Post from 2728, February 2011

The World is Going to Pieces and the Artist Needs to Respond…or Not

Sunday, 27. February 2011 23:58

A quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson crossed my desktop the other day: “The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!” I find the quotation offensive on several levels.  The first level is the arrogance it takes to make such a statement.  Now it is true that Cartier-Bresson was no slouch as a photographer, but I can see no reason, other than arrogance, for him to think that he was the arbiter of the proper use of world-class photographic time and talent.

The immediate implication of the quote is, of course, that Adams and Weston were not spending their time as photographers “should.”  My assumption is that Cartier-Bresson would have preferred that they be out documenting the world going to pieces and somehow photographically commenting on the situation or at least making it known to others.

As to what events comprised the world “going to pieces,” I can only speculate, but can see no reason that Adams and Weston needed to be recording it. There were many others doing that.

Also implicit in the statement is the notion that a photographer’s work ought to be political or social, or, at a very minimum, editorial or documentary. I can find no reasonable basis for such a belief. Ansel Adams believed that his work was of benefit; he responded to Cartier-Bresson’s statement by saying, “the understanding of the inanimate and animate world of nature will aid in holding the world of man together.” So far as I know, Edward Weston did not respond.

To take the question out of a historical context, does the quote suggest that because the world is going to pieces today (or so it seems), all artists should have a social or political component to their work? I hope not. Artists do what they do and make the art they make because it is important to them. Sometimes there is overtly editorial content; sometimes not.

For many artists, some photographers, many not, making a social and/or political statement is very important. Some statements are obvious; some subtle. Some are strong enough to elicit public reaction. Some political/social art is very good. But it’s not what all artists do, not what they want to do. I cannot think that adding another political/social voice in the creation of art is a proper approach for everyone.

There are many ways that you can make your voice heard politically and socially, and, certainly, there is no need to enumerate those ways here; you know what they are.  Art is a personal statement about whatever the artist needs it to be about. It may be political, or social, or something else. There are many aspects to existing in this world and any of them, all of them, are the proper subjects of art. Surely politics and society are important, but so are other things, other aspects of the human condition, other aspects of living.

Art is not what one artist decides it should be; it is what each artist decides for him/herself. As Seth Godin has said:

Art is what we call…the thing an artist does.

It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.

Category:Creativity, Photography | Comments (3) | Author: