BACK TO BASICS, CREATIVELY SPEAKING
~ EDITORS NOTE: re-posted 4/8/15 after a server error lost original ~
Well all has been rather quiet here at OurWorldMyEye Mannor (there is no mannor) for quite some time.
I thought it was time I broke the seal once again and began to share some random scribblings and see where it takes us.
However, despite not posting anything since The Shot I Never Forgot exhibition last November, I don’t want you to think I have been sitting idle, quite the opposite in fact.
Putting on the exhibition was an immense experience – it almost had me on my knees, trying to organise it around a rather busy spell of my first ‘proper’ teaching job and I came out of the back of it a broken, yet elated man.
What proceeded was the rumbling thunder of artistic discontent, flashed by the lightning of fear of achievement…this is a terrible metaphor, but lets run with it anyway…the time between the thunder and lightning got closer signalling the proximity of the creative storm being almost overhead and my instinct was to bury my head under the covers.
~~~~ I formally apologise for that attempt at poetically describing my mental state, whilst it failed, I feel for the sake of public transparency I will leave it in, bearing my full shame as it where ~~~~
Anyway, what is one to do in such situations? The life of a creative person is a challenging and mentally draining one, if I am like anyone else, I suffer from:
1) Complete lack of contentment with anything I have or will ever produce
2) Complete frustration at my lack of productivity
3) Even more complete frustration at the lack of time and energy I have to put into creative pursuits due to everyday life buggering it up (work, chores, social decency etc)
4) Complete delight in an ability to procrastinate over doing anything on account of talking myself out of ideas on account of them being shit
A creative crisis was at hand friends and given I am far from the most prolific create of all things art anyway, I was aware that there was a significance to this that I should address post-haste.
It was then that three things combined to sort me out, which has culminated in me deciding to dust of the old blog and get back amongst it.
THING 1 – TURNER
I watched Being Mr Turner. What a great film, what an arse hole! The film taught me i) you should just create what you want to create and follow your own instincts – do it your way, even if that does involve spitting on your paintings! ii) it is not worth sacrificing all other parts of your life just to create things iii) it gave me an idea for a new project that I am currently working on, it may be some time until it is ready for public consumption but I am enjoying the process of discovery it is providing iv) he really is one of the greatest painters there has ever been, use of light in his post-romantic paintings are utterly sublime.
THING 2 – PERRY
I was given Grayson Perry’s book ‘Playing to the Gallery’ – which I think is a great little read. It is not the most profound or perfectly written thing you will ever read, but it is a fantastically honest and insightful discussion about the art world and the process of creativity at large. I am a huge fan of Grayson Perry as it is and feel his approach to life is quite wonderful in many ways. In the book he talked about how long he spent pursuing his own ideas through ceramics, whilst the rest of the art world looked down on it as a medium. 20 years of hard craft and gutsy determination later and he had begun to receive the recognition he undoubtedly deserves. However, aside from his own insights, one passage particularly chimed with me and I would like to share it with you. He cited a Photographer called Arno Minkkinen who used the metaphor of Helsinki bus station to describe his thoughts on the creative process, Grayson tells the story in his own terms, but below is the original text by Minkkinen.
The Helsinki Bus Station
There is a bus station in Helsinki I want to invite you to see, a bus station just across from Eliel Saarinen’s famous train station. Surrounded by Jugendstil architectural gems such as the National Theater and the National Art Museum, the Helsinki bus station makes a cool backdrop for Magnum wannabes armed with DSLRs and vintage Leicas, you know, ready for anything.
You might find yourself there, one day too.
But getting back to what makes the bus station famous, at least among my students at UMass Lowell, the University of Art & Design Helsinki, the École d’Art Appliqués in Lausanne, Switzerland or the many workshops I give in Tuscany, Maine, and Santa Fe, is the metaphor it offers students and professionals alike for creative continuity in a lifelong journey in photography, the metaphor is provides to young artists seeking to discover their own unique vision one day.
The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer, stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are repeated each time: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
OK, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years has already been done, and by someone with far greater fame than you have attained thus far. So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short), and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera colour snapshots from a cherry picker crane of people lying on the beach. You spend three years and three grand at it and produce a series of works that elicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black-and-white 8×10 camera images of palm trees swaying along a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back, and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do? It’s simple: Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus.
Why? Because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference. The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail each other for a spell, but soon they split off as well. Irving Penn is headed elsewhere.
It’s the separation that makes all the difference, and once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire (that’s why you chose that platform after all), it’s time to look for your breakthrough.
Suddenly your work starts to get noticed. Now you are working more on your own, making more of the difference between your work and what influenced it. Your vision takes off. And as the years mount up and your work begins to pile up, it won’t be long before the critics become very intrigued, not just by what separates your work from a Sally Mann or a Ralph Gibson, but by what you did when you first got started! You regain the whole bus route in fact.
The vintage prints made twenty years ago are suddenly re-evaluated and, for what it is worth, start selling at a premium. At the end of the line — where the bus comes to rest and the driver can get out for a smoke or better yet a cup of coffee — that’s when the work is done.
It could be the end of your career as an artist or the end of your life for that matter, but your total output is now all there before you, the early so-called imitations, the breakthroughs, the peaks and valleys, the closing masterpieces, all with the stamp of your unique vision.
Why? Because you stayed on the bus.
Now I am not saying if I stay on my bus I will become a huge success, but at least I will know I have followed my own creative path and created the things that I wanted to create – no matter how good or bad, popular or unpopular, prolific or un-prolific they may be.
THING 3 – ‘GRAM
I discovered Instagram friends. Yes, I had avoided it for some time, mainly because I didn’t have a phone that could cope and if I am honest, probably due to some level of snobbery too. Then, whilst invigilating the exhibition one quiet day in November last, I downloaded it and began to play. What I really enjoyed was the sketchbook nature that it could provide – an instant way to take a quick snap of something that caught your eye and log it in a simple gallery where myself or anyone else who cared to look could re-visit it. I always take snaps anyway and always have, I like the process or spotting small details during my everyday life and recording them for my own interest. Instagram offered a painfully convenient way to do that whilst connecting with other photographers at the same time.
Some months in, it also dawned on me that it might be interesting to see how many images I could create through the drudgery of everyday life. As discussed at the beginning of this post, I was feeling the frustrations of life ‘stopping’ me from creating things, but also knew intellectually that was bollocks. Provided you look, you REALLY LOOK, there are amazing sights to be seen anywhere and everywhere. So without being to strict about it, I attempted to start taking one photograph each morning and posting it to Instagram. I do not set any rule as to it having to be each day or of anything in particular, but it just sits there in the back of my mind as something to try and achieve every morning.
The result is a re-connection with looking – getting visually excited about the world around me. I enjoy the act of playing with my surroundings by editing parts of what I see to create new things. that is what has always stimulated me about photography. I see an interesting pattern of shadow, light and rust – someone else sees a piece of junk. I take a photograph of that scene and present it and somehow it is elevated to a new status.
So there you have it, a quick insight into my brain since last we spoke! I think it is healthy to go through these processes periodically to make you question the value of creating things and why there is a need to do it, as well as making you question what you are interested in, to force you to stay on the same bus and see where it leads. I currently have a few new projects under-way and hope to rekindle my joy for tapping away nonsense on this blog too.
I will leave you with a few instagram snaps – if you fancy seeing them more regularly, just follow!