The past few months I’ve been puzzling over the tension that sometimes occurs between the content and subject matter of an image, and its more abstract qualities of composition, color and design. Ideally, the two should complement each other, with the design qualities strengthening the emotional impact of the subject matter — and vice versa.
However, I have found that is not always the case. Sometimes color and design can compete with the subject, distract, and actually weaken the image’s impact. Photographers working in black-and-white know this well. In other cases, an image’s content can distract and interfere with the emotional and sensual appeal of the colors and design — especially when those elements are an important quality of the subject.
If there is a focus to my work right now, it is experimenting to find a balance for each image that is right for me where subject matter and design work together to make the images stronger. The images in this post illustrate one direction the experiments have taken.
This image started as a photograph of some reddish-brown vines, green weeds, bright yellow/green paint spilled on the broken pavement, and shattered blue glass scattered across the area. I was attracted by the color fields and the texture of the blue glass.
Unfortunately, the areas of color were not clearly defined by a change in values and the scene was flat, despite the colors. This abstract is the result of my experimentation to find a solution and “save” what was interesting about the original scene.
There is always a distinct tension for me between accessible realism, and the more abstract. By moving too far toward the abstract, there is a danger that the connection points for viewers get lost. The images in this post are part of a series of abstractions inspired by the brilliant color fields of Sandy Point and illustrate this tension.
Breaking Wave (Sandy Point - 2009)
I have read that there is a trend toward realism right now. Perhaps that is a response to economic factors, and what sells. Or perhaps it is something deeper, reflecting shorter attention spans, less time for reflection and contemplation, or a need for the familiar in a changing world — and a corresponding desire for art that is comfortable and accessible. If communication is the goal, perhaps a trend toward realism is a good thing. Any thoughts?
This has been an issue for me. I often venture off in different directions. While I could force myself to stay within a certain “box” for commercial purposes, I know that box could also become a prison (as Martin suggests).
On the other hand, an identifiable “style” is a likely outcome of the daily discipline of working on one’s art. In time, a style should develop and become apparent on its own. It will not need to be forced. Having a recognizable style may be a mark of maturity and accomplishment as an artist — assuming the artist allows that style to gradually evolve over time.
Style as a mark of maturity and accomplishment may also be one reason the galleries and marketing gurus encourage anyone who wants to advance commercially in the art world to find a style and stick with it. A “signature style” provides the appearance (although not necessarily the reality) of maturity and accomplishment. As a result, some may feel pressured to lock into a style for commercial purposes, perhaps before a genuine personal style has emerged on its own.
In the end, this is one more facet of the age-old tension between art for art’s sake, and monetary and public success. I know few people who have no need for the money or the sense of approval and respect for our work that an occasional sale can provide. Each must resolve the tension between commercial success and artistic freedom in their own way. I will be interested to see how I resolve it for myself.
We no longer trust beauty as a serious means of investigation. But it can be ... In fact, beauty can be incendiary; it can be subversive; it can make us cringe.
-- David Maisel, Photographer
"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it." -- Anais Nin
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders of the universe, the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.” -- Rachel Carson