Artist is not a profession; it is a mission of discovery. It is not for the lazy or weak of heart. Thick skins, open minds and dedication to purpose are prerequisites. When it is very relevant, integrity is never far away.
It is possible, perhaps even necessary, for long-term strategic planners to be short-term spontaneous improvisers. There is no incoherence in this apparent paradox.
In this crazy world, we often forget that it is long-term dedicated commitment to our loved ones as well as to our chosen profession that dictates our capacity to eventual draw some semblance of genuine fulfillment from the experiences they provide. It seems to me that I increasingly meet people whose initial motivation is what they think they can obtain from relationships and/or their chosen activity. Most of the time this attitude is linked either to strictly monetary interests or has something to do with how they want people to perceive them. Is there the potential for genuine satisfaction in such an attitude? Perhaps, it could very well be that I am simply an old dreamer with a strong tendency for cynicism. I hope it is only the former, because the latter often seems to gain terrain as we age in spite of our best efforts. As Pete Townsend once wrote in a song…I hope I die before I get old.
Feeding ignorance is so much easier than educating it.
The relevance of the present is determined by our commitment to the future
For determined people, failure is simply an unavoidable and valuable bump on the learning curve of life. It is the inevitable result of risk-taking and is a true ally of progress, providing valuable hindsight, helping develop perspective and building the resilience required for a journey of discovery.
For those lacking determination, it is often a lonely, unfortunate endgame.
In all endeavours, it is of utmost importance to understand that the qualities required to be an effective opponent of "what is", are not necessarily those that are required to constitute an appropriate advocate of "what should be."
True education is teaching people how to learn, not what to think.
The quest for knowledge and the ongoing pursuit of understanding determine relevance in all human endeavours.
Ignorance is one of the principle causes of the incapacity to develop relevant perspective on any issue. Gaining informed (and therefore relevant) perspective generates the potential to understand that whatever point of view we choose to defend is only one of many possible alternatives. Simply put, we can admit the existence of other perspectives and their importance to others. Such a situation should give rise to informed debate and compromise.
The other principle cause of the incapacity to develop perspective is dogma (religious and/or political). I would argue that dogma in any form is a subset of ignorance, one in which the notion of perspective and the belief in the existence of a single truth are one in the same. Dogma, therefore, is a form of intellectual blindness that voids the notion of perspective of any relevance.
Prolonged encounters with very experienced individuals in our professional area, with persons of competence and excellence in other unrelated areas and with other cultures, particularly those very different from our own, are all necessary ingredients to developing perspective in which ignorance plays an ever-declining role.
Enlightenment is a difficult, never-ending journey. It must be earned. It must be seen to be both a desirable and necessary voyage. The primary role of education is to stimulate this desire and to elucidate its inestimable value.
The inability to accept the fact that making enemies is the inevitable by-product of the process of developing strong individual perspective and defending this perspective in the face of opposition, is to reveal the superficial nature of the belief in the perspective in question. Every truly personal perspective has a price that must be paid if it is to be honourably defended.
When traditionally easy things seem difficult and traditionally difficult things seem easy,
beware of invisible treachery.
When any medium has too much to say, it has a natural tendency to repeat itself, its repetition eventually rendering it redundant. Such is the case of traditional landscape, portrait and documentary photography. Its power to communicate effectively has been diluted to the point of virtual irrelevancy. The photographic medium is slowly suffocating under the weight of evolving insignificance. New conceptual processes may provide the required assistance, then again it may be too late. Thankfully this is not bad news. At the point we have reached, it is a relief.
Contrary to popular belief among artists, art is not the most important thing in the world. The availability and accessibility of high quality food, healthcare, education and transportation are key factors that arguably rank higher.
Contrary to popular belief among non-artists, cultural development and the arts are the only ingredients capable of transporting these key factors into a higher plane by offering a quality of life dedicated to more than simply comfortable material existence.
I think it is important that we present our views to the world unfettered by political correctness. Contemporary society frowns on such frankness. As a result of this, both traditional and fundamentalist versions of all religious faiths have been able to occupy more and more terrain attaining political importance that I feel threatens common sense approaches to literally every serious problem confronting us today. I believe that organized religion is without a doubt the most dangerous invention of man. It perverts, divides and passes judgement based on fictions rooted in ignorance, fear and an insidious need for control and power over others. Organized religions position themselves as indispensable foundations in confronting the challenges facing contemporary society, when in fact they are quite simply dangerously irrelevant.
We do not need more faith in the multitude of powerless fictitious gods that occupy the pantheon of organized religions. We need more faith in our own abilities to develop solutions based on facts born of dedicated research and on the long-term commitment required to transform these facts into coherent workable solutions to the difficult tasks that confront us today. Our dreams must be grounded in reality if they are to have even the faintest hope of success. This doesn’t mean denying the power of our imaginations to look beyond the facts. This does not make our dreams less romantic, less potent, less powerful or less out of this world. It simply celebrates their humanity and relevance. There is genuine spirituality in facing our challenges in this way – spirituality of the human variety.
It is relevant for every facet of human endeavour, including creation in the arts. Genuine social relevance is born of this quiet respect for the human condition and our unique responsibility for its destiny.
There is nothing more beautiful.
In life, there are right and wrong paths to take - not necessarily in the moral sense, but in the sense that some paths are more productive for our development than others in the context of defined goals and desires. This is true in the arts, as it is in all other fields of endeavor. The precise nature of the right paths (for there are almost invariable more than one) varies from person to person.
Neither the right ones, nor the multitude of wrong ones are easily navigable. The difference between them is simply that the obstacles on the right paths are more relevant and intimately linked to our ever-evolving objectives, while those on the wrong paths tend to be counterproductive and irrelevant to our development, at least in the short-term. It is important to note however, that some wrong paths have the potential to be highly relevant in the long-term and almost all are instructive in the short-term. The key to productive navigation on any path would appear to consist of a healthy mix of lucidity, integrity, open-mindedness, risk-taking and hard work.
It is easy to occupy the moral high ground when you have absolutely no responsibility for undertaking any action relevant to the subject in question. It is immoral to choose not to assume any relevant responsibility that is yours, while fighting to maintain control of this noble terrain.
In the affairs of art, it is wise to beware of local heroes that cannot, or do not want to, shine beyond their home turf. It is not a question of talent or blind ambition. Talent is a cheap commodity readily available everywhere; ambition, except of the very intimate variety, is always a dangerous collaborator. It is a question of managing and balancing our inevitable vulnerability and the necessity of exploring what we do not know or understand. Ignorance also plays a role in negating the importance of what is truly relevant.
It is fundamental to go beyond our native environment. Failure to do so elevates local heroes to the status of false visionaries. This is not a problem for the false prophets; it is, however, a problem for their followers. Genuine local heroes do not seek any status; they are too busy trying to make sense of their chosen path, sharing everything they know with collaborators who share their doubts, fears and courage. It is fundamental not to try too hard to be relevant. Relevance is for others to ascertain.
The notion that simply using technology to produce an image makes that image a part of some progressive contemporary art movement is utter nonsense. The fact that photography and other media arts (both old and new) have come to play such a central role in the contemporary arts has very little to do with the technology and everything to do with the nature of the conceptual processes these technologies have finally decided to embrace, permitting the mediums to advance beyond their technology. Artists have been using image-generating technology in the modern sense of the term since the widespread use of the camera obscura in the 17th century. Of course, the concept of the camera obscura had been explored since the time of the ancient Greeks and Chinese.
It is important to remember that the invention of photography was nothing more than the discovery of how to render more permanent, and visible on a material support, the image of a camera obscura. The invention of photography was a technical achievement and not a conceptual breakthrough or innovation. Perhaps this fact, at least partially, explains why since its formal discovery until the 1970s, the field of photography was generally considered less important, less significant, than other forms of visual expression and had a great deal of difficulty being taken seriously along side the slowly dying arts of traditional painting and sculpture. With the exception of some brilliant work done during the Bauhaus days and that of the Surrealists, photography had very little to offer the other arts before the late 60s. If photography and video finally earned a place of respect in the field of contemporary art it was not because of the technology they employed, it was because of a shift in conceptual thinking in the fields that took the focus of the creative process out of the conceptual confines of the equipment employed and into the world of philosophy, psychology and other fields preoccupied with the study of our states of mind and philosophical perspective rather than with the supposedly faithful bi-dimensional representations of 3-dimensional perceptions of reality.
Yet, in spite of this giant conceptual leap forward, there are many places where the photographic field remains locked into the technical mentality of the 19th century. That such places and the people that frequent them enjoy this traditional approach and want to keep its flame alive is admirable and should be applauded. That they try and convince others that they have a monopoly on truth and that somehow doing what they do constitutes contemporary art is simply a lie, whether it is born of ignorance or misplaced arrogance.
Contemporary digital technology represents the first genuine technical innovation in the history of photography capable of liberating the field from the tyranny of concentrating on the reproduction of what we see. Not that such liberation was impossible prior to the digital age; it was simply exceptionally difficult technically and very limited in scope. The digital revolution has begun to redefine photography as well as fields such as video and mixed media in the context of entirely new vectors of exploration that include more installation-oriented presentations and web-based interactive art. Photography in any traditional sense is dead as a vector of innovative development, as are painting and sculpture. Dead? Really? All of them? Well, not really, just chronically ill. Seriously? Well, no, not really, just permanently trapped in conceptual and technical limbo. Traditional photography will live on in the same way parents live on in their children (for good and for bad), and so it should. This is its noble destiny. If there is any concrete sense to be made of the term immortality in the context of the medium, surely this is it.
History remembers little of what man produces on a regular basis. History books are essentially filled with details of major conflicts, summaries of important social movements and scientific achievement and examples of works of art representing new conceptual perspectives. Of these, only the latter would appear to represent an unequivocally positive force.
Given the relatively conservative times in which we live, it seems therefore appropriate and important to insist that artists everywhere dedicate themselves to combatting the status quo in the cultural arena and being faithful to the tradition of seeking new uncharted regions to explore, new perspectives to develop and share and new challenges to take up - compromise and comfort being enemies to be avoided at all costs.
The incessant repetition of what others have done serves little social purpose. It is ego gratification at best, making us feel relevant when, in fact, we are little more than socially redundant pawns producing tired propaganda for a cause whose time has probably come and gone. Even in the service of nobler causes, it offers rapidly diminishing marginal returns. Sound harsh? I hope so. The situation is becoming dramatically depressing in some regions and calls for harsh words.
As artists, let’s dedicate ourselves to exploration in 2016, to leaving a mark on a page, however small and apparently insignificant, that will testify to our attempts to discover new ways of expressing ourselves about the world around us and the human condition that defines our progress. Let’s dedicate ourselves to evolving new ways of involving others in this process, leaving far behind the notion of art as a product to be consumed and replacing it with new forms of interactivity that stimulate debate and participation in ways that are in phase with the rapidly developing technological age in which we live.
It is time to move to the frontlines and to stop paying the slightest attention to the “batailles d'arrière-garde” that choke innovation and discovery. The photographic field and those who claim to defend its traditional interests are among the most active polluters. The motives of those who defend such battles are as irrelevant as the predictable results their outdated methods procure. These are watershed times that require decisive action.
There is still so much to be discovered.