Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art and Ideology: Critical Theories: The Frankfurt School/ Materialist Aesthetics

The readings from this past week led into a deep examination the ideologies of a society and the power structures that form them. Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” was beneficial for me as it seemed to lay the ground work for all three articles. It was helpful to understand his attempt to “set Marxist theory on a new intellectual setting”. To get to this attempt he had to analyze the separate components that make up a society. Society is made up of an Infrastructure (economic base) and a Superstructure which is composed of Ideology and Instances. Instances are described as the politico-legal (law and state) and ideologies consists of the different ideologies of religion, ethics, politics, legal, etc. The infrastructure of a society is the base and the superstructure is the two levels on top of the base. The superstructure is completely dependent on the conditions of the infrastructure. Althusser seems it important to think about the relative autonomy of the superstructure and the reciprocal action the superstructure has on the infrastructure. It is important to know Althusser’s differentiation between Marxist (repressive) State Apparatus’ and Ideological State Apparatus’ (ISA). (Repressive) State Apparatus’ consists of the Army, Police, Courts, Prisons, etc., which all are functions of violence. Ideological State Apparatus’ include religion (churches), educational (schools), family, communication, culture, etc., which all function by ideology. Since the ruling class holds state power, that would mean it has the Repressive State Apparatus’ at its disposal. The ruling class then is active in the Ideological State Apparatus’ which in turn creates a ruling ideology. Althusser states his thesis as “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” That means the ruling class controls the individuals view of reality. Even in the aspects of existence the individual thinks they hold the most power (church, family), they are still being controlled.
Adorno’s article “Culture Industry Reconsidered” relates to this article in the fact that the culture industry seems to be the result of the ruling class setting the standard for the Ideological State Apparatus’ in our society. The culture industry is considered a form of a state ruled ISA because the conscious and unconscious state of the masses is considered an appendage of the machine. It seems a though that as long as the masses are entertained and intellectually unchallenged they will remain complacent and fuel the machine of production. This is expressed further when Adorno writes that the consciousness of the consumers are split between the prescribed fun which is supplied to them by the culture industry and not a particular well-hidden doubt about its blessings. Knowing the full purpose for which it is manufactured, the individual of a society (although not stated directly, a capitalist American society) wants to be deceived because it is easier function.
Adorno addresses the central sector of the culture industry being that of film. He states that “although in film, the production process resembles technical modes of operation in the extensive division of labor, the employment of machines and the separation of the laborers from the means of production- expressed in the perennial conflict between artists active in the culture industry and those who control it- individual forms of production are nevertheless maintained.” This is important because it is an example of how even though individual forms of production are maintained, they are commercially exploited, which leads to the conflict with the artist and the culture industry because the product is dehumanized. Schapiro reinforces this in “The Social Bases of Art” when he describes that the artist, being completely separated from the upper class consumers (whom of which is buying the art), makes art for the upper class based upon the success of the ones before him.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This last week’s reading was all from Roland Barthes. There are some complicated concepts in these readings that Barthes himself admitted that they were difficult to articulate. “The Third Meaning” is a description of a term that is outside of language. To pinpoint what it exactly is gets complicated because it varies from person to person much like that of the punctum. Since there were a few different ways describing the 3rd meaning it was helpful to diagram out, to the best of my ability, Barthes terminology. I attempted to try and locate the interchangeability of terminology used to describe this 3rd meaning. Barthes describes each level of meaning in a film or more specifically, a film still. He quickly mentions the first level and that is of information, which is then described as communication. The second is a symbolic level, which is that of signification. Out of the 2nd level derives the 3rd level (or meaning) which is Signifiance, or the obtuse meaning. Signification is the root of a tree of terminology that branches out to the third meaning. Stemming directly for signification is the signifier and the signified. In Barthes’ “The Photographic Meaning” he states the signifier as the result of the action of the creator.” Then he states that the signified as referring to a certain culture of the society receiving the message. With the signifier being on a separate branch of the signification tree than that of the signified, the Signifiance is then brought out of the signifier. The third meaning has no goal, or better stated, is not intended to stand for something. It stems from the beginning of a symbolic message, that of the signifier, but does not meet the expectations of a specific signified event. To better explain what the 3rd level is you have to describe what it isn’t. The obvious meaning needs to be explained because the two can get confused at first. The obvious meaning is usually symbolic and intentional by the author. It is specifically brought to the viewer by the author and then moved ahead of them. The third meaning, or obvious meaning, opens up a field of meaning that extends outside culture, knowledge and information. This is how Barthes is to say that it extends outside of language. Barthes describes a film still in which an old woman is squinting wearing a hat and a scarf. He mentions the presence of the third meaning in this shot and then a second later it’s gone. It’s a fleeting moment that “in connection with the noble grief of the obvious meaning, they form a dialogism so tenuous that there is no degree if its intentionality.” This statement reinforces the fact that these 3rd meaning happenings occur outside of the authors intention. To describe it in a different way the obtuse meaning carries a certain emotion. Barthes states that it is an emotion that designates what one loves, what one wants to defend.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Modern: Blurring Boundries/Bauhaus Machinic Design Utopia

Articles for 2-10-10

Adolf, Loos “Ornament and Crime”

Osip Brik, “Photography versus Painting,” “From Picture to Calico-Print”

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reprodution,” “The Author as Producer”

