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Jean-Luc Godard's Critical Appropriation of Graphic Design

"The films of Jean–Luc Godard have been written about perhaps more than any other cinematic works, often through the lens of cultural theory, but not nearly enough attention has been paid to the role of designed objects in his films. Collages of art, literature, language, objects, and words, Godard's films have an instant, impactful, graphic quality, but are far from simple pop artifacts. The thesis this presentation derives from, 'Objects to be Read, Words to be Seen: Design and Visual Language in the Films of Jean–Luc Godard 1959–1967,' explores and interprets the role of visual language within the films–title sequences, intertitles, handwritten utterances, and printed matter in the form of newspapers, magazines, and posters.

By examining le graphisme within the cultural context of Paris during the 1960s, this thesis seeks to amplify the significance of graphic design in Godard's first fifteen films, beginning with 1960's À Bout de Souffle (Breathless) and ending with 1967's Weekend. While Godard was not a practicing graphic designer in the traditional sense, he was an amateur de design, an autodidact whose obsession with designed objects, graphic language and print media resulted in the most iconic body of work in 1960s France."

(Laura Forde, 30 April 2010)





1960s • A Bout de Souffle (1959) • amateur de design • appropriation • autodidact • Breathless (1959) • cinematic visual language • cinematic works • critical appropriationcultural context • cultural theory • design and visual language • design sense • designed objects • designed thingsend titlesFrancegraphic design • graphic language • graphic quality • hand lettering • handwritten utterances • iconic body of work • intertitlesJean-Luc Godard • Laura Forde • le graphisme • magazinesnewspapersParisPierrot le Fou (1965)postersprint media • printed matter • title sequencetitle stillsTwo Or Three Things I Know About Hertypographyvideo lecturevisual languagevisual sensibilityWeekend


Simon Perkins

How to deal with the demands of the rapidly evolving new technology and yet further the aesthetics of our filmic art?

"With digital capture and even digital intermediates, it becomes very easy to think of the image in the simplest of terms: contrast, saturation and color bias. But I think too often we forget about texture and sharpness. Film has organic grain texture that simply doesn't exist in digital cinematography. I'm not a film 'purist' but I think it's safe to say that with the advent of radical advances in digital cinema technology there has been a certain homogenization of the cinematographic image in regard to look and texture. It is common to shoot for an evenly distributed rich digital negative (protect the highlights, see into the shadows) with plenty of sharpness to endure the color correction suite and create the look in post. Everybody shoots the sensor the same way.

Painting is a great influence on me. Whenever I can I go to museums and look at the classics, the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Georges de la Tour. Looking at these old paintings can be inspiring. These are the basics for cameramen because we can learn lighting from them. We can study the classic paintings and try to use that technique of lighting in our photography. I have lots of picture books at home–photography books and art books. When we did McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I showed a book of Andrew Wyeth's paintings to Bob Altman and said, 'What do you think of these faded, soft, pastel images?' And he liked it. Then I took the same book to the lab and explained to them that this was what we were aiming for. They understood right away why we were flashing the film. So it helps; a picture is worth ten thousand words. A picture can immediately tell you your feelings about something.

With digital capture, we have been given a completely different set of tools, trading physical lab processes for computer–driven non–destructive techniques, creating possibilities for the image to be pushed any way we wish in post. In a time when film is disappearing fast and digital is making progress in image quality improvement, it has become important for cinematographers to master these new tools."

(Vilmos Zsigmond ASC HSC, IMAGO European Federation of Cinematographers)


aesthetics • American Society of Cinematgraphers (ASC) • Andrew Wyeth • ARRI Alexas • art of colour • available lightcamera technologycinematographycolour • colour bias • colour correctioncolour saturation • colourist • computer-driven techniques • digital capturedigital cinema technologydigital cinematography • digital intermediates • digital negativedigital picturesdigital progressdigital technology • European Federation of Cinematographers • faded images • film grain • film grain texture • film lighting • filmic art • filmmaking • Georges de La Tour • GoProimage contrast • image highlights • image manipulation • image quality • image shadows • image sharpness • image tone • IMAGO European Federation of Cinematographers • iPhone cinematographyKodak Eastman • lab process • light exposure • look and texture • low lightmaking process • McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) • mobile video productionnew technology • non-destructive techniques • organic grain texture • painting with light • pastel colours • post-productionpre-productionrapid technological changeRED ONERembrandt van Rijn • retraining • Robert Altman • soft image quality • Sony camerataste (sociology) • taste cultivation • taste formations • Vilmos Zsigmond • visual compositionvisual representation • visual richness • visual sensibilityvisual storytelling • visual texture


