My acquaintance with Art goes back to when I was a kid. I don’t call myself by his name – like I said we’re acquainted, not necessarily related. There’s also respect on my part; he’s been around a lot longer than me. I think a lot of Art; I hold him in high regard and he definitely influences things I do.
A lot of folks go around calling themselves by Art’s name. It’s similar in a way to what other people do with Christ’s name; they like being thought of as Christians – but not all of them ought to do that. When it comes to representing what He was about, the standard for authenticity is higher than a lot of people realize.
As for Art, there are no penalties for defaming him – or it – that I’m aware of. Art didn’t leave a record of teachings; historically Art has tolerated an endless procession of wannabes without laying out any clear standard of what it means to be an artist. And so we’ve got almost as many artists as religionists among us.
To be honest I think there are more bogus Christians than artists – the perceived rewards for that status are much greater. Still, art has prestige of a sort and if it were up to me I’d set the bar higher for calling anyone an artist. But there’s no authority to back that up more than language and the marketplace. Meanwhile the actual presence of Art does visit certain chosen people in a powerful way. It may bring fame and fortune with it, but more often it does not. With some it stays for a lifetime; with others it drops in for a spell and then moves on.
Of course art takes so many guises it’s sometimes hard to define. I’d like to hear your criteria for what makes art authentic. I’ve had the privilege of knowing quite a few people who I believe are real artists. I’ve also met people I thought were genuine, high-functioning artists who seemed barely aware of the fact. And then there are those who go through life wearing the label “Artist” who wouldn’t know art if it bopped them with a bolt of Christo’s pink polypropylene, or a Julian Schnabel canvas. There’s been some question over the years as to whether Christo or Schnabel even really know art.
I believe they do, although I don’t cut everyone that slack (Cindy Sherman doesn’t have me fully convinced). But I’m cautious about my judgments, realizing that Art, like Beauty, is often in the eye or ear of the beholder. People have created art from the songs of whales. One of my friends has made art from the underwater movements of tiny creatures on the bed of a river. She can find beauty in that primitive medium, then through the creative process elevate and make it visible to the rest of us. However I don’t believe art like this is created by the talent of poseurs or wannabes.
All of which goes to explain why I don’t generally call myself an artist. Artists create. I’ve learned how to convert what I see into effective visual content for editorial and commercial use. I’m a pretty good visual editor. But I don’t fool myself that these abilities qualify me as an artist. Over the years I’ve known a lot of people who traffic in visual media. Not all of them are inspired or really know much about Art, to my thinking. What some of them know best is how to sell stuff.
Like Christianity, it seems possible to enjoy the status of an artist yet not understand the first thing about Art. It’s also possible that a true artistic genius or spiritual master might be spurned by nearly everyone around them. Vincent Van Gogh made more than 2,000 paintings and drawings over roughly two decades, which were appreciated by very few before his death at the age of 37. Today his paintings sell for tens of millions. Jesus Christ was accused of being a blasphemer and was lynched by a rabid, quasi-religious mob at the age of 33. Today all kinds of quasi-religious people take status from his name – many without understanding the first thing about his real values, and how they still can get you lynched.
But all that is another line of thought. Not many analogies are perfect, and it’s probably unwise to take that one much further. But conscience does tap us all on the shoulder from time to time. And Art (or so I like to think) still sometimes whispers a word or two in my ear. Only in passing, of course – he hardly lives full time at my address. But I love it when he makes a suggestion.
As I believe he did a few days ago, after one of my “serendipity” shots. It seemed I ought to go back and work that location one more time – before the weather (in this case a massive rainstorm) obliterated the delicate details of the setting. And so, thanks to a friend who was willing to make herself vulnerable to my lens, I came away with a painterly photograph.
Now this shot may not be Art, but to me it has something of the feel of art about it. It wasn’t enhanced, distorted or colored digitally, it’s just what I saw through my camera (vertically flipped – it’s a reflection in water). It did require very careful framing, waiting for the right light and a subject with greater than average patience. It wasn’t created for any reason other than trying to distill the essence of a fleeting natural moment into a single, perfect image. In photography that’s the challenge that always entices but rarely is grasped. Maybe I’ll do better next time – but I hope Art might have at least a tiny smile for this one.