The subject will be … roses.

April, nearly May already!  And two exciting events are just around the corner:  My first post-winter trip to St Lawrence Market tomorrow to see what flowers, if any, the Taylor family have brought in; and the planning and planting of my balcony garden.

This of course means more flower images.  “What on earth do you do with them all!” a relative once asked.  Good question.   I’m still looking through and choosing images from the 55+ folders from last year!   All I can say is that the compulsion is to take the picture, take the picture – it somehow just has to be done.

I have a theme for my garden each year.  Two-thousand thirteen was red hues; last year, to telegraph my disillusionment with romance and its resulting misery, I went all white (purity?  not exactly; more like death, and ghosts, and mourning).

But this year – this year will be different. This year will be roses.

Roses appear delicate. They unman you with beauty and scent, but get too close — !  and they”ll “prick” you. Ouch, baby!  A rose is like a supermodel in a slinky gown who gives you the eye, then pulls a stiletto from her minaudière…  Back off, wise-guy…!   They’re lipstick-Lesbians and don’t forget it.  And all power to them.

I’ve grown one rose so far, a beautiful David Austin specimen.  As you may know, David Austin roses are heirloom varieties, lush and many-layered and intoxicatingly scented.  They are kin to those specimen’s illustrated in Redoutés Roses,  real roses that would have grown in an Elizabethan garden or at Versailles, or outside a country cottage, or even in a field.  They are most definitely NOT those bloated, scentless monsters, the technicolor flower-shop hybrids that are most people’s idea of rose.

{But don’t hold back, David – tell us what you really think!}

How the Internet Leads Emerging Artists Astray – Part 3 :- The Myth of Originality

In parts 1 and 2, I suggested that social media and an Internet presence generally are important – but not at the expense of having a good, old-fashioned real-world presence and strategy as the primary pipeline for marketing and establishing a network.

Here in Part 3, I suggest that a focus on “originality” and being first to market is counter-productive and paralysing to creativity.

{Just to prove my point before I even publish this post, poet, author and – I hate to use the word “guru”, how about “Internet marketing philosopher”? –  Austin Kleon, in his excellent book “Steal Like An Artist“, has already made a compelling (and charmingly-presented) argument for dropping the “originality starts with me” mindset.  Here’s my take on the subject.

The Myth of Originality

The contemporary and peculiarly American focus on individuality and originality has encouraged a widely-held belief that it’s possible to work in a vacuum, virginally free from outside influence.

In this paradigm, the goal of every artist is to become at least a pioneer, if not a prophet; to be a kind of Neil Armstrong planting the flag of “me” on distant and intractable moonscapes of art.  To this end, it is understood that s/he must first establish an entirely new world-view, and, from this lonely but noble position, labour daily to come up with entirely novel ideas, methods, and even the media with which to create them. The result? Art that is entirely differentiated from the work of any other artist.

Granted, there are great geniuses of art who through whatever combined gifts of talent, timing, luck and spirituality DID forge paths that SEEMED entirely new.   I’m thinking Pollack, Bacon, Rothko, Michelangelo, Basquiat; Beethoven, Stravinsky, Haydn, Schoenberg; Joyce, Shakespeare, Dickinson… yet in truth none of these geniuses started from a void, or literally created a new language¹.  Rather, they started in the context of their time, with the assumptions and esthetics of their time.  Even Beethoven, whom I revere above all artists in any medium who have existed on this planet, startled and shocked, was a modernist of his time, because he confounded expectations; his originality pushed against something.

Great visual artists of the past, used accepted forms and standard, classical themes for their work; employed apprentices who COPIED the work of their masters and learned their styles (in fact, they often played a big part in completing works by their masters).

This system worked because artists were expected to create works that followed very specific rules regarding subject matter and execution.  There was no question of “how shall I portray a tree today?”   Representational work displaying historical, classical or mythological scenes was considered the loftiest goal any artist could aspire to.  It was only as recently as the mid-19th century, most notably with Manet and the next generation who eventually became known as the Impressionists, that artists began to question these accepted standards and create truly radical art.  (These artists, you will recall, nonetheless longed to be exhibited at the yearly Salon, a longing not unrelated to their desire to make a living, and were often rejected).

