Monday, December 26, 2005

Art is frustrating

Technically, PJs are artists. As artists go, PJs are technical. We work with numerical calculations and mostly standard compositions to tell stories - other people's stories. But through it all, we tell the story of ourselves.

We tell stories through "art." The images we make are an extension of ourselves. These images show where we've been, how we work with other folks, what we've done, how we've survived and how we've grown - as storytellers, technicians and artists.

Often, our images tell about the mistakes we've made. Common mistakes include bad exposures, timing, focus and compositions. They also tell of wasted time and opportunities to tell stories differently. Or, more regrettably, they tell of time wasted when we should have told different stories altogether.

When I was in college, I lived in the art dorm. An intelligent, eccentric graffiti artist lived across the hall from me. He personified art. He had tattoos, piercings, dred locks, combat boots, a leather jacket and a kilt.

He was emotionally committed to his artwork. He cursed. He threw things across the studio. He cursed. He broke things. He cursed. He would dig through trash dumpsters for supplies. He cursed. He wrapped his hair around small branches to make paintbrushes to unleash his raging art. Did I mention he cursed ... often.

He was tortured by art. He worked on calculus problems to ease his mind from the hardship of art.

At the time, I focused on the technical aspects of photography. So, I didn't fully appreciate his struggles. While writing an upcoming post about composition, I've come to understand and even appreciate his torment. Calculus, which has a fixed answer, is much easier than art, which has no answers. Art only questions.

Furthermore, quality art is never correct. Quality art always has flaws. Art can always be better. At the same time, it can't. Quality art is synchronistic flaws. A technically perfect piece of art is boring. It takes mistakes to elevate art to perfect. Calculus is easier.

Each time we grasp a camera, we expect mistakes. Even if everything's perfect, bad chemistry or other problems can destroy what we've made. And, as we've determined, it destroys a part of us because we are the beginning and end of what we create as art.

A painter begins with a blank canvas and must fill it. A sculptor begins with metal, rock, clay or wood and must mold it into a shape. PJs begin with a blank sheet of film or a blank memory card. Our beginning is the same.

Instead of a painful, sudden birth of art, PJs experience an agonizing drawn-out gestation period. We struggle through the conceptual phase (finding story ideas), the development phase (getting access) and the growth phase (technical background). When the images are finally made, we're pleased if they have all the right parts. The art we create is a relief.

While other artists must labor within their own mind to create art, PJs explore the world outside ourselves (the uncontrollable world) and find scenes and compositions to fill our frame.

During the actual labor pains of art, PJs fixate on the elaborate mechanical apparatus upon which our art must perform. We let ourselves believe our work is nothing but hardware, math, experience and location.

To accept responsibility for artistic success would indicate we're artists using a tool. It means we're responsible for the entire process. This might be seen as a direct conflict with our prime mission:   tell the truth.

As such, we recoil from the title "artist." We prefer to call ourselves documentarians or technicians. However, we must eventually recognize others call our work "art." We must also address the aesthetics of our work. In other words, we must tell the truth and create art. To do so, we must understand some art basics.

Consequently, we must periodically step back and look inside ourselves instead of at the world around us. This is where art begins.

Inside PJs' minds exist the elaborate visual language by which we communicate with our viewers. Although this language is governed by classical rules, those rules are often in direct conflict with each other or the reality surrounding PJs. Additionally, new rules are introduced by each failure or success. The end results are the visual stories we collect upon blank sheets of film. This outward expression of our internal visual language is called art.

Art is confusing and frustrating. It's even harder to explain. But, we must all eventually confront it individually to understand it.

Enough for now,


rami said...

Mark, you are an amazing photographer and an inspiring writer, especially for a pj student. I visit your site on an almost daily basis and I just wanted to say thanks.

-Rami Daud

Mark M. Hancock said...

Thanks for visiting. Y'all make my work fun and meaningful. :-)

Bryon Houlgrave said...

And sometimes we sleep, too.