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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion- Oct 2017 - Gursky's Rhein II

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Re: Monthly Masters' Discussion- Oct 2017 - Gursky's Rhein II

Post by St3v3M » Sat Oct 14, 2017 4:02 am

I've been confused by this image ever since I saw it, mostly wondering if there are people with more money than a sense of art, but also wondering if it is worth so much then what am I missing, and what does that say about my work. It's a conundrum for sure and maybe that's what makes it so interesting with two colors maybe, a flat boring sky, and an uninteresting composition, as others have said though that may be why it works.

Maybe it's the nature photographer in me but I want more, I need more than what the image has to offer. It's flat and boring and makes me sad. I would not want it even if I could afford it. We can all print twelve foot wide so I don't get it, wouldn't you want something that makes you feel happy to look at it? I have to wonder if I would have liked the original instead. Maybe we can ask him to join us and to defend his decisions! (I sent an email with an invitation to join us in a discussion.)

Dislike aside I've been happy to watch this discussion and see opposing opinions and more importantly learn why. It always interests me to learn what others like and why and this has been an education all to its own. I appreciate everyone's comments so far and hope to see more of them soon! S-
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Post by St3v3M » Sat Oct 14, 2017 6:25 pm

I've added this to the pM Facebook page too. S-
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Post by Duck » Sun Oct 15, 2017 3:09 am

Abstract art, by definition, is hard to lock down as the abstraction can be readily identifiable or very elusive.

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My first introduction to abstract art was through the TV show, "The Partridge Family," with its Piet Mondrian inspired tour bus. Of course I was too young to realize where the inspiration came from. It wasn't until much later, college actually, that I received a much more comprehensive understanding of Mondrian and his particular style of neoplasticism abstractions. Until that time I just saw it as a series of gridded squares with random blocks of color. Little did I realize there was a sense of order and balance and harmony within those simple compositions.

I also learned a valuable lesson in creation. Art, when seen from a bystander's perspective, often appears simple. As in simple to create. How often do we hear that old mantra, "heck, I could have done that," or worse, "my five year old can do that!" If that was the case, then we would all be Piet Mondrian, wouldn't we. The simple truth is many of us lack the foresight, the discipline and the artistic techniques to create something new and or original. It is far easier to copy after the fact and be influenced by those ground breakers that came before.

That's exactly what happened with Mondrian's work. Once you understand what you are looking at and whom it was that influenced the style, you will start seeing 'Mondrian' everywhere. Here is a small collection of items influenced by his now famous style by just doing a Google search. As you can see, his influence has reached across a broad range of subjects from household items to fashion and architecture, to name a few.

While I have come to appreciate Mondrian's art over time, I was never really a fan of his work. His later work became busier and even more abstract and that's where he lost me.

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Mark Rothko, on the other hand, I came to appreciate right from the get go because I understood it. I connected with it on a primal level, which is exactly where he wanted to be. Here was another artist whose work you could look at and ask, "why?" Or denounce as being. "so simple my five year old could do it." Except, again, they can't. Why? Because these creations are grounded in color theory, spatial relations, balance of form and so much more. If you look at the series of images below you can clearly see the exploration of the rule of thirds, something we, as photographers, clearly understand. If you are a landscape photographer you will also see a series of landscapes, reduced to their primitive forms, reflected in each canvas. I would put good money that you could describe each one of those landscapes in very vivid detail if you were asked to.

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The reason I brought up these two is because Andreas Gursky's photograph of the river Rhein reflects the same sentiment and informed creation that went into creating a Mondrian or a Rothko. Like them, Gursky's image looks easy to do on the surface. Where people fail in understanding is both the thought process of the composition (it goes beyond splitting the canvas in half) and the post processing of the image both for color harmonies and fidelity of detail in order to create a 12 foot long print.

A TWELVE FOOT LONG PRINT!
ON ACRYLIC!

"Eh, so simple my five year old can do it with his cell phone and Epson printer." Except he can't.

This is one of those images that has to be seen in person to really appreciate. For this all I have to do is point out to anyone who has ever walked through a museum and physically looked at, and experienced, a piece of art they previously only seen online or in a magazine. It is a completely different experience, both physically and emotionally. I had the good fortune, in my youth, to see the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's Pieta and many other historic works of art first hand. All I can say is that no matter how great the photographic reproduction is, nothing compares to the original.

