VIEW THESIS PHOTOGRAPHS


ORGANIC SUBLIME
PHOTOGRAPHY THESIS BY MAEGAN WESTDORP

"Even without being spoken, a simple idea will sometimes of it's own accord excite admiration."
- Longinus.

INTRODUCTION

What drives this body of work is the search for the sublime in the production of art. I approach every artistic endeavor from a faith-based perspective of all my experiences in life, but more specifically photography. As a result, the concept for my thesis project involves an exploration of the major themes surrounding the subject of the sublime. I chose to work on the sublime because I am routinely motivated to work within the genre of spirituality in my art, and I was very curious to more thoroughly investigate the peripheries of the issue.

From collaborated sources, my understanding of the sublime describes an object or image that inspires awe. There is a presence of something untranslatable, and spiritual when you see that there is something amazing and wonderful about that object or image- whether it holds beauty or intelligence. Because these images are of flowers, there is also the presence of sensuality through the flower itself being a sensual being, and there is the visual discussion of life and death through the interesting biological parts of the flowers themselves.

My intentions for this body of work, was to share the revelations I have experienced in the past year in a visual manner. In the simplest sense of my goals, I hope that my artwork inspires awe to the viewer and brings them into a space where they can also contemplate why (if they do) they enjoy the images, and then maybe they may come to understand more of the sublime. I think that the viewer will only be able to connect the spirituality in my work when they understand that these may hold elements of the sublime.


HISTORY/BACKGROUND

I started this year trying to embody spirituality by working with photographs in the landscape genre. Though they held elements of the sublime within them, they did not speak with a clear visual voice as to what I was trying to illuminate. With some guidance, I started to deal with the real issue of how spirituality and beauty intertwine within the two-dimensional plane of a photograph. Thus, I began studying the sublime not yet knowing its existence as a formal aesthetic criterion. Through reading some philosophically challenging essays concerning the theoretical grounds of the sublime and what it stands for, I found that my images of complex disintegrating flowers are a reaction, rejection, and simulation of what I now understand the subject of the sublime to be.

In the weeks prior to the development of these stylistic, scientific portraits of flowers, I had been working exclusively with dead plants. But they were not striking the chord of solidity and serenity that this later body of work contains. These earlier photographic images were being developed along with my idea of the sublime, so they were not formulated or distinctive. It is these final images, which I find bring the issues of sensual beauty and ideas of the sublime, death, and personal aesthetics to the surface.


DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT

The body of work contains 8 pieces. Each image is a portrait of a flower which I have chosen for its sustaining elements of beauty. Each flower has past its bloom, and has started to wither. All the photographs were taken in studio with 4 x 5 color film for high-resolution images. The final size of the prints are 20 X 24, and are uniformly similar in composition, along with white backgrounds. There is only one visual element to this project, which is the straight photograph.


METHODOLOGIES & RATIONALE

I used 4 x 5 color negatives because they retain their integrity and high detail. I think this was an important step of production because my intention is to bring the viewer to recognize the major ideas and elements of this work through the detail of the flowers. These plants and flowers all hold the quality of decay and life within themselves, and were chosen because of those very qualities. They were also selected because they each held their own presence of delicacy, so that, while studying them, they drew me closer and I found myself just enjoying the search for the perfection of creation, the imperfection of decay, and the beauty of the biological. It is also interesting to note that, in most of the images you cannot tell whether they are all dying or they are just regenerating themselves, which leaves discussion open to the issues of new life, death, rejuvenation, details of physical creation, and even the possibility of beauty in decay. I chose to print the final project 20 x 24 because my intention is to draw the viewer into a space where they can contemplate and experience them in an intimate manner, and I think that if they were made smaller (or larger), it would not be so.


ARTISTIC INFLUENCES

To help strengthen and mold my understanding of what the sublime is I have read many essays and books. Kandinsky is the first artist who has helped me see clearly my personal mission in my work. However, his work regarding beauty and sublimity delved further into abstraction whereas mine branches into minimalism, or into the concrete. His perspective has opened my eyes to not only the communication of the sublime and beauty through visual art, but also in other artistic experiences one might encounter (i.e. music and dance). I have also been looking at Karl Blossveldt's photographs, and they have helped me grasp and understand the element of sublime that makes you gaze in awe at the image. The cinematographer Steve Cosens for his work in the Canadian film Flower and Garnet, which debuted in the 2002 International Film Festival in Toronto. His work is important to me because of his style portrayed in the film, and the melancholic backgrounds which help illustrate the solemn story that is being revealed in the film.


PHILOSOPHICAL INFLUENCES

My more recent philosophical influences include Kant, Hegel, Plato and Kandinsky. Kant writes of a separation between beauty and the sublime into discrete segments. And though he does express how they are different, he is also sure to mention how the one helps the other to evolve. He describes the differences between both quite well, "The sublime moves, the beautiful charms.... Sublime is sometimes accompanied with a certain dread, or melancholy; in some cases merely with quiet wonder... The lively sensation of the beautiful proclaims itself through shining cheerfulness."
According to "From Hegel to Semiotics: Art and Crisis" in Philosophies of Art and Beauty, the work of Hegel explored idealism, spiritual contents and how the two elements can intertwine in art. His work has helped me because he makes connections to art, truth, and beauty. Art and religion are said to be indispensable to each other. I find his position to be more spiritually based, and centered on how spirituality actually manifests in art. This has helped me for this project and for the future, because now I am conscious of how other people may be relating my work, and I want to make sure that I am communicating as clearly as possible my feelings and thoughts through visual art.

From my personal experience of reading Plato's theory of forms, he makes important connections between art and the divine. There are some points that he makes that I do not agree with, but there are some interesting connections that have helped me gain a broader understanding of art in the genre of spirituality and divinity. As for Kandinsky, though he is not a philosopher, I do still regard his written work to be a worthy influence for my understanding of the art and spirituality. He writes about the role of the artist, and how spirituality is a main element in art, "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist." This point of view is Christian-based, and is thus philosophically useful to me, as well as being practically inspiring for me to always make sure that I likewise apply the sublime to my work.


CONCLUSION

Through my personal excursion to develop an understanding of the sublime, I have created a body of work that holds those efforts through the visual photograph. My hopes are that these images will bring the viewer to a place where they can enjoy the images for the sublime aspects that they hold.


Examples of artistic influences:

Karl Blossfeld Botanical Study - Verbena canadensi, Male Fern, Sea Holly, Yarrow, Monkshood

Cinematographer Steve Cosens for his work in the Canadian film Flower and Garnet, which debuted in the 2002 International Film Festival in Toronto.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blossfeldt, Karl. Karl Blossfeldt: Fotografie. (Germany: Cantz Verlag, 1994).

Brand, Hilary and Adrienne Chaplin. Art & Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2001).

Bredin, Hugh and Liberato Santoro-Brienza. Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Introducing Aesthetics. (Edinburgh University Press, 2000).

Burke, Edmund. "A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful", (1757), Aesthetics: The Big Questions, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer, (Blackwell Publishers, 1988).

Hickey, Dave. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. (Art issues/The Foundation for Advanced Critical Studies, 1993).

Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Trans. M.T.H. Sadler. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1977).

Kant, Immanuel. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, Parts 1 & 2. trans. John T. Goldthwait. (University of California Press, 1960).

Longinus, "on the Sublime", from Aristotle/Horace/Longinus, Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. T. S. Dorsch. (Penguin Books, 1965).

Maplethorpe, Robert. Robert Maplethorpe. Ed. Dimitri Levas. (Tokyo: Parco co., 1987).

Plato. The Essential Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1999).

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973).

© Maegan Guérette for P(r)o(ph)etic Productions, 2003.