Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Manifesto: Time-Flow Photography

2nd Draft
Manifesto: Time-Flow Photography
Imagery With Movement Is An Important New Aspect of Photography

 YOU MAY QUOTE FROM, COPY, RESEND THIS DOCUMENT AS LONG AS YOU  CREDIT THE WORK AS: Time-Flow Photography Manifesto 

You can download a copy of this Manifesto as a PDF file at this URL:
PLEASE NOTE: This is the first draft -- we will accept comments, suggestions, additions, support or criticisms for the next couple of weeks and then will issue the final Manifesto in due time. If you would like to also be one of the sponsors, let us know. This initial draft was written by Rick Doble, but he expects that when completed it will be a work in which many have contributed.

We draft the following Manifesto because we are annoyed by critics who make unsubstantiated claims that Time-Flow Photography is purely accidental although it does, in fact, require more skill than traditional photography. And further we offer this Manifesto because we are also angered by pronouncements that Time-Flow Photography is not a legitimate form of photography.

TIME-FLOW PHOTOGRAPHY DEFINITION: We define 'Time-Flow Photography' as one that deals primarily with slow shutter speeds and movement that is visibly recorded in a photographic image. The movement can be camera movement, subject movement or a combination of the two.

TIME-FLOW PHOTOGRAPHY MANIFESTO

 PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE ART OF LIGHT ON LIGHT SENSITIVE MATERIAL 
  • The word photograph comes from two Greek words: Photo = light and Graph = drawing or painting.
  • Photography is the art of light on light sensitive material -- no matter what form that art takes.
  • Therefore a photography of light recorded in movement is a valid form for the photographic arts.
  • We reject the notion that valid photography must, for the most part, be sharp and realistic. For various reasons in the past (see below) sharp realistic photography has been most useful and therefore considered the standard for the photographic arts. But now with the new capabilities of digital, this standard is outdated. 
  • Deliberate artistic blurred images or images that show motion or streaks of light or a duration of motion are just as valid a photographic statement as traditional photography.

SUBJECT MOVEMENT:
Candid 4 second, telephoto, handheld, 
available light photography by Rick Doble.
Used as a central image at the SCIENAR (Science/Art) Exhibit
in Bucharest, Romania, 2010.

  • The idea of recording motion in photography was suggested over 100 years ago by Anton Bragaglia, a photographer associated with the Italian Futurist movement. The idea of light in itself being the subject was suggested 50 years ago by Wynn Bullock who spent six years, from 1959 to 1965 creating what he called "Color Light Abstractions" on 35mm Kodachrome slides.



Anton Bragaglia (his photo above) wrote his own Manifesto in 1911, Futurist Photodynamism (Fotodinamismo futurista) in which he described many of the same ideas that are fundamental to Time-Flow Photography but were difficult to implement with the film and cameras of the time. He wanted to understand unbroken movement with precision -- and he wanted to put together what he called an "algebra of movement."
"Light to me is perhaps the most profound truth in the universe. My thinking has been deeply affected by the belief everything is some form of radiant energy."
"Light used in its own right...gives to photography the wonderful plasticity that paint gives to painting without loss of the unmatched reality of straight photography."
Wynn Bullock (1905 - 1975) writing about his "Color Light Abstractions"

 Experimental digital photography has the potential to create abstract expressionist pictures with the depth and quality of traditional painters but with light as the medium -- light which has characteristics all its own.
Rick Doble, 2010

 CAMERA MOVEMENT
This photograph was created entirely with camera movement and a still shaft of light: 
4 second exposure, handheld and white balance set to give the light a blue color.
By Rick Doble.
Exhibited in the Bridges Mathematical Art Galleries at the Bridges Conference in 2012.


 WHY THESE SLOW SHUTTER SPEED EFFECTS 
 ARE A NEW ART FORM THAT IS NOW POSSIBLE 
 WITH DIGITAL CAMERAS 
  • In the past the effects possible with slow shutter speeds were virtually ignored due to the expense and uncertainty of the results and the desire to create only sharp imagery for documentation. While time-flow effects were possible with film, the result were haphazard, time consuming and expensive so for all practical purposes slow shutter speed effects were not used or explored.
  • Now however, digital photography allows a range of expression and an ability to experiment that was not possible with film because of the immediate feedback of the digital image and the low cost. Rick Doble wrote an essay about this over 15 years ago.
  • In particular, candid digital photography is now possible with 'Time-Flow' effects -- which allows an immediacy and spontaneity that was first imagined by the Italian Futurists over 100 years ago.
  • This means that difficult photographic imagery can now be crafted using a variety of slow shutter speeds and types of movement.

