Posts Tagged ‘Reformation’

February 9, 2012 Comments off


Since the invention of photography (the first technical image) in 19th century, there started a gradual shift in the relationship between art and images at large. Cameras soon became a household object, and remembrance freed itself from historical significance. Technical history of photography involves the acceleration of the time of production—from eight hours in Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras (1826) to fragments of a second—and the shortening of the gap between the production and reception of the image. The shorter these two processes, the more ubiquitous technical images become.

The image, after being subsumed under art since the Reformation, freed itself from it. In the contemporary age of digital hyper realism, image regained some of the features it held “before the age of art”. Images are no longer guarded by the laws of aesthetics to be produced, evaluated, and distributed. Images of surveillance and science for instance, operate outside aesthetic categories. Before the Reformation, images had power over human beings: they could redeem, punish or praise them. Now in the age of technical image, they define possibilities of presentation, movement, and action. Seen from this perspective, in both of these instances, pre-Reformation and post-photography, affect human life.

a) Archetypical image, image as value

The new image is not a manifestation of god in visual form, as in the images before era of art, but rather, in the words of Vilem Flusser, images have become models for their receiver’s actions. Flusser argues that it would be a mistake to assume images are windows through which we can interpret the world outside. Rather, the process of signification is reversed and the world is becoming subordinate to the image. Flusser writes, “human beings forget they created the images in order to orientate themselves in the world. Since they are no longer able to decode them, their lives have become a function of their images; imagination has turned into hallucination.” His work is a plea for a philosophy of photography, where through visual literacy man once again manages to interrupt what he calls the “apparatus” (which camera is one example of) A philosophy of photography is necessary for raising photographic practice to the level of consciousness and this practice gives rise to a model of freedom in the post-industrial (where information becomes currency) context. But apocalyptic visual studies aside, through this type of image, visualization and valorization become one and the same. Economy and manifestation of culture become inseparable in a process of mutual validation. [02/09]

The image before [and after] the era of art

February 7, 2012 Comments off


In Likeness and Presence, Art Historian Hans Belting, looks at the role of images in society before the era of art. According to Belting, the era of art begins when Reformation deprived the images from their religious function and the disempowered image, redefined itself in the category of art.

Luther announced that “the kingdom of God is a kingdom of hearing and not of seeing”, and urged his contemporaries to free themselves from the alleged power of images. The image which formerly represented the presence of god, now was emptied from his presence. The Reformation taught the domination of the word, and all images, signs, and symbols were suppressed under the power of the word, and became its servants. In the era of Gutenberg, the word became present everywhere as the tool of rational argument and reason. Intellectuals of the time, no longer trusted the surface appearance of the visual world, and the word became the refuge of the thinking subject. The humanists and the theologians emphasized that the painter can at best represent only their body, but their soul is expressed in words. With the iconoclast’s removal of the images from the churches, texts previously read in books took their place on the altar, and demanded the same kind of veneration. The humanist culture with the mind represented by the word, triumphed over matter and the “outward image.”

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1526), Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528) Engraving

Images, having lost their function in the church, took on a new role in representing art. Not even the Catholic church survived this upheaval of the word and not even there the holy image could escape its “metamorphosis into the work of art.” Belting writes: within the realm of art, images symbolize the new, secularized demands of culture and aesthetic experience. In this way a unified concept of the image was given up, but the loss was obscured by the label “art”, which now was generally applied. A general validity of an image independent of the idea of art became inadequate to the modern mind. Its abolition opened the way to an aesthetic redefinition in terms of the “rules of art.” Art, after becoming a discipline in itself, separated images from their previous functions, and recuperated them into its own narrative. This marked a beginning of art history, which later expanded itself beyond Medieval times (the last era before art) to the caves of Lascaux. It is from then on that a picture is no longer to be understood in the terms of its theme , but as a contribution to the development of art. Furthermore, images were ever since evaluated according to rules of aesthetics, a science that supported and explained the new formed discipline.