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Author Topic: The sublime in art/photography?  (Read 3297 times)

mjrichardson

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The sublime in art/photography?
« on: June 15, 2016, 04:19:50 AM »

Morning.

I had a review recently on a series of images I produced and there was a comment I didn't really understand, wondering if those far more knowledgable than I could offer some advice?

I was told to continue focussing on the sublime rather than the picturesque, "as the sublime in art can have a terrifying edge to it when connected to nature" I'm not sure I understand the concept of "sublime" in art or photography. Does anyone have any comment or can point me in the direction of examples or stuff to read on the subject for the layman?

Many thanks

Mat
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stamper

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2016, 06:41:44 AM »

IMO it means you try to take images that are unusual, quirky or different from the usual picture post card stuff. In other words open up your mind and experiment. Most of your efforts won't be liked or be worthy but if you do manage to get something different from the norm then it will be more rewarding.

photoenthusiasm

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2016, 07:35:56 AM »

it might that someone tries to tell You to focus more on the message of the picture then on the picture itself. After all: "photography" means writing with light implying that the photographer wants to tell something with his picture. Especially in art photography this seems more difficult to me then in advert or fashion photography.
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"Good art should elicit a response of 'Huh? Wow!' as opposed to 'Wow! Huh?'" - Ed Ruscha
my pictures: photoenthusiasm on flickr.com

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2016, 07:45:14 AM »

Thanks photoenthusiasm, stamper

I understand what you both are saying, slightly different things but linked I think. The idea may be taking images away from the "pretty" representation of a scene to a more gritty one? Trying to introduce the notion of a story behind the shot? I think it's the comment about the sublime having a terrifying edge when connected to nature, makes me think that the "sublime" however that is described, takes on a different meaning or form when in nature, which makes me wonder if the idea of sublime can be nailed down to something fairly specific or whether it's just an idea or concept.

Thanks for answering.

Mat
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photoenthusiasm

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2016, 08:21:03 AM »

looking pretty but feeling gritty..... These are the extremes. Frances Bacon remains a master in this to me, even when he reduces his number of objects within a paiting to only what he needs to make his point. I myself am strugling with this too: in the end it comes down to what fits You. For me I am not scared anymore to focus on esthetics and find my way from this starting point. I am just taking my time to evoluate and hopefully progress to whatever comes next. As a demo you can have a look here: photoenthusiasm on flickr
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"Good art should elicit a response of 'Huh? Wow!' as opposed to 'Wow! Huh?'" - Ed Ruscha
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Rob C

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2016, 09:37:17 AM »

Sublime: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.

That's what my dictionary thinks on the matter.

I rather imagine the person making the original remark to the OP was indulging in a little imaginary 'expertise', which can be great fun, apparently, and build up self-esteem no end!

Try a little of that tiny pinch of salt, and just keep on doing your photography as it pleases you to do it: that's the only thing that counts. The bare bones of it is this: nobody other than you yourself ever really gives a shit what your photography is like, just as long as their own is 'better'.

In fact, that applies to both pro and am: if you can't do that (what you desire), what's the point in wasting your life working to another person's ideas? You'd probably have a better life doing something else to pay the bills, and keep the photography as hobby, where you can enjoy it for itself, yourself and on your own terms.

Rob C

Paulo Bizarro

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2016, 09:41:17 AM »

Mat,

It would help you if the person who made the comment would be able to provide examples of what he was meaning. Like photos he thought were sublime? Photography being visual, it helps when people can exemplify with images...

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2016, 09:51:33 AM »

Haha, Rob I agree with your dictionary description but I don't think that was what the idea was about, certainly not in relation to the images anyway! I am asking about it because I don't understand the comment or the concept rather than thinking that knowing will in some way improve or shape my photography, I certainly don't expect anyone to give a shit, I take 2 types of images, commercially where I care only what the client thinks and privately where I please myself entirely and completely with absolutely no regard for how "good or bad" others see them.

The idea of there being a concept known as "sublime" interests me from a knowledge point of view, it's just a discussion.

Thanks for answering though!

