Monday, November 26


So, how do notions of clean and clutter interact? I mean, minimalists believe that less is more,while that’s me up there in the title image, wondering if more is less?Huh?

Clutter’s the quarry of minimalists and me. We both want to shrink a story to its essence. Yet I do the opposite of whatever minimalists do. Is there a word for the opposite of minimalist?

The thesaurus cranks out synonyms for minimalism like; essential, austere, basic, conservative, moderate, spare, stark, or unadulterated. While its opposites are; embellished, ornate, lavish, and outlandish.

Giants of photography like Henri Cartier-Bresson hunted Decisive Moments: instants when life’s parts lined up into a meaning. They stalked frames of evidence. Like life: Cartier-Bresson’s stories are intricate yet straightforward. But even with their complexities it’s wrong to think of his images as embellished or outlandish. His parts epoxy together. 

Look here at Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard  Paris. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Rue Mouffetard, Paris – 1952
Last sold for $43,750

Here’s a sense of time, place, culture, and feeling. It’s a novel squashed onto one frame. Genius!

It’s the whole of a concept that makes a meaning. To paraphrase Antonio Salieri’s wonder over discovering Mozart’s hand-written scores in the movie Amadeus, “There are NO corrections, deletions or additions: None!  Add or remove a single note and the entire masterpiece implodes. It is as if he takes dictation from God!” 

So? Is Cartier-Bresson a minimalist?

I’m re-reading Michael Freeman’s Fifty Paths To Creative Photography, (IIlex Press 2016), and he’s triggered me to think that life and art are all about, lining things up – where to put stuff. Unlike other artists who could move things where they wanted, before digital it was photographers who had to move around. While it’s still a good idea, now we can move life's furniture in post. 

To photographic digital-artists, just as they are to many drawing-artists, what comes out of a camera are reference-images. Many of my artist friends take a series of photo-sketches… that they lug back to clip beside their easels. Some are facial or body expressions, some mood impressions, while many lack the lighting that ignites feelings. Most are simply snapshots of stuff – their photo sketchbook. But they contain the essence of theme for the artist to extract a narrative by realigning the pieces into an inclination greater than the sum of these parts. Which of course is the essence of conceptual art.

Serendipity happens when you find valuable or agreeable stuff you weren’t looking for. Synergy happens when the sum is greater than its parts.  Squoosh the two together and it makes me imagine what Synerdipity might mean. Isn’t synerdipity what the artist does? An artist wills things to relate. 

Once at a party I came upon a pair of literature professors wondering if one could think without words. Distractions happened and I never heard their conclusion – Damn! Perhaps they could have inserted “symbols” for “words” so that they wondered if thought had to involve the symbolic: and that thinking was a matter of sculpting an angel from a stone made up of symbols? Do y’gotta’ have a pile of tangibles to arrange into something intangible? 

For the moment let’s forget that our Latin/Greek based languages  (the only ones I know enough about to make sweeping statements) are all substantially metaphoric at heart. You know that abstract reasoning is also called conceptual reasoning. It’s an ability to problem-solve by identifying patterns, logic and trends from new data, then to focus conclusions. IQ is an attempt to measure degrees of insightful (or useful) intelligence while EQ is a similar attempt to measure the usefulness of an individual’s emotional tools. Great creators in every field are generally high IQ & EQ. They can CQ (Conceptual Quotient) at astonishing levels. 

And CQ is a tool of synerdipity. With or without words, artists reveal patterns. Now, let me digress for a moment. 

Regardless of the complexity of their challenge: mathematicians and engineers seek elegance. Which means they abhor clutter. So does an artist’s concept. In his frame of evidence for my conclusion look again at Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard. Think again about Solieri’s  startled reactions to Mozart’s scores. Both those scores and Carier-Bresson’s decisive moments are elegant in the mathematical and engineering sense. They can be condensed no farther. 

Their frames are bursting with meticulous meaning without any of the embellished, ornate, lavish, or outlandish which thesaurus-makers say are the antonyms for the word minimalism. They contain only the essential, austere, basic, conservative unadulterated pattern of whole concepts. And yet while we have a word for minimalists there is none for their opposite.

Here're three examples of photographic-based art which I could never have accomplished in a wet darkroom.

Here, look first at a 2007 shot I grabbed when a street carnival opened in a small Lancaster park.

Air Chairs • Buchanan Park, Lancaster, PA • May, 2007

The reference image showed a Ferris Wheel’s empty cages juxtaposed against flashing lights and a grey rain-stained sky. But the final image brought those lights and carriages together into a surreal feeling backlit by impossible heavens. 

Second in complexity here is a 2013 Dublin street capture – well actually two snaps. The first one was of street facades which, upon close inspection, showed lingering ravages of the real estate collapse of 2008. See how these are X-ray buildings? You can look right though them as most of their floors were empty. The second, which I placed in the foreground involved a mother and pram against a poster’ed wall. This second of the two suggested hope which was now both placed in front of, yet walled off from, both the immediate and distant past.  Again matching the dynamic (and depth of field) range of these two disparate photo-sketches into this seamless collage was a darkroom impossibility: Synerdipity.

