Camera-phone Lucida

UnnamedJacob Mikanowski at The Point:

Forty years ago, the great art historian Michael Baxandall introduced the idea of the period eye. Renaissance viewers, for instance, brought a world of experience to bear on paintings. They were used to estimating, assessing and appraising. They shared a visual language, in which meaning was expressed through color harmonies, costly fabrics and metaphorical meanings. When they looked at a painting of the Annunciation, they priced out the cloth on the Virgin’s table, guessed the number of hogsheads of grain that would fit in a baptismal font and recognized the allusion to the Neoplatonic doctrine of forms concealed in the stained glass of the apse. Few among us now measure the world in casks of wine or yards of taffeta. But the broader point stands: vision is not neutral but shaped by our historical moment.

Today, we look at Instagram feeds with the same level of scrutiny as the Renaissance merchants who converted their Madonnas into ducats. Only the criteria of judgment have changed. Does the user obey the unwritten laws of adult Instagram, posting less than once a day, avoiding too many shots of their face, going easy on the hashtags? (Teen Instagram rules are different, if even more stringent). How are their vacations? Do they inspire envy in a way that’s beguiling, or merely crass? Are they eating in the right places? Instagram can seem like an index of mores in the age of self-branding and self-surveillance. But even as we look and like, we often fail to see to what extent our present image-world is rooted in the past. Instagram hasn’t yet introduced much that’s new to art, or even to vision.

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