“THE EPISODE” – A.K.A DON’T BE AFRAID OF ART
Caveat – I have been sitting on this post as a draft for some time, debating whether to post it as it is a bit of a self indulgent rant! Then I thought sod it! So here it is…
ART – THE GREAT DIVIDER OF PEOPLE
A few choice encounters of late including “the episode” coupled with my own personal re-falling in love with the world of fine art made me want to write a few lines about the attitudes and opinions people hold.
Art is a funny subject as it seems to very squarely fall into a love it or hate it division. What is more, those who say they are not into art seem to be absurdly threatened by it and I find this very curious. Why should something so creative, open and broad be so threatening? Isn’t Art a true leveller – placing everyone as the viewer in a certain position of control? We can choose to look at something or not to look at it. We can give it meaning or have meaning suggested to us. We can be inspired by it because we love it or equally inspired because we hate it.
For me – art is truly democratic. There is a medium, genre or style for everyone. People who state they don’t like art must be kidding themselves – because we all like art. What the real question comes down to is the definition of art – and that is something that artists, philosophers and drunken dinner party guests have squabbled over since the first artistic marks where made.
THE THREAT OF CONCEPT
When I mention the A word to some people – they wince as if I have said something dirty. As if it something to be feared or rebel against. It is like the very mention of it makes them defensive and on the back foot. Is that just because they don’t understand art or is it because their definition is of highly obscure, conceptual and inaccessible contemporary art. I wonder if that same person where to be shown a pretty painting of a photo realistic rolling hill landscape and told “this is true art”, if they would change their reaction?
Equally some people only consider the highly over intellectualised conceptual art to be worthy of time and old jack, painting mediocre landscapes in his shed of a Sunday doesn’t get a look in.
I suppose music invokes similar reactions from people – it is as if we are so threatened by other people liking something creative that we ourselves do not get, that we have to launch a massive assault on it in order to satisfy our own minds that it is not because we are stupid, ignorant or poorly educated. A classic musical example is when you come across someone who loves rock but hates any form of dance music (or vice versa). They will almost convulse in disgust at the very mention of it and ridicule it – “That’s not music!”
I can understand why people do not want to get intellectually involved in a subject – after all, we only have so much room in our brains and time in our lives to dedicate to our passions. But to completely sack off one of the most significant things about being human, for me, is absolutely balmy.
THE ANTI-ART REBELLION
Anyway, I have been rebelling against this anti-art brigade recently by re-absorbing myself if the hoighty toighty world that surrounds it BUT I have also remembered that it really isn’t that threatening! There have been a host of amazing documentaries on recently that explore very specific areas of the art worldin good details – yet still remain brilliantly accessible and watchable.
Channel 4s ‘The Genius of British Art‘ as well as recent series on Rennaisance art, portraits and the art of Germany to name but a few.
I also indulged by re-reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing – a fundamentally important book to anyone who has got eyes and has ever come into contact with art. Again, the book is well written and more than readable whether you know everything about art or nothing at all.
Perhaps I should conduct some research as I do think it a particularly fascinating area and I would love to understand why it provokes the reactions it does.
So besides a few conversations with people who are massively threatened by art – particularly fine art and conceptual art, I also experienced something that I have never encountered before in relation to my own practice.
Starting with a conscious decision to move (temporarily) away from a very controlled form of image making, perhaps because I am currently working my way through the second of several many hundreds of pages long Photoshop manuals to try and understand digital photography a bit better – I have been making a lot of work using my Lomo. As readers will be aware, I became quite a Lomo obsessive and still take the camera on my daily travels and very much enjoy the process of ‘shooting from the hip’ and making images that are interesting for instinctive reasons. The process has been very cathartic for me and through not concentrating on framing and focus – the Lomo has taught me a huge amount about composition but has also now become the victim of “the episode”.
As the reader will also be aware – before Christmas I decided to stick me awe out and print, mount and sell some of the Lomofiles at an art fair. All this was healthy and good and the feedback I have received interesting and pleasing.
You may further recall that I promised an online shop would follow the art sale where all manner of OurWorldMyEye related items could be purchased for personal enjoyment. Now – here is where my tale really begins, because, not being one to break my promises – I did start setting up the shop. After much debating on the best way to do so, I decided on giving the folks at Folksy a try. Folksy is an online market place for crafts people and artists to peddle their wares for a modest fee. Seemed to make sense to try and support such an organisation and make use of their amount of traffic.
So I got underway listing items in readiness for the grand launch on this here blog. In fact, those more eagle eyed amongst you may have already spotted the links to the shop that now straddle the usual content. I had listed about 5 things and being a bit casual about the whole affair, but getting ready for a mammoth listing task prior to officially announcing the shop open for business. But – I was somewhat stopped in my tracks. Due to some magic Internet trickery (otherwise know as Google Analytics) I noticed on one particular day a modest amount of traffic had perused my shop – linked from a post of Facebook. I investigated, and this friends, is where the stumbling block came. in the form of…
The link took me to another Folksy seller who had a Facebook fan page from where they linked to their shop as well as posted various ramblings about their activities. One post on this page caught my eye and provided the explanation for the traffic I had received. It went something like this:
I had to comment on this shop i just found on folksy. I don’t tend to scrutinise openly about other people photography skills coz im no saint at it either but to even try and sell really bad out of focus shots of bad subject matter is both brave and stupid. mainly stupid though
The image in question that they singled out is also displayed to the left. Now I am choosing to hide the name of the author as I feel it would be a bit unacceptable to go naming and shaming – ultimately, they are entitled to their opinion.
What surprised me was that someone felt the need to judge someone else’s work in such a fashion as well as finding it appropriate to publicly dismiss it. I replied to the posting pointing out some facts about the particular aesthetic of Lomo photographs and that it is an intentional choice. I also pointed them to the Lomography website so they could see similar work for themselves and I expressed that they were entitled to their view, but I felt they should know some background before slating my efforts. Sadly and I think rudely I received no reply.
At first I admit to being quite pissed off that someone had actually taken the trouble to comment about my work, publicly, in such a negative way.
Then I got over that knowing that anyone who puts work out there on display is subjecting it to criticism good or bad – that simply goes with the territory. I also accepted that people were entitled to an opinion and equally entitled to express that opinion. I also got over the fact they clearly hadn’t read the information that accompanies my images explaining what Lomo is and what it is about.
However, I cannot deny that it did dent my confidence somewhat and this post is essentially a cathartic process to let go any last questions which remain. After all, you can’t please everyone and I have received a fair amount of positive feedback about the Lomo images as well. The person in questions craft skills where not exactly to my taste shall we say, so the fact that my work didn’t sing for them is hardly surprising.
So I should just get over it right?
I’M A REAL ARTIST
Clearly I should, but “the episode”did make me think about the creative process and art in general – which draws me back to the start of this post. Now I am not trying to say my Lomo photographs are high end art or works of genius – they are not. However, they are intended to show the world from a different perspective and investigate our surroundings in a way that does challenge the eye. They are not conventional and I have never been interested in trying to produce conventional commercial images.
But, I think “the episode” illustrates and interesting point about what people are willing to accept as art and how far they will allow their aesthetic sensibilities to be stretched. Why is it, that as in this case, when something challenges the conventions that a person expects in art – their reaction is to thrash out at it in a derogatory manner? Are people so threatened by what they don’t understand?
As a wider point, however, I would honestly appreciate further comment on the images – not because I want praise to come flooding forward in support, but as I am genuinely interested to know people’s thoughts. Photography is very dear to my heart and I appreciate it in many forms – especially those that challenge the conventions (the same concventions that stifle photographic practice in this country). I have a horrible suspicion that if I created a series of technically perfect images of flowers with the sun glinting behind them – I would sell a shed load.
People in Britain think Photography is an easy art – one that anybody can turn their hand to and as such tend to migrate towards images that follow the conventions we are all subjected to by much photographic practice. Britain is far behind the rest of the world in its appreciation and acceptance of Photography and I find that sad. Places like Germany, America, Holland and Japan to name a few – all hold Photography much higher in their esteem. Yet it seems in our conservative shores, people still want to see chocolate box images of chocolate box subject matter and will champion that work over something that is going out on a bit of a limb.
As I say, I am not holding up my images to be great works. On the contrary, the Lomo work is meant to be casual and throw away and that for me is why it is interesting and appeals.
But I do find myself questioning why this is the case and how it can be reversed.
I also find myself questioning if Folksy is the place for me or whether most people who stumble upon my shop share the same thoughts as the person from “the episode” and if I am doing more damage to myself than good.
Well, I think that is about it. Apologies as this post turned out much longer and more angry than I expected. So thank you for listening. Rant now over and I feel I have exercised my demons.
If you would like to see the few items I did put up on the shop, you can do so at: www.folksy.com/shops/ourworldmyeye
Who knows…perhaps now I will continue to list the rest!