22 May 2006

Four kinds of Memory/Art

For those of you who would like some clarification on my last post, I’ve made an attempt here to discuss ways that memory and art overlap. The reason this is significant, is that our evolving notion of history influences our notion of art and art history. As memory gains significance in the formations of history, it will, I think, carry over into art, and contribute to our ideas about images and image making.

Memory in Art 1.
Images from memory
Drawing something from memory is a lot different than having it in your studio, or on your table, pinned to your bulletin board, or in your backyard. Memory isn’t really the best tool for recording the details of a thing, a vista, or an event, but all the same, there are a lot of realistic-looking, though probably imperfect images out there that were painted from memory.

Memory in Art 2.
Images of memory
Here’s where it gets a bit strange. Before I wrote that memory is its own medium quite apart from any other medium (language, art, etc.). Memory can include smells, sensations, moods, and each of these can be hard to put into a hunk of marble or communicate through oils on canvas. Dali’s Persistence of Memory is a great example, and so is I see again in Memory my Dear Udnie by Francis Picabia, 1913 (pictured at left). Dali and Picabia’s abstracted, fanciful images assert the very great difference between how it feels to experience memory and how it feels to look at images. I imagine that Picabia was trying to express what his memory of Dear Udnie felt like. I think he hoped that his composition would communicate that better than something more literal. Images of memory tend to embrace abstractions, ambiguities, and expressiveness that other forms of modernism rejected as simply too personal, too self-ingratiating, too much like subject matter.

Memory in Art 3.
Image as memory—memorial
Religion and Government have given the world a lot of memorial images. Think of the huge epic paintings of the French Revolution, copious images of Chairman Mao, the gigantic Lincoln memorial, all the Buddhas I’ve ever seen, and the scores of European museums filled with innumerable Christian images. These straddle the categories of art and memorial, made to do both. Of course, some images are made as one and do the other too.

Memory in Art 4.
Image as material memory, remnant of the past.
We use art like this all the time, as a window into bygone centuries or decades. We look for clues as to what people thought, what was taboo, what was shocking, what was desirable. Art preserves and conceals these things all at once, and the task of sorting out what the artist meant and what we only think s/he meant will likely continue to keep art historians busy for years to come.


Anonymous said...

I will definitely need to be awake to understand this one. I will try again at the end of the day and if the energy stores are still intact then maybe. Grandpa Dan

katperkins said...

Well I think I understood it. It's very interesting to think about. I used to date this guy who loved Dali and was very influenced by him. He drew pretty much everything from memory and would end up with these massive collaged images. They looked like a "Where's Waldo" of his brain or something. They were pretty cool. I, on the other hand, have to be looking at something.

Anonymous said...

Have you read anything on how photography, painting, sculpture, etc compare in the concept of memory. Grandpa Dan

Mary Ann said...

I've read quite a bit (as much as I could get my expatriate hands on) about how memory and art overlap. Most of the memory art that I find particularly interesting (meaning relevant) is photography, which is culturally and artistically ideal for communicating the broad range of what memory is used to do and mean.