Blog Post To A Young Photographer
I spent part of my New Year’s Holiday finishing up my artists book, Up. When I was done with all of the measuring and cutting and placing of the vellum images into the book my wife asked me,” It’s great, but who is it for?”
“It’s for me”, I replied.
She gave me a quizzical look and then a smile that one would give to an indulged child. The question and look reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend regarding a fellow photographer’s decision to move to Maine and give up photography. “Why is she doing that?”, I asked. To which my friend replied, “Because she isn’t getting the recognition she thinks she deserves from galleries and museums”
“If that’s the only reason why she is making photographs then she deserves to give up!”
I was not being a cold hard ass when I made that remark. What I meant by that statement is that, first and foremost, you make art for yourself. You make art because you have to, pure and simple. Everything else follows from that as an artist. Maybe you’ll get a show, maybe you’ll be successful or even become a gallery superstar, but that should be besides the point.
The famous german poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, said much the same thing to a much younger poet eager to find his voice and asking for his advice:
You look outside yourself, and that above all else is something you should not do just now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There’s only one way to proceed. Go inside yourself. Explore the reason that compels you to write; test whether it stretches its roots into the deepest part of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would have to die if the opportunity to write were withheld from you. Above all else, ask yourself at your most silent hour of night: must I write? Dig inside yourself for a deep answer. And if the answer is yes, if it is possible for you to respond to this serious question with a strong and simple I must, then build your life on the basis of this necessity; your life, even at its most indifferent and attenuated, must become a sign and a witness for this compulsion.
An artist must fly solo. He must respond to his personal needs and demands. He must give in to them and have fun! Only then will the work truly be authentic; made in response to yourself . Art is a by product of an artist’s personal quest.
The photographer Stephen Shore put it this way in response to a young photographer’s question:
I believe that art is made to explore the world and the culture, to explore the chosen medium, to explore one’s self. It is made to communicate, in the medium’s language, a perception, an observation, an understanding, an emotional or mental state. It is made to answer, or try to answer, questions. It is made for fun. In short, it is made in response to personal needs and demands.
As we start this new year as artists I think this is a good lesson to understand and internalize. The beginning of all great art comes from within.