Congratulations to you all for a thoughtful discussion. I have about 50 years experience being exposed to misleading drivel as regards works of art in all media. I had art history professors who described works under discussion in terms that the work couldn't support, another who subjected every work to Jungian analysis. One the other hand I was quite fortunate to study photography with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. Callahan wasn't a word person; he preferred to allow his work to speak for him. In fact, it is well known that Callahan hired Siskind precisely because Siskind could talk about art, and Callahan felt it was useful for someone to be able to do that in a learning setting. And Siskind, who had been an English teacher, largely spoke "poetry" about art so as to inflict little harm.
Taking a break from art school, I spent about five years as a Photographic Officer in the Air Force. When I returned, as a greatly less naive person, to continue graduate art studies, there were two interesting "events" that influenced my attitude. One was a course in 20th century American Art in which I was the only class member to receive an "A" because the instructor said I was the only one who understood how to make
Art History. I shortly realized that this was wrong - that, as practiced, art history and criticism indeed was about creating a "profession" that need, in the minds of many purveyors, have only a tangential relationship to the work in question. One can easily detect an attitude by some that the works themselves only exist as fuel for critical combustion. So, in another class, Symbolism in Art
, my final paper arrived at the conclusion that "Art begins where Symbolism leaves off". In other words, that content of a work that is without verbal equivalency is the most valuable content. For this I was the only member in the class not to receive an "A".
Although, as one might expect, I usually avoid the gallery talks of docents, etc. as potentially toxic, every once in a while I sample the waters to see if the same fatuous malarky is being spread. Alas! Example: the guides at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where one cannot view the works without a blathering "minder", it is just amazing to hear them talk about the brilliant coloration of works which in fact are overlaid with 50 years of forced-air heating system grime. And that's just for starters.
Then, experimentally and perversely, I showed up at an exhibition of Atget at the time when a guided tour was scheduled. As it turned out, I was the only one to do so that day. I'm sure the docent believed she was doing what was expected of her and she had marshalled some interesting facts aabout various of the works, but when she began to interpret!!! Saints preserve us!
This is where I'm coming from.http://www.russarmstrong.com/