Monday, June 11, 2007

Hobbyist To Artist - Journey Or Incompatibility?

Many of us started out as hobby photographers. Somewhere along the line we started to take our hobby more and more seriously and started to talk about art and having pretensions to create a lasting legacy of good works.

A small number of photographers have come to the craft from other visual arts, often showing the most creative work at workshops even if they don't yet have mastery of the technical aspects of photography.

So I'm wondering what implications the typical hobby pathway has for those of us who aspire to greater things.

- Are we different from those who still call themselves hobbyists - ie. did we mutate somewhere along the line?

- Are we just being pretentious in trying to call ourselves artists instead of hobbyists?

- Is there a fundamental difference between an artist and a hobbyist?

- Is there a pathway leading from one to the other and if so can someone show me the map?

- One could imagine defining the difference by the dedication involved - but does this mean that anyone who holds down a full time job is by definition not taking things seriously and therefore can't be an artist or taken seriously?

Well, lets tackle some of these questions, the last one first - should part timers be taken seriously? Over the years and in many artistic fields, artists have had to support themselves by doing other work. Many's the waiter who's an aspiring artist and no one criticises him or her for putting some food on the table by doing so. Thus it can't be the hours spent in other activities - hell a lot of artists spent a goodly part of their lives, sitting around, drinking too much and bullshitting with other artists - about politics - so the number of hours spent does not define who is an artist.

Are those of us who call ourselves 'fine art photographers' fundamentally different from hobbyists - after all most of use got here from there? I certainly don't remember being struck by lightning or having a religious experience or waking with an epiphany. Perhaps this means I'm being pretentious after all. I suspect though that it's a matter of degree, that there isn't a sudden and definite transition. As I discussed in my articles on 'taking your photography to the next level' on Luminous Landscape, at some point, fairly early in the hobby, we gradually switch from simply recording the moment to wanting to create something more than a good record.

Is calling ourselves artists simply being pretentious? Well, we've already established that the hours devoted to our art isn't it - might it be the quality of the work? Were that the case, there'd be a lot of BFA (batchelor of fine art) holders who shouldn't be calling themselves artists. Quality is very subjective and even sensitive to the times and fashion and so on.

It can't be the amount of time it takes to make a single image - there are famous (and expensive) artworks that took only a few minutes to make, the credit going to the genius coming up with the idea.

If one gets credit for being old, then I'm a shoein, with my thinning white hair but seriously that isn't the answer - most great artists were great at a relatively young age.

Is there a fundamental difference between an artist and a hobbyist? Yes, it's all down to the hat you wear - baseball cap - you're a hobbyist, beret and you're an artist - so there! So where does that leave my Tilley hat?

Is there a pathway from mostly hobbyist to mostly artist? I'd like to think that I'm on that path as we speak, so to speak. The more effort made in creating an image as opposed to taking one is I think one indicator of being on that path. The more that an image stands on it's own rather than as a representation of something, the further down the path. I guess that means that the more effort I make to create something beautiful or exciting or evocative of experiences in general rather than that one instant in particular, the more I'm being an artist. I was going to add that trying to say something new is part of it, but I'm not sure about that one. If one slaves to create a wonderful image, only to have someone point out that unknown to you it's been done before, does that automatically invalidate my attempt to create a piece of art? That doesn't make sense. How can it be art one minute and not the next?

Of greater importance is whether there is a prescribed pathway to becoming an artist, a formula that's applicable to hobbyists in general. I hope not, I'd not like to think that artists somehow come out of an assembly line, do this, then that, then the other and voila, out comes an artist. There are things you can do to become better, but that's not the same as having a prescribed path.

I don't know how you should become an artist and even if I thought I knew, following my path might be a terrible fit for you and frankly when I think of the time I wasted experimenting with different films and developers and envying large format cameras and Hasselblads instead of learning to see, I'm amazed I have come as far as I have (wherever that is).

7 comments:

doonster said...

"The more that an image stands on it's own rather than as a representation of something, the further down the path."

I think you hit the nail right on the head there, certainly for fine art. Not sure where that leaves the lanscapist who concentrate on grand scenics, or the documentary photogrpher (or sports....etc etc).

Stuart Harris said...

most great artists were great at a relatively young age.


Not according to a very interesting piece in Wired magazine (14:07)

Many geniuses peak early, creating their masterwork at a tender age .... while others bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.

George Barr said...

Good point Stuart, there's hope for us - 'remember Grandma Moses' should be our rallying cry.

Mark said...

Or I ask - is it being pretentious by trying to separate artists into a class of their own?

Adrian said...

I see the words "Art" and "Artist" as labels. Subjectively awarded by some kind of jury depending on lifelong achievement, one-time strokes of genius, or simply for satisfying a current fashion. If it's your goal to get that kind of medal (fame, money, all the chicks..), go ahead and figure out how to please the jury to get it.

If not (what I assume), concentrate on your work, your ideas, your feelings, your path - the jury will take care of the rest.

ps: I'm living in the host city of worlds largest commercial art fair http://www.artbasel.com, so I may be a bit too cynical.

julie o'donnell said...

I have developed a bit of an aversion to the labels of 'art' and 'artist' because so much pretentiousness surrounds them. Like it's a huge, burning question as whether something can be worthy of the title. But at the end of the day, it depends whose opinion you seek/trust because there are going to be a million different ones, and you have to decide which to pay attention to.

I do think, though, that besides the pretentiousness surrounding those labels there are definitely a few different kinds of creative people, and the group usually referred to as 'artists' would, in my opinion, be the ones that don't seem to have a choice - their intention isn't about the final product - having something to hang on a wall, or the respect of their peers - it's just a pure desire to create. And that could be said of anyone who might be a professional in another field, a commercial photographer, a student, a retired person, anyone. The intention is what makes the difference for me. In that case, though, you can't tell from the final product - but why would you need to? The only people that's important to are the ones trying to make serious money out of the concept. I have developed a bit of an aversion to the labels of 'art' and 'artist' because so much pretentiousness surrounds them. Like it's a huge, burning question as whether something can be worthy of the title. But at the end of the day, it depends whose opinion you seek/trust because there are going to be a million different ones, and you have to decide which to pay attention to.

I do think, though, that besides the pretentiousness surrounding those labels there are definitely a few different kinds of creative people, and the group usually referred to as 'artists' would, in my opinion, be the ones that don't seem to have a choice - their intention isn't about the final product, having something to hang on a wall, or the respect of their peers, it's a pure desire to create. And that could be said of anyone. They might be a professional in another field, a commercial photographer, a student, a retired person, anyone. The intention is what makes the difference for me. In that case, though, you can't tell from the final product - but why would you need to? The only people that's important to are the ones trying to make serious money out of the concept.

Sorry, bit of a long comment there – maybe I should have put it on my own blog! Thanks for the thought provoking post, though, as ever :)

George Barr said...

When I started selling my work, I chose to label myself as a fine art photographer with a great deal of reluctance and some embarassment for exactly the reasons you all have mentioned. I did so to differentiate myself from the postcard type photography often sold at markets and online.

Perhaps we need another word to describe someone who puts a lot of effort into their work, who uses archival materials and most importantly puts a lot of themselves into their work.

Suggestions?