Here is another way of looking at Rhine II. How many times, as photographers, have we tried to create an abstract image that moves a person to want to buy and hang that piece of art on the wall? Think on that and also think, how many times have you failed? It's not so easy to make a Rhine II is it? Well, maybe for us but not for Ernst. He seems to be able to create beautiful abstractions out of thin air. :D

The illustration at right is a distilled version of Gursky's photo rendered digitally. The colors have been averaged from the example photo and the sections are close to the actual divisions of the shapes. There is a symmetry within that image. There was also a very conscious decision in manipulating the original file in order to eliminate distracting element to simplify the landscape, like Rothko, to it's primitive form.

One commenter I read said, "this image is cold, flat, dull, modified, evokes no feelings at all; and ... is this life? This may be what life means to a man living in a boring german town..." The reality is this is probably exactly what the people in that area see when they look at the cold, flat and dull Rhine river. Again, this is an abstraction of a place, not a documentarian view of it. There is a difference and that difference is often misunderstood.

Just as the scene is distilled to it's basic primitive forms of line and color, so is our appreciation of it. We either like it or we don't and that feeling is often based on our basic, primal emotional response.
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Post by St3v3M » Sun Oct 15, 2017 3:44 am

Duck wrote:...
One commenter I read said, "this image is cold, flat, dull, modified, evokes no feelings at all; and ... is this life? This may be what life means to a man living in a boring german town..." The reality is this is probably exactly what the people in that area see when they look at the cold, flat and dull Rhine river. Again, this is an abstraction of a place, not a documentarian view of it. There is a difference and that difference is often misunderstood.

Just as the scene is distilled to it's basic primitive forms of line and color, so is our appreciation of it. We either like it or we don't and that feeling is often based on our basic, primal emotional response.

Reading this I immediately thought of the master painters and the works of their time. I'm sure there were limits to their color choices, but so many of their paintings are dark and moody. I hadn't thought of it before I guess, but if you lived in a world that was dark when the Sun went down you probably painted what you knew. There are the exceptions of course, some beautiful bright images, but there are always exceptions to the rule. I wonder then if the same holds true here, where if we live in a constantly foggy place our images are foggy and if we travel to the mountains our images are full of magnificent landscapes. It's interesting then to think about people who make abstracts, wondering if they see the world the same.

I'm not a fan of the Rhein II, I don't get it, but I have neither seen it in person or had the education to understand it. What matters to me then is that its art, and like everything else in life there is a little something for everyone to love, and not, for it's only by knowing what you don't like that you appreciate what you do.

This has been a great discussion and it's been wonderful to hear everyone's opinions. I'm so thankful for this! S-
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Post by Matt Quinn » Sun Oct 15, 2017 3:52 pm

Mark Rothko, on the other hand, I came to appreciate right from the get go because I understood it.

What I take away from your comments, Duck, is a sense of awe in the faith and courage that Rothko -- and any other pioneer artist -- each has in a vision, and a lifetime of commitment to pursuing and trying to express it. Good to be reminded. Thanks. Matt
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Post by Duck » Sun Oct 15, 2017 5:48 pm

Matt Quinn wrote:What I take away from your comments, Duck, is a sense of awe in the faith and courage that Rothko -- and any other pioneer artist -- each has in a vision, and a lifetime of commitment to pursuing and trying to express it. Good to be reminded. Thanks. Matt

Thanks for commenting, Matt.
For me it goes beyond that. These guys had the courage to experiment when others called it crap. They done deeper than the visual surface to get to the core of a concept, an idea. Like Gursky, to distill a scene to its basic structure and then rebuild it with their own vision.

I chose both these artists because they each expressed landscapes in their own style. Mondrian with the urban/city landscape while Rothko was more of the rural landscape. Each visited and revisited and revisited ad nauseum one particular theme. How often do we see that amongst ourselves with our own photography? We grab a shot and settle for what we got. No going back. No exploration on a theme. No pushing it to limits. Why? What are we so afraid of that these pioneers weren't?

Gursky has to have some really thick skin to do what he does with what everyone considers a pedestrian image. Just look at his 99¢ Store image. People dismiss Rhine II because of it's obvious lack of sophistication but they also dismiss Gursky's work ethics. He didn't just happen upon that image. It was created, it was manipulated and it was contemplated long before it was presented to the public.
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Post by St3v3M » Tue Oct 17, 2017 2:54 am

St3v3M wrote:... Maybe we can ask him to join us and to defend his decisions! (I sent an email with an invitation to join us in a discussion.) ...


Thank you very much for inviting Andreas Gursky to participate in your Monthly Master’s Discussion.
I would kindly like to ask for your understanding, but due to his teaching obligations at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, the preparations of his upcoming exhibitions and current photo project he unfortunately cannot participate.

However, you can find a discussion between him and his former teacher Hilla Becher on Rhein II on the DVD ‘Andreas Gursky - Long Shot Close Up’.

With kind regards,
Annette Völker
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Post by Duck » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:19 am

This is a great idea. While it may not have worked this time it is something to keep in mind for future discussions with other contemporary photographers.
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Post by Charles Haacker » Tue Oct 17, 2017 2:56 pm

I'm dabbling back in late. DUCK, wow!! That whole post, WoW. I particularly love the distillation of Gursky's picture to its elements a la Mondrian. I love Mondrian. Why? I dud-doh.

See, that's where I get quite lost. I have no training and consider that I'm a little over the hill for it, besides which right now I'm going through one of the roughest patches ever and disinclined to leave my chair. That and there's usually expen$e involved.

But that aside, I've said before many times that I likes what I likes and not what I duzn't, but with no formal training I duzn't know why. But I do have eclectic tastes in most art, music, sculpture, photography... I like Art with a capital A. As we had the discussion on labeling and identifying (Duck makes an excellent argument that it is very important but I am not so sure) so here we have a discussion where Duck makes or implies the argument that understanding is important. I cannot disagree! For the obvious reason that I don't know enough (anything really) to disagree. But I have never been the my-five-year-old-can-do-that guy. I know on some level (visceral?) that no, your kid can't, you can't, she can't, he can't, but this artist can --- somehow. I have seen endless commentary on the genius of Jackson Pollock (I love Pollock). So I look at a Pollock and I am entranced but have no clue why. Pollock was, according to pretty much every expert ever, a certified genius. I believe them. I love Pollock's work. But I can no more explain why, much less heaven forfend critique it?? Pollock literally dribbled paint from ladders out of cans f'cryin' out loud! But there was genius in where he dribbled! Reminds me of Santa Ansel's famous quote: "Photography is knowing where to stand."

How many great Artistic Geniuses of all disciplines of the distant and recent past were utterly disrespected and flat broke in their lifetimes? I happen to be a "classical" (misnomer but..) music freak, especially J S Bach, but do you know that even Bach's KIDS disrespected his compositions in his lifetime? Bach was pigeonholed as a performer, not a composer. Even as a performer he had spectacular failures: he wrote the 6 Brandenburg Concertos as a job application. The Margrave of Brandenburg, hiring for a court musician, didn't like them and hired Buxtehude instead. After Bach's death some of his manuscripts, in his own hand, were used as wall insulation! If it were not for another disrespected-in-his-own-lifetime genius, Mendelssohn, we might not know of Bach's methodical mathematical genius since he had been largely forgotten. As a total Bach freak I cannot imagine a world without Bach.

I could go on and on but you get the idea. I love Gursky's Rhine. I do. I don't know why. I'm not sure it matters that much. But I know I could never have made that picture! I suspect pretty much no one except Gursky could.
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Post by Duck » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:22 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:[...] that's where I get quite lost. I have no training and consider that I'm a little over the hill for it, besides which right now I'm going through one of the roughest patches ever and disinclined to leave my chair. That and there's usually expen$e involved.

I had the good fortune of having taken several art history classes in college. Though at the time it was boring as all hell. I still have my textbooks from those classes. Although y lessons were structured and delivered weeks at a time there is no reason why one can not take advantage of today's technology to educate themselves on any wide variety of topics. For me, lately, it has been about any of the various contemporary photographers, from Leibovitz and Penn to HBC. So much information is available at the click of a mouse. I particularly love the documentaries found on YouTube.

That is why I love discussions like these because it ignites the desire to study the particular subject more in order to have an educated discussion. I knew nothing about Gursky prior to this current discussion and now, thanks to MinnieV's monthly discussions I have come to learn about this artist. The wonderful thing about it was that I did not have to leave my chair or spend anything of value other than some time which I would have spent in front of the TV anyway. At least I got something out of my time here. (Y)

Charles Haacker wrote:[...] I cannot disagree! For the obvious reason that I don't know enough (anything really) to disagree.

Ah, but you do know enough to formulate some good arguments in relation to music and how it correlates with the 'starving artist' syndrome. Honestly, your critiques have evolved considerably in a very short time. Don't sell yourself short here. :clap:
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