The Value of an Image

Stating the ‘value’ of anything is simply a way of placing its desirability in relation to other, similar, items or to establish its usefulness in relation to a situation (a lifebelt to a drowning person for example is very valuable). If photography is used to show images which cause a reaction which helps in any way – the image of the naked, burnt girl in Vietnam, a Mother bathing her child in Japan who was crippled by mercury pollution, a Spanish soldier falling dead – these images are photographs which can be seen on a screen, on a wall or in a magazine and have a high value, they do something.

But to put a price on an image which is a digital presentation on a screen, or a printed version of this is, for me, ridiculous. I have just put some prints into an exhibition locally – a little gallery asked me to let them show a few of my new photographs, so I printed some (on paper and glass) on a theme – there are five other photographers showing. Most of course, use digital equipment, edit this with software and get them printed. They then ask hundreds of euro for these ‘prints’ – how can this ‘value’ be determined – by pressing a button hundreds, thousands of similar prints can be created, to me this is obscene.

I could not give any value to my prints, made in my darkroom. I was happy to show my ideas and what I am doing, but it is over 35 years since I had my last exhibition (where I sold stuff) and I am returning from a twilight zone into the light again after all these years. A digital camera can record an important event and can be used to manipulate light to show a pleasing or a disturbing image, in this case the ‘camera’ operator should be rewarded by society for their perception – but as a digital image is only a lump of binary code, intrinsically it is worth no more than the cost of the print. A crafted piece of paper, or glass, tin – whatever – with an image which shares a feeling or massage is unique – the artist has touched it and put life into it – The Greek philosophers had a word for it arete (ἀρετή) – the best translation is expounded (pun) by Ezra Pound (I love this quote or EP – ”If a patron buys from an artist who needs money (needs money to buy tools, time, food), the patron then makes himself equal to the artist; he is building art into the world; he creates.”) Ifthe artist then shares this – only then can it have true value.

I have stopped looking at any digital images if possible (it isn’t of course) and refuse to digitalise anything I make, so I doubt you will ever see my recent “real” work. There is so much dross overwhelming all media and so many people are using awful apps to make more rubbish ‘(hipstamatic for example).

It is sad – after many years I now refuse to use or own a telephone or watch and limit my keyboard time (or try to) to an hour a day – slowly I am getting free (perhaps).

The Value of Virtue

I believe that all things we do should be available to be shared without restriction, creative work and ideas especially as this triggers feeling we do not (yet) understand and which seem to be really important – perhaps other periods of human existence were closer to the value (not monetary) of art – perhaps some peoples living today are more in touch with the significance of art – perhaps.

This brings me back to the focus of my thoughts and the relevance to what I spend my time on (or as much as possible of it) which is to create images which share a feeling.

I have been saying these images have no monetary value – should not be sold or traded – I am also saying that if the creator of art (image, tactile, sound or whatever) is removed from the direct creation, this expression is dead – it has some relevance – as does a cut flower or a stuffed animal, but compared to the field of poppies or the running herd of deer – it is dead dead dead.

Take the analogy a little further – put a picture of a dead animal on a screen or print it in a book – it still conveys some feeling, but nothing to the emotion you may have seeing the dead child blasted by a bomb in Palestine on the floor in front of you.

Art and invention should be free for all who wish to share.

In a couple of previous posts I try to understand a little what virtue means. For me it is a word more attuned to what I feel is the essence of something created to be shared and which contains something more than just the depiction, or rendition of the painting, poem, tune or image offered to me, it contains some of the identity of the artist. At some point the creator of the work has directly touched or been intrinsically involved with the piece presented.

Somehow this essence of the artist is shown, or transmitted to be shared by others- perhaps this is why a live performance is more involving, more satisfying than a recording, print or digitised image, even though the copy may be technically, acoustically or perceptively more tangible.

The virtue of reality is intangible and how strange that virtual reality means something completely different, almost the opposite.

Virtue, Virtuality and Art

Following on from yesterdays post about my rejection of digital images and/or prints as valid expressions of an artists thoughts and feelings, I thought I should see what thinkers and philosophers have said.

By coincidence I am (slowly) reading some early notes and essays of Ezra Pound and discovered a page on his notes on the need for “virtue” in any work of art – it seems this does not translate well from the Ancient Greek: ἀρετή “arete” and the meaning in English is confused, but in essence, my understanding of Pounds’ thesis is that only a work where the artist is able to directly be involved in the work – to be “in touch” physically in some way with the work presented, can the essence, the spirit the “virtue” of that work be relayed to the person viewing or hearing it.

In other words, the copy of a painting or sculpture has no “virtue” – poetry or music which is copied has no “virtue” (of course a piece of music can be played as the composer intended or even interpreted by another artist, but if the structure is rearranged or the words interpreted (or translated) – the “virtue” of the original artist is lost.

An artist can of course take the creation of another person and add their expression of it – then this becomes a different piece of work – perhaps better, often not.

I am considering here only digital recording and reproduction – it is the same for any digital recording – music, images or now three dimensional recording.

As soon as the artist has created a composition and then recorded it digitally as a piece of computerised binary code, the artist has lost contact with the expression they were after – there is no “virtue” in the work.

No manner of further digital tweaking or manipulation can revitalise this “virtual” entity – it looks, sounds or feels similar – but it is dead.

Not necessarily worthless – a good copy can be useful, a mnemonic for the original or a way of encouraging the audience to seek the real piece of art but there is no way I can see how a digital print of a digital image ever has any virtue or value above the cost of the ink and paper – the artist cannot show me the virtue they saw of the moment(s) in a virtual presentation.

As I write this, I am thinking that it should be possible to use the latest digital recording equipment to interpret an idea, a scene or a person and use what tools the equipment has to “capture” this and present this to a viewer – I suppose, if the manipulator has skill and, more importantly, talent this could be called digital art – or simply – art. But the “virtue” as described by Pound, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and many other Wikipedia contributors, is lost – it can only be dead as no life was ever given to it and it can be endlessly, exactly cloned by anyone with access to a computer.

There is no digital art, is there ?