Intelligent Designs

The thing that often puzzles me when visiting galleries or exhibitions is that I am unable to distinguish where the walls end and where the art begins.  Although this is mostly a problem concerning modern art, and/or the way it is presented, the straightforward, framed-painting-on-the-wall is not immune to the effects of context, and in fact relies just as heavily on the space it is displayed in, along with the various expectations and associations the environment creates for the viewing public.

There is no separation or escape from the context of presentation, there is only failure to take it into account.

Is this barrier part of the exhibition?  Did the artist choose the wall colour?  Is this just a wire sticking out, or are we meant to see behind the scenes?  Not knowing what the artist has done deliberately, I.e. the extent to which the exhibition space has been chosen, manipulated and re-arranged, poses a challenge that is equally or perhaps even more difficult than understanding the “work of art” itself.

If we cannot distinguish the work of the artist from random “noise” it makes appreciation of art difficult, but accepting this idea seems to open a can of worms on a blank canvas.  How much of what we see is deliberate, and how much is a happy, famous and expensive accident?

In the past I have thought that the most skilled photographers are the ones who are able to create their images entirely in their own image, that is, they shape every aspect of the scene or whatever happens to be in front of the lens/pinhole/paper in order to obtain a photograph that accurately matches what they have in their imagination or in their designs.  Gregory Crewdson is one such photographer who I feel represents this idea really well.  My own imaginary ideal however, is a scene that is entirely constructed by the photographer (not the assistants), not in the more metaphorical sense, but in the real sense as in the case of someone who might build a set for a film in order to have absolute control over what goes on and in, and what does not.

In the non-photographic arts the problem of control is even more difficult to overcome, as the tools of the trade are much more rough-edged and temperamental, and so it seems that behind the finished exteriors of traditional works of art lies the possibility for accident, and the unacknowledged acceptance of things-not-turning-out-as-we-had-planned.  It is my contention that while on a global level the results may match the intentions of the artist, by looking closer both figuratively and literally, we are able to find a greater sense of randomness which is often assimilated by the artist during the process of creation, so that although we may begin with intention X, when reality Y happens we adapt our expectations in order to remain congruent.  In this way, the process of creation is not only about changing a material into a new form, but more importantly it is about changing ourselves, or allowing ourselves to be changed both physically and psychologically in response to our creations.

There is a significant difference between executing a plan and rewriting the plan once it has been carried out in order to restore resemblance between the two.  Inventing reasons for a work after the fact is an act of rationalisation, which despite how it sounds is the opposite of rational.  In effect I see a lot of art as resulting from Xanatos Gambits or non-plans, where their creator simply accepts the outcome as the correct one regardless of what it is.  This is not a question of me arguing against a certain philosophical position; I wholeheartedly agree that we can create randomly, enjoy the process and accept the results, but presenting randomness as something deliberate is dishonest and just plain incorrect.  This doesn’t apply to those who deliberately use random and unpredictable processes, provided that it is only the randomness itself which is accepted and not the precise quality or details of it (Controlling randomness is an oxymoron).  For example we can accept film grain as a randomly generated artefact, but we cannot point to individual grains and say “that’s just where/how I wanted it!

However damaging a practice rationalisation may be, we should not downplay the creativity required in order to invent meanings, reasons and interpretations after a work has been done.  In a sense, the artist who rationalises their choices and actions is like the creative spectator who determines their own meaning while engaging with a piece of art.  Seeing as meaning is not inherently part of anything, it can be a vital skill to be able to fashion one’s own purpose where there is none.  But we must be careful not to confuse meaning and purpose, as the purpose is the driving force, while meaning is the empty cart being pulled behind.

If certain creative processes are able to induce rationalisation through consistency biases, this would be further evidence against art as a method for discovering truth.

Modern Art Installation Intelligent Design

The idea at the heart of this image and the series I envisioned back in 2013 was to find random structures and to present them as public modern art installations.  But when we examine photography, it is often the case of trying to present things in a way which was not intended or which had no intention.  For example, many compositions are intended to make (abstract) art – from ordinary scenes.  It is in fact the role of the photographer to seek out interesting scenes and compositions within them, although certain types prefer to create their own scenes rather than hunt around in amongst the everyday.  Therefore, Intelligent Designs is not just a comment about the obscure nature of modern art, or about the inaccuracy of certain religious ideas, but it is a self-reference about the character of photography itself.