Art is art

Look, I’m just going to get right to it: art is art.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an illustrator, a painter, or a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you use pen and paper, an iPad, or mashed potatoes. It’s. All. Art.

Even the monstrosity to the right.

This gloriously artifact-laden plague doctor I cobbled together in Blender this summer? It took me half a day, I made it for my daughter, and I’m proud of it.

As you should be proud of whatever it is you do, regardless of the subjects you depict or the media you use. This much should be obvious to anyone who’s ever had the passion and follow-through to create something, anything, of their own, but apparently it isn’t.

I see a lot of people giving others grief for the tools and techniques they bring into their art. I see a lot of complaints along the lines of “the undo button is cheating,” and “it’s not ‘real art’ if you had to use Photoshop,” and “‘real artists’ don’t work from a reference,” and it’s all just so stupid.

And boring.

Seriously. This purity policing in the art world isn’t new. It’s been around forever, probably since the first cave person smeared a stick-figure zebra on the wall of their condo.

These very same accusations of “cheating” were thrown about by portrait painters when the camera became all the rage back at the turn of the last century. They were even said of painters who began using the then-wild-and-crazy tubes of paint when they came out in the 1840s, because the self-proclaimed “real artists” back then hand-gathered their pigments and mixed their own paints, don’t you know.

And what do you bet the Renaissance had its own share of elitist twits, who spent half their lives whining about oils being “just a crutch.”

Don’t listen to people like this.

Really. Just don’t even bother talking with them, because anyone still going on about what is or isn’t “real art” in this day and age…well, let’s be honest here: just how interesting can any of their other ideas be?

And to be clear, I’m not putting artists down for choosing to use “traditional” materials themselves, or otherwise intentionally working under tough conditions for their own creative purposes.

Someone wants to take uncropped photos using only expired film and a pinhole camera made from a shoe box? Super! Someone else wants to draw and shade that life-size nude of Hector Elizondo riding a unicycle using only a charred toothpick? God bless ’em.

There are all sorts of challenges or restrictions artists can self-impose for all sorts of reasons, and that’s all perfectly fine. I’m not criticizing that.

What I am criticizing are the people who pretend that their own, personal creative choices are the One True Way and everyone else is just a poser. I’m criticizing the people who claim they are somehow superior to artists who make different choices than they do. And I’m throwing extra-special criticism at the people who think a work of art is somehow made less worthy of interest, acknowledgement, and praise the moment a computer gets involved.

Because no matter how you create it, art is art.

Now go create something you can be proud of.

Occasional color

I’ve been shooting a lot of black and white lately, and I’m pretty sure that’s a thing I want to keep doing.

Maybe it’s the prominent interplay of light and shadow, maybe it’s that it looks more like “art” to me, or maybe I just plain don’t “get” color–whatever the reason, my photographs tend to end up monochrome.

I do shoot a little color, though. Like the photo over to the right.

I don’t know if it was the light when I took this, or maybe it was the funky color at the heart of these (to me) unremarkable flowers, but I shot it knowing I’d turn it into something more “painterly” than “real.”

Does that make sense?

In other news, I seriously messed up my back on Saturday morning, and thus didn’t have the sort of Labor Day Weekend I was hoping for. I spent most of it flat on the couch watching Netflix, counting the hours between doses of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

My back’s doing much better today, though, so I’m…still flat on the couch watching Netflix?

Whatever. Don’t judge me.

Cards and Photos

Do you like photographs? Do you like greeting cards? Do you want to give me money? If you answered “yes” to all three of these questions, then you should take a look at my Zazzle* store, which I’ve imaginatively titled: Jeff Clough Designs.

Not roadkill. Not dystopian.

For now, this store contains a collection of 15 greeting cards, the fronts of which are adorned with photos from a collection that I’d describe as…

“Some of my more ‘accessible’ photography. With subjects ranging from flowers to architecture, these pictures represent my take on traditional compositions.”

That’s really just a fancy way of saying…

“I think these photographs would make good greeting cards.”

When what I really mean is…

“I usually take photographs of roadkill and other things that remind us we’re in a late-stage-capitalist dystopia, but fuck it! Here are some flowers!”

I’ve also added these photographs to a new gallery, which you can see over on my Photography page.

In the future, I plan to add more photographs and possibly more products, but I’m not quite sure what direction I want to go in.

When I do figure that out, I’ll let you know.

*If you are unfamiliar with Zazzle, the idea is this: they provide all the products, printing, billing, shipping, and customer service; I provide the design (including the photo). When you order one of these cards from them, they are the ones who bill you, produce the physical object, and send it your way. They get most of the money, I get a “royalty,” and I don’t have to crack open a bottle of Jack Daniels or a few dozen amyls in some doomed-to-fail attempt to roll my own e-commerce system.

Artist’s Statement (Or, the Duality of Man)

What do you know, it’s an update! I’d be sorry about the gap between posts, but we’ve had an absolutely gorgeous week weather-wise and I don’t regret a single one of the many hours I spent outside and away from boxes which beep at me. Anyway, there are a few quick bits I want to get out of the way before I get settled into what will assuredly be a long, nonsensical rant.

First, I now have a “proper” gallery for my photography. It’s sparse, poorly-organized, but it looks halfway-decent and you should check it out.

Second, I’m using Instagram pretty hard. I’ve put some of my “real” work up there, but mainly it’s a place to experiment with my phone’s camera and have fun.

Lastly, I’m getting a number of my more “traditional” or “accessible” photographs together and will soon be offering them for sale in one form or another. I can’t really give you any specific details right now, but that whole project should be ready in another week or so.

