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Additional resources for Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
If we go back to our definition of genre, we see that it refers the ‘particular social purpose and context’ of text types. Romance, presumably because of the status of its director, was considered to be showing sexual content in order to explore contemporary social issues. In other words, unlike pornography, the sex scenes (as far as the national censorship board was concerned) had an artistic, social and educational reading the visual 31 Reading the Visual Pages 32 reading the visual Reading the Visual Pages 6/1/05 11:37 AM Page 32 function, rather than being intended simply to produce sexual arousal.
The second response, more or less diametrically opposite to the first, is to laugh—to treat this scene (and the film as a whole) as ludicrous, pretentious and (unintentionally) comic. After all, the very mechanical back-andforward movement of the penis, and the incongruous combination of sexual activity and philosophical clichés, means that pathos is in 6/1/05 11:37 AM Page 33 danger of being supplanted by bathos. But the fact that this film was shown in art cinemas, received very positive reviews from critics and was the work of a ‘serious’ director probably meant that those two responses were foreclosed—at least for many people in the audiences which saw it.
As early as the eighteenth century, scientist Isaac Newton wrote: ‘Rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is 6/1/05 11:37 AM Page 37 nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour’ (Newton 1730/1952: 124). We identify colour not by itself, but by its context—by the relation of light to colour, by other colours around it, and by what we already know. A stop sign, for instance, looks red at any time of day, though if we were to measure it with a spectroscope, its shade would vary remarkably with the light (Finkel 1992: 402).