Friday, August 03, 2007

Real photographers don't...

Real photographers don't...
And real painters don't buy pre-mixed paint or pre-stretched canvases... *
And real men don't drive auto-gear cars... (or use automatic weapons, I guess.)

Coincidentally (or not), yesterday I got this mail from my friend Dave:

... But about "art." I'd like to share an aphorism that I heard many years ago:

The most important part of a real work of art is real work.

I suggest that to use a computer tool and randomly run fractals or generates patterns is not really art. Yes the patterns are pretty, but there is no real work involved in making them.

Clouds are pretty, but there is no real work in making them. Taking a picture of a cloud is much closer to art, if there was real thought put into it, with framing, contrast, whatever (I'm obviously not a photographer).

When you (and I mean you, Eolake himself) paint a picture, regardless of the quality of the output, there is real work involved. Some appeal to you, some to others, and some just don't. But there is real work.

I have a Dale Chihuly painting on my wall, 3'x4'. (In a weak moment, I gave in to a Public Broadcasting System pledge drive and bought it because it had my wife's birthday as its 1-of-200 serial numbers). It has some nice colors in it, but frankly, there was not much real work put into it. His technique is to grab ketchup (catsup, if that is the right spelling over there) bottles filled with paint and squirt them onto paper lying on the ground. He squirts until he is done. Hardly 4 minutes of work. Contrast that with any of the glass art his studio (which is about 10 miles away from my home) makes, and anyone can see the difference.

How do you personally define art? I really am curious.

Well, I am not sure I agree. While I appreciate the good feeling one gets from seeing something that a lot of work has been poured into, I am not sure it's connected with whether it is "art" or not. Building a house is a lot of work, but that does not make the house art. On the other hand, a very perceptive and trained photographer can make a world class photograph in a split second... Of course he probably used years to get to that level, but still, the actual photograph was over near-instantly.

* PS: haha, the thing about pre-stretched canvasses was just a guess on my part based on human nature. But lo this comment from Mike's site:
"I have an art degree from Indiana University and the painters I met there, both professors and students, were very passionate about materials and tools. Many of them wouldn't use anything but linen canvas, which they insisted that they had to stretch themselves instead of buying the pre-made canvases."


Alex said...

If you are looking at a scene through your camera lens, and you press the shutter release, you have taken a photograph. If you are unsure about the lighting you may elect to use the bracketing function on your camera (or perform this chore yourself).

When you get home and look at you pictures, you will make editorial decisions about which ones get displayed, which get archived, and which go to the round file.

When you run a fractal or psuedo random number generator function, with seed parameters you have chosen, you review the image and make editorial descisions. Which has potential, which doesn't. You can then tweak parameters, and see where they take you.

The speed of the process has improved, and costs have reduced both in photography and fractal generation.

My black and white tiger photo, was that less art after I pulled it into Photoshop and tweaked the contrast? Had I the training and the dark room I could have, what is it pushed or pulled the processing for much the same effect.

The creative process starts when the artist conceives the project, and concludes when the last person has looked at it.

The skill in the mathematicians who provide the formulae is in seeing a truth in the world. The programmer has to provide useful tools which allows the artist to use the formulae. The artist is free then to create/capture images that are evocative.

I took Brabury literally when he made Captain Beatty complain that "striking the theremin" was a way of inducing false sensation in the movie going audience. I later realized that that is part of the skill of making a movie. I used to be irked by John Williams invasive score, and please by Nyman and Vangelis's contributions to cinema. They are striking the theremin, as you do when you share your "auto-art" with us.

I was in the Tate, Liverpool. There was a display of clean house brick, arranged in square piles. I could not see the art in that. The other side of town, in the Bluecoat, were some statues of soldiers made of packing crates. That said a lot more to me. Art is so subjective, who can say what art is.

Cliff Prince said...

Art begs for a response, or an interaction, or a perception from another person. It can even be "easy" because it didn't take effort at the moment of creation, but that ease was the product of a lifetime of preparation on the part of the creator, whose entire essence and collected world view somehow got translated into the work. Or the effort of creation itself can be "the work" part.

An artist simply trains himself in these various communications and then tries to use them to his purpopses.

I recall a class in "Western Values" or some such, a freshman-level college thing where we all got our first chance to talk about deep philosophical ideas. We did some Sophocles, some Anouilh, a little Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ya know, old chestnuts.

One question arose. Does an artist have to create something that's beautiful? Plenty of students in our seminar, wise to their newfound politicizations, suggested no, he doesn't. He could create an ugly hideous thing, but the response in the viewer might be the intent of the art. Picasso's "Guernica" for example -- a scene of destruction, with the composition itself destroyed. "Mr. Picasso," asked the disgruntled General, who had wanted the glories of his regime idolized instead of battered, "did you paint that picture?" "No, Mr. General. You did," so responded Pablo.

But I insisted that artists must work toward beauty. Or use some other word -- toward wholeness, or toward sanity, or toward just plain old organic compositional togetherness. I think Picasso would be the first to say that the overwhelming response to "Guernica" was in itself a "beauty" of a sort.

Most of my classmates just thought I was a philistine, wishing for pretty pastel reproductions of impressionist water lilies. After all, who insists on something as bourgeois as "beauty" when so much more deep, philosophical, political concepts are available to the artist -- the struggling worker, the horrors of war, the destruction of the environment, plays about dysfunctional families. These are ART because they're DEEP, so thought the class. This fellow seeking beauty? He doesn't GET that art can be UNSETTLING. And it OUGHT to be. So they thought. It ought to "challenge assumptions."

No. I think "Animal Farm" is quite beautiful. Who doesn't see the beauty in "some are just more equal than others"? What a turn on a turn. Orwell would agree. "Guernica" has an incredible organic wholeness to its composition, line and form in place, colors in unity. Even "Morder Hoffnung des Frauens," a weird experimental theater piece from the Jugendstil period in Vienna about ... ya know ... nothing much, except Angst -- even that has a beauty to it. They missed my intent. Most of them are just lawyers and business executives now. I guess their fervent politicization didn't help them challenge their assumptions much at all.

Anonymous said...

"I suggest that to use a computer tool and randomly run fractals or generates patterns is not really art. Yes the patterns are pretty, but there is no real work involved in making them."

It has been a long while since I last toyed with fractals, but the above sentence still triggers an irresistible urge to reply "Just try it!". My bet is that after you have produced an original fractal image worthy of display, you won't insist so much that no real work is involved... slaving at a computer keyboard is still slaving!

"How do you personally define art?"

This question goes far, far deeper than the amount of work involved, or whether the result is pretty or not. To me, art is the result of a quest for some form of purity (or truth, for lack of a better word), no matter what form it takes in the end.

If you allow me to twist the context a bit, I might be able to shed a better light on what I mean here... I am a hard-core engineer, and thus spend most of my life dealing with very abstract concepts. Many (if not most) of my creations never existed outside some hard to define, often abtruse place where only the mind can wander.

Yet, even in such a place, I feel an urge for order, an urge that compels me to search for the truth that truly defines the goal I am seeking, and only through this kind of understanding of the "problem" at hand will I be able to find an elegant solution, one that spells simplicity in a way that is reminiscent of nature itself.

Granted, I will seldom find an audience to share the beauty of a given result, so this is not about reaching out to others (to be honest, this often saddens me, but that's besides the point).

Granted also that not every "problem" warrants such a quest. In fact, few things in this world are worth real attention. To make things worse, one seldom can afford the luxury of the quest (bean-counters are always watching!). And since they certainly can't see the difference between a kludge and a masterpiece, why bother?

Well, the only reason why I do bother (whenever I can afford it), is for that moment of grace where you get to contemplate something that is the result of your labour, and to which you cannot find anything to add or subtract, in which there is nothing that you would change for fear of breaking the spell.

Now that, to me at least, is what art is all about.

P.S. The above does not imply in any way that I don't also appreciate or even dabble in other (more conventional :) art forms as well. I simply don't see any difference between the abstract and the tangible.

Paul Sunstone said...

I define "art" very broadly to include some of what many people think of as "mere crafts". Probably I'm a bit naive about that.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

"Art" is notoriously one of the most difficult things to define.

Cliff Prince said...

Another is "pornography." Get started on THAT one ...

Anonymous said...

Wow! These are really good, thoughtful responses.

(I'm the Dave who Eolake quoted.)

I've always thought of art exactly like sports: it is the creation that is important, not the results, nor the audience, nor whether it is "pretty." If I hit the perfect spike in volleyball (my sport), that is art. (Those of you who are into kickball, aka, soccer/football, think of the same, please. Same with golf, or billiards.)

If a photographer clicks on the perfect scene, or decides to enhance a shot in Photoshop, yes, to me, that is art. It is nice that another person agrees that the result is art, but the satisfaction comes from inside.

"Art collectors" are the same as "sports fans" -- they are missing the essential ingredient -- the real work necessary to produce the real work of art.

It is not how long you take to produce the real work of art; expertise counts. If you spent years and years knowing how to take a photo or manipulate Phototshop so that the result is satisfying -- to you -- and you know you have really worked to perfect it, then you have done a real work of art.

Maybe only the creator can feel that what is created is really art. Maybe the definition of what is art needs to be totally subjective, as well as what is "pretty."

Anonymous said...

Say, Paul, never heard of "naive art"? The crafts of native populations are usually considered as full art. :-)

Eolake said...
"Art" is notoriously one of the most difficult things to define.

Which is a pretty good start for a definition! ;-)

Final Identity said...
Another is "pornography." Get started on THAT one ...

