Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mr. Vandelay

As I return to blogging, I want to post about Art. I hope this post doesn't seem to pretentious. Of course, given the few people that read me, it doesn't really matter all that much.

First of all, in an attempt to mitigate some of the pretension, let me say that I am not an artist. To paraphrase what was said about Dan Quayle vis a vis John Kennedy, “I know artists. Mike Zellers is no artist.” However, I do feel that I create art. Albeit perhaps crappy art. I never found discussions such as “Are videogames art? Is Mary Halvorson a jazz guitarist?” to be interesting. Categorizing something cannot enhance my experience and may even detract from it. Halvorson is awesome regardless. Additionally, I feel that art is too important to leave to artists (and politics too important to leave to politicians, religion to religious leaders, technology to technologists – etc) . By this, I certainly don't mean we don't need artists. We do. I simply mean that art – specifically creating art, can be part of anyone's life. So as such, let's for the sake of argument say I am a nonartist that makes art (I know, Eno said something similar first – never claimed to be especially original)

I got into art in a very convoluted way. As a senior in high school, I was touring Washington DC and got hit with the flu. I didn't feel like walking much. One of the things I did was sit in the National Gallery of Art and stare at paintings. This was probably the first time I ever “looked” at art. I was always the math/science geek type. Told by countless teachers my art work sucked. Thinking art wasn't for me. The DC trip made me interested in viewing art.

I begin admiring artists and especially musicians – creative types. After all, I got technical stuff; it was no mystery to me. But creativity was a quality that seemed foreign and mysterious. I felt, given enough time I could write any computer program that anyone else could write, however, give me an eternity and I could never write a song, or create a work of art. Because of this, artists intrigued me.

At various times in my life, I began playing around – sketching and even making little figures out of clay. Purely for fun. When unemployed/and or depressed (depression – another good topic for a future essay), sketching was an activity I could lose myself in. By no means I am good, but it kept me outta trouble, as they say.

Fast forward a bunch of years. I started teaching Web Development and to enhance my teaching started playing with digital cameras. At some point, I started having fun playing around taking pics. I was surprised with how much I liked the results, and more so even the process. Given it was so different than my normal inclnation and career (technology), I enjoyed the experience, and working using intuition rather than logic.

I was at a metro park and saw a display and thought, well, my stuff is at least as good as this, so emailed the parks and displayed my work at one. I have since displayed my stuff at other places – not often – but with some regularity. Have even sold a few. I have no illusion of making money or becoming famous. I do like however when people see what I have done – the whole “if a tree falls and no one hears it....” business. The viewer completes the work. I sometimes get frustrated I am not seen more or sell more. But I always come back to why I do this in the first place – to scratch an itch – to fulfill the part of me that usually takes the backseat. I also realize I have been very fortunate with what I have done re:displaying and selling given I am non-artist.

I mainly have taken pictures of nature. There are a bunch of reasons for this – some good, some flimsy. I think it was the Greeks that talked about nature being true beauty and art must reflect the beauty of nature. Perhaps some of my photos are cliched, but pictures of nature in its various aspects is what most often thrills me. I have started taking other sorts of pictures as well – trying to stretch my creativity further and find similar beauty in other environments that I do in a natural environment. Speaking of beauty, I know not all art needs to be beautiful. But, for the most part, I want most of what I create to have beauty. Its a shame that it seems sometimes that beauty in art is quaint or passe.

I have periodically, and again recently, played with generative art – using computer programs to manipulate and create images – especially, dynamic multi-exposures. I've always viewed artists as playing “God” - creating their own universes in which one can immerse. If anything, generative art is closer to my view of artist as playing “God” - that is, one does not control the creation, but controls the rules by which the creation is made – and then let the creation unfold. Of course, as an agnostic/atheist non-artist, what do I know. To paraphrase Bones, “I'm a programmer not an artist.”

Of course, I stack the deck. By selecting the pictures and by fiddling with the algorithms, I exert some control over the end product. It's a delight because while I have a sense at what an algorithm will produce, sometimes there are happy accidents, and the randomness ensures some surprises. Of course, just as it is not a coincidence that the laws of physics are such that intelligence life exists (if they weren't, there'd be no one here to complain about it – the anthropomorphic principle), if a particular generative experiment yields nothing of value, it disappears (the artthropomorpic principle – lol). The ones that are left that I post to either my processing page on my site, or on flickr, are the ones that I feel yield the best results.

