Equivalence into Art


‘How it rhymes and chimes with a sense of the congruous’.

Equivalence: (the quality or state of being alike) identity – do I identify with an aspect of a piece of art? Or is it a deeper identity, a sense of inner-congruity, and emotional symmetry? Could it be that the only form which begets this feeling (of identity) is – say – a photograph? Or can the form find, for said feeling, an equivalent representation in other forms – painting, sculpture, dance, music? Is the form robust enough as a vehicle to mediate the emotion? Is it up to the task, is it equivalent to it? TS Eliot’s memorable phrase “objective co-relative” – (although first applied when discussing Shakespeare’s Hamlet) – was the vehicle which Shakespeare chose – a play – robust enough to carry all such a protean meditation on life and death which Hamlet concerns – To be, or not to be? Is the photograph – made by the photographer – a robust enough vehicle to communicate its message? Does its form allow the viewer to identify with some keenly felt emotion evoked within its frame? Does the photographer expect a ‘perfect response’ from his audience? Can an almost exact emotional impulse be ‘cloned’ into those experiencing the art in the photo? Or are we entering the realm of the ‘Perfect Viewer Response’? (Nessie and Atlantis have been seen many more times than a ‘PVR’, I can tell you!)

It has been said that art (the photograph)  – as performance – is for someone – someone other than just the artist. The artefact, the artistic object – manuscript, text, clay, bronze, photograph – is merely an occasion which gives rise to a unique event – the response, or the interpretation. If such reasoning holds true, there is never an ideal response with a photograph. Ownership of the art stops when the viewing starts. And for every viewer there is a unique response. The objective opinion surrounding a piece of art like a photograph is built up of myriad subjective and unique responses. Objectivity is the democracy of subjectivities. The general opinion of the worth and value of a photograph is the balance of each and every unique and individual response. Each act of identifying with the (public) photograph – each equivalence – is ultimately rendered or assimilated into an objective equivalence: this is what we feel the photograph is telling us, is showing us. The myriad equivalences coalesce into an objective whole. To get the response we  as a photographer might want, we must painstakingly plan our work to evoke the equivalences needed. Making is the corollary here – how shall we make our art to carry the emotional impulse we have experienced (as equivalence)? What shall we photograph/how shall we photograph it – and ultimately – what will the post-processing entail? And making, of course is mimesis – equivalence-in-reverse if you like – putting the feeling into art, communicating that which we identify in ourselves into the photograph. In making, we load our emotional identity into the photographic page: in viewing said photo, we release the energy – coiled up like a spring – in our response, our equivalence, our identifying with an emotional aspect of the art. This creates us anew, and we ‘selve’ in the process.

But what are the ‘mechanics’ of equivalence? What process of selving do we achieve when we make – to a greater or lesser extent – a close and emotional identification (an equivalence) with a piece of art? The ancients had a word for it: mimesis. To imitate, in a sense, to create ourselves after an aspect of the art presented (said aspect being the equivalence pertaining to identity, found in our emotional response). And some might link such a response to catharsis –  in that we have been moved and somehow changed by the experience. We create ourselves anew. Like a glacier, identity is always moving – slowly, almost imperceptibly, we selve in response to new aspects assimilated into our hearts and minds, as a response to art as much as to anything. It is something that is feelings-led – the changes that art can induce in us is instantaneous, almost mercurial. Art rarely poses – in that initial moment of response – a thoroughly deep and comprehensive stream of thought (which may come later).  A deep stream of thought and contemplation might have been the process whereby the art is produced – and like loading a spring – the energy in a photograph is released on viewing. A bolt of inspiration overcomes us, borne right past our critical faculties and natural barriers; so that idea, form and feeling all meet instantaneously in the penetralium of mystery that is our deepest selves. And we are influenced by it, and to a greater or lesser degree, changed by it. Like the glacier, we have moved on. We grow, we create ourselves anew, we selve. And this is the core and kernel of the mimetic process. The impulse of equivalence has led us to somehow imitate or deeply identify with the new emotion provided by our response to the world in which we live, and its art (the photograph). The bedrock of creation is that first inkling of equivalence – we create ourselves  anew in the face of our response to art (art being just one example of many external stimuli): like the glacier, we have moved on. Its not that we slough-off our old selves; we extend them. Before we make art, before we create an object, we too have been created anew. Mimesis externalised – in our actions – in our photographs – is life externalised. For who can know how we are moved or changed, how we have selved into our newly-created selves – unless demonstrated by our actions, or in our art?

On another note entirely –  and to get totally ‘meta’ – how do we understand the process of understanding? Hermeneutics is the science/philosophy behind the understanding of how we understand. Gadamer is an interesting writer on the subject. His tri-partite system for the mechanism of understanding goes something like Impulse Revelation Performance (or to put it strictly in a dry academic fashion – pre-conformation, conformation, re-conformation). OK – so, we have an idea – the stimulus or impulse. Then the ‘epiphany’ as the idea unfolds itself and reveals its possibilities to us. Finally, we find a vehicle – a manner, an act, an artform –  to make this available to the ‘other’, to the rest of us (make being the operative word). We re-conform the revealed equivalence into a vehicle – a piece of art – which we hope will communicate or share that equivalence – the emotional identity of that original impulse. Equivalence, it could be said, is the emotional revelation of a piece of art – of a photograph – whereas the impulse is the art object itself (the physical paper and ink of the photo). And the consequence of equivalence – this creative selving, a mimetic identification – is the glacier moving on; it is act; it is selving: and we are alive! If we do not selve, there is stasis, only the morbid (sick sick sick I hear you cry!). Creativity and creation, form into feeling – is the very stuff of life! Equivalence is experience; mimesis is making; art, like life, is “what shall we make of the experience!”

How this bears on the Vision Assignment is probably encapsulated in the area that is underlined above commencing “To get the response…”

Jack Torcello © 2014


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