Paul Valéry, “Pièces sur l’art”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in that said hindsight it has become clear that the ideas that engaged me most piercingly when reading “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” did not come from the author Walter Benjamin, but instead were quoted, from “Pièces sur l’art” by Paul Valéry.

Called “Pieces on Art” when translated to English, Valéry delivers many poetic insights and viewpoints on the art world. Amongst the collection, was the paragraph used as an introduction by Walter Benjamin, in which Valéry writes:-

“In all arts there is a physical component that cannot continue to be considered and treated in the same way as before; no longer can it escape the effects of modern knowledge and modern practise.”

Within this short statement there are several construable elements. Yet, it has also provided the basis for my article “Paradigm Shift Requires Extremes” which has been published recently, and is perhaps my most cohesive, unequivocal writing to date. What intrigues me is the fact that a seemingly insignificant writing, small in comparison to the groundbreaking ideologies it precedes, planted the seed for some of my most fundamental work.

This idea is also absolutely true for the analogue print (above left) I created several summers ago. At the time of shooting, I “liked” this image, but nothing more, nothing less. I remember thinking I would rather dislike or hate an image, but have a passion for it, be immediately provoked by it. Furthermore, my analogue process was not giving me the aesthetic results I desired, nor did it fit well with any project I was working on. Hence, I overlooked and disregarded the exciting elements of the print, that I initially saw as insignificant – small, in the grand scheme of my artwork.

Analogous to the writing of Paul Valéry, and the effect it had on my own hypotheses, the print of a girl in a gallery, has shaped my photography since. The flattening of viewer and viewed together, binding them through the repetition of textures, has become a style I don’t just adore, but aim to embody with every image I create. I adore its aesthetic purity, and the conceptual ideas behind these “simple” images. The photograph from my “Between Us and Art” project (above right) best encapsulates this philosophy. Despite the distance from individual to art being far greater than in many of the images I created for the project, the repetition of texture and form binds them. The connection uninterrupted due to the soft white space, the nature of the repeated element is also the same. A cord tying things together.

For me, these two studies have shown me that I have been very naive previously, brushing off things that, at first, seem unimportant. These understated elements could be the ones that teach the most. Even boring elements can inform. Why do they not catch the eye? Does the subtleness of the elements allow the eye to be drawn elsewhere? Do they mask the true intrigue of an artwork, leading to a slow revelation? I believe those in the art work should not be naive like I have been, and make sure we interrogate fully, before we decide if we like or dislike a piece of art.

Both “Paradigm Shift Requires Extremes” and “Between Us and Art” can be found on this websites writing, and photographic, pages respectively.

Jamie Edwards – 02/07/2020

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