Post from November, 2017

Yes, Size…and Shape Matter

Sunday, 19. November 2017 22:45

As many of you know, part of my photographic practice is building grids, which consists of arranging macro-photographic squares of (usually) biological subject matter into abstractions whose forms and lines flow into each other creating a new whole. It’s a matter of seeing and arranging and has been a reasonably successful and satisfying artistic path for me.

A couple of weeks ago when I had just finished two very different grids from the same shoot, one of those freak computer accidents occurred when the file you have been working on disappears and cannot be recovered despite the presence of a recycle bin and good backups. Since I was not completely happy with the grids, I decided to look on the situation as an opportunity to tune my ideas.

So I made a new “basket”—the file in which I put all the images to be arranged and manipulated—and put 67 images in it. Then I set it aside to work on other projects. When I got time again, I opened the basket ready to put the images together and was completely startled to discover that I did not recognize some of the images. Not only that, the relationships that were instantly apparent in the old basket were nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a whole new set of relationships among the images. I was so taken aback that I just stopped and stared at the collection of images.

What had happened, I finally figured out, was that the basket I had built had dimensions radically different from those of the old basket. (There is no set size.) Since the images are set into the basket edge-to-edge, the result was a whole different arrangement of images. Thus the relationship among the images had been altered, so in order to see the relationships that had existed in the old basket, I had to concentrate much harder and keep my mind even more open to possibilities. At the same time, relationships that I had not seen before were suddenly obvious. It was almost like working with an entirely different set of images.

In all reality, I should have expected this. Four years ago, I posted “The Most Beautiful Part of the Picture is the Frame,” an article about how the framework surrounding a work of art influences the work and modifies the experience of the art for the audience. There is certainly no legitimate reason to think an intermediate step would be immune to such influences. So now the frame theory has a corollary: the size and shape of the frame influence the relationship of the internal parts; this corollary also applies to intermediate artifacts.

The implications are enormous. The size and shape of a book may well influence the impact and significance of the contents; the size and shape of the canvas may alter the meaning of a painting as well as its composition. And this seems to apply to intermediate documents as well. The size and shape of the working sketch notepad may impact the final painting or sculpture. The size and shape of the notebook on which a director or actor or choreographer makes notes may influence the nature of the resulting work since words and symbols are likely to gain or lose significance based on their position on the page and their relationship to other words and symbols on the page.

As a photographer, I have probably known this subconsciously; I constantly worry about the size of mats and borders, but the full nature of the impact of size and shape on the work-in-progress had never before been so apparent. Now I think I may have to change my working procedures, particularly as they apply to grid creation. But it also occurs to me that this “discovery” influences almost every aspect of the creative process, regardless of the genre of art, and that we might do well to consider it when we set out to create.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

When is “Good Enough” Good Enough?

Sunday, 5. November 2017 23:20

Many years ago at a theatre festival, I heard the technical director of the host school chew out his crew for improperly setting the masking. The guest director had not specified masking requirements and the crew had done the minimum. The technical director told his crew, “it may be good enough for them, but it’s not good enough for us!” And we all have heard—and probably used the phrase “good enough for government work” even if we don’t work for a governmental agency.

A related phrase is “it works” or “that works.” Tony Randall on a talk show a number of years ago was asked what word or phrase he hated; his answer was “That works.” The implication was that “that works” is the equivalent of “that’s good enough” but certainly not of “that’s excellent” or “that’s perfect.”

Do these statements really suggest a standard lower than excellence? In Randall’s view, yes. (We have no way to know whether Randall was seeking some sort of perfection or just a standard higher than “working.”) In the view of others, no.

“That works” generally means that all the pieces fit together when they have not done so before. I find that it’s used a lot in theatre, where it means, “yes, that is a moment that that is good.” It does not preclude other possibilities, for as we all know, in art, the possibilities are endless. “It works” means that we have found one assemblage of parts that is better than all the alternatives we have considered before. It’s not only “good enough;” it’s very good—maybe the best possible answer—if not, certainly a contender.

“Good enough for government work” does imply a reduced standard: according to this view, government work can be accomplished at a level lower than that demanded by the private sector. Whether this is true is not at issue; what is at issue is whether “good enough” is good enough. Is it, for starters, really equivalent to “it works?” In many cases, it is. In normal use it means virtually the same thing, albeit a bit more understated: the best among available alternatives at the moment.

And, in making art, isn’t that what we are looking for—the best among available alternatives at the moment? Of course it is.

Occasionally you may hear, “that works better,” indicating that although the best among available alternatives had been discovered, in another moment, a new, better solution was found. Again, in art the possibilities are endless, and in this case, the artist, although s/he had found a perfectly acceptable solution continued to search until something better was found. It’s the nature of artists to do that.

It all depends on where our bar is; the technical director in the first paragraph had a substantially higher bar than the director, at least as regards masking. If we hold a very high standard for our work, “good enough” or “it works” may be an understatement, but definitely means that it meets that standard. So when is “good enough” good enough? When we are willing to publish it or ship it or make it available with our name on it. If we are willing to own whatever the artistic decision is, then it is absolutely good enough. In fact, it might even rate a “that’ll do pig,” which, as we all know, is the highest praise that can be offered.

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