Snap Judgments

by Visionary Joe

In which Joe mourns the death of Meaninglessness, perhaps, though it wasn’t killed by critics.

Meaninglessness is dead. Photography missed the obituary, but luckily it’s the servant at the wake.
All the principal Meanings will be there, dressed so fine. The Fine Arts attend, one painted up, another with a finely chiseled face, the theatrical, the poetic, each one on the arm of a European consortium. Symphonic music again pretends to be genius. No-one cares to speak to felonious Jazz.
A few inscrutable Gods stay away, and Christ doesn’t come until late. Prophets, for once, are scarce. Formulas gather in knots, speak in cabbalistic conversions, the Big Bang Theory tries to snake the Uniform Field. Communism holds sway in a corner, and opposite there is a ruckus when someone calls Democracy a nasty name. “Our friends don’t call us Capitalist,” Democracy says, “because that implies that we’re exploitive.” Democracy has the urge to slug someone, but uncharacteristically, walks out instead, trailed by attendants.
Photography offers Bloody Maries to all of the Meanings, save the Gods. Child-Bearing won’t drink, Child-Raising takes a nip, and the celibate Betrayed-by-Children asks for something strong. Shoe-heel lenses account for the clicking at the approach of our servant-paparazzo. Ephemeral spirits will fade from the negatives before furtive Photography finds time to print. Photography also tries to charm the frailer, more susceptible Meanings (Design-in-Shadows, Beauty-in-Flowers, Architectural Form) with mezzotints from its pockets, but the Meanings seem unattractive once seduced.
Meaninglessness died a slow death, from an ironic syphilis that could have been cured by the proper antidote, maybe Skepticism, but I doubt it. It is dead, and all the Meanings are laughing in the hallway, each assured it has the pending power struggle in control. It was really Art that caused the first infection, and much later aggravated the symptoms. Jackson Pollock, until Meaningless expired in a cough of paint. Thousands of signed Picasso sketches couldn’t encourage its recovery. Julian Schnabel announced he would stab its dead body, stabbed it, and is stabbing still.
When the will is read, the murderers will get nothing. (They have substantial trusts, and would hardly notice additional Meaningless wealth.) Not that the various Meanings won’t be jealous when a substantial education fund is formed for Photography. The assembled Meanings will try to shout it down. But Meaninglessness was wise in this gift, charitable. Meaninglessness will be remembered for its grace. It stuck by the underprivileged, always. During its long and sociable life, it never forced its views on anyone. Well, maybe upon a suicide now and then, when doing the town with Vanity, combining their persuasive skills. Photography will be granted a stipend for a long stay at an eastern college, and a Meaningless chair will be endowed. Meaninglessness History will be explained by the revisionist Gabriel of Vietnam, Sly Stallone, or by Donald Reagan and Edwin Meese, whelping fresh truth from contrary sources.
But you suggest that Meaninglessness is maybe not dead. “We still have clothing fashions. The Houston Post runs identical news items day after day. And what about Los Angeles?” But the Totality of Meaninglessness still hasn’t hit its stride! CONSIDER WHAT GAINS WE’VE MADE.
Nations solidify behind single religions. The U.S. and its Europeans allies (Angleterra), the Soviets and all their evil totalitarian bloc, are all united in Christian-style moral authority, a taste for imperial architecture, and Nineteenth Century rationalist thought. The Islamic nations, and the tiny plastic explosive nation of the Jews, divine that the Meanings shall be crowded off the shelves some day, by irrefutable logic with familiar logos, delivered not by Coca-cola but by MIRVs.
“Enough,” you say, “Please make your meaning clear. Photography doesn’t need remedial education. What will Photography get from this, now that Meaninglessness has croaked?” Photography has no orphans to see to, as Literature does, after so much promiscuity with Meaninglessness in Paris. Likewise Photography hasn’t torn the smocks of scrappy Painting and Garbage Sculpture, misanthropic brother of Brancusi’s muse. Photography will not be reduced like those other Arts, to rendering portraits of their final, faithful inspiration, pleasant Profit, pimpled and plump.
Photographers will ride the upswing because THEY NEVER ABANDONED MEANING. They never knew meaninglessness at all. They are instead the people of substance, the people involved with material facts. This comes from having darkrooms, lugging lights, and watching chemical changes. Photographers believe in matter, and then in something more, in essence. It would give their photos value if it showed upon their prints.
We do know certain photographers, however, who unwittingly became Meaninglessness’s acquaintances, just before its death. I don’t mean the snap-shottist’s, just because no-one is interested in photos of Sis’s Camaro. The nearest photographers to Meaninglessness are those who seek the Meanings most, Aaron Siskind is an obvious candidate. Harry Callahan, too. Minor White, with his life’s mission of making the soul look silly, was ever a contender. Capa gravitated to danger’s meaning and then was dispersed. Man Ray and Warhol merely suggested the meaninglessness of Art. They get credit for its demotion to a diversion no more crucial than by-pass surgery. All these master forgers, and Shirley Lecine, Martha Rossler, Richard Prince, all these coined additional sense. Their contributions are the two-dimensional meanings of their names.
Decent-minded photographers, you who are serious and exhibit in galleries and affirm the visual world, I am always at your openings! AND MEANINGS COME TO YOUR OPENINGS TOO! Shiny Aspirations, Desires for Influence, Hopes that One Will See One’s Ripple Effect, the things that exhibiting photographers live for, THESE COME TO YOUR OPENINGS. I personally am always watching to see if a photographic exhibition has the slightest effect, aside from stirring the vehement rejection of the work, by one’s closest friends. Those Meanings never abandon you however, they remain true. Meaninglessness bid them to stay with you, Photographers, and recommend you to fame.