From The Ontology of the Photographic Image
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“Today the making of images no longer shares an anthropocentric, utilitarian purpose. It is no longer a question of survival after death, but of a larger concept, the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny.”
If death is but the victory of time then art has been mankind’s counter offensive. A ‘last word’. This pertains to the celebration of the human form in Greek sculpture, the religious iconography of the symbolic arts of the medieval period, or the hieroglyphic narratives of ancient Egypt. Present also in these ‘last words’ is time itself: the temporal map traversed by the images of the hieroglyphs, the sense of movement in Greek sculpture, or even the ancestral history told by the temporal structure of the totem pole as found in numerous cultures across the world. The symbolic plus the temporal gives us our victory over time. In the age of digital video and YouTube such a case still stands up.
“If the history of the plastic arts is less a matter of their aesthetic than of their psychology then it will be seen to be essentially the story of resemblance, or, of you will, of realism.”
So the present-day approach to an exposition of the history of the arts, and the interpretation and criticism of texts might be a more varied palette than ever before, hence the need to separate out the parts and analyze and understand them individually (refer Gadamer Truth and Method and his attack on materialist views of history and interpretation).
According to Andre Malraux: the beginnings of plastic realism were first manifest at the Renaissance, found its completest expression in Baroque painting, and finds its furthermost evolution to date in the Cinema.
The Mechanical System of Reproduction and the Epistemological Split
“Thenceforth painting was torn between two ambitions: one, primarily aesthetic, namely the expression of spiritual reality where-in the symbol transcended its model; the other, purely psychological, namely the duplication of the world outside.”
This quest for the duplication of the world outside (the epistemological question of the subject and objective relationship with the world-out-there) consumed the plastic arts. Perspective (I believe developed in the Renaissance) solved the problem of form and only went so far. The problem of movement prior to the 20thC was monolithic and the goal of artists was to find some way of giving dramatic expression to the moment. We can see in other cultures from other corners of history that this same problem of temporality consumed and defined expression. In fact, seeing as from a sociological/psychological perspective plastic expression is born of the awareness of the temporal and therefore finite nature of things in the world, it fits that temporality be the primary concern of plastic expression.
In a contemporary debate one could take this argument and argue for montage over 3D as the aesthetic glue of the effect of the screen on the audience. One might argue for Michael Mann or Terrence Malick over James Cameron or Peter Jackson.
Boh faith in the image and faith in the montage have their place in the aesthetic construction of a film, though it is a question of hierarchy.
“[…] photography has freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness.”
However, cinema and the photograph do not solve the quest for realism. Subjectivity is the inescapable condition of mankind.