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Can We Learn from Pictures?

Can We Learn from Pictures?

Author(s): Ben Baruch Blich
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  • ISBN: (Ebook)  1-934502-07-3 USD $40.00
  • ISBN: ( Print)  1-934502-07-3 USD $70.00
Author Information

        The book is a collection of papers I have published in several academic journals since the late eighties of the 20th century. Most of them have to do with the problem of pictorial representation as part and parcel of my intention to extend an approach to the study of visual culture based on the philosophy advocated by Nelson Goodman and his followers. In a nutshell, Goodman has maintained that visual objects of all sorts, such as paintings, photographs, comics, as well as objects of design and architecture, share the trait of aboutness, i.e.: they refer and denote objects in the real world symbolizing ideas and ideologies as in the case of Design and Architecture. Objects of representation do not stand on their own; they signify and retrieve information and as such they function much the same as archeological objects for ancient cultures in the history of mankind. Being a vehicle of information, practically means that they bring to the open
        Can We Learn from Pictures concealed and undercurrent motivations prompted by the agents who have created them. Take for instance the question I raise in the chapter 6 dealing with Nazi photographers who took unauthorized quick snaps of the Jews in the concentration camps, or comics depicting the Holocaust in chapter 8 both refer to historical facts, and yet their concealed undercurrent motivations reveal another story; a story of revenge as in the case of the Nazi photographers, and fear as in the case of comics. The same goes with depictions which use the body as their central theme (chapters 7, 9). The body for centuries was considered the most beautiful object glorified by poets, painters, sculpture, photographers and architects. Why all of a sudden in the late 19th century the picture has been changed which brought to the open a new approach rendering the body as twisted, ugly and deformed. Was it because artists suddenly paid attention to the deprived side of our reality, or  as suggested by me  art has stepped down from its high elated position, incorporating the popular low art as a legitimate part of its expression.
      The book opens with two papers discussing Goodman"s assertion according to which realism is a matter of habit, and not as a matter of similarity. By incorporating Wittgenstein"s family resemblance, I set an alternative to Goodman"s straightforward dictum. Chapter 3 points at the differences between two methods of displaying art practically used by An Introduction museums, galleries and even us in our private homes. Since art objects are always about something, be it an object or a scenery in reality, or about an idea, it is vital to discuss their nature as objects of reference. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the merit of art objects as vehicles of denotation, and their power of teaching us to see and enhance the world we live in.Pictures are an enigma. They are considered the most common and most readily perceived means of communication, but as soon as we try to explain the reality they stand for, it becomes clear that unusual perceptual processes are involved. This polarity between the immediate automatic apprehension of the content represented by pictures, and the difficulty in explicating it, stems from the fact that pictorial representation is an extremely strange creature. The collection of papers presented here are an attempt to unveil this enigma.
       I want to thank my colleagues and students for encouraging me to publish this collection, to Bezalel  academy of art and design for sponsoring and supporting this book, to my wife  Sara  for her love and patience, and dedicate the book to the memory of my mother  Mina  who taught me how to look at pictures.
                                                                              Ben Baruch Blich
                                                                              History and Theory
                                                                              Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem

    Ben Baruch Blich, b. New York, USA. (ph.d. thesis: Pictorial representation and its cognitive status), at present a senior lecturer in Bezalel –Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem.  His interests and publications are in the fields of Visual Culture in the history of Western civilization: visual representation, culture and information, art, photography, media studies, animation, comics, and the cinema. In 1989  a visiting scholar to the Warburg Institute in London University working with Prof. Roger Scruton and Sir E. Gombrich. In 2002 a guest Professor to the Hisk (Hoger Institute voor Schone Kunsten) in Antwerp. His papers were presented in various journals and conferences. Last publications "The body as Mirror", in: Territorial bodies, Waanders Uitgevers, Den Haag, and     "Body representation in Photography" in The weight of Photography, Free University in Brussels. At present he writes 3 books on photography:  'Photography in conflict: representing political upheavals'; 'Bodies represented by the Camera'; 'Amateur photographers during World war 2". Blich is an editor of the e-journal 'History and Theory: Protocols', issued by the History and Theory Dept. in Bezalel. 

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