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[Xmca-l] Re: discussing "Posing the question"

Well, first of all, I hasten to emphasize that the book is in Korean. I
really just wanted people to look at the cover, rather the way that a
museum curator wants the visitors to look at paintings. The cover, to me,
expresses the key problem.

It's this. When we confront children with works of art, they are faced with
cultural artefacts that are saturated in history, replete with cultural
experience and super-productive in terms of their actual and above all
their potential meaning. In order to develop the child's own imagination,
the child must somehow master these means of creativity. How can that
happen without the superproductivity of the cultural artefact drowning out
the relatively short memory, the relatively poor experience, and the
relatively concrete imagination of the child?

Let me put it another way. We know that the chld masters a cultural
artefact such as speech is by "internalizing" word meanings. But we
sometimes imagine this process as a magical one, a little like swallowing a
pill. The child digests the sugar-coating of the phonology and somehow
assimilates the history, cultural experience, and meaning potential which
is somehow "embedded" in the word. When we actually study the process of
internalizing a word meaning as it occurs (say, in classroom discourse), we
find that the process is not at all like digestion; it is much more like
what the kids are doing in your museum data. The real task is not to
"assimilate" history, cultural experience and meaning potential but rather
to reimagine and even imaginatively recreate them. The child cannot really
do this: history is too long and life is too short; words are too
productive and child memories too restricted; the grammatical system itself
can say far more than any of us can ever hope to mean. And very often, when
children seek nonverbal means for expression (e.g. posing, or even
painting) it is an act of alienation, isolation, and despair. For example,
many of the pictures I have seen on Flickr of people posing with great
works of art are clearly parodistic rather than genuinely understanding,
and the child sometimes seems to be parodying him or herself rather than
the painting.

The distinction I see between depiction and mimesis is slightly different
from yours. Imagine I want to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I
can "become" the wolf, by making my hands like claws, and of course this is
a mimetic gesture; I am placing myself INSIDE the story as the wolf. I am
ready to address Little Red Riding Hood in all my lupine splendour.
Alternatively, I can depict the wolf by using one hand as a shadow puppet,
with my thumb as the wolf's ear, and a jaunty pinkie finger as the wolf's
gaping jaw. When I do this, I am placing myself at arm's length from the
wolf, and my position is not that of a character but that of a
story-teller. So I think that depictive gestures are NARRATIVISTIC rather
than dialogic, and mimetic ones are DIALOGIC rather than narrativistic.

In your article, you point out that the process of understanding a work of
art is not the simple "going out and coming back" from the one's own
viewpoint to that of the artwork that Bakhtin assumes in "Art and
Answerability". Instead, there are many moments: pose, comparison, focus,
and adjustment. But you also point out that all of these moments have
something in common. They all involve turning the position of the viewer
and the viewed around--the self-directed becomes other-directed and vice
versa. In verbal art, the way this happens is that the narrative becomes
dialogue (e.g. in Shakespeare, repartee becomes soliloquy). But in visual
art the viewpoints are more akin to depiction and mimesis.

One more question. Bakhtin claims that ALL self-portraits look astonished,
because the artist is surprised at the difference between just looking in a
mirror and actually trying to overcome the "surplus of seeing", the
intrinsic inability of every artist to get to the parts of the self that
are actually visible to everybody else on a daily basis. One obvious way
this happens is when the artist tries to overcome the left-right problem
and portray his or herself as others actually see him or her rather than
the way that she or he appears in a mirror. This must have occurred to
Munch when he tried to show himself holding a cigarette in his right hand,
and it kept appearing in his left. Is there any suggestion of this
astonishment anywhere in the data?

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 27 May 2014 22:14, Rolf Steier <rolf.steier@intermedia.uio.no> wrote:

> Hello David,
> Thank you for your comments and for sharing your book as well.
> You noted that you found the idea of young people posing for Flickr a
> little depressing - and I can certainly understand this. Not to add to this
> depression, but remember that few young people even visit museums at all
> outside of school visits! I don’t think that ‘flickr’ was a particularly
> large motivator in the end. The most surprising finding that led to this
> study was that visitors “pose” naturally. Many many people when approaching
> Munch’s “The Scream” would bring their hands to their faces to “scream” as
> a part of normal museum practice. I think the exciting thing is building
> off of this natural tendency to create richer engagements and conversations
> with and about the art- Not to replace interactions with the works with
> photo taking activities. Although it is also interesting to see what
> expectations youth bring to these experiences.
> You also provided a few questions that I wanted to follow up on. You
> mention a distinction between “mimesis” and “depiction” that I think is
> really interesting. I actually spent a great deal of time debating the
> appropriate concept to use to describe these activities and I think both
> are appropriate and share subtle distinctions. I agree that ‘mimesis’
> implies a dialogic relationship between the participant and the artwork -
> but I would also argue that ‘depiction’ better captures the dialogic
> relationship between the participants. I used the concept of depiction to
> be consistent with Streeck’s framework.
> You also mention that assuming gestures are either iconic or deictic
> suggests that artwork does not have ideal content? Maybe you can elaborate
> on what you mean by ideal content? I hope that I didn’t give the impression
> that I feel visitor gestures are limited to these types (A goal of this
> article was to introduce posing as a unique gestural activity).
> Thank you!
> On Tue, May 27, 2014 at 12:18 AM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com
> >wrote:
> > I think I'd like to try to tie the discussion of Rolf Steier's intriguing
> > article to a book we published in January here in Korea, a book which is
> > also related to the discussion of Vygotsky, the Imagination, and
> > Creativity.
> >
> >  Since we are discussing posing and artworks, let me provide the cover of
> > our book, a painting by the Russian children's portraitist Nikolai
> > Bogdanov-Belsky.
> >
> > http://www.aladin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ISBN=8994445536
> >
> > The book contains three very different works by Vygotsky on creativity
> and
> > imagination, which we translated into Korean: his "popular science"
> account
> > ("Imagination and Creativity in the Child", which was published in JREEP
> in
> > 2004), "Imagination and Creativity in Adolescence", which was published
> in
> > "Pedology of the Adolescent" and which can be found in the Vygotsky
> Reader
> > (Blackwell, 1994) and "Imagination and its Development in Childhood",
> part
> > of which appears in Volume One of the English Collected Works.
> >
> > But the cover painting really says it all in gesture: Vygotsky asks--and
> > answers--the question of why one form of creativity after another is
> > exhausted, when the child's imagination is still developing vigorously.
> The
> > child poses. Then, at a certain point, the child becomes disillusioned
> with
> > mere posing and becomes interested in drawing. The child draws. Then, at
> a
> > certain point (usually right when the child appears to be making real
> > progress), the child becomes disillusioned with drawing and takes up
> > writing. The child writes. Then, at a certain point (usually, as captured
> > by Bogdanov-Belsky, right when the child begins to learn how to write
> > compositions in school) the child becomes disillusioned. The now
> powerless
> > and disillusioned daydream, which we extravagantly call "imagination", is
> > all that is left.
> >
> > I liked the article. I loved the idea that recreating a painting as a
> > "tableau vivant" includes both an external plane (dialogue) and and
> > internal one (narrative). I thought the ability of the author to recover
> a
> > kind of underlying structure of pose, comparison, focus, and adjustment
> > from the careful analysis of two incidents was actually very convincing
> and
> > shows the power of a theoretically informed analysis over a statistically
> > equipped but merely empirical one. I also find this underlying structure
> > far more helpful than the usual vague talk about extra-corporeal artistic
> > experience and reflection that we get, even in the work of Bakhtin.
> >
> > But I confess, I found the idea that children spend their days in museums
> > recreating paintings with their bodies for a Flickr account a little
> > depressing. I wonder if there is any evidence that the evident
> > understanding that emerges leads to any actual creativity or even any
> > posing outside the museum. Perhaps, if it doesn't, that is a good thing:
> > Munch, in addition to being a smoker, was a notorious depressive.
> >
> > Some specific questions:
> >
> > a) On p. 149, the author says that "meaning is embedded in the word".
> > Doesn't this imply a conduit metaphor? Isn't it more likely--on the basis
> > of the author's own argument--that the way in which words carry cultural
> > meaning is by forcing the hearer to re-enact the meaning making itself?
> >
> > b) On p. 151, the author appears to confuse the concept of metaphor with
> > Lakoff and Johnson's "conceptual metaphor". Also, I can't see how
> children
> > can develop concepts from metaphors, because it seems to me that in order
> > to have a metaphor you need a concept first.
> >
> > c) On p. 152: if we assume that visitor gestures are either iconic or
> > deictic, doesn't that suggest that artwork has no ideal content at all?
> >
> > d) On p. 152, the bottom: isn't "depiction" more of a NARRATIVE stance,
> > while mimesis is a more DIALOGIC one because it places us inside the
> > artwork? Just a thought.
> >
> > I remember taking part in an art exhibition in my wife's hometown of
> Xi'an
> > in China twenty years ago where we left a huge canvas by the exit and
> > invited all the viewers to try to paint something. It was at a big
> > university and some of engineering students tried gamely, until the art
> > students came along and painted everything black. Interestingly, though,
> > neither the engineering students nor the art students tried to reproduce
> > any of the artworks--they were more interested in looking out the window
> > than in looking back at the exhibition.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> >
> >
> >
> > On 23 May 2014 01:09, Vadeboncoeur, Jennifer <j.vadeboncoeur@ubc.ca>
> > wrote:
> >
> > > Dear XMCA,
> > >
> > > Rolf Steier is now on XMCA, and his article "Posing the question" is
> open
> > > on the T and F website:
> > >
> > > http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/.U3zs4Sjsq24
> > >
> > > Just click on the green button to the right side of the article.
> > >
> > > There is loads to talk about, and one question that comes to mind is in
> > > relation to the museum installation as a design experiment. In what
> sense
> > > is it a design experiment? What does it make visible? How is learning
> > > shaped by access to this experience in a museum?
> > >
> > > More questions?
> > >
> > > Best - jen
> > >
> >