By John Camp
[Originally submitted as a comment —Ed.]
The photograph of René Burri Mike posted on Friday reminded me of a conjecture of mine which I think generally holds true, but which some people may find spurious and possibly even absurd.
That is, the more a person looks like an "artist," the less likely he is to do work of genuine merit. This idea first occurred to me when I was hanging around with a lot of art students in college, and it seemed to me that the more a guy looked like an artist, the weaker his actual artistic efforts were.
The question then, was, why would this be? I concluded that really serious artists tended to heavily focus on art, and not so much on dress or grooming or their social life. Guys who ostentatiously looked like "artists" were actually less interested in art than in other things—status, fashion, attracting desirable partners, etc. There's nothing terribly wrong or unusual with all of that, but it takes time, thought and effort to pull off, and that's time, thought and effort not put into the actual making of art. The really serious guys tended to look like nothing in particular—jeans, ordinary shirts, and so on.
I've found this is also true in other fields. There's a magazine called Modern Farmer aimed, I don't know, I suppose at some species of yuppie, and the people in it look like they just got their farm clothes at the Working Man counter at Barneys/New York. And don't even get me started about young white blues musicians who wear those narrow-brimmed hats on the backs of their heads....
A further question would be, does this idea really apply to photographers, whose whole aesthetic involves the capture of appearances, and who might then be extremely and legitimately interested in appearance in all of its forms, including their own? If you look at the Burri photo—the dramatic turquoise shirt vibrating against the orange-ish face, the whole surrounded by the dramatic blacks of jacket and hat—you see a man who is deeply interested in the image he projects. Is it possible that this interest subtracted that few percentage points of quality that would make (in your eyes) his photos compelling?
©2014 by John Camp, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
Gabe Bandy: "Seriously? While your thesis is funny and cynical (two things I greatly admire) to judge a man, a French man, who fancied a fedora and scarf by his mode of dress? From one picture? The more you dress like the 'popular conception' of an artist the less talent you 'may' have? The Jackie Gleason theory of relativity? So you're collaborating with Ctein—a man I consider one of the most intelligent and literate people I've had the pleasure of learning from. He's certanly of unique appearance—he may look like the popular conception of a somewhat mad scientist, or an aging hippie, or???
"I believe none of those stereotypes fit or define the man, just as a narrow, momentary glance at Burri would throw him in your pretentious artist category."
Michael Perini: "A very interesting point. I think we have all known people who might be so described. Poseurs to a degree. I believe that there is something to your thesis. However, most of us have also known people for whom style is effortless. I would stipulate that such people are rare, but I know I have known some. Poor or well off, some folks have a grace and style that seems innate. So while I also believe your conjecture to sometimes be true, it might be dangerous to assume who is which. Thanks for an interesting thought."