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Saturday, 30 September 2017


Unfortunately often neither wins. Few are artists and even fewer are a success.

I hear something similar to this whenever I engage photographers who sell their work at regional arts and crafts fairs. What the photographer prefers and what sells are often quite different. The selling usually wins...as long as it doesn't imply 'selling out', which can have very different meanings.

I think the success part often wins because one of the key things it brings is security. My guess: this is higher on Maslow's heirarchy of needs than artistry.

The same "soul or success?" question can come up in any field. And there are other challenges to self expression in art. How about the time, effort and emotional demands of family and community too? The fact is that life doesn't want you to do anything exceptional, just the basics.

"Artists are interested in making things, not in things made." Michael A Smith. F11, March 2016. Success may be incidental in some arts. I suppose Giacometti late in his career could afford to say: "I no longer work for anything other than the sensation I have while working." Taking photographs from which I derive no income is like this for me. It probably also accounts for those thousands of undeveloped films of Winogrand's.

Does success -- by that, I mean popular success -- during the artist's lifetime not automatically invite suspicion of, if not outright tarnish, his/her art? Isn't starvation a necessary, albeit not sufficient, condition for being a "true" artist?

I think this is the human condition writ in miniature. To pare it down to basics, if you wish to create something new most people will not understand it or appreciate it because they do not yet have the language to read it. But the artist creates in order to communicate, so this becomes a difficult bind. Add human insecurity and our normal desire to be liked into the mix and it becomes very understandable why success prevails-and that is speaking broadly. If you want, just call it favorable response.

You don't need to be an Artist or a Success to feel this. The only difference is in intensity, i.e. the stake in the pot.

The photographer Peter Simon, Carly's brother, is an interesting case study regarding art, politics and wealth.

POV: We are all artists. Some few of us are more conscious and deliberate about it.

I overheard a gallery owner talking to a couple who were looking to spend a little less, they were looking for a "starving artist". The owner haughtily replied, "A starving artist is not a very good one."

Mr Camps' mention of show-biz reminded me of this old joke/truism.

There once was a man who came along at the end of the circus parade an cleaned-up after the elephants. One day he was complaining about his job to a friend. The friend asked: If you dislike your job so much, why don't you quit? And the man replied: What, and get out of show-biz?

I once audited a class by a multi Academy Award winning film composer. The first thing he told the class was many great works of music were commissioned by the Kings for parties and weddings. In other words commercial work for hire.

If The King had liked police procedurals he would have hired Evan Hunter to write them 8-)

Did John Camp just name-check Eminem? That pleases me quite a bit, for some reason. And trenchant comment, as always.

Quoting myself, from an unpublished article written a few years ago:

"Part of the problem is confusion of terminology; using the words medium and art as though they were interchangeable, when in fact they are not. Painting is a medium, as are sculpture, engraving, photography, and pottery. When practiced at a high level of competence within the context of its own inherent qualities, each medium is a craft which may become art when imbued with an indefinable presence imparted by the being of the artist himself."

Somewhat off-topic, but a Carly Simon lyric is often in my thoughts when photographing people, events and places. From the end of "Anticipation":

"And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)

I always try to view what I am witnessing and photographing with this thought in mind. How might this person or place be perceived in the future? How might this image grow over time and why?


One of the most conceptually liberating decisions I ever made was to completely eliminate the term "artist" from my categorical lexicon...quite some years ago. Unlike the terms "engineer" or "surgeon" which connote mostly well-defined, occupational and legal standards "artist" is a wispy, often self-aggrandizing, and largely meaningless title.

Eliminating the useless "artist" title lets me get straight to assessing what someone actually produces, free of colored glasses.

All amateurs have the luxury of making art if they wish; but professionals do; and then only when their profit-making requirements intersect with artistic goals.

So you are the author of the Virgil Flowers series. I love them. They are not the most intellectual of books, but I like the atmosphere, and dialog, and laid backness of them.
I read all your posts on TOP, and am always impressed.

BTW, I do NOT write fan letters!


It didn't take me very long to figure out that if I wanted to be a Photographer I would have to make it pay, at least for itself. Hence, a move to bw: lower cost in time and money. Nothing to do with that fawning "O! film" as art absolut-ism.

Along that path I'd discovered my vision and pursued the Zone system. It firmed up my flow and quality enough to get me hired in darkrooms for Pro shooters.

With my incumbent good work ethic and skills I was able to make ends meet. Soon it was an endless chain of large format cameras, pots n' pans, processors and pretty and powerful people. Whatever vision I had was subverted but found some life in elegance and balance.

42 years later I find myself a part-time academic, running a photo department, and shooting with a Fuji X100T. I'm rediscovering my vision as separate from technique, precluding technique, presuming upon a command of technique to keep it from getting in the way. Art? Who knows. But separating it from a paycheck and commercial demands has been liberating.

Jeff Goins has a great book called "Real Artists Don't Starve". He really delves into the ideas of creativity and commerce and how they interact. Apparently Michelangelo was worth about 42 million US dollars.

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