Man is a tool maker. Tools are used in most activities in our life to extend our performance or help us get our tasks done faster, easier, and more accurately. The same is true in most of our art. Some people say that it is our tool making nature that allowed us to become the dominant species.

A tool using artist

I’m an artist. Specifically one who works with images originating as photographs. A camera is a tool I use. So is a computer. So is a printer. These tools do not create my art. I use them as part of my creative process.

Yes, the tools allow me to create things I could not do otherwise. That just means they are good tools. My Jeep allows me to go places I would rather not have to walk, especially carrying my gear. That does not mean the Jeep creates my art. I know a sculptor who now prints a lot of pieces on a 3D printer. Does that make them no longer art?

I believe in using tools to make my life better and to take my creativity further. Indeed some images don’t really start coming to life until I am manipulating them in Photoshop. As I try things and apply ideas and tools the essence of the image may start revealing itself to me. Note, though, that I – the artist- decide how the image should develop. I don’t sit back and watch Photoshop create it for me.

Limits of tools

There are probably some sharp Adobe computer scientists working on that right now., Maybe someday you will be able to point your phone at a scene and a “perfectly” composed and processed image will appear instantly in your social media feed. I hope for all of our sake that they decide that even though they could, they won’t. (Note: it came faster than I anticipated. Adobe announced many “AI”-based tools at Adobe MAX 2020. Now anyone can do almost anything to an image without know how they did it. Too bad.)

Tools should be used as force multipliers. Not a crutch to let people with no skills seem to create something. That’s like going to DisneyWorld and believing you went on a pirate adventure. It is a manufactured experience that you did not contribute to. If you are over the age of 5 you know deep down inside it is fake.

At the risk of being unpopular and sounding like a Luddite I will say I do not believe an image created entirely by a computer without an artist is art. It is just software combining patterns it has been trained with and throwing is a little random variability. Maybe this could be said of some artists, too. Let me just add that I spent an entire career working in advanced computer science, including artificial intelligence. So it’s not like I just hate technology.

Digital fits my personality

I am ADD enough that I don’t like there to be much lag between seeing something interesting and capturing it. It would be hard for me to work in a world of making multiple sketches of a scene to work out the best composition and staging, then spending weeks laying down the image slowly in layers with dry times between. All in order to create one work. I would abandon it after the first couple of sketches and be off to another idea.

Photography is much more immediate and rewarding for me. See a scene. Click. Nice, but maybe move a little to the right. Click. Better. Maybe raise the camera a little higher. Click. Almost there, maybe reduce the depth of field. Wait for the right moment. Click. Good! Now I have a good starting point to work with on the computer to create a final image.

In the computer I use a fairly disciplined non-destructive workflow. That just means never commit to something that can’t be undone. This does not slow things down and it actually makes it easier to get in a creative flow. That is because whenever I hit a dead end or even just decide I’m not liking the direction things are going, I can back up to any point I want and modify what I’ve done or even throw large “experiments” out and take a whole different path. The tools let my creativity flow naturally.

This ability to freely experiment and take risks is wonderfully empowering. I even sometimes create several versions of an image. It is an embarrassment of riches to be faced with a hard choice of which one I think works best. The ability to be spontaneous and free is very important to my creativity.

An artist

I create art. My camera or my other tools do not create the art, I do. The fact that I start from a photograph should not matter at all. Some people think something is not art unless the artist had a long and difficult process from training through making an image. How myopic and judgmental.

It had been said that an artist has to suffer. This is true, but you hear the statement from critics more than artists. Critics think they can analyze the process the artist went through to determine the worth of the art. Real artists know that art is suffering and what we learn and the feelings and vision we develop in the process guide our outcome. Art can be a cathartic expression of a deep experience, but that is not required.

But this “suffering” is very personal and internal, at least for me. It may be the result of decades of failures to realize our vision. A suffering born of frustration that drives a continual renewal and a reach for what we feel but can’t quite express.

It has almost nothing to do with a camera. That is just a tool, part of the technology used in creating art.

Any tool

When someone picks up a tool to create something as art, they become an artist. It doesn’t really matter if it is a brush, a pencil, a welder, … or a camera. What matters is what you do with it. Is something better and more worthwhile because it is carved from marble? Is it better if it is oil applied to canvas? Careful. These are dangerous judgments.

The art I create is not because I’m a photographer. Photography is a medium that works very well for me. It fits my personality. I use it to create my art.

I look at the creative process different from an oil painter or sculptor or author or graffiti painter. That is good. Artists are not supposed to be all alike. They should be as unique and individual as possible. That extends to the medium and process and tools, too.

So, I’m an artist. I use a camera to capture pixels that become my art. I’m proud of it. I like what I create and it works for me. I’m very thankful for the tools I have. They help me create, they do not define me.

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