It helps you to both better understand and to more effectively communicate the nature of your influences if you take the time to state it simply. Usually, this doesn’t just happen instantly. First, it takes identifying who or what the influence is. Next, it takes a series of thoughts and associations. Then, it takes a little organization. Finally, it takes a little editing; cutting the words that aren’t quite right and searching for the ones that are.
Very often the connections between ideas and feelings and their progressions aren’t clear until you start organizing them. Finding these insights is the biggest benefit of taking time to reflect on your influences. (To do this, nothing helps me more than writing. Often, it’s not the kind of writing that I might share publicly; sometimes notes, outlines, and unfinished sentences are more effective. The goal of this kind of writing is discovery and clarity not publication.)
When you’re exploring your influences ask yourself questions. Questions guide explorations away from unprofitable areas and into useful territories. Questions reenergize and sustain processes of discovery. Ask yourself a few of these questions. What is the root of the influence? Is it physical? Is it intellectual? Is it emotional? If it’s many things at once, what is and what is the relative weight of each of those things? Does one influence share elements or qualities with other influences?
Try to state the nature of an influence in one sentence.
And try to state the nature of an influence in one phrase or one word.
Simplicity has many advantages. For instance, simple things are easier to remember and easier to share. Never confuse simple-mindedness with simplicity. Simplicity often represents the height of sophistication, arrived at only after some if not considerable effort and practice. If you can present a complex subject in a simple way without sacrificing essential content, you truly understand it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why simple solutions are so elegant.
At first it might seem strange to generate a lot of information only to boil it down to a little but if you try it you’ll find that the insights you’re left with will be extremely concentrated. Writers, musicians, and photographers all do this at one or more points in their creative process. Try it when you consider your influences. You’ll understand them better – and your own works too.
Here’s a simple distillation of one of my influences stated in one sentence and one word.
Joel Peter Witkin explores taboo, which sensationally gives a rise that quickly fades, and darkness (not necessarily evil), which disturbs and awakens indefinitely.
Illumination I, 2000
Titles have always been challenging for me. While I always use a working title for a developing series, often, I don’t know what to title the works until I truly understand them – and that can be long after they’ve been created. Sometimes I change the titles of a few of my images after I’ve released them.
Most of my images, being a combination of at least two images from different times and places, don’t fit the typical place date format. To date, I’ve only used this type of title for one series, Antarctica, because I want that work to be seen as more editorial in nature.
Because I want to leave plenty of room for the viewer, I avoid titles that impose a single interpretation on a work of art – Exhibit A : Evidence Of My Failed Relationships. I also don’t want a title to make up for what’s not already strongly felt in an image – Unimaginable Grace.
Initially, I grouped work according to the dominant natural element in it, using a set of six series, interlocking because many images can fit into more than one series, under one larger title – Elemental: Dreaming In Stone; Waterway; Fire Within; Aerial Boundaries; Songs From Wood; and Animalia.
Later, I came to understand there was a further reason I didn’t use standard place/date titles. I want my images to be seen not as records of things (a materialistic viewpoint) but as traces of processes (a wholistic viewpoint).
I’d like to use an active verb for my titles, but the image isn’t the active process itself, it’s some thing made from observing processes. So instead of the word Illuminating, I use the word Illumination.
I use a number to indicate the order of creation in a series.
The date attributed is the date of release, not the date of exposure.
Neko Harbor, Antarctica, 2007
(Watch how focus and content shifts when these alternate titles are used – Freezing Point, Glacial Retreat, Blue, Constellation.)
When in doubt, when selecting titles for your images keep them simple and neutral. Less is more, more or less.
Good titles complement works by giving viewers more relevant information that makes their experience richer, indicating it’s creator’s relationship towards a subject and medium and audience, suggesting but not limiting attention to dimensions of a work that might otherwise remain overlooked, all the while leaving room for viewer’s extended interpretation.
Bad titles dominate or subvert works by attempting to make up for what’s missing, focus attention on one aspect of work and deflect attention from others, add heavy-handed interpretation leaving less room for viewer participation, or tell viewers rather than show them.
To avoid bad titles, rather than becoming a master of language, keep it simple. While there are notable examples where this maxim has been defied with success – singer/songwriter Fiona Apple titled one of her albums with a complete poem containing over four hundred characters causing a buzz-worthy stir which reinforced her reputation for being both poetic and eccentric – at a minimum it takes a significant flair for style or even genius to pull a stunt like this off.
You might be tempted to keep it really simple. Remember, Untitled is still a title. It’s the most neutral to the point of being non-descript and almost uninformative. Sometimes it works – well. Many times, it’s not enough. But eliminating it altogether and simply stating the medium used is almost always never enough.
In a majority of cases, just a little more will do just fine. The classic convention for titling an image is to identify the subject (name the person, place or thing) and add the date of creation: if it’s a photograph use the date of exposure; if it’s a painting use the date of completion; if it’s a composite photograph default to the latter; if it’s an image of an historic event add the date of the event in the first part of the title and add the date of completion of the image.
It’s the times when this convention doesn’t fit that more creativity is warranted.
Use this list as a springboard for exploring your options.
1 List the subject and date, Neko Harbor, Antarctica, 2007 for instance.
2 State a relationship to the subject, yours or someone else’s; i.e. My Mother or Her Home.
3 Use a general category for the subject rather than an individual one, such as Slave or Statistic.
4 Name a formal element in the work – number, shape, color, size, etc.
5 Refer to another medium, such as poetic or musical form.
6 Loosely interpret the subject subjectively; similes and metaphors often work well here, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit.
7 Use a technical term, related to either the subject or the creation of the work, in a way that furthers more inquiry, Ascent or Descent for example.
8 State what the subject is not – Is Not Untitled.
9 Create a contradiction – think of Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe entitled This Is Not A Pipe.
You’ll no doubt find ways to expand this list.
It’s interesting to note that when you keep it simple and conventional, specificity works in your favor, yet the more creative and unconventional you get the more ambiguity, sometimes coupled with a dose of irony or contradiction, works in your favor
You may hit upon one ingenious title. If you should be so lucky quickly ask yourself, “Can you repeat it?” One genius title amid a cluster of duds will stand out like a sore thumb. Bodies of work beg some consistency. That said, you may find that varying your titling conventions between different projects is an effective way to further differentiate them.
Consider creating a standard for your titles, after giving considerable thought to both its short and long-term effects on the way audiences will respond to you work. There are many benefits to creating a consistent practice, including the creation and fulfillment of expectations and the reduction of the time and energy you put into resolving new terms. This will also call more attention to the times when you deviate from your standards, which can be advantageous if used strategically.
Like your art, titles are all about communication. Titles become a part of your art. Make sure your titles make a contribution to effectively communicating what you want to communicate. It’s worth the time you invest to put some thought into how you title your work.
How do you title your work?
Neil Gaiman offers sage advice delivered with humility and humor to the graduating class of the University of Arts and us.
Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.
Many take the view that pictures should be seen and not heard. I did. After being called to comment on my work time and time again, I realized that learning to comment on my work not only made my work more effective but it also helped me understand my work better and solve certain creative challenges. In fact, I realized that there are many types of writing and many uses for writing. Writing is now an integral part of my creative process from start to finish. Making the Visual Verbal is a useful skill that can benefit everyone, including you. You don’t think you can write? Anyone can finish a sentence. Finishing it well just takes practice. And some kinds of writing don’t need finished sentences. While it’s true there’s only one Shakespeare, we can all write. After all, think of all the great writing (fiction and nonfiction) that’s been written since Shakespeare. Personally, I don’t want to receive love letters written by Shakespeare. I want love letters written to me by my wife.
Here’s a piece I wrote several years ago on scottkelby.com.
Tune in tomorrow for a new piece on scottkelby.com – Developing Personal Projects.
Making the Visual Verbal
“Pictures should be seen and not heard.” “If we could communicate what we want to communicate with words, then we’d be writers not artists.” The words had rained down on me so many times that my mind had been saturated with the idea. While it reflects some truth, chiefly that a text (written or verbal) can never be a substitute for an image, it can also be misleading. Pictures have always been, continue to be, and will always be talked about-particularly by artists.
