“articulate speechlessness”

Defining what art is, or rather, what constitutes art (capital A), is an interesting challenge.

I took photography during my time at Columbia’s School of the Arts with Tomas Roma.  (An interview with him here. )  It turned out to be an extremely influential class, an experience I think back on a lot.

Tom was teaching us less about photography per se and more about how to attempt to make art.  He was trying to break it down, intellectually, but mostly by showing us what didn’t work with our own photos.  I was in the writing program, but this was one of the best classes I took.

He gave us this definition:  “Art reminds you of something worth remembering”–which I find to be true.

A few days ago, while reading one of the random issues of The New Yorker piled up next to my bed, I was introduced to the artist, Paul Chan.  I am quoting Calvin Tomkins:

“Certain works of art resist our attempts to interpret or explain them, Chan believes, and that resistance–what he calls their ‘articulate speechlessness’–is what gives them enduring power.”

My second solid definition for,  what is art?  Or maybe, how does art make you feel?  I love it!  And don’t get me started about how crazy I am for the current title of Chan’s new exhibit, The 7 Lights.

I probably took about a hundred photos in Tom’s class, all of which were critiqued.  Ninety-nine of them were worthless but one, Tom said, was almost perfect.  Tom could tell that I had just quickly turned around and snapped it, not taking time to make sure the framing was right (a few inches off, he said).  I had stepped into an off-track betting storefront in NYC, and I knew they didn’t want me taking photos in there.  The man in the center of the photo has an expression on his face that’s only vaguely hopefully and mostly disillusioned, as you might expect.  A man in the forefront is grimacing and another man off to the side reads with frown.

This little photo is not great art, but it does remind you of something worth rememebering, something you can feel somewhere in yourself but can’t quite express, hey, it’s 1 in 100.


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