Mat



Sublime: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.

That's what my dictionary thinks on the matter.

I rather imagine the person making the original remark to the OP was indulging in a little imaginary 'expertise', which can be great fun, apparently, and build up self-esteem no end!

Try a little of that tiny pinch of salt, and just keep on doing your photography as it pleases you to do it: that's the only thing that counts. The bare bones of it is this: nobody other than you yourself ever really gives a shit what your photography is like, just as long as their own is 'better'.

In fact, that applies to both pro and am: if you can't do that (what you desire), what's the point in wasting your life working to another person's ideas? You'd probably have a better life doing something else to pay the bills, and keep the photography as hobby, where you can enjoy it for itself, yourself and on your own terms.

Rob C
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mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2016, 09:56:18 AM »

Paulo, I agree that examples would have been helpful but it wasn't a situation where I could ask questions unfortunately, it was just a comment and I thought I'd explore whether it was a widely known style or something someone had just said to have something to write!

It appears from answers that the concept is not cut and dried and can be interpreted in many ways depending on who's doing the interpreting.

On googling, I found this on the Tate website, part of an exhibition on Contemporary Sublime, not sure I'm any the wiser really!

"Contemporary artists have extended the vocabulary of the sublime by looking back to earlier traditions and by engaging with aspects of modern society. They have located the sublime in not only the vastness of nature as represented in modern science but also the awe-inspiring complexity and scale of the capitalist-industrial system and in technology."
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RSL

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2016, 10:00:29 AM »

Hi Mat, I going to bore you with a fairly lengthy excerpt from a fairly lengthy collection of essays I wrote as a memoir for my kids and grandkids.

-------------------------------------

If you post photographs on a site like Luminous Landscape, which I've done for the last seven years, sooner or later you run into the question: "what is art?" Everybody seems to have a definition. In fact the word "art" has so many different meanings that standing alone it's meaningless. You need to define it before you use it. So, for what's to follow I'll define it: "Art is something created by a human being that gives you a transcendental experience."

What's a transcendental experience? Merriam-Webster gives several meanings for that word, but the one I'm after is derived from "transcendence": "A state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience." In other words, if I look at a painting and my reaction is, "it's pretty," though it's clear I like the painting, what I've gotten from it isn't a transcendental experience. On the other hand if I look at a painting and something inside me cries or shouts, and I don't know how to describe the effect the painting has on me, it's given me a transcendental experience.

For me, music produces the most vivid examples of the difference. I like Linda Ronstadt's collection, "Round Midnight," and I liked a lot of the stuff Credence Clearwater Revival did. But though Linda is pleasant and Credence is fun, they're both a long way from, say, Pavarotti singing Panis Angelicus, which never fails to bring me to tears, and not because it's pretty. Luciano interprets Cιsar Franck's masterpiece in a way that reaches deep inside me and opens a door to my soul. That's a transcendental experience. The composer who can do that most often is Giacomo Puccini, but there are others who produce what for me is powerful art.

I don't mean to imply that in order to be called "art," a work always has to knock you down the way Panis Angelicus knocks me down. I think there are degrees. The important thing is that the art gives you an experience you can't put into words; an experience beyond the literal meaning of the work itself. Going back to Linda's "Round Midnight," there's some Gershwin in that collection that pushes up to and maybe a bit beyond the bounds of simple human experience.

Poetry is another art form that can be very powerful, though perhaps not as powerful as music. The difference, I think, is that music doesn't depend on symbols of human experience. It bypasses experience and speaks directly to the soul. Poetry must use words, and words have meanings that often are independent of their significance in a poem. Here's a stanza from Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night":

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Taken at face value the words are gibberish, but the imagery, like great music, goes beyond the words and touches something deeper than comprehension; deeper than mind.

--------------------------
There's a lot more in this vein, but most of it has to do with my own history in poetry and photography and it's of interest mainly to my family.

