What’s it Worth to You?

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Waiting, photograph

I was in a photography gallery last weekend when I overheard the salesperson tell some customers that the pieces they were looking at had no Photoshop work performed on them. I wondered at this.

Admittedly the pieces were of the sort that looked as if Photoshop must have been used extensively (in fact, I actually am not sure the salesperson was telling the truth!). But I got the distinct feeling that the unstated message was that the work was more valuable because Photoshop was not used.

I wondered what the equivalent point would be in the painting world – maybe “this piece was painted using only #2 brushes” or “I used only red, blue and yellow paint”. Maybe there are people out there who would care. Maybe they would take some added satisfaction when looking at the piece hanging on their wall knowing that certain constraints were enforced in the creation of the work.

But, seriously, do you think that much about what tools the artist used or do you care more about how the piece looks, how it makes you feel, what mood or emotion it evokes? It’s not as if all one has to do is buy Photoshop, install it and push a button and out pops the final piece any more than a painting paints itself if the artist buys a palette full of different colors.

OK, I’ll dismount my “what’s wrong with Photoshop” soapbox and pose the more general, and probably more interesting question – what criteria should be applied to establishing the value of a piece of art?

Here are some common metrics that seem a little problematic to me…

How much time did the artist spend making it? Some artists work more slowly – should they be paid more?

Is it new work or old? Maybe the older work is better…

How big is it? Well, maybe… more materials costs more, but big isn’t always better.

How unique is the work? Hmmm… perhaps there is a good reason other artists aren’t doing this.

It’s a favorite of the artist. But the artist isn’t the one buying it so who cares?

Made with antique tools vs modern tools – means it probably could have been better.

In the end, I believe everyone has to determine if a piece of art is worth the money being asked because of how much they like it – big/small, old/new, common/unique, regardless of how it was made, it boils down to the emotional reaction. How will you feel everyday looking at that piece of art?

If someone loves a piece of art, why spoil it for them by applying an arbitrary metric of value to it that undercuts their own emotional valuation? What it’s worth is up to them.

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Feeling is Believing

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Dead Soldiers, photograph

“Art that wants to be felt does not have the need to be admired.”

– Darby Bannard

This is part of a new series I’ve been working on this year titled “tactility” (yes, I know that’s not a real word). It is my photographic exploration of textures. I will be exhibiting a number of these pieces at  the upcoming ARTrails Open Studio event in October (studio #96) and it is the title of my self-published book that will be out by then.

My aim with this work is to create a tactile sensation when looking at the piece. Over time I’ve collected and created a library of over 500 textures which I incorporate into the images in various ways. It’s a lot of experimentation and technique which can lead to surprising results. I assure you, the above piece looked nothing like this when I shot it – it was shot with B&W film! Engaging the senses in new and unusual ways makes the art more interesting. I want you to touch it with your eyes…

I seem to be going in two opposing directions at the same time my work at the moment, an unusual but rewarding experience. In addition to the textured work, I also bave a new series I’m called “F1.0” which explores out-of-focus images. For those non-photographers out there, the name is a play on the fabled school of photography known as f64 which valued  maximum sharpness and detail in photographs. F64 is a very small aperture setting on your camera lens which causes everything to be in focus – the opposite extreme would be a wide open aperture. F1.0 is about as wide open as one can get and so would be the opposite of in-focus. I’ve also published a book of this work, titled F1.0.

Part of the preparation of this upcoming art event has been self-publishing these books with Blurb, one of many self-publishing companies out there. I’ve actually done a number of Blurb books for clients in the past, so am familiar with them. I’m excited to see the results – if you stop by my studio you can take a look at these!

What Did You See?

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“The person viewing your work has no idea what the scene really looked like, nor do they care…”

– Mike Svob

It certainly is true that no one who was not there with you really knows what you saw and, even if they were there, we all know that each of us sees differently. Given the same  put, most of us would come up with at least a slightly different output.

But do our viewers care what the scene looked like? Often we want them to. We try to depict as faithfully as possible what we saw so others can share it too. We want them to share our experience of it. There is a genre of art the might accomplish this, work that is representational in nature that invites the viewer to stand next to us and see what we saw.

I hope my viewers don’t really care what the scene looked like. I hope they care what it caused me to think or feel. That’s what I want  to share, not the scene itself.

I hope  my viewers want to take a different journey with me, not back to the place I was, but to the place I went afterwards. To the place populated by my reactions, interpretations and impressions of the original scene.

Caring about what the scene really looked like means caring less about the work of art that it inspired. Focusing on the scene can be a distraction from the art. It is the art which is my offering, the thing I wish to share with you.

