Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

Artists whose work goes against the accepted conventions and which has a conceptual element to it are often accused of wearing The Emperor's New Clothes by people who don't, or don't want to, understand it.It's a simple way to put something down, requiring (it's assumed) no explanation as to why the artists are deluding themselves. Too often the artists don't help themselves by the way they support their work with wordy, poorly written, statements. Whenever I come across some challenging photography I leave reading the statement for as long as possible. That way I avoid being biased against it before I've had a chance to determine how I respond to it.

I can quite see how some of my photographs could see me being accused of wearing the Emperor's New Clothes. The picture above is another in what is becoming a series that I have (pretentiously) titled Autoflora. I don't like giving individual pictures titles, but series have to be defined for ease of reference if nothing else. For me the pictures are just pictures of things that have filled a frame momentarily. Things that I have seen and found interesting. Likewise the ongoing series, which is beginning to come together in a coherent way, which I am calling Over The Hedge because that's what the pictures will be of - things seen over, or through, hedges (or fences with shrubs behind them).

I could come up with a lengthy statement/justification for each of these series: Hedges are borders, designed to keep things both contained and excluded, how they are a metaphor for the concept of an Englishman's home being his castle, a commentary on modern society's tendency for privacy and so on and so forth. Or I could say they are simple arrangements of colours and shapes framed by a camera. It is quite possible that all of these readings/interpretations apply. That's not for me to say as doing so imposes on the pictures a particular reading of them. But photography more than any other art form (to my mind) is very much about the pictures being open to multiple interpretations because they always decontextualise the very things they represent.

All too frequently it is the seriousness with which artists take themselves and their work that makes everything seem so pretentious. A couple of things I've stumbled across this week renewed my faith that there are 'serious artists' who do not take themselves, or their work, over seriously. The first was Cornelia Parker's refreshing attitude to what she does, almost being reluctant to label it as Art (deliberate capitalisation), on the BBC programme What Do Artists Do All Day?

The second thing that I liked was in this month's BJP. A number of photographers of various ages from 19 to 100 discussed the notion of a creative peak in a lifetime. The message I got from it is that some peak early, some late, some have a series of peaks (and the younger ones take themselves more seriously than the older do). In other words, and unsurprisingly, everyone's different. It was Saul Leiter's attitude which I approved of most. "I don't create, I take photographs," he said. And later that he doesn't spend time critiquing his work because "some is good, some isn't." He also expressed a dislike for the notion of creativity.

This, to me, is a healthy and pragmatic way to approach making art (deliberate lack of capitalisation). It's just something that some people do. Admittedly it's something which is totally absorbing when it is being done. The end result is merely the outcome of the process, a process which is mostly looking and thinking with a bit of making thrown in. It can often be the case that the more looking ad thinking you do before opening the shutter the better the pictures will be - even if the picture itself is quickly taken.

No comments: