Saturday, February 26, 2011

Visual art + language-- "Pretty"

I have an annoyance, i guess a pet peeve, with how people call images "pretty." I was thinking about this in the shower & came up with a web of things related to this.

I'm not sure if it can be explained with "we're just so inundated with images that we've begun to write them off," though i think that could be a reason. But personally, i've noticed that writing & the various performing arts, as well as cinema, seem to get more thoughtful responses than most of visual art, especially online. It seems more likely to me that people will consider, dissect, & speak at length about a movie, an actor's performance, or how a song makes them feel & what they think about it/what it's about. But a lot of the time, especially on a site like Tumblr, when it comes to images, you get a lot of single-word responses, & quite a few times you just get "pretty."

I feel kind of conflicted about this word, actually, i've come to realize. Kind of like "cute"-- with both, my gut reactions are somewhere along the lines of "UUUGGGGGHHHHHHHH," but then i feel bad. I feel bad about being mean about a word. If you can get past that, the kind of connotations that "pretty" immediately conjures are more along the lines of superficiality, shallowness, childishness, even frilliness. It feels like, on the whole, it lacks substance, that it's a poor way of communicating. (And then i feel bad for saying that.) It doesn't go in depth; in a way, in its feeling of being a passing comment, it feels almost dismissive. And i think that visual art gets this a lot more than something like a piece of writing. You don't often happen across someone presenting something written with the simple comment of "pretty" on it. I'm not saying it hasn't been done to the other arts, i'm just saying that i've noticed it seems way more prevalent with visual art. Other one-word responses kind of annoy me, too, but i do feel that "beautiful" has a connotation of being "deeper" & maybe more thoughtful than "pretty."

There's an Art:21 episode where one of the featured artists is James Turrell, & at one point he says that when you're reading a book, you can get so engrossed into it that you don't even notice people walking by. You come into the world that the author has created. The problem with contemporary art-- & i would expand it to all visual art, personally-- is that "people look at it"-- they don't actually enter into it, the way they do with a book, a movie, a play, a musical piece. Which could also be another explanation as to why, then, the reaction is different, because the experience (of a piece) isn't there, & so then how are you supposed to really speak of any sort of reaction?

I also have noticed that people seem to really like to treat images with disregard. Recently, i ranted online about a photo of three skinny white adults wearing Native American paraphernalia, including the war bonnet, which is just intensely disrespectful. First the photographer decided to tell me to "grow up" & it was a photoshoot; someone else said "Does everything offend you?"; someone else asked me why i was so mad & when i told them i had explained previously, they replied with, "It's just a picture?" And it's like, you really can't talk to these people. Or maybe you can, if you're good with words, rhetoric, & have insane amounts of patience (YOU USED UP MY PATIENCE QUOTA FOR THE DAY).

But really, i can't understand that people don't get the fact that an image is very rarely ever "just" a picture. There are so many layers of meaning: not just the meaning that the artist or imagemaker has considered, but also the meaning that the viewer perceives, based on what they bring to the table: their own perceptions & experiences. (Obviously, the person who photographed the aforementioned picture obviously knows nothing of history & the levels of disrespect inherent in their image, so there's that, too.) It seems to me that people are much more willing to do this with respect to, especially, the written word. You always have discussions in English classes about "what does the author mean". Well, unless said author wrote anything explicitly stating what they meant, you have to realize that "what does the author mean" may very well truly be "what you think the author means"-- you analyze & interpret the work based on your own filters. The author had their own ideas & intentions, their own symbolism & meaning & reasons for doing what they did, & while it can be disheartening when people don't pick up on your meaning ("Oh great i can never communicate anything ever well fuck"), you also have to leave things open for interpretation. The same goes for songs. It's actually kind of ridiculous to have arguments over "this is what this means!!!" because what you think something means is most likely going to differ from someone else's view-- & that's as it ought to be. It's also another great example of Why You Shouldn't Read YouTube Comments.

So people will do this for writing. For songs. For plays, for actors, for movies. But it seems very rare that people will do the same thing for visual art. Which personally doesn't make sense to me, because if you can interpret & analyze all those other things, i feel like you should be able to do the same for a sculpture or painting or installation (&c). But a lot of people seem to be content to just stop at "pretty." They even use it negatively; i saw something on Tumblr once where the person claimed "Tumblr is where the written word comes to die" & they spoke of "pretty pictures"-- which made the negativity pretty blatant, to me. Why is it okay to talk about images like this? Since when has there been a hierarchy of the arts (& i am including writing in this)? I also noticed this when people posted an image of an altered book & started railing against it, basically saying how whoever had made it was essentially a terrible person & don't they know there are people who would be grateful for that book & how dare they deface it! They didn't seem to consider the more positive possibilities &/or the more conceptual ones (like, i don't know: the question of what is a book? is this a book anymore? has it transcended any boundaries? what are the implications of altering a printed book?). And it seemed to me that it derided visual art in favor of the written word; the book as something precious & almost downright holy. How dare you touch it so!

And i'm not saying that some things aren't meant to be "pretty" or beautiful or "nice" or calming, or any of those things (or funny or the like). I'm not saying that they're not legitimate or bad because they're meant to be "pretty" or "nice". Like the pieces of music that you listen to because they're calming & you don't feel too compelled to go into them too deep conceptually, but they're nice & they give you nice feelings. Like images of things that you like-- like (personally) blue things, water, stars, trees-- that are around because you like them & they're nice & they give you nice feelings. I'm also not saying that i don't understand the feeling of looking at something (or even reading/listening/etc. to something) & feeling like you can't respond to it for whatever reason, & if you do, all you can manage is something like, "wow." And with visual art, this seems really applicable to me, because i consider it to be meant as a form of communication that can (& should?) be largely conveyed without words. That's the whole point, i feel, of it being visual; you can't express it in words, so you're going another route. So when the experience leaves you feeling inarticulate, i think that's understandable, too.

Ultimately, i'm talking about my opinion, based on my feelings & experiences. And so i'm talking about how it seems that people don't, for whatever reason, give the same thought to visual art that they do to the other arts. And by extension, how people seem okay with talking down to visual art, or about it, as though other forms of expression are more important or more valid.

And i think i've covered the points that i can think of, & it's 3:08 a.m. now & i'm exhausted & my shoulders & back muscles are so tight that it is very painful. Which is pretty normal, but still unpleasant. And my right hand & wrist have started to hurt a bit, & i can now actually stretch my hand & wrist, & things will start clicking. It's obvious i'm using the laptop too much, but it's like i can't tear myself away from it, which is... pretty bad, obviously. And since my right hand is my dominant hand, if it & the wrist start to hurt, writing & drawing & the like become uncomfortable, too.

So yeah, i wanted to comment/reply to people online & stuff, but i'm so tired & stuff like that right now that it's just time to turn this sucker off & faceplant into a pillow & roll into a blanket & sleep.

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