A Matter of Vision

I used to ponder why those of us involved in some form of the arts became engaged in what we did, in the first place. Some, I know, picked up Rock guitar as a pathway to getting laid. Others took up photography … for similar rewards. While noble, naturally, there are those who were inexplicably drawn to a medium – and engaged by it – with the same uncontrollable lust as the sex drive, itself. One simply has to approach the piano. They get itchy when they don’t. And a blank canvas is easily the most taunting object known to the painter. Picking up an acoustic guitar from the easy chair is a matter of compulsion, not obligation – even when there’s no one else to hear it as an act of seduction. It is this impulse that, perhaps, defines one as an artist – more so than even proficiency or virtuosity. It’s an innate matter of desire, from the start, from within. Competence is merely acquired. Though mastery is often far more elusive …

Whether it be a hankering or a more passionate yearning, the compulsion may well best be illustrated with the written word – term papers and other obligatory manuscripts, aside. Even those without distributed outlets often times write with no intended audience. They write, principally, for themselves. And they often do so to simply process the world around them, as well as their own thoughts or feelings. It’s frequently forged in a desire to make some sense of them – any of them. Interestingly, the world being processed is often left behind in the balance. The reward is in the escape. And, as escapes go, it’s seemingly preferable to drugs and alcohol. But the artist, if with regret, has often entertained all forms of flight to the common destination … sometimes final. Escape, after all, can have its perils.

For the artist, expression isn’t merely a sidebar supplement to an America permanently adhered to a mobile phone … with nothing particular to say. The only thing the artist may share in common with the phone-freak is pathological loneliness ... I take that back ... Cell phone fetishist are far more lonely and afraid to be alone – with themselves, uncomfortable in their own skin, than the most depressed and suicidal of artists. But I stereotype. The artist, that is. People who run a days-worth of errands while in the perpetual ‘state of mobile’ are the most alone individuals on the planet, while sadly taking great efforts to lend the opposite impression to all who surround them. The artist doesn’t have the time for such things and additionally requires their alone time. Mobile Mary – she has nothing in common with the artist. She does not contemplate. She does not consider. She does not reflect. She only seeks out her own kind. And Mobile Mary will never be able to differentiate between living for the moment … and being lost in a moment. The latter can’t be distinguished and separated because it simply doesn’t exist for her.

Perhaps cruel, I know, to describe what defines an artist by drawing dour comparisons to those who have a little less going on. But many people are, in fact, two-dimensional cardboard cutouts while the artist – yes – has more breadth. I know this sounds elitist. But it is, among other things, what separates the artist from the far more omnipresent, cubical existence – often times found in the most generous and lavish, open-space environments. For living large can still be accompanied and diminished by thinking small.

It’s been said that one ‘mission’ of the artist is to articulate for others what they, themselves, can’t. But I’m not so sure. The creative mind often doesn’t entertain others in the process and produces primarily for its own personal enrichment or enlightenment. The prospective audience becomes secondary. Adulation and recognition are merely a validation to feed the attendant ego of the artist – that which most creative people possess in spades … and are often times crippled by. It nevertheless isn’t a component of actual creation. But in any event, it shouldn’t be the driving force for the artist. It’s what essentially separates the musician or composer … from the Pop Star – even though the two have managed to coexist and reside within the same entity. Sometimes.

For many with creative instincts, the process of creation is the only time that the artist has some fleeting sense of control in a world they perceive as being far beyond their tangible influence. For the photographer, as an example, the look through the viewfinder is, for only a moment, their world … under their control, deftly eliminating the superfluous distractions that have otherwise cluttered and confused their existence. And as the eye rears back away from the camera, the photographer is returned to a randomized disorder of which they have no command. The actual engagement of the shutter is almost incidental other than chronicling … that moment. The same is true of all artists. The writer. The painter. The composer. The dancer, even. Their ‘moments’ are only more protracted.

It’s additionally suggested that art – whatever medium – should evoke an emotional response. It is, after all, the domain of the Right Brain. That premise, of course, refers to the ‘end client’ – the appreciator. But for the artist, is their output purely the offspring of the emotional? Or can it, indeed, also be intellectual? As most of the arts require acquired skills, there’s certainly more involved in creation than emotion and temperament. And even beyond the mechanics, perhaps there can be -- to varying degrees -- an element of ‘Left Brain’ function is the process …

While writing and creating music, I do principally have an emotional connection to the process and final result. But my involvement in the visual arts has often come from a somewhat different place, I think. As I pull back to view my images following their creation, I perceive something of a trend ... Applying objectivity to subjectivity (Left Brain to Right Brain), I see a fair amount of my visual work as calculated and analytical. Not cold, mind you … but, in some way, intellectualized and deliberated. Shapes, forms, placements. The kind of things that used to delight one of my art instructors back in college. I, indeed, had imposed a rule for myself: If an image contained more than three principal elements, I had to justify the inclusion. More interestingly, I had never actually articulated the rule to myself. Rather, as I began to analyze my work over time, I came to realize that I had somehow imposed the rule subconsciously. It often lives on to this day.

A great deal of this, I believe, is simply because so much of my visual work is object oriented, often containing no human element within the frame. Perhaps it’s because I’m not so much of a photo essayist, but rather one who expresses in terms of the ‘photo-graphic’. And when I do ‘shoot the human’, it’s often times a ‘set-up’ where I can control the elements. Think studio, whether inside or out. For me, most anything else is ‘for the record’. And I’m not saying that this is a good thing as a motif to be followed, by any means. Rather, I mention it as one's own objective appraisal of output – that which I do recommend for all.

There are several examples where I, in fact, see Left Brain trickling – sometimes hemorrhaging – into Right Brain. Even as I finalized the look and feel of this very website – in it’s current form – I came to describe it as ‘Sophisticated Staid’. Artsy, yet conservative in presentation. Not clinical … but clean. Perhaps even … emotionless. I’m not sure what this says about me, if anything at all. It’s likely just the desire to create an environment that doesn’t compete with actual content, much like a gallery frame and matte -- an art form in itself. What I do know is that it pleases me. And that may be art’s ultimate realization ...

That shall close the intellectual discourse. As to the emotional – if explained and discussed – it ceases to be emotional at all. For this, you’re on your own …

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