Sunday, January 28, 2007

Showing Art.

Tonight I'm going to the reception for my friend's photography show. He's had work in the Westmoreland Museum of Art and in the Carnegie for the AAP annual, but he's never had a solo exhibition before. The art has been up on the walls for weeks, but he seemed like he had to work up to the prospect of an actual "opening". The printing, framing and hanging came quite easy for him- but nonetheless he's nervous about talking to others about his own work. There's a bit of irony to his anxiety because he's been running a successful framing and gallery business for years. He's put together many shows, and presided over many openings for other artists... yet the idea of doing this for himself is stressful.

Is it easier to talk about someone else's work than your own? I guess it would all depend on the individual personality. Some creators are so vested with confidence and ego that I can't imagine they would think twice. But this isn't the first occasion I have experienced the other extreme. The first show I was ever substantially involved in was made easier for me by sharing the space with a friend. I put up a mixed bag of photos that I collected during my first year with a camera, and he hung fantastic wire sculptures from the ceiling. Somehow this odd mix worked. Certainly our opening reception was made more successful by the appearances of many of our friends... both mutual, and from our respective social circles. It took the edge off the experience for me, because I didn't have to carry the whole load. Yet it might have been an entirely different story if my partner had followed through on his own threats to skip the opening. I think I improvised some dire consequences as a threat against that action. Whatever I said, it was successful. He showed up, and so did many others. We had a good time, wine and Pabst. I even sold some stuff.

When it comes down to it, I guess I was a bit spoiled by my first show. I expected that I would sell more and more with each subsequent exhibition. Of course that wasn't the case. What I had not counted on was that many of my friends would not be able to support every single showing of my work. I had my second (and first solo) show at the same place we had shown earlier- a coffeehouse in the South Side of Pittsburgh. I felt that the work was much stronger that time around, and adjusted my prices accordingly. I had a thematic series of images, and I was sure that people would respond well. In fact they did, but they weren't buying. Maybe it was partly my fault, because I integrated a "guess the title game" and awarded a free piece to the participant that got the most correct. It took some of the heat off of me... people were engaging with the work. But ultimately it was probably a bit of a distraction. And then most of the people who really connected to the material, who would hang it on their walls, were too young and too poor. The content was dark. The venue itself did have the benefit of constant traffic, unlike a gallery, but wouldn't naturally attract a base of art collectors.

Since then I've had some experiences with group shows, and I even had a chance to curate a carnival-themed exhibition. Those were fun times... again I wasn't the sole focus. Now in two weeks I'll have another solo show, and won't have the crutches of others' involvement to see me through the event. This is a "proper" gallery, with limited weekly hours. My stuff will be up for two months, but a lot is riding on the opening. It is a radically different body of work (as I've mentioned here before) and particularly difficult to talk about. I'm looking forward to it, but the pressure is definitely on.


Blogger Dagrims said...

What is your opinion on applying some Photoshop techniques to photographs? I'm talking about removing a small object that detracts from the focus of the image, or lightening the background, or moving something slightly. Do you still consider that art? Is it cheating?

7:50 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I break art down into three basic component parts: concept, content and process. I didn't get this way of thinking about "art" from any book, artist or class... so take it with a grain of salt. It's just my personal understanding.

The most likely place to find an artist using Photoshop is in the process. It's quite common nowadays, and I have no philosophical qualms about that. I personally haven't used any computer manipulation in the images that I 've shown. But that choice has to do with my conception of my own work, and nobody's else's. In my little corner of the art world, resistance to Photoshop processing is minimal.

Having said that, the mere use of photoshop (or any photo editing, for that matter) alone does not make something art. That's probably obvious.

However, I should say that my concept of art is probably broader than the norm.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

(Up-front disclaimer: I am not an artist nor involved in the art world, except for the purpose of viewing and occasionally purchasing it.)

I've held that this is a very interesting topic, and I pose it as "original" art versus "reproductive" art (these are my terms as I'm using them). Of course, there are many nuances in between. To me, original art might include a book of fiction, a conceptual painting, an original sculpture. However, to me, most art falls in the second category, reproduction or duplication art. The classic example is some of Andy Warhol's work. Is realistic duplicating of soup cans on canvas, while original in concept, truly original art? (Then again, does it matter?) I like Wyeth, but much of his work is simply capturing what he saw as acurately as possible, and much was posed. Is Michaelangelo's sculpture of David (I recently saw the "original" in Florence, and it is gorgeous) orignal, or simply duplicating what already exists? Well, david wasn't around at the time, so that might make it more "original". Is writing a book of fiction based on real-life experiences art, or a record of memory?

That brings us to photography. As does Merge, I have preferred to not use any artificial means to alter my photos. I hang them as is. However, I have experimented with Photoshop (and just bought Photoshop Elements 5.0), and I'm considering altering some of my existing photos. It might mean going color to B&W, using the water-color mode, or simply removing objects that don't fit the photo's theme.

Compared to writing, it's simply editing (taking it further, have someone edit it for you). Compared to sculpture, it might be using a tool to go back and make some changes before casting it. In paiting, it might represent "Oh, on second thought a little less pink on that cheek might work better". In music, tweaking the bass line after the first run-through. Wait, is music art?

So, just where is the line between photography as "art" and photography as "visual record by artificial means"? What makes Annie Leibowitz's photo of a celebrity hanging in the museum art, and my photo of the spired cathedral in Milan not art?

I realize I have questions but few answers, though I'm wondering if there truly are right or wrong answers to these questions. And, again, does it matter? I do believe in "Art is in the eye of the beholder", and probably refers to alot more than perceived quality.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Showing your art is not just displaying your art but yourself ass well, at least in my opinion. Worked up anxiety ends up in relieved gratifcation.
Art in whatever medium is up to the artist. Make what works for you in whatever way and stand by it no matter what. Most of the greats are not accepted right away and maybe not in they're lifetime. Create from passion within yourself and please yourself.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


That's an interesting way to categorize art, but I feel it's a bit arbitrary. All art uses pre-existing elements in one way or another... so it's hard for me to invest in a dichotomy that includes reproduction and originality at either end of a spectrum.

1:14 PM  

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