Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slamming What You Don't 'Get'


There were some quite negative comments about my article and my images on Luminous Landscape in the last week, something I fully expected and I have written some counter arguments to the critics, both on the luminous landscape forum and here, for what it's worth. Today I read the extremely negative comments about the latest artcle on Luminous Landscape, Light Fantastic, denigrating both the article and the images. I cannot leave this alone.

Two issues come to mind.

1) a remarkable number of photographers seem to feel that if they don't like an image, it is automatically junk and should never have seen the light of day, and most certainly doesn't belong on a recognized site like Luminous Landscape.

I don't 'get' jazz, but the idea that I'd suggest to anyone that it is rubbish is bizarre. Not only am I sure that it isn't rubbish, I would be afraid to look stupid if I wrote a criticism of the genre or a particular piece - I simply don't know enough to comment. This is my problem, my deficiency, my ignorance and I feel bad enough writing about it here - to pontificate on its worth is unimaginable. Apparently to a lot of people, commenting on what they don't understand, appreciate, 'get' or like is not only fair game, they feel it's their god given right if not duty to do so in extreme terms. It's one thing to say you don't like an image - that is simply a statement of fact. To say that it is rubbish, and shouldn't have been published is an entirely different thing.

2) I am surprised at how many photographers seem to be entirely satisfied with their photography, apparently not aspiring to improve it. They suggest that talent is inate, that creative expression has nothing to do with skill and craft, and therefore they have no need to practice, learn, consider alternative views, or expand their horizons.

I have taken the trouble several times to look up the work done by these people - ther attitudes show in their work. But they are happy, and I have no intention of belittling their work - perhaps I just don't 'get' their work.

Such happiness with one's work must be very nice for them, I just don't see why they need to shoot down other people.

Of course, what I have done is to criticise the criticiser - almost certainly a futile task, and perhaps not a little ingenuous - ranting about ranting?

Anyway, I have got it off my chest, and YOU were warned, and I'm sure no one is going to change because of what I have just written. People who like to improve (and I'm guessing that's close to all of us involved in this blog) will continue to stretch and try and learn and look, worry and doubt, fret and obcess - and the others won't and, yes; I know I shouldn't care.

Have a nice day, if you made it this far, thank you for listening to my rant, you have helped a poor man in his suffering...



Joe Lipka said...

Momma said never argue with stupid people. Passers by can't tell the difference.

Vitor Fonseca said...

Never argue with stupid people, they will bring you down to their level and win you in experience.

doonster said...

You did, however, write a post "Is crap still crap, even if it's important?" which seemed to take the same negative tone.

G Dan Mitchell said...

Important stuff.

I've learned - finally, and still not consistently enough - that I've been totally wrong about what I "knew" to be true with enough frequency that it is a good idea to be a bit less certain of ones point of view on aesthetic stuff. There are a number of things, photographic and other, that I was sure had little or now value about which I eventually completely altered my point of view.

For this reason, it is dangerous to state, based on no more than personal reaction, that photograph (or film, or painting, or piece of music, or...) X is "terrible, awful, bad" in a general way. It is absolutely fine to say how you feel and why. It is also not OK to start making personal assumptions about the person creating the art - e.g. since I don't get your art you must be a stupid, illiterate, foolish person.

I think the best criticism is that which avoids making pronouncements. The best criticism makes observations and describes the thing.


George Barr said...

Doonster has a good point. Is it that the images I previously called crap I simply didn't understand, or is it that concept without competent expression is never as good as concept plus expression.

I would argue that I may have a wonderful idea for a novel, but if I can't write, I shouldn't; but perhaps I'm wrong - are some ideas so important that even if you can't string a sentence together you should publish? Even if you can't get the exposure right and have no idea what a fine print looks like and composing is for musicions, you should still promote your work to the public?

But I could very well be wrong. Doonster, you are making me very uncomfortable and that's a good thing.

G Dan has the right idea - just because we don't 'get it' now, doesn't mean we won't at some point in the future. I wonder.

Thanks everyone.


Sandy Wilson said...

If criticism is not constructive criticism when commenting on another photographers work, you are doing nothing more than insulting that photographer.

There is a very good book on 'Criticising Photographs' by Terry Barrett. ISBN 0-07-297743-4.

It strikes me that some people could do well to read it before making any comments about other photographers work.

If we all were making the same images in the same style, life would be so boring.

A case in point was Eggleston's photographs exhibited in the MOMA back in the seventies. His work was severely criticised by the critics of the time, but later they had to apologise for their remarks, making them look fools.

Admin said...

G Dan Mitchell's comment gets to the heart of the problem for me.

I'm starting to think there must be a misprint in the college philosophy textbooks. I learned Descartes famous maxim as "I think, therefore I am." But there are so many people who seem to have gotten it as "I think, therefore it is."

George Barr said...

Nice one Edd, explains a lot.


Anonymous said...

"personal assumptions about the person creating the art - e.g. since I don't get your art you must be a stupid, illiterate, foolish person."

I get that one alot. Generally no matter what I upload.

Luis Sanchez said...

I loved the first photo in your article. It is an amazing composition not only of color, squares but of texture.

I think it is good to remember that taste is 'educated' taste. It takes a while drinking good wine before somebody begins to appreciate a great wine.

A have a test about art: if several days after encountering an image I still keep thinking about it, then I give it a pass rate. I found interesting that the only images that stick to my brain are those that turn our to be skillfully done. Forget about those that do not see your point about skill. They get it or they do not get it. There is nothing we could do about it. Keep the faith.

George Barr said...

Thanks Luis, yes, that first image was made during the Death Valley trip and was the highlight of the trip - I knew as soon as I made the image that my week was a success.

Was shooting this morning - peeling paint on a railway car - hoping for another good image. Isn't photography exciting?


Blotz said...

Wow, if people are slamming your work, I shudder at what they must be doing to the rather unique stuff from Ted Leeming that is up right now...

Gilles said...

Circles fo influences..

The first photo book I bought was the book by Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant that Leeming/Paterson refer to at the end of the Light Fantastic essay...

The next book I'm expecting in is the Criticizing Photographs by Barret that you have suggested, ordered it Saturday...

Have shared some email with A.D.Coleman, he has a new course set up to begin this week about learning how to critique photo's

And currently finishing On Photography by Sontag

And, to complete the circle, was just reading Brooks' blogs over at Lenswork, who suggested your blog. Brooks has recently started a blog, Visions of the Heart that, for the first time I've found, critically analyzes photographs beyond the ludicrous like/dislike found so prominently throughout the web.

It's impossible for me to state what the impact of these messages have had on my thinking about how to look at images. Especially mine! said...

Today the critic is everywhere. That is not to say that the critic is educated or experienced enough to pass judgment. But if you post it you wear it.
As to the issues
1. Each to their own. I didn't like all of your images (and I don't expect that you expect that I ought) nor all those in Light Fantastic. There were however some images in each that I did appreciate and took time to study.

I don't expect you to like all my images. It would be good if at least one grabbed you (particularly as we take similar subject matter) but if that is not the case so be it.
2. I am not sure how you came to that conclusion. To suggest that talent is inate is not the same as saying "I am there and cannot improve". It might be the case for some I suppose and that is their and our loss - for those with an inate talent, whatever it is, should seek the highest of goals for all our enjoyment.
I for one seek to create the perfect image - everytime. I am not there yet. If I was not doing that I would be very bored and take up knitting.

grant kench said...

Sorry put the url in the wrong box above.

George Barr said...

I don't suppose we will ever reach perfection, even within a single image, but we can try, and occasionally we come close enough to feel pleased with ourselves, for a time, then we go back to improving ourselves so we can approach perfection more often and more closely and that is the joy and the work and the pain of being a photographer.


dbwalker said...

George ...

I would like to thank you for passing on your wisdom and knowledge.

It's given me a lot of photographic inspiration over these last 5 years that I have been reading your blog.

(People seem all too willing to throw negativity at folks who put their work out there, I just thought I would add something positive...)


Sandy Wilson said...

Was it Ansel Adams or some other famous artist or photographer that said, "Do not seek perfection, for you will never achieve it".

Andrew Johnston said...

There's another side to this. You don't have to like or even "get" photography to be able to learn from it. Your own textural abstracts are not my preferred style of photography, but I find your ability to teach the technique of composition very valuable, even if my choice of subject would be very different. Those who don't get a photograph and simply slam it will also fail to learn from it.