Tag archive for » Robert Mapplethorpe «

It’s Always About You

Monday, 4. February 2013 0:41

Acting coaches and directors reassure beginning actors who are concerned about portraying characters who are genuinely evil in some way that it is not themselves they are displaying on stage, but rather a character, and remind the actor that his/her job is to portray the character without judging the character. We then tell the same actors that they must find a point of empathy if they are to portray the character honestly. The actuality is that the actor is portraying a character filtered through him/herself. Not only are the playwright’s fingerprints all over the character, so are the actor’s. It’s called interpretation, and every actor does it differently, because each actor is an individual; consider all the different portrayals of Hamlet you have seen. And because he/she is the filter, the actor cannot but reveal something of him/herself in the portrayal.

The same is true for writers. Milan Kundera has the narrator in The Incredible Lightness of Being ask rhetorically, “Isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?” This idea is echoed and amplified by Donald Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and teacher, who said “all writing is autobiography.” Even those writers who seem to be leaving themselves out of their narratives manage to reveal personal information as they tell their stories.

Although it may not be quite so obvious without the words, the same applies to the visual arts. Ansel Adams has said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” The artist is always visible; very few have trouble deciding whether Georgia O’Keeffe or Robert Mapplethorpe created a particular flower image. The Auteur theory holds that a film “reflects the director’s personal creative vision.” For example, we can easily distinguish the difference between a John Ford western and one by Sergio Leone.

We expose ourselves with our work; we can’t not do it. Our creative vision demands that we work within our own aesthetic. So we put into our art those things that we think are important, editing out things that, in our view, shouldn’t be there. And it’s all there: not only how we think about artistic elements and how we think about our subject matter, but who we are. Some of what we say about ourselves with our art will certainly be misunderstood, and some will be discernable to only a limited number of viewers; but some will be obvious to everyone.

But then, isn’t that part of why we are doing art in the first place? We have things that need to be said, ideas that need to be shared, emotions that deserve to be expressed. So we put it into our performances, our paintings, our photographs, our paintings, our poems, our sculptures.

The good news is that we are not revealing everything. Anyone who studies the work of any artist and pretends, on that basis, to know everything about the artist, is foolish, if not delusional. There are aspects of any artist that reveal themselves, and there are some things that just don’t come through—even to the most perceptive of viewers. So you can still have some secrets.

The bad news is that we are often so close to our work that it is difficult to determine just what it is revealing about us. Most of us know, one way or another, what we are trying to do with our work, but we seldom stop to think about what our work is saying about us.

And even though it may be initially uncomfortable, exposing some of ourselves through our art is something we need to be aware of and come to terms with. Remember that regardless of what the subject of your art may be, regardless of the medium, or technique, or approach, it’s also always about you.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Autor:

The Artistic Balancing Act

Sunday, 2. September 2012 22:51

On a recent episode of Project Runway, Michael Kors commented that fashion is always “about balancing art and commerce.” He went on to tell the emotional Elena Silvnyak, “this is your shining moment that you found the balance.”  Nina Garcia followed up with idea that successful design is “not about stifling creativity,” but about “being creative and taking chances” and balancing that with customer appeal. (This last phrase is my wording, not hers.)

Substitute “audience appeal” for “customer appeal” and the same statements could be made about not only about any of the performing arts, but about virtually any art. Certainly film must appeal to an audience if it is to be financially successful. Live theatre too has to fit within the range of audience acceptance, which, as any theatre practitioner will tell you, is contextual. Dance is the same way, as is music.

The same concept applies to visual and plastic arts as well. There are endless stories of paintings, photographs, and sculptures that received critical acclaim and did not please their immediate audiences. The photography of Robert Mapplethorpe jumps to mind, as does the David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly.”

And, of course, much that is written, whether it is words or music, does not find an immediate audience beyond critics and a tiny group aficionados, sometimes for less than artistic reasons—consider the publication history of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Some of the art that was not initially well-received, or was prevented from being received at all by authoritarian intervention, has had to wait for years for general acceptance. Some has never received it, at least in certain localities, particularly if the subject matter is religious or sexual. For example, Nagisa Ôshima’s film, In the Realm of the Senses, released in 1976 and considered by some to be a cinematic masterpiece, still cannot be shown completely uncensored in Japan.

The fact that some art is not immediately accepted by a general audience certainly does not mean that that the work is not good, merely that it has not (yet) found its audience. The question for the artist is not about the quality of the work, but whether he/she has been able to balance creativity and the appeal of the work to a purchasing audience. Being ahead of your time may produce some masterpieces, and certainly some controversy, but often it won’t pay the bills. So the problem for the practicing artist—at least for the majority of his/her work—is to find that balance that Michael Kors mentioned, the equilibrium between artistic vision and audience appeal.

And finding that balance is difficult, regardless of your art. If you move too far in one direction, you find yourself pandering to the audience instead of really creating. You quit making art and start making artless commodities. Your work becomes all about chasing the dollar, or yen, or euro and not about all of those things that you used to think art was really about. For musicians, and maybe for others, it’s often called “selling out.”

If you move too far in the other direction, you lose your audience, and you may run afoul of censors, whether official or unofficial. You make things that may or may not garner critical acclaim, that appeal to a tiny segment of arts-appreciating community, but you move so far beyond the majority of members of that community that you find yourself unrewarded financially.

If you are compelled to say things with your art that will prevent that art from being appreciated by a paying audience—and many artists are—by all means do so, but with a full understanding of what you are doing. If, however, you want to say what you have to say and get paid for it, your dilemma is exactly the same one that Elena Silvnyak and every other artist with a strong point of view or a clear artistic vision faces—how to find that place where everything balances, where one can follow one’s vision and create, yet at the same time incorporate that creation into a form that an audience—and it certainly does not have to be a huge one— can understand, appreciate, and pay for. It may not be easy, or even doable, but it’s worth your time to investigate the possibilities.

Category:Audience, Communication, Creativity, Presentation | Comments (3) | Autor:

Avoiding Cliché the Art School Way

Sunday, 5. June 2011 23:27

A photographer friend of mine says that art school drilled “no flower pictures” into her head as well as “no railroad track pictures.” I suppose that in the eyes of the professors, those two subjects had been shot to death, and there was no way that a student photographer could produce an image that was not a cliché.

One wonders about the reasons for these prohibitions. Did the instructors really believe that their students were incapable of creating non- clichéd images?  (And that raises the question of whether the teachers’ opinions of their students’ creative abilities were justified.) Or were they just tired of seeing images of these subjects? Or did they believe that those subjects were completely exhausted in terms of artistic potential?

One also wonders what other taboos such a school might establish. And aren’t we glad that Robert Mapplethorpe and numerous other artists never heard such admonitions? Admittedly, some areas of photography seem to be more filled with cliché than others, but is that any reason to forbid them entirely?

Extending this idea beyond avoiding railroad track and flower images, would we also prohibit nudes, and landscapes, and architecture, and decaying infrastructure, and street photography? We have all seen clichés in these areas. My guess is, however, that we have also seen non-clichéd images in each of those categories as well. In fact, I cannot think of any area of photography, or any other art for that matter, that does not have its share of clichés, and, along with them, its share of original work.

A better way to approach this problem, rather than proscribing an entire category of subject matter, is to learn how to avoid the clichés. This, of course is more work, both for the student and for the instructor. You have to be familiar with enough of the work in any given category or subcategory to know what the clichés are and thus what to avoid. And that takes some time and some effort—perhaps more than the average student (or faculty member) is willing to invest. Then there is the requisite effort and imagination that goes into creating something new in those areas.

But the results are worth the effort. We are all familiar with photographers (and other artists) who work in areas that are rife with clichés, yet somehow manage create art that is refreshing, original, and often stunning.

And if those photographers can do it, why can’t those students who are improving their craft in art schools? Well, of course, they can. There may be no Mapplethorpes in the class, but there are likely some talented and original individuals who deserve the opportunity to test their skills and imaginations, no matter what area they decide to tackle.

And what is true for the students is also true for the rest of us. We might avoid a certain area of photography (or whatever our particular art is) because it’s not something that interests us or because we have nothing to say in that area, but to avoid it because we might step into cliché seems to be nothing but artistic cowardice.

Category:Creativity, Originality, Photography | Comments (2) | Autor: