Sunday, January 02, 2005

Oh Really?

Let’s face it, Art is always compared with that awful phantom called Reality. “Reality” after all, is by no means what is “really” out there.

For artists, “Reality” is only what is represented by two tiny images, upside down and reversed from left to right that impinge upon the retina of our eyes, and that constantly changing image of flashes is only a tiny portion of the vast continuum of energies which constantly wash across the universe. We are, in effect, viewing these tiny distorted constructs of what is barely perceptible while gazing through a tiny gap between two teeth, as it were, of a gigantic comb. Those image fragments are then swept through intensive filters of memories, expectations, attitudes, prejudice, ignorance, superstitions and poor observational and recording methods to become what we call “Reality”!

Art brings into that dark and stale world of authoritative distortion a new light and a fresh breath. We know that humans now comprehend a greater range of colors than did those who lived two, and even one thousand years ago, and many more musical notes are available now than then. The entire human species has been dragged through a vast and gibbering darkness by its own poets, artists, writers and other “madmen”. Indeed, "Reality" is the CURSE of art! So get out the pots and pans and bang and clang, let’s chase away that horrid hag! We’ve had enough Reality!

©John Womack, 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Search for Beauty.

Beauty is so subject to predjuice. We have been told what is beautiful and thusly trained, we search for it in that familiar form. Because of that we often miss the beauty that is constantly in front of us.

The painting "MujibStarWobble4" is a case in point. Few people have ever seen such beauty in their entire lives, but that is only because they walk past and through it countless times every day and they don't see it because they don't look for it.

In this event, here shown, the painting was perfected by our new puppy, Mujib. He had reared against our french door with muddy paws, dabbing, smearing and even marking with his claws. I was in the process of washing off the door when I noticed how the play of the light of the sky and shadows filtering through the trees had added bright color and gleams to the work. After this quick picture, like the great sand paintings, this work of art was gone also. But not before it had been added to my portfolio of abstract work.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.

Art or Craft?

Art vs Craft. Let me venture into the relationship between the terms "Art" and "Craft".

I realize that most dictionaries tend to define these two words basically as the same, often using one in the definition of the other. But for the purpose of discussing the Inner Vision, let me propose the following: Consider that "Craft" is that which is done when a person is using an existing or previously existing physical or mental model for his or her work. On the other hand, "Art" is that which is done when a person is using an archetype (those basic images of ritual or our common mythological vision) as the model for the work.

In this case, the person who is creating the replica of a table or chair used by settlers in the 1700's would be a good example of "craft". The replica's value is measured by its faithfulness to its model, and can, by definition, never be "better " than its model.

In the production of "Art", one is seeking to produce an image that may create an emotional or spiritual response within the viewer that will be better than that created by its actual, physical counterpart. Such an example of "Art" might be Ansel Adams' photograph of Moonrise Over Hernandez. . Here, the photograph is really not that of a moon rising over Hernandez, New Mexico - that has been proven by countless photographers who have gone to the same place at appropriate times and gotten a simple photo. What Adams did was not to copy the moonrise that day at that place, but to actually photograph "Moonrise", itself, perhaps we could even call that "Moonriseness". (Take your choice between Plato or Jung, but now we are really talking about what it means for a moon to rise in our own consciousness.) This photograph has become a creative work of art to which other actual moonrises, themselves, will be compared, and can be measured against.

Now, to carry that image farther, when we go out to replicate Adams' photo, whether in New Mexico or North Carolina, are we using art or craft? I would say it is craft if we are trying to copy a photo similar to the Hernandez photo, but it is art if we are giving a form to the attunement we are experiencing when we watch the moonrise. The archetype is always filled with possibilities, whereas a model is fixed and limited

The painting artist who is painting a barn is a good example: If he or she is preparing to paint a picture of Bob Jones' barn, then the painting can never be more than just a copy of that barn; but if it is painting the concept of Barn, itself, perhaps a memory from one's childhood or tales one heard from parents, then the possibilities are limitless.

Should one then try to do Art rather than just Craft? No, indeed not! My opinion is that every photographer's portfolio should be rich with both Craft and Art. You can always do Craft work whenever you go out, the emotional and spiritual work of Art becomes a natural extension of your physical and mental skill as a craftsman and as an explorer.

How does this affect the Inner Vision? To me, this concept is a constant reminder for me to ask myself when I view a scene: Am I just looking at the cover, or am I opening the book?

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.

The Storyteller

Old houses, like old people, have stories to tell. But old houses don't need an audience. They tell their tales anyway, and they tell them all the time. All you have to do is enter into their imagination and listen carefully and you will be amazed by what they are saying.

This fine place speaks of a builder. A young man may have built it all alone or perhaps with a buddy or maybe his father helped him. A small family probably lived within its walls. Outside, in the yard, livestock they brought with them would gather around this old house, seeing it as a source of food and protection, and they would attract birds into the trees which gracefully spread over the roof. And like most new settlers, this family doubtless brought with them insects, and the insects brought mice.

After the family left, snakes could enter at will in search of the mice, and owls came in after the snakes. Then raccoons appeared and now finally, coyotes occasionally come by to call.

So this old house seems a dead house to those who speed by on the close-in road, but it is really a community attraction, a civic-center of sorts, a place where the show never ends and it is still a fine home to many special beings.

© John Womack, 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Categories of Photographers

1 - Rank Amateur:
Bottom of the pile.
Happiest of all photographers.
Usually has one inexpensive camera which he often cannot find.
Seldom makes pictures.
Asks Walmart sales clerk which film to buy.
Often asks complete strangers to load the film into his camera.
Is thrilled if a human form can be found in any photo he has made.
Always speaks in the third person about the photographs: “This is a picture of the Grand Canyon ...”.

2 - Amateur Photographer:
Is often miserable over his equipment and photos.
Usually has two or three cameras of different makes and sizes.
Doesn’t know how to operate any of them beyond basic setup.
Makes a LOT of pictures.
Is often asked by his friends to make photos of special events in their lives.
Seldom is happy with a picture.
Yet, claims that “almost all” of his photos are “good”.
Always speaks in the first person: “I made this picture at the Grand Canyon...”.

3 - Practical Photographer
Tries to treat his camera and photo gear as if it were just another appliance like a car or vacuum cleaner or television set.
Usually has one nice camera which is either Nikon or Canon, and which says a lot about who he is, also what kind of a position he has where he works, who he has married and what clubs he uses when he plays golf.
Expects to get a good standard picture with every snap of the shutter
Expects the camera to set the ISO speed, focus the camera, select the proper shutter speed and aperture opening, and to load and unload itself.
Always speaks in the abstract person: “ ... 14th tee at Pebble Beach.”

4 - The Baby Boom Photographer:
Will have a strange and expensive camera which he considers an investment
Can name all great photographers in the order in which they earned money.
Does not expect to make pictures as good as his father did.
Is not concerned with his photos but very proud of his camera.
Always speaks in the Narsisistic Person: “Notice how well I got all of his head in the picture” (Even though the guy is bald.)

5 - Commercial Photographer:
Is not concerned about photography except for the money he makes from it.
Has a studio, usually downtown.
Possesses an enormous amount of very expensive equipment.
Is no more attached to his equipment than a taxi driver is to his rented hack.
Does passports, weddings, senior proms, pets, houses, and so on.
Speaks in second person “You can see the detail in the bride’s dress.“

6 - Professional Photographer:
A perfectionist whose sense of humor has been replaced by accounting and financial skills.
Has a lot of incredible equipment, most of which was given to him by Kodak, Nikon, Cannon, Slik, Pentax, and other nice companies.
Often makes a lot of money in a little time, then little money for a long time.
Travels constantly.
Gives lectures, writes books, magazine articles, has exhibitions.
Speaks in the “commercial-person”: “I made this photo in Antarctica, 70 below zero, f/8, 1/200 second, Nikon F-4, 80-200mm Nikkor lens, Tiffen warming filter B-21, Slik tripod, wearing Land’s End gloves, Jockey briefs underwear, Fruit-of-the-Loom T-shirt, while chewing on Nabisco Cheez-Its, after sleeping all night in a Northface GRO2x45mt tent ... ”.

7 - Advanced Amateur:
Serves two masters: The job that pays him money so he can buy incredibly expensive photo equipment, and his passionate mistress: the quest for a “fantastic” picture.
Usually has many different cameras.
A lot of his equipment consists of odd and even unique equipment which which he knows MAY be decisive in the making of that one “fantastic” photo.
Most of this special equipment has only been used once.
And most of which have at least one good reason why it probably won’t work.
May well have 100 photos, all 16 X 20 inches, matted and framed, and all of maple trees.
Speaks in the Wistful Person: “Here, I was trying to get a photo of ... “

8 - The Photographic Artist:
The poet and philosopher of the photographers.
A haunted creature, whose memory is a dim landscape filled with great shots that got away . . . but which WILL come back!
Has often been known to vanish while peering through his viewfinder.
Does not do weddings, and if he did, the photography would take longer than many marriages last.
Does not speak about his photos except to say: “I cannot explain this to those who cannot see it.”

© John Womack, 2007. All rights reserved