I am watching a bit of the “news” coverage for the Academy Awards this evening, and thought the media viewpoint of artifact analysis, particularly surrounding the red carpet and critique of celebrity styling was quite interesting. In particular, I will go through a few of my reflections based on the red carpet critique on E! Network. Initial thoughts that frame this discussion include issues of cultural critique (dress style, appropriateness for event, etc.) as viewed through artifact and authorial analysis. I offer a poor screen capture of the televised coverage to present a more thorough critique:

In these screenshots, we see a unique view of artifact critique. I compare this approach to a more “naturalistic” experience, as you might apprehend a dress like this in physical space. In person, you might notice the individual, the dress, evaluate detailed and full length views, and observe how the dress moves while the subject walks or poses. This video coverage, however, was devoid of this element, choosing to focus on a still photo or still frame of the video coverage, consistently presented as a portrait image that does not fit cleanly into the 16:9 video aspect ratio. I suspect there may be two reasons for this approach, the first being a practical concern—fashion photographers naturally photograph gowns like this using a portrait orientation in a still photographic medium. This approach ensures the optimal view of the dress (or artifact) as seen by the fashion photographer, but does not fit cleanly into the paradigm of TV due to the reversed aspect ratio. The second approach is more consumer driven, I propose—that the viewer can see more detail of a given gown (but not the entire thing!) by matching the width of the portrait image, and smoothly scrolling to view elements of the entire artifact. Interestingly, the TV coverage never offered a full length view of the dresses that is common, even paradigmatic of fashion coverage in online and print media (e.g., E! Online Live Blog).

The second view of this artifact is formed through the junction of the dress (or artifact), the TV commentators (including fashion experts and “everyday” actors), and the viewer. As mentioned previously, the artifact is only viewed in a non-naturalistic way, in segmented form, so the viewer never gets the “whole view” that they might see in physical space. It is questionable which view is relied upon by the TV commentators to make their expert judgement. But in any case, the commentators undergo a classic critique process, investigating the formal qualities of a dress, the correspondence of the artifact to the individual wearing it, the authorial perspective of the dress designer, the curatorial role of the fashion stylist who selected the dress on behalf of the actor, and the cultural milieu in which the dress (and actor/ess) is situated. Also included, in many cases, is a triangulation of referents to other dresses that celebrity has worn in the past (in a positive or negative light) or dresses that are similar in style, color, or design make to the artifact in question.

I think that in a situation like this, which represents an authentic cultural critique, one can see elements of all four contexts: individual, artifact, author, and socio-cultural context.The media viewpoint provides certain constraints to the end viewer’s apprehension of the work, so the individual context in this case is seamlessly (in most cases) curated for the viewer. In addition, the medium serves as another barrier or constraint, which affects the perception of the artifact through the digital medium. A smoothly scrolling view of a dress, seen in segmented form, more naturally points toward an artifact analysis, but negatively or inaccurately (from a naturalistic perspective) affects an individual perspective, in the sense that it is different from a “normal” view of a gown.