In music, Bach and Handel, Baroque composers also working in an era of accepted forms and a standardized musical language that even codified how emotions were to be portrayed, learned composition and harmony by copying out the scores of other composers. Yet I can recognize in a second whether a work is by either one of these composers, so individual are their styles within those “restrictions”.

Don’t sweat originality.  Don’t, as I used to do, comb the web looking to see if anyone has done similar art (do you think anyone’s taken flower photos before?  Still lifes?  Maybe one or two. How original do you think the concept of the memento mori is? Exactly.) and then feeling discouraged.  No one is talking about plaigiarism here; and unless your aim is to create out and out forgeries, there is no shame and much to be learned by being influenced.

You have to trust yourself and realize that, as you develop, your personality will assert itself.  I think artists should embrace this.  No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will always end up looking like – you.  This is your personal style, your signature, and it’s a component of what your mentors mean when they talk about creating a body of work.

In this era we have, more than ever,  the freedom to ask, “what if – ?”, to experiment and to make mistakes that, with the perspective of a few years’ distance, may turn out to be new paths.

But be careful:  Art comes from, and by definition requires, exclusion, boundaries, choices.  Infinite pathways don’t automatically lead to infinitely better art.  Stravinsky said it best in his “Poetics of Music”:

The artists who created the cathedral at Chartres had one shade of blue.  Now we have many shades of blue, but no Chartres…

Link:  » Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” site (highly recommended)

¹    Schoenberg devised his 12-tone method of composition, but it's still the 12 tones of the Western chromatic scale.  A new dialect, but not a new language.

How the Internet Leads Emerging Artists Astray – Part 2 :- Centers of Influence, Points of Power

I recently read an article by a marketing guru who stated that to bullet-proof your career you need 100 collectors.

One hundred collectors!  Not just buyers, mind you, who might just want your piece to match the drapes: Serious art collectors who repeatedly turn to you to augment their collections.

I’m going to lie down for a minute with a cold compress on my forehead while I let that sink in…

… There. That’s better.

My question is:  once I have 100 collectors, what problem will I have that needs solving?  If I have 100 collectors, surely I will also have about 1,000 or even 10,000 buyers and I’ll no longer care very much about the distinction…

My bank account certainly won’t.

Here’s what I believe you and me and every other artist needs:  You need a center of influence. Your someone-who-gets-you, someone who has credibility within her extensive social circle ( a rarefied circle which you would have little hope of accessing alone) and who can’t wait to promote you, her project. She truly, sincerely believes in you.  It might be just one, it might be one this year, another next year… but center of influence is the point; someone who has clout and a network and probably – oh lord, I hope so – a gallery.

Jackson Pollack, he of the “my five-year-old could do that” “yeah, but she didn’t” drip paintings doubted the value of his own work until Peggy Guggenheim came along and became his champion.  Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, et al. had Ileana Sonnabend, a fearless, and I mean fearless, collector and visionary, to shove them into the spotlight in her Chelsea gallery. None of these artists produced anything that could remotely be called “easy” or that “goes with the sofa”.


Peggy Guggenheim, Paris, c.1930. Photo by Rogi Andre.

I value social media, up to a point.  But I’m pretty sure you will not meet this person by sitting at home tweeting, nor do I think it likely that she will be your “friend” on Facebook.

You need to power-down the computer, and get out in the world – visiting galleries, joining artists’ co-ops, doing art fairs.

I got my first joint show in a gallery that I didn’t feel able to approach by going to the Annual General Meeting of my artists’ association – by pure chance the owner of the gallery sat in front of me and we talked and she liked my work that just happened to be on display and… that’s how it went!

I have thought about that coincidence many times since, and wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that “boring Annual General Meeting”…

Point taken?

Ten surefire steps to art marketing success:

1. Make art
2. Make art
3. Make Art
4. Get rejected – any method will do.
5. Ignore it and make art
6. Keep going and exhibit in the local cafe
7. Repeat # 6. When you make a sale without having compromised what you do, you’ll learn something.
8. Go to the cafe for a coffee and sit amongst your art while you polish your resume because you’ve decided to go back to accounting, and by pure chance meet your champion, your Peggy Guggenheim, the one and only person who gets you.
9. Ignore it and keep going
9a. Sell your dining room table to pay the rent.
9b.Get your first collector who has been browbeaten by your champion into realizing how great you are.
10. Ignore it and make art.

Ileana Sonnabend, fearless champion of contemporary American art.  Portrait by - guess who?