The readings from this past week focused on comparing and contrasting different methods of art making. These articles are exploring the boundries between different artistic medium and how the evolution of new artforms in the mechanical age affected people on a social level. Benjamin poses this question in “Author as Producer”. What is the position of a work in relation to the production of its time? Throughout this article Benjamin explores many different methods of work, such as photography, Journalism, literature, and theatre. Then there is an examination of how these works relate socially in its own time, and to their similar contemporaries. Starting with literature, it is described that it must be proved to the writers of the time that they must write in the service of certain class interest. Now putting an end to his autonomy the writer must produce what is beneficial to the proletariat class struggle. To explain this point further Benjamin uses the term “operating writer” which means the functional interdependency that exists between correct political tendency and progressive literary technique. In 1928 Sergei Tertiakov is an example of this type of writer because he “actively intervenes” in what is being reported as opposed to just give an observation or account of the struggle. His Book “Characters in the Field” had considerable influence on the development of collective agriculture because he became part of this community and to the best of his ability shared his knowledge for a better operation.

When Benjamin mentions the newspapers method of reporting in Soviet Russia he shows how the line between reader and author is blurred. The readers of Soviet newspapers become collaborators due to the publishers opening up facets of the paper for the reader. This comes from the publishers “exploiting the readers longing for daily nourishment, who believes that he has the right for his opinion to be expressed.” So the reader becomes a collaborator who gains access to authorship, which then becomes the producer. This means that the playing field is leveled because a polytechnic education of the proletariat becomes a literary qualifier to authorship.

Photography becomes a moment of focus for Benjamin when he mentions “A Beautiful world” a picture anthology by Renger-Patsch. He states that “New Matter of Factness”, a German-politico movement reached its highest point with these photos of poverty, recorded in a fashionable manner, became an object of enjoyment. “New Matter of Factness” was a way that supplied a political power without changing it, and these photographs are an example. The barrier between image producer and author must be overthrown. The picture caption, as Benjamin states, is what is required so that it wrenches itself from modish commerce and gives it revolutionary value. Political progress for the author as a producer is founded in his technical progress. Author as producer must discover his solidarity with that of a photographer in order to have his solidarity with the proletariat class.

In “Ornament and Crime” Adolph Loos describes his views of social progression due to the role ornament in our culture. He describes how the modern criminal or degenerate is much like that of the Papaun due to the ornament of tattoos that they both posses. The Papuan is again compared to that of a modern day child in regards to the scribbling of erotic images on lavatory walls. Any modern man that partakes in this act must be a degenerate as well. He states that a country’s culture can be assessed by the extent to which its lavatory walls are smeared. So what comes out of this is the evolution of a culture is in direct correlation with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. So Loos uses a society’s use of ornament as a barometer for its cultural growth. In this argument there seems to be no way in which a cultivated person can get joy out of an ornamented object. If anything it is a signifier of a waste human labour, money, and material. It is then stated that we have Art and it has taken the place of ornament, in which he then brings up Beethoven, but I still think his examples are lacking. What then is the definition of art and that of ornament?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ranciere describes the two different modes in viewing the moving image. One mode being the television and the other being Cinema. Though television has the capabilities of producing the image of cinema, the cinema does not produce the image results of television. Television programs such as “Questions pour un champion” are examples of imaging that is incessantly referencing itself. There is no attempt to hide its production. On the other side of the spectrum there is cinema, in which does not reference itself to provide a narrative. Ranciere used the example of Bresson’s “Au hazard Balthazar” as a film that not only doesn’t seem reference itself, but not to reference anything at all. This happens because Bresson uses a “regime of imageness” to break the audiences expectations of what should be occurring in the film as far as sound, cinematography, mise-en-scene, and transitions. Ranciere describes the regime of imageness as the “the regime of relations between elements and functions”. This could be interpreted as certain use of montage that, as an end result, goes against the grain of conventional filmmaking. The montage used in the beginning of the film provides the viewer with editing choices that would relate to how one would visualize a description in a novel as opposed to a screenplay. The narrow shot of the donkey being baptized and the faceless children talking to the father are cinematic operations not normally used. This was a technique used to “reduce actions down to its essence”. Bressons use of montage along with mise-en-scene was part of a novelistic tradition of procedures used to “undo the link between perceptions, actions, and affects”. This method of filmmaking is what makes the visual characteristic of “Au hazard Balthazar” easy to watch. Much like the Terrance Malick film “Days of Heaven” the use of mise-en-scene and montage provide the viewer with most of the information needed to understand the narrative regardless of audio. Both films assembled in such a way that when viewed it seems if they are descriptions straight out of literature.

Barthes comments on the use of cinema compared to photography throughout “Camera Lucida”. He uses the term “blind field” which is the area outside of the frame of a film or photograph. The subjects of a photograph do not leave the frame into the blind field like that in a film. Since the subjects in a film are constantly moving in and out of blind field the studium, let alone the punctum are never discovered. Studium is described as your basic interest in a photograph and being on board with the author’s intentions. The punctum is the immediate strike of affective power in the photograph. What is interesting is that when a photograph contains a punctum, a blind field is created because there is a reference to an existence outside of the frame. That is why film stills are so fascinating. There is a narrative created do to the fact the subjects in a film frame are supposed to move in out of the blind field. This is expressed beautifully in Godard’s “Contempt”. Raoul Coutard is a cinematographer that spent most of his career working on Godard’s films. Coutard would brilliantly stage Brigitte Bardot in a frame and due to the mise-en-scene she would always be referencing something into the blind field.