Simon Perkins
28 DECEMBER 2010

Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty

"Delighted to be here and to talk to you about a subject dear to my heart, which is beauty. I do the philosophy of art, aesthetics, actually, for a living. I try to figure out intellectually, philosophically, psychologically, what the experience of beauty is, what sensibly can be said about it and how people go off the rails in trying to understand it. Now this is an extremely complicated subject, in part because the things that we call beautiful are so different. I mean just think of the sheer variety –– a baby's face, Berlioz's 'Harold in Italy', movies like 'The Wizard of Oz', or the plays of Chekhov, a central California landscape, a Hokusai view of Mt. Fuji, 'Der Rosenkavalier', a stunning match winning goal in a World Cup soccer match, Van Gogh's 'Starry Night', a Jane Austen novel, Fred Astaire dancing across the screen. This brief list includes human beings, natural landforms, works of art and skilled human actions. An account that explains the presence of beauty in everything on this list is not going to be easy.

I can, however, give you at least a taste of what I regard as the most powerful theory of beauty we yet have. And we get it, not from a philosopher of art, not from a postmodern art theorist or a bigwig art critic. No, this theory comes from an expert on barnacles and worms and pigeon breeding. And you know who I mean –– Charles Darwin. Of course, a lot of people think they already know the proper answer to the question, what is beauty? It's in the eye of the beholder. It's whatever moves you personally. Or, as some people –– especially academics –– prefer, beauty is in the culturally–conditioned eye of the beholder. People agree that paintings or movies or music are beautiful because their cultures determine a uniformity of aesthetic taste. Taste for both natural beauty and for the arts travel across cultures with great ease. Beethoven is adored in Japan. Peruvians love Japanese woodblock prints. Inca sculptures are regarded as treasures in British museums, while Shakespeare is translated into every major language of the Earth. Or just think about American jazz or American movies –– they go everywhere. There are many differences among the arts, but there are also universal, cross–cultural aesthetic pleasures and values.

How can we explain this universality? The best answer lies in trying to reconstruct a Darwinian evolutionary history of our artistic and aesthetic tastes. We need to reverse engineer our present artistic tastes and preferences and explain how they came to be engraved in our minds. By the actions of both our prehistoric, largely pleistocene environments, where we became fully human, but also by the social situations in which we evolved. This reverse engineering can also enlist help from the human record preserved in prehistory. I mean fossils, cave paintings and so forth. And it should take into account what we know of the aesthetic interests of isolated hunter–gatherer bands that survived into the 19th and the 20th centuries.

Now, I personally have no doubt whatsoever that the experience of beauty, with its emotional intensity and pleasure, belongs to our evolved human psychology. The experience of beauty is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. Beauty is an adaptive effect, which we extend and intensify in the creation and enjoyment of works of art and entertainment. As many of you will know, evolution operates by two main primary mechanisms. The first of these is natural selection –– that's random mutation and selective retention –– along with our basic anatomy and physiology –– the evolution of the pancreas or the eye or the fingernails. Natural selection also explains many basic revulsions, such as the horrid smell of rotting meat, or fears, such as the fear of snakes or standing close to the edge of a cliff. Natural selection also explains pleasures –– sexual pleasure, our liking for sweet, fat and proteins, which in turn explains a lot of popular foods, from ripe fruits through chocolate malts and barbecued ribs.

The other great principle of evolution is sexual selection, and it operates very differently. The peacock's magnificent tail is the most famous example of this. It did not evolve for natural survival. In fact, it goes against natural survival. No, the peacock's tail results from the mating choices made by peahens. It's quite a familiar story. It's women who actually push history forward. Darwin himself, by the way, had no doubts that the peacock's tail was beautiful in the eyes of the peahen. He actually used that word. Now, keeping these ideas firmly in mind, we can say that the experience of beauty is one of the ways that evolution has of arousing and sustaining interest or fascination, even obsession, in order to encourage us toward making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction. Beauty is nature's way of acting at a distance, so to speak. I mean, you can't expect to eat an adaptively beneficial landscape. It would hardly do to your baby or your lover. So evolution's trick is to make them beautiful, to have them exert a kind of magnetism to give you the pleasure of simply looking at them.

Consider briefly and important source of aesthetic pleasure, the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes. People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape, a landscape that just happens to be similar to the pleistocene savannas where we evolved. This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, in the design of golf courses and public parks and in in gold–framed pictures that hang in living rooms from New York to New Zealand. It's a kind of Hudson River school landscape featuring open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees. The trees, by the way, are often preferred if they fork near the ground, that is to say, if they're trees you could scramble up if you were in a tight fix. The landscape shows the presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water in a bluish distance, indications of animal or bird life as well as diverse greenery and finally –– get this –– a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance, almost inviting you to follow it. This landscape type is regarded as beautiful, even by people in countries that don't have it. The ideal savanna landscape is one of the clearest examples where human beings everywhere find beauty in similar visual experience.

