Be Different, Like Everyone Else

I hate getting cynical (even though I am), but at times it seems to me that there is little originality in the art world. It’s just a business. The gatekeepers want to put you in a box to make it more convenient for them to stereotype you and know “where you fit in”. Difference and variety are actually discouraged.

Galleries and dealers say they are looking for fresh and creative and unique, as long as it is like all the works they already carry. Curators look for cutting edge, original work, as long as it is just like the shows they usually put together.

This sounds like middle school, where everybody is consumed with angst and frantically seeking their individuality; trying to be themselves. Which means they are desperately trying to look and dress and act exactly like everyone else in their group. Because if they actually were themselves, the leaders in their peer group would make fun of them. How ridiculous.

Standard advice for new artists is that you have to develop a signature style and a body of work focused on a few projects or themes. That does not work well for some of us. My themes and subjects are wide ranging. I might be doing street photography this morning and landscapes this afternoon and still lives tomorrow and composites the next day and … The forces that motivate me, helped by my borderline ADD, also prevent me from focusing all my attention on one theme or subject. I wander where my curiosity leads me and enjoy seeing what I find along the way.

So when people ask what I do, I can really only say “I’m an artist”. If they push beyond that, well, most of my work is outdoors, all is digital, it is usually based on photography, and it is “fine art” in the sense that it is not intended as documentary or reportage. I am not representing any of my work as “truth”. I lean toward the abstract and even surreal, but I also enjoy crisp, highly detailed shots of an old barn. My work may be heavily manipulated or composited – or not. I intend for the main destination of my art to be prints.

If I put together a portfolio for a gallery it may have an image of a church building, and an abstract view of a tree, and a wide landscape on the high plains, and a pure composited abstract, and a black and white landscape in the mountains and several other seemingly disjoint things. Their reaction is “what does this mean? what do you shoot?” I can only answer that this is my style. I am curious about a lot happening in the world around me. My style is the subject, the point of view, the way it is shot, the attitude and feeling I bring. Each one is me, my expression and my reaction to what I encounter. Purity, consistency, and following rules is not my strong suit.

Because of my wide interests, my inventory of images is pretty large. I would be glad to pull special portfolios for a gallery or designer if they have a certain subject or genre they are looking for. But if they take the attitude that I’m not worthy of consideration unless I only do the type of projects they value, it makes me wonder who they think the artist is. They expect me to be different, like everyone else.

So should I follow the path that calls me or do what other people expect of me? I like what Darius Foroux said: If you want to stand out from the crowd, guess what, you have to stand out from the crowd.

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