Tuesday, September 3, 2013

WEEK ONE: The Gleaners and I (2000)

"I'm not poor, I have enough to eat," says the filmmaker Agnes Varda, "but there is another kind of gleaning, which is artistic gleaning. You pick ideas, you pick images, you pick emotions from other people, and then you make it into a film."

HERE are ten things gleaned from The Gleaners and I, posted by a reviewer on the independent film streaming site FANDOR

and here are our very first readings :

We will be discussing the classic Benjamin text as a class, but please post your comments on the Lethem article (and anything else you'd liket o bring up) below!!


Amanda Gostomski said...

"Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing."

These two separate ways of thinking can be seen in modern art versus post-modern art.
Painters like Reinhardt do not talk about influences, nor does their work itself reflect an influence.
When Reinhardt must of been influenced by outwards sources (one of them being art itself; he still is using canvas and paint, a long tradition).

While as we get closer to modernity, their seems to be more of a consideration on the where does this art piece fit into society and how does it reflect the author's influence. For example, if anyone saw the piece at CU's art show with the Korean artists; there was a piece where two Looney Toon characters were displayed as skeletal natural science museum pieces . The artist was using clearly defined influence (Saturday morning cartons, museum displays, maybe a little Damien Hirst) to make a comment on display spaces (art installation versus museum installation versus television).

In more recent artist statements, there is more disclosure on influence.

Is it more important to "submerge" (not forget, but not out right acknowledge) the knowledge of where your influences are coming from in art; or is better art created by transparency?

(I honestly think good art had come out of both categorizes, if both can in fact be kept separate.)

Lotem said...

"Religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold." (Page 7, 4th Paragraph)

This law, I'm assuming, was probably created in a time well before the American Revolution and probably before Adam Smith's theories on capitalism. This was probably in a time when the church said that the poor shouldn't have to pay for something that is holy. The existence of this law, I think, shows that power wasn't derived from money at the time but rather through monarchy and religion. OK. So I guess that means that back then they didn't care so much about stealing ideas from others because it had no real life affect. Today on the other hand, it is seen as a problem. It is seen as a problem because people can lose power, money, and when everyone can have power the desire to maintain is greater. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't really have an opinion on Disney's tyranny over the copyright world because in some sense it is our fault as a society that they would place their livelihood in the form of a cartoon mouse. So for the companies that have invested millions of dollars to create their fiction characters, I think they have a certain right to protect that investment in any manner they see fit. I mean it is kind of ridiculous that someone can make money by copying Mickey Mouse's image when they don't work for Disney, I mean that to me is stealing.
On the other other hand being influenced is a natural process of evolution and there should be no laws against it. How many times has someone borrowed a story from the Bible, only to repeat it in a modern form? I mean being influenced by something is like a thesis, and you bash your life, the antithesis, to create a synthesis. That is healthy, I mean that is how babies are born and how we create new things. One thing to keep in mind however is that we as humans created this concept of power in the form of money in order to escape the oppressiveness of monarchy led life. This means that we have to follow the rules of our new society, or come up with a better solution. So basically I guess I'm saying being influenced by things to create something new is an essential part of cultural, ethnical, financial, technological, and ideological developments of society, but we have to keep in mind the fragile relations these traits share and how we can navigate through them.

Why would someone seriously want to replicate Mickey Mouse? Is it for attention, money, or a greater appreciation of art?

Michael Davis said...

"But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity. I don’t maintain that art can’t be bought and sold, but that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising. This is the reason why even a really beautiful, ingenious, powerful ad (of which there are a lot) can never be any kind of real art: an ad has no status as gift; i.e., it’s never really for the person it’s directed at."

As we begin our journey into recycled images and (mis)/(in)appropriation I think we need to become distinctly aware that we are intertwined with Marxist theories of late capitalism and Commodification. I view Lethem's article as a great introductory piece, a companion to the Benjamin article and perhaps an backbone or beacon to some of Fredric Jameson's work on the ever illusive and inclusive "post-modern".
Lethem though is much more safe then the Marxists I listed beforehand, at one point even acknowledging the communist leanings:

"My reader may, understandably, be on the verge of crying, “Communist!” A large, diverse society cannot survive without property; a large, diverse, and modern society cannot flourish without some form of intellectual property. But it takes little reflection to grasp that there is ample value that the term “property” doesn’t capture. And works of art exist simultaneously in two economies, a market economy and a gift economy."

