Monday, June 29, 2009

The Perfect Piece of Art

First, we need to introduce the Equation. I capitalize it because it is important to me. I am writing about it because I truly feel it should become important to you.

A = I + C

Art equals Intention plus Craft. To create a work of Art, you must have a reason for creating it and exercise your technique pitch perfect, in order to execute your intention on the audience.

Having spent many years in both theater, where the audience is measured in dozens or hundreds of anonymous viewers at a sitting, and photography, where it is a more one-to-one relationship, I cannot speak to which is the more difficult audience. I sense that they each have their advantages and disadvantages, and this makes them a wash, for practical purposes.

But I am out of theater, now, and dedicated to my education and practice of photography, so I will use photography as an example. The goal of any artist, lately, has been to create a solid body of work - something that will stand the proverbial test of time and continue expressing for them long after they have died and, thus, lost the ability to express "live".

This goal has never really worked for me. Being only one artist, I won't presume that mine is the majority case. That's fine. I also know I am not alone and I seek to help whoever I can, even if that isn't everyone. I have never been able to bring myself to build a portfolio, in the classic sense of the exercise. I think it's because I haven't settled on a specific genre or subject matter that inspires me more than the others.

There is an answer, of course. There is always an answer. In my case, it may be as simple as building more than one portfolio. I could have one portfolio for my nudes, another for landscapes, and yet another for my macro work or my night photography (something I am just getting into). I could do this - so why haven't I?

I used to think that either I was just dumb and lazy about my work, or that I didn't wish to pigeon-hole myself. I have evidence to support either claim. It has been several months, while searching for a new job, since I have taken my own camera out of my bag. The need for survival is valid, but should never become an excuse not to do the things that make you thrive, especially since I have the camera, lenses, and software, already, so all I have to invest is my time. For the second option, the pigeon-holing, I only need look as far as Uncle Ansel, who is "known" to the general public for his shots of Yosemite but, as anyone who has scratched the surface one more time can tell you, took some beautiful portraits and still life shots that are lesser known.

You write what you know. You shoot what you know. Your characters always come from something within yourself, whether you like it or not. This basic artistic truth spans every genre and medium. The problem is that I have lived a very general life. I like it that way. I always knew, I think, that I would never "grow up to be" something, choosing to grow as old as time would allow me and, in that time, be as many different things as I could be.

So we return to the Equation, and its assignment to me - and to you, if you have experienced the same starts and stops as I have. In the same way that "life is what happens while you are making other plans", I prefer to think that a "body of work" is what I will accumulate while I am looking for one photograph.

That's it, one shot. The perfect shot. And I will keep changing subject matter and pointing my camera in all directions for the rest of my life, because the perfect shot doesn't have to be of a specific subject matter. It doesn't even have to be of whatever subject I take the most shots of.

The perfect shot is the one where what I intended to make a viewer think or feel, when they looked at it, is exactly what every single person who looks at the perfect shot thinks or feels. It cannot be questioned, but it also can't just beat you over the head with itself. That is where the craft comes in. So I will bundle up, tonight, and stand on top of a parking garage, taking long exposures of headlights and taillights tracing paths over some flyway named for a superior court judge I had never heard of, looking for the perfect shot.

It's a system that only leaves one real itch - since Art is subjective, and what my work says will always be left to the opinions of people I cannot control - is it possible I have already taken what everyone else will revere, someday, as my perfect shot?

Nah.

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