Apparent Confusion about Artistic Expression

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Donald Miller, May 22, 2006.

  1. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    It has become really very apparent to me that there is a great deal of confusion about what artistic expression amounts to in the field of photography. There are some who would argue that technical matters are the priority. There are those who would argue that previsualization or visualization is primary. There are those who would argue that there is nothing that can't be accomplished by learning to print properly.

    I wonder when I listen to these arguments how these have anything to do with the act of creating something new. What are you saying with your images? What is new about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas that I may not have experienced before?

    Granted technical proficiency can help us to express but it seems to me that we must have something to express before we can express it technically. It seems to me that previsualization or visualization of how the tonal scale will render in a print has very little to do with taking photographs that express anything new.

    I observe lots of work that is copies of something that has been done before. That in my estimation is flattering to some but it has the smell of mediocrity all over it for me.

    So what must take place before all of the technical bull crap comes into play? It seems that we must be open to the potential of expression of something new or of something expressed in a new way. All of the trees, snowdrifts, clouds, rocks, and waterfalls in the world are not new. I see those things every minute of my life...show me something new!!!!

    Show me what life means to you in your images. Pose questioins to me...rather then trying and failing to tell old tales again and again ad nauseum. Tell me about the life that others experience. Tell me what you know that I may not...and I don't mean previsualizing how a tone will render on a print. I already know that quite well, thank you very much.

    Explain how symbolism is used in expressing a thought that may be unique to you, a consideration, a value you hold dearly, or of an untruth in life that you have discovered. Pose questions to me, tell me how you leave things untold and unsaid. I have a brain and I use it to decipher meaning and understanding from well conceived images. Poorly conceived, previsualized images leave me empty and bored.

    Have those technical gurus among you even thought of these things? If you have let's discuss them here and now. If you haven't, might it be time to open ourselves to the possibility that there is much to be gained and learned by not photographing "known objects" until hell freezes over.

    Tell me those things and I will listen to you for hours.
     
  2. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    Thank you for saying what I have been mulling over the last month. I sit here with eyes, ears, and heart open.
     
  3. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Donald, I went to your personal gallery and saw things, or portions of things, pretty much photographed as such things are usually photographed. The Formative - Reactive - Evolved triptych was about the only evidence I saw that you're putting your photographs where your mouth is. In one comment you recently called the galleries a "desert of illustration"...have you being doing new work in a new way and not posting it?

    Murray
     
  4. darr

    darr Subscriber

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    For me it is the art of seeing and looking, and about noticing. Noticing my surroundings and not taking them for granted. It could be interpreted as how I see the world around me and not just what I see. I have my own distinct and characteristic way of seeing and that is what I need to tap into. My difference of perception is the starting point. When my "seeing" has captured the right elements for others to "look" and "notice," it will have its own life. This is what I strive for before I trip the shutter, but rarely do I capture it. This is my life's passion and I will keep running after it until I can no longer see.
     
  5. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Donald, I'm trembling. You've nailed the question. You've put it differently than I could ever put it, and it hits home.

    Let's keep this up and running, and see where it goes.

    I've recently had the chance to make portraits of mrcallow and billschwab: I went out shooting with each of them to some location that seemed it might provoke some interest: shooting in the conditions they like to work. Besides being a good time, it was a shock.

    I got to see them hit in the gut by a scene. As they shot and shot, I stood back and was completely at a loss as to what they saw. I didn't see a darn thing. We were looking at the same things but I saw nothing. Felt nothing. But they were on fire.

    Then something resolved itself, a feeling, a resonance, a thrill, and I began to shoot: it was as if Bill or John were connected to their subjects, and I saw them clearly.

    Yes, I knew there were technical issues but they were no more a distraction than knowing the fiddle was in tune. The moment came, was there, and then it was over. Three, or four, frames. No need for contact prints, and no need to wonder what the picture was about. And no real way to explain them.

    I think we each have something that will rock us, something thrilling, that makes the fuel for a good picture. Something differnt for each of us. Discovering what it is that moves us, what it is that provokes us to making a picture, is the quest. When we discover WHY we make pictures the pictures that mean something, we've begun the process. All I can venture to say now is that it is probably quite different for all of us. Being willing to risk complete failure - I think - is probably the first step.

