In a recent discussion about Modern Art, I was asked whether I thought that a certain well-known abstract painter was a ‘good artist.’ I responded that I did not know since I had never met the man (now long deceased) and have not read any of his writing. This surprised my counterpart, as it was not the simplistic yes/no answer he was expecting. “You don’t know whether a world-renowned artist is a good one?” he prodded. “No,” I said, “I think he produced good art, but I’d have to know more about him as a person to know if he was a good artist.”
Having met a fair number of artists, I can say with confidence that the link between good artists and good art is not always as obvious as one might expect. But, before making such a proclamation, it is important that I explain what ‘good’ means to me in the context of art, with emphasis that this characterization is an entirely subjective view. My definition, in fact, may be considered old-fashioned in the minds of many of today’s art mavens. I consider good art to be art that enriches my life in some way (and by this I mean not just in aesthetic ways, but also in fostering a greater understanding of certain things, or offering interesting intellectual challenges), and I consider good artists those who create, work and live according to their own sensibilities and creative revelations, and not necessarily those showcasing the greatest technical skill or compelling aesthetics. Alfred Stieglitz beautifully characterized a similar sentiment when he wrote, “It is not art in the professionalized sense about which I care, but that which is created sacredly, as a result of a deep inner experience, with all of oneself.”
My reason in mentioning this is that it also helps in explaining my own desire to create sacredly, to dignify and to express my reverence for my subjects. It is also the reason for my aversion to the use of certain tools and techniques in my work. For example, it had probably been more than a decade since I last used a photographic filter on my lenses; I do not use artificial lighting, remote-controlled drones or indeed anything more elaborate than a camera, a flexible zoom lens and a tripod. This is because my photography was always meant to be an extension of my experiences in the wild, not a hindrance to them and certainly not a substitute for them, and such experiences to me require heightened attention to my surroundings, appreciation of the natural light and sounds, respect for the land and the life that inhabits it, and working at an unhurried pace rather than rushing or chasing after light or subjects.
A colleague once commented that in using certain tools, such as drones and artificial lighting, I could make a ‘better’ image. My response to such an attitude is this: if the better image means a lesser experience, injury to the subject or the place, or detracting from the experiences of others who wish to experience the same peace and reverence in such places as I do, then to hell with the better image!
Read this and many more articles in High Definition inside Issue 50 of Landscape Photography Magazine.