“He takes you by the hand and shows you the moments you have tried to forget or hide.
Has it grown into a knot in your stomach that you were never loved or never found meaning in life, then you can take comfort in Jacobs moments of loveless togetherness and meaningless existence.”—
“ Un artiste qui posera le problème social dans son art sans ambiguïté, d’une façon propre à secouer la conscience léthargique,l’artiste qui se posera au cœur du réel, pour aider son peuple à découvrir celui-ci, l’artiste qui saura exécuter des œuvres nobles dans le but d’inspirer un idéal de grandeur à son peuple, qu’il soit poète, musicien,sculpteur, peintre ou architecte, est l’homme qui répond dans la mesure de ses dons aux nécessités de son époque et aux problèmes qui se posent au sein de son peuple. ”—Cheikh Anta Diop, in
“Nations nègres et cultures”
In those days, you were repeatedly pushing your electronic devices’ buttons and mumbling incantations while smoking yesterday’s dank THC filled doobie. In between two lethargic exhalations, Photography’s divinity spoke to you with an ô so celestial monotonous voice: “Become a Photographer!…
At Stanford University, nine men and eight women with no formal music training listened to obscure classical music (four symphonies by late-baroque composer William Boyce) while lying inside fMRI machines. The researchers used a type of imaging that let them examine all different areas of the brain over the entire time that the participants were listening to the recording.
To ensure that the brain activity they were mapping was in response to the music as a whole, and not just to one of its structural features, the researchers also had the subjects listen to altered versions of the symphonies: in one, all rhythm and timing was removed, and in the other, they were made atonal.
During the nine and a half minutes that the subjects spent listening to the music in its unadulterated form, the researchers noted a “highly distinctive and distributed set of brain regions” that was synchronized between each them. In the music from which some of the elements that make it musical were removed, on the other hand, brain activity was markedly different from subject to subject.
Age13 :Quel regard portez-vous sur cette période de crise actuelle ?
K-S :La crise est bénéfique. Elle montre qu’il n’y a pas un seul créneau valable. Toutes les directions sont exploitables. Quoi que l’on fasse, il faudra payer de sa personne. Alors, à partir de là, autant faire quelque chose qui nous tient à cœur. De toute façon, je suis toujours en crise. Je suis en crise depuis que je suis né.
Ce qui pose problème aujourd’hui, c’est cette facilité qu’il y a dans la réalisation d’une photographie. Avant, pour être photographe, il fallait aussi être artisan. Maintenant, les gens pensent qu’ils sont photographes du moment où ils ont réalisé 3000 clichés de l’anniversaire de leur neveu. Tout ceci est un leurre. Cette facilité ne donne pas lieu à de la qualité. Pour devenir photographe, il faut éduquer son œil et connaître son medium.
Yes, his work is powerful but he’s presenting it as photojournalism and documentary. That comes with a huge responsibility and expectation. It is sad, really, that Pellegrin chose to do these things. Even without your photograph and its misrepresentation, there are people in Rochester (including me) who question his heavy-handed depiction of the real problems and issues that exist in the city. Our profession isn’t just about making pretty pictures that win awards but about making powerful photographs that may win awards because they reveal something authentic.
Mr. Pellegrin, who spoke with Lens on Friday, said he could not understand how he could be accused of an ethical breach and not be given the chance to defend himself. “It seems somewhat strange to me that while mounting a purported journalistic high horse they themselves did not follow the basic tenets of fair and professional journalism,” he said in a statement.
Later, in a telephone interview, he said he stood by the photograph and never claimed that it was taken in the Crescent, but that it was part of an attempt to explore gun culture within the larger context of his project. He said the information for the description for the series that was taken from The Times was never meant to be published, but had been provided as background information. He also said he was unsure if he misunderstood Mr. Keller’s military background, but had done a portrait of him while he was going to a local shooting range.
“Stanley Kubrick: Yes, for those who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre (a keen enjoyment of living), their idealism - and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong - and lucky - he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan (enthusiastic and assured vigour and liveliness). Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”—Stanley Kubrick - Interviews (p. 73)
- edited by Gene D. Phillips. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001
W. Eugene Smith - An interview by Philippe Halsmann
I didn’t write the rules — why should I follow them? Since I put a great deal of time and research to know what I am about? I ask and arrange if I feel it is legitimate. The honesty lies in my — the photographer’s — ability to understand.
Why do you print your own pictures?
The same reason a great writer doesn’t turn his draft over to a secretary… I will retouch.
Avedon said that there are three steps in making a photograph: first the taking of the pictures, then the darkroom work, then the retouching. He showed me one unretouched picture in which the girl’s skirt fell straight; in the final version it was flying out.
What if nobody sees it? Besides a few friends?
Answer this and you will see how artists have acted throughout the bloody ages. The goal is the work itself.
By Antoine d’Agata, Christine Delory-Momberge.
p.22 (English Translation below)
Dans mes images, toute indication de lieu, de temps, d’identité est proscrite. Inconsciemment, je nettoie ce qui relie de trop près une situation à sa réalité concrète. L’objectivité, la chronologie, la description ne m’intéressent pas. Je ne peux témoigner de quoi que ce soit. Ce que je perçois et tente de rendre plus tangible est un certain état des choses ou un certain état des êtres. Mes états seconds produisent toutes sortes d’inadvertances que je photographie et cela m’a sans doute conduit à me rapprocher de cette vision. Mais le flou est un outil dangereux qui entraîne irrémédiablement la photographie vers la poésie et l’abstraction. Je suis à la recherche d’un état intermédiaire de la représentation photographique, moins graphique, plus charnel, plus imbriqué dans la matière même des corps. Encore une fois, la position la plus intègre me semble être un équilibre fragile, voire impossible à tenir, entre la rentabilité aride et une esthétique futile. Ces règles de conduite ne sont liées à aucune esthétique. Elles sont imposées au sein même de l’acte photographique, par un besoin confus d’aller vers l’essentiel.
In my photographs any sense of temporality, place or identity is prohibited. I subconsciously cleanse a situation from its connection to a concrete reality. I do not value objectivity, chonology, or description. I cannot be called witness to anything. What I perceive and try to substantialize is a certain state of things, a certain state of being. My trances induce various photographic accidents which undoubtedly lead me closer to this vision. But blur is a dangerous tool which inexorably leads photography to poetry and abstraction. I seek an intermediary state of things in photographic representation. Less graphic, more carnal, it should become connected to the substance of the body.
Once more, the most ethical positiom seems to me like an unstable balance -maybe impossible to hold- between the harshest rentability and a futile estheticism. This code of conduct isn’t linked to any estheticism as such. Rather, it is imposed within the act of photography itself, and comes from a chaotic need to get straight to the heart of the matter.
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.
“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 28. (via thesoviette)
“Why do we as photographers always go straight to the worst parts? The first pictures any student takes are of homeless dudes. It’s easy, it’s grimy. We’re taught that it’s the epitome of photography, the off-center, because the normal photo of Billy on Main Street holding a balloon is not enough. He has to be holding a grenade like Diane Arbus. JB: It’s the drama. It’s innate human nature, to look at or hear or read something that takes you out of your head. The drama of someone’s tragedy is what drives people to want to look at the pictures that you make.”—Ben Lowy Interview – Part 2
creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice
Ana Menendez: The 10,000 Easy Steps Toward Writing Mastery
In the 35th in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Ana Menendez, author of Adios, Happy Homeland! (Black Cat), ponders the effort it takes to be a good writer.
Few artists emerge fully formed. Take painter Vincent van Gogh. Before he painted Starry Night, he drew Carpenter. This was at the beginning of his career, in 1880. Any classically trained artist will immediately note the problems: The proportions of the body are off, the head is flattened and the composition is not at all pleasing. It’s a bad drawing.
Van Gogh wasn’t born a painter. He willed himself to become one. As a child, he didn’t display any startling talent for figurative drawing. He became interested in painting mostly through the encouragement of his brother Theo, who was an art dealer. When Vincent did sit down to draw, he had no illusions about his abilities. In an early letter to his brother, he wrote:
… at the time when you spoke of my becoming a painter, I thought it very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me stop doubting was reading a clear book on perspective, Cassange’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing: and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with stove, chair, table and window—in their places and on their legs—whereas before it had seemed to me that getting depth and the right perspective into a drawing was witchcraft or pure chance.
That’s how a lot of people view art: as witchcraft or pure chance. The working artist, though, knows that there is only one magic: work itself. And that’s what van Gogh discovered. After a few more failures, Vincent decided he needed some professional training in art techniques. He enrolled in an academy in Antwerp where he discovered the art of Peter Paul Rubens, as well as that of various Japanese artists. Both of these would influence his style. By early 1886, he had moved to Paris to live with his brother. Here Vincent dropped his somber palette and replaced it with the vibrant colors of his contemporaries. He studied the work of the impressionists and, in a kind of self-directed pedagogy, began to imitate their techniques.
