Post from 1205, September 2011

Fit the Form to the Content

Monday, 12. September 2011 0:14

Recently, I got new business cards for the photography part of my life, replacing the rather stodgy ones I had previously used. On one side is the requisite contact information; on the other is a photograph, or, more accurately, a part of a photograph. Actually, there are several different parts of different photographs in the card collection, so each card gives the impression of being unique. They are interesting and different and varied; I like them.

These new cards are “minicards” that are not only smaller but do not have the same height/width ratio as “normal” business cards. So I selected pieces of images that I have been working on to fit the format. The result is a set of unique images in a unique format.

Just as with the images for these cards, I often discover as I work on images that the original camera frame is not the correct boundary for the image, so I sometimes spend a good deal of time searching for the correct format. And I find that it is not the same for all images, even those in the same series. The point of all of this is that the form has to have an integral connection to the content. You can’t just pour the content into pre-existing forms and expect it to work.

This notion of matching form to content is not new and certainly not unique to me. War and Peace was rewritten after it had been originally published, with first three revised volumes appearing in 1867 and the remaining three published one at a time over the next two years. The original form did not work. The final form was and is intimidating to many readers. According to Writer’s Almanac,

Tolstoy did not think of his new book as a novel. He published an article in 1868, even before the final parts of book had come out, called “A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace.” In the article, he wrote: “What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.

And that’s it: the true marriage of from and content is what the artist wants and is able to express in the form in which it is expressed. And sometimes you have to make up the form, if one does not exist, to say what you need and want to say.

It’s the same reason that artists will sometimes switch media. They find that their “old” medium simply does not allow them to communicate what they now wish to communicate. So they find a medium, a “form” if you will, that does. And it may change numerous times over the career of an artist. August Strindberg, for example, wrote plays in a great variety of styles, and fiction, and non-fiction with an equally great variation in subject matter. He was also a painter and photographer.

Strindberg was trying to use the appropriate form and format for the content—for each project. It’s part of the art, but not an easy thing—we are often bound by what we did on the last project, what we think is expected of us, what we think will sell. It’s easier to work within existing constraints, but is the result better art?

If we are to continue to grow as artists, then we must seek out new forms and formats for our work—even if we have to start with new business cards.

 

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