This aspect was what I found wonderfully enlightening and funny throughout. Lethem in a piece talking about appropriation and generally Marxist ideas was able to eloquently remix them and make them more palatable to a free market western economy. no longer do we have to deal with such gauche terms as aura and pastiche but instead the "giftness" of the work. Lethem is able to rework the terms of the discourse, reappraise, reappropriate and the regurgitate them to a new age and cultural. The author mid-way through the piece talks about the freeness and fluidity of language and we can easily draw a comparison between that and the fluidity of ideas, because no one person owns a archetype, at least not yet.

Eric Stewart said...

“This peculiar and specific act — the enclosure of commonwealth culture for the benefit of a sole or corporate owner — is close kin to what could be called imperial plagiarism......”

“Imperial plagiarism” imposes views of ownership that displace cultural-objects from tradition and community while perpetuating the conditions of power. Presently agents of power have been asserting ownership over increasingly abstract things while also advocating for a worldview where things can be seen only through the lens of ownership.

It is implied that appropriation is only permissible from the bottom up and reproduction from the top down. Reproducibility within the realm of culture brings politics to the foreground because essentially we are talking about access to the means of production.

Lethem notes throughout his article that cultures throughout various historical moments have dealt with the ethics and metaphysics of ownership and commodity in different ways- ebbing and flowing between gift and exchange economies while keeping certain things beyond the scope of ownership.

Is it problematic that ideas can be owned or does the problem lay in that they are owned by the few?
Should things be owned by all? Or should ownership be abolished?

A social democratic view might argue that the commodification of culture would cease to be problematic if everyone had equal access to capital. The notion that intangible artifacts of human history and thought can be bought and sold would be a non-issue if all economic participants were able to buy and sell without privilege or inequity.

While communization would offer that commodification itself is the problematizing function in the buying and selling of culture- that commodity and commons are incongruous and that ownership and exchange inevitably lead to unequal accumulations of power in capital.

Where Lethem discusses gift economies nestled within capitalistic frameworks he is interjecting a politics. Because power is a negotiation and ownership contingent upon whom you ask- or on whose authority? We are left with a space whereby the choices we make about what we give away and what we accept as commodifiable forge notions of ownership within our own communities. Resisting “imperial plagiarism” with pockets of cultural resistance that refuse to operate within the framework of ownership and exchange.

R_Sch said...

"Even if we’ve paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price. The daily commerce of our lives proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift conveys an uncommodifiable surplus of inspiration."

It is interesting to me that Lethem considers the basic value of art to transcend its mere price or utility. Lethem is suggesting that the value of art is primarily its "gift" status - the fact that the way we value art is tied to its emotional effect on us. We value it at a deeper level than most things we encounter. Thus, we readily pay the entrance fee to experience any variety of art that will give us that level of emotional inspiration.

I agree with Lethem's assessment regarding this "deeper" value of art which renders it a "gift" rather than a commodity. I do believe, however, that this supposition would be hard to defend in the dominant cultural milieu of Scientific Materialism and "rationality". In this current environment, to suggest that something has a "deeper" value would garner replies of "Deeper? How would you quantify that?" and general skepticism. There is a widespread form of reductionism to "objective reality" which devalues most subjective experience to a mere collection of synapses firing and the interaction of several neurochemicals. While it is true that you can correlate the difference in subjective experience to activity in different areas of the brain, that does not automatically mean that the experience can be reduced. Until we integrate the full reality with respect to subjectivity, any appeals to emotion will be seen as irrational and unpragmatic. Yet art is fundamentally in the irrational realm, in the realm of feeling and emotion.

Does the true valuation of art depend on its impact on our subjective depths?

Asa Lotterhos said...

"...when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price." (66)

A few nights ago I had a dream that I was in the Bayou and there was a shopping mall. In the shopping mall was a voodoo store with all sorts of items. A tall Haitian man drove his truck up into the parking lot. I watched as he got out of the truck and opened the back. He told me that he discovered remains of a Native American village and had ransacked it and brought the sacred items to sell in his store. He asked me to help him bring the items up to the store. They were all incredible handmade art pieces- feather headdresses, jewelry, moccasins, etc. I was excited about the items as they went into the store. I saw one that interested me, a metal disc with a feather welded into it. I turned it over and found a price tag $7.50. Suddenly, all my emotions towards the objects shifted and my opinion of the store owner changed.

