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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Old 09-14-2011   #161
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There's been a general trend towards relativism in many of the arts over the last half century, sadly, and it's spawned all this "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like!" claptrap ...
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Old 09-14-2011   #162
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My Theory (feel free to disagree, but remember, I said its only "my" theory):

If you're posting your photos on the net, you're probably not very good.
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Old 09-14-2011   #163
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I don't believe there is any truly awful art. But I think there are a lot of truly awful artists.
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Old 09-14-2011   #164
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Quote:
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There's been a general trend towards relativism in many of the arts over the last half century, sadly, and it's spawned all this "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like!" claptrap ...
I don't understand how criticism of the arts can be anything but relative.
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Old 09-14-2011   #165
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I don't understand how criticism of the arts can be anything but relative.
Well, simply put, the fact that Joe Blogs with no artistic knowledge likes a particular work as much as Kenneth Clark likes the frescos in the Sistine Chapel does not make the two works equally valuable ... their opinions do not have the same value
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Old 09-14-2011   #166
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Roger,
I wonder at times about my perceptions. I would appreciate it if aomeone would take a look at my gallery and give an unbiased evaluation. At 83, my feelings can stand a rap for honesty.
John E.L.Robertson [johne here]
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Old 09-14-2011   #167
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(...) As I said in the first post, I don't normally tell someone when I think their pictures are indescribably awful. But are there any times when I should? Even if they ask?
<Sermon>
Yes, in case they ask -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In case they don't ask but obviously think their 'work' is great -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In all other cases -- decide according to factors like whether you know them and would like to keep knowing them, how likely it is you get socked on the nose, how much exactly their pictures suck, how good you feel that day, how old they are, whether they are boy or girl, etc.

In the end, you are morally obliged to try to make the world a better place, aren't you?
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Old 09-14-2011   #168
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Well, simply put, the fact that Joe Blogs with no artistic knowledge likes a particular work as much as Kenneth Clark likes the frescos in the Sistine Chapel does not make the two works equally valuable ... their opinions do not have the same value
Hmmm... Now, when Kenneth Clark likes the frescos while Joe Blogs does not like them, and I happen to know both their educational background regarding arts, Mr. Clark's opinion is only more valuable to me as long as I do not know the frescos myself. As soon as I've seen them I either like them, too -- or I don't...
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Old 09-14-2011   #169
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My Theory (feel free to disagree, but remember, I said its only "my" theory):

If you're posting your photos on the net, you're probably not very good.
Posting on the web (outside of websites) is but another facet to exploiting the web and its there to be used to your won ends. I can think of quite a few photographers on this forum who are very good photographers indeed. Not 'forum good' but gallery good.

Larry Towell (Magnum) had a pitch up on kickstarter.com, the crowd funding platform, a while back. I don't think it means he is not very good either! So yes, I disagree. Besides, some not so strong photographers do still produce some spectacular images once in a while and those images are still great to see.
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Old 09-15-2011   #170
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Having done print critique as part of a job (ages ago) I feel qualified to make my opinions known, but tend not to.

Its a whole different game critiquing work online when people can't see your face, hear how you are saying something, ask for clarification etc. A small comment can fester for days until you can explain you didn't mean to sound harsh or intolerant when all you thought you were doing was trying to make a simple unembellished point.

The most difficult to critique (especially online) are people with the firm knowledge that 'my family think I am really talented and take great photographs'. Inevitably they are seeking to keep their ego's on an ever upward trajectory and looking for another pat on the back, an exhibition, grant, book deal, or job. You critique the photograph but by default the rest of his family have their knowledge of photography brought into question. You won't win against somebody who has his family's unquestioning love, despite the tree growing out of his wife's head.

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Old 09-15-2011   #171
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Make that 99.99%...

