Those who can, do; many also teach
Remember, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. (From George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman)
As I crossed the threshold into the Emmanuel Gallery to view the UCD faculty art exhibit this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of George Bernard Shaw’s wicked putdown of teachers everywhere. Still, my art education is now far enough along that I recognize that while Shaw’s dig might properly reflect a lot of vocations—most especially professional athletics—it poorly describes artists. In the art world only a tiny number of artists make a comfortable living exclusively from their art work; even the most lauded artists generally require a day job to make ends meet. And the day job of choice for most artists, at least since the Renaissance, is teaching. In fact the more famous an artist is, the more s/he is expected to teach—in one way or another. Come to think of it, the reality that Shaw ignored was this: in most vocations those who can, do; but very few can teach. In the art world, on the other hand, those who can, do; many also teach. So it’s no surprise that what I found in the Emmanuel this afternoon was art. Our art teachers do art.
Not dead, just misunderstood
The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you. (Oscar Wilde)
I’m just beginning to understand the art of photography. I now have an inkling why some photographs ‘work’ and others do not. I also understand that while the evaluation of art is highly subjective, an education in art makes some opinions more credible than others and provides a greater appreciation for a greater range of art. Unfortunately, at this point in my art education, I just don’t know enough about other art media to form a worthwhile opinion about what I saw in the Emmanuel Gallery today. I couldn’t tell you if the art was good, or bad, or none of the above. I didn’t understand most of it.
Until I can form more educated opinions I’ll just have to rely on the little homunculus behind my eye (let’s call him Harvey) to tell me what to do when I come upon art I don’t understand. Sometime Harvey bids me to stop and pay attention; he may even tell me why I should pay attention—perhaps it’s the colors, or the boldness, or just the ‘how did he do that?’ Sometimes Harvey tells me to pay attention, but doesn’t tell me why. It was that way with Quinton Gonzalez’ Fucay Machine. I liked it, but Harvey didn’t tell me why, so I can’t tell you why.
On the other hand, when I came upon Michael Brohman’s Perfect Uncertainty, Harvey sort of gagged and urged me to move on quickly.
As I said, at this point in education I’m only beginning to understand my art of choice, photography. As for the other art I saw at this exhibit, well, I haven’t a clue—yet. But at least, for now, I don’t have to worry about such art being dead to me, just misunderstood.
Been there, still doing that
Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility. (Pablo Picasso)
I once wrote a short essay on photography; alluding to market influences on the creation of art I wrote: “It’s no wonder then that the budding art photographer strives to create a distinct style of his own, to focus on a specific subject, and make that style and subject the distinctive signature of his portfolio and subsequently his body of work. For a distinctive signature offers multiple potential benefits; it mitigates the need for quantitative separation from vernacular photographers while establishing aesthetic separation from other art photographers.”
Today in the Emmanuel Gallery I saw the latest works of some of UCD’s well known photography teachers. I recognized their work immediately. There was no need to read their name on the mat, nor on the nearby tag. I could ‘read’ the distinctive signatures of their work. That was disappointing.
If the reason an artist sticks to a ‘signature’ is because that’s what his muse demands, then there is nothing more to say, other than perhaps “Go for it.” But I suspect that isn’t always the case. I suspect—as apparently did Picasso—that in too many cases once an artist receives recognition for a body of work, he unconsciously puts aside the need to satisfy his own muse and succumbs to the siren of satisfying the needs of his admirers. The artist continues to make similar images, his signature images, because that’s what first differentiated him from the crowd and that’s what his admirers expect.
In the end, the photographic art I admired the most today was that of another instructor. She had been first recognized for a body of work that was labeled “landscape”, and consequently she was labeled a landscape artist. She quietly bristles at this appellation, not because she has anything against landscape artists, but because she doesn’t like being typecast. So I was pleased, but not surprised, that her art in Emmanuel, a diptych of a dream space, was different than anything I had seen her do before. Yet it was as beautiful to gaze upon as her earlier successful work. Good for her, good for her muse.