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dueling media 2

Post #264 • April 27, 2004, 9:08 AM

David Hockney, interviewed by Karen Wright for Modern Painters:

Photography is very good at documentation if what is being documented is two-dimensional, ie. a painting or a drawing. But if the subject is three-dimensional, photography is far less successful. Of course all old photographs become interesting from the point of view of assuming that in particular picture those people stood there at that time and looked like that. Now with digital photography you have no need ever to believe that. It has also always been pointed out that photographs need captions - without captions you don't know whcih side you are on, who's doing what to whom. They're essential and if you change the caption then you change the meaning. My point about the Goya painting is that if a photograph was being taken of the same incident the camera person would have had to be on one side. There is no neutral position he could be in. The truth in photography is a bore.

I disagree. Not all photographs demand captions and few paintings function with no influence from their titles (certainly, changing a painting's title alters one's understanding of it). The Goya clearly favors the victims, who gesticulate and moan as the faceless soldiers shoot them. And I challenge the last sentence: truth, if genuine and insightful, ought not bore anyone in any medium.

What interests me about this is its relationship to the last post. The impulse to proclaim that one medium is superior to another goes all the way back to Giorgione, 500 years ago. Neither the proclamation by Giorgione...

...in a single scene the painter could show to an observer standing still in one place various aspects of the one figure by depicting a number of different gestures; whereas for a work of sculpture to produce the same effect, he said, the observer must change his position and viewpoint.

...nor the comment by the unnamed scupltors who prompted it...

...since a statue showed to anyone walking round it different aspects and poses, sculpture was superior to painting, which could represent only one aspect of any given subject.

...make a lick of sense, but the discussion heated up enough to prompt Giorgione to create a painting just to prove them wrong, if we can take Vasari at his word.

Artists feel pressure to convince themselves that they are doing a valid, unique activity. As an artist you must decide what rules you're going to follow, and then follow them well. Along the way you have to reject media that don't call to you, and you might well wonder why you prefer some to others. This leads to statements like the ones above, asserting the superiority of one medium over another. The statements can't be proven true or even sensible, but it seems that for centuries, this one-upmanship has driven art's progress.

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