I like including my nature photos in these – sorta closes the loop for one. Secondly, nature got it right – I guess I agree with the Greeks here. The form/shading/color etc... When I manipulate the images, I hope some of nature can still be seen in them. I also like the blending of "natural" and technological elements. I love it in music – see Jon Hassell, etc... Maybe by manipulating the pictures with technology, I destroy the natural aspects. Or maybe I mutate it in a way that is positive. But I think it speaks of where we are now as humanity in the 21st century. And of course, this sparks a whole debate about what natural is - aren't humans part of "nature" - but I won't get into that here - you all know what I mean by contrasting natural w/technological.

I have no idea how to “present” this sort of stuff to the world, or to sell it. But I love to create it. I love the process and am frequently delighted by the results. And I want others to see. I think I can honestly say not merely to massage my ego.

Well, to the few, the brave that made it through this whole post. I sincerely thank you. I hope I was neither too boring nor too pretentious. Please don't hesitate to comment/criticize. Really. Be honest.

*small change posted approx 12:45PM*


At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that people feel the need to label. Artist. Non-artist. What does it really matter? I'm one of those who believes every human has the potential outlet for creative expression and that expression (as well as the person expressing)can be labeled as vaguely or specifically as the one doing the labeling desires.

People can call me an artist because I create music (in some fashion or another). I am in complete awe of those, like you, who have figured out how to capture moments on film (digital or not). I try and try to do this, as my bloated Facebook photo albums can attest, but seem not miss that spark that makes the photo magic. But I'm also envious of those who speak eloquently, too, a talent I would chose to label as artistic. What does it matter that one or all or none of us is given the title "artist?"

Artist or not, labels notwithstanding, I am happy you have found your creative outlet and kudos to you for having the courage to share it.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Excellent point. As you can tell by other parts of my post I am not big on labels either. The main reason I label myself as a nonartist as I know and have heard of people that have spent years and years working and developing their art - both in formal and informal ways. I feel I have not put forth the degree of effort and time to deserve the title. One aside: the generative work I am doing does stem from my years and years of computer programming. However writing a program to create "art" isn't the same as writing one to balance the books - lol - anyhow, thanks for your response...

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A boring read it was not, an interesting read...for sure.
There is much written about the characteristics of creative people, a subject I could write an essay on that would most certainly be a boring read.

We all in our individual unique ways seek opportunities to explore pleasurable creative activities. However, when one is depressed one's personal causation is weakened which inhibits creative expression, not to mention causing apathy etc etc...(if anyone suffers from depression they will know just how debilatating it can be) In which case one kicks into *survival* mode to get through the day, sometimes hour by hour.

If one can tap into a creative activity that has real meaning to them.. it can help by strengthening one's personal causation therefore increasing motivation to participate in *doing*. This increase in motivation then spills over into other aspects of everyday life.

You describe how you incorporate your technical skills with photography to create. This is inventive and imaginative.. it demonstrates that you have tapped into an area that *floats your boat* so to speak. Something in my honest opinnion should be applauded wholeheartly and you should feel very proud of yourself.

We all have the capability to be creative, although it requires one to be brave... have the courage to create, to bring into existence a piece of work, be it a photograph, painting, clay work, musical score, needle work, even a cake. Why does one have to be brave...? Well, because we open ourselves to criticism.. sometimes not constructive.

I also post to Flickr and have a couple of contacts who regularly comment and the occasional stranger who will also leave a delightful comment. Both from which I gain a great sense of pleasure, maybe the regulars are just being kind stroking my ego...? When I first began to post to Flickr I admitt to being a tad envious of those who receieved 20+ comments for each posted photograph. Then one day I sat and reflected on just why I posted and why I took up photography, I concluded that it was primarily for *me* for *my* pleasure and it really did not matter if I recieved a comment or not. Since then, any comments recieved are seen as a lovely bonus!

On the subject of the title *artist*... I agree with d0nnatr0y that we are all artists at something. Frankly, it's pure snobbery to suggest that one can only be called an artist if one has a full time paid career from their chosen art. So Mr Zeller's you are a man with many strings to you're bow, each with a title, one of which is *artist* an area in which you clearly excell. As is evident by the exhibts you participate in.

I for one enjoy following your Flickr postings and find your creativity inspiring.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog, a truly fascinating read.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Mike said...

thank you, Miss Anne Onymous...

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Don said...

I'd agree - art / artist is relative. There's some "critically acclaimed" pieces (and people) that I find to be absolute crap, and works that I see at street fairs or unusual, off-beat locales that are truly inspired. That's the overall mystique of art in general, being visual or auditory - it is what it is to those that make it so.

But rap music is pure crap :)

...and I really like the background image. Nice use of your own efforts....


Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Powered by Blogger