    Thanks, Donald
     
  6. blaze-on

    blaze-on Member

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    Dead horses should be buried
     
  7. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    I think that this is an example of something that Jeremy brought up in a recent post that had to do with personal expresion. There are a lot of people out there who are imitating the work of others because they liked what they saw, or perhaps because they want to be associated with that persons work. Some of it is good, and some is poor. The pictures that move me most are pictures that strike some inner chord with me, and they may well be bland or boring to someone else. I've seen lots of prints of the 'Masters' that I didn't care for, and other prints from unknowns that moved me greatly enough to part with some hard earned cash. Conversly, I've seen the works of 'The Greats' that I can't afford but would certainly own if I could, and the work of unknowns that I didn't think anything positive of at all.

    Often the poor work is the work of people who are working on getting better, who need some feedback and evaluation in order to get better. My own work falls into this category. I'm an amateur by choice, and I'll never achieve greatness, but I still share what I do creat in order to improve my skills. I know what moves me and that's what I strive to capture in my photos. I almost always falls short in some way, but I still share it. I do not deny that I copy the work of others on occasion - it helps me to better understand my shortfalls in skill as well as in vision. You can tell me all day long that something is not 'good' or 'strong' or whatever, but until I internalize that by personal experience, I will doubt you on it. And who knows, perhaps to me, some of those common objects resonate to my inner song.

    I do understand what you are saying here, but the he bottom line as I see it is this: It is impossible to find something that moves everyone that views it - people just have too many different personal experiences to all see the same way. In order to have some deep appreciation for a print, we must be able to find some inner connection to it. I think that more often than not, the images that resonate with the most people are those that are made by people who are driven by their own vision rather than those who seek to immitate others, but even the most driven person will not move everyone.

    - Randy
     
  8. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Randy, Thank you for your post. The point that I wanted to make and perhaps I failed to convey it is that we photograph for ourselves...it is not for others. But why is it that we photograph? What is it that moves us as it does? What are our photographs telling us? What is incorporated symbolically in our images?

    I think that when we begin to seek answers to these questions that are unique to each and every one of us then we will begin to make images that are uniquelly ours.

    Creative expression, I strongly feel, is not about capturing what has been captured before...it is about capturing our own view of shapes, forms, patterns, textures and of symbolic meaning.

    We will never entertain or acknowledge symbolism in creative expression until we open ourselves to it. I have not heard a single photographer in over thirty years explain or address symbolism. Yet it is openly acknowledged in other fields of creative expression. Why is that? Do you wonder? I do...
     
  9. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Donald, you make a great point. We tend to bog down struggling with the first barrier established by some of the greybeards ... "Are the grains on the print technically "acceptable ?"... and then the second: Is the composition "right ?" If, in the estimation of some, the work fails these tests ... there is no point of continuing. It is a "failure", no matter what emotional effect it may have on the viewer - in fact, the seems to be ... let me repeat, among SOME ... a crusade to protect photography from those who view all technical aspects as secondary, and regard the emotional content - the presentation of the "being" of the photographer as being of primary, and by far, the most important.

    Something from experience here ... "Interesting photograph (damning with faint praise) but you have BLOWN HIGHLIGHTS. That is a major and unforgivable sin ... so the image is worthless. Go back and learn how not to make an image with "blown highlights".
    All one has to do is to suggest that the technical imperfection be overlooked, and the avalanche will begin: "We can't do that .. It will be the end of "good" photography, as we know it, forever".

    If I choose to express myself - define my "being" in any way, (including the use of "blown highlights") I - and everyone else - should be ABSOLUTELY allowed ... ENCOURAGED to do so. That is called FREEDOM of artistic expression.

    One caveat here ... freedom is the key. I choose one way, MY way at any given time, for that expression. It may be through a nude figure study, or a photograph of an absolutely adorable kitten, or a sunset, or cows in a field ... whatever. If, however, I claim the absolute right to choose (and I do), I MUST also accept the fact that everyone else has that identical right, with an identical amount of freedom, and I cannot limit that content to "only something that has NOT been said or done before". As long as the photographer is being honest to her/himself - or rather TRYING to be honest (success is NOT mandatory) **I** declare it to be "Good Work!!!" - even sight unseen!
    What the hell, why not?? The way I see it I have as much authority as anyone else.

