Eight Views

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All cultures have their persisting narratives. These can be historical events, legends and myths or all three together. Cesar’s death, the siege of Troy, the Arthur legends and the stories from scripture are such examples in the West. Together they form an important part of the cultural package that is forwarded from generation to generation. Even if we don’t always realize it, they are a part of us. Any meaningful dialog between people requires that the respective narratives are recognized and hopefully even understood.

These narratives often pop-up as recurring themes in the arts whereby they are transformed and sometimes used as commentary to current events. One such theme in East Asia is the Eight Views. In strange ways I have been stumbling over this theme from time to time and it is one that touches me. Let me explain…

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Printing

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Icy Cave

One can read from time to time that photography nowadays is an online medium, something to be produced and consumed while staying in the digital domain. And, yes, certainly many if not most photographs today go from a phone to social media never to leave the world of bits and data. Then, there are artists who specifically produce work that needs presentation on screens, like the animated genre-busting video- /photographs of Yang Yongliang.

Still, I think, living with art has its own value. But how do you hang digital files on your wall? At least for now digital photo frames don’t quite cut the mustard. Let me explain – and welcome to Dinosaurilandia…

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Realism

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Glyph

Since its inception, photography has been associated with the notion of realism. We even coined a word, “photorealistic”, for it. And even though we know (or should know) better, we cling to the idea that photographs basically are “true to nature”.

Manipulation, however, has been part of the photography tool set from the beginning. Already 19th century photographers replaced unpleasant skies. Photography has also followed almost all trends in art from impressionism, to modernism and abstract art. The whole point of these styles and movements was to present a modified experience of reality. And until we have free roaming drones only guided by artificial intelligence, every camera is placed and pointed by someone. Every photograph has a point of view, which robs it of its objectivity and makes it a form of expression.

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Mono no aware

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Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
(Tears are at the heart of things and we are touched by transience.)
Virgil, Aeneid

Like “yūgen“, “mono no aware” is often seen as one of the core concepts of Japanese aesthetics. The term is variously translated as the “pathos of things” or an “empathy for things”. It reflects an aesthetic response to transience. But as we can see from the Virgil quote the response and the sentiment are not only part of Japanese culture. They are part of our common human heritage.

So let’s talk about transience.

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Sensibility

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Some words have a peculiar history. The term “sensibility” is among them. If we can trust Wikipedia (and we do, don’t we?) then the term was coined around the end of the 17th century to describe a scientific-philosophical concept were sensory input and ideas are connected. Then, the word and attitude became fashionable in the 18th century and  young people detected their feelings. Finally, the term fell into disregard. In 1811 Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” was published in which sensibility was rebuked and ridiculed. Since then the term has never really recovered.Now it is used mostly in the plural form and not in an entirely positive way.

Still in the jungle of English terms regarding the senses, it remains one of the few terms describing the connection between our senses and our inner life.

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