Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Photo Equipment Purchase of 2006

Here's my nomination for 'Best bit of photo gear I bought this past year: it's the 30" Apple Cinema HD monitor. Expensive, yes, but not much more expensive that buying, say, two 21" monitors and running a dual-headed setup, and you end up with a single display surface, without a mullion in the middle of your 'window'.

The display is sharp and contrasty. I have no trouble profiling it with my Gretag-Macbeth Eye-One Display 2 puck and software, and the resulting profile amounts to little tweaks, not a big huge adjustment. The profile is stable over time, so when I forget to make a new profile at the recommended intervals, it's still good.

Best of all, running photoshop and editing photos on this thing is a joy. I can look at an image at 100%, and actually have enough of the image showing that I can see the context of what I'm adjusting.

I love it. I recall reading an essay in Lenswork, where someone (Brooks Jensen, in one of his lengthy editorial essays, perhaps) pondered "Why would ANYONE want a monitor that large?"

Well, here's the answer: it makes the process of taking those scans and digital captures and turning them into prints a lot faster, a lot easier, and a whole heck of a lot more pleasant.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Faux Artist Statements

Way back when, some friends and I held a friendly informal competition to see who would come up with the 'best' bafflegab example of an artist statment. Here's my entry. Each paragraph is followed by a translation into English (in italics).

I am primarily engaged in the production of images that might be classified as portraying non-sentient, semi-static objective reality. In particular, the works displayed here today represent my attempt to extend and generalize on the framework laid by Willman's Gestaltic Transfer theory, with particular emphasis on the normative and subjective states that comprise the majority of the persistent and transient gestaltic experience.

I make landscape photographs rather than take photos of people. I try to make people viewing the photo feel something like what I felt when I made the photo.

When I am engaged in the earliest portion of the imagemaking process, I find that certain arrangements of physical reality can be translated by an intentional neurocortical process (aided by appropriate augmentative technologies) into a virtualized simulacrum of the final artistic construct. This neurocortical process is simultaneously taxing and rewarding, resulting in heightened awareness of both objective and subjective realities. Almost without exception this process is experienced as positive and rewarding in the spiritual and emotional domains. In general, in the early part of the process I am seeking arrangements of reality which, when subjected to dimensional reduction, isomorphic geometric distortion, spectral reduction, and techniques like global and local non-symmetric transformation, nevertheless afford an opportunity produce a objective substrate which, by acting as a codified mapping to the original subjective experience of objective reality, can act as a trigger for a similar neurologic response in the viewer. Because the syntax and semantics of this mapping are in general poorly understood, this trigger effect, while generalizable, is not universal; in addition, apparently some individuals suffer from physical impairments which reduce or preclude their participation in this transfer process; fortunately the cardinality of this set is small relative to the that of the general population.

When I am making photographs on a good day, I can visualize what the final print will look like. Sometimes I use things like light meters to help. Although this is hard, it feels good. When I am doing this, I look for things which will seem like they will make pretty pictures even though the world is 3-d and in color, and photos are flat and in black and white, and generally speaking I'm not always clear on what will look nice. Not everyone likes my photographs, and people who are blind cannot see them and thus have a hard time appreciating them. Fortunately there are more sighted people than blind people.

In the best of cases, this neural response on the part of the passive/receptive participant in this bi-phasic process will be similar to that I encountered throughout the active/contributory phase, producing an effect that could be characterized as an apparent Willman style inter-individual gestaltic transfer of subjective experience. By careful use of judicious selection, and goal driven exercise of experientially learned behaviors combined with serendipitous exploration of the multi-dimensional space of possible artifact outcomes, I am able to produce
non-virtual artistic constructs which trigger neurologic responses in the viewer which are generally self-interpreted as positive. In general I have found that although this gestaltic transfer can transcend individual, social, economic and cultural boundaries, as well as those of time and space, it is not completely successful when confronted by barriers of genus or species. Despite this apparent shortcoming, I find that the process represents fertile ground for expansion along the lines pursued by the current work, and intend to continue in the future.