 PHOTOGRAPHY HAS BEEN CHANGING 
 AND EVOLVING FOR ALMOST 200 YEARS 
  • Almost from the moment photography was born, it has evolved and changed. But the standards of the past have often mistakenly been applied to the newer technology. Now with digital photography, the new possible imagery with Time-Flow Photography is being criticized by outdated notions that prohibit most kinds of blur or visible motion in a photograph.
  • From the very beginning photography has been changing. The first photograph by Niepce around 1827 required an eight hour exposure. About fifty years later Muybridge was taking photographs at 1/2000 of a second. Each technological advance in photography (from large tripod view cameras and collodion wet plates to handheld SLRs that took roll film, from black and white to color) led to new imagery but not without controversy. When small 35mm cameras became available their photographs were considered vastly inferior to the earlier large format cameras, for example. 
  • Like any new art form it will take some time to determine what effects are possible and which photographs exhibit these effects with the best possible artistic skill
  • We reject the notion that these images are purely accidental as some critics have asserted. 
  • At its most complex, this type of imagery requires more skill than traditional photography -- and does not happen by accident. The exact techniques have been described in detail by Rick Doble in his book, Experimental Digital Photography.
  • Like any new experimental art form there will be trial and error at the beginning which in time will evolve into specific techniques over which the photographer will have full control.

 WE LIVE IN A SPACE-TIME REALITY 
 WHICH PHOTOGRAPHY IS UNIQUELY CAPABLE OF CAPTURING 
  • As Einstein pointed out, we do not live in a world that is purely space, we live in a space-time world. Time-Flow Photography has the ability to record time as well as space and to make visual our space-time existence.
  • A photographic 'exposure' is created by the combination of light through the lens for a specific period of time (the shutter speed).
  • Therefore photography is uniquely capable of recording a space-time image because a photographic image is the combination of space (through the lens) and time (via the shutter speed) -- so each photo is a space-time picture.
  • The dream and aim of recording the 'fourth dimension', that of time, is now possible with digital photography. 
  • A depiction of the fourth dimension has been a central theme of modern and contemporary art.
  • This is an exciting time for people who are willing to work with a new way of thinking and new imagery.

 WHY A MANIFESTO? 

  • Writing a Manifesto in which one defines the goals of a new art is in keeping with a long held tradition in art such as the Cubist Manifesto (Du "Cubism") of 1912 or the Symbolist Manifesto (Le Symbolisme) of 1886 or the Surrealist Manifestos of 1924 & 1929 or the Dogma 95 Manifesto by avant-garde Danish filmmakers in 1995. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifesto



SUBJECT & CAMERA MOVEMENT COMBINED
The camera is moving relative to the background outside the moving car, 
but the camera is steady in relation to Doble's wife who is driving 
and whose movements are subject movements.
Photograph of Doble's wife driving: 8 seconds, handheld, available light.
By Rick Doble

NOTE: While we have named our kind of photography of slow shutter speeds with continuous motion, Time-Flow Photography, there may be a better name. It has been called space-time photography and also painting with light -- but neither of these, we feel, is as clear as the term Time-Flow Photography.

 IS TIME-FLOW PHOTOGRAPHY ACCIDENTAL? 

Claims That Time-Flow Photography Is Accidental: 
One customer review said Doble's book Experimental Digital Photography was a "book about pictures you could easily take by accident." A new art form requires that people look at the works in a new way -- otherwise the artwork can appear random. When the Abstract Expressionists first exhibited their paintings in the 1950s, many said things such as "My kid could do that." Jackson Pollock's dripped paintings are now considered some of the best work of the 20th century and sell for millions of dollars. With Time-Flow Photography a new dimension has been added, the dimension of time. To the untrained eye these pictures might appear to be the result of luck but the best Time-Flow photographs are subtle and carefully constructed. However, most of us have been taught to avoid any kind of blur in a photograph -- so changing gears and seeing blur as an artistic technique does demand a new way of seeing. 

The notion of accident brings up another aspect. One mistake with such criticisms is that they often confuse accident with chance. Time-Flow Photography is not accidental, but it does take advantage of chance, which is quite different  -- and is explained below.

