Following up -- suggested readings following Assignment 1

  • Cinéma Vérité Documentary -- This article, from the perspective of a filmmaker is helpful in pointing out some of the strengths and pitfalls of the cinéma vérité ("truth cinema") approach. The pitfalls include the one I alluded to in my assignment, namely that the presence of a camera often influences the behaviour of all participants and renders the film that much less "true" or "real." One strength of cinéma vérité that excites the author is the potential of the film to find its own path during the editing process, claiming that "the story wants to tell itself." This would indeed be exciting but it seems a bit naive, given the author's understanding that the filmmaker is not an objective observer, but a participant in the process. The end of the article nevertheless shows that he is fully aware of this: "But if you want to 'shoot the truth', don't forget that you - the director - will ultimately make that 'truth' what you think it should be. Cinéma vérité in reality is 'Film Truth' as you - the filmmaker - saw it." Fair enough, I suppose, but this kind of "truth" -- subjective and limited -- is likely not the vérité that the French documentarians had in mind in the 1960s.

  • Marshall McLuhan lecture, The Medium is the Message - 1977 -- This is an interesting and wide-ranging Q&A session following McLuhan's 1977 lecture in Australia. Although the phrase "the medium is the message" has been in circulation since McLuhan published Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in in Canada in 1964, it seems to have been misunderstood frequently. From the video of the Q&A, the primary point appears to be that the impact of a medium on the structures and experience of society vastly outweigh the impact of any one example or instance of the medium. For example, the effect that the coming of TV had on society was much more important than any episode of any particular program. The significance of this is that we tend to focus our attention on a program (was it good, bad, banal or immoral?) but neglect the effect that the medium is having on the ways that we conduct our relationships, education, public discourse or politics. In the particular case of broadcast media we forget that they affect us like the air we breathe and the water we drink, whether we choose it or not. This does indeed diminish content in favour of form, but I'm sympathetic to the idea: it reminds me very much of Jacques Ellul's argument (in The Technological Society (English, 1967) and The Technological Bluff (English, 1990) that technology is not neutral: we may think that we can employ technology for good or for harm, but we generally miss the point that the mere existence of a new technology reshapes society -- it changes the boundaries of what is or is not possible, what is or is not thinkable. I'm sure I'll be returning to McLuhan and Ellul.

  • Terry Barrett, "Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts", Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. -- This discussion of context as a path to interpretation and understanding in photography offers a useful scheme of internal (the "givenness" of the image), original ("that which was physically and psychologically present to the photographer when the image was made") and external (the new contexts created by how and where the photograph is presented) contexts. A change to one or more of these contexts will necessarily have an impact on how a work is understood. It seems to me, however, that there is at least one other context to be considered: that which the viewer brings to the act of viewing and interpretation. Barrett may deal with this in his other writings, so I will want to return to his site to benefit from his thinking.

  • Katie Duffy "Realism Final -- Middle Space: Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artuad’s [sic] influence on Jeremy Deller and Zoe Beloff" -- Duffy discusses an important distance between artist and spectator: "Jeremeny [sic] Deller and Zoe Beloff have placed a particular emphasis on not only the middle space that is the “artists cinema” but also the middle space between actor and spectator." This is the broad point I was making in Assignment 1 ("[Deller] turns audiences into actors"), but Duffy's article provides some historical and theoretical underpinning for my intuition. The distance created between audience and art by the artifice of historical re-enactment, for example, is designed to prevent the audience from adopting an easy interpretation from the work itself. Instead, viewers are provoked to consider a range of meanings that could be suggested by the work and to construct sense for themselves: there is no single narrative or viewpoint. This postmodern approach to art and narrative was not an accident for Brecht but part of a deliberate rejection of the theory of drama and narrative laid out in Aristotle's Poetics.

  • Natasha Hoare, The White Review, "The Past is a Foreign Country" -- "Distant, intangible, unreliable, lost, our histories, at the levels of personal and national, are at best half-remembered and at worst actively misrepresented." Hoare reviews a number of works, including Deller's Battle of Orgreave, and discusses how historical reenactment allows the audience to relive and reinterpret an even. In some cases, reenactment allows participants to do so as well (such as in Orgreave and Gillian Wearing's Bully [2010]).

Reflection on tutor's feedback to Assignment 1

I'm late getting back to the coursework after some recent changes at my job and a month's holiday in Scotland. Things are back to "normal" now, so it's time to get cracking on Creative Arts Today. 

I probably put off submitting Assignment longer than I should have because I wasn't completely confident with my work or the requirements of the course. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the OCA course materials: it's more a case of getting used to distance education rather than more customary on-site education. Assignment 1 broke the ice, though, so I'm fairly sure I'll move through the remaining assignments at a better pace.

As it turns out, I was pleased with my tutor's feedback. Garry had clearly read very carefully what I had written and I found his comments both helpful and fair. The one sticking point was that he had not received the URL for my learning blog, so he had to rely solely on the Word document that I submitted for the assignment. I did indeed include it via the OCA submission interface, but I'll make a point of including the blog's link in the Word document itself next time. 

Garry's overall comments about my writing style and content were positive and he identified a couple  of areas that I could strengthen: 

  1. some research gaps; and
  2. the need to be more specific in some of the statements I made. 

The research gaps were largely related to drawing on thinkers and critics in the arts whose work could illuminate, bolster or challenge some of the points in my paper. As a new student in the visual arts I think this is normal and I will look to broaden my knowledge of theory, criticism and performance as I progress through this course and others. I appreciate the additional references and links Garry provided and will follow up on them. I will likely blog on the pieces that I find most useful or provocative. I expect that my understanding will increase through this reflection and that my critical vocabulary will grow and allow me to express myself on the arts with greater accuracy. Expanding my understanding and "toolkit" will also help me to situate my comments within a larger conversation around art criticism and appreciation. Given the negotiated meaning (negotiated among artist, viewer, critic, etc.) and social dimensions of contemporary art, it will be important to have this degree of awareness about one's own thought and expression, and those of other people. The issue of context has multiple dimensions and it is crucial to know where one stands in relation to time, place and discourse.

I accept without reservation Garry's comment on my need to be more specific in parts of my text. As I read through what I had written I could see exactly what he meant. I don't think I need to spend a lot of time reflecting on this: it's something I need to watch for in future writing.

As I mentioned earlier, I will follow up on the additional readings and references Garry has provided. They will supplement my learning and I look forward to reading them.

Garry also mentioned that he had a grid that outlines modernist/postmodernist definitions and strategies. I have some familiarity with these in the fields of literature and philosophy, but I am sure I would benefit from seeing how they are applied in the visual arts. 

All told, I breathed a sigh of relief as I worked my way through the comments from my tutor. He spent time on what I wrote, made some encouraging remarks about my writing and thinking, and directed me to some additional sources to help deepen my work. I couldn't ask for much better than that and -- importantly for me -- the exercise provided me with a baseline for expectations. (So that's what they're looking for!) 

I've learned some things, I'm encouraged and I'm ready to work toward Assignment 2.

No complaints here.