If a photograph 'works', the viewer will feel something similar to what I felt at the scene. I try to pick the good photos I take and not the bad ones, and I have learned how to make decent prints, although sometimes I depend on luck and flounder around to figure it out. Generally I find that in the end, people seem to find looking at them pleasant. Different people from different places can appreciate my photos, and people in the future or on another continent could do so, too. But my dog is indifferent to them and so are other non-humans. I don't care about the dog, I'm gonna make more photos.

In their seminal work, Brikoff, Hammond, et al theorize that the space of artists engaged in similar pursuits can be partitioned into those who engage in the activity in order to experience self labeled reward, and those for whom the motivation is primarily the receipt of virtual proxies which represent deferred future positive experience; naturally the two categories are not mutually exclusive and in fact represent the two endpoints of a bi-modal continuous distribution. While I fall into that category motivated primarily by the direct reward, I nevertheless am also motivated by receipt or promise of proxies for future gratification. Should you desire to prolong your passive role participation into a permanent state, it is possible for you to engage in a transaction of proxy and artifact exchange, mediated by representatives of the gallery. The rates of exchange between conventional proxies and artifacts have been set with the intent of maximizing the probability of transactions which will be viewed as having positive expected value by all participants.

Some people make art for fun, and some for money. A few do it for both reasons. I generally do it for fun but am not averse to selling photos. If you want to buy one, you can do so through the gallery. The price has been set at a level that we will all feel good about the sale.

Suzan-Lori Parks and 365 days/365 plays in Seattle

Pulitzer prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks had a cool idea - write 365 very short plays, then have them performed over the course of the year, one play per day, all over the US.

On Tuesday, the Seattle peformance of the play du jour was performed at the ice rink in Seattle Center.

It was pretty cool. Photo is from the performance.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Crisis of Unspecified Specificity

Go to

Read the whole thing. Including the comments.

Priceless, that is.

Work I'd like to see but never will

I'd love to look at the work on Ian Baguskas website.

Unfortunately, his website uses Flash. I hate Macromedia flash websites. My incandescent hatred of Flash based websites is brighter than a thousand suns. Heck, it's brighter than a million suns. I hate them so, I cannot express my incandescent hatred of Flash websites in mere words.

I hate the way every Flash website designer feels he/she must reinvent the website human interface, so that every single damn Flash based website becomes yet another damn learning experience as I struggle to figure out yet another example of a website designed by someone who thinks viewing photos on a website ought to be a puzzle akin to playing Myst.

Face it, you moronic Flash website designers - I'm part of your client's target market, and I don't want to learn another godawful, horrible, nasty interface designed by a moron who knows nothing about interface design. I don't want to watch bits of the interface animatedly scoot around when I click on something. I just want whatever the heck I clicked on to just take my browsing to the thing I selected, without trying to mesmerize me with animated crap.

I hate Flash based websites that, when you click on the 'enter' on the splash page, throw another window with the damn URL toolbar disabled, so that I can't copy the frickin' URL and email it to another person. Oh, no. I can't even TYPE the URL because the site has only one url, because in the Flash website designer's near perfect ignorance, the idea that someone might want to, say, EMAIL A URL TO AN INTERNAL PAGE IN THE WEBSITE simple didn't occur to them. I mean, God forbid I might send email to my wife, saying "Hey, look at THIS photo! I want to BUY A PRINT and hang it in the exercise room, where I can gaze upon its beauty as I exercise". That might result in an actual SALE, which is not what Flash websites are about. Flash based websites, apparently, are not about people looking at the stuff on your website - hell, no. That's a game for technolosers. Flash websites are all about looking cool while not allowing the viewer to do anything useful!

I hate Flash websites which insist on taking seconds and seconds to ooze the frickin' image onto my screen. Hey, moronic Flash website designers! The reason why I pay scoods of bucks for an outrageously fast 5 megabit/second internet connection even though I live in the back of what most people consider the middle of freaking nowhere, amongst the cougars and bears and other wildlife - the reason is that when I view a website that has lots of photos on it, I don't want to have to wait for the images to load, because life is short and I don't want to spend it sitting here, tapping my toe, waiting for the image to display on my screen. That's especially true when the reason I can't just jump instantly to the next photo is because you decided that you should make me wait in anticipation for 15 seconds watching the images fade out and then fade in before I can view the next photo in the sequence.