I think this is the kind of thing your commenter was trying to say. I guess Rob's "awe" is as good a word as any to describe what anybody trying to make art is after. First of all the work has to mean something to you. Beyond that, if it's going to be considered "art" it has to have more than passing interest to others. Tourist photography is easy. Art is hard. But Rob's right. First you have to please yourself. That's what really matters. Most of the rest is just an ego trip.

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2016, 10:04:13 AM »

Not boring at all RSL

I have a feeling though you are talking about the concept of Art rather than the concept of Sublime, I just found this..

"..the sublime was a key theme for the theory of the visual arts in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and interest in it has revived in recent times. To summarise the contemporary position, as a category of aesthetic experience, the sublime gives artists the opportunity to define their relationship to a host of different subjects including nature, religion, sexuality and identity."

So it would appear that the Sublime itself is rooted in a discipline and is being revived in a modern way, rather than it being an idea of what art is or what form of art moves us, does that make sense?

Mat

I will add though that reading the above doesn't really make things clearer for my small brain, maybe you are right and in fact it's just an idea rather than a thing as such.
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RSL

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2016, 10:36:48 AM »

I have a feeling though you are talking about the concept of Art rather than the concept of Sublime. . .

It depends on your definition of "art" and your definition of "sublime." If you believe sublime and art are rooted in a particular "discipline" you're wrapped around the axle with the meanings of words. And as far as "contemporary positions" are concerned, they almost always turn out to be wrong. What I just said, probably in too many words, is that to be art a thing must inspire awe, which is the meaning of sublime. And I think Rob was right about the motivation of the person making the remark. Don't sweat it.

And I'll tell you, it's damned hard to achieve the sublime with photography. Much easier with music, painting and poetry. But it's well worth the effort.

I'll also tell you that a shack with a tin roof in front of a mountain is a long way from sublime. On the other hand I really like your composition in that picture. It's a nice picture.

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2016, 10:44:05 AM »

It depends on your definition of "art" and your definition of "sublime."

I'll also tell you that a shack with a tin roof in front of a mountain is a long way from sublime.

Ha! You can't have it both ways, surely it depends on your definition as you say?

The point of the topic was to discover whether sublime was just a concept or whether it was a specific thing, if there are exhibitions of contemporary sublime as at the Tate, then presumably there is a criteria to be included, I just wandered what it is. I am certainly not suggesting that anything I have or will ever produce will be defined as such, either by rob's definition or my own should I think of one, I am just looking for context.

Mat
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RSL

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2016, 11:04:30 AM »

"Sublime" is not a specific thing any more than "pretty" is a specific thing. Whether or not a thing is sublime calls for a subjective judgment, so somebody at the Tate made a subjective judgment and felt personally that the things in his or her exhibit were sublime. There is no criterion that determines sublimity ("criteria" is plural). There is no "context." There is no ruler or rule that will tell you what's sublime. It's up to you. It's all subjective.

The best thing you could do at this point is go to the library and begin digging through art books and photography books to see what hits you in the pit of the stomach when you look at it. That's the stuff you want to be doing. But remember, it's subjective. Just because it grabs you doesn't mean it's going to grab anyone else.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2016, 11:31:40 AM by RSL »
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mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2016, 11:32:57 AM »

Interesting, you've given me an explanation of your interpretation of the world sublime as you see it relating to art/photography, thanks!

I do however think that you are looking at the dictionary definition and interpreting that, rather than considering that in different circumstances, the definition of sublime could be something different. I don't agree that the person at the tate looked at some images and thought, wow, that's sublime, I'll include it, I think that there is a deeper criteria as it relates to Art and it's interpretation of the word.

For example I just read this..

"Edmund Burke was not the first philosopher to be intrigued by the power and complexity of the idea of the sublime but his account of it was exceedingly influential. He broke the idea of the sublime down into seven aspects, all of which he argued were discernible in the natural world and in natural phenomena:

Darkness – which constrains the sense of sight (primary among the five senses)
Obscurity – which confuses judgement
Privation (or deprivation) – since pain is more powerful than pleasure
Vastness – which is beyond comprehension
Magnificence – in the face of which we are in awe
Loudness – which overwhelms us
Suddenness – which shocks our sensibilities to the point of disablement

Although the phenomena on this list represent serious challenges to human equanimity, Burke argued that they were benevolent on the grounds that sublime reactions like these would lead to a kind of pleasurable or fulfilling terror. "

I quite like those words, they appeal to me and wouldn't necessarily be something you would associate with our modern use of the word would they? My Nan thinks the peach she ate this morning was sublime, she is using the literal definition, I don't think she reached pleasurable or fulfilling terror although I'll ask her later!

I am also not suggesting that the above list has any relation to the word today and how it relates to modern art or photography, I am just showing that it doesn't necessarily always have the same inclination, or maybe it does, I'm posing this whole thread because I don't know. In modern times, I have read that the sublime in the above context has morphed in to industrial landscapes or the representation of man in the landscape but includes the concept of the frightening or the dark or some other stuff I can't remember, the fact that in the original post the person who wrote to me stated "as the sublime in art can have a terrifying edge to it when connected to nature" makes me believe that the above list is more relevant than the idea of something being really nice or really appealing to the individual, however they interpret that.

I agree that whoever decides what image, artwork, music, architecture will be using his or her personal opinion to form that decision rather than having a check list to mark certain things off before it can be considered sublime, I just have a feeling though that the concept in this case is more than just something that someone really likes and can't be defined as everyone is different. Happy to be wrong though, wouldn't be the first time today.

Mat





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mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #15 on: June 15, 2016, 11:41:50 AM »


The best thing you could do at this point is go to the library and begin digging through art books and photography books to see what hits you in the pit of the stomach when you look at it. That's the stuff you want to be doing. But remember, it's subjective. Just because it grabs you doesn't mean it's going to grab anyone else.

I am already producing the stuff that I really want to produce and it doesn't matter to me if it grabs anyone else, honestly this is much less about my photography and more about my understanding of what was meant by the comment, when I read something that i don't understand I have 2 choices, shrug and ignore it or try and understand it, that's what I'm trying to do! If that understanding comes to me then it will either influence me or it won't, that will be down to me but increasing knowledge is never a bad thing, every day is a school day as they say.
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RSL

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #16 on: June 15, 2016, 11:50:52 AM »

Edmund Burke was talking about the sublime, not the meaning of the word. You have your own definition (or definitions) of "sublime." Be my guest. Have fun with it. Charge! Oh, again, "criteria" is plural. The singular is "criterion." I don't remember much of my Latin, but I remember that much.

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2016, 12:00:54 PM »

Edmund Burke was talking about the sublime, not the meaning of the word. You have your own definition (or definitions) of "sublime." Be my guest. Have fun with it. Charge! Oh, again, "criteria" is plural. The singular is "criterion." I don't remember much of my Latin, but I remember that much.

What an excellent response, well done. There is a deeper criteria, as in a number of them not just one, thanks for the latin lesson though, much appreciated.

So Burke is talking about the sublime and you are giving the definition, I have been looking for the meaning of sublime in art and photography all the way through this, thanks for your time though, as with the latin, it has been very educational.

Mat
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RSL

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #18 on: June 15, 2016, 12:14:12 PM »

That's okay, Mat. You're not paying attention, or you're pulling my leg.

I'm outta here.

mjrichardson

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Re: The sublime in art/photography?
« Reply #19 on: June 15, 2016, 12:20:20 PM »

I'm English RSL which means the chances are I am being sarcastic.

Now, back to the point, if there is even a point, if Burke is talking about sublime and not the meaning of the word, as I have been suggesting from the beginning, and RSL has kindly given the meaning of the word on a number of occasions now, is there anyone who has more insight into the concept of Sublime as being talked about by Burke and as in all the other pieces of text I have copied in to the thread? Is there a modern movement coming under the title of sublime? Is there something to read up on it? I like the concept of dark, almost frightening images combining nature and industrial images and is such a thing classified under sublime?

By the way, this is a quest for knowledge, a noble one even! This is not a personal attack against anyone who doesn't see things my way or understand what I am saying, it's just about trying to understand something.

Mat

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