Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is it selfish to be an artist?

I always feel a little selfish as I walk back to my studio - because I literally have to leave the house, and everyone in that house, to go out and work. This can definitely run against one's natural instincts to want to be there for others.  I go in, spend time on the computer, process film - somehow these things aren't too troublesome. But what about the larger (and essential) tasks, such as scheduling a day to go shooting - this has occasionally made me worry that I was being selfish...especially when my son was young.  

A few weeks ago I became interested in how the light would look at the end of the day on the coast. I had done an earlier image that I liked a lot and I was also interested in photographing the water from different directions. So those were a couple of the goals that had been bouncing around in my brain for a week or so. The problem was when I would go out to the coast with family or friends, we'd be doing other activities and I just didn't feel I could take that time for myself. As an artist, we often need a lot of internal space to really ruminate about an idea - and that can get awkward when you're with others. 

So, this week I decide to get past all those worries and make a commitment to making art without guilt! I decided to reserve a day on the calendar just for me - something that was easy when I worked commercially because I could justify it by the lovely fact that a client would be showing up and paying a bunch of $$ for the experience. Unfortunately too often when it's your own work, whether as a fine artist or what ever kind of creative work you do, it's harder to give yourself  that credibility. But the fact is, it's okay to take yourself seriously, in fact, if you want to accomplish anything, it's a necessity. Today, take out your calendar and schedule some time for the activity that makes you know who you are!

p.s. Please join me starting Friday, February 1st for an entire month - 28 days of creativity. I'll be doing a daily post with creative exercises and prompts to help jumpstart 2013 as your year of living dangerously! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Creativity and Meditation

When I was younger, I had a fear of meditation. Not only was I sure that it was completely boring ("you just sit?") but I had also heard a rumour that it reduced creativity. At the time the popular thing was TM, Transcendental Meditation, which is where you meditate to a mantra or specific sound, and some of its first practitioners were a bit holier than I wasn't too enamoured of the concept.  It's amazing to me now, how long this prejudice stayed with me, and really stopped me from developing an interesting tool. 

I also think part of my hesitation came out of a (false) idea about what creativity is and how it functions. That creativity was about letting one's brain bounce around, and any attempt to control the process would kill the poor thing. This notion still exists in popular example would be our continued belief in brainstorming. Turns out that classic brainstorming, where a group gathers together and just puts out as many ideas as possible, all the while making sure that there are no judgements of any kind, just isn't a very effective creative activity. While it may be a good process for an individual to practice, it's not very effective as a group endeavour. 

Getting back to meditation...I would say my more recent experience with it, and recent scientific studies show, it's actually the opposite of my previous beliefs. There are many kinds of creativity and many types of meditation. If we look at the generation of new ideas (divergent thinking) - then science is showing that "open monitoring" meditation is an effective tool. During this type of meditation you  remain open to any thoughts or sensations, but you don't focus on them. You're aware of how you feel, you're aware of sounds...but you don't invest in them. You see the "road" but you don't go down it. Studies show that practicing this type of meditation for as little as 20 minutes a day helps promote divergent thinking, which can be an important part of the creative process. 

For me, one of the additional benefits is that it quiets the chatter and worry that goes on in my mind and allows me to focus more deeply. If you think of your mind as the surface of a pond, meditation makes that surface just a little bit more resilient...makes the splashes of events and worry just a little less disturbing so the waves aren't quite as strong. 

It also gives me a greater sense of perspective which makes me feel a little stronger internally. Being an artist means you're often going out on a limb...trying to create a new vision...and part of that process is having faith in your own creative space. The ability to have a more solid core can give you greater faith in your ideas...which of course, can mean you pursue them with more conviction. 

A very good example of a meditation convert is the director David Lynch. Through his Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace he's bringing the power of meditation to troubled communities throughout the world. Here's a link to an interesting talk he gave about meditation,  his creative process, bliss and how his film-making experience has changed through this practice. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting Unstuck

Have you ever traveled to a different city, country or environment and all of a sudden you're so much more aware of your surroundings? You seem to have more ideas and energy? Yes, I'm sure that a big part of it is just being out of your normal "have to's" but a bigger part is about seeing things from an unfamiliar angle. 

The musician Brian Eno created an interesting approach called Oblique Strategies...over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas. Brian originally created the deck with his friend Peter Schmidt (a painter) - it was a basic set of working principles, or strategies, that could help jog their creative minds/energies when they were in the studio and the pressure to create was on. Here's an online version of it.

The deck itself had its origins in Brian's discovery that both he and Peter tended to keep a set of basic working principles to guide them through moments of pressure - either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you're running up a big studio bill. They both realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive. They used the Strategies as a way to remind themselves of those habits - a way to jog their mind back into productivity. 

Here are a few strategies to help you get unstuck and thinking creatively again:

Blindfold yourself and "look" around your room until you find an object you can't remember - make a shot about this object. 

Pick a time of day, tell yourself a story about what happened then - make that image. 

Think you need to look through the viewfinder (or rear screen) when taking an image? Not so grasshopper! Try shooting from intention rather than obsession - just point the camera towards the scene you're drawn to and press the shutter. 

Close your eyes and draw a portrait from memory. 

Go to Home Depot and find an object that totally baffles you. Make up a story for it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

If only...what I need to become a "real" artist

What does it take to become a "real" artist?

How about if I move to an artist loft...that would do it right? By moving to a big space with no walls, and windows that look out onto a lot of other buildings, that will mean I'm dedicating myself to my art! This might work, but only if I get organized, really make art non-stop, network and promote my art.

I'll just take a year off and devote it to my art - this might actually work - but only if I really concentrate my efforts, get organized and hardcore about my commitments.

I'll buy a new camera/book/paper/film/lens/technique and that will be moving forward - but only if I actually use the new stuff to make interesting work and then get organized and start promoting the work.

Move to Paris... NY...? Take a class... a workshop...?

Here's the thing, some of these things actually do work. I've been energized by new techniques and I know that being in the right locale can make a difference. But, my general feeling is that often we're in the midst of pretending that "if only" we were very different, or in very different circumstances then all of the hard stuff would fall away and it would magically work. Let's face it Badessari became an significant artist while teaching public school in San Diego - Matt Black is an amazing photographer and he still lives and works in the California Central Valley.

There might be a different location, circumstance or whatever that would help you be a better artist, but if those things aren't around - then you've just got to work with what you've got. Plus there's something to be said for having restrictions. Look at Prince's second film - or the new Star Wars trilogy. The bottom line is, it's important to remember that more (or different) is not always better. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Future of Photography

For the New Year...I thought I'd write about where I think Photography is going.

I love L.A.,  or at least my visual corner of it. This is a city made of fantasy, and that's where I find my inspiration - in this delicious mix of style and fantasy. An avid film lover, I cut my visual teeth on a combination of Blade Runner, One from the Heart and Fool for Love. Those films fascinated me in their ability to start with threads of the "real" and then build their own vision on top of that. Ten, fifteen years ago, it was unusual for a film to create a new visual world - now it's the norm...often whether we know it or not. Our vision of the world is slowly being remade to blend the divide between what we know to be real and what is not.

Recently I read a review of the film Lincoln and it occurred to me when they discussed the visual approaches used ("the smaller, plainer America of the mid-19th century evoked by the brownish chiaroscuro of the cinematography") that this is the new frontier of visual communication. Our recent dialog in photography has focused on film vs. digital...but I think we were missing the boat on that one. We should have been exploring the much broader world that digital was leading us to - a massive break from the age-old connection between photography and representation. By making the capture digital, we forever broke the idea of "image as documentation" and instead moved into a world where all is equal...copies, edits, composites...they are all originals, they can all feel "real." 

Also, along the way, digital removed the photographer as technology's gate-keeper, since now anyone can take an image. When you add the boom in social networking and the life-changing explosions of smart phones and has remade the world we live in. In many ways, video games are setting the pace with their visions of dystopian alternative realities while opening up our expectations of what images should accomplish and how our environments could look.

So, what do I see as the future for photography...or photographers? Our future (or one of our futures) is to push the boundaries of what our world looks like, with a vision that gives texture to each frame.

Here are a few photographers I think are worth watching:

Erik Johansson: Many of these guys are also retouchers...he's one of the best with a nice sense of humor.

Dariusz Klimczak: Wonderful work, interesting characters.

Rocky Schenck: I've loved his work for ages, strong sense of place and mood.

Alison Carey: Both a photographer and sculptor, she creates new worlds and then photographs them beautifully.