The loss of artistic possibilities

Its important for me to stay focused and in pursuit of my artistic goals and visions and one way that helps keep me on task is to listen to motivational audio books wile I am traveling. I am a big fan of Audible and have accumulated a pretty substantial library over the years. Recently I completed a book titled “Art & Fear” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, 3 hours and 8 minuets, narrated by Arthur Morey. “Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn't get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way”. Its very well written and I highly recommend either picking up a hard copy or downloading the audio book.


While I found many useful and inspiring points in this book one statement in particular really resonated with me. In chapter 5, about 16 minuets in, the authors begin to talk about the evolution of art and how it was directly influenced by the tools and technologies that were available to the artist at a particular period in time. They begin to build the case that history has shown as technology evolves so too does the art that is produced. From Fresco’s dry-powder pigments to Tempera Painting’s, colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder to oils and Acrylics. “The piece you produce tomorrow will be shaped purely and simply by the tools you hold in your hand today”. Makes a lot of sense that the outcome, look, feel, and even style of the work you produce is largely influenced by the tools you employ while creating it. Certainly I felt this to be a good point but nothing profound. It wasn’t until the next statement was read that I really took notice and immediately found the connection to the work I create and more specifically to the tools I employ. “Certain tools make certain results possible. The tools do more than just influence the appearance of the resulting art, they basically set limits on what one can say with their art piece and when particular tools and materials disappear because knowledge of how to make or use them is lost artistic possibilities are lost as well”.

This really hit home for me and inspired me to write today’s journal entry. I began to reflect on what was said and how true the statement was. As you know I am a film shooter and work almost entirely with the color slide film Fujifilm Velvia 50. There was a time when Film was king and digital was the new kid on the block but in the past 10 years that has radically changed. In the heyday of film, stocks like Velvia and other slide films were the cutting edge of technology, known for vivid color, high contrast, sharpness, and fine grain. its easy to see why they became so popular among nature and landscape photographers of the time. However it is true as the statement suggests “The tools do more than just influence the appearance of the resulting art, they basically set limits on what one can say with their art piece”. Though Velvia and other slide films produce very pleasing results, they in fact place limits on the artist and set certain boundaries on the possible outcome of an art piece. For-instance slide film sets very stringent limits on exposure latitude particularly in preserving the highlights but the same can be said regarding shadow detail. In other words, slide film is really only capable of reproducing detail within a 5 stop range. Of course there are other tools that can be employed in conjunction with slide film that will help compress the exposure latitude of the light in a scene, take Grad ND filters for example. However when compared to today’s digital sensors, exposure blending and HDR technologies even with the help of ND Grads, slide film is extremely limiting. Still color slide film produces a very distinct look and feel and was really the genesis of modern digital sensors and is for me a most rewarding and extremely fulfilling tool when it comes to the creation of my art.

Another statement the authors make that I find particularly relates to me and my work is this, “Artists like everyone else have a certain conceptual inertia. A tenancy to keep to their own compass heading even as the world itself veers off in another direction”. This is particularly true in my case as I cling to an analog, “Film Only” method in imprinting the images I create. Though I do convert that analog imprint into a digital representation the final intended incarnation is once again an analog product or a final print to be displayed in the carbon based world, not the digital world of the internet.

I feel that with the passing of the age of film much of the romance in what I do will be lost. Not that one should romanticize over ones own work, rather find romance in the process of its creation. However when I think about the prospect of a completely digital process in my own work, my passion is smothered and my soul turns grey. I was born in the early stages of the digital age, the personal computer, internet, cell phone and social media have all come in my lifetime yet I do not fully embrace the digital renaissance, rather a hybrid of digital and analog. While digital methods employ extraordinary new time saving automation’s and technologies , the process and disciplines of the age of analog are for me the lost leaders of personal artistic growth. They offer evolution in years of experience over the instant gratification brought on by the digital age. Where the choice of ones film, the careful process of loading ones camera or film holders, the process of thinking through a composition and waiting for the right light, the careful metering of light in ones scene, the choice of filter, depth of field, exposure time and waiting to see the final results before heading into the darkroom and print making process have all be skipped over for the most part by the convenience and automation brought on by the digital revolution. A revolution that has brought on laxness and a fix it in post mentality, presets that produce instant treatments and effects, algorithms that stack multiple images together combining exposure and depth of field in a matter of seconds. All of witch take away from predetermination, careful craftsmanship, vision, conceptualization and the romance behind the creative process. After all isn’t that what art is all about, the romance or the love and joy you find in the creative process and with the subject of your art?

And so on to the final statement “When particular tools and materials disappear because knowledge of how to make or use them is lost artistic possibilities are lost as well”. When certain films or all film for that matter, and film camera systems are discontinued and abandoned for digital replacements, artistic possibilities are lost and that my friends will truly be a sad day. For with the advent of the type writer, the art of spoken story telling was drove to the brink of extinction. The paperback replace the story teller and while this brought the story to a larger audience, some of the romance was lost. As physical books give way to tablets, e-books and blogs so too does a little more of the romance die along with the knowledge of them and the process of how to produce them. I don’t mean to pronounce all technological advancements as evil and the enemy of art, certainly the digital revolution has brought on some amazing advancements that complement the process of creation. And certainly there are many that would state to the contrary that the digital revolution has expanded the tool set available to artists and unlocked new frontiers of possibility for creatives. And I really couldn’t argue with them. But for me like many other artists the old tools are still the best tools in our creative process and even a blend of both is welcome. But to loose these old tools completely and with them the knowledge of how to use them, is not only a loss for the creators of the art but a loss for those who are lovers of art as well. And any loss of love, romance, beauty and expression in a world that needs it more than ever is truly a sad thing indeed.