Saturday, June 23, 2012

You are not a misunderstood genius

If people don't like your work, you are probably not a misunderstood genius. Your work is not too complex and deep to understand. In all probability, your work is just bad. Interestingly, even if people do like you're work, there's a pretty good chance that your work is fairly bad. In that case, though, it is at least appealing, and that's something.

The difference between appealing and good lies in the emotional and evocative power. An appealing piece is one that appeals to viewers, they like it, they look at it. Maybe it's pretty, or interesting, it's usually well-composed (albeit possibly in an ex post facto fashion -- you can tell it's well composed, because people like it). A good piece has power. Usually, it is also appealing (not pretty or beautiful, necessarily, but appealing), but it's powerful. Viewers look at it and feel, they look again, and feel, they see and feel new things over time.

A good photograph is rare. A photographer might never take one, and a photographer might even be ok with that. If all you shoot is weddings, perhaps you'll take and sell 20,000 appealing images and never a good one. I think many photographers might profess themselves fully satisfied by taking only appealing images, but I suspect that in their hearts most of them would like to make a few good ones along the way. Why not, after all? Who would not want to take a photograph that is not only appealing to everyone, but also moves the viewer and changes lives? I would.

The really great photographs are widely appealing. You can sit around and comfort yourself with the idea that "most" people don't like "most" photographs, so it's all about simply finding your audience. This is the irrational reasoning of artists who make bad photographs. I say this as a fellow who takes mostly bad photographs, occasionally appealing ones, and it's not clear that I've ever made a good one.

A great photograph might be appealing to 80 percent of the population, perhaps? A lot. Ansel Adams might be a little too ubiquitous, it's certainly fashionable to dislike him, but his posters haven't sold a hundred million copies because they're unappealing. The work might not be powerful political commentary, but it evokes the hell out of place. It's frequently good.

Not every image is for every viewer, to be sure, but there are trends and percentages. If nobody likes your work, it's not appealing. If your friends like it but nobody else does, it's still not appealing. If 10 percent of randomly selected viewers, eh, it's pretty un-appealing. If you get up to half, you're doing great, but there's a good chance you've just made some punchy eye-candy.

If you've made something good, perhaps something like half the people that see it will be drawn to it, and will look at it again, and perhaps again, and many of them will feel something or think something they never felt or thought before. You can't buy whiskey with that, but wouldn't it be a hell of a fine thing anyways?


  1. Public acceptance/enjoyment ≠ Good Art.

    Just as...

    Public acceptance/enjoyment ≠ Good music.

    It sounds to me like you're simply trying to justify your lack of ability by speaking in absolutes as if your words are objective.

    Good luck...I guess...

  2. I forgot to clarify before someone gets all defensive.

    Van Gogh.

    From what I remember of his history, he didn't get famous until he died. He had to go live with his brother I believe, because he was so poor.

    Then, boom, his paintings were a thing of beauty.

    Humanity can't be trusted with the idea of beauty. It is ethereal and unattainable. So just step off of your high horse and make posts that are more than "my pretentious opinion about art is..."

    I've seen some very artistic eye candy, and I'll challenge anyone who says it's not art. Art is highly subjective, but you've created such a narrow view of what "good" art is that it is....perfectionistic, and since you're human those ideals don't work in my opinion. I'm sorry but I find your opinion to be too much insecurity with your own art and less about something that benefits people who read your blog.


  3. I'm not really sure how my remarks are supposed to be justifying my lack of ability. I am also not a misunderstood genius, I'm just not very good.

    Thank you for your commentary! I support alternative viewpoints.