I spent yesterday evening at a well-known photograph gallery in New York City, and, well, the work on display confused me. A lot.
As I walked around the exhibit, I kept hoping that the next artist’s work would stop me in my tracks, make my heart skip a beat, and perhaps even make me feel something — love, hate, peace, anger, anything.
Instead I found myself standing in front of works and wondering what in the hell was wrong with me for not being able to appreciate what was on display. After all, this gallery (some might even call it a center) is very well-known; it even considers itself to be international. (OK, that’s all the hints you get!)
Often after metaphorically scratching my head while standing in front of one of the works, I would skim the artist statement next to it. There was always some noble concept — something that was even sometimes intriguing as an idea. Then I would look at the work again with hopes that my newly-acquired knowledge from the artist statement had enlightened me enough to get it. Nope. Never. Not even once.
Creating a compelling photograph is difficult. It’s VERY difficult. Is it just easier to create a concept and then create contrived photographs that attempt to live up to the concept in the absence of an actually-compelling photograph? After last night, I have to conclude that it’s not only easier, but that there are the rewards of exhibitions to be enjoyed. However, it’s not for me. If the best thing I can create is an intriguing concept in an artist statement, then I’ll write a book, poem, or movie script about it.
Two years ago, I saw an Elliott Erwitt exhibit at the same gallery that literally brought tears to my eyes. I sincerely hope that my art will always draw on the emotional — beginning with my own emotions — rather than the contrived. I would rather see someone smile, or cry, or almost anything other than scratch their heads, read my artist statement, then scratch their heads some more as they still don’t get my contrived gimmick.