    Many moons ago. I wrote some poetry. My work underwent some (unexpected) severe criticism. The result? They damn near threw me out of the room, accused of plagarizing Ezra Pound. At the time, I had NEVER read anything by Ezra Pound! Not one word. I visited my local Library afterwards, and I will admit that there was some similarity... but in ALL honesty, my work was NOT copied from his. Nonetheless - it was all now trash!! in their eyes.

    We should all be admonished to work "from our hearts"... trying to express our "souls" the best we can. And we all must respect the others who are doing the same thing.
     
  10. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Yes I think that you have identified an important aspect. But I strongly believe that there is something of far greater depth and gravity if we will open ourselves to the possibility that it exists.

    I would illustrate it this way. Each and everyone of us if called upon to view a series of Rosach ink blots would see something totally different. The ink blots are not "known objects" they are symbolic of something different that resides within each of our psyches. I believe that seeing and creative expression in photography is unique to each of us in much the same way that the ink blots are.

    So symbolism is an unspoken and foreign language to us as photographers. If I relied strictly upon my photographic education, I would have no exposure to symbolic reference. My limited knowledge arises from exposure in other disciplines and practices...but the knowledge transcends these disciplines and is more global in impact.

    What is the symbolic meaning? What are some common symbolic objects? How do they play into our creative expression? These are questions that we would all benefit from examining.

    Our photographs, I believe reveal not the world external, but rather the world internal to each and everyone of us.
     
  11. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Murray to examine and to render judgement from a few photographs apart from the context in which they existed at the time of exposure is a very limited viewpoint, I think that you will agree.

    Perhaps if you will observe with an open mind you may learn something of benefit to you. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?
     
  12. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Technique to me is the ability to communicate ideas. Conversely, lack of technique is the inability to communicate ideas. Obviously, if a photographer has no ideas (and is not open-minded enough to develop any), no communication will take place, no matter how much technique the photographer has, and any work produced is likely to be an empty display of technical virtuosity.

    The concept that I am very much against is the idea that you can be EITHER creative OR technically competent but not both. I feel this it totally wrong.

    Consider this if you will. Among friends who go drinking together, there is usually one who is the comedian in the group. He/she is proficient at getting laughs within the group. If, however, one group member does not get a joke and asks for it to be repeated, the "comedian" will not be able to tell it the same way a second time, his/her delivery will be exasperated and flat, and if the person who didn't get the joke the first time still doesn't get it, the "comedian" will give up and may say "You just can't explain humor!" Furthermore, if the group comedian is ever persuaded to take the microphone and address the whole room, suddenly they're not funny any more!

    Contrast this with a professional comedian or comic actor appearing in a TV sitcom. Each line that he/she says will have been worked over a dozen times by the writers, rehearsed numerous times and repeated in numerous live takes. Yet the professional comedian has the ability to deliver the line with energy and conviction each time, and when take #17 or whatever is finally broadcast, it seems spontaneous and fresh. This to me is the true relationship between technique and creativity, and one that non-professionals very often misunderstand.

    In my own work, of which I have posted many examples in the gallery, I aim to go way beyond technical exercises, penetrate beneath the surface of things and conjure up all kinds of abstract relationships and meanings. But I regard the constant challenge facing me as one of technique - I have the greatest ideas in the world in my head but it takes me a hell of a lot of effort before the concrete images I place on paper come anywhere near these ideas.

    Regards,

    David
     
  13. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    Ahhh. the old "which came first. the chicken or the egg?" discussion. Although well stated, the question is as old as the hills. And while I mean no disrespect whatsoever, such questions produce a whiff of the same mental masturbation that can be equally as paralyzing to creative expression as getting lost in technical proficiency. Personally I believe both are necessary if you are going to be able to express anything to anyone in your chosen medium. However, conscious thought of either will never allow the heart to shine through. In my opinion, you need to be good enough at both to be able to forget them, move on and get down to some serious self-expression. The technical tools I need to create the images I feel the need to create are now second nature to me. I feel the same abut the more cerebral aspects of creativity and self-expression. I would rather listen to my gut that my head anytime. It knows far more than my conscious mind ever will.

    Bill
     
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  15. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    David, If you will reread what I have written I have not diminished technique. I have not said that technical knowledge is undesireable..nor have I meant to convey that creative expression should exist at the opposition of technical expertise.