Look at the frescos in Pompeii. Depiction of explicit sex WAS an art form.
Not much of that noble tradition remains today, alas. It's become essentially tasteless, mainstream, chain-manufactured mass-consumption goods.
And then, there's Domai. :-))) And hope is reborn like the Phoenix in the blaze of a setting sun.
See? Even on THAT one, and with ME, that was quite brief. (~_^)

"(I'm the Dave who Eolake quoted.)"

Quoting is an art too. Ask any Fox News reporter...
And a very trendy art today in Lebanon, because it's an election day. :-?

"Those of you who are into kickball, aka, soccer/football, think of the same, please."

Yeah, that Gary Kasparov is quite the artist in his intellectual sport. ;-)

Very few art forms can do with no other tool than the artist's mind &/or body. Isn't filming a choreography part of communicating that art to more viewers, and recording it for posterity? The recording of a musical piece is an extension of the art it represents, not a falsification. And yet, both examples will require more than just a technical work that you could leave to a robot. This is how cinema was born, for example. Would anybody dare say that a movie is just the recording of a theater play by pointing and shooting the camera?

A sculptor will need a hammer, chisel, and a good stone. At least.
I'm just a very amateurist photographer, and just for personal photos that I don't consider as art to put in any exhibition, but I darn well know it's far more than just pointing and shooting. At the very least, you need to frame the picture, decide whether you'll take it wide or tall, and snap just the right moment, even if you're taking a rock under the sun. Shooting a smiling child will make anybody appreciate that Anne Geddes does far more than pick the costumes and the babies, pointing, and shooting.
"Please, PLEASE, pumpkin, will you just stop crying for a second and look at the birdie?
Oh, my. Diaper time... again! (sigh)"

The only requisite of art, I believe, is to have a content. Nature contains art, but only if you look at it. (Art is like the proverbial noise of a falling tree. There's always a sound made physically, but it's only an awesome thundering noise if there's someone hearing it to be awed.) You may consider a monochrome as art, but only with a specific expression included. A color can become art only when you put a certain meaning in it. And the art would be in the idea, much more than in homogenously painting a canvas. Otherwise, my neighbour is a great artist. He can paint the smoothest walls, and for a very reasonable fee! Wanna see a photo of my living-room's wall? It's gonna cost ya, it's a unique white blank surface identical to no other white blank surface...

In the end, I see little difference between an original Rembrandt and a good faithful photography of it. The art is in the created image. The original would have greater importance only to someone wanting to study the technique of the painter: for scientific purposes or to learn from the master. And to think these IMAGES are in the public DOMAI... I mean, domain! Instead of one person paying millions for it, let's put a free, hi-res photo of it on the internet (Wikipedia would be a great choice), and then art would reach its ultimate goal: be available to everybody who appreciates it.

I remember reading a very funny parodic autobiography by Roland Topor: "Mémoires d'un vieux con" (Memoirs of an old fart). It's a mock-tale of a superiorly talented artist. "This led to my monochrome period, the summit of my abstraction. I kept searching for the perfect blue to reflect my soul. To increase further the abstraction, I started making the paintings the size of a postal stamp. I would dip the roll paintbrush and create two dozens at once in one smooth, exhaustingly creative stroke of genius. I spent weeks, making hundreds of them, and they would sell for more and more as my fame kept growing and my soul aching. After that, I had a blank period. All creativity seemed to have poured out from me. It was time to move on to something else. Dysrythmic music! Naturally, fame followed me faithfully. No surprise there."

Years ago, I read about the experiment of an anthropologist. He gave his 6 y-o son a bunch of objects, to manipulate at he liked. The first time, he put them in a circular line. The second time, he stacked them in a pyramid. The third time, he carefully sorted them by size in several heaps. The scientist's conclusion: "Let's not be too hasty to see a special meaning in what we find of prehistoric men, or we might make fools of ourselves."

A display of clean house brick, arranged in square piles, might be considered artistic. Depending of the beholder. But a masterpiece? Not without significant content, it isn't! Again, if any mason can do it routinely, you've got to put more in it than "I've discovered masonry!" as a name tag. Square piles would be far more interesting to a namibian Imba native who's never been in the city, and never seen square buildings. While their elaborate hairdresses feel quite common to THEM. It's in the eye of the beholder, and can be quite unexpected. Or, it can be in the empty ramblings of a self-proclaimed socio-artistic elite, and be quite predictable. :-P A cleaning lady in a museum (I forgot its name) threw away an artistic exhibit... comprising of trash bags piled together! Some people said the damage was an irreplaceable loss. Why not ask the artist to fill a few more bags of the same brand and arrange them, hunh? It was about a statement, not about some hyper-delicate geometry or minute work.

Does the nightingale sing more beautifully to its female than the cuckoo? Don't laugh, it's a very deep question!
I read a fable where the two birds have a contest, and they pick a donkey as a judge. Which rules in favor of the cuckoo, because "it's got great method and rhythm, the nightingale is way too erratic"...

What's real art, and what's mere fart?