What follows is most definitely not considered “cool” for serious artists to do.
ABSTRACT: Nearing the end of a rigorous period of self-examination, I was surprised to learn that both my expressions and my repressions are tightly polarized and clearly on display in my own photographic work. That it seems to be a “discovery” is itself, nearly embarrassing. Additionally, as to the development of new photographic projects, it’s a fuel, and therefore empowering. For followers of literature, it will be noted that this “embarrassing discovery” is actually a Baudelairian theme.
Artists spend a lot of time in introspection.
Visual artists, particularly those who are curated by professionals with a keen attention to “provenance,” don’t usually reveal themselves intimately in words, or their struggles in conversational form; if you want to understand the artist, look at the work. Contrary to that accepted silence, this post is an effort to demonstrate that even the work doesn't necessarily reflect what exists deep in the core of the creator.
Notable exceptions to the unwritten rule of “intimacy silence”
Anne Sexton almost singlehandedly invented the genré which became known as “confessional poetry.” Far from simply writing poems over her life’s episodes of spilled milk, she gave powerful voice to a woman’s angst, self-perception, views on relationships and a woman’s role in it, and more. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. Charles Baudelaire, considered by many to be the progenitor of “modern” poetry, was a French art critic and essayist. His poetry is unique in that it was the first to give voice to the inner voice of the individual living in modern cities, filled with a sense of longing and ennui that was shocking for the time, but which we now take as commonplace. His most famous work, The Flowers of Evil, was banned in France from shortly after its publication in 1857. The ban was not lifted, amazingly, until 1949. He died impoverished.
By “artists,” I’m not referring to those factory workers who call themselves artists, churning out pieces that are in reaction to what they believe others want. That’s not art. That’s decoration, at best. Maybe, at least if it’s made with good craftsmanship. Factories can make solid products, but they aren’t art. I’m refering to work that is self-motivated, self-directed; to work that exists because its creation was born of a need to reflect and/or interpret a specific immediate reality.
It’s not that artists are (usually) self-obsessed; it’s that they want to reflect accurately and truthfully what they know, see, or perceive. It really is about a love of the truth as they understand it, and they honestly want — and in many cases need — to give it away.
Really understanding yourself is a seriously challenging proposition. And the reason for that is because we have really clouded lenses, and our most sensitive equipment has been horribly miscalibrated.
I grew up in the 70’s, and my WW2-era, southern-born parents had nothing but disdain for the “I’m currently trying to find myself” vibe of the time. As the sponge-child (and I’m realizing that we were all sponge-children; we had no defenses before our personality-masks were hardened) I took on that harumphy disdain well into my mid-20’s.
Then I started working on unravelling all the accumulated knots, but not before I had done a pretty good job alienating the lion’s share of those closest to me, including my children.
I’m currently in the final stages of Danielle LaPorte’s process called “Desire Mapping.”
This child of a WW2 Navy gunner had to work pretty hard to get past the glitter-encrusted hyperbole of Danielle’s language. But I could sense that her method was powerful.
Instead of looking towards objectives or goals or comparing your answers to endless tests against some sort of grid, she takes you on an emotional safari. In a rather linear way (to make an otherwise wiggly and organic process a bit easier to wrangle) she helps you to put your own accurate, truthful, resonating language around your feelings in a set of core areas of life; core areas we all experience and possess: your lifestyle, your health, your relationships, and a few more.
The gist is simple: Desire is what drives action. Understand your central core desires, understand what makes you feel alive and connected rather than diminished and isolated, and choose actions in your life to amplify those core desires.
I’ve not yet completed the work, but what’s beginning to emerge from the process is someone who craves liberation, freedom of time and expression, and the gratitude that comes from experiencing reciprocity — knowing that good work produced and shared enables others to be inspired and empowered and whole.
Prior to working through The Desire Map, I strongly saw myself reflected in these three measurement tools:
Idea-driven, loves variety, is most animated in understanding how ideas and language animates human interaction
Draws insight internally rather than externally, requires solo time, and possesses a malleable understanding of the world
Can get trapped in a “thinking is better than doing” mindset; finds the most value in knowing his work benefits others
Just today, as I was looking at a wall of thumbnails of many, many of my photographs over the years, I could see in the images the worldview of someone who matches the above three definitions: an internal lens of a person who felt small in an overpowering and often cruel world. When I show a landscape, it’s expansive, dark, and watery; when people are present, they are small against that hard backdrop or compressed within a tiny compartment of it…
Self-identifying, and ultimately projecting isolation upon most subjects in my images begins to be recognized as pervasive in my observations of others.
But the emerging core desires reflect openness, connection, liberation, and a fascination with gratitude…
Meanwhile, those emotions that find their expression in playfulness and wonder appear on the opposite side of the spectrum.
My catalogue is easily 90% the former, 10% the latter. That’s not a bad thing, it’s an “is” thing. Reflecting the world as experienced is a form of truth that I’ve worked very hard to get good at; it’s an experience that is common, and sharing it is a way to build a bridge for many.
What I’m now realizing, however, is that view of the world needs to be integrated with the core desires that I’ve defined as latent, or repressed, or somehow maligned and revised internally. Both are true; both sides make one gleaming coin.
Those frames have yet to be exposed.