Revolution Lullabye

February 28, 2008

Lanham Economics of Attention

Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2006. Summary of Chapter 2, “Economists of Attention”            Lanham argues in Chapter 1, “Stuff and Fluff,” that “the most obvious economists of attention have been the visual artists” (15). His next chapter describes two twentieth-century artists who he believes fit this moniker, Andy Warhol and Christo Javacheff. Both artists’ masterpieces (Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup paintings and Marilyn Monroe screen-prints and Javacheff’s Running Fence) emphasized the “paradox of stuff”: that when attention is shifted toward style, design, and packaging, the substance underneath all of that gets reconsidered and more thoroughly understood. One does not replace the other; the attentive mind notices the object and oscillates between the “stuff” and the “fluff.” In his discussion about Warhol, Lanham points out that he made particular choices when creating his art to maximize the attention they would garner. Besides relying on the paradox of stuff, Warhol also was able to pick rich objects for his art by paying attention to the interests of audience and by keeping in mind the power of the centripetal gaze (the human tendency to focus attention on a few things, like celebrities.)In his explanation of Javacheff’s project, Lanham describes how Running Fence is not just a rhetorical object but the creation of a series of rhetorical acts. To get permission to create the 24-mile-long fence, Lanham had to persuade hundreds of people to share in his grand vision; he had to create collective action from the bottom up. Javacheff increased the attention paid to his project by purposefully taking it down after two weeks.Lanham cites the cultural movement of Dadaism as influential to the development of his thought about the economics of attention. Dadaism, he explains, was a rejection of oppositions in favor of a practice to consider binaries together by being able to consciously shift between them. 

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