I hate Flash websites which fix the size of the window, so that if I go to view them full screen on my widescreen 30" diagonal 2560x1600 pixel display, I get a little suppurating slow hard to use website sitting in the middle of the vastness of my screen. The reason I got a big huge screen is that I want to sit back and view websites in spacious glory, not so that I lean forward and view a squinty little stupid Flash based website that was intended for a screen so small I can put a bunch of windows that size on my screen AND NOT HAVE THEM OVERLAP!!!

I hate the way text from Flash websites cannot be cut and pasted, so that reviewing such websites is a tedious chore of retyping the text. I hate the way the text in a Flash based website can't be indexed by search engines, and the way I can't use the site search feature of Google to search for something specific within the website. I hate the way the text cannot be sized using the browser text size control. I hate, hate, hate it.

I hate the way every god damn Flash website proudly tells me I can download MACROMEDIA FLASH PLAYER 8. For free! Sure, guy. That makes me feel much better about having to install a buggy piece of software to view your lousy website that I already know I am going to hate the very femtosecond my eyes spot the 'This site requires MACROMEDIA FLASH PLAYER 8' on the splash page.

I hate it. I hate Macromedia Flash. I hate it to death.

And here's the bottom line if your website is done with Macromedia Flash Player: I will not view your website. Instead, I will mock your decision to build a stupid, hard to use, slow, rebarbative website. And I will do it publicly, and I will show no mercy.

And then I will go visit some other website, and the photos on your damn Macromedia Flash Player based website will never be seen by me.

So I'm sorry, Ian Baguskas. I'd love to view your photos. Really. I'm sure I would love them. But your website will never be browsed by me, because I Just Can't Stand Flash Based Websites.

Karmic Justice

The magazine Shock is folding.

You'll recall that Shock is the Hachette Filipacchi Media attempt to introduce a version of the French magazine Choc to the American market, and that Hachette Filipacchi Media saw fit to use as the cover photo of the premiere issue(without obtaining permission) Michael Yon's photo of an American soldier cradling an Iraqi girl who was fatally wounded in a terrorist attack.

Apparently, despite assurances from HFM that a settlement would be reached, the publisher still has not settled with Yon.

I'm delighted to hear that this magazine didn't succeed. I hope HPM loses a huge amount of money. I hope all their magazines lose a huge amount of money, and I hope that the scummy people responsible for the illegal use of Yon's photo all get what they so richly deserve.

Yon will apparently continue his legal action against HPM. Good for him. I hope he wins a huge settlement and those scumbags at HFM all end up selling pencils on a street corner somewhere nasty.

Details here and here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Some more thoughts on quantity (and camera size)

Because it's the end of the year, I'm in the thick of my annual assessment of stuff. Looking over my collection of images made over the last year (by viewing them in Bridge), and looking at images from previous years, I notice a couple differences.

When I was working primarily in large format, I routinely made 'in camera dups'. That is, once the camera was set up, I routinely exposed two sheets of film. Having two sheets was insurance - if I managed to screw up one sheet, I still had the setup on the other sheet. This saved my butt more than once, which is why I did it even th0ugh it doubled my film costs.

But working digitally, I never shoot dups. I sometimes exposure bracket - that is, I make an exposure, examine the histogram, adjust the offset, and then make another exposure.

That's an obvious but not very interesting difference.

More interesting is that with the EOS-5d, I can see that I often have several exposures which are all from the same basic camera setup, but with minor adjustments in framing or minor changes in camera position.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just laziness or insecurity, but I've noticed that I don't alway use the first exposure, or the last one. The final choice is spread across the exposures pretty evenly.

I finally figured this out. With the 4x5, I could actually see what I was doing, on the ground glass. The edge of the frame was marked clearly, and the image on the groundglass was large enough that I could actually make judgements based entirely on what I saw.

With the EOS-5d, no can do. That viewfinder is just too small, and there's no way to judge relationships in the image exactly. The whole "look through the lens" thing is right, it's just too damn small to make judgments. The viewfinder also shows only something like 85% of the frame, so there's no way to judge the edges closely.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006


This is a view of what my car looked like for several days - all the ordinary stuff shoved forward (see dog bowl, tennis ball throwing device, etc.) and the wayback filled with chainsaw stuff. I spent a lot of time cutting up downed trees.

This is a view of the scene that's now where the image from this post was made. It's hard to tell from this photo, but this is a pretty big area where essentially ALL the trees came down. It's just a huge tangled mess on the ground. To really convey some sense of the carnage, I need to find a way to photograph from a higher vantage. I'm working on that.

It's really hard to get photographs that convey the scope of the destruction, not only because what was once an orderly, visually appealing forest scene is now just a tangled heap, but also because it was a spot that was one of my favorites, and it's surprisingly hard to go back and photograph.

I had expressed that sense of loss and difficulty in even confronting the scene to Ed Richards, who has photographed post-Katrina New Orleans area extensively. His advice, which I think is pretty insightful, is that part of art is dealing with stuff like this. So, as time permits (I've been pretty busy) I'll be out there with the camera, trying to capture not just the destruction of this forest but also how it develops from here.

One little anecdote... I was working helping a neighbor clear the driveway to his building site. I figure there were well over 100 trees across the drive. We had just cleared a stretch the previous day, and there was a huge tangle of cut up trees on the side of the road. I went back the next morning to get started, and caught a little movement out of the corner of my eye - a large number of little wrens were flitting about inside the tangle. Sure, to me it was a tangle of destroyed trees. To the wrens, it was a maze of protected little spots, just right for little birds to be safe from bird-eating predators.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Well, I have power, and I have propane, but now the internet connection is down. Sheesh.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


As folks may know, we got whammied by the windstorm that hit the Puget Sound area last Thursday night. Our power has been out since 11:30pm last Thursday; fortunately, our generator ran flawlessly for five days straight.

Puget Sound Energy restored our power feed at about 1:30 pm today. Just a few hours later, we took a delivery of propane (which runs our heat, generator, etc.) So even if we lose power again in the windstorm the weather predictors are forecasting for tomorrow, we're good for another ten days or so without any conservation measures. That huge rushing noise you just heard was my big sigh of relief.

Today I helped yet another neighbor finish cutting out from over a hundred windfall trees. I figure that's pretty much three solid days driving a chain saw. My Stihl saw and I are like this (picture two fingers held side by side). Talk about reliable - that chainsaw has started reliably, never hiccuped or coughed, and has tackled trees so big I had to cut first from one side, then climb over and cut from the other side. The saw is ready for more but I am beat.

I'll post something related to photography tomorrow. Maybe some photos, eh?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wind Storm

There have been no posts for the last few days because my area was hit by a massive windstorm. Power is out to a large number (hundreds of thousands) of people.

There's quite a bit of damage in the forest right where I live; the stretch of forest where this photo was made was just south (easy walking distance) of my home. It was essentially destroyed - I'm guessing that 50% of the trees are down across an area of 20 acres. The spot where this photograph was made is now a meadow about 5 acres in size; all of the trees in this photo were destroyed and are now on the ground.

But we are all fine here - no one hurt. Power is still out (but the generator is running). My internet connection, which went down Thursday evening, is now back. Things have been busy, and when I haven't been busy with a chain saw, I've been really, really tired. But things are starting to look semi-normal. I'll return to normal posting in the next few days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


In an recent interview, the playwright John Patrick Shanley said "I'm very aware that debate has become the form of the communication, like on Crossfire. There is no room or value placed on doubt, which is one of the hallmarks of a wise man. It's getting harder and harder in this society to find a place for spacious, true intellectual exchange. It's all becoming about who won the argument, which is just moronic."

Shanley's play Doubt won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Drama Desk award, and a Tony Award for Best Play. It's one of the best plays I've seen, ever. And trust me - I've seen a hell of a lot of plays. Shanley deserves every accolade he's gotten for Doubt, and I think that we ignore his warning at great social peril.

