Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Parallel of Sorts

One of the things the field of photography wrestled with as it became one of the key practices in art was a sort of reaction against professionalism.

That is, if you were a conceptual artist in the 1970s, it was likely you would describe yourself as "an artist using photography" or perhaps a "photo artist" rather than as a photographer. Photographers were interested in craft, and you, as an artist, would have been interested in ideas and the concerns of art. To a degree, since the piece you might create for a museum or gallery was likely about the ideas or evidence photographs held rather than their aesthetic quality, it became common practice to avoid being "slick" -- the photographs should be rough and unpolished, unconcerned with traditional technique.

A trip to the Guggenheim this weekend brought up a related question: as artists use more video in their work -- at times essentially documentary video -- can they have disdain for the "craft" of documentary making? Strangely, this isn't manifesting in a lack of technical quality -- a lot of artists are able to get high definition equipment and show the work on ultra-slick plasma monitors -- but in a disdain for giving the viewer any welcome to the work.

I walk up to the piece -- odds are in the middle and not the beginning -- and I have little clue as to whether it's 3 minutes or 2 hours in length. I have no clues, often, to how the video is related to the rest of the installation. And my hope that the artist might keep the traditional concern of documentary production for "watchability" in mind is quickly abandoned -- shots go on for long, unedited stretches, bad audio combines with unrevealing camera angles, and I struggle to make sense of what I'm seeing.

It's notable that today few artists using photography feel they can present unpolished images. Will artists using video make that same leap? Should they?

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