After yesterday's irascibly disputatious screed, I was reminded of my What is a Photograph? body of work which I never completely worked through to a satisfactory conculsion.
There was a considerable period of time-measured in years-during which that question was much on my mind. I read anything and almost everything I could get my eyes on, searching for clues and/or answers to that query. Much of what I read was academic mind-numbing eye-glazing flapdoodle and green paint, very little of which seemed to have been written by people who were experienced in the actual practice of making pictures.
One book I was able to slog through was Susan Sontag's ON PHOTOGRAPHY. Not an easy read by any stretch but somewhat worth the effort. However, I subsequently read her essay, Against Interpretation (you can read it online HERE), which kinda put all matters to rest. If I had read this essay first, I would not have needed to read her book.
To engage in a bit-actually, quite a bit-of reductionvism, Sontag's idea was to simply-but, of course, it's not this simple-to look at art, feel it (the sensory experience of the work) and don't think about it. Don't try to interpret it-using your mind to find its meaning (content), aka: an exercise in hermeneutics-the theory and methodology of interpreatation.
Or, in her words:
"Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art ... In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art."
It was Sontag's belief-and mine long before I read her essay-that "To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world—in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings."
However, if you think of it in a right brain / left brain kinda manner ... the right brain is more visual and intuitive-imagination, holistic thinking, intuition, arts, rhythm, nonverbal cues, feelings, visualization, daydreaming, whereas the left brain is more verbal, analytical and orderly-logic, sequencing, linear thinking, mathematics, facts, thinking in words, there very well could be a genetic disposition, re: how an individual looks at art.
Without question, viewing art excites / pricks the right side of my brain. I have no doubt there are those whose left side gets all the kicks. And that, I believe, explains why I never got a good answer to my what is a photograph? question ... most of the books / essays and the like I read were written by left-siders. Whereas, Sontag, in her essay Against Interpretation, was most decidedly a right-sider.
Fortunately, thanks to Sontag, I no longer think about what is photography? Rather, I am quite content to just look at pictures and not give a thought to what they might mean.