Sunday, 25 April 2010

Getting my groove back

I'm not the first person to feel like this or to have lost someone close. I find myself thinking and talking in cliches and words I have heard so many times before.  Things like  'it was for the best', 'it was a relief in the end', 'make the most of everyday', 'it could be worse', 'she is all around us', 'she's here in spirit'.  I take on board all this and find the warmth and support of friends and family reassuring. 

However, what has happened to my compass with regards photography.  My bearings are all awry. Before she passed away, photography was something really important to me, something positive to focus on in amongst everything else.  But now.  It all feels a bit pointless.  I have no idea what to photograph, why I would bother and for what purpose. I know this is all part of it and trying to work out the meaning of one life.  I can't get myself motivated to pick up my camera or start my course.

I have been catching up by reading some of the very thought provoking discussions within the OCA forum recently too, which is gripping stuff.  There is so much intellectual debate which I find fascinating particularly the Tracey Emin, Goldsmiths and Beauty v Shock (and this) debates. I must come clean here though I have merely observed and not participated in these discussions. I should probably be writing this on the OCA forum but it is very self-indulgent and is not offering anything further to the debates.

But like others, watching the artists come out of Goldsmiths for example or the sketches of Tracey Emin, I just feel I am never gonna 'get it' if this is what top art institutions, artists and galleries are seeking.  I don't aspire to it or 'value' it or like it for that matter. I am not saying their art isn't worthwhile, I am sure it is.

From a different perspective, life is short and if I spend the next ten years studying and producing art, and I ultimately produced something along the lines of what they are creating, I'm not sure I would think it is time well spent.

If you're a hundred metre runner, Hussein Bolt is the runner you might aspire to being. If you want to cook well, you may look to Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux, Delia Smith or a plethora of others for ideas and inspiration.  But you know what, when I watch Goldsmith's students I didn't once think 'I am inspired to create art like they do' - ever! I do sort of 'get' contemporary art in principle, but I am clearly missing something fundamental.  Therefore I wonder if my compass bearings are a bit off and whether art or art photography is the direction I should be pursuing.

There is an article in The Guardian here that I think is helpful. I am not an unobservant person, but we are such a bi-product of our culture it is so difficult to appreciate what we see with any objectivity.  I am also aware that perhaps the most reputed and intrinsically shocking and/or successful artists are those that can identify the boundaries of acceptability in our own culture at a particular time and push beyond them. I don't know if I want to do this.  Are there not other ways for contemporary art to go?

You can see why top artists often emerge from 'bad' places because would you, by choice, explore or have the understanding about these disturbing issues otherwise. Is their unique perspective just it? And exploring it voluntarily would be disingenuous.

My own life is a happy, functional and fairly normal life and I am sincerely grateful for that.  I have not suffered abuse or ills not found in every household. How can I express anything that is 'shocking' when my own life is happily not. Does this mean my art will be pedestrian no matter how hard I try? Will I struggle to offer art with any value at the lofty heights of Goldsmiths, Saatchi or Tate Modern?  How would the OCA philosophy on art compare with these other institutions?

What about the enjoyment of it, which I hear myself ask.  I did enjoy photography and probably will again, but there are many other things in life too that I could be doing.  I just want to be sure that I am investing my time in it for good reason.  Being a hobby is not quite enough of a reason today...


  1. Hi Penny,
    I'm glad you're feeling a bit better. I think the feeling of pointlessness regarding photography is just a natural part of the grieving process, which makes you realise how unimportant most things really are compared to losing someone you love. I'm sure your interest in it and enjoyment of it will come back when the time is right.

    Regarding the second part of your post, I have very similar feelings. I don't aspire to, value, or like a great deal of contemporary photography/art, although I sometimes find it intellectually interesting. If I had to produce this kind of thing myself, I would definitely feel my time had been wasted as it would express nothing about how I see the world. Although I come from what would probably be regarded as a fairly dysfunctional family, and have had many problems in life as a result, my life now is happy and I have no desire to use photography to express any personal angst. I would rather use it to celebrate what's good and, despite everything, I do believe there's a lot of good in the world and a lot to wonder at.

    One thing I have thought a lot about recently is that it's much harder to express positive emotions through art without having them result in something either cliched, over-sentimental or twee. I actually think that's why many people avoid it - it's a lot easier to create something cynical, pessimistic or disturbing without falling into that trap. Add to this the prevailing cynicism and world-weariness of the post-modernists and you can see why there's little around to inspire or uplift.

    This might mean that the likes of Goldsmith's wouldn't be impressed, but art education is subject to passing fashions just as much as anything else is. It's difficult when you don't fit in with the prevailing trends, but this doesn't mean your art is not of value. The art colleges are primarily interested in trying to produce the next Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst; what they're not too interested in doing is helping everyone be the best that they can be within the parameters of their particular talents and attitudes. Being rather cynical myself here, they get given more money if they produce the next set of Britartists.

    This doesnt' make it easy for the likes of you and me to find a place for ourselves in all this. The temptation for many is to swallow the art establishment ethos and fit themselves into the mould. I'm not prepared to do this. However, I don't know what the alternative solution is: I'm still struggling with the questions myself. Thanks for posting this, because it makes me feel a lot less alone.

  2. Good to see you are getting back into thinking about photography Penny - excellent contribution to the discussion today, which says to me other things aren't now bulking so big in your mind. I hope this is so.



  3. Thank you Gareth for your thoughts, I am feeling much more positive.

    Thank you Gilly for your comments. It is an interesting point you make about creating positive imagery and cliches, and what the art institutions go for. It is a shame that positive uplifting art is little revered and I,like you, will have to find our own way. As you say, I suspect we aren't the only ones feeling a little bewildered by it. Let's keep exploring!!

    Many thanks for your support Gilly


  4. Wow, that's thought provoking and your comments have certainly got me thinking. I lost my father 3 years ago and then discovered I had cancer too, the very same day we discovered my wife was pregnant!! a few months after my gorgeous little boy was born my wife was also diagnosed with a tumour... We are both well but under the constant watch of specialists all over the county. Concentrating on the young ones and making sure they are loved and also caring for each other and ensuring we are both ok has taken up all of my thought process. It then suddenly dawned on me whilst I was reading this post... I haven't taken a single artistic photograph or drawn in my sketch book for the whole of those 3 years... Something subconcious must be happening though, because I have recently had the urge to begin writing again and my own "moto freako" blog has become a creative outlet for that, it has also reignited my interest in vintage photographs and I have begun to sort through the images that my late employer let me have. Thankyou for the inspiration, you'll never realise the effect your words have had on me today.

  5. Oh wow Blackcountrybiker, you've made my day. I'm so pleased it has been a catalyst for you.

    It sounds like you have had a really tough few years and no one can blame you for not taking any artistic photographs. Health issues and the labels that come with it, do add untold stress to everyday living. And whilst young children are a great distraction and joy, they are as equally demanding. I do hope that your health as a family continues to thrive.

    Many thanks for posting and all the best.