Rick Doble, Raindrops on a Windshield in a Moving Car, 2003
This photograph is not accidental. 
This shot might seem accidental to the untrained eye -- yet it is anything but.
In heavy rain as Doble was driving, he turned off the wipers on his windshield and then he focused the camera so that it focused close-up on the drops of water on the windshield and also threw the lights on the highway out of focus due to depth of field. Next he waited to take this 8-second shot until he was the right distance from a stop light -- which he knew from past experience would create a web like red pattern and the red would also be reflected in the water on the highway. Then he steadied the camera on the dash of his car to eliminate camera shake to get a sharp picture of the water drops. Since the distance between the camera and the windshield was unchanging, the water drops on the windshield were relatively sharp. However, the approaching traffic lights at a slow exposure were spread behind the drops and out of focus. In addition because Doble had taken a number of pictures of water on glass, he also knew that each drop of water would act like a lens which would distort the light and the colors coming from the stop light and the traffic. 


 ACCIDENT VS. CHANCE 

Accident Vs. Chance: 
Saying that Time-Flow photographs are accidental can only mean no skill was involved --  that the photographer had almost no control over the outcome. This is simply not true as seen by the explanation above. However, chance often plays an important role, especially in candid Time-Flow Photography. Dealing with chance is not unusual. In fact, we all deal with chance everyday, such as driving down the highway and expecting the unexpected. This can happen, for example, when a car in front of us suddenly comes to a stop for no reason and we must brake quickly to avoid hitting it. Chance is something we all live with on a daily basis.

Candid Photography And Chance: 
Candid photography for over 100 years has depended on chance to give its imagery an immediacy and a sense of the moment. Cartier-Bresson, who many consider the greatest photographer of all time, often framed a composition and then waited for a chance element to enter his camera viewfinder. But he could also compose spontaneously when the situation demanded. The exact moment when all the pieces came together, Cartier-Bresson called, "The decisive moment."


Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907 (commons.wikimedia.org)
Considered a milestone in photography, Alfred Stieglitz came across this scene by chance when he was on a steam ship. He immediately saw the geometry and the stage-like arrangement, but crucial to the picture was the man in the straw hat (upper left) which was catching the sunlight. Stieglitz had to run back to his cabin, grab his quite large camera and return in the hope that the man had not moved. He was in luck. As Louis Pasteur so wisely said, "Chance favors the prepared mind," because it is one thing for chance to occur and a completely different thing to recognize and take advantage of it. Candid photographers are tuned into chance and make it part of their medium.
Stieglitz wrote:
On the upper deck, looking over the railing, there was a young man with a straw hat...A round straw hat, the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, the white drawbridge with its railing made of circular chains…I saw shapes related to each other. I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Steerage
Candid Photography And Time-Flow Candid Photography: 
Both of these photographic art forms count on chance to give it a power and spontaneity that other forms of photography do not have. A candid Time-Flow photographer can create a framework in which chance can occur and then take advantage of such chance. For example, when taking photographs of musicians, a photographer might spend half an hour finding the right spot to frame so that the light, the colors, the background and the way a musician holds his or her instrument fits into a composition. Then using a slow shutter speed the photographer will try to capture a sense of that moment, capture the rhythm and the energy in a picture that records the musician in motion.

Chance And Modern Art: 
Chance has been a major component of modern art and contemporary art such as the art of the Surrealists, the Dadaists, the Abstract Expressionists in addition to candid photography or street photography. There is even a term for allowing chance into the art process: aleatoricism.     
"The marvellous mixture of emotion and geometry, together in a single instant."
Henri Cartier-Bresson 

 MASTERING TIME-FLOW PHOTOGRAPHY 

Time-Flow Photography demands that an accomplished photographer have a broad technical understanding of photography such as the interrelationship between focal length, aperture, depth of field, perspective, working distance and shutter speed; plus a knowledge of hyperfocal distance, circle of confusion, reciprocity failure, shutter speed and the desired effect, absolute and relative motion and ghosting or negative ghosting -- just to name a few, all of which need to be done manually and often quickly.

