Nance’s response

Words once existed only as an oral tradition — storytelling, poetry, song — until mechanical reproduction allowed for wider distribution of text and efforts grew to promote literacy among a wider population. As Berger points out, art also was once an exclusionary form of language that belonged only to the elite, until mechanical reproduction allowed art to be seen by the masses. Since Berger wrote this essay, our ability to create and reproduce images has multiplied exponentially. You could say that posting an image to the web creates an infinite reproduction.

I think an abundance of images encourages a visual literacy and a confidence that allows anyone to create visual “statements”, just as exposure to text supports the writing arts. As with words, a larger visual vocabulary enhances our understanding and our ability to articulate experiences. Imagery often connects us more viscerally to experience than words. Knowing how to interpret and use images in an image-saturated world is as important now as interpreting a written text.

An abundant access to images can blur the boundaries of art and ephemera, leaving that categorization open to the viewer. Unless you prescribe to the notion that art only resides in the realm of the academy, the museum, or the collector, this abundance can be both liberating and overwhelming. It has forced the established institutions to redefine what “art” is and acknowledge that it has become more of a moving target that can no longer be contained within four walls. And it has created space for a wider acceptance of what can be deemed art today.

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2 responses to “Nance’s response

  1. Thoughts on Berger's thoughts by Alex

    When Berger states, “The reciprocal nature of vision is more fundamental than that of spoken dialogue. Often dialogue is an attempt to verbalize this- an attempt to explain how, either metaphorically or literally, ‘you see things’, and an attempt to discover how ‘he sees things’”, he’s implying that short of actually experiencing the moments when an image is created, one is left to their own interpretation using what they know, feel, or learn.

    With an interpretation of an image already in place, viewing that same image out of its original context could be cause for more confusion of true meaning, the real story, or how it is intended to be understood. This said, Berger’s claim that “..the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes..” takes this idea one step further, suggesting that the true story behind an image can be insisted upon by a voice of authority that people might trust is the truth.

    So if we’re relying on dialogue to tell the story of a work of art, it’s no wonder that part or the entire story is lost. This seems to me to be not just nature of time passing, but also the nature of storytelling: stories evolve and ideas get mixed. But when there is an image that is a testament to an event (isn’t this every piece of art ever created?), should the image be able to speak for itself? I don’t know whether I think this is possible! In this sense, an image placed in context of another may actually help in learning what it’s all about.

    That a grouping of images is a language really appeals to me. It seems to give freedom to imagery and art, and for one to ‘use’ it seems to imply that the ‘user’ has some understanding of at least some part of its meaning or appearance. Much of my own work is about groupings of images, so this is encouraging me to think more intentionally about how they go together. I’m wondering if how I place my images and their context amongst one another could be persuasive, instructive or useful. Likewise, I’m interested to explore the idea of end product as part of this context.

  2. Anna’s response to Berger:
    Berger’s historical overview of the changes in representation is both clear and confusing. His discussion of the artist’s perspective and the viewer’s experience made perfect sense, but when he started talking about mystification, I was lost.
    At the end of the essay (p.32), when he brings in the discussion of how images are used today, on “mood boards”, and as collaged meanings created by individuals, I understood him to be arguing that prior to photography, Art was a communication between artist and viewer, the understanding based on the viewer’s experience. Then photography made images more complex, adding another layer to be comprehended by the viewer. Now in the digital age, with the masses of images available, and little contextual information, the intended meaning and “perspective” of the artist is negated by the meaning created by the viewer. In effect, images are like words -each image/word by itself does not make sense, but put together in a collage/sentance, they become meaningful. This suggests we must look at a group of related images to “read” the meaning. Berger’s “language of images” requires grammar, and structure, just as the written word, in order to be comprehended. This is learned through understanding historical/social/political context, and his concern for people who have been “cut off” from their past -either through elitism (museums) or the “ephemeral/valueless” (without context) reproduced images of today. The question is: How do we provide context for all these images on the internet? or do we educate people to question the context of the images they see as part of the “reading” process?

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