Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Sublime

(John Ward - Gordale Scar)

John Ward's painting of Gordale Scar is a wonderful example of the
Romantic (big "R") understanding and experience of the sublime - which really has very little "romantic" (small "r") about it - on the contrary, it is often a quite dark, powerful, sometimes violent, sometimes ugly - growing from formlessness rather than form, evoking uncertainty and frequently overwhelming.

(John Gossage)

Unfortunately, if you google "sublime photography" you are overwhelmed with some of the most depressingly trite kind of pretty and superficial photography and which mostly seems to have not a hint of the sublime about it - indeed quite the opposite.
This came to mind because I've just started reading a book called Turner and the Sublime that I brought back two summers ago from the cottage and never got round to reading, along with an equally interesting and related book - Alexander and Robert John Cozens.

(J.M.W. Turner)

In many ways, photography and the sublime are a very good fit and yet that doesn't often seem to be widely recognised.
To quote from the Wikipedia on the Sublime (mainly because it's handy and easy to cut and paste from - and in this case does a reasonable job, even if it's very brief):

(Risaku Suzuki)
Edmund Burke argued that Beauty may be accentuated by light, but either intense light or darkness (the absence of light) is sublime to the degree that it can obliterate the sight of an object. The imagination is moved to awe and instilled with a degree of horror by what is "dark, uncertain, and confused." While the relationship of the sublime and the beautiful is one of mutual exclusiveness, either one can produce pleasure. The sublime may inspire horror, but one receives pleasure in knowing that the perception is a fiction.

(Walker Evans)
And Jean-François Lyotard who is perhaps the other, contemporary bookend, to Burke's beginning argued that the sublime's significance is in the way it points to an aporia (yes, I had to look it up too) in human reason; it expresses the edge of our conceptual powers and reveals the multiplicity and instability of the postmodern world. Of course, between the two there is an immense body of work - both artistic and creative which is sublime in in and of itself, as well as writings about the place of the sublime in aesthetics.

(Julia Fullerton Batten)

Slightly tongue in cheek, this photograph (above) presents a concisely sublime experience (listed recently as the Greatest Art Photograph Ever, because it manages to combine more current art photography cliches in one picture than any other work - a teenage girl, pretending to be dead, with a stuffed animal, and models, in a liminal space, at the edge of the city, at night - in fact the whole series on art photography cliches is pretty good)

Of course, you could spend a lifetime writing and reading about the Sublime.

(Finally for those who mutter against big photographs, Ward's Gordale Scar is 12ft x 14ft...)

(Jitka Hanzlova)


tarsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tarsh said...

Thank you for this one and i wholeheartedly agree.

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