But also, just as Ansel Adams said almost 100 years ago, photographers can learn to previsualize their photographs before shooting, i.e. see the scene the way the camera sees it and not the way the human eye sees it. A Time-Flow photographer can also use this method to previsualize what a scene will look like when exposed over time -- which with Time-Flow Photography is markedly different from what the eye sees. With years of experience a Time-Flow photographer can imagine what a picture will look like with movement and a long shutter speed before taking a picture. Consequently they can learn to zero-in on different and new lighting situations that will work with this technique. 
NOTE: "Visualization is a central topic in Ansel Adams' writings about photography, where he defines it as 'the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.'" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Previsualization)
Minor White refined the idea a bit, calling the visualization before taking a picture, previsualization but crediting Ansel Adams with the basic idea.







Saturday, April 30, 2016

Personal Responsibility and Personal Time

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
AND PERSONAL TIME

It might seem strange to write about time from the point of view of responsibility, but that is what I will attempt to do.

A person's sense of self has a direct relationship with their past and how that past is remembered. Who you are is the sum of your past behavior, past events, past achievements and failures.

People who avoid taking responsibility have a problematic relation to their own past. I don't believe that most of them think they are lying -- they would tell you they just remember things differently. But this memory is often a bit fuzzy or distorted. To avoid responsibility they must blur the past, smudge the details because it is those details that reveal the truth. Consequently the sharp edges of reality are lost. And after many years, the ability to remember things with clarity is no longer available to them.

I have noticed that people who avoid responsibility have a kind of 'out of focus' memory. They often say things such as what occurred was "just an accident" or even more telling, they often say, "it just happened." Saying it "just happened" puts the blame on no one and makes an event appear to be out of anyone's control. It was just fate; it was just one of those things. Without realizing it they may also lapse into passive voice such as the famous Watergate phrase by the Nixon administration, "Mistakes were made." 

These people are not quite connecting with world we live in; they are keeping reality at arm's-length. In order to protect themselves, they deny any culpability. But they have, unknowingly, made a deal with the devil. If you don't take responsibility, then you cannot learn from your mistakes, and if you can't learn then you can't grow. So often these people are quite childish and assume it is 'adults' who are responsible but not them -- and I am talking about childish people of any age.

Oddly, taking responsibility is the best way to find true freedom. This is because you quickly learn after taking on tasks you don't like, what to avoid and what is worth committing to. And when you do eventually commit to something you like, through thick or thin, you may experience one of life's deepest joys. 

These irresponsible people are often intelligent and quite good at avoiding accountability. They instead blame their father, their mother, an abusive school, or an unfortunate upbringing for any failings. And while there may be some truth to this -- at some point every person who grows up needs to accept responsibility for who they are and take charge of their personality no matter what forces shaped them up to that point.

But the intelligence of non-responsible people, which could have been used to gain insight and wisdom, is instead, dedicated to making sure they are never blamed for anything. This takes a lot of psychic energy and further erodes their personality.

Also because they are so good at evading responsibility, they often assume others are doing the same. Since they blur reality, they are sure everyone else does too. So they can be quite difficult to deal with. 

They think they have gotten off scot-free but instead have paid a terrible price.

Quite simply they need to 'own' their actions and not tell themselves stories. Unfortunately I  believe most think they are telling the truth; I think that they filter (to use the computer phrase) their memory of the past so that it is to their advantage and after a while believe their own fictions.

In my experience I have found this lack of responsibility to be much more common than I would have imagined when I was taking psychology classes in college. For example, I suspect it plays a role in most psychological Personality Disorders.

But there is another side to this issue. There are also people who take on other's responsibilities as their own. And often it is the responsibilities of these very same people I've been talking about. This is equally bad. A realistic view of the world requires that you be accountable for your actions but not for the actions of others. So this too is a distortion.

Ideally each of us, say in our late teens or early twenties, needs to find a balance: we need to take responsibility for our own actions and learn when to take on or not take on the burdens of others. Yet this balance can be learned at any age. This is not an easy or simple process, but it is essential for growth.


The psychologist Erikson postulated that there are eight stages of psychosocial development which are encountered at different ages. Each stage requires finding a balance. I would suggest that understanding responsibility would also fit with his concepts.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development 
FROM THE GREAT GATSBY

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of irresponsible behavior comes at the end of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Here is the background for the following quote about a married couple, Tom and Daisy: 
Driving Gatsby's car Daisy accidentally kills a woman in a hit and run -- driving off quickly hoping never to be caught. Tom lets the woman's husband believe it was Gatsby who was driving the car. As a result the husband kills Gatsby and then kills himself. Then Tom and Daisy abruptly leave with no forwarding address or anyway to find them.