Growing up in an artistic family, the parade of visitors and people we visited included many types of artists from musicians to sculptors and most frequently photographers. The topics of conversation were far-reaching and colorful. Often there would be complaints about what had been written about their own work, sometimes about what had been written about each other’s work, or ……what had been written about other artist’s work. Then, if they existed, out would come quotes from an artist’s personal writings that were used to illuminate, reinforce or refute varied points of view (Artist’s letters, journals, interviews and statements have always held a special position in the history of art. They have forever shaped the commentary that surrounds work.) Inevitably, the very same artists, who claimed that artists should remain mute, would be lured into giving a lecture or an interview about their work. Artists approach the process of making the visual verbal with mixed feelings; part trepidation, part confirmation, part validation. To be sure, while there are many pitfalls to be avoided, there are many positive byproducts to making the visual verbal.
Writing can illuminate new avenues of inquiry for the viewer and in so doing enrich the entire viewing process, including the subsequent viewing process of future works by other artists. Writing is a process of revelation, It is a process of making thought visible. It is a matter of clarifying a process of thinking. By making what was intuitively sensed visible to the conscious mind, the familiar is clarified and the unfamiliar is brought to light.
Writing about images is inevitable. This kind of writing has always been there. It always will be. Someone, somewhere, sometime will write about your images. You have a great deal to contribute to the process. Along the way, you’re likely to find that writing about your work will be extremely revealing.
Many positive things happen when you engage writing. You will understand your work better. You will be able to communicate more clearly about your work. You will affirm the strengths of your work. You will be able to chart your own artistic development over time. You may even be able to uncover the seeds that will provide future growth in your work.
There are a variety of ways to make the visual verbal. There are artist’s journals, artist’s statements and writing exercises that can be used to get to the core of the inner life of work. There are ways to prepare for interviews; these days many interviews are conducted through writing over the Internet. There are lectures, and writing and rehearsing creates a solid structure for them. Writing can be a tremendous aid to any creative endeavor at any stage in the process …
My TEDx Dirigo talk from 10/10/10 is live.
In You’re More Creative Than You Think You Are I show how you can create a synergy between skills you already have (writing, drawing, photography) to turbo charge your creativity.
It’s important to learn how to make the visual verbal, by crafting artist’s statements. Many artists feel that images are better seen and not heard. I understand their point of view. But, face it, things will be said and written about your images. If you don’t do it, someone else will. You might as well become involved in the process. After all, as the author, this is one arena where your words are definitive.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to write. Just write. Write like you speak. Write with your voice.
Like making images, writing is a process, a process of making thoughts and feelings clearer. Often, you don’t know what shape the final product will take, until you finish.
At first, I resisted writing about my images. Now, I find the process so valuable that I’ve made it a part of my artistic process. Every time a new body of work arises, I write. When I’m ready to release a book of the work, I write again. As a result of writing, I gain a better understanding of the work I did, the work I’m doing, and the work I’m going to do. So do the people who see my images, surprisingly, even if they don’t read what I write.
This is an excerpt from a longer essay Artists’ Statements. Download it here.
Before you photograph, write. Tell the story of your subject. Actually, tell three stories. First, tell the story in third person as a distant observer – “Just the facts ma’am.” Next, tell the story in first person as an involved participant – “How do I feel?” Finally, tell the story as if you were the subject being observed – “How does it feel to be you?” You’ll find surprising shifts in perspective come when you take a little time to consider things from many perspectives, especially your subjects’. Compare and contrast the similarities and differences that each perspective brings.
After you’ve done a little research, photograph. Can you make photographs from each perspective? Can you make photographs that reflect the differences in perspectives? Which perspective offers the most classic view? Which perspective offers the most unusual view? Which perspective offers the most insight? After you spend a little time with these questions, you’ll find that you’ll make deeper photographs because you considered your subject and your self on many levels.
Before you photograph, write. After you identify the things happening outside you, take a little time to explore what’s going on inside you. The events around us trigger many associations and emotions, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic. Often, it’s the inner dimensions of ourselves that we bring to image making that make our work truly moving to other people. We all bring something different to each and every moment. To really be there, you have to know who you are. Find out. What are you bringing to the picture? Did you show up?
Write spontaneously and unselfconsciously. Give yourself freely to the moment. Be thorough. Go deep. Write until you have nothing left to say. And when you feel you don’t have anything left to say, ask yourself if that’s really so. Don’t evaluate your results or yourself until after you finish. Tell yourself how you really feel. Later, you can decide what to share with the rest of the world and how you’d like to do it. This kind of personal research will help you gain a greater understanding of your world, your self, and your photography. As a result, all three will improve.keep looking »
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