Personal is political

Reflection 1:

I find it intriguing that Moholy-Nagy, in “From Pigment to Light” associates inability to use a camera with being illiterate. True, the phrasing of his sentence—“the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike”—is ambiguous enough that I can’t quite tell if he’s focusing on “technical inability to generate content in the medium” as the defining feature of illiteracy, or “inability to interpret messages in the medium,” or both. But it’s still an interesting thought experiment to draw a distinction between the two, and imagine what the various permutations of competencies in either would imply. Are the two skills synonymous? I image they’d be at least complimentary, but then I can absolutely imagine a case in which someone is great at recognizing the significance of photographs but terrible at creating new ones (and vice versa).

Reflection 2:

I’m curious how Alfred Kemeny’s pure exaltation of the political value of photomontage, and his simultaneous de-emphasis of any other value the medium might have (“it is becoming more and more obvious that the cognitive value of photomontage is inseparable from its role in the class struggle”) interfaces with the fact that there are artists—and viewers—who don’t see ‘politics’ as the defining characteristic of their interaction with photomontage, or artistic media in general. Yes, certainly it’s impossible to generate art outside the political context. But, this is an artifact of the fact that we live in politics. Politics are relations between people, at increasing levels of generality and group-size, and artists happen to be people.

But clearly Stieglitz’s view of art as “an outward manifestation of inner growth” shifts the emphasis away from the loaded word ‘politics’ and onto the subject of the richness of experience of the individual. My view is that focusing exclusively on ‘politics’ and its associated buzzwords leads to a kind of flattening of humanity. Though, the buzzwords are certainly helpful for enabling thought at higher levels of abstraction! But at the end of the day…there can be no politics without individuals. “There is no art, only artists.”

(Aside: I’m incredibly averse to commenting on systems that I don’t fully understand, and I think that’s why the individual-scale approach to art resonates more with me. I don’t feel like I’ve understood the base case, 1-person-to-small-group scenario enough to try to move on to aggregates of people [though certainly some amount of large-scale understanding is valuable to contextualize and inform whatever I’m still learning on the small scale].)


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