Friday, 23 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part eight: wysiwyg

EllesBB, Acrylic on linen canvas
What you see is what you get (wysiwyg) is a familiar term for anyone with a computer. In looking for a lead graphic for this installment, I came across the image of this painting. Not only do I like the painting, but I thought that its title really said something about modern art. Some people will buy a painting of cows resting under some trees because they like cows or pastoral scenes. The artist will know something of the market for any subject that he or she might pick for a representational painting. With modern abstract works, however, there is a very good chance that the painting might mean something to the buyer that is very different from what the artist was thinking. So besides liking the painting, I thought that her title for it was very clever, too. Of course, what I see is what I get and perhaps the artist picked the title for a different reason. We would have to ask the artist to get the truth of the matter.

I have heard it said that archaeologists always find what they are looking for. This does not mean that the archaeologist "witches" for remains with a cleft stick, a pair of bent wire coat hangers, or a metal detector with a phenomenally good discriminator. It means that whatever indicators brought the archaeologist to that site also brought the archaeologist's ideas to their work and these will be reflected in any subsequent excavation report.

So how can we discriminate what is brought to the work by the excavator from what the same evidence might suggest to a different excavator or later interpreter? What could happen in archaeology if there were more introverts and less extraverts doing such work? What checks and considerations might be encountered in the archaeology of the future? Can we ask an artist what they meant two thousand years after their death? We will start to look at these issues on Monday.

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