What is Art?

I have discovered that I don’t really know how to create.

…That may seem a bit sudden and skittish, considering I developed this blog just a few days ago to trace my path towards creation and haven’t actually done anything yet.

Let me assure you, all is right in my path! Personal reflection is the first step!

Hear me out:

As a student in college, I received training in the way of creation. Professor #1 taught me to balance the exposure of a photograph this way. Professor #2 taught me to tone my page with charcoal like this. Professor #3 taught me that, grammatically, words are to be used in this manner. Professor #4 taught me that… You get the point.

My art and writing mentors encouraged that I explore my own creation. However, through their assignments, they had charted the path that was to be used to get there, and I was to stick to that path.

We could look at a piece of art and say to ourselves, “So-n-So used his materials in that way to produce that.” We could go home and attempt to re-create the essence of that artist, but our brushstrokes are not the same, and the way we glued that thing to that other thing just doesn’t look like how So-n-So did it…

Did we just fail?

Totally… If we were trying to become that artist.

We can follow whichever path we want to create art, but if it is not a path we etched out for ourselves, we didn’t solely create that art in the first place: our mentors had their hands in it too. We can be inspired by the way a mentor or artist creates his art, but we have to realize that we have our own way to create art and our own result. The artist is only supposed to learn techniques from his mentors on a conditional basis; the artist is to use his knowledge in creation to construct his own perspective, and allow his spirit to guide his method, process, and result.

A few years ago, I created a collection of self-portrait images, only four in total, for a quick assignment in a weekly photography class. My professor didn’t like the content in one of the photographs. He said, “It would look better if that ring was not on your finger in that photograph… It detracts from the image.”

The ring itself was a band with a pendant on a swivel: one side said luck, the other said tough luck. Long story short: that ring would remind me of times in my life when chance was on my side, while also reminding me that chance is not something to be relied on; that I am the only one who will fight my battles.

So the battle began…

The Self.

The Self.

My rebuttal: “Well that ring gives me motivation… It is something that reminds me to stay strong and to work hard… It is emblematic of my appreciations in life and my approach to living.” I stated my case: self-portraits are portraits of the self — they are the most cathartic images a photographer could capture. If I were to decide, “That self-portrait, although deeply personal and meaningful to me, may not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye… I don’t want that to represent me!” I would be lying to myself about myself.

Granted, I understood where my professor was coming from: if an artist plans to show his art publicly, he has to think about his audience and their reaction to the imagery. But I wasn’t going to — and never will — omit an image because my audience may not like it.

I discovered then what art means to me: art is to create for your soul from your soul.

I used to love taking photographs. Back in the late 90’s, I had a crappy digital camera, and a primitive copy of Microsoft Paint as my editing software — the bare basics. I created my own imagery on my own terms, my own way, and I loved it!  I learned film photography and darkroom development in high school and I fell in love — there is nothing quite like watching your images slowly emerge in developer…

In college, I wasn’t planning on studying photography at first. As a late transfer to the art department at my institution, I had to settle for digital. I was excited to learn digital the real way, with real photo editing software. But the deeper I made my way into the major, the inspiration and the drive drained out of me. I had some shining moments — times when I found inspiration — but they were too sporadic and far apart to sustain me. I felt that, with digital development, there is always a button to press for the computer to make my image look however I wanted… I missed burning my lights or dodging my darks with my right hand while crossing the fingers of my left, racing against the timer ticking away at my 8-second enlargement exposure…

I’ll admit: I did learn some pretty cool digital post-production techniques through some of the assignments I completed, but when the image began to be dictated by the technique (or button) to be used in post production, the fun was taken out of my creation game.

I miss creating art without an assignment. I feel my capacity to create on my terms has been assigned-to-death — I forget how to create for me, by me.

Like I said above, this is the first step on my path: to reignite my creative inspirations, ambitions, and desires. To break down the techniques I have acquired thus far to their bare minimum and reconstruct my artistic ability. To reconfigure my ideals and update my perspective. To rediscover what my art is, and to create for me by me.

Art is wholly up to interpretation. Art is, most simply, the expression of a perspective. We all have a unique perception of what art is and what art is not — and to an “artist” the development and understanding of this perspective is half the battle.

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2 thoughts on “What is Art?

  1. This is stimulating Lee-Ann. Really deep. I think art is a form of intention, but then it’s all the things you said too. It’s hard to pin down.

    Thanks for checking out my blog btw, good luck in your quest of creativity.

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