A thought passed through my mind recently and it is summarised by this statement: art is bigger than the artist who created it. Always.
I felt the urge to write about this subject because it has puzzled me for years. I was close to being able to articulate it after various exhibitions, but after showing my recent set of Iceland images, the words have finally arrived, but what you will make of them – who knows!?
You have just presented a portfolio of images, or perhaps your exhibition has opened and people are telling you what they think of your work. If we remove the occasional disingenuous flattery, or blanket disgust (it always happens, followed by a snort and marching out of the room) from the equation and really get to the nitty gritty, (on average) it usually goes along these lines:
“I absolutely love 10%, I really like this 40%, I don’t really feel much of a connection with that 40% and this 10% I’d have left out altogether, personally. “
Of course, these percentages vary enormously and I just threw in some examples above, but you get the general idea. Few people walk through the door and love everything we have done, because even we do not necessarily love every image in a series, well not equally anyway. Often we include images that are important to telling a story, binding an overall theme together or for another valid reason reason. But here’s the thing: have you noticed how, almost always, every image has its fan, including images we don’t hold in the very highest regard?
What about the flat out [internal dialogue] ‘Oh, gawd… In hindsight, I really should have left that one out’ image, that results in someone walking up and telling you its the best in the show. Well, knock me over with a feather! In the same vein, have you noticed how there can be total reversal of opinion; your strongest work (by far, as far as you are concerned) gets a “well I quite like it, but…” response from someone and the work you were frankly not happy about showing gets (from the same person) “on the other hand, I love these – amazing… and here is why [insert well articulated explanation]”?
Often, within a series, are a number of facets/sub themes/ideas or stylistic variations, yet a person that connects with sub-theme or style A is not necessarily into B and vice-versa, right? This holds true, when we are dealing with other photographers and artists too, not just with members of the public who are not ‘into’ photography per se. I find this intriguing. How is it that we, as the creator of the work, can produce a body of work that is clearly broken down into ‘love/like/ambivalent/boring’ but where almost every image on the wall (assuming we have edited well) is put into a different category by different people. What I sam saying is that it is rare for people to see our work and mirror out own sentiments. In this regard, the totality of our creative vision is rarely transposed perfectly into the minds of the viewer and embraced lock stock and barrel. And this is where it gets interesting.
You created the work because you’re the artist. The vision was yours, yet… the end result is not. It is bigger that that. Somehow, judging by the responses we have, we can be met by a degree of connection, insight, appreciation or interest that extends beyond that which we feel we have any right to expect, or even hope for. Why this is I do not know, but it sits right at the heart of why I love photography (and I am sure the same holds true of other mediums). This is the dialogue. This is the imperfect and unpredictable communication between subjective and imperfect individuals.
What we do has the potential to grow and become much bigger than we are, exceeding even the greatest ego, ambition or vision. How staggeringly brilliant and beautiful is that?
P.S. And one day, you look at one of your images and see it a little differently. Better. Deeper. And you remember the words of an older gentleman man who spoke enthusiastically with you in broken English at an exhibition some years earlier.