Many people taught van Gogh how to draw. And then he took that knowledge into a wholly innovative direction. His mental decline looms large in the public imagination, but it would be a disservice to van Gogh to attribute his genius to illness. Few people appreciate how hard he worked.
Plutarch believed that three things must meet for the development of both art and morality: Natural ability, theory, and practice. By theory, he meant training. By practice, he meant working at one’s craft.
Now the foundation must be laid in training, and practice gives facility, but perfection is attained only by the junction of all three…. Natural ability without training is blind; and training without natural ability is defective and practice without both natural ability and training is imperfect.
What we call “talent” or “natural ability” is really intelligence. It’s what separates James Joyce from the rest of us. And, unfortunately, there’s nothing democratic about the way intelligence is parceled out. No one argues that intelligence or talent isn’t important. But even Plutarch didn’t believe that lack of natural ability should preclude anyone from pursuing a life in the arts.
But if anyone thinks that those who have not good natural ability cannot to some extent make up for the deficiencies of nature by right training and practice, let such a one know that he is very wide of the mark…. For good natural parts are impaired by sloth; while inferior ability is mended by training…. The wonderful efficacy and power of long and continuous labour you may see indeed every day in the world around you…. Ten thousand things teach the same truth: A soil naturally good becomes by neglect barren … on the other hand a soil exceedingly rough and sterile by being farmed well produces excellent crops.
“Perfection,” he concluded, “is only attained by practice.”
This idea was echoed by Leonardo daVinci who in his notebooks wrote: “Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going. Practice must always be founded on sound theory.”
Modern research supports the old notion of “practice makes perfect.” Take soccer. All the viewer sees, or thinks he sees, is natural ability. But it’s not so simple. Turns out that elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, who has studied the phenomenon has a theory. What makes a good soccer player seems to rest not on inborn talent but on practice. Those born in January and February are bigger and stronger compared with classmates born later in the same year. Because they’re ahead of the others, they play more. And because they play more, they’re more likely to become even better.
Ericsson has spawned a cottage industry of sorts with several authors, most famously Malcolm Gladwell, arguing that what we regard as genius is actually a more complicated amalgam of natural inclination, work and, in most cases, obsession. “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimal level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise,” writes Gladwell in Outliers. “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours…. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery. This is true even of people we think of as prodigies.”
The formulation of the 10,000 hour “rule” seems to come from a study done by Dr. Ericsson and colleagues and published in the Psychological Review in 1993. They looked at three groups of violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music: stars, solid performers, and those who could teach but not make it big. The “stars,” it turns out, had practiced the most: 10,000 hours by the age of 20, as opposed to 4,000 for those who would never make it big.
Yet many of us continue to cling to what Matthew Crawford, the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft calls the “hippie theory of creativity,” the idea that “creativity is what happens when people are liberated from the constraints of conventionality.”
“The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice,” Crawford writes. “It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra).”
Many seasoned writers produce excellent work by relying on inspiration, but they often fail to appreciate how much of that inspiration is actually knowledge and technique that has been so thoroughly absorbed as to become invisible, even to themselves. “The poet is never inspired because he is the master of that which appears to others as inspiration,” wrote Raymond Queneau, a founder of the French avant-garde group Oulipo.
So how does one become a master of that which appears to others as inspiration? Start by following some rules. The easiest way is to study rules made by others—in other words, read. A lot.
I don’t know any serious writer who wasn’t first a serious reader. Reading grounds you in the history of your art. And different epochs and genres yield different rules. What we call realism—the narrator’s eye panning the scene like a camera—was essentially invented by Flaubert. Study a work like The Iliad and you’ll find very little of what passes in our modern style for scene-setting. The Greeks had different rules. Borges’ rules are different from Hemingway’s. Literary fiction has its own tricks, separate from those of, say, the detective novel. Take note of what you love. And then deconstruct it and study how it was put together.
You can also make up your own rules. That’s what the Oulipo group did: They worked with a series of constraints to stimulate their imaginations. Here again, the theme of submission. Or as Anthony Burgess put it: “You can’t write unless you’re willing to subordinate the creative impulse to the construction of a form.”
The point is to write and write and write. With humility and a spirit of submission. But without excuses. Without waiting for the fickle muse. Write past boredom and obligation. Write for thousands of hours. Hone the ability to do the same thing over and over again. And one day, mastery might appear—as if by magic.
Thanks to S. for sending me this. Applies to any artform.