And therein lies a tale…

Something I’ve been lead to believe is that, as an artist intending to show or sell your work, you are expected to write something called an “artist’s statement.” This would be a paragraph of text crafted to explain your motivation, vision, or goal as an artist. One (hopefully) brief manifesto which answers the question: “Why are you an artist?”

Related to this, I’m further told that each piece of art you present should also come with a statement, necessarily related to your overall statement, but specific to the work. It answers the question: “What is this piece about?”

There is, I am assured, no way out of writing these statements.

And I assure you, there appears to be no way for me to write these statements without sounding like a pretentious douche or a total fraud.

Every time I put my hands on the keyboard to knock out something which sounds even vaguely like I know what the hell I’m doing, I flash back to that scene in Full Metal Jacket:

Pogue Colonel: You write “Born to Kill” on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
Private Joker: No, sir.
Pogue Colonel: You’d better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you.
Private Joker: Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you’ll be standing tall before the man.
Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
Pogue Colonel: The what?
Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Whose side are you on, son?

I can’t even begin to count the number of times this scene has cropped up over the years, in conversations with the various artistically-inclined folks I’ve counted as friends. We use it as a joke, the very archetype of an on-the-spot, talking-out-of-your-ass explanation for the inexplicable.

Someone asks you to explain your work and you’ve got no idea what to say? Mumble something about “the duality of man,” look bored or disgusted with them, and you shut down the conversation without revealing yourself for the imposter you believe you are.

If I was being honest, I’d say that the photographs I’ve taken thus far are motivated by one (or more) of three different impulses:

  1. I saw something pretty.
  2. I wanted to experiment with my camera in order to hone my skills.
  3. I just needed to take it.

I’m pretty sure numbers 1 and 2 aren’t what most people typically think of when they think about art at all. But as for number 3? How can I give you an answer when I don’t even have one for myself?

Q: Why did I crawl up under an overpass, through four-inch-deep piles of dried bird shit, risking an out-of-control slide into high-speed traffic just to take a photograph of some steel beams and graffiti?

A: Because, at that moment, no other choice in the world made sense.

Yet still, I’ve persisted. I’ve taken a few stabs at both a “general” artist’s statement (you can find one sorry attempt over on my Photography page, but I hate it so, so very much that I expect to replace it soon), as well as a few token efforts at describing just what the hell I was going for when I took a particular photograph.

I wonder if it’s always going to feel like this, or if it’ll get better once I know what I’m doing.

Discovering Art at Age Forty

I have vague recollections about enjoying art when I was a kid. Cray-pas, construction paper, tempera paints—brief flashes of all of these light the rooms of my brain when I think back to elementary and middle school art classes.

And all those hours of staring at the obligatory M.C. Escher posters in every math classroom I ever occupied.

I also have dim memories of a class I took in high school—“Humanities,” I think—where we learned the word, “chiaroscuro,” which I think means “light,” but I was far too interested in reading William S. Burroughs in the back of the room to worry about whatever the hell it was those Renaissance guys were doing.

I know shit about art. And I never really cared to learn.

From a very early age it was clear that if I was going to make my way in this world doing something creative, it’d be writing. A hilariously-gory short story to shock my teachers, or an angst-ridden essay on whatever imagined existential crisis I was going through at the time–that was art to me.

You know, I shouldn’t say that. I did appreciate one other art, and that was music. I’ve always found enormous pleasure in music, though I certainly couldn’t tell you anything more about a piece or song than whether or not I enjoyed it.

But drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, collage, photography, mosaic? For the vast majority of my forty years on this planet, I never gave any of these a first thought, let alone a second. And I was quite content to remain ignorant.

Then, a few months ago, my attitude toward art changed.

It wasn’t due to any one specific incident or revelation. Rather, I just had this sense that I’d been missing out, a feeling that kept building itself up, becoming more insistent, until I decided that I should know at least a little about art forms which didn’t involve words or musical notes.

So, I picked up a book called The Annotated Mona Lisawhich bills itself as “a crash course in art history”–and started there.

“Les Grandes Baigneuses,” by Auguste Renoir. The first painting I think I’ve truly loved—and not because nekkid women.

Pre-historic, pre-Columbian, Greek, Roman, through the Renaissance, and up to the present day. There’s a lot here, and it’s laid out like a magazine, with many photographs (though not quite as many as I’d hoped, and there aren’t nearly enough color ones), sidebars, and timelines, all covering the major points of interest along the way.

At 216 pages, it’s more of an outline of art history than a deep dive, but that’s exactly what I was looking for: a skeleton which I could prop up and hang the flesh of further study on. And it was fantastic for that purpose.

Even before I finished it, I was looking up artists, finding large, full-color photographs of their major works, learning more details about the various schools and “isms” of the art world. On and on and on the book went, and I’m still kind of shocked at how easily it pulled me along with it. And how much passion for the subject it ignited in me.

As I alluded to in a previous post, one of the results of this foray into art appreciation and history has been to inspire me to get into photography, but it’s done even more than that.

It’s fueled a passion for art in general.

I’ve started looking more carefully at the art around me. I’ve begun to seek out new artists online, check out their work, and just try to understand–as best I can–what it is they’re trying to do and how they did it.

And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve been looking more closely at photographers and filmmakers than I have at illustrators or painters, but that’s a prejudice I’m hoping to rectify. And truth be told, I think it’s all accomplishing the job which I suspect was the underlying motivation I had for looking into this stuff in the first place.

It’s changing how I look at the world.

Let’s face it, in my “Hey, I turned 40!” post, I tried to be all blase about hitting that age, but you can’t live for four decades without forming a world view–and the last decade, at least for me, hasn’t made that view particularly pretty.

I won’t go so far as to say that my newfound-yet-still-severely-limited appreciation for art has turned everything all sparkly and colorful, but there are one or two more bright spots now, in what was once a uniform gray.