The narrator of the novel writes:  
I couldn’t forgive him  [ED: Tom] or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . .

Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Education Interferes With My Learning

My Education Interferes with My Learning

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
Albert Einstein
I recently watched the PBS Nova program about the Antikythera Mechanism, the geared device found on a Roman ship that sank around 100 BCE. While this device was discovered in 1900, it took another fifty years before it was taken seriously. And it has only been in the last ten years that we have begun to understand its remarkable sophistication. 


The Antikythera Mechanism as it was found 
and there were also a number of fragments. (commons.wikimedia.org)

It turns out it is an ancient Greek analog calculator that could predict eclipses (the Saros cycle) and calculate the Metonic cycle which reconciled the lunar cycle with solar years to keep the calendar in sync. Plus it could calculate the complex movement of the moon "around the ecliptic in a 8.88 year cycle (Wikipedia)" and also, it is speculated, replicate the movement of the planets. 


X-Rays revealed a complex set of interlocking gears.  (commons.wikimedia.org)


It is now seen as an ancient computer and perhaps the most sophisticated device of classical antiquity -- one that changes our study of history.

The Antikythera Mechanism means that the Greeks who built it had reduced time to a mathematical and geometric formula and in addition put those concepts into a geared machine that could also predict the future such as eclipses. This is a major leap toward the modern concept of time.

Yet although all of this is quite fascinating, there is another aspect to this story that I find even more intriguing.

When this device was dredged up from the Roman shipwreck along with many other items such as sculptures in 1900, it went unnoticed for two years. When it was finally noticed by the archaeologist Valerios Stais, he believed it was an astronomical clock -- an intuition which proved to be correct.  However, most experts assumed it was an anomaly. The thinking of educated people at the time was that any such geared device was too advanced for the age of the ancient vessel so it must have somehow ended up on the ship accidentally. As a result nobody examined the device further for another 50 years.
On 17th May 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais was examining the finds and noticed that one of the pieces of rock had a gear wheel embedded in it. Stais initially believed it was an astronomical clock, but most scholars considered the device to be prochronistic, too complex to have been constructed during the same period as the other pieces that had been discovered. Investigations into the object were soon dropped...  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism
It was not until the 1950s that  Derek J. de Solla Price, a professor of the History of Science at Yale, took a long look at the device and realized that it deserved a full investigation. He X-rayed the corroded metal to reveal the hidden gearing underneath. His investigations opened the door to a full study of the device which now finally, with state-of-the-art 3-D X-ray equipment, have begun to be revealed. 


Derek de Solla Price with his recreation of the Antikythera Mechanism.  (commons.wikimedia.org)

The mechanism consists of a complex system of 30 wheels and plates with inscriptions relating to signs of the zodiac, months, eclipses and pan-Hellenic games. The study of the fragments suggests that this was a kind of astrolabe. The interpretation now generally accepted dates back to studies by Professor w:en:Derek de Solla Price, who was the first to suggest that the mechanism is a machine to calculate the solar and lunar calendar, that is to say, an ingenious machine to determine the time based on the movements of the sun and moon, their relationship (eclipses) and the movements of other stars and planets known at that time. Later research by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project and scholar Michael Wright has added to and improved upon Price's work. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Antikythera_Mechanism  

To me this is a classic tale of people's preconceptions and their education interfering with knowledge and understanding. For example, what were the odds of such a device accidentally falling into an ancient sunken ship?

I have written about this before. When the 'caveman' paintings in the Cave at Altamira were first discovered, they were not taken seriously and the man who discovered them was accused of fraud, even though none of his educated accusers had gone into the cave and looked at the paintings. It was not until twenty years later, when a number of other caves with prehistoric paintings had been discovered, that his accusers admitted they were wrong.

See my two blogs about this:
http://deconstructingtime.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-moderncentric-bias-against.html
http://deconstructingtime.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-moderncentric-bias-against.html

With the Antikythera Mechanism I see the same dynamic at work. When it was first discovered, calculators were uncommon, so educated scholars could not make the leap that it could be an ancient calculator. Yet by the 1950s modern calculating devices and our awareness of computers -- the first commercial computer the UNIVAC became available in 1951 and was used to predict the outcome of the presidential election -- were almost commonplace. With this new perspective, historians could then look at an ancient device and recognize that it could be a complex calculator. 

