Musings on Photography


Posted in the art world by Paul Butzi on June 19, 2007


From a recent Artist Trust opportunity posting:

A new, not-for-profit collective gallery will open in Pioneer Square in February of 2008. We are currently looking for submissions from artists working in any media for group and solo shows. We prefer work that is completely original or, if derivative, conceptually so. [emphasis is mine]

Please submit 10-15 images on CD along with an artist statement, notes on the background/origin of your current work, a resume and a SASE if you wish materials to be returned. We will contact you before January of 2008. If you have any questions please contact Molly at Gallery 110.

I know nothing about Gallery 110 except what’s in this posting.  I just thought it was amusing that they prefer work which is completely original.  I would have thought that either something was original or else it wasn’t.  It isn’t a term that admits of qualification – it’s like unique.  Things are either unique or they’re not; nothing can be ‘mostly unique’ or ‘partially unique’ or even ‘slightly unique’, and God forbid you should suggest that something is ‘very unique’ in my presence.  So when they write ‘completely original’ I’m left wanting to submit the phrase to the Department of Redundancy Department, in duplicate.

Having pondered the whole originality thing, I’m not sure that anything is truly original, in the sense that it was done by the creator without any outside influence.  So that would rule out submitting work that is ‘completely original’, as amusing as that phrase might be to the pedants among us.

And I am utterly confused by the idea that something might be derivative but not be conceptually derivative.  If your work is derived from some other work, then there’s some concept in the original work (even if that concept is, say, size, or visual appearance, or use of materials) that appears in your work. I guess that you could take someone else’s artwork, and then fiddle with it, and it would be physically derivative of the other person’s work, but it would STILL be conceptually derivative as well.

So, in the end, it seem that no matter what you submit, Gallery 110 will be ok with it!

It seems to me that while muddleheaded thinking and writing is all around us, the art world is responsible for a disproportionate amount of it.  Art is often about exploring things which are poorly understood, or ambiguous, and sometimes about presenting those explorations in ambiguous or tangential ways.  But a group of artists ought to be able to sit down and write a concise statement of what sort of art they want to show in their coop gallery without having the result be both redundant and meaningless simultaneously.

8 Responses

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  1. Derek said, on June 19, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Makes sense to me. They don’t want pictures that are visual copies of existing pics, but it’s OK if the picture was inspired conceptually (if not visually) by another pic.

  2. Paul Butzi said, on June 19, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Derek, the problem is that a visual copy is also a conceptually derivative thing. The concept that is the basis for the derivation is the appearance of the source work.

    If what they wanted was to exclude work which was merely a visual copy of some other work, why not just say “No visual copycats, please!” and leave it at that?

  3. andrewbrittain said, on June 19, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Same here – it makes sense if you just read it as it is in a straightforward sense

    As Derek says, it’s pretty clear what they are asking for and what they are seeking to exclude

  4. sjconnor said, on June 19, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I’m with you, Paul. All art is conceptually derivative – it derives from the concept of art!

    On the other hand, you’ve got to admire their feat of pulling off redundant meaninglessness. Or, meaningless redundancy. Which, given the state of most writing on art, is a feat which is, in itself, both meaningless and redundant! Maybe these folks derived their concept from Dada?

  5. Mike said, on June 19, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    My pet hate is “reiterate”. Re-repeat. So day over and over again and again.

    Language mirrors our thoughts. It’s one way we get those thoughts out and into another’s head. Either there are many confused souls about or many children paid too little attention in school — assuming they weren’t truant.

    We either forgive and take them at face value or waste our time trying to teach them (and that’s been tried before) — and frankly don’t we have better things to do?

    I’m assuming you have informed this non-profit organization of its linguistic shortcoming and received a polite thank-you in return!


  6. Rosie Perera said, on June 20, 2007 at 12:28 am

    I like this photo! It’s way different from your usual stuff (which I also like). Dare I say it’s “very unique”? 😉

    Speaking of language peeves and the Department of Redundancy Department, why do “redundant” and “repetitive” even need a re- prefix? There’s no such word as “dundant” or “petitive” so how can something be “re” dundant or “re” petitive?

  7. Ann said, on June 20, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    The “completely original” phrase reminded me of the scenes in City of the Lost Children where each of the clones begs his maker to answer, “Am I the original?”

    Why not say in the blurb, “no clones?” Have a thought. Do something with that thought. Direct communication and clear instructions – that’s not art school writing.

    It matters not. Those who haven’t learned to validate their own thoughts won’t know they are clones anyway. They will still submit, and the selection committee will still have someone to belittle. For some, I imagine that’s one of the few perks of the job. Sounds like another “all-volunteer army” doing the best it can to make something new. Kudos to them. Maybe they can recruit an English major into the service.

  8. andrewbrittain said, on June 20, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    “There’s no such word as “dundant” or “petitive” so how can something be “re” dundant or “re” petitive?”

    But there is the word “undare” which means “a rise in waves” – with the prefix “re” – “again”

    In other words, “to overflow” which is redundantem

    the present participle of which is redundant i.e. “Exceeding what is necessary or natural; superfluous.” (or an overflow…)

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