The Dark Side

san francisco nights, photograph

“… it’s also important to recognize that what we’ve created may be private work, rather than something to offer for publication or exhibition.”

John Daido Loori, The Zen of Creativity

Do you ever create this kind of private work?

We’re not referring to work that is kept private because it isn’t up to our personal quality standards, but rather work that just isn’t suitable for consumption by others. It might be something that was inspired by an inner muse that you are not ready to share. The work may even be disturbing to others. Not all art is “feel good” art.

As artists I think it is good to challenge our audience, but not to intentionally upset them. Since we explore our inner state through our art, it makes sense that a wide range of feelings and emotions are represented.

I know many artists are tempted to produce only work that uplifts, themselves and others. We are all enriched by such work. But I recommend examining other modalities in your art as well.

I was recently told by someone that a body of my work “should be seen, but was not commercial”. In other words, it had something to say but nobody would probably want to buy it and hang it on their wall. There are all sorts of categories that art falls into beyond the familiar ones so many of us focus on.

So tell me, do you have a collection of private work hidden away somewhere? What can you tell us about it?

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12 responses to “The Dark Side

  1. I find that comment about “not being commercial” so annoying. My response is, well, not all of us like a Schnabel or a Koons or a Basquiat (or substitute any of the names that always pop up at every highly commercial art exhibition). It’s a kind of con game I don’t play.

    Writers, especially poets, run into the same kind of pitch from literary mags that will accept the obtuse and incomprehensible over something beautifully but simply and straightforwardly written, something that just might tug at the heart and move one to not just think but feel.

    Fortunately, there are some people in the arts disciplines willing to take a chance on an artist or a writer and do the work necessary to create a market for the individual’s work.

    Also, I agree on the importance of what you describe as “other modalities”. I think of some of the extraordinary photography published by Burn magazine, for example; or the work of Gordon Clark, who photographed a young artist with rapid-aging disease.

    There is a wonderful statement in Charles Martin’s “Where the River Ends”:

    “If you want to make great art, something that can reach beyond time and space, find someone who isn’t beautiful and show them that they are. Paint the broken, the unlovely. . . and make them believe.”

    • Maureen

      To be fair to the person making the comment, he is a gallery owner struggling to stay open in this economy. And I admit the work I was showing him was not likely to be bought to hang over the dining room table, even though I (and he!) thought the work is very interesting. Maybe better for a public venue where sales are not critical…

      Thanks for the great reference to Burn magazine – think I’ll submit my photo essay there! Loved the quote from Charles Martin, too.

  2. I wasn’t raised with a religion at all but, as I practice, I’m finding that artmaking fulfills that kind of deeply spiritual role. It is, therefore intensely private, and I’m extremely reluctant to show it to anyone. Even with some intended to someday be public pieces (I had some work inspired by Moby Dick in a mgazine recently), there’s that uneasy feeling of exposing something delicate that might not thrive in that kind of light.

    The people who’ve seen it do like my work, so there’s not the more usual anxiety of disapproval, misunderstanding, or rejection, but there’s this other . . . thing that unsettles me about showing it.

  3. I have a series of black & white images that I would describe as gritty. I did a gallery show with them a few years ago and received good critical reviews, but they are not the type of images I want to base my career on. They are dark and slightly depressing; and in a world where there is enough dark stuff happening, I prefer to create lighter images. Not including those images as part of my portfolio is a deliberate statement against society embracing the seedier, sleazier, creepy side of life.

  4. Hmmm. I’m struggling with the concept. Jay Leno says “if you are not performing, you aren’t a comedian, you are just an unemployed guy.” I don’t think he means you are still a comedian if you tell yourself jokes.

    Are there a bunch of John Doe poets for every John Donne? “Artists” with no need to have their work judged/appreciated by fellow man?

    Speaking for myself, I don’t see the point. If I was to explore a new subject matter or modality, it would be with the goal of it eventually seeing the light of day. Maybe I would determine it is poor and shelve it. But I personally would get nothing from creating something I thought worthy and then keeping it to myself.

    Say I had, oh, the world’s best carrot cake recipe. Should I just savor it all on my own, or should I make one and bring to your home?

    • Bob

      I think there are legitimate reasons an artist might create work just for their own consumption.

      An example in a different medium would be keeping a journal. As we’ve seen from journals published after the author’s death (I wonder how many wanted them published at all?) the quality of the work, even though done for personal use only, can be very high.

      Artmaking has many purposes, one of which is entertainment of others. But I think it just as legitimately can be done purely as a means of personal expression or for therapeutic reasons.

      So I would understand if you savored your carrot cake all on your own – I’d be disappointed, however, and it wouldn’t do your waistline any good, but I’d understand…

  5. I must confess… I have a handful of images that I haven’t made “public” per se, that I have on display in more secluded areas of my home and work space. I guess they resonate so strongly with me because of the specific circumstances linked to them or a certain “A HA” moment I had when I took them. Maybe one day I might share them, but it’s like my brain is still busy processing AND savoring them.
    On the other hand, Bob T does make a good point… much of the joy I get from photography comes from showing my work and hearing if it delights folks or even just sets them to thinking, forming opinions.
    Fabulous image btw Bob C, and as always, another very fascinating post!!!!

  6. A bit late to the party here (I haven’t been in the blog world much lately), but trying to catch up with some of my favorites. And this is a conversation I can’t resist joining because it is something that’s been very much on my mind lately, especially after doing a show and selling several pieces, and yet recognizing that my work isn’t ‘commercial’ in the sense most people define. And then noticing that pull to make work that would sell, plus the opposite pull not to fall into that trap!

    But when I think of your images, I definitely see them in a fine art gallery. They are so top-of-the-line. Maybe it is that distinction between museum quality appeal versus commercial gallery appeal. Actually, the same situation is happening in publishing now (where I have another foot), and I would say it’s actually worse there. What is deemed ‘commercially viable’ is much narrower than in the art world. So maybe we should just be happy to be artists 😉

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