The One and Only

calla trio, photograph

“Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it.”

Tallulah Bankhead

I struggle all the time with who I am as an artist. Not only have I done many different types of photography (landscape, figures, still life, floral, etc) but I also have done several types of painting mediums. On the surface, there has been little consistency in my output – lots of different stuff done different ways.

Is there something that runs through all this work that makes it uniquely mine? Is this even possible given that I am not (hopefully) the same person I was 10 or 15 years ago? Is it something that guides me or something that is discovered after the fact? Is such a thread of cohesion even a desirable thing or does it limit us in some way from new creation?

For me part of the excitement of creating art is the opportunity it gives me to do new things, to explore new ideas and new forms of expression. When I start a new project, I am motivated to not approach it as I have in the past. Most (not all) of the time I am hoping to become a different artist than I’ve been before. Without that possibility I would be weighed down by Sisyphus-ian angst.

Of course, after the art has been created and I consider whether I achieved my objective of transcending myself, most of the time I do see something familiar there. I may have put a new spin on things but it’s rare, if ever, that I can’t see myself after all. Contrary to the quote above, I find I have trouble not being exactly, or at least, somewhat, like me.

But while it may not be possible to reinvent our artistic identity completely, the attempt to do so keeps our work alive, so I’ll keep trying to be not exactly like me.

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7 responses to “The One and Only

  1. I applaud your openness to trying the new, the untried, something that makes you stretch. Being in photography, you have knowlege of the “old ways” (such as learning how to use a darkroom and print) that kids don’t learn about and exposure to the new technologies, which can be yield tremendously exciting results.

    I really like what you achieve in the image of the calla lilies.

    Next week on my blog I’m posting a piece about an artist who uses x-rays. He creates the most amazing stuff.

    By the way, the kind of questions you ask in your post would make for some lively discussions on the art groups I’m in on LinkedIn. Are you on LinkedIn?

    • Maureen

      I am on Linkedin but haven’t really done anything there. Another social network waiting to consume more time! Which art groups are you in on Linkedin? Maybe that’s what I need to get started.

  2. Thoughtful post Bob. I believe it to be a lifelong journey this art thing… as the years pass I feel I see better or at least differently… I love trying new things and the digital age has made that so much fun! So bravo for sharing and kudos for trying to be not exactly like you! 🙂

    • John

      I know you came to photography relatively late in life (from your bio on your blog), as did I. The good news is that all of life’s experiences are preparing us to do art of any kind so it doesn’t really matter when we start, eh?

  3. I sure wish we could talk sometime– your posts are so thought provoking– for many years I have searched for myself in my work– I used to paint landscape, flowers, still life– tried figures. for the past 15 years I have concentrated more on myself and less on outside subject matter– painting white houses for example or a series of chairs. when I switched my focus, my work became more personal and more unique– many artists paint landscapes for example. I made lists of my likes, dislikes, strengths, interests, loves, and so on… I believe very strongly that one SHOULD paint in a series– a series is not limiting at all– but becomes the place to experiment and try new things– if you didn’t you would become bored very fast within your series– and in a series you explore deeper and more profoundly– and can never in a million years predict where you will end up.

    • Donna

      I think by reading each other’s blogs, we’re enjoying a great discussion! Writing forces me to contemplate my thoughts in a more careful manner, which is what I love about blogging.

      I really appreciate your comments about working in series, something that many artists don’t do and something fairly new to me as well. You’re right, without experimentation in the series it becomes so repetitious, you’d give up (perhaps one reason many don’t do them at all!). If you spend enough time on it, the series does evolve, as you say, which is more rewarding than the results of a set of random images which head in no particular direction. A series is a much more considered and, therefore, complex product.

  4. Good post, Bob and lovely image. I think it’s a great goal to try NOT to be like you, to do something different. That provides the stretching exercise we need as artists. Even if in the end, the results are still somewhat like ‘us’, that may not always be the case. I am impressed by the stretching you have done, the results of your projects are interesting and in many cases, simply stunning. I envy the time/space you have created to allow for more play and projects, it’s my goal this year to gain some time back for more of that myself.

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