Now admittedly understanding the nature of this mechanism and the paintings at Altamira required a leap. In the case of the paintings it meant rethinking our understanding of prehistoric humans and stone age culture and in the case of the Antikythera Mechanism, rethinking our ideas about the sophistication of ancient Greek science.  

A similar dynamic takes place with experimentation. A scientist who experiments but has a high expectation of a certain result will not be receptive to results that do not fit his or her theory.

Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for
making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Of necessity, they
observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can
see, in its results, only a confirmation of their theory. In this way they distort
observations and often neglect very important facts because they do not further
their aim.
Bernard, Claude. An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865).
New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957.  

As Einstein pointed out many times in his writing, logic is a poor tool when faced with this kind of discovery. 

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Albert Einstein

Now to use the old expression, I feel strongly about this because I, personally, do have a dog in this fight. 

As I have written, I believe the passageway at the Passage Tomb in Newgrange Ireland -- that everyone now (finally) agrees is aligned with the rising sun on the day of the winter solstice-- is a precise instrument that was equal to and possibly superior to the science of the Greeks and Romans. I say this because I believe it could indicate the exact day of the winter solstice in real time which the science of the Greeks and Romans could not. 

Detailed drawing of Newgrange passage showing the precise placement of stones and the shaft of solstice light. Used with permission:
http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/irelandnewgrange.htm 


DOWNLOAD MY PAPER ABOUT THIS:

My point in a way is very simple. Modern humans for 200k years have always been intelligent and used their resources in a sophisticated manner -- given their technology at the time. Neolithic people built a precise solstice device for a simple reason, they felt they needed to know the exact day the solstice occurred -- perhaps to reset their calendar and also for ritual purposes. This was not as important to the Greeks and Romans. They could calculate the day of the winter solstice after the fact, but did not feel a need to know on the actual day when it occurred. 

If what I am saying is true, it will change our perception of Neolithic people and our understanding of the complexity of their culture. 

Yet when I proposed this idea and posted it on various sites related to Neolithic study, it has been almost automatically rejected, due to our current assumptions about the skills of Neolithic culture. 

Yet this is an idea that can be tested. An accurate computer model of Newgrange using GPS and laser scanning along with a computer simulation of the rising winter solstice sun adjusted for the time when Newgrange was built should prove or disprove this theory. 

I anxiously await the day when funds and a research team will be available to do this.



Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why Great Art Is Great, Using Shakespeare's Macbeth As An Example

The Power Of Great Art
A work of art is great 
because 
it is compelling 
but not because 
it has a clear meaning -- 
since it is often understood
differently
by other cultures
and other generations

See the gallery of 30 pictures from Shakespeare's Macbeth 
created during the years 1768-2012 at the bottom of this blog.

This blog is about the human experience of time. So in this article I will cover what, in a sense, is timeless in the human world.

When I was in college, getting my degree in English, teacher after teacher would explain why a work of art was great. With a tone of certainty they would list all the reasons.

In the 1960s Freudian interpretations were popular and many literary works were seen through a psychological perspective. This approach was often so heavy handed we all learned the joking phrase, "Well, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

Others interpreted works with a Jungian or symbolic slant. When I was in the honors program for creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, we were told that Eudora Welty had once been asked if the sudden appearance of marble cake in one of her short stories was a reference to the yin-yang symbol, the two complimentary sides of life. Her reply was simple, "I just like marble cake." 

In my senior year I became quite irritated with academic explanations. Teachers taught a work of art was great because it involved universal themes, archetypes, fundamental conflicts etc. -- all of which were true, of course, but something basic was missing. It took me years to understand just what that was.

I began by thinking in reverse. Suppose I wrote a novel that had all the elements a great novel must have, would that mean that my novel was great? Of course not. Very few works of art seem to grab us and hold our attention decade after decade, century after century. So there had to be something more -- and quite fundamental.    


There are no facts, only interpretations.
Nietzsche

I now believe a work of art is great because, in a sense, it cannot be explained for all time. A work of art is like raw experience or raw nature.
What that man creates by means of reason 
will pale before the art of inspired beings. 
~ Plato ~
Thomas De Quincey said in 1823 that Shakespeare's plays
were a "phenomena of nature, like the sun and the sea, the stars and the flowers."

