Thursday, January 23, 2020

Art History III(a)

The question I posed in the previous remark comes, I think, maybe in two parts.

There is an era of jazz, specifically the era when Art Tatum burst upon the scene, in which the history has a remarkable number of stories like this: so and so was an up and coming jazz pianist, with real grit and talent, until he heard Art play, and then he went on to become one of the great jazz ... clarinetists, saxophonists, anything-but-pianists.

In something of the same way, in the mid-1800s there are any number of leading photographers who had been painters. Sometimes not very good painters. Seeing photography, one assumes they recognized it as an alternative road to the very thing they had been trying to do. These were some of the great boosters and performers of the medium in the day, without them it's not clear what path history would have taken.

I rather think that an artist working in his traditional form in, I don't know, let's say India, would see a photograph and recognize it certainly as a thing, and an interesting thing at that, but not the very thing he's been trying to do. To take up photography would be rather more a job of switching horses, than it would be for the dodgy painter in Europe.

Secondly, there is the issue of visual culture, which takes something of the same path. The non-artist in India would again recognize the photograph as something, but something not quite as familiar as the European might. The photo, while recognizable and possessed of some interesting properties, might be less immediately appealing to such a viewer.

But perhaps here I overstate it? How familiar would the average bloke in London be with the tropes and tics of Renaissance Painting, after all? Can we call the engravings that appeared in the newspaper close enough, or are those generally so lousy that the man on the street in both Paris and Bombay would have had much the same experience of the photograph?

In any case, it appears to me that the impetus behind photography got some little boosts in Europe and the Americas, which it lacked in other parts of the world with different traditions of visual art.

Perhaps the answer is "yes, and the uptake of photography was therefore correspondingly slower and more shallow in those areas." Perhaps alternatively the answer is "sure, but the appeal of that true first-person perspective is so immediate, so powerful, that the standing visual traditions were irrelevant." Or, really, any number of other possibilities.

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