This is a response to Tim’s recent post “At Face Value: Gaga, Surfaces & The Superficial.” I don’t really know anything about Ms. Gaga—she’s a singer, right?—so that I must pass over in silence.
Instead, I want to address two distinctions that Tim points to: “style vs. content” and “surface vs. depth”—although I’ll admit upfront that neither one is one I’m enamored with. As Tim himself notes toward the end of his post, faces are communicative—indeed, they can communicate (and mis-communicate, and conceal) quite a lot. And as I’ve said in so many different places, style is content, and surface is depth; there is no distinction in my book (or in my books). I used to believe that citing Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style was enough to undo those false dichotomies, but I am no longer as optimistic as I once was in my youth, so I’ll try saying more.
Let’s begin by assuming that there actually is a difference between surface and depth. Can we name a purely superficial painting, one that’s entirely surface? How about an Yves Klein monochrome? After all, it’s just blue paint applied to a canvas: