The Artist as Mad Scientist

self portrait #23, photograph

“Life is ‘trying things to see if they work.'”

– Ray Bradbury

An equally apt definition of artistic creativity. Experimenting with your art is essential to keeping it alive and interesting, to yourself and others.

Some people are relentless experimenters – they’ll try anything and everything. Others seem reluctant to venture too far from their familiar path. Sometimes I have to force myself to go ahead and attempt some new idea. The potential for failure serves as a deterrent, but invariably when I make the effort I am rewarded with a strong rush of liberation. And, of course, there is no need to share those experiments that fail with anyone else. Even if the experiment fails, perhaps I learn something new that I can use elsewhere.

One of the most profound consequences of digital photography has been in the realm of experimentation. When shooting film, you had to consider the cost of buying the film and getting it processed – even 35mm film might cost on the order of 50 cents a shot. That might make you think twice about trying some hair-brained new idea. Also, you had to wait to get the film back before knowing what the results of the experiment were. Now, you can get a fair amount of immediate feedback that helps you make useful course corrections. In fact, there is almost no excuse left now to not try all sorts of crazy things. I’m finding it easier to talk myself into various experiments with so little to lose.

How much time do you spend experimenting, trying something which you have no idea will work at all? I’m talking about radical experiments, not minor adjustments to what you’ve been doing. How often do they end up in public view? Are there specific methods you have to force yourself to experiment? How does radical experimentation make you feel?

BTW, the above is another in my new series of self-portraits. It’s all about experimenting in this project!

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5 responses to “The Artist as Mad Scientist

  1. Very cool. I really like the lighting.

    I agree with your statement on digital and film. I was shooting film for the longest time, but it was just getting too expensive; digital is cheaper in the long run. I feel I can learn different techniques quicker when using a digital as well–try new things and delete the results with a click of a button.

  2. Interesting post, bob! Didn’t know the Ray Bradbury’s citation… Nice…

    As for experimentation (and failure) for me there is no failure, just experimentation…and unfortunatelly for my commercial value I kind of show most of it… But I don<t care much about my commercial value (which is almost nul anyway… maybe I would be more careful if my "cota" would be better…)

    anyway, just like you and so many others I,m pretty excited at the new times and new technologies we can experiment with today… In painting, I experiment right now mostly with acrylic gels and iridiscent and perlescent inks…

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