Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trame and Not-Trame

I have been accused, justly, of setting aside all consideration of aesthetics in my poking around with the word trame. I think I could have got off if I'd stuck to just using it as a word, "whatever it is that a photo evokes" but I didn't, I charged ahead and rendered judgement based on it.

So, apparently, in my mind trame is the basis of some sort of framework for judging pictures, or at least for scoring them. And, indeed, it is so. That is exactly the score that I think matters, and it is indeed the basis of my judgement of pictures. All I've really done, though, is define a word. I've left the framework out, and failed to show my work. Sorry about that. Let me dig around a little...

So what does it mean to have left out aesthetics? Looking the word up and doing some reading, we find that our memories are more or less right, it's a bewilderingly broad term, with a meaning that has evolved horribly over the centuries. My memory was "it's really about beauty, right?" but I had a nagging feeling that this was an incomplete notion, and by golly, it sure is. Wittgenstein, apparently, felt that it was a description of the entire culture.

Indulge me, and let me try to refine the accusation leveled at me, then.

Trame explicitly refers only to things outside the frame, to the meaning inferred from the picture, and explicitly ignores the actual picture itself as a first-order thing, as the object of our attention. To say that I have ignored aesthetics, I think, is to say that inside the frame there can be value. The picture itself can be beautiful, or interesting. The picture, the artwork of whatever sort, can arrest our attention, can enlarge or ennoble us, or whatever it is that Art is supposed to do.

This is, I think, something I can and do agree with albeit in general terms. The trouble is, and I speculate without actually knowing that this is what Wittgenstein was on about, that it's Really Hard to disentangle the trame from the frame when you really start looking at it. So, it's beautiful. What makes it beautiful? What's so great about it being beautiful?

I remain convinced that we suffer from too much pointless beauty. Long ago, beautiful pictures, beautiful Art, was rare and difficult to make, to obtain. Beauty, pure beauty, was seen by some as an uplifting, enlarging, ennobling thing all by itself. Perhaps it was, I did not live then. I live in an era where pure beauty, abstracted away from meaning, is common as sand. Any doofus can churn out endless pleasing seascapes, endless beautiful sunsets, endless balanced still lifes. Where once, perhaps, it uplifted the miserable, it is now part of the background.

Is it reasonable, though, to suppose that beauty within in the frame -- supported by meaning, or by emotional content, or at least by the possibility of such, the open door, as it were, for meaning, for trame -- is a good thing in and of itself. While we cannot divorce it fully from the support it enjoys, we can say "stipulating that the support is there, this beautiful thing is wonderful and valuable, and I love it."

There, that ought to muddy the waters up good and proper.


  1. "I live in an era where pure beauty, abstracted away from meaning, is common as sand." - Sorry, but that's not "beauty" in the sense of aesthetics (a philosophical discipline, which deals with art and the concept of "beauty"). There's much more behind the concept of the Beautiful.

    Best, Thomas

    1. I'm not sure I grasp your point. Aesthetics is, of course, big, wide, and pretty variable. I'm not trying to discuss that, nor am I particularly interested in Aesthetics with a big A at the moment.

      I'm just trying to grasp what the accusation that "trame" leaves aesthetics out of consideration might reasonably mean, and what I think of that. I don't think the accusation meant to include all of the philosophy of beauty, but probably meant something more specific.

      Perhaps he'll weigh in himself!

    2. I meant that the kind of beauty that you mentioned in your post is what is commonly called a cliché. It is what we mostly dismiss or ridicule - for a good reason. A definition of beauty that I agree with is that in order for something to be perceived as beautiful, there has to be a dialog of sorts between the Beautiful and its beholder, it has to "speak" to him (or her). Probably that's a "trame" of sorts?

      Best, Thomas

    3. That's pretty much how I feel. I'm sure there is a philosophy of aesthetics that supports our conception of beauty (I'm pretty sure there's a philosophy of aesthetics that supports pretty much anything you can imagine?)

      I think the point is that, just because Beauty and Trame (let's say) are tied together in such a way that neither exists without the other, one can't just discard one. I may be guilty of discarding Beauty because I don't think it can really exist in a useful way without Trame.


  2. yes, please, unpack a bit, Thomas… it will be interesting grist for my mill, neh.

    and fair warning, in addition to throwing a tamalada this winter-season, as my christmas present to myself over the next couple of weeks I am about to sit down and re-read Everything about aesthetics and trame and all the rest, and then Write Down All my Thoughts…

    (AND if someone could clarify how I can find the Peta-peoples' words for trame as well, preferably by some sort of googling or even more awesome, a link… that would be wonderful. I sniffed around, but my browser is older and cranky about navigating at all on Peta-thing… just if possible)

    1. It's that in my opinion, there is no such thing as "beauty abstracted away from meaning". If something is pleasing to look at, but devoid of meaning, then it's a cliché. On the other hand, if something is truly beautiful (in a strict sense of the word), then it HAS to have meaning. Perception of this kind of beauty is something that reveals an order, a sense that something is "right" and true within the chaos and transience of our existence.

      Best, Thomas

    2. I agree with you in your comment about beauty above. However, now we have 'beauty', 'meaning' and 'trame' to worry about, all of them jelly-like concepts open to highly personalised quasi-definitions.

      I also think there is a danger of circularity in statements like "If something is beautiful, then it HAS to have meaning".

  3. Okay so...Thomas and Andrew
    If I can restate this:
    a thing pretty to me but meaningless, is not beauty that I'm perceiving but simply a clichéd pretension of beauty, e.g. it is a picture of a barren tree on a hill against a glorious cloud filled sky in golden light.

    On the other hand, the same pretty thing is meaningful to you and is therefore what; e.g the tree is reminiscent of a gallows tree, and you have had acquaintance with suicide; emotional certainly, but beautiful?

    It seems to me that meaning is not exclusive to beauty. A thing without meaning is neither beautiful nor ugly.

    The picture is absent of rope or noose or victim; but we have trame.