The ‘Like’ Button Analyses, Part 4: My ‘Likeable’ Art Cards!

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

Last year in my quest for ‘likeable’ art I have discovered a forgotten gem, which I will attempt to burnish for your use here. In a box placed outside a used book store, I found a publication from the early 1960s titled A Place to Live. It was a government-funded, multi-author study on agriculture as part of American society. In slightly poor shape and obviously harking back to an era of what could be perceived as a dilapidated ‘institutional’ style, it did not find a buyer for years on end, the $2 price notwithstanding.

 

The cover of the book was a painted farm scene by an anonymous artist. Perhaps on account of the pervasively general, as opposed to an eminently personal style of the cover, the artist’s name was not provided for any special adoration. At first glance, the image makes one think of a primary school textbook, which is an association that unifies the institutional nature of the commission with the childlike nature of the image. If we adopted a critical stance, perhaps we would find in it a certain childishness, but isn’t it many influential adults who could be accused of not being grown up, both in the time of the book’s creation and in today’s contemporary culture? Certainly the country scene as a representation of simple living as well as the naturalistic utopia of the 60s (which mirrored the chemical utopia of the 50s) make us think of a certain immaturity of the times, but one of which an incarnation we would also do best to identify in the present.

 

However, a political interpretation must not be abused and I myself liked this book cover from the very moment I saw it. At the same time, the images needed a certain valorisation, and so I decided to transform the book cover into art cards. Accessible to the touch as separate entities to play with and juxtapose in a sort of child’s play, they gained even more in simplicity and were divorced from the scrutinizing eyes of the Brotherly Institution. Children engage in ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ things in an especially vivacious manner, and what represents a positive value for a child is presented here in a quintessential concentration of 'free likeability'. In the cards we find images of happiness, lollipop colours, simple content, sunshine, and an underlying innocence, all brought together in a wholesome synthesis.

But what can become personally touching in the cards is accessible also through the slightly ‘negative’ aspects associated with the images. Such aspects are found in the resounding nostalgia for our individual childhood and collective past, both tinged with a hint of sadness and a feeling of loss. The dirt clinging to the cards from the old 1960s cover also makes accessible to our memory the reminiscence of a happy and slightly horrific image: the dirty children’s faces and knees, soiled from the rolling around on the ground and engaging in other forms of tactile enjoyment. The unification of the cards' positive aspects and the negative ones hopefully creates a ‘deep’ experience, one that doesn't negate any part of the human experience.

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The most satisfying moment, artistically speaking, was when a young woman to whom I handed the cards started playing with them, trying to unsuccessfully fit the cards into one single image, and her face became a child’s face in an expression of ‘like’. I mentioned something about the mother instinct, but she said: “C’est petit comme art, mais ce n’est pas ça”. In reality she herself had become a child, fascinated with play in a moment of utter innocence.

In the photos, three of five cards sized 2 1/2'' x 3 1/2'' are shown.

The 'Like' Button Analyses, Part 3: 'Liking' and Art

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

In S/Z, a chef-d’oeuvre deconstruction of the intellect’s literary enjoyment, Roland Barthes travels deep to the inner ‘like’ in order to show us its hidden architecture and then takes it apart in a transformative analysis. In a preface found in the English translation of the work, Richard Howard begins with a quotation and says a few choice words on the 'instinctive liking' of literature:

“‘It will afford profit and pleasure to that numerous class of persons who have no instinctive enjoyment of literature,’ writes a British reviewer of the French text of S/Z. Instinctive enjoyment of literature! Surely all of Roland Barthes’s ten books exist to unmask such an expression, to expose such a myth. It is precisely our ‘instinctive enjoyment’ which is acculturated, determined, in bondage. Only when we know - and it is a knowledge gained by taking pains, by renouncing what Freud calls instinctual gratification - what we are doing when we read, are we free to enjoy what we read. As long as our enjoyment is - or is said to be - instinctive it is not enjoyment, it is terrorism.” (Richard Howard, "An Introductory Note", in: Roland Barthes, S/Z. An Essay. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974, p. ix.)
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In recent history, serious art has not exactly been subject to ‘liking’ by the so-called great minds, such as Barthes’ - rather, it was created and forged, loved and hated, interrogated and ignored, bought and stolen, championed and undermined. While my contemporaries disagree to an increasing degree, my natural tendency tells me to think that there is much more in good art than what can simply be liked. In its usual application, ‘liking’ is appropriate for something that could be described as 'nice', and normally, one would be hard pressed to successfully apply it to anything that holds a lesser, but also a higher value.

As a teenager I wrote a rebellious poem for an English class assignment, and a day after handing it in, the piece came back with the professor's red mark around one word - ‘nice’. On the margin he wrote: “this word doesn’t say much”. I admit I slipped a little in one stanza. For a moment, there was no symbolic dagger to chew on, no one telling you that you won’t get out of here alive, no youthful anger that breaks through the Wall. For a moment, things were okay. From high school I also remember the Good News Bible, which we used in religion class. It was illustrated with peaceful, conventionalized, single-line drawings, and all of the people’s faces were presented as simple, empty ovals. Naturally, the choice of means was meant to express humanity in general, and to imbue it with a calm, likeable quality. Most of us didn't love religion class. But it wasn't unlikeable.

In a curious analogy to the Good News Bible, the Sherbrooke subway station in Montreal features an enormous mosaic with a quasi-Biblical scene showing the origins of Quebec and its people with the same empty, symbolic, oval faces. This public piece of art is clearly meant for everyone, and we all know the artist couldn’t fit everyone’s face into the image, however grand. But a more critical writer could make the remark that the image is fitting because in the subway we also feel faceless. To me, the mosaic makes anonymity and mass membership more acceptable, and even more likeable. While this is also what makes me ambivalent about this dwarfing image, and what reminds me of 'likeable' art's mildly numbing, 'affirmative' function, I will soon be setting out on my own quest for art that presses my mind's 'like button'.

