Inspired by Colberg's latest, I went to look at Thomas Ruff's pictures around the internets. I think I have heard of this guy, but wasn't familiar with his work, and Colberg made it sound interesting.
As an aside, is there some law in Germany that if you're a crashing bore you have to go live in Düsseldorf? The Bechers were up to something, but christ, their students...
Anyways, Ruff is in the business of making Art about Art.
Art about cars is interesting to art people, and car people. Potentially. Art about flowers is interesting to flower people and art people. Art about people is interesting to people and art people, which is, well, it's just people isn't it? Art about Art is interesting to Art people and Art people. That's just Art people.
These are, luckily, exactly the people you need to get interested in your work, because they have the walls to hang it on, they run the museums, the galleries, the shows. They're the critics who talk mainly to other Art people.
So if you do this you're taking steps toward success, but you've lost your bloody way. Art about Art is boring as shit to normal people. It's a stupid, pointless, circle-jerk. Yes, there are moments in time when Art needs a good kick in the ass, but they're not always, not 100% of the time, and anyways most Art about Art isn't doing that. You're not Duchamp, bro, and anyways that was a long time ago. Art, good Art, is accessible to more than a few poncy dipshits standing around smoking Gauloises. Art, good Art, engenders thoughts, enlarges, engages, across a larger field. Perhaps not the great unwashed, but at least more people.
People would rightly mock Art about Paperclips, but by god that might just reach a broader audience.
Back to Ruff. Ruff claims to be "exploring" and "deconstructing" photography.
Exploring photography is like exploring Zurich. It's already full of people, and the only people who really give much of a shit about it are already there. Ruff's claim to fame here seems to be that he does more or less the same old shit, but he prints it really big, and he does an obsessively huge number of whatever it is. So, you know, he's not some dilettante on flickr, he's very serious about huge dead-eyed portraits and weird computer generated bullshit. Plus, he's pedigreed you know.
Maybe Ruff pioneered the huge dead-eyed portrait? I don't know, but that's a vein that's been thoroughly mined out by now, and let us be honest: there wasn't anything there. It's not clear that even being the first here is exactly a feather in the old cap.
Here in the USA we know all about pedigree. We've been knee deep in assholes who "studied with Ansel Adams" for decades now, and they all suck.
Deconstructing is worse. You can deconstruct anything, it consists of saying "but why?" like a five year old over and over, and then saying
"look, nothing means anything!" and then banging impressionable freshmen until you're too sore to move. In some remarks I stumbled over, Ruff claims to
be showing how, contrary to popular understanding, the photograph lies, it lies all the time. Mostly what it does is lie.
Ok, sure, Thomas. That was a sophisticated point of view in 1970, but if you look around as you explore Zurich and ask any of those people what they think,
they'll tell you that photographs lie a lot. Ask me. I've said it often enough.
This is the usual post-modernism routine, which is deeply bankrupt. Meaning does, manifestly, exist. "Proving" that it does not by asking "why?" over and over again
(carefully disguising your inner five year old with a complex and inscrutable vocabulary, so the freshmen don't notice) does not change the fact that meaning exists.
Photos lie, but they also carry a lot of truth. Again, ask me. They carry the literal truth of what was in front of the lens, at least. With a bit of honesty on
the part of the photgrapher and the editor, they can and often do carry a narrative which corresponds fairly well to the real world. Yes, it's a construct,
like language, but language too carries means (shut up, po-mo boobs, it manifestly does).
So, anyways. I guess I don't like Ruff's pictures very much.