A formal feeling

From Gary Taylor’s indispensable website:

As a way of beginning, one might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. All of us, even the best-mannered of us, occasionally point, and it must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others. It is not difficult to imagine a person – a mute Virgil of the corporeal world – who might elevate the act of pointing to a creative plane, a person who would lead us through the fields and streets and indicate a sequence of phenomena and aspects that would be beautiful, humorous, morally instructive, cleverly ordered, mysterious, or astonishing, once brought to our attention, but that had been unseen before, or seen dumbly, without comprehension. This talented practitioner of the new discipline (the discipline a cross, perhaps, between theater and criticism) would perform with a special sense of grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much of our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.

John Szarkowski,
from Atget and the Art of Photography
an essay in “The Work of Atget Vol. 1: Old France”
Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1981

So much to savor here. This early morning, I savor in particular the idea that the “quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art” comes from

a special sense of grace,
sense of timing,
narrative sweep,
and wit.

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