In Sunshine or in Shadow • Dublin, Ireland • May, 2007

And finally, look here at “Time Ravages All Roses 

Time Ravages All Roses • Geo-Collage • May, 2007

Yeah, the reference pix were stark. The coffined background was captured in a Dublin mausoleum, while the taxidermy monkey stood years earlier on an antique shop’s dusty shelf in Beaufort, South Carolina.  I found the back wall beneath an Amsterdam bridge. 

Complexity grows among these three images. “Air Chairs” involves one reference image, “In Sunshine or in Shadow” two, and “Time Ravages All Roses” a bundle of stuff. But just as “Rue Mouffetard, Paris” demands all of its component pieces to complete its narrative, so too do the three images that follow. None of the reference images stood alone. It is their juxtaposition which adds sufficient detail to tell their stories. 

Mathematical elegance does not require fewer equations, but rather the fewest components to prove a premise.  I suggest that minimalism in conceptual fine art photography demands sufficient pieces to convey a unity of both complex thoughts and feelings. Which means adding stuff until (but not beyond) the narrative’s need for clarity. Which means that in conceptual fine art, more is necessary until the point is made elegantly. See what I mean? CQ is the tool of synerdipity.

With respect to conceptual art, more is frequently essential to make a Spartan point. Which brings me back to the question… If conceptual fine artists are not minimalists, then what are they called? Why is there no word that defines the opposite of minimalist: A word that compacts elegance, and irreducible meaning? Have you ever noticed that until there’s a word for something, it doesn’t exist? Take say, the internet”. Or how about feminism, cartoons, or fusion cuisine? Did electricity exist before it was named? How about econometrics, existentialism, or porn? 

Perhaps synerdipity’s the word for that which is definitely not Spartan, austere, spare or stark, yet not outlandish, decorous, ornate, lavish, or outlandish. Is the frame of evidence opposite to minimalist that carries none of those pejorative overtones synerdipidist?

 Just wrestling with the synerdipity of art, y’know?

1 comment:

Cedric Canard said...

If we were to meet, we could fill an entire day, and much of the night, talking about the points you make in this post. And then that would still leave your images. I don't know about you, but I would consider that a rather nice way to spend my time.
Sadly this medium does not lend itself to the kind of discourse that would be fun to have on the topics you raised but I would share some of my thoughts on a couple of points.
On the idea of minimalism. If we are to go by the western concept of minimalism, then Cartier-Bresson is not a minimalist. However, if we forgo the western definition, and perhaps lean towards eastern ideas, then Rue Mouffetard, with its simplicity and its intimacy, along with the plain and unadorned appearance of the scene in question, could be considered an example of what the Japanese call: wabi-sabi. This is not in itself a type of minimalism. It is about authenticity (among other things), and authenticity in art requires no more and no less than whatever is required for its beauty to come through. And here I am not referring to the western ideal of beauty which is all too often associated with perfection. The beauty I am referring to here, is one that emanates from imperfections, which comes back to authenticity. What I am suggesting here is that something that looks perfect can only be so through pretence or by camouflaging its flaws; thereby making it inauthentic and therefore lacking true beauty.
Anyway, what I am saying is simply that I would consider Cartier-Bresson's photos (generally speaking) to be minimalist in that they encapsulate exactly what is needed to be authentic. No more, no less. And the Rue Mouffetard photograph, well, that is pure wabi-sabi if ever there was such a thing in photography.
This leads me to say (though I admit that the connection may not be evident, my apologies for this), that I consider life to be simply about experiencing, i.e., life experiencing life; with art providing the necessary connections or pointers to facilitate what should be clear to us but isn't. Once again this is where authenticity comes in.
Your term, synerdipity, is a good one (I'd like to see it take off and be added to dictionaries), because it encapsulates the idea that what needs to be included, is, and what doesn't, isn't. As in your examples of Cartier-Bresson and Mozart. Such works work. Not because they are perfect but because they are authentic. Knowing where that balance lies is the trick, which seems like a difficult juggling act until it is realised that all that is needed is… synerdipity? Which for me is another way to say: taking "dictation from God".
If you don't mind my saying so, your talk of complexity with regards to your images is misplaced. It is akin to a magician explaining the complexity of an illusion that looked so effortless and simple to the audience. The two points of view are incompatible. The complexity you know to exist in the making of these images is not evident to the viewer which is what one wants from art so that as a viewer, we are allowed to be lead to wherever the imagery takes us. If I point to the moon, I do not wish my finger to become the object of attention.
You are seeking a word that is the opposite to minimalist (in art terms) but I do not understand why. If you simply want to label your art style then call it Conceptualism, or perhaps call it Synerdipitism, that would be cool. But quite frankly, it needs no label. Your images, your style, stand on their own. I cannot imagine Picasso ever stood back from a painting and thought to himself: "Hmm, I'll call this style Cubism." Or Matisse thinking: "Oh yeah, I hereby name this bad-boy style Fauvism, baby!" And yet, these paintings existed before they were labelled and "styled".
For what it's worth, I would say let art be art and leave the labelling to those whose talent is fixating on the finger rather than the moon, and who then seek to categorise the finger rather than look at where it takes them :)