The 'Like' Button Analyses, Part 2: Mythological ‘Deep Liking’

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

In contrast both to history as a succession of almost palpable, printed facts encased in the iron logic of historical narrative, and to history as seen in the anti-narrative flashes of ‘capricious’, disjointed, and surreal series of ‘likes’, let us consider the possibility of a history conditioned by what I would like to call 'mythological deep liking’.

 

 

‘Mythological’, because like any good myth, true liking goes both higher and deeper then the liking afforded by a one- or even two-dimensional conception of human beings reduced through modern objectifications. But even such reduction is mythological, because the understanding of the human being is mythological no matter how vigorously the label is eschewed. If we consider some reductive views of humanity, we cannot but help think how much faith and fervent ideal transpires through their often structural figments of imagination. Still today we cannot get away from mythologizing ourselves, because there is no objective way to understand the human being, just as there is no way to grasp the mind. Since we cannot give up grasping itself, we are always transposing ideas to at least get hold of the spectre of the thing to be understood.

 

 

I have proposed ‘deep liking’, since in contrast to some of the surface, Internet ‘shallow liking’, the former is a true romance that goes to the very core of the human being. This human being intuitively creates with it the total worlds in which he and she lives, fashioning out the stuff of structure, pleasure, understanding, and passion into the mind’s internal dwellings, weaving around it the ornate fabric of ‘reality’ as revealed in history. But even the Internet's 'shallow liking‘ can be rehabilitated as a deep, mythical category. For example, in its depths, echoes of the bifurcated moral space of Christianity resound at the moment of the binary decision making on the Internet: ‘evil’ or ‘good’ - ‘like’ or ‘unlike’.

 

 

In a deep way, traces of old myths and their methodological axioms abound around us, and I will not even mention here the overworked ‘rock-star-as-God’ cliché. The contemporary religious marketplace is itself an arena for ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’, except the moral choice intrinsic to the monolithic religious societies of the past is now being applied from above, as a meta-category to the personal choice between religions. If we are tempted to judge this type of mentality, let us remember that even God decided, after having finished working on the World, that he liked the result. When he turned to Noah, he was already ‘unliking’ its developments.

 

 

Everyday we hover around 'shallow like’ and exploit it, while not fully understanding it. But lest we become self-satisfied with our analysis and start liking it, we need to ask: where does ‘deep like’ reside? We must search deeper for this inspiring though elusive category, and I suspect that it is intrinsic to the mind. What happens in the mind when ‘deep like’ is activated? What are the scientists and the psychoanalysts saying? What are the theists and the Buddhists saying? Will our perception of 'shallow like’ change when we analyze its contexts and create a depth for it, to be properly mined? And what will be left when we analyze the very core of ‘deep like’? Will the contemporary Internet social structure fall apart? If we analyze ‘deep like’ will we analyze it - or even ourselves - away?

 

The 'Like' Button Analyses, Part 1: 'Liking' and 'Unliking' Myths

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

European history was serious business as it was presented in my youth. As students we endured the almost palpable, printed facts and iron logic of historical narrative in high school and at university, and there was nothing funny or introspective about it. On the other hand, to people partaking in today’s fun, ironic, cyber-consciousness which operates in entertaining fragmentation, the intersubjective psycho-drama of the European narrative seems more like a series of disjointed, surreal caprices. We begin to wonder if the myths of the Old World were not subject to a succession of whimsical ‘likes’ and ‘unlikes’ of society, in analogy to the popular ‘friending’ and ‘unfriending’ functions, 'thumbs up' and 'thumbs down' buttons, and other similar graphic interface elements used on the Internet. Thus, political, social, and moral ideas and standards in history could be seen as having been ‘liked’ and then ‘unliked’ as if in spontaneous, ‘viral’ media fashion.

If we were to link these disjointed, bite-size 'caprices' of history, we could get the impression that the Mediaeval worldview was largely deconstructed in a world-famous series of ‘unlikes’ which unfolded over centuries and were instigated by the main social actors. Geocentricity was ‘unliked’ by Copernicus, the idea of the Monarch as God’s representative on Earth was ‘unliked’ with the rise of the bourgeoisie, the idea of Man as God’s creation 'unliked' by Darwin; furthermore, the bifurcation of morality into good and evil was ‘unliked’ by Max Stirner and Nietzsche, and Love as a divine gift ‘unliked’ by modern chemists, to name only a few examples.

If we were to follow this train of thought, we could perhaps advance the idea that the gradual disassembling and 'unliking' of tradition simultaneously assists in a building up and ‘liking’ of new myths. Can there really be a minus without a plus? One story of a societal ‘like’ filling the vacuum of a massive ‘unlike’ is story of Modernism, a great myth which has aged in poor fashion, in part because of its neglect of the human body and the starved flesh around the ideas it posited. Another vacuum-filling, collective ‘liking’ was the New Age movement, later a prime example of the principle that any 'likes' constructed in a cultural vacuum emergency are subject to rapid 'deliking'.

In the back of our minds our intelligence still tells us that history is not quite so shallow and fashion-based (although Michel Onfray accuses intellectuals themselves of opportunistic fads). At the same time, from the contemporary vantage point the analogy to ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ points to an ever stronger impression of a whimsical type of history, an impression which closes in on us ever more tightly, securing increasing amounts of imaginative space. The described effect can be understood as the price to pay for not having been sensitized to the deep level as well as the meta-level of history in those long-lasting high school and university courses of our youth.