I have been struggling with several ideas about photos and the fine arts lately. A recent post about talent brought a lot of this to mind and triggered some thoughts. I believe that the ability to make a good technical photograph is well within the reach of most people with enough effort and study, however to make a photograph that reaches beyond that technical expertise takes a lot more. It takes vision, imagination, and a sense of art that can’t be taught. These things can be shown, and if the spark is there, it will light something that forever changes the way you see the world. To develop into something that is worth sharing after the spark is lit requires constant hard work and continuous learning.
I have read in some of the forums about so many well-done technical photograph but so few stories. I am sure I paraphrased that so please go with the sentiment. I see a lot of technically strong photographs that I seem to just glance over because they have no ‘story’ or nothing to make us want to look again after the first time. One of my mentors in sculpture told me along time ago “in real art, you should see something new each time you look“.
The article that set this off was about the “Myth of Talent” at http://www.tmelive.com/index.php/articles/view/28/24.html. I agree with some of what was said and really don’t with a lot of it. The response that Steve Korn wrote on one of the Flickr forums I believe says it all about talent and what it takes to make art of any kind. Steve is an accomplished Jazz musician and the links below with his response are worth checking out. Steve,if you see this, I hope to hear you play live sometime. Jazz like hockey should be seen live to get the real experience.
Steve says this much better than I could:
I always tell my students that there are four kinds of students.
1) tons of talent, no discipline.
2) less talent, tons of discipline
3) tons of talent, tons of discipline
4) little talent, little discipline
#1 will do what he can but will be limited in development.
#2 will go far, unlikely to become a world class player, but very good.
#3 will do whatever they want. With the right connections, which aren’t hard to make when you’re really good, you can write your own ticket.
#4 is most of the population and they will have fun doing what they do but will never be good.
There is a myth in jazz that is similar to what the author is discussing. Audiences love the idea of the young, poor, musician who picks up an instrument one day and can play like Charlie Parker. This myth is perpetuated by the media and marketers. Of course the reality is that the kid has been working his ass off, but even kids without much talent but a lot of discipline will get some attention because the audience can’t hear the difference and they like the idea of the myth.
I think the author is saying, don’t buy into the myth. Don’t look at someone who is successful and simply believe they have some magical skill you will never possess. With hard work, there is much than can be achieved. You might never become great but I believe you can at least become good.
Thomas Edison is credited with the saying that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.
There are no guarantees and I don’t think the author is suggesting that if you work hard, you will succeed. Some people just don’t have an eye for photography and never will. But I think the basic ideas he outlined are accurate and useful in helping people achieve the highest level they are capable of achieving.
The danger in photography is that, compared to other art forms, it requires less natural talent. It requires as much artistry as any other art to do it well, but, technically and physically, it is not difficult to master and does not require that someone be physically predisposed to do it well. The challenge lies in concept.
Any other art form not only requires conceptual vision but years of technical training, like 10+, just to achieve a basic level of competence. And, if you don’t have some natural ability in conceptualization and technical ability, you will be very limited. Photographers aren’t really effected by a deficit in fine motor skills or a less than ideally shaped embouchure or body type.
The reason I suggest this is a problem is that there is a tendency to equate technical quality with artistic excellence. When someone can shoot for two years and make really nice looking pictures, their knowledge of technique can be confused for real vision and conceptual ability. It’s important as audience members and consumers of art that we be discerning. Competence does not equate artistry.