Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Glut of Images

It's tough being an artist these days.  Everyone is an artist, we all have access to cameras, software that paints for us and new imagery is uploaded by the millions to personal computers and the internet daily.  Why would anyone invest in another's artwork when we are so inundated with free imagery?  It's particularly tough for those of us who are making digital photographic images.  Flickr is loaded with images, not to mention Picasa, PhotoBucket, etc.  Etsy sellers list their images for $2.50 for an artist card to $8.00 for an 8x10 (what one would expect a drugstore re-print to sell for.)  Let's face it some of those images are actually nice, but who can make a living with those prices?  And the web offers images of anything you can imagine free for viewing and downloading 24/7.  No wonder, while camera sales are soaring, photography galleries are closing.

One might look at this as the democratization of art, but could it also be the Wal-martization of art?  And are we getting better art or merely more schlock?  While anyone can buy the equipment and software to make images, what isn't happening is the training of the eye, the hand and the person to cultivate the disciplines and skills that make for an arts professional.  This makes creating an image of quality and power a hit or miss thing.

But the biggest casualty in this deluge of imagery is our ability both individually and as a culture to discern what is truly worthy of our attention and appreciation as art.  I'm not speaking of the snobbish attitude of High art versus Low art, or Art with a capitol A, but knowing the fact that visual imagery has power in and of itself as a form of communication.  And when we are barraged by a cacophony of visual imagery on a daily basis, at some point we stop looking, particularly at the subtle and possibly more refined messages as the grosser, louder or more obvious messages crowd them out. The image becomes de-valued and the image maker does too.  Not all images are worth making or viewing.  But in our gluttonous society, we want to acquire them all and just as quickly discard them for the next new thing.

What we lose in this "all images are equal" and "everyone is an artist" is respect for the work of art created by a master artist as shaman, who understands the potent forces they are working with in the phenomenal world.  One who goes beyond the noise of mental chatter to call up imagery that speaks to things that cannot be thought or spoken of in mere words.  One who has developed a relationship with the material world and mastery of their tools, cultivating an intimate connection with them, so that deeper truths can be accessed and skillfully articulated both for himself and the viewer.  But this type of work takes time and patience to cultivate, it's not about just talent, but also dedication and sacrifice.  It comes from a deeper calling to create as an act of service to something larger than one's own self-expression.  It is less about documenting and capturing what is seen as it is about giving expression to the unseen and intangible reality beyond concept.  When we experience a work of that potency we are changed by it.  Those images are rare even among the works of masters, for they are more than adornment for our ego or cataloguing of our lives through images.  They are messages from the collective unconscious calling us to wake up to the magic within our world and within us.