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.
Robert Mapplethorpe gave a lot of his work away to friends. So did Picasso (to some controversy).
These were some of the most famous artists of their time, and now their work goes for thousands of dollars. The people who loved and supported them get the benefit.
So it should be with the work we make.
My guess is that there are people in your life—family, spouses, friends, supporters—who help to make your art possible, either through emotional support or hustle. It’s certainly true for me. For my recent gallery shows, it’s always my friends and family who turn out. That support means a lot.
I feel like we should be generous with our art, especially to those who show up. A print doesn’t cost that much to make – why not gift it to someone who loves your work?
Recently, my in-laws asked if they could get a few of my still life prints to go with their dining room remodel. I gladly two photos to go with their decoration scheme, no questions asked.
I’m never going to be famous like Mapplethorpe, and my work will never sell for thousands of dollars. But even if it did, giving my work away to people I care about is the least I can do for their time and attention.
The show was notable because Gord Downie, the Hip’s lead singer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year. Saturday night’s show, broadcast on the CBC to a third of Canada’s citizens, could be the Hip’s last ever – capping a 30-year career.
Imagine that in America. What U.S.-based band would garner a national broadcast on its last show ever? Bruce Springsteen, maybe? What modern music act can unite a country on what night in the way the Hip did this weekend? It’s amazing when you think about it.
I have a great history with the band. My friend Chris took me to a Hip show in the summer of 2000 at DTE Energy Music Theater (Pine Knob to those who remember the good ol’ days), north of Detroit. Since then, I’ve seen the Hip more than a dozen times: in Detroit, in Grand Rapids, in Sarnia, in Toronto, in Windsor (photo above). Their country and my own, I’ve seen them on almost every tour since 2000, sometimes catching them on several dates on a given tour.
Saturday night was emotional for me. It was especially difficult watching Gord, obviously frail and tired, giving it his all. He was spent emotionally, physically, and perhaps even creatively. But he went out with a bang. Here was a guy who has dealt with terminal cancer, on the last night of a country-spanning tour, deliver a three-hour performance in front of his hometown crowd and his nation. That’s grit.
Not that I think about death a lot, but watching my musical heroes pass away over the years makes me think about mortality, and the limited time we have.
It’s hard not to dive into the live-like-you-were-dying cliché here, but hear me out.
What would you do, artistically, if you knew you were on borrowed time?
And what’s holding you back from doing that, right now?
I try not to be morbid about this stuff. But it’s hard, having kids, not thinking about being taken away suddenly, and what kind of situation I’d leave behind. The unexpected happens all the time. Any of us could get a diagnosis that changes everything.
We can’t think about this stuff every day. That would be paralyzing in a way. Then again, that’s the whole point of the your-life-changes-after-you-get-the-news storyline – hardly anyone young-ish sees death coming. Saturday’s concert was a good reminder.
I mean, if a guy with terminal brain cancer can hit the road with the band one more time, travel the country and give it his all every night in the name of art and performance and duty, surely I can get that undone project completed. Right?
We can never capture everything. But seeing at all times, under any circumstances, is entirely up to us. And for this we don’t need the best camera money can buy or the most expensive lens on the market…we just need awareness.
My brain is full of missed shots.
I remember driving through the upper peninsula of Michigan and passing by an abandoned train sitting next to a pond. It would have made for a great photograph. I hesitated, because to pull over and grab the shot would’ve been something, but I was traveling at a good pace and didn’t feel like stopping. That shot haunts me.
There’s a collection of these shots in my brain, and I add new ones all the time. Maybe it’s as LaRoque says: it’s mostly in the seeing. I’ll remember these scenes in the camera of my mind. The important skill is to recognize new opportunities when they come up.
Or I’ll head back to the spot, and take the shot I missed.
“Value is not held within the [physical] object,” Travis Shaffer writes. “Rather, it is the opportunity to stand before the work which we desire.”
Which is exactly why I’m a small-time collector of the photographs I enjoy. The idea of (a) supporting emerging artists and (b) collecting appealing work is reason enough to spend a little money of not-so-limited prints.
I don’t do it because it’s a potential investment. And I surely don’t do it to be Mr. Art Collector Guy.
Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchoupitoulas. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel.They’re just busy. When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated.
Think about that. All the hard work we put into creative projects, or blog entries, or advertising campaigns – nobody really cares. They have better things to do.
Until they do start to care. But that’s only a fraction.
I try to bring this viewpoint to my job. We fret over the little things, and we polish the text to a buffed shine. Luckily, Ann Arbor (a true college town) is more literate than most cities. Still, at the root, nobody cares.
So give them a reason to.
Or: set your expectations accordingly. If no one cares what you do, doesn’t that give you some freedom to do what you want to do?
If you’re a photographer, do you only check out other photographers’ work? Is there value in digging into architecture, say, or sculpture?
I follow lots of photographers whose work I enjoy. Usually, their work is so different from mine. Lately, I’m trying to follow other artists, too, just to get a broad view of the creative world. Photography is great, but so is music, dance, painting, film.
Artists have a lot to learn from each other.
Don’t be afraid to stretch beyond your own artistic corner of the world.