    What I have sought to convey is that technical knowledge is not the same as creative expression. I believe that technical ability is a tool used in creative expression and to make it something else is akin to saying the stove on which we cook our meals is what we should be eating.

    I think, quite strongly, that it is long past time to speak of creative expression as the primary necessity to the process. Let us, those of us, with an open mind to something beyond and apart from Zone VIII densities discuss the matter of creative expression.
     
  16. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Artists ang (the verb form of angst?) and philosophers philos. The combination is something akin to verbal LSD. Trippy, man. :cool:
     
  17. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I would decline to do so, myself. I'd just refer the questioner to Jung: "Man and His Symbols".

    All I could hope to do is to repeat what Jung has written there.

    Come to think of it ... I HAVE been in (actually trapped in) those "arty" discussions before. I can't think of one that was coherent, never mind, made any sense.
     
  18. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    Are you saying you have a grasp on the Holy Grail Donald?
     
  19. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Bill,

    I wonder in your quickly arrived at judgement, have you ever sat and seriously discussed the creative process? Or do you jump to conclusions so rapidly in each and every matter in your life? Do you have the ability or the knowledge to intelligently discuss this matter apart from trying to subtley diminish it? Do you have knowledge of symbolic meaning? If so I welcome your presence...I welcome all positive input.
     
  20. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Bill I think that I have the intellectual capacity to intelligently discuss things which you apparently have no grasp of...
     
  21. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    I'm listening Master. Please tell me more about my lack of "intellectual capacity". I'm listening.
     
  22. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Ummm...no, I wouldn't agree.

    I hear you talking, but I don't see the physical photographic evidence which is the whole point of your point. I see nothing new.

    Murray
     
  23. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    One big dirty word you should borrow from literature is "Theme." A theme is a humanely relevant issue with which you engage by formulating it in a particular way. Part of the meaning of a work of art derives from the very specific way in which one does so.

    Case in point: Guernica. It's about military ruthlessness, more specifically about Franco's trial of German planes on a small innocent village. Yet it's not just a painting that's "about" war, or violence. It does so in a very specific manner. It applies form over content, if you will, and what it expresses is not a general idea, but a particularly formed one. One that exists only in that very incarnation. It also happens that this idea is powerful, moving, shocking, denunciating, and graphically stunning.

    There's been too much Stieglitz and not enough Picasso in photography, if you want my opinion.
     
  24. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Donald, I appreciate you are not decrying technique but are rather saying that it in itself is not enough, and I would totally agree with you. What I would suggest, though, is that "technique" does not just mean the physical technicalities of a particular medium, but that there is a perfectly valid technique for developing creative ideas, too. I feel it is not helpful for people striving for artistic expression to think that they have simply to wait for the muse to strike in some vague and indefinable way.

    To return to the example of acting, it is a given in this profession that a group of artists (actors) can work through a creative process (rehearsal) and bring this to a predefined conclusion (live performance) by a certain time.It is also a given that technical considerations (learning lines, blocking out moves) have to come first but are far from enough in themselves and are only the necessary prelude to the creative phase (discovering the deeper meaning of a text). I feel there are some principles here which could usefully be applied to other media (including, but not only, photography!).

    Best regards,

    David
     
  25. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i agree with you wholeheartedly, but the thing is that people with cameras are trapped in reality, and unless they do something drastic, photography will always be based in reality. i don't know what creative or artistic expression is. i do straight documentary photography ( most of the time ). i just use my camera as a tool to record what is around me. sometimes i see reality a little different than others, but we all see the world around us differently.

    - -john
     
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  26. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Murray,

    I will try to bring this to a point where you might understand. Let's take the images in my Transitions portfolio. Each of those have symbolic connotations. They were all taken during the middle to late 1980's. People who have an appreciation and understanding of symbolic meaning---notably those with and education of human functioning readily grasp the import and impact of those images.

    Of course if one has not experienced or been open to the possibility of a language apart from objective reality, this would include symbolism, then this will be quite obscure and misunderstood.

    Each of those images in that portfolio occurred at pivotal points in my life. Each of them revealed more about my internal orientation to life then they did about the objective reality.

    So when you say that you see nothing new...perhaps you need to learn the language that comprises symbolic meaning as it applies to you and to me.