There is a lot of contradicting statements and articles floating around, especially about photography. I think a lot of it comes down to the statements being more or less true, but the assumptions behind them are different. One of the biggest and often unstated assumptions concerns whether the focus is the product or the experience. Should the focus be the final produced piece or the artist’s state of mind?
What is the output?
I am talking about fine art, not commercial photography. What is the purpose of an artist? How do you measure art? Is the artist to be graded on the number of works he creates? Or are there other values or metrics that are important?
Have you ever been to a great location and not taken any pictures? I have. Sometimes I just want to soak up the experience as it is happening. Enjoy the wonder of the moment. Or maybe I get there and discover I am drawn to something completely different from what I anticipated.
I will go where my interests take me and not worry about the original plan. Does that make the outing a failure? Not to me. For me there are other considerations besides getting a planned shot or even getting any at all. So the results I value may not be just a particular image.
That does not seem to be true for some people. There are those who plan an outing to the last detail. Making sure they show up at the “right” spot and time to get the classic light on the subject. If the weather is not what they wanted or conditions have changed, like a forest fire that alters the landscape totally, they are devastated. Not getting the planned shot is a failure to them.
Is the goal of an artist to make the most nice works he can? Is an outing a failure if it didn’t result in some minimum number of “keepers”? I think this is a mindset many have. We tend to be very production oriented. Society in general pushes the idea of efficiency. . Sometimes we believe it for our art.
So, for those times we have gone out to photograph a well known, iconic location , what is your attitude if it doesn’t work out?f Is that a wasted trip? What if all you got was a memory? If your only goal was to recreate someone else’s photograph, I guess it was wasted for you.
What of the experience you had? Did you experience wonder at the great scene? Did you let yourself be drawn to some smaller scene within the scene? Maybe to something else entirely? Or was the disappointment of having your goal thwarted overwhelming?
Even if it is not a great icon, what is your goal when you go out? Are you desperate to collect a certain number of good images? Why?
What is a good image worth compared to a great one? If you create 1 image that you consider shows the peak of your ability as of now, isn’t that more worthy than having a whole memory card full of mediocre pictures?
My point is that, for art, it is not a game of numbers. Quantity is not better than quality.
Some would say photography is about the experience. That if the artist experiences significant emotion or awe or connection, and if he is able to capture it in a way that helps others participate in the same experience, then maybe he has created art.
There are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” there. That is part of the problem. I tend to buy in to the intent of this, but there are a lot of pitfalls.
One problem with the equivalence postulate is that it can be very difficult to transfer a feeling or experience from one person to another. Or from a piece of art to a person. You have seen it. Have you ever made an image that is dripping with meaning for you, but have someone else look at it and say “meh…”.?
It is easy to say that I must not be skilled enough as an artist if that happens. Perhaps. But our viewer wasn’t there when we were. The image may not touch the same things in them that it does in us. We all have different experiences and values and feelings.
I think the point for me is that we should first make images that touch something significant in us. If we are able to do that, them perhaps our viewers can see some of it, too. Then we will have been successful at communicating our experience. If we cannot share our experience through our image, then at least it is notable for us.
Which are you?
I have made it pretty clear which way I lean. My images should capture an experience or an idea that is meaningful to me. It is my goal to have you see significance in some of them, too. That said, it can be significant sometimes to just say “wow, that is beautiful”.
If you are on the other side and feel like you need to collect images of famous scenes or make works that are popular with many other people, then that is your decision. It is your life and your art. I don’t understand why you would let things external to you dictate your interests, but whatever makes you happy.
Whatever you do, enjoy your artistic life.
This article came across as kind of heavy and preachy. So I Iightened up some on the image. But not going off theme.
This was from a visit to a “famous” landmark in Kansas. It was interesting and I’m glad I went there, but when I turned around, the road leading in to it was more interesting than the landmark. There was no reason to dream there would be a picture here, but I remember this more than I do the landmark. Look around. Be open and flexible.