Down with irony

In a recent excellent and thought provoking online New York Times opinion piece Christine Wampler suggests that “irony is the ethos of our age.” Wampler identifies advertising, politics, fashion and television as categories “of contemporary reality [that] exhibit this will to irony.”

Red Tulips by Harold Davis
Red Tulips © Harold Davis

“To live ironically is to hide in public,” Wampler notes. She continues: “How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief…that everything has already been done.” To be ironical stems to some extent from an aversion  to risk. If you make it clear preemptively that you are not taking something seriously, then you cannot be burnt too badly if it doesn’t fly. But as Wampler opines, “Will we be satisfied to leave an archive filled with video clips of people doing stupid things? Is an ironic legacy even a legacy at all?”

One cultural area that Wampler does not mention is the art world, a world that I interact with—particularly in relationship to photography. And, yes, for many “high art” photography galleries if it isn’t ironical in a self-referential way (think Cindy Sherman), it isn’t art.

A little bit of satire or irony can be a good thing, but a lot of irony turns genuine feeling to dust. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. Digital technologies have opened an era in which ironic sensibilities can quickly proliferate (as Wampler notes), but these technologies have also given birth to new ways of approaching and creating art. Art that can be approached with the joy of creation, passion and pleasure in the thing itself. Like flowers, waves and surf with its endless ballet on the rocky shore. Down with irony!

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