In the Editor’s Comments to LensWork issue #125 , Brooks Jensen made some interesting observations I want to share.
Pursuit of the unique becomes so seductive that we can easily be misled into thinking that uniqueness itself is the route to artistic virtue.
What a great quote and an easy trap into which to fall. As an artist, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to find ways to make our work stand out from the rest. Competition for viewer attention has reached the frenetic level. Viewer’s eyes are becoming more and more jaded by the sheer volume of images posted on various websites and forums. So what is an artist to do? According to Brooks, there must be a balance between substance and craft.
The balance is between substance and craft. Substance informs craft; craft informs substance. Both substance and craft must answer the basic question: what is this photograph about?
If the substance of your photograph is not about a feeling or a thought that has been selected out of your life experience as being somehow meaningful, important, or worth sharing, then why should we, as your audience, find it worthy of our attention?
The point here is that the image must go beyond just a record of the moment if the viewer is to seriously consider our work as art. In this age of cellphone-mania where many photographs are captured as a result of “drive-by shooting”, where the photographer never even leaves the vehicle, the viewer becomes jaded by this “in your face” approach which denies lengthy viewer involvement. Artistic vision then is either non-existent or evaporates into the illusion of self-delusion.
Technical craft alone is another trap which can be used as a pretense for artistic vision. Attempting to build meaning upon a weak visual foundation often leads to collapsing viewer involvement.
Perhaps cameras can serve as a metaphorical window that allows us to see into and converse with each other about life, about experience, about learning, loving , being…
If we can’t think and feel uniquely about a subject, we may be seduced into using software or other craft gimmicks as a substitute.
The role of the artist is not easy and is often defined by our constant struggle between the world that surrounds us and our own personal interaction. Are we observers or participants? We must decide. Do we stay the time-tested course of familiarity that has gotten us to our present position in our artistic journey, or do we role the dice and take a chance and explore the boundaries in the perilous attempt of finding unexplored substance outside of our comfort zone? The substance of our vision defines the degree our success. Uniqueness for uniqueness sake is merely a facade for substance, but if we tap into the uniqueness of our spirit and the essence of what makes us unique from other artists, then the power of unique substance will lead us to greater pathways as an artist. We need to find our own balance between uniqueness, substance, and craft.