Has a creative passion dogged you your whole life? Maybe you discovered a specific art form that you excelled at early, maybe you have always just found ways to be creative in various mediums?
I have been drawing and taking art classes since I was a little kid, but I never really thought too much about whether or not that made me an ‘artist’. Artists were famous people like Picaso or Michelangelo. I’m not even sure when I first heard the term ‘fine art’. There were no galleries in the suburbs of Scranton where I grew up. My exposure to art was from the collection of books my mom had stuffed away in a closet. They were like an encyclopedia set of sorts, probably a hundred books, each on a different artist. I could spend hours leafing through them. And even though I continued to get better at drawing, I knew I would never be that good. I was good for a teenager in a small town, but I did not have the talent of a professional artist. Being an artist was not for me, I needed to find something practical to spend my time on. At least that was the story I constructed in my mind.
As an adult I found my way to photography, not as an artist, but as someone who needed to take product photos for an online business. I needed to get better technically, and was honestly somewhat annoyed that it was giving me so much trouble. It just seemed like it should be easy. Perhaps this stretched back to my younger years when I was somehow exposed to the idea that photography wasn’t an art. It was a technical skill. Point a camera, adjust some settings, and it does the work of recording reality. There is no special sauce. Any two people in the same place at the same time would take the same photo. So, I read the technical manuals and how tos. I took more pictures. I wasn’t getting better. I started to doubt the stories I had told myself about photography.
The books and articles I started to devour painted a different picture, to mix metaphors. Photography was technical, but it was also creative, and it was also a mental skill. Like drawing, the first few thousand attempts would be crude. The pencil just wouldn’t do what you saw in your mind. Well neither would the camera. I wanted to take more pictures, nature photographs appealed to me, but I lived in a city. I found my way to street photography. As I read more about individual artists, their careers, books and gallery representation, I started to feel a growing sense of wonder, of attachment. This was something I was interested in for myself; a fascination, a passion, an obsession in a way drawing had never been. Perhaps there was an art form for me after all.
While doing all of this reading on photography, I was noticing a current of discussion around whether photography was even an art at all? It was that same line of logic I heard as a child, but had learned certainly wasn’t true. It can be hard to square one’s own experience with the collective wisdom of the crowd. Was photography art?
I wasn’t sure where photography fit in to the art world, and I wasn’t sure where I fit in to photography, so I began to want some clarification, and external validation I suppose. I took a workshop on pursuing art as a career, to try to finally understand how the process of entering the art world works. I never intended to replace my day job, but what if I could get a gallery show? What was that process like, what did it mean?
Since then I have read book after book on the art world itself, culminating in trying to understand contemporary art. I would say I have come to a point of appreciation, but in some ways I am more confused than ever. Is photography art? Can it be ‘fine art’? Is there still a place for ‘fine art’ in the world of contemporary art? I don’t have any answers, but I keep honing my craft while I try to figure things out. I think I am making progress, perhaps my work is almost fine art.
And despite the lingering questions, and nagging doubts, I have found myself unable to stop.
Another life long practice, of course, we all write all the time. I wrote D&D campaigns as a young teenager, and did world building for a MUD in my late teens. As an adult my creative writing gave way to business emails and texting. But as I put together my photography portfolio on a web page I had to begin to describe them. Of course there was writing artist statements, but as I talk about in my article on photography even my photographs have become fiction.
I have begun merging my writing and my photography in a way aligned with my old storytelling and world building beginnings. Fiction, be it static or interactive, online or off, it is another creative outlet I enjoy. I have really been doing my research to understand all the ways we tell stories to each other. Though I am still a beginner, I have collected some advice to pass along to new fiction writers, but I still have much to learn myself. In the context of this article though, I suppose it is natural to also wonder if writing itself is a form of art.