Monday, 21 July 2008

self portrait in pencil

pencil self portrait 

the artist and the ego

One of my all time favourite songs is "Pablo Picasso' by the divinely kooky Jonathan Richman.
The main gist of the song is how supremely cool Picasso was, encapsulated in the lines:

'Well the girls would turn the color /Of the avocado when he would drive down the street/in his El Dorado/He could walk down the street/And girls could not resist his stare/Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole' 

Wonderful stuff!
I've been thinking about the artist and the ego. Having been almost crippled by lack of confidence for years it's great to be finally developing a bit of belief in myself and producing and showing work. Yet i'm troubled by it too. I don't want to end up full of myself, yet i need some self-confidence to produce work in the first place. Even writing this blog is sort of alarming - the sheer arrogance of thinking anyone will want to read it, the guilty enjoyment of all the positive feedback i've had so far (am i fooling all these people? why do i love praise so much? shouldn't i be able to evaluate my own work without needing confirmation from others? etc etc). It's all quite strange.
Recently i showed some photographs and looking at them up on the wall of a local cafe i was struck by the fact that ANYONE could have taken them. Yes, absolutely anyone. But that didn't matter, because no-one else did, i did. And it felt good. I looked at them and i thought perhaps some photographs just want to be taken and they don't care who takes them. What seemed more important to me at that point was the images, the work, not so much me.
Of course i am not ungrateful that i took them. And i am conscious that i need to be grateful also for the two years i spent studying at college, the expensive, professional kit i have, the brain i have that thought of the idea and my ability to talk to and connect with people which i needed hugely in this particular project (taking portraits of complete strangers requires a certain bravery!) In other words i do appreciate that i brought myself and all that entails to this project and in that sense no-one else could have done it. Equally true however is my previous statement that anyone could have done it, and i don't feel that detracts from the work at all.
So for me, at the moment, it's about a balancing act to do with appreciating the gifts i've been lucky enough to receive, having the confidence to keep putting my work out there, and never forgetting that anyone could do it - i'm just bloody lucky when it's me!
As for Pablo... Well, he was a genius obviously and i'm not convinced anyone else could have done what he did. He's always been one of my heroes. However, having read a bit about the man recently, although i'm sure no-one ever did call him an asshole, sorry Pablo, big fan an' all that, but maybe they should've done!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Boots (EDM 1)

One of the drawing 'challenges' from the Everyday Matters Group - shoes  (well in this case boots).
 line drawing with black pen toned with mud scraped from the soles of the boots.

Monday, 7 July 2008

what makes an artist?

 I've been thinking about what makes an artist. What (or who) is an artist? i joined a daily sketching/visual journal group called 'Everyday Matters' (the book of the same name by the artist Danny Gregory is inspiring and wonderful) and i've watched with interest a discussion about who should call themselves an 'artist'. 
The group seems to be mostly for amateurs (a word which should be simply descriptive but already sounds judgmental) and i am happy to count myself as one. The label 'artist' is more difficult. Someone writes that we should all call ourselves artists because we draw, paint, sketch, create. Her words seem so positive, celebratory and a recognition of the effort made by us all in our creations. People reply to thank her, almost as if we need permission to use the word and she gave it to us. Yet another member made an interesting point that having a camera doesn't make you a photographer (i would definitely agree with that!) just as having good kitchen equipment doesn't make you a chef. It is almost as if both of them are right and i am wondering how two apparently opposing views can both be true.
Coleridge said that the primary act of imagination is perception. In other words just looking at the world around us and interpreting it through our senses is an imaginative act in itself. The secondary act of imagination is re-presenting this initial act of perception in a work of art and holding it up for others to view. This is what the artist does in the process of creation. When we read a poem, look at a painting or photograph or listen to some music that makes us see the world in a different way, even just for a moment, that's art. At that moment we are looking through someone else's eyes and from a different viewpoint. 
Perhaps the discussion over at the EDM group may ultimately be about the difference between amateur and professional rather than artist and non-artist. i know i am a professional photographer but an amateur artist and this is not just because of my lack of artistic talent and relative competence at photography. In many ways the process of drawing and photographing is very similar for me. In both activities i seek to look carefully at something and record it. If anyone wants to look at what i've made afterwards, well that's fine with me. 
We may not all be artists but we all have our unique take on things and the sharing of one's own vision or the privilige of looking at someone else's (and therefore having access to a way of seeing not possible without them) can be a real joy. 
i haven't answered my own question yet. i'm still thinking about what makes an artist.
May you be well, may you be happy, and if you're feeling inspired may you be artistic too.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

what i wish & what i do...

'I don't do what I wish, I do what I can'
These are the words of George Braque. The words with which i comfort myself whenever i am confronted with the gap between my ideas and the reality of what i manage to produce. 
The phrase 'Mind the gap' also comes to mind, for on bad days it is not so much a gap as a yawning chasm, into which one might easily fall. There are ways to avoid the gap, or at least live with it, both honest and dishonest. 
The best way to avoid it completely is to never finish a project. That way it can always have the potential to transform into something better at the last minute, to suddenly catch up with the way one saw it intially before it was realised with all its imperfections. This way is favoured by many artists and photographers i know and i have frequently used it too. 
The more honest and difficult way is to finish something and stand back and look at it. This takes a bit of courage.
Recently i took part in SoFoBoMo (Solo Photo Book Month) which required photographers to shoot and produce a book in just one month. When i had finished my project (portraits of local traders and business people in my local area) i showed it in a local cafe. I stood and looked at it and realised it was full of mistakes. I didn't like the prints (too grey) the wall on which it was displayed (too flowery) the way it was shot (too hasty) etc. etc. In fact i didn't like any of it. Except that i loved it. Really loved it. Mistakes and all. It was a sweet project with its heart in the right place, shown in an ideal venue for the subject matter and one that seemed to really speak to people and got a great response. It was full of mistakes (that no-one else seemed to notice or mind as much as me) and yet it worked. 
What i learnt from this experience was not to let myself fret over the gap, but work towards closing it in the future. If i had assessed my work before showing it i would never have put it up. If i had not done that i would not have been able to look at it frankly, to listen to how people reacted to it and to learn from all the mistakes. 
So, like Braque, i did not do what i wished, but i did what i could. And the remarkable thing is, i think that was enough.

Monday, 16 June 2008

my first post

I used to think i started taking photographs because i couldn't draw.
Now i find myself drawing because i can't take photographs.
And here i am writing perhaps because i secretly know i can neither draw nor photograph. Not to my satisfaction anyhow.
Perhaps eventually i shall stop writing too and just try and live. 
Mind you, i never could get the hang of life...

The other day i went to a drop-in meditation  group. I didn't know many people there. 
Between meditations we went round the room just saying our names and a short sentence or two if we wished. The woman next to me said: 'I'm R-----, I'm with Death.'

Just like that! 
'I'm with Death.'
It made me feel incredible. I almost expected to see him sitting behind her, scythe at the ready.
It seemed a wonderful thing to say. So refreshing to hear someone talking about something so real, so important, so HUGE. I felt reassured to know some people take the time to think about these things. These real, important things that most of us avoid until they are forced on us. 

Someone once said you spend your whole life trying to learn how to live and then you realise you should've been trying to learn how to die.

So, that's me at the moment. Trying to photograph, draw, paint, write, live, love and die well. 

It is a rich and painful thing i am living.  And i embrace it.

May you be well. May you be happy.