Friday, March 13, 2015

It doesn't matter if you don't like it . . .

I’ve been thinking about judgment. I visited a gallery recently where most of the artwork was awful, amateurish, crudely done. And it would have been easy to make fun of the pieces, dismiss them, and feel superior. And isn’t that kind of our reaction a lot of the time? To immediately think yes, I like this or no, I don’t like that. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction. Yes. No. Move along.

The art may be less than professional and no, you might not like it, but yet, there it is. Whether you like it or not, that art is on the wall. Or on a pedestal. We snicker, judge, dismiss, and then head for the wine bar. Yet the art remains.

Your casual dismissal just might be your loss.

What if instead of immediately and disdainfully judging what someone has made, what if you were to take another look and instead think about what the artist was doing? Maybe the artist didn’t do it well, but what techniques are there, in that seemingly useless piece of dreck, that are unique? That shine? That perhaps you could incorporate into your own artwork?

Pink and purple together? No way! Those aren’t “my” colors. Too bold. Too gaudy. Too garish. That could never be your palette. But what if you were to think again? Maybe your work has become stale and routine. What if you were to play around with using pink and purple together. If they’re too overwhelming, tone them down and try again. Next thing you know, you could be going down a new and exciting road in your art, having fun, amazing yourself.

And it all happened because you saw an awful piece of art, was about to laugh at it, but instead you took an extra minute to put yourself in that artist’s shoes, tried to ascertain what the artist was attempting to do, and then learned something that maybe you could use to enhance your own work, your own life.

You will find yourself growing, changing, and creating rather than making fun of something.

It’s so much easier to tear down than to build up.

So here are two sets of photographs I made. The first one in each set is the “straight” photo, the second is a painterly effect that I made using Topaz Impression, and the third is a version I made using my own set of textures and my own little “recipe.”

Some of you might yawn and think, “Yeah, another freakin’ lighthouse. Been there. Done that.” Or you might think, “Another paint filter. Just push a button and voila, I’m Monet. What a lazy photographer, trying to be a painter without having to do the work.” Or you might think, “This is a weird effect. I much prefer a regular photograph. Why muck things up?”

Valid reactions. I often have the same ones.

But what if you were to stop for a second and analyze what you’re seeing? Yes, it’s another lighthouse that you’ve seen ad nauseam, but what can you learn from that?

You can learn that maybe this classic lighthouse could be given a different spin if you were there photographing in the snow, at twilight, early morning, times when the lighting is something other than what I was given — a sunny, cloud-free day. Yes, with more effort and work on your part, you could create something much more dramatic than the image I created here.

Do you see what just happened? Instead of instantly dismissing my photo as trite, you used it to remind yourself of what you could do in your own work. How you can make yourself better than you are.

What about the version where I used Topaz Impression? Yes, it’s easy to say, “Just push a button and instant ‘art’.”

But have you tried it? Have you tried it and realized that yes, it can be as easy as you want it to be, but it’s really harder than you think. And requires more skill than you think. And it requires paying attention to your subject matter because not every picture lends itself to a painterly effect. And have you used different brushes? Different blending modes? Worked with textures and backgrounds?

What just happened?

Instead of snidely dismissing a painterly effect as a cheap gimmick, maybe with a bit of practice, a bit of experimentation, you could use this same program, these same effects, and come up with something completely different in your work. It could, if you weren’t careful, maybe change your life.

And you could easily look at the third version of these pictures, where I created my own special effect “recipe” to give my photo(s) a completely different look and think, “Yuck! I do NOT like this style. Why is she altering a perfectly good photo?”

But what if instead you kept an open mind? What if you were to try this yourself? Combine a photo of a lighthouse with a photo of the bottom of an old cookie sheet? Chances are that it will look awful, but you might just find a little spark of something that does work, something you could pursue, combining this and that just to see what happens, and, if you’re pleased with the result, try that same technique with something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What’s my point?

My folks were quick to judge, and I inherited that from them. Instead of blaming them for being rotten parents (which they were not), I can use that genetic “rush to judgment” as a personal lesson, to consciously tamp it down, take another look, and learn something from what I’m seeing, experiencing, etc.

My life will change for the better. My art will change for the better (I hope). And if nothing else, I’ve put myself into someone else’s shoes for a moment, tried to see where they were coming from, applaud them for even daring to show this work, and maybe applying a little of their technique, a combination of colors, an interesting composition into my own work.

Work which you may or may not like. But that’s not the point, is it?

©Carol Leigh
All text, photographs, and other media are ©Copyright Carol Leigh (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from Carol Leigh. Thank you!


  1. This is a silly post. What do you mean telling us ....

    Oh. Wait. What?

    You're encouraging us to think rather than react? Hmmm.

    TLB & I were recently in an area with a large number of galleries and we peeked in a few and window-shopped several more. "over saturated", "been there, done that" came out often. It does seem to be the automatic way to react quickly rather than ask yourself "what can I learn from this?".

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Captain Kirk

  2. Excellent post. Thanks for the reminder.


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