Musings on Photography


Posted in art is a verb, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 18, 2008

Some time back, Doug Stockdale wrote an interesting post stating that

Up to recently, my web gallery read ‘Douglas Stockdale, Fine Art Photographer’, but now, I have deleted the ”Fine Art” in front of the Photographer subtitle. Just ’Photographer’. When I came back to photography, I had the same insecurity as many others, that is, if you are not sure that what you see (of my photographs) constitutes ‘art’, let me help you and reassure you that I am indeed an ‘artist’. Oh, by the way, painters are really no different, they are just as insecure as the rest of us (I am not a house painter, but a painter of houses), so don’t think that this is just a photo hang-up!

So why the change now? Part of this is getting comfortable in my own skin. Part is getting my series Bad Trip – Sad Trip published in LensWorklast month. The last part is reading David Vestal’s column in the March issue of Photo Techniques about Improper Nouns. And yes, it’s all about the use of the ‘fine art’ words. To summarize two pages, if you have to actually tell someone you are a fine artist, what does that say about you and them??

Those words stuck in my head, and I was vaguely thinking about writing my thoughts about all this but never quite got my thoughts sufficiently gelled to write them down. Or I didn’t try to write them down, so they never gelled. One or the other.

And then when I was reading Writing Past Dark I bookmarked the following passage:

“Why do we seek fame?” a student asks the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, according to a book entitled Think on These Things.

Have you ever thought about it?” he responds. “We want to be famous as a writer, as a poet, as a politician, as a singer, or what you will. Why? Because we really don’t love what we are doing. If you loved to sing, or to paint, or to write poems – if you really loved it – you would not be concerned with whether you are famous or not… Our present eduction is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing. The result has become more important than the action.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m confident there are people who are doing things and want to become famous for doing them and yet love what they are doing intensely. Humans are competitive by nature and can’t turn it off even when doing something we love. That said, I do think that this passage highlights something significant and meaningful.

I can’t help observing that although I continue to exhibit work, and I continue to think hard about ways to get my work in front of people, I feel a lot of conflict about that.

Part of that conflict is that the population I’m most interested in having as an audience and buyer of my work is apparently NOT the Art World Approved sort of audience – instead it’s the people who actually live in the places I photograph. Apparently Real Artists are only interested in the common man as a subject, never as an audience. To that idea, I say “Fooey.”

And another part of the conflict I feel is that, as a general thing, I don’t much enjoy the whole showing my work thing. I’m not saying I want to take my work and hide it under a bushel, nor am I saying that showing my work is utterly without reward. What I’m saying is that those rewards aren’t the big rewards. The big rewards are being out and about with the camera, and being at home in the workroom editing, developing, and printing the photos. I’ve always had a bit of a problem when someone asked me “What do you do with all the photos you make”, until one day I learned to take a page from the quilt world, and answer that question with “You don’t ask someone who collects Hummel Figurines what they do with all those figurines, do you?”

I know that everyone gets discouraged at times, and that validation can help us ride out those rough periods of discouragement. But I think it’s a shame that the validation comes from our attempts to earn the “Fine Artist” merit badge and not from a community of people who just think that in general making art as a day to day thing can make our lives a bit more interesting and pleasant.

9 Responses

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  1. Andrew said, on March 18, 2008 at 11:31 am

    That is a very nice image today!

  2. Paul said, on March 18, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    I think that we are taught to be competitive. Further, I believe that you can do something that you love, make a living from it, and not have to intentionally compete with someone else. It’s not a zero-sum game.

    I think that you summed it up perfectly in that last sentance:

    … that in general making art as a day to day thing can make our lives a bit more interesting and pleasant.

    That, my friend, is exactly what art does for me. It makes my day-to-day existence a lot more interesting and pleasant. It helps me to see more of the world instead of just existing within it.

  3. Bron Janulis said, on March 18, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Some very nice thoughts, though at this moment, feeling old and tired, I am having some trouble wrapping my mind around it all. I enjoy what I do, but I can also be bored, and worn out by it, and very worried about the check that is in the mail, but never seems to arrive in the timely fashion of the bills.

    Success might be the Big Rock Candy Mountain; the bills are paid and the clients are all sweethearts; fame, in theory leads to success.

    The honors and accolades of fame I think we all crave, though I’m only half joking when I say that a check in hand is the highest accolade.

    Apparantly I’m off topic, but being an artist, is I think, just a state of mind, and has little to do with the medium. And, matters little, in terms of art or checks.

  4. Richard Camper said, on March 18, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Thanks for posting this. You really got me thinking. Unfortunately it also got an old song by Kenny Rodgers Makin Music For Money stuck in my head. “I won’t make my music for money; I’m going to make my music for me.” I agree 100% with your last statement, Art in all forms makes life better.

  5. Remon said, on March 19, 2008 at 4:14 am

    I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m confident there are people who are doing things and want to become famous for doing them and yet love what they are doing intensely


    You don’t have “time” to become famous if you are really conscious, if you really like what you are doing now.
    Becoming famous is a mental aspect (we want something) and that wanting is the going out of that what is now.

  6. Ed Richards said, on March 19, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Hmm. I use fine art to make it clear that I am just doing it for fun and that you should not contact me to shoot your wedding.:-) (I did a few weddings when I was young, and that convinced me that I did not want to be a professional photographer.)

    Paul – the more you write about your views on photography, the more it seems that books might be the perfect medium for you. I have to admit that with POD publishers, the cost and trouble of mounting a show becomes less attractive when the same effort and money could generate a pretty good book.

  7. stephen connor said, on March 19, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    I just watched “William Eggleston in the Real World” on DVD. Among the extras tagged on, there are some interviews with Eggleston at one of his shows. The interviewer asked him if he ever considers his audience. Eggleston gave a small laugh, a loooonnnnggg pause, and said, “I think my audience is myself.” Doesn’t seem to have stopped him from becoming famous.

  8. Bryan Willman said, on March 22, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    There’s a very irritating trend in marketing in which things are “described” as being desireable whether they are or not.

    So ads talk about “ample parking”, airline stewards ask you to “remain comfortably seated” in the awful waiting area, and the customer service person asks “what can I do to give you excellent service?”.

    In fact, the word “gourmet” has been applied to so many mundane things (“gourmet hot dogs”?!?!) that the people who used to use that word now call themselves “foodies” instead.

    No, calling whatever it is you make “fine art” does not make it “fine” or make it “art”, but it’s standard marketing practice.

    I don’t know if any of this actually *works*, but it’s become part of our economic culture.

  9. Bryan Willman said, on March 22, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Getting Fame, like getting Fortune, are ways of “winning” meaning “I’m OK.”

    There are sports where if you finish at all (marathon, say) you did very well. If you win, then by definition, you did the best that was possible that day.

    For most Art, getting actually started is probably 30% of the battle. “Finishing” is another 40% ot 70%. (You actually *made a print* or *made a web gallery* – you won! at least in part.)

    Somebody bought one? It got a good review? You got your name on the evening news? You are great, or at least “good enough”, for at least today….

    I think we’re all paranoid, some of us are just aware of it…

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