It would be nice to think that the world of Art would be just the sort of place Shanley wishes would be easier to find in our society - a place where it's not all about winning the argument. Artists, in general, seem to pride themselves on their openmindedness, on their tolerant viewpoints and respect for diversity.

Sadly, it seems to me that the Art world isn't really much different from the rest of society, and it also seems to me that artists in general are, if anything, more polarized and certain in their convictions than the rest of the population.

Why else would someone comment "I'd love to be able to afford to NOT sell to people with socially conservative "values"? Is that really the attitude we want - we're not even willing to sell our art to someone just because we disagree with their politics? We look forward to a day when we can afford to turn someone's business just because he disagrees with us?

Wake up. Tolerance is pretty shallow when you insist that someone hide their political views from you in order to do business with you. Diversity is a sham when it means 'people who look different but all think the way I do'.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No one buys art, part II

In this post on how no one buys art, Andy Chen comments "After mulling it over some more, it seems that only buying art for decor, status, or envy is rather pessimistic. Pessimism doesn't make something untrue but.... '

Oops. I think I've not been very clear. Probably that post sounded depressing; it's not the facts that are depressing, it's just that it's winter and the days have been dark and short, and so the snarling wolves of depression have been circling in the periphery of my vision.

I don't think it's bad that people buy decor, or mementos. I don't even think it's bad that people buy stuff for status reasons, although I think that taken to extremes that doesn't appear to be a very gratifying life.

I think it's good. Decor, for instance, is a good thing. We don't want to live in rickety, uncomfortable shacks with blank walls, we want to live in nice, snug, comfortable homes, and we want to decorate the inside (and sometimes the outside) in ways which make our lives more filled with beauty. That's a good goal. I think it should be spread as broadly as possible. When choosing drinking glasses, choose the ones that make you feel good when you look a them - you're going to look at them every day for a long time. (we have great drinking glasses here. Every one is different, they're lovely colors with a swirly pattern, and drinking a glass of cold milk is a fun, beauty filled experience).

Likewise, mementos. I'm all for Chip and Buffy having fun bodysurfing, and I'm really big on cold Chardonnay while sitting near a roaring, comforting fire. After we have a great experience, it makes sense to want to be reminded that we had a good time, even if right now we have to put on the boots and go out in the cold rain to cut up the tree that just fell across the driveway.

Even the 'artist by proxy' thing is fine with me. People are buying something, and having it enhances their life. If buying one of my photographs lets someone move even a teensy bit closer to being the kind of person who walks out onto a foggy, cold beach at 4:30am, I'm all for it. We, all of us, often participate in things by proxy. It's a way to pass experiences around. I love reading books about solo sailing around the world, or Shackleton's expedition. If that's not buying being adventurous by proxy, nothing is. (Even more important, a nice way to read about the privations of Shackleton's expedition is sitting in a comfy chair, with a nice fire in the fireplace, and a nice big glass of Cabernet on the corner table within easy reach).

So I think the reasons people buy artworks are good reasons. I also think the real reasons people buy an 'art object' have little to do with the fact that the object is the outcome of someone's artistic process, and everything to do with the positive impact possessing the object will have in their life.

What I think is amusing is the amount of conflict artists as a group have about the very realistic observation that no one actually buys art. Artists in general sneer at the idea of selling work to anyone they suspect is just buying decor. Don't believe me? Ask any artist how they'd feel if a couple looked at their art on the wall in the gallery, and one spouse says "Oh, I love this! It would look so nice over the couch - the yellows will really complement the yellows in the oriental carpet, and I think it goes so well with all the other things we have in the living room. Let's BUY it!"

Why is that? Why do artists live in mortal fear that someone will buy their art, and hang it on the wall, and derive daily enjoyment from it? Shouldn't the fact that you've gotten to engage in the artistic process, and then someone else got to benefit from the object created as a side effect, and the world got to win twice be something we celebrate rather than lament?

I suspect the reason is that artists in general HATE the idea of the need to make their art saleable. If your artistic process is all about working out your religious issues by making images of religious figures in the medium of animal dung, you can pretty much bet that no one is going to see it in the gallery and decide to buy it to go over the sideboard in their dining room. Some artists are fortunate that the work they want to produce is easily saleable, and artists whose work isn't are jealous of this, and so they do what every jealous person does - they run down the salable art as 'commercial' or 'shallow' or 'not really art'.

That's natural, and normal. But hiding your head in the sand and pretending that someone will buy the art objects you make just because your artistic process is filled with soul searching even if the art itself is aesthetically aversive - that isn't very productive.

And, at the back of my mind, I get the nagging feeling that there's something in there about the current art world's rejection of beauty, too. It amazes me that in a world so filled with beauty, artists seem to be engaged in a petty game along the lines of "You want art that goes over your sofa, do you? Here! Take this ugly, repellent thing. Put that over your damn sofa, you offensively wealthy, shallow, art-ignorant, insensitive buffoon!"

And what the artists are failing to realize is that they're cutting off their nose to spite their face, not only because they'll never sell a darn thing, but also because they're distorting their art just as much as if they were only making art that would sell.

Do I think artists should avoid making controversial art? Absolutely not. But neither should they avoid making certain kinds of art just because there's a risk someone will think it goes nicely with their sofa.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Years Resolution - stop worrying about resolution

It's mid-December, so naturally my mind is turning toward New Years Resolutions. Along with the perennial 'lose weight' and 'exercise more' and 'eat right', I think my biggie is going to be this: stop worrying about resolution.

Here's why - not too long ago, I visited Tracy Helgeson's web site, and I looked at her paintings, and the experience seems to have completely redrawn my opinions about resolution. Go, now, and look at her paintings, then come back here.

Done that? No, really. You need to go look, or nothing in the rest of this post will make sense. Take five minutes. When you get to 'November Road', keep going. Take at least 30 seconds to look at "Snowy Fields 2005". Look at enough of the paintings to get past that 'right, I understand what Paul is on about, now I'm back to reading' reaction, and when you start to think "Hey, these paintings are giving off huge waves of 'sense of place'", come on back. Honest, there's a point to all this.

Here's the thing that strikes me so deeply when I look at Tracy's work. In terms of spatial resolution - not so much. I haven't seen the work in person, so of course I'm out on a limb, but a quote from this article about Tracy makes me think I'm not wrong in thinking she's mostly concentrating on form as a way to communicate the landscape experience:

“I often take great artistic license with what actually exists ... , ” Helgeson said. "However, the line of the hill and the intersecting hill, or trees, remain constant as I am endlessly fascinated with its form and how the sky and trees interact with it.” Helgeson wants to show her audiences that there is more than one way to see the land surrounding us.

“I appreciate realistic landscapes, where you can see every leaf on every tree,” she said. “But I hope people can understand that you can see a hill and not see every tree on it.”

So the bottom line for me is this: Tracy Helgeson is successfully getting across something very concrete about (insert sounds of fumbling for the right word) the placeness of where she's living. And she's doing it with very little reference to detail. She's painting the forest, not the individual trees. As a photographer who worried obsessively about resolution and detail and sharpness, that's an eye-opener for me.

I understand that there are artists whose work is about detail. Christopher Burkett, for instance, does huge breathtaking prints of scenes in nature. Last time I saw one of Burkett's prints, I was stunned. It's just detail, all the way down. You can't get so close to the print that getting closer doesn't reveal more detail. And if you read an interview with Burkett, it rapidly becomes clear that this depiction of infinite depth of detail is, in fact, a religious issue for Burkett. I don't mean that in the sense that Burkett just feels very strongly about detail in prints, I mean that in the sense that what we are seeing is Burkett's religious convictions about how God made the world, embedded in his art. That's good, and that's right, and as a photographer I have some sense of the herculean effort to make Burkett's photos.

But I keep coming back to Helgeson's work, and looking at those paintings, over and over and over. There's a lesson there, about a different sort of landscape experience. There's a tremendous sense of not just being there, but of actually living there. There's a sense of apprehending not just the tiny fractal detail, but the broader structure and process of the landscape.

If I could, over the next year, manage to get a hint of that into my photographs, I'd be mighty pleased.

Monday, December 11, 2006

People don't buy Art

Lots of discussion over on Art and Perception about selling, selling, selling. About how crazy artists can't sell. About how selling is where it's at, man.

And here's my contribution to the discussion. It's free, and it's worth at least that much. My observation about selling art is this:

Nobody buys art. Ok, that's not exactly true. There are art collectors, and they buy art. But except for the 6 art collectors, nobody buys art.

The rest of the folks who look like they're buying 'art' - they're not.

They might be buying decor. That's when they have a blank spot on their wall, and they want something to cover it up and look nice. They probably want it to match the rest of the stuff in the room. Hotels often buy decor, and so do rich people with big houses, and businesses that want nice looking conferences room walls that complement the big expensive mahogany boardroom table. Sometimes the hoi polloi buy decor, but they can't afford much so
mostly they buy very inexpensive decor.

They might also be buying social status, by demonstrating to everyone how stellar and advanced their tastes are, and by showing how easily they can buy expensive things without going hungry. Lots of people have concluded that this is the BIG reason why people buy artworks.

Sometimes, people who look like they're buying art are actually buying mementos. I know a photographer who's made pretty good money selling nice, big prints of photographs of lighthouses up and down the east coast of the US. Folks go to the beach for their vacation, and they have a wonderful time, and they just want to have a big reminder of their wonderful time, so they buy that big, lovely print of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and they put it in the den, and everytime they look at it, they're reminded of how much Chip and Buffy enjoyed bodysurfing, and how nice that cold Chilean Chardonnay tasted when they drank it on the beach at night, with a driftwood fire blazing.

But there's one category I know about that no one else seems to think of: people who buy artworks because they want to be artists/photographers/painters by proxy. They want to be the sort of person who's out on the beach at dawn, seeing how wonderful God's creation looks as the sea breeze starts to stir and the fog starts to burn off over the ocean but lingers in the trees. The problem is that they've discovered that at dawn, on the beach, when the sea breeze starts to stir and the fog starts to burn off, it's often cold and wet and dark and fairly nasty- any sensible person would be in bed, fast asleep, and not out in the cold and wet and dark witnessing God's creation.

So instead of getting up at 4:30 and hitting the beach before taking a shower, and standing in the cold mist slowly freezing, they stay in bed. And then they buy an artwork made by someone that's about the experience of being on the beach at dawn, with the sea breeze picking up, and the fog burning off.

If I were selling prints and trying to make a living at it, I'd cover the decor market, and the memento market - they're easy, because they're covered by interior decorators, and by the art shops in vacation spots.

I'd cover the 'status' buyers, too, by going after the big gallery representation. There's no hope of selling directly to the status buyers, who want to have the assurance of buying from someone who will make sure they don't make a mistake.

And then, in the end, I'd also go after the artists-by-proxy. I don't know how, but I suspect there's a big untapped market there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Other things you should read

If you don't read Colin Jago's Photostream blog, you should wander over there and read The Grass is Always Beautiful. I had a similar post about 80% written but Colin has done a much nicer job than I was doing, so just go over there and read his. And then, at the end, add a line that says "Yeah, me too - Paul Butzi" at the end.

I've fallen in love with Tracy Helgeson's blog, both because I think her landscape paintings are just awesome and because I think it's really interesting to read how seamlessly she seems to integrate artmaking into a very interesting daily life.

Simplifying Photoshop

If I might steal a phrase from Winston Churchill, Photoshop is the worst photo editing software ever - except for all the others.

It's not just big, it's bloated. It's hellaciously expensive. It runs like a pig, it seems to consume vastly more resources than ought to be needed. The interface, which has not so much been designed as much as it sort of accreted over time, is non-orthogonal, non-intuitive, arcane, and notoriously difficult to learn (and write about). There are keyboard shortcuts that you can't read about in any book, weird tricks that are undocumented by Adobe - the list of complaints just goes on and on and on. It's so amazingly bad that I think you could just invent a complaint - "The needlegrommit doesn't interact properly with the through-flammulator", and by god, you'd discover that Photoshop CSII actually had both a needlegrommit and a through-flammulator, and sure enough, the two don't interact properly.

