If we are seeking the connection between art and photography, perhaps we should not look just at the “photography”: perhaps we should also be looking at the “art”. In any equation we have to treat each side the same. And so I have developed the habit of seeking out art exhibitions and wandering through art galleries thinking about art and how it relates to photography. It is very instructive.
What I am looking for are pictures and not sculpture or other art forms. I want to see what the people who make pictures are doing. This means mainly watercolor and oil painting. And looking at their creativity brings up all kinds of interesting comparisons and ideas. There are the public art galleries which I enjoy but to some extent they are historical: they tell us where art has been.
One of my favorite places for public galleries is Amsterdam where they have the Rijksmuseum, think Dutch Masters, and close by it the van Gogh Museum, think van Gogh. Here at home we have our own Vancouver Art Gallery. But these galleries are not what is happening now.
To get “now” you have to go to the art galleries where paintings and other arts are sold. There you will see what is currently being bought by the public. These private galleries welcome any who want to see their pictures. Of course I don’t have to say be well dressed, be quiet and respectful, and don’t touch.
These galleries are impressive. You walk in and the images and the color jump out and hit the eye. Some of these paintings leap off the canvas at you! I love the way that a beautiful image at four feet away dissolves into brushstrokes when viewed at 6 inches. In photography we struggle for sharpness and somehow a painter does not even concern himself with it. He worries about form, color and overall mood. Perhaps that is the first lesson we should walk away with?
I often find myself downtown with business in some office or other and I like to drop in at the Howe Street Gallery of Fine Art. This gallery has an excellent selection of paintings in many styles. They are friendly and a wealth of information about their artists and the techniques they use. Look at the framing of the pictures and how it helps or detracts from the images. Look at the styles, the dimensions, the matting, if any, and how it all adds to or detracts from the overall impression of the work. Think about your own photography while you are looking at these works of other artists. Consider which styles really speak to you and then wonder how you can take your photography from where you are to here. What would you have to do to be displayed here alongside these “serious” artists? And while you are at it, wonder why photography is not on display in the gallery at all.
The answer to that is that the gallery feels it would not attract an audience. Why? As you walk past the paintings your mind should be alive with thoughts about your own photographic art.
So how do these works differ from photography? Well, it occurs to me that the artist does not start with an image as we do. We have the image before us already: the painter imagines a scene. Sure, he may use a picture, but then he can move elements around, leave some out, add things from other images or his imagination. He has a free hand. Wouldn’t we love that freedom! We are, to some extent, crippled by the fact that we are presented with the image and we can only manipulate it in certain ways. The painter has no limit except his imagination. She may take weeks or months working out the elements she is going to include and how they will relate to each other. So, the artist can plan his image.
How much time do we take planning our images? Usually not enough! Heck, we don’t take any. We “capture” our images as if they are wild fleeting animals. They flash past us and we grab what we can. (Obviously I am speaking to those like me who have not become painstaking careful professionals who do labor over their images.)
What else do we see? Well, look at the presentation. The big glowing images on the wall are spectacular. What do we have? Maybe a stack of 13 x 19 prints, or even smaller, that people will admire and then forget? Well, that has to give you a thought or two. What are we doing with our images? How are we presenting them?
You will notice that you do not like all of the paintings you see: either you will not get the concept the artists is putting forward or you will simply not like his style. But regardless of his talent, notice that he has put himself out there; his images are on display. The artist has taken the talent he has been given and he has put it before the public. This is a risk. He may be rejected; no one may buy it; the gallery may reject his work. But he is putting himself out there and deserves respect for doing it. And that has to raise the question: what am I doing to put myself out there?
What do most of us do? We put a few images on 500px or some other platform and wait for the royalties to flood in. But who will buy our images? What is our market? Anything you sell on these services will almost certainly be for commercial use. And if that is the market you pursue, are you really trying to produce art? In the art gallery you are visiting, how many of those images are going to sell for commercial purposes?
Now, I will admit that there are images used commercially that are artistic, but I come back to the “Living Room Test”: is the image the way it is presented something you would be proud to put on the wall in your living room? Well, so long as it is on a page in a magazine, I doubt it will pass the test. So where does that leave us? Well, as usual, with more questions than answers. But there are lessons to be learned.
We have touched on these:
- Pay more attention to form, color and mood and worry a little less about pixels and sharpness. The latter are simply part of the technique and not part of the art.
- Take Time to “create” your image. Don’t rush. Think about what you want to project to the viewer and how you will use your equipment to create that emotion.
- Consider carefully how you will present your image. What medium will you use; canvas, watercolor paper, gloss, metal? You have such a range of choices.
- Finally, how will you put yourself out there? If you work for your own satisfaction, then display your work in your home or office. If you want a wider audience, get out to craft fairs, home shows, the walls of local public buildings, even plan a one man show.
For me, I want to learn how to create mood and atmosphere like these painters. So I am planning a project. Look at these images of mandarin oranges by the artist Sheveresky.
Oil on canvas it is 16 x 48 inches and it just glowed when hung on the wall in proper lighting. It would dominate a room. Can I replicate it with my camera? I don’t know. But I am going to try. Why do this? Because this man had a beautiful concept; simple, familiar, and stunning in its execution and if I can duplicate it I think I will learn a great deal about my own craft. And by duplicate, I mean in size, on canvas, mounted. The student learns by emulating the master. Which brings us back to the beginning of this rambling essay: wandering through art galleries is highly instructive.