Nobuyoshi ArakiErotos (1993)

If there were a social media site that used Facebook-esque relationship statuses to track opinions regard an array of notable artists, my entry for Araki would be: It’s Complicated.

I appreciate his life-long commitment in documenting the erotic and/or transgressive aspects of human experience. But by the same token his prolific output–and let’s be honest, prolific isn’t even close to a strong enough word, something closer to ‘profuse’ is more apropos–is off-putting; the feeling it instills is one of throw everything at the wall and let’s see what stick instead of any coherent, contemplative, and disciplined editing.

The above photograph is causing me to rethink some things. For example: I’m not sure it changes anything about how I feel w/r/t what I interpret as lackadaisical editing. However, it’s probably intellectually dishonest to use that as a justification to disqualify everything the man has ever made. And in fairness, while I do find much of his work to be redundant and under-edited, Araki has produced six or eight images that are indelibly imprinted upon my visual imagination.

All that reminds me of one of the best pieces on understanding art that I’ve ever encountered in which Maria Popova unpacks Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects essay.

Winterson, finds herself in Amsterdam, describes the experience thusly:

I had fallen in love and I had no language. I was
dog-dumb. The usual response of “This painting has nothing to say to me”
had become “I have nothing to say to this painting.” And I desperately
wanted to speak. Long looking at paintings is equivalent to being
dropped into a foreign city, where gradually, out of desire and despair,
a few key words, then a little syntax make a clearing in the silence.
Art, all art, not just painting, is a foreign city, and we deceive
ourselves when we think it familiar. No-one is surprised to find that a
foreign city follows its own customs and speaks its own language. Only a
boor would ignore both and blame his defaulting on the place. Every day
this happens to the artist and the art.

We have to recognize that the language of art, all art, is not our mother-tongue.

This attitude is presented as a prophylaxis for the I just don’t get it mode of art criticism.

It’s as stellar a metaphor as it is nuanced and astute. Yes, it’s great to know what you like and to be able to explain why you like it–I’d venture that it’s integral to any creative practice.

But part of seeing is resisting the tendency to avoid engagement with what you are seeing. And viewing something through the filter of past experience, of trenchant opinions, is a mistake.

One should never cease to questions assumptions, values and opinions–because to stop might mean pulling up short of the one question that toppled the entire house of cards.

This photo has made me realize that I’m likely very wrong about Araki. And as much as we strive to always be in the know and adept at negotiating understanding, taste and opinions–it really is incredible to be presented with the opportunity to correct a long, unconsciously repeated mistake.

So here’s to being wrong. Learning and growing.

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