I'd planned on writing a technical column this week, but my brain is still too fried from handling the print sale to organize such lofty thoughts. Instead, I'm going to visit a topic I've been writing notes about for some time (which will eventually become several columns, although maybe not right now). That is the perpetually confounding question of the relationship between artist and audience. It's a topic I have visited in the past; it's not close to being exhausted.
Let me start out by pointing out something that is both obvious and often overlooked about the way the world of art works. There is no photograph out there that is loved by the majority of the photographic audience. Not a single one. Genres and tastes are too fragmented for that.
I imagine that's sort of self-evident if you think about it: B&W vs. color, landscape vs. urban, people vs. things, formalist vs. casual composition, staged vs. candid. The list goes on. I don't mean that people are antagonistic towards the subgenres they don't fall in love with, but that they just don't care. It's entirely possible there isn't a photograph that is even liked by the majority of the audience, but I'm not sure I want to stick my neck out that far. It surely is true for the vast majority of good photographs.
Were any of you left cold by the photograph I put up for sale, to such a degree that you couldn't imagine why we even offered it? Well, guess what? You're not the center of the universe. Neither am I. Nobody is. You can say with utter assuredness that it doesn't appeal to you, but that's about the limit.
But before you start to get bristly, here's the really important thing: you are the norm! Most people agree with you. About any photograph. Most certainly about mine.
Some numbers: TOP currently has over 30,000 physical readers [on a good day —Ed.]. By the time the sale ended we'd sold close to 800 prints of a photograph that a few people can't figure out why anyone would buy. That's a fabulous number of prints to sell of any photograph.
But the more important thing, the big picture, is that it's also only about one in 40 readers. So, if you didn't see $20 worth of merit in that photo, 39 out of 40 people agree with you. You are the 97.5%!
Thank heavens for that. Imagine what would happen if the majority of people actually loved that photograph. We'd have had more than 15,000 people clamoring for a thousand prints, the sale would have shut down in three hours, and nearly half of Mike's readership would now be really pissed at me. So, you know, I'm kind of happy with only a 2.5% share.
This is the reality of the world of art and the business of being an artist: Art is a popularity contest, but it's not a democracy. It doesn't require a majority vote for you to be successful—just enough people have to like what you do to pay the bills.
If you can do that, then it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks. So don't sweat it.
And be kind, or at least polite, to the ones who don't like you, because, you know, they far outnumber your fans. And you never know, some of them might change their minds.
Weekly columnist Ctein pleases a changing minority of TOP's audience every Wednesday.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Simon Robinson: "Well said Ctein. I am one of the majority—in fact I haven't liked any of your photographs that have been offered in TOP's print sales. It's not that they aren't good photographs, it's just that they are so far away from the type of photographs that I like (and make).
"The world would be a terrible (and depressing) place if I loved every photograph by every photographer—where would that leave my photography?
"Truth be told—I like seeing photographs that I don't like. It makes me question why I don't like them, which in turn makes me question why I like the pictures I do like!
"But hey, tastes change—when I was younger I never liked country music. Now I love it. So maybe, in the distant future, my taste in photographs will shift and I will be kicking myself that I passed on an original Ctein for $20!! Keep up the good work. While (at the moment) you are not pleasing me, you are pleasing some people—and that pleases me!"