When I have students who want to get a toe-hold on Photoshop, here's what I tell them: there are just a few key concepts. Most of the commands are variations or embellishments on one, basic, powerful concept. Learn the one command that controls the entire sheaf of operations that stem from that basic concept, and you can ignore a whole slew of stuff. This not only pares down the complexity of Photoshop, it makes your photo editing decision process work more smoothly.

For me, those key concepts are: curves, layers, layer masks. Those are the fundamentals; they're the foundation on which everything rests. Without mastery of those key concepts, it's an uphill struggle to make any headway at all on working with Photoshop.

Take curves, for instance. All tonal adjustment in PS is based on curves. If you've got curves, you can throw out levels and brightness/contrast. Combined with the ability to make selections, the curves tool can replace the dodge tool, the burn tool, the sponge tool. But if you have mastered levels, brightness/contrast, the dodge tool, the burn tool, and the sponge tool, you STILL haven't got the expressive power of curves. Why learn levels, brightness/contrast, dodge, burn, and sponge when you can just learn curves and selections?

The problem with Photoshop isn't that it's insufficiently powerful and expressive. The problem is that it offers too many ways to get the job done, and not only do people founder when trying to decide how to get the job done, the unnecessarily broad range of choices distracts them from the real task, which is deciding what needs to be done.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Statement of Purpose


One of the more valuable (to me) artworks in my studio is a linoleum print made by Dan Cautrell, a artist I admire a lot and know just a bit. The print reads

Statement of Purpose

I do the work because I want to.
I do the work because I like to.
I do the work because I know how.
I do the work to explore myself.
I do the work to engage others with thought, word, and deed.
I do the work because I have something to say.
I do the work because I have seen something beautiful.
I do the work because I have seen something ugly.
I do the work to be the kind of person I want to be.
I do the work to earn money.
I do the work to stay when I must go.


The print hangs right by the studio door, so I can see it and be reminded by it every time I enter or leave the studio. One of the reasons this is a favorite of mine is that it so neatly captures how our reasons for making art can be different at different times. You don't always have to be working on something for the same reason. I'll bet I've done work for every single one of the reasons Dan has listed; lots of times, I've done work for several of these all at once.

I know that, for me, the act of writing things down seems to make them more real. I've often wondered what effect making these prints (mine is numbered 73 of 200) has had on Dan. It's an interesting reminder that making art has concrete effects in both the lives of the art-makers and lives of the people who end up living with the art day to day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cleaning Up

I like knowing what I'm doing. I like the clarity of setting down to a defined task. I don't much care for muddling along when I don't understand the goals. I don't demand that goals be concrete, but it's hard for me when I haven't got an articulated direction. It used to drive me nuts when other people's goals didn't match my goals. I've gotten better about that, or at least more realistic about it.

I don't like cleaning up. I don't like sweeping, I don't like throwing out, I don't like putting away, and I really don't like battles that can't be won, like my current fight against the mouse insurgency that's invaded the studio.

Strangely, though, when I'm feeling most muddled and unclear about things and every task seems Sisyphean, cleaning seems to help me sort things out mentally as well as physically. In some weird way the dreaded sweeping, dusting, putting away, and tossing out become some sort of metaphoric ritual, and at the same time that I'm pitching out the 27,533 accumulated Light Impressions catalogs I'm also tipping broken ideas and projects into the conceptual dustbin.

Today was just a cleaning up day, and that's about all I can say about that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Time to evaluate

No posts for a bit, while I figure some things out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Talent/No Talent

Take a look at the sketch above. Ask yourself if the artist is talented, or untalented, and try to articulate your reasons.

Does your opinion of the talent possessed by this artist change when I tell you that the artist was 27 years old when he made the sketch? If a 27 year old man came to you, handed you this sketch, and told you he intended to pursue art as the primary focus of his life, what would your advice be?

Would you tell him to give it up, get a decent paying job, find a wife and have some kids, and forget about the whole art thing?

Or would you tell him "This sketch seems pretty primitive, I know. But it's important not to judge your abilities as an artist based on what you're doing now. Go work hard, and see where you end up."

Does your opinion change if I tell you that 5 years after making that sketch, the artist painted this, and then two years later this, and then a year later this?