronde

A Structuralist Tale: Six single pictures that may be seen independently from one another. Yet they are connected by a ‘structural’ idea, a formal rule. The story has no beginning, and no end: Pick any picture you want as a starting point. And you can also read the sequence backwards. Shuffling the pictures would not work though. Does this provide narrative? It is up to you to decide.

Thinking inside the box

Let me admit that I am not a builder of models. I am a photographer. So, along with the budget, I also try to minimize the work I put into the sets (hence their slightly minimalist feeling).

To achieve this, I try to build sets which are so flexible that they can be put to multiple uses. And with the above room, I think it worked. The whole thing started when I held a wall with a pair of windows under the desk lamp. I had been ready to discard it because the windows had turned out to be too crooked for H0 scale use. But then I suddenly realized that they could still be used for lighting a room. Continue reading Thinking inside the box

And then there was light

“Light comes in flickers, defining the darkness, not dispelling it.”
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Although lighting is crucial in the Noir series, I never payed attention to how exactly I proceed. I do not know much about light. I only have a general idea of the look I want to achieve. And then I kind of play around, which at the end of the day leaves me with lots of pictures that are ‘same but different,’ as they say.

However, since the lighting in this series has been commented on a couple of times, I tried to pay more attention to the process. Here’s what I think I do:

It all started with ideas about lighting

At one point for example, I wanted the central person to be illuminated by light falling out of a door or a window, casting a long shadow. That’s how Noir started, and you can tell from the first pictures of the series that in the beginning, there was the light, and then the story followed. Continue reading And then there was light