The Issue of the Aesthetic Without Context.

I think to start out in this subject I would like to refer back on my previous blog post ‘Photography and Context’ a short look into the work by Terry Barrett in which he posits the context of an image is defined by three states;

‘The Internal Context’ which is everything we see inside the framing, the date, title and what we know about the artist themselves,

‘The External Context’ which is the environment in which the image is displayed,

‘The Original Context’ in which we consider the original purpose of the image presented prior to further attribution or repost.

In discussing the subject I propose it is by no means intended as an attack on the ‘Aesthetic’ as a movement, in itself the idea of capturing the beauty of something has always been fundamental to art creation.

My argument lies in, how do we define the value of an artwork?

In a time where mass media is prevalent, the phone camera is ubiquitous and access to creative tools has never been so cheap or accessible can we still create lasting artworks that will transcend the zeitgeist or have we hit a roadblock in artistic appreciation in which the value of an image is based on the amount of like and shares it receives through social media.

I still believe we have as a human culture have the ability to create lasting artworks. I also believe that we are fickle beings who seek the next endorphin hit and this instant pleasure cycle has created a highly commoditised environment which stifles the creative environment.

In pursuit of this hit of pleasure we, as a generalisation, tend to seek out content that marries with our own beliefs, fulfils our own desires and relates to our own experiences. The issue with the aesthetic is that it has become the very thing to satiate these desires.

To summarise this idea in a rather haphazard and non academic way, mainly because this piece is just written from my own opinion, I would like to ask you as the reader to complete a quick exercise. Pickup your phone and open up your social media platform or choice, Instagram preferably but others will do. With your timeline open and the people you follow on show scroll through the images, think about when you would hit like, or follow or even comment. Consider why you would contribute to that post or conversation. I challenge you to track how many of those interactions are based on a truly emotional response versus how many are merely an instant gratification.

Now, on those images you would interact with, have a look at the comments and interactions of others and consider how many of those are also commenting in a similar vein. are they discussing the affinity they share with the image or is it a compliment on how the image is taken or edited?

I don’t like to pull from others work to tear down so instead I present one of my own images as an example.

I selected this image because, for me, it is a good example of the issue of the aesthetic.

the sole comment on the image is ‘Nice framing’.

I immediately know that I haven’t communicated the intention of the image effectively.

‘Nice framing’ is no doubt a reassuring compliment but, it is also a symptom of the idea that the value of the work is in how well executed it is on a technical point.

For me this image conveys the sense of isolation felt by many creatives, the subject is a poet working relentlessly in an area devoid of human contact. The framing emphasises his tight body language, the dimness reflecting the feeling we get we work hard and don’t get noticed. Ironically possibly self reverent in its insight. I posted this image in June 2019 when I was really trying to adjust to moving to Manchester and build up my business. It was a repost as I had discovered who the poet was and wanted to tag them in the image but accidentally deleted it during the post edit.

This brings me on to the point of context. Could this image have had the desired effect if I had posted with more focus on the context as outlined by Terry Barrett in his works.

I suppose the answer lies with you the reader, did the preceding paragraph change your opinion of the image? Did it make it more effective or relatable when reviewing the image a second time after reading the intent? If the answer is yes then I guess I may have written something that has truth.

If not, then I’m either talking nonsense or I need to work on my writing skills a lot more 😛

Personally, I think the ‘Aesthetic’ is not the issue. But, for me is part of a myriad of things that in the process of creating art should simply disappear into the background, supporting the concept but not distracting from it, helping the viewer to find the communication but not becoming the subject.

After writing this short essay I feel there is always more to discuss on this topic, I find myself wanting to display more examples but I also am not in the game of belittling others work when I myself have so much more to learn. I look forward to revisiting this is a few months to see if I hold the same opinions 🙂

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