A friend sent me a quote:
"There's no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership. None. Zilch. Nada. Actually, as the artist gets more into his thing, and as he gets more successful, his number of tools tends to go down. He knows what works for him. Expending mental energy on stuff wastes time."
—Hugh MacLeod, from Ignore Everybody
Perhaps. December notwithstanding, I like to think that this site is more about the creativity part and only secondarily about the equipment part, and as you know I've made arguments similar to the one in his middle two sentences ("Actually, as the artist gets more into his thing, and as he gets more successful, his number of tools tends to go down. He knows what works for him") like a broken record.
But no correlation between creativity and equipment? Not so sure. Contrary to that—playing devil's advocate—I'd just note that there are artists who make great works with the wrong equipment or without sufficient craftsmanship, which can interfere with other peoples' enjoyment of their creativity, or actually endanger the creation.
The prototype of this would probably be Leonardo, whose masterpiece "The Last Supper" has been deteriorating approximately since he painted it. Albert Pinkham Ryder also comes to mind, who laid on paint so thick that it can never completely dry, making his paintings very unstable.
Quoting Wikipedia: "Ryder used his materials liberally and without care. His paintings, which he often worked on for ten years or more, were built up of layers of paint and varnish applied on top of each other. He would often paint into wet varnish, or apply a layer of fast-drying paint over a layer of slow-drying paint. The result is that paintings by Ryder remain unstable and become much darker over time; they crack readily, do not fully dry even after decades, and sometimes completely disintegrate. Because of this, and because some Ryder paintings were completed or reworked by others after his death, many Ryder paintings appear very different today than they did when first created. Many of his paintings suffered damage even during Ryder's lifetime, and he tried to restore them in his later years."
In photography, the Starn Twins, for one, were notorious for making creations with ephemeral materials that are causing their artworks to self-destruct. The one I remember is a large 3D photo-collage stuck together with transparent tape which was discoloring, turning brittle, and losing its stickiness. Their attitude was that this wasn't their problem, it was a future conservator's problem. (They're now making giant webs or nests of bamboo tied together with bungee cords. These, like Christo and Jeanne-Claude's artworks, might be intended to be impermanent; I don't know.)
Some artists create their works specifically to distintegrate—who's that fellow who makes sculptures with stones out in the woods expecting them to decay beautifully? But I'd say the equipment used for creativity needs to be good enough to express the creator's intent, and robust enough such that the results can last for at least long enough for some other people to enjoy them.
Craftsmanship (and equipment) doesn't "have" to be adequate, of course (and sometimes it's more appropriate when it's what other people think of as being of poor quality), but it's often better if it is. There are photographers whose creativity I have trouble enjoying because their craft or their equipment is or was too poor, or just ill-chosen for the work.
There are many other issues that pertain here, and I'm not claiming to address all the subtleties of this issue in this one little post, of course. But none, zilch, nada? I'm pretty sure that's not true. At root, the correlation between creativity and equipment ownership for photographers is at the other extreme—close to absolute—because without a camera of some sort it's pretty difficult to be called a photographer at all; a decent working definition of "photographer" might be "someone who uses a camera to create something." I've been trying to think of exceptions, but I'm not coming up with any just off the top of my head.
(Thanks to Eolake Stobblehouse)
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A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Len Metcalf: "Andy Goldsworthy. Interestingly enough he is often referenced to as a photographer. His work is amazing, and I highly recommend the film about him (Rivers & Tides) to study his creative processes. I show it in my photography masterclass."
Stan B.: "This post brings to mind all those fine art C prints from the '80 and '90s quietly fading into oblivion in gallery/museum drawers and high priced collections."
Dave Jenkins: "Here are two of my favorite quotes relative to this subject—one from Pablo Picasso, one from Orson Welles. 'Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress that you can’t even imagine in advance' (Picasso). 'The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.' (Welles)."
noam: "'The Last Supper' always reminds me of this photograph [above] by Adi Nes."
Philip Morgan: "I like Hugh MacLeod's writing, but I think he's both right and wrong when he says's there's no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership. He's right in that if you could possibly statistically sample creative work and equipment used to create that creative output, you'd probably find no correlation. But he's wrong because he uses the wrong analogy. That's because artist and equipment form a system, and the idea of one-way cause and effect is inadequate to describe what happens in a complex system.
"I think what he's trying to say is that as artists mature, their use of tools becomes more focused, or simply more informed and intentional.
"Even my interpretation is a rough fit at best for lot of cases, like Walker Evans' apparently enthusiastic adoption of Polaroid color materials later in his life, or Ansel Adams using more and more medium format because of its lighter weight even though he got higher-quality results from large format sheet film."
Dennis Ng: "It was said that Beethoven got his latest piano from England. Even though he could not hear it any more, he could feel the potential of better equipment (better dynamics, wider range, more strength and...). He wrote the last few sonatas for this future equipment he heard in his inner ear. It would be amiss if one has a principle related to equipment I think. More or less, both can be right. There is no rule here."
Gordon Lewis: "With all due respect Mike, you and Hugh MacLeod are making completely different arguments. He is arguing exactly what he states in the first sentence of your quote: 'There's no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership.' You, on other hand, are arguing that poor choice of materials (I don't know if I'd call paint and tape 'equipment') reduces longevity of artwork. Even if I agree with your argument—and why wouldn't I, given that it's based on empirical evidence?—it still irrelevant to what MacLeod is saying."
Mark Roberts: "My favorite commentary on impermanence and art: 'This sculpture is about transience. As this figure melts, it invites the viewer to contemplate the evanescence of life. This piece speaks of the horror of our own mortality!' This is of course Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, describing a snowman."
Bernd Reinhardt: "I believe the above statement is absolutely true. There is however a significant corelation between the quality of your art and the joy you get out of your equipment as such, and this is something no review or Internet forum can tell you. Sometimes it is just the way a camera feels that makes you want to use it more. Over the years I have realized for example that I simply do not enjoy using lenses without an aperture ring. I know other lenses can be weather sealed and supposedly you will get used to the little wheel on to of the camera. Not me. I like to turn the aperture ring by feel, and know what my aperture is set at by feel or at most a little glance at my lens. Everything else makes me unhappy and takes me out if the mode of making photographs."