What I took from this dream was that objects that are sacred and ancient and authentic cannot be commodified. Consumerism is typically about the "new" thing, the "new" technology, the "new" style, etc. But, ultimately, consumerism is also about the past. Artists hold on to their greatest works with the tightest grip sometimes, deeming them intellectual property, but perhaps it is deeper than that. Lethem explains that "the way we treat a thing can change its nature." I think a lot of artists hesitate to give of their art freely because they perceive it to be a sacred object to them. Art is ritual, right? Then how can it have a price tag? The price tag changes everything. It changes how we treat the thing itself, what it is "worth" in a collective way, rather than what it is "worth" to us in a personal way. Many artists struggle with putting a price on their work, for good reason. I personally believe that art should not have a price tag- it should be given as a gift, like Lethem says, and that copyright laws shouldn't exist with the intensity and fervor that they do, but in this world, everyone is trying to eat, survive, and life is becoming exceedingly expensive. The store owner in my dream excavates the objects that he himself did not create on his own accord. He sees the price value in them. He may even see the sacredness of them, but he perhaps does not see how putting a price tag and commodifying them takes away the way we view them as sacred. Perhaps the object itself still holds a certain amount of "magic," but the way in which people view the object changes. The object is now under scrutiny by the consumer. It can be put into comparison with other items. My question is, has the object lost anything intrinsically or is it merely our perception of the object that has changed?

lxmobley said...

"Neurological study has lately shown that memory, imagination, and consciousness itself is stitched, quilted, pastiched. If we cut and paste ourselves, might we not forgive it of our artworks?"

This pondering of Lethem's seemed to me especially poignant. As we advance in science and the universe makes a bit more sense to us on a practical level, we are able to look at ourselves with a more critical, yet more forgiving eye. We can figuratively step out of our physical bodies and lives and examine them as collages of experience and context, while recognizing that we are selectively cutting and pasting these into our art, whatever form that may take. It may seem to be a bit of a devaluation of the artistic process to look at it as purely scientific functioning as in the rest of the world, but at the same time, it's cool to imagine all art as an organic coming together of the pastiches of our memory, instant neurological workings, and immediately available materials.

I guess, then, that my question might be something like, might anyone else think that art is a biological phenomenon arising from what is available? Or is it something that is manifested by humanity on an unexplainable level? I don't know whether there have been studies done or theories presented on the idea. I assume there has, but here I play with pure speculation. Ourselves have been proven to be collages of biology--so what are our creations? Interesting idea that Lethem considers briefly, though he simply toys with the morality of "pastiched" artwork rather than what it actually is.

Melissa Kristl said...

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .—John Donne"

While I'm borrowing Lethem's opening quote, it really is a great summation of the history of accumulated influence.

In the bardic tradition, as also can still be found in traditional Celtic music, for example, the author of the text, song, or tale rarely gets credit as its originator as their names are usually lost to time as oral tradition has handed down many great works but as with early architecture, seldom does the creator get credit.

The advent of recorded media from early Classical authors, sculptors, painters, etc. to Bede, to the printing press, photograph and film, wax recorder, analog tape, and now digital media has enabled authorship to matter more and be verified better.

But really, all this pastiche is simply a way of saying that ideas are passed along through culture and that rarely is there an original genius that hasn't learned something great from someone else who came before whether it be conscious appropriation or un.

This sense of culture being spread throughout time and space is nothing new. Metaphors, language, trades, ideologies, religion, politics, agriculture, oral tales, histories (think sagas), technology, and on and on were passed along for millennia, even between species. In a very material sense even our DNA was appropriated from others from time immemorial (anatomically modern humans--us--share up to 4% of our DNA with neanderthals who died out around 30,000 years ago but still leave their legacy with us whether most are aware of it or not, for example).

Why do certain groups or individuals feel that authorship and originality take precedence when they copped their whole existence from the many before them? There is also something to be said for milieu here as well. Just take the invention of photography for example. How many people were working on it simultaneously and developing their own systems? Why did some remain and become the dominant form? Usually because those were the ones that could be capitalized on in the marketplace and distributed easiest for the most profit.

The answer to the above question really is about money! He who holds the rights holds the ability to distribute that idea in whatever form whether it being a reprint of Starry Night at MoMA's gift shop or the patent for a gene, a religious ideology or a Beatles song.