But, someone might argue, that's natural beauty. How about artistic beauty? Isn't that exhaustively cultural? No, I don't think it is. And once again, I'd like to look back to prehistory to say something about it. It is widely assumed that the earliest human artworks are the stupendously skillful cave paintings that we all know from Lascaux and Chauvet. Chauvet caves are about 32,000 years old, along with a few small, realistic sculptures of women and animals from the same period. But artistic and decorative skills are actually much older than that. beautiful shell necklaces that look like something you'd see at an arts and crafts fair, as well as ochre body paint, have been found from around 100,000 years ago.

But the most intriguing prehistoric artifacts are older even than this. I have in mind the so–called Acheulian hand axes. The oldest stone tools are choppers from the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa. They go back about two and a half million years. These crude tools were around for thousands of centuries, until around 1.4 million years ago when Homo erectus started shaping single, thin stone blades, sometimes rounded ovals, but often in, what are to our eyes, an arresting, symmetrical pointed leaf or teardrop form. These Acheulian hand axes –– they're named after St. Acheul in France, where finds were made in 19th century –– have been unearthed in their thousands, scattered across Asia, Europe and Africa, almost everywhere Homo erectus and Homo ergaster roamed. Now, the sheer numbers of these hand axes shows that they can't have been made for butchering animals. And the plot really thickens when you realize that, unlike other pleistocene tools, the hand axes often exhibit no evidence of wear on their delicate blade edges. And some, in any event, are too big to use for butchery. Their symmetry, their attractive materials and, above all, their meticulous workmanship are simply quite beautiful to our eyes, even today.

So what were these ancient –– I mean, they're ancient, they're foreign, but they're at the same time somehow familiar. What were these artifacts for? The best available answer is that they were literally the earliest known works of art, practical tools transformed into captivating aesthetic objects, contemplated both for their elegant shape and their virtuoso craftsmanship. Hand axes mark an evolutionary advance in human history –– tools fashioned to function as what Darwinians call fitness signals –– that is to say, displays that are performances like the peacock's tail, except that, unlike hair and feathers, the hand axes are consciously cleverly crafted. Competently made hand axes indicated desirable personal qualities –– intelligence, fine motor control, planning ability, conscientiousness and sometimes access to rare materials. Over tens of thousands of generations, such skills increased the status of those who displayed them and gained a reproductive advantage over the less capable. You know, it's an old line, but it has been shown to work –– 'Why don't you come up to my cave, so I can show you my hand axes.'


Except, of course, what's interesting about this is that we can't be sure how that idea was conveyed, because the Homo erectus that made these objects did not have language. It's hard to grasp, but it's an incredible fact. This object was made by a hominid ancestor –– Homo erectus or Homo ergaster –– between 50 and 100,000 years before language. Stretching over a million years, the hand axe tradition is the longest artistic tradition in human and proto–human history. By the end of the hand axe epic, Homo sapiens –– as they were then called, finally –– were doubtless finding new ways to amuse and amaze each other by, who knows, telling jokes, storytelling, dancing, or hairstyling. Yes, hairstyling –– I insist on that.

For us moderns, virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies, to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance. But still, one fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings: the beauty we find in skilled performances. From Lascaux to the Louvre to Carnegie Hall, human beings have a permanent innate taste for virtuoso displays in the arts. We find beauty in something done well.

So the next time you pass a jewelry shop window displaying a beautifully cut teardrop–shaped stone, don't be so sure it's just your culture telling you that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. Your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it, even before they could put their love into words. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No, it's deep in our minds. It's a gift, handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images to the expression of emotion in art to the beauty of music to the night sky will be with us and our dscendants for as long as the human race exists.

Thank you.


(TED Talks, 2010)

[Professor Denis Dutton died of cancer on the 28 December 2010.]



2010Andrew Parkanimated presentationAotearoa New Zealandartart criticismbeautycarvingCharles DarwinChristchurch • ClimateDebateDaily • creativitycriticismcritiquecross-cultural • Denis Dutton • evolution • evolutionary origins • evolutionary theoryhuman nature • in the eye of the beholder • instinctJane Austennoveltyphilosophytaste (sociology)TED Talks • The Art Instinct • theory • theory of beauty • theory or art • universal • university academic • University of Canterbury • Van Gogh • visual sensibility • Wizard of Oz


Simon Perkins

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