Art as Object

Art is object. Ideas are born, worked on, developed and in the end given life. But ideas alone are not art, they're only seeds. Art is many things, one of which is the intersection it exists between craft and idea. This is where the photographic print lives. It’s a collectible object. When you purchase a print from a photographer you admire you're purchasing an object and into that object is placed the emotions around why it was collected in the first place; the image itself, the artists' ethos or reputation, the story or print quality. Its the things you talk about when you talk about the piece to others.

Why we collect art is equally as deep as why we make it. Unless you're flipping art for investment (which I imagine is a tiny percentage of the extreme wealthy) hanging a piece of work that speaks to you in whatever way is a very personal statement as to who you are and what you like.

The making of art is what drives me. I feel that making art in the landscape is about getting dirty, pushing your body and mind harder than normal, about being uncomfortable, wet, muddy, cold and tired. For when you've gone through these things, the morning sunrise can be the most powerful event and your creative mind will be sharpened because of it. I've always approached my work as if I'm a mountain art monk, and my job is to express the sheer feeling of sitting in solitude by a secluded mountain lake at sunrise, and if that takes bringing a heavy pack of camera gear to work that scene as such, so be it, because thats why I'm alive.

I often wonder how much the process of making an image matters to the audience. How much does the story of how an image was captured enhance (or detract) from looking at the final piece. Looking at other photographers work I tend to look at the technical process over the creative or physical struggle it took to capture it. But this is from the mind of a professional photographer and as such, images that I haven't captured are puzzles to be solved. But I wonder how much of my own stories behind the images matter to the viewer. Do people care, are they more interested in technicals (like myself), or in the creative story behind the capture or perhaps neither.

The further along in my career I get the more I see how much the artist is as important as the work created. Their ideas, methodology, process, story, thoughts, personality, all go into adding depth to their work and adds another way to separate oneself from the herd. As an artist, you sell yourself as much as the created pieces. And from this perspective I do look at the artist, their story, their ideas. But there's a line. What I don't like is explanations, artistic ideas that weren't well conveyed through the intended medium. And theres a difference. One is about the process while the latter is about concept. Years ago I read an interview with author J.D. Salinger and the interviewer asked him to expand on themes in his book A Catcher in the Rye. Salinger simply said to read the book, it's all in there. If he needed to further explain something, he would have added it. That's always stuck with me. Now Salinger was a notorious recluse, shunning virtually all media requests and to the extent his life adds to his art perhaps the fact he was a recluse adds to the mystique of the work.

It reminds me of a body of work called Humans of New York. The photographer took portraits of people on the street and asked pointed, personal questions about dreams, desires, hopes and fears. The stories these people tell are the art, the photograph is simply a delivery vehicle. His work is all story.

Maybe with visual art the more interesting the process the more it becomes part of the final piece. A black & white printing process I'm currently working on is called Piezography, the use of 7 shades of toned, black, carbon ink that replace the native Epson color ink cartridges in my printer. It's an obscure process that produces the most amazing black & white results. It requires experimentation and play and it's fascinating, at least to me. But does it add to the creative value to my finished work. Does an oil painter tout the canvas type or linseed oil used, a chef the pots and pans, the sculptor his chisels. For some reason the photographer is always discussing these things. Or perhaps I'm interchanging process with equipment, but they can be so easily interchanged with photography, can't they?

EssayScott MansfieldComment