Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts for a Thursday: art-making

When I'm not taking care of my family or at work, I struggle to make art. I photograph models and then attempt to see my soul through their portraits. It's an intuitive process and the only reason I do it is because I have to.

I enjoy the process, however, there's nothing I dislike more than having to explain an image. I think that it's a sign of laziness when someone asks me what something I've made "means". I wonder what a writer would think if anyone asked him to illustrate a novel, if someone said: here's pencil and paper, please sketch for me your story. Imagery, unlike words, is open to myriad interpretations so unfortunately symbolic meaning has to be defined. But it's unfortunate that the majority of people are afraid to let go the safety of knowledge and find their own meaning or lose themselves in someone else's unknown.

Even the visually educated few in the artworld want to follow a thread most of the time, a Hansel or Gretel following a trail of words back to the real world. And when they arrive with meaning in hand, proud of their understanding, they refrigerate it along with everything else they've killed along the way.

However, I accept that this is the way it is. The power of all work relies on its verbal interpretation. We're no longer living in an age where the image itself is enough and we're never going back. People want definitions, everything explained, so as an artist, I find myself in the world with a dictionary in hand.

Here are some thoughts on the process. Every artist, in my opinion needs to:

- First and foremost: have a thorough knowledge of art history; there's no making art without a deep understanding of what has been done and why. Every artist needs to be visually encyclopedic.

- be fully aware that there's a limited inventory of visual possibilities in the physical world and that the power hidden in those possibilities depends on how authentic the artist's perception is.

- arrange those known elements in order to push boundaries, peer into the unknown, represent hidden mythologies.

- detach herself from facts, from what is already understood and safe and never try to please or enlighten anyone - creating authentic work is hard enough.

Keeping an image alive and powerful despite definitions is half the work. Translations are rarely fully accurate, but the transition from the visual to the verbal is like putting a lion in birdcage. It's not that verbal expression is inferior, but that most artists are not writers.