art

Gateway to Art

Experience the Art

“The gateway drug is not creating art, but experiencing art.” – Christoph Niemann in Abstract: The Art of Design

Indeed. I’m lucky, working at a museum, because I experience art every day. But even before this job, I made sure to visit museums and seek out good work.

Artists’ websites, photo books, small town galleries – there’s no excuse not to surround yourself with, and absorb, art. I’d argue, given everything else, that it makes you a better artist.


Artist In Residence

Porcupine Mountains, Michigan

Talk about an opportunity:

The Artist-in-Residence Program is open to artists and artisans whose work can be influenced by the unique northern wilderness setting of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s largest state park encompasses 25 miles of wave-washed shores, four inland lakes, entire river systems, countless waterfalls, enchanting wooded peaks, and an escarpment, which rises slowly from the edge of Lake Superior until it plummets abruptly into the Carp River valley.

The Artist-in-Residence Program offers writers, composers and all visual and performing artists an opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the park and to express it through their art form. Each year a number of artists will be selected for residencies lasting a minimum of two weeks.

Again: if I were a younger man, and photography was a hobby, I would jump at this.

Back in 2011, I visited Michigan’s only mountain range during a drive-through trip in the Upper Peninsula. It’s beautiful country. A two-week stay to do nothing but explore and make art? It would’ve been a dream for my younger self.


Lack Of Agency

Lack Of Agency

Seth Godin’s recent post hit a nerve:

There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don’t have much choice in the matter.

They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.

But you have more choice than you know.

In our recent move, I’ve twice dealt with corporations and utilities that have made me feel like I have no agency. Most recently, Apple Support left me hanging on an Apple ID and iTunes issue. Apple! A company I’ve supported each of my adult years!

Call support centers are a form of capitalist nihilism. There’s no reason for any of the decisions made except to make the company’s situation better, and to help you feel powerless. It’s rare that a support interaction has a positive outcome – so rare, that we marvel at Creation when it happens.

My Apple interaction was especially galling. From 2005-2008, I purchased a bunch of music under an old Apple ID. From 2008 on, I’ve been purchasing music from a different Apple ID, unaware of the consequences, so now I have a bunch of music in limbo. The support center’s solution? “Switch Apple IDs each time you want to listen to that music.” Helpful! And silly. What they don’t tell you is that each time you switch Apple IDs in iTunes, it locks the previous Apple ID for 90 days.

Three months! Unacceptable. And completely arbitrary.

So now I’ll be sticking to downloading my music from companies with fewer arbitrary restrictions (as Godin writes, keeping the “ability to shop around”). It’s one of the reasons I don’t rely on subscription-based music services. There is, by definition, no agency involved in that transaction. If you unsubscribe, all the music goes away.

The larger point can be applied to creativity and photography, of course. There’s creative agency – that sense of not being held hostage by expectations and self-imposed pressure. On the technology side, by submitting our work to Instagram and Tumblr, you’re giving up a bit of agency. And if something goes wrong, your only recourse is a faceless call center, if that.

My one weak spot: Flickr. I rely on Ol’ Reliable for so much of what I do, including image hosting for this very blog. And I have a lot of time and infrastructure wrapped up in that website. If something goes wrong, I’ll be in a bit of trouble. It won’t be catastrophic, but it certainly won’t be fun.

When we keep our agency, in the form of hosted, backed-up websites and blogs, we have a bit more say in the matter. We can always pack up and put up our tent somewhere else.


Make Time For Beauty

Just Because I'm Weak

Good advice in general, but maybe especially these days, from Jon Ward:

A healthy perspective on politics, and life in general, requires time away from politics…

Creating is a big part of making room for beauty. But so is making time for enjoying and appreciating beauty, through art, nature, music, etc.

Losing yourself in something other than politics is good medicine.


Presenting In Public

The Sun Is On Our Side

I was invited to give a talk at the Jackson Civic Art Association Tuesday night on my still life photography: what was my thinking, what were my techniques, etc. It was also a how-to for other artists to think about making their own still life paintings, drawings, or photos.

It’s a good way to really think about your own projects. If you have to explain the whole thing, from idea to execution, you get really intimate with your process. I feel like the talk was good for me and helpful for them.

And many of the group members did come up and compliment me on my presentation. “I really appreciate the length of your talk,” one lady told me. “Some people are up there for hours going on and on about technique.”

That’s another thing: can you show and tell in an efficient time frame?

In another life, I was probably a teacher. Coworkers at my last job nicknamed me “Professor Dave” because of my presentation style, and my love for getting up on a whiteboard and scribbling out thoughts and ideas. I see talks like the one I gave Tuesday as part lesson, part performance. It’s fun for me.

It was also fun to break down my inspirations, thinking, and planning during the still life project.

 


Art As Protest

Coat the Feelings

If there’s any solace in this election, it’s that struggle and angst breed great art.

From World War I (Modernism!) to the Vietnam War period (Woodstock!), when people are upset, they tend to make great things. Heck, during the George W. Bush years, a lot of people took their protest and turned it into memorable work.

Art is coping. This time, I’m sure we’ll see lots of great stuff.


Analog City

Analog City

In Sound City, Dave Grohl’s love letter to the legendary, hit-making studio in California, he and other musicians gush about the “real” process of getting guys in a studio and recording music live, on two-inch tape: “the human element of creating and recording music.” ProTools has its place, many of the artists say, but there’s nothing like analog.

We’ve heard this before, of course. Everyone from filmmakers to photographers are returning to (or, in the case of movies, never leaving) film.

Lots of words get used to describe this process: magic, alchemy, mystery, human. Digital is too “easy.” You can fix everything with digital. Etc.

For many, it’s a return to what is known. Analog is more familiar to those of a certain age. A lot of what Grohl and Christopher Nolan and other film fans seem to be saying is, “You missed the good stuff, the good old days.”

Those of us who adopted photography as a hobby or profession in the digital age don’t know what a dark room is like because we’ve never used one, and may never step foot in one.

(A side note: my college newspaper had a darkroom attached to it, behind this sweet swiveling circular door, and I did spend some time in there – but never to actually develop or print images. I remember photography students spending a lot of time in that room, and I’d catch glimpses of what they were working on when they brought their prints out into the light.)

We seemed to have this big upswing, in the ’80s (music), ’90s (movies), and 2000s (photography) toward digital art making. In the last decade, that digital tide has swung back, and more and more artists are experimenting with analog again. Call it the Maker Movement, call it hipsterism, call it whatever, but vinyl records and photo film seem to be doing okay again. Not great, but not dead.

So it is with blogging – away from federated, silo’d social media platforms and toward artists and writers owning their material.

Maybe we’re all learning that perfect isn’t the goal. The goal is to make something great, imperfections and all. Something human.

We’re all living in Analog City now.

 


The Workshop

The Workshop - Albion, Michigan

This time last year, I was knee-deep in working on my documentary, Albion Anagama.

I learned a lot during the making of that film – about ceramics, and artistic process, and teamwork.

I also learned the value of a dedicated space to do creative work. In this instance, Ken built a fabulous studio on the outskirts of Albion, Michigan, complete with kilns and a garden and lots of space. He and his team had just about everything they needed to do work right there, from music to materials.

The idea of a dedicated work area appeals to me. In my recent house-hunting sojourns, it’s fun to see a basement workshop, or a dark room custom built for a film photographer. Even a simple office works.

At work, I find that taking my laptop and going somewhere fresh and new is a good kick in the butt to get work done. It’s not dedicated space, but it is a new space – and that helps me get some things accomplished.