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Vincent, put me down for + 0.01%

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Old 09-15-2011   #172
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I worked at a black and white pro-lab in NYC for 8 months as an intern. I told the Print Master to "give me the goods, straight up" because I want to be the best that I could be. "Don't hold back when I ask for an opinion...if it's $h!t, just say so and tell me how I can improve". He had a mixed personality of absolute kindness and utter ruthlessness, so he started out sugar coating criticism and I could sense it. After a month, I told him to be as harsh as he could. Even though it was painful at times to hear and even discouraging at times, I wanted to be the best that I could be. If that meant hammering me to the ground to build myself up, that's what I felt I needed. I couldn't have been more right. I learned more in 8 months than I have in the last 10 years. I thought I couldn't learn anymore when it came to printing and often got praise for my printing skills. If I had of just went about my business and favoured small praise or silence for mediocre skills I would be that same photographer and printer that stepped through those doors 8 months ago. When I went in, I was also in a photographic rut -very uninspired by everything, in a complete creative deadlock and didn't know how to get out. Basically I needed to be told that some of my techniques were garbage and to adopt different strategies, perspectives and re-learn certain processes I thought I had mastered. Once I did, I shot about 150 rolls of film (averaged about 20 rolls a month) and now have two impressive bodies of work (in my opinion) from New York. I'm 27 and like Roger, look back at my work in my early 20s and want to puke. I wish I had of done this 5 years ago and received the brutal criticism I needed. My opinion on the matter is "bring it on". I can take a blow to my ego anyday if it's going to make my a better photographer in the end. I didn't get into photography to have my back patted and pick up girls (well, that second part might not be entirely true). I got into photography to be the best damn photographer/printer I am capable of being.
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Old 09-15-2011   #173
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Hmmm... Now, when Kenneth Clark likes the frescos while Joe Blogs does not like them, and I happen to know both their educational background regarding arts, Mr. Clark's opinion is only more valuable to me as long as I do not know the frescos myself. As soon as I've seen them I either like them, too -- or I don't...
With respect, this is type of relativism that I reject, an opinion that has a lifetime of study behind it is of more value than yours, or Joe Blogs for that matter, if you have not put in the same work, sorry.
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Old 09-15-2011   #174
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<Sermon>
Yes, in case they ask -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In case they don't ask but obviously think their 'work' is great -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.
Well, the pictures might suck, but are they a necessary step in learning? The real danger in tuition is that you might bypass some mental process your student would otherwise have gone through, and leave him less educated than he'd have been without you...
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Old 09-15-2011   #175
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In some respects I agree, but your view suggests a person can study/work their way to a valuable opinion and I am not at all sure that this is always the case. There is a balance surely and one so complex that there is no fixed rule to determine whose opinion I value, personally - its a cocktail of factors. Judgment is not always something one can be taught and there are a great many prejudices and influences that affect the opinions of professional critics, gallery owners etc. One has to be very careful with putting people up on pedestals as 'experts.' As I say, I am not disagreeing with you entirely, but think one must be cautious.

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With respect, this is type of relativism that I reject, an opinion that has a lifetime of study behind it is of more value than yours, or Joe Blogs for that matter, if you have not put in the same work, sorry.
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Old 09-15-2011   #176
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Posting on the web (outside of websites) is but another facet to exploiting the web and its there to be used to your won ends. I can think of quite a few photographers on this forum who are very good photographers indeed. Not 'forum good' but gallery good.

Larry Towell (Magnum) had a pitch up on kickstarter.com, the crowd funding platform, a while back. I don't think it means he is not very good either! So yes, I disagree. Besides, some not so strong photographers do still produce some spectacular images once in a while and those images are still great to see.
Fair enough. My take is this: If you're posting pics on the internet for "critique" you haven't developed your own aesthetic but are still stuck apeing others.

Frankly, I find internet critiques worthless. They're the blind leading the blind. There's no set criteria except of course technical criteria, which IMO is largely irrelevant. I'd chuckle to see what self-appointed internet critics make of the work of Antoine D'Agata, a truly great photographer if there ever was one.
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Old 09-15-2011   #177
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The internet is a great place for learning the basics, seeing other work, networking etc, but when it comes to criticism I agree. If your work is genuinely strong there is a good chance you will be aware of this and be selective in who you talk to about improving things further.

As far as aesthetics go, they are not the whole story, because I do not believe in chasing 'a new look'. There are other ways to make work interesting and unique, many of which are subtle and more about the personal approach than the aesthetic one as such. As an example, I suppose if one dropped the photos of quite a few magnum photographers into a bag, it would not be too easy attribute the images without prior knowledge. This is not a bad thing necessarily, but it does mean developing an absolutely crystal clear fingerprint is not always the be all and end all. Some sort of fingerprint helps tho!

Perhaps apeing others is a natural developmental phase LOL.

I agree that bad internet critiques can be very destructive, but its not just because of the armchair critics. I think to truly understand what is going on with a photographer and their work, it needs time. The same problem exists elsewhere. At Arles, lots of people queued up to have their portfolios reviewed. Who gave the critiques and why was their opinion gospel? If one looks at plenty of these affairs, many of the judges have particular leanings and in some cases lots of what I would call 'low level' experience in local photography, or perhaps they are an editor with editorial needs rather than artistic ones. You can't possibly meaningfully process a thousand hopefuls (as in Arles) with each spending a short period of time with one or two or three 'critics.' The range of photography shown will have been astounding, yet in so many cases the critics will have been regarded as omnipotent.

My work has been critiqued by a wide variety of people and the opinions and comments vary enormously (sometimes completely contradicting each other in what they see). Perhaps the most important part of critique after deciding where to ask for it, is in how you process it. Why has the person said what they have said and what does it mean to you? One needs real commitment and patience to improve, because just learning which inputs to act upon can be quite demanding!

As an example, when I showed my work to a semi-well known professional photojournalist three years ago he told me I needed to go on a contemporary PJ course and 'learn how to shoot with a contemporary style.' I felt gutted, as he suggested I needed to reinvent myself completely and so lose the 'me' in my photography. He was telling me to ape! I ignored him but it took a while to get confident again. My decision to hold course was validated by a number of developments, but it goes to show that this chap having 15 years as a PJ did not make his opinion more valid than my rookie conviction.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
Fair enough. My take is this: If you're posting pics on the internet for "critique" you haven't developed your own aesthetic but are still stuck apeing others.

Frankly, I find internet critiques worthless. They're the blind leading the blind. There's no set criteria except of course technical criteria, which IMO is largely irrelevant. I'd chuckle to see what self-appointed internet critics make of the work of Antoine D'Agata, a truly great photographer if there ever was one.

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Old 09-15-2011   #178
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Wow - I did not see how philosophical this discussion had become! Reading all these posts could be my best excuse yet for not getting work done!

But since I really have to work, and I always need to express an opinion, I will share one of my favorite quotes, from Jean Cocteau (translation from French, not mine, sorry if someone else already posted it):

"The first prerequisite to produce something good is to possess the capacity to recognize what is bad."

I think that sums it up. If you honestly can't recognize you've messed up, then there is no hope for improvement. I post pictures that are not perfect, but which I feel have some redeeming feature. I recognize where I have screwed up, so I think I can improve, but I would appreciate suggestions in any event.

I feel there is a culture here of being supportive (good!), and I suspect that no one makes negative comments on photos in the gallery (not so good). I think that most here would appreciate helpful comments ("you underexposed a little"), as opposed to unhelpful ones ("your model is ugly").

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Old 09-15-2011   #179
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People post "truly awful pictures" mostly to enable those of us who cannot see how truly awful our own pictures are to feel more smug.

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Old 09-15-2011   #180
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In some respects I agree, but your view suggests a person can study/work their way to a valuable opinion and I am not at all sure that this is always the case. There is a balance surely and one so complex that there is no fixed rule to determine whose opinion I value, personally - its a cocktail of factors. Judgment is not always something one can be taught and there are a great many prejudices and influences that affect the opinions of professional critics, gallery owners etc. One has to be very careful with putting people up on pedestals as 'experts.' As I say, I am not disagreeing with you entirely, but think one must be cautious.
As I said, I don't agree with relativism, Clark or Blunt or even Ruskin's opinions are more valuable than mine and I suspect yours, unless you have you have spent a lifetime working in the field of art, art-history and aesthetics ... sorry
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Old 09-15-2011   #181
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Photographs that I regard as "truly Awful", others will call "Art".

Curators and jurists like to pull a Warhol.

It's like the "classical" music world: in many circles, "pretty music" is a pejorative. Atonal and I-ain't-got-no-rhythm-but-I-make-up-for-it-by-changing-time-signatures is where it's at. And hardly anybody listens to it.

Each discipline (if you can call it that nowadays) is increasingly insular. But good luck calling them on it: you just don't have the Ph.D. to back up your "opinion".
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Old 09-15-2011   #182
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I feel there is a culture here of being supportive (good!), and I suspect that no one makes negative comments on photos in the gallery (not so good). I think that most here would appreciate helpful comments ("you underexposed a little"), as opposed to unhelpful ones ("your model is ugly").

There's also bad "positive" comments which are hardly useful: "great capture", and "nicely seen". Well, yes, they're nice comments, but it's not exactly helpful outside of boosting self-esteem. Self-esteem can hardly be correlated to a good work. There's Kahlo or Rimbaud or van Gogh, for example: they hardly ever felt good about themselves, even for what they did, yet they liked doing it (whenever they did, regardless of any regrets later). Good self-esteem had nothing to do with their output (you can argue it was quite the contrary).
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Old 09-15-2011   #183
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I come from the old camera club tradition where we used to rip each other unmercilessly if deemed warranted. I don't know that it helped my photography. It did help me "conform" to the PSA standards and therefor score highly when judged. Left to my own devices, I might have produced images quite different in character.

Now, I suppliment my retirement with microstock income. They have different and often ludicrous (to me) standards. I try to produce work that will sell well within their limited parameters.

All this is by way of saying that all art lacks objective standards. How could it since it's the ultimate in subjectivity? Even here on RFF, a rather free atmosphere, we get more gallery looks if we use our digital cameras to emulate the output of a 50-year-old Leica using Tri-X.
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Old 09-15-2011   #184
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With respect, this is type of relativism that I reject, an opinion that has a lifetime of study behind it is of more value than yours, or Joe Blogs for that matter, if you have not put in the same work, sorry.
Work has nothing to do with it. Somebody could study art their whole life and still have an entirely different opinion about a piece than somebody else who's studied just as much. In fact that usually seems to be the case.

When you first brought up relativism, I was thinking you were referring to that post modern attitude of "It's art because I said it's art"- which is something that does bother me. Everybody seems desperate to be an artist, and proclaim every scribble or snapshot they make to be "art".
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Old 09-15-2011   #185
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The art of Joel-Peter Witkin for me.
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Old 09-15-2011   #186
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Show your pictures to your Mom.

If she doesn't tell you that she likes them, they are awful.
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Old 09-15-2011   #187
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I'll take an awful picture over a boring one, any day of the week.
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Old 09-15-2011   #188
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There's also bad "positive" comments which are hardly useful: "great capture", and "nicely seen".
I thought that those phrases were shorthand -

Great capture = 'you were smart enough to recognize something interesting', OR 'you pushed the shutter at the right moment'

Nicely seen = 'well composed'

That last one would be hard to express otherwise - I know a good composition when I see it, but clearly there are many ways of making an interesting composition.

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Old 09-15-2011   #189
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As I said, I don't agree with relativism, Clark or Blunt or even Ruskin's opinions are more valuable than mine and I suspect yours, unless you have you have spent a lifetime working in the field of art, art-history and aesthetics ... sorry
Put that way, it seems that even looking at art is a waste of time for us un-learned types. Unless of course they have one of those little tags that tells us what to think. Maybe they could put emoticons on pieces in museums based on what the pundits say.
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Old 09-15-2011   #190
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On the internet, the vast majority of photographs are total crap. Like 99.99999%.
That's not just on the internet. That's just photographs in general. Sturgeon's law. Even the best photographer produces a bulk of rubbish compared to their good shots.
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Old 09-16-2011   #191
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Put that way, it seems that even looking at art is a waste of time for us un-learned types. Unless of course they have one of those little tags that tells us what to think. Maybe they could put emoticons on pieces in museums based on what the pundits say.
No I'm not saying that, just saying there is more to know and understand about stuff than simply looking at the finished thing, and a bit knowledge can completely change what one gets out of the experience ...

