Reading into Paintings, Drawing from Poems

Mar 29, 2012   //   by Matt   //   Blog, Matt  //  1 Comment

As contrived as the title to this note appears, the sentiment is pure: my honest naïve question on what it means to learn from something else, to be internalised and expressed within my photos. What values and boundaries exist in cross-fertilised ideas between art forms, or more generally, venues of human expression from speech, writings, visual arts, music, design, etc.?

Inspiration can come from any source; I think that’s likely to be a true statement. But how manageable is this process? Can one actively cultivate a sense of awareness and fusion of Things Out There (I’m thinking of the art objects, the writers, the films, the political ideas,…) that bears fruit in changing, whether by osmosis or direct cognition, the ideas and ways in which I create photos?

This is a non-trivial question, so let’s be clear at the start – the answer is not written below. What I hope to develop in this commentary is a clearer idea of the problem and how it might be resolved. My problem is that I perceive my photos to lack energy and values that can be seen in others work, that I feel there is a need to reassess my thinking. And part of that assessment is the understanding that I don’t understand much about a lot, artistically speaking. The question is then: does this dearth of Art History and Contemporary Ideas 101 map to the gap in values in my photos? If I know more, have more references, see more ways of doing things, more ways of thinking and feeling about things, does it follow that my expressions – and Photos – will change (and I am allowing myself an assumption of improvement)?

Right… ummm… where do we begin to address this? One can point to the general population of Artists of Yore: all seem to have exposed themselves in greater or lesser extents to the works of others; painters on painters, writers on writers, playwrights on playwrights. They derive and expand, copy and remake anew, iterate and restate. What is less clear is the degree of influence from one genre to another: How did Jazz and Bop influence Kerouac novels? How did Picasso influence Miles Davis? How did poverty, segregation and intolerable blights on countless love-lives  influence Delta Blues music? How will Piet Mondrian influence my photos?

As hard as it is to write about music, or imagery, it remains a valid purpose in order to express the inner thoughts of the listener, or viewer, who feels a need – emotional or economic – to communicate their sensory experiences in some other, presumably, more comfortable form; writers like to write after all. And so it seems with these other cross-format relationships: the valued input from some experiences that a Person senses are, for the suitably inclined, repackaged to greater or lesser degrees, and output in an alternative format. That format being the preferred, more familiar or primary form of expression of that Person.

But is this repackaging a knowing act or does it carry some middling degree of intentionality or purely subconsciously oozed? Can one read Samuel Beckett and willingly draw more abstractly or with greater interpretive meaning, on demand? Or does one immerse oneself in Art and enjoy a resultant productivity which is both altered (if one could measure oneself as if not having the preceding immersion, then deduce what has changed!) and somehow better?

Ultimately – and perhaps this is a leap of faith in the process – I do think an immersion and exposure to new ideas, other art forms, different thinking, different values and possibilities yields changes and betters the output of others. The timescales may be years, or maybe just a few days of conscious activity and experimentation.  It is certainly easier to say that changes happen a posteriori with attentive and diligent application of the new ideas; in short, the willed change in behaviour leads to a true change, directly from the new experiences.

What is less clear is influence from experience where the only effort imparted by the Person is the acceptance of the new experiences: listening to that new album, going to that art show, trying the opera rather than football on Sunday. There may be no noticeable new outcome in my photos when I do not actively express those new ideas.

And maybe that is the final conclusion: the cross-fertilisation and alternative experiences of Art can only be assured of having effect when the new experiences are received openly, considered, then intentionally expressed by that Person in their chosen form of statement or announcement: their (new) dance, their (new) photos, their (new) poetry.

The nebulous notion of altered output by association – through sheer proximity to new ideas and experiences – seems altogether harder to judge to have taken effect. It certainly does not seem to occur in the sort of short timescales that a conscious effort to change will enjoy. Indeed, Art degrees are three years long for a reason! So, developments in style, taste, composition, subject matter, medium, exposures, camera formats, darkroom processes and portfolio editing would seem to prove hard to directly tie to an enlightened exposure to new things with the sort of timescales that people carry around with them to record notable events. People don’t notice their aging, just as tastes age or mature or fade.

The fact remains: to change oneself, one needs to want to change. Perhaps that is enough conscious effort that needs be applied to move to a Better place in ones productivity or output or World View. I do want to experience my changes. Towards this, I will continue to learn about others, learning from them, learning about myself. And perhaps, this chain of events will be revealed with some trace of the influences I’ll have absorbed, in newer, fresher, more energised and better-to-me-photos.




1 Comment

  • Your post is very meta. Maybe you don’t realise that. You don’t talk or write (usually) in such a formal way.
    The style you’ve adopted here is very influenced by what you imagine is the proper way to write academically about art and culture.

    This consciously influences me to do the opposite. To be as direct as I can.

    “Can one actively cultivate a sense of awareness and fusion of Things Out There … that bears fruit in changing, whether by osmosis or direct cognition, the ideas and ways in which I create photos?”

    I’ll answer your question for you. Yes.

    The more you read, listen, watch, look, smell, taste, feel what’s in the world around you the more you know what’s been done, what hasn’t, what’s been proven to be possible and what your own likes and dislikes are and how (and who) you’d like to be.

    This will come out in your work unconsciously, but you can also consciously study, try to understand and experiment.

    Take as an example: “My problem is that I perceive my photos to lack energy and values that can be seen in others work”

    Find five photos you like that have this energy and write a note for yourself saying:
    - how they make you feel
    - what specifically in the picture makes it energetic
    - is there something in common between the pictures that is responsible for this energy
    - technically how is that achieved.

    Now make a series of photos yourself where you try to use the same technical methods to achieve the same feeling. If you fail then re-examine the five examples in light of your new experience and try again, or decide to change your goals.

    There is no magic. Only things that seem to be magic until you understand them. And then another magically amazing thing will come along to chase.

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