By Jeanne Beck
In this chapter author Terry Barrett discusses the interpretive consequences of investigating mediums other than painting or sculpture. He states that the artist’s choice of medium strongly affects meaning.
Although the chapter focuses on photography, Barrett makes it clear that he could have chosen another medium such as glass to make his point that “different media carry different connotations and (that) those connotations are important to consider…”
The three attributes he discusses as most specific to photography are selectivity, instantaneity and credibility. Selectivity means that photographers select a frame or scene from a myriad of possible subjects, choosing to include (or exclude) what is in the frame to best convey their meaning. Often, photographers choose to become identified with a particular subject. William Wegman’s carefully composed photographs of his pet weimaraners have helped him become renowned as a photographer and Ansel Adams equally so for his landscapes.fferent
Untitled, 1955-56, by Garry Winogrand (1928-1984).
Another feature unique to the medium of photography is instantaneity. A photograph is made in a measurable amount of time and what each one pictures has actually existed in time, even if only for an instant. This makes viewing and responding to the images different from responding to a painting in which forms and shapes have emerged stroke by stroke, choice by artistic choice, from a blank white canvas over a period of time. Photographers must rapidly process and select forms, values, objects and instants in time as though they could separate one instant from all the ones before or after. Yet capturing that one instant also fuels the viewer’s imagination to consider what might have come before or after this one moment.
The third evaluative tool that is unique to photographic art is crediblity. Most viewers of a photograph assume the image it contains to be credible, a representation of actual reality. This is not the case when viewers regard a painting, even if it is of the very same scene or figure. We know when we view a scene, place or person in a photograph that in some time and place what is portrayed actually existed. We tend to perceive it as more real than a painting, even when the photographic image is manipulated or staged.
What lingers in my thoughts is Barrett’s statement at the close of the chapter; “the meaning of any artwork is highly dependent on the medium in which it is expressed. ” He write that artists choose a medium to work in because that medium is the most appropriate one to express a particular idea. Of course that statement immediately sets me thinking about how and why an artist chooses to work in the medium of textiles. If the selection of this as a medium does affect its interpretation and meaning, what meanings might this choice convey? Are there attributes that are as unique to textiles as selectivity, instantaneity and credibility are to photography and if so, what might those attributes be?