I mean nobody goes up to a physicist and expects "I don't know much about physics, but I know a quantum when I see one" to have a parity of opinion with his, or do they?
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Old 09-16-2011   #192
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I spent 2 years sitting in the library of La Maison Europeenne de la Photogeaphie in Paris, looking at every photographic monograph they possess. After such an education, I'm confident I know a good photograph, and by extension, a bad photograph, when I see one, and I'm fairly certain my ability to do so has been greatly enhanced by such an education.
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Old 09-16-2011   #193
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Is this awful or aweful? Just curious.
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See my gallery "Let There Be Light" posted today.
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Old 09-16-2011   #194
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Physics is based on rules and theories which can be tested. It can be defined and quantified (ignoring contentious areas of discovery). Art isn't, it's inherently subjective and even 'experts' regularly disagree entirely. Therefore, experitise becomes something very different in this context. It remains opinion; learned, practiced, educated and insightful... but it's still opinion that can be wrong and inaccurate when related to wider/subsequent opinion. You may give a particular experts opinion great weight and be just as marginal as they are 10 years later. Considering that the experts do sometimes (OK, often) get it wrong, surely we have to be careful not to hand over to the experts 'absolute power' as you seem to have done.

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I mean nobody goes up to a physicist and expects "I don't know much about physics, but I know a quantum when I see one" to have a parity of opinion with his, or do they?

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Old 09-16-2011   #195
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No I'm not saying that, just saying there is more to know and understand about stuff than simply looking at the finished thing, and a bit knowledge can completely change what one gets out of the experience ...

I mean nobody goes up to a physicist and expects "I don't know much about physics, but I know a quantum when I see one" to have a parity of opinion with his, or do they?
That's going to depend on how one interprets the value of art though.

You don't have to have a degree in mechanical engineering to appreciate, say, a fine camera. It might add to your understanding, but all things considered, your appreciation of mechanical intricacies is only going to add trivially to your enjoyment of the thing if it truly is a great camera.

There are all sorts of amazingly engineered cameras out there that aren't good too. But it is fun to study them as well. But that still doesn't make them good as cameras.
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Old 09-16-2011   #196
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Physics is based on rules and theories which can be tested. It can be defined and quantified (ignoring contentious areas of discovery). Art isn't, it's inherently subjective and even 'experts' regularly disagree entirely. Therefore, experitise becomes something very different in this context. It remains opinion; learned, practiced, educated and insightful... but it's still opinion that can be wrong and inaccurate when related to wider/subsequent opinion. You may give a particular experts opinion great weight and be just as marginal as they are 10 years later. Considering that the experts do sometimes (OK, often) get it wrong, surely we have to be careful not to hand over to the experts 'absolute power' as you seem to have done.
Well I wasn't suggesting they have "absolute power" simply that their opinions have more value.

Plus, one could argue that Gestalt psychology is much more than supposition, and as much of a theory as a lot of modern physics, and that's been around since the 1930's .. and less contentious probably than much of todays physics.
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Old 09-16-2011   #197
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Well I wasn't suggesting they have "absolute power" simply that their opinions have more value.
By what reasoning?

If somebody explained to me why they thought a piece was good - and their explanation stood up to reason, I wouldn't care what their background or education was.

An idea either holds water or it doesn't, regardless of who is making it.
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Old 09-17-2011   #198
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Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
No I'm not saying that, just saying there is more to know and understand about stuff than simply looking at the finished thing, and a bit knowledge can completely change what one gets out of the experience ...

I mean nobody goes up to a physicist and expects "I don't know much about physics, but I know a quantum when I see one" to have a parity of opinion with his, or do they?
I'm glad you went there Stewart. In your first paragraph, you will get no argument from me. A bit of knowledge, or better yet, an in depth understanding of the intentions, the contest, and the relationships to other art will give a piece meaning, even if it is bland on first impression. But that doesn't take a lifetime of study, does it? In some cases a well written blog article would suffice.

It is in your second article however that you make my initial point that art critique is completely subjective, even relative to the person and circumstance of their stating an opinion. A scientist can have an opinion, regardless of their background and standing with other scientists. If their opinion (called hypotheses by folks in the science field) holds up to objective observation (again, this is an experiment in scientific jargon) then it is deemed worthy. Their pedigree, education or amount of time spent thinking about the issue are irrelevant.

This is a far cry from critique in the art world, where one's reputation (thus standing with other critics) depends on what one has done in the past. Have you studied with the right professors, made decisions about the right works, been in agreement with those who have previously decided the correctness of things? These are important to being successful at art critique. The academic world of art critique seems like the epitome of relativity. In a different culture, the wind of opinion can blow in a completely different direction. In science, culture, schooling and relationships have no bearing - the electron either goes right or it goes left.

Science and science education is my field. Thus from my vantage point, art opinion is completely based on a relative culture of personality and class.
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Old 09-17-2011   #199
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Chris, very well put.

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I'm glad you went there Stewart. In your first paragraph, you will get no argument from me. A bit of knowledge, or better yet, an in depth understanding of the intentions, the contest, and the relationships to other art will give a piece meaning, even if it is bland on first impression. But that doesn't take a lifetime of study, does it? In some cases a well written blog article would suffice.

It is in your second article however that you make my initial point that art critique is completely subjective, even relative to the person and circumstance of their stating an opinion. A scientist can have an opinion, regardless of their background and standing with other scientists. If their opinion (called hypotheses by folks in the science field) holds up to objective observation (again, this is an experiment in scientific jargon) then it is deemed worthy. Their pedigree, education or amount of time spent thinking about the issue are irrelevant.

This is a far cry from critique in the art world, where one's reputation (thus standing with other critics) depends on what one has done in the past. Have you studied with the right professors, made decisions about the right works, been in agreement with those who have previously decided the correctness of things? These are important to being successful at art critique. The academic world of art critique seems like the epitome of relativity. In a different culture, the wind of opinion can blow in a completely different direction. In science, culture, schooling and relationships have no bearing - the electron either goes right or it goes left.

Science and science education is my field. Thus from my vantage point, art opinion is completely based on a relative culture of personality and class.
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Old 09-17-2011   #200
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I'm glad you went there Stewart. In your first paragraph, you will get no argument from me. A bit of knowledge, or better yet, an in depth understanding of the intentions, the contest, and the relationships to other art will give a piece meaning, even if it is bland on first impression. But that doesn't take a lifetime of study, does it? In some cases a well written blog article would suffice.

It is in your second article however that you make my initial point that art critique is completely subjective, even relative to the person and circumstance of their stating an opinion. A scientist can have an opinion, regardless of their background and standing with other scientists. If their opinion (called hypotheses by folks in the science field) holds up to objective observation (again, this is an experiment in scientific jargon) then it is deemed worthy. Their pedigree, education or amount of time spent thinking about the issue are irrelevant.

This is a far cry from critique in the art world, where one's reputation (thus standing with other critics) depends on what one has done in the past. Have you studied with the right professors, made decisions about the right works, been in agreement with those who have previously decided the correctness of things? These are important to being successful at art critique. The academic world of art critique seems like the epitome of relativity. In a different culture, the wind of opinion can blow in a completely different direction. In science, culture, schooling and relationships have no bearing - the electron either goes right or it goes left.

Science and science education is my field. Thus from my vantage point, art opinion is completely based on a relative culture of personality and class.
I was using the physicist as an allegory, I wasn't claiming he and the critic were congruent.

I think "relative" and "hierarchical" are being conflated, perhaps ... I am rejecting the relative value of opinion, that is the idea that all opinions are of equal value regardless of the education of the bloke holding them ... an idea that gained traction with the advent of Pop Art in the early 1950s and seems to fit right in with Postmodernism now

I agree completely that the art establishment is hierarchical, where reputation trumps almost everything else, but I understand those reputations are built on much education ... I had assumed other disciplines were the same
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