Each generation -- and also different cultures -- find they are fascinated by a particular story or music or imagery or poetry, but each may see it quite differently from the way it was seen originally. And each will interpret it through their own particular prism. 

This is to be expected. The view point of each is different. Yet great art contains a timeless core that is compelling no matter how much a culture changes and no matter what the era.
 
A work of art is great because
it can be seen differently
and still retain its power.
HOW TO TEACH GREAT LITERATURE TODAY

I believe great literature should be taught not only with today's understanding, but also with an historical perspective that includes various interpretations from the past. This method would allow students to consider different approaches and as a result think in greater depth about the meaning of a work.


A TIMELINE OF MACBETH PERFORMANCES 
AND PICTURES BASED ON THE PLAY

To make my point, I researched a number of images from performances of Shakespeare's Macbeth. For 400 years this play has held our attention, and today seems more popular than ever. The following pictures are in chronological order. In them you will see a wide variety of interpretations starting in the 1700s right up to a few years ago. In addition you will notice that Macbeth has been performed in the non-English-speaking world as well. 

You can find these pictures and many more at: 

To find out more about each individual picture below, click on LINK.

I found these images on commons.wikimedia.org so that I could publish them in this blog without any copyright problems, but these pictures are just the tip of the iceberg as this play has been performed by hundreds of theater groups over that last four centuries.
   
In addition to theater productions there have been 24 films made since 1908:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macbeth_on_screen


From the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays published in 1623


1768 England -- Painting of famous actors as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth   LINK


1786 London, England -- Painting of two famous actors as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth   LINK


1784 England -- Painting of Lady Macbeth sleepwalking   LINK


1785 England -- Engraving of the witches   LINK


1786 England -- Engraving of Macbeth seeing the witches  LINK 


1812 England -- Painting of famous actors as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth  LINK


1824 England -- Watercolor of the witches   LINK


1832 England -- Colored engraving of Lady Macbeth   LINK


1838 England -- Famous actor playing Macduff   LINK


1855 Boston, United States -- Boston Theater   LINK


1888 London, England -- Photo of a famous actress as Lady Macbeth   LINK


1933 Harlem, New York, NY -- Voodoo Macbeth   LINK


1948 Film, Orson Welles as Macbeth    LINK


Contemporary high school production, United States -- Macbeth with the witches   LINK


2005 United States -- Processed photo of Lady Macbeth   LINK


 Non-English Speaking Productions and Images 
 of Macbeth 
 in chronological order 


1787 Berlin, Germany -- Painting of a famous actor as Macbeth    LINK


1819.Italy -- A ballet performance with a Frenchman as Macbeth   LINK



1850 Italy -- Poster for Verdi's opera based on Macbeth   LINK


1855 -- Macbeth and Banquo come upon the witches, painting by a French painter    LINK


1855 -- Ghost of Banquo, painting by a French painter   LINK


1892 France -- Painting of Sarah Bernhardt as Lady Macbeth 
in a French language production    LINK


 1916 Prague, Czechoslovakia -- Photo of a famous Czech actress as Lady Macbeth    LINK


1933 Poland -- Pastel of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth  LINK


1930s Azerbaijani actor playing Macbeth   LINK


1945 Berlin, Germany -- Photo of two famous actors (in the year of Germany's defeat)   LINK


2009 Slovenia -- Photo during performance of Lady Macbeth   LINK


2012 Tunisia -- Photo during performance   LINK



AFTERWORD

While today there are perhaps seven different standard ways to interpret Macbeth, there are many other variations. 

I have seen a film performance in which Macbeth was a member of the mob (Men of Respect)  and also read about Macbeth depicted as a VP in a corporation as was done in 2015 in Bend, Oregon.

From the Japanese film, a Samurai version entitled Throne of Blood, to a low-budget film adaption called Teenage Gang Debs which involved a  girl who got her biker lover to kill the head of the gang and so take over, there have been many interpretations.

Nevertheless there is still plenty of room for other ways to present this play. For example, the marriage of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth was called by Harold Bloom "the best marriage in Shakespeare." So the focus and tragedy of the play could be the dissolution of a marriage rather than simply the fall of an ambitious man. 

I am sure there are many other possible interpretations. In the future there will probably be many more that I cannot imagine. 

And that's why this is a great work of art.