Ileana Sonnabend, fearless champion of contemporary American art. Portrait by – guess who?

Spontaneous biography

I am currently in discussion with an artist-entrepreneur here in Toronto regarding licensing some of my work.  More than that I’m not at liberty to divulge.  However, he sent me a questionnaire recently, in order to make a kind of bio-CV, and it was interesting to craft responses.  Now those I can share, and here they are…

Q:  How have you gravitated toward visual art?   

David:  There’s a huge swing in the past 20 years generally away from the word and towards the image.   StiIl, I had no idea that I would do visual art and I also resisted the word artist for a long time; my real in-depth, decades-long artistic training from childhood was in classical music.   You can find a lot of analogies between visual art and music…

I used an early Kodak digital camera for a digital media design course I took in 1998, then after quite a while, years actually, I picked up a consumer point-and-shoot camera, which I could use in manual mode, and then I was smitten.

I found to my dismay that as soon as I had taken a good picture, I had to take a better one.  With a bigger, better camera!  And when presented with an easy way to take a picture, I had to find a more difficult way.  I don’t see this ending any time soon.

D Roddis,  "Jazz for Insomniacs", archival pigment print, various dimensions, Edition 1 of 20. ©2015, David Roddis.  All rights reserved.

D Roddis,“Jazz for Insomniacs”, archival pigment print, various dimensions, Edition 1 of 20. ©2015, David Roddis. All rights reserved.

Q:   What is your favourite Medium to work in?

D:    I am a photographer using digital technology. However, digital photography is strangely distancing as an end in itself,  and for me the actual, physical print – these are pigmented inkjet prints – is the true expression of my work.

Q:  What’s your least favourite color?

D:   Beige.  It’s the undisputed marker of good taste.  You’ll never go wrong with beige, my dear!

Q:  Do you have formal education / self taught?

D:   You know, I read the manual that came with my Nikon. It explained a lot.  I think a lot more people should read their camera manuals.  Then I took a course at the AGO [Art Gallery of Ontario] which was photography but really art history.  And that was excellent because I began to learn context, and that it was possible to think in terms of art.

So I’m self taught, which is helpful because no one told me what you’re not allowed to do.   I think less technical emphasis and more art history works for me, and also having an ongoing and voracious appetite for all art, music, poetry.  They all connect.

Q:  What is your hope for your work – brief artist statement?

D:   Diane Arbus said that  the important thing is to just choose a subject and do it, and do it, over and over, and eventually you’ll learn what it means.  My hope for my work is that I’ll eventually learn what it means, so I can communicate that meaning.

The best photography tip you’ll ever get…

I was surfing idly when I discovered a site called Slideshare.  Now, the idea of a site where you share presentations – yes, like Powerpoint – is, umm, to put it politely – quaint.

I mean, this is the era of online video and μTorrent and high-speed Internet and razzmatazz.

But hold on, maybe not so quaint because I picked up some fascinating information about topics I’d never heard of – Internet of Things, anyone? – and I also found a very interesting photography presentation by Sara Quinn, entitled “What Makes a Photo Worth Publishing?” 

A study was undertaken to gain insight into this mysterious process.  The team administering the study gave 200 photos to two different groups of people.  Half the images had been taken by professional  photojournalists, the others were user generated content on social media sites, newspapers, etc.

Those participating were asked to view the images and rate them on how effective they were and their likelihood of sharing them online.  They didn’t know which images were amateur and which were pro.

Results?  The professional images were chosen almost exclusively – only one image from the user-generated content was considered memorable, and it was, of course, a picture of a goofy dog.  Which proves something, I’m not sure what.

The pro images:

1. told a story, and/or
2. depicted relationships between people / showed emotion in the situations / showed faces.

I’m ever so validated in my firmly held belief that – just because we have cameras that have virtually eliminated technical difficulties doesn’t mean that everyone is suddenly a photographer.   Why?  For another article, but briefly:  intent.

But that’s not what I really want to share with you.  Here’s the one I want you to see.

Underneath the image is a quote from the participant in the study being interviewed.  Why did they rate this photo highly and why would they share it?

photo of green shoots growing through snowfall.  memorable because someone chose to see it.

It’s not that it’s rare.  It’s that someone has decided to see it.

I’d like you to meditate on that for a good, long time.

Check out the Slideshare presentation » here.    Happy shooting.