Seeing isn’t Believing

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Truck Stop

“Why let what you see get in the way?”

– Joyce Kellock

What is so special about what we see? My main interest in what I see is not in the thing itself, but rather in what it inspires me to do with it. It’s just a starting point. From there I can roam in my imagination and play with my creativity.

I encounter so many photographers (and often painters) who are so committed to faithfully representing what they see. Well, I could go there and see it too. I’m more interested in having them show me something that I couldn’t see without their help. I feel cheated – I feel like a child who was taken to the circus but not allowed to go in the big tent. I want to see what’s inside.

What we see can get in the way of revealing what is inside. Sometimes the impact of what we see is large, especially for the artist who was there at the moment. It can literally stop us in our tracks. We think that re-presenting that moment will be enough.

I would invite all my fellow artists to never be satisfied with what you see – there’s always more. That’s where the real beauty lies. Invite us into your tent.

It’s Showtime!

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Veiled Remarks

“I know I’ve grown as an artist when even though I think the damn car is just an O.K. shout, since everyone likes it, I’ve included it in the show”.

– Stu Jenks

I’m getting ready for a large show next month and am in the throws of the typical artist dilemma – what to include??? Since I do all of my own printing, cost is less of an issue than for others, though each piece has to be matted, framed or stretched and all that adds up. Then there is the question of wall space. Which pieces should be on the walls and which should just be matted and sold from bins? Photographers have the added decisions of what size(s) to print and on what material. How many of each to have on hand?

So how do you decide? There are the pieces that you love but you suspect the public may not wish to stare at in their living room every day. Then there are the old warhorses that you are sick of but sell year after year. There’s the new work that you’ve had little or no feedback on and the stuff you can’t bear to look at any more (but someone seeing it for the first time could love it!).

Do you ask for advice from your friends? Do you focus on what is likely to sell? Do you factor in the likely demographics of who will see the show? Do you show your best individual pieces or is it better to show a body of work, or at least groupings that are related, even at the expense of some overall quality?

Let’s not even talk about pricing… Or coming up with names for everything – that gives me a headache.

As in most things, I think the best strategy is one of balance. I’m going to have some work in the show that is just for me (my tastes are a little unusual for where I live) and some that I suspect will sell (because it has before). Some work will be new and some not – even though we get repeat visitors each year, the majority are first timers so the work is all new to them.  I’ll have some good stuff, some stuff that’s OK and probably a few that should not have seen the light of day.

Making the Invisible Visible

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“If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything.”

– Ruth Bernhard

When I look at some things, I see just what is visible. I see enough to know what they are and how to interact with them – these are the everyday things in life.

But when I look at something with the intention of turning it into a piece of artwork, I need to see with more than my eyes. I need to see with my memories, my hopes, my fantasies, my fears. I need to see into the future, as well as the past. I need to see with your eyes as well, wondering how you will see this thing when I’m done. I need to see with “what if…”. I need to see not with my eyes, but through them, with greater depth, from a deeper place.

Visual arts are all about seeing more than is visible, infusing the thing rendered with all those invisible dimensions so that it becomes more than what it seemed at first glance.

Our art then becomes an invitation to the viewer to see with more than their eyes as well.

Beyond the Landscape

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“I’m not just interested in the pictorial aspects of the landscape – see a pretty place and try to paint it – but in some way to manage it, manipulate it, or see what I can turn it into.”

– Wayne Thiebaud

No one would criticize a painter for making such a statement – in fact, we’d be more likely to criticize them for lack of artistic imagination and daring if they didn’t have this attitude. But a photographer is often looked down upon if they seek to manipulate an image, particularly something as iconic as a landscape. Why is this? And is there good reason to view photography differently in this regard?

Photography, of course, began life as the ultimate means of simply capturing the scene as it appeared. Over time, tools and techniques to manipulate (I prefer the term interpret) the image grew more powerful, until today there is virtually no limit to what can be done. The ability to interpret photographic images has grown much faster than our willingness to leave behind the original literal objectives of photography. It may just take more time – after all, painting has a few centuries more history behind it than does photography.

As you might imagine, I am not in the camp that belittles manipulation of images in photography. As with all things, there is a right and a wrong way to approach this and there are a lot of hideous photographs out there (I should point out in fairness, that there are a lot of bad paintings out there too!). For me the fun is in “seeing what I can turn it into”. To use an analogy to painting, to go out and just capture a pretty landscape in a literal manner feels like a paint-by-number painting. Competent perhaps, with all the pieces and colors in the right place, but lacking any life.

I cannot think of a single reason to hold photographers to a different standard of artistic license than any other artist. I think we should all be free to “manage, manipulate and see what we can turn it into”!