The eternal question:
HOW TO CREATE ORIGINAL ART?
Many tried to answer this question, either practically in their creations, or in a theoretical manner, but it is still a mystery for many artists. I ask myself this question every time I start working on a new photograph and many times while thinking about my work or the work of others, and over time I developed a few theories about originality in art that I will share with you in this article.
Back to the article, this article about creating original fine art photography is the second in my (en)Vision series. You can read the first one at the link Why We Need Vision in Photography.
Before I start, let me tell you that I illustrate this article with a tetraptych I created comprising my first 4 images from the series Urban Saga, a series that expresses me perfectly at this moment in my creative quest. One of the things I am doing in this series is that I am experimenting with apparently more conventional compositions than the more abstract I was doing before, with the intention to show that one doesn’t necessarily need to abstract an object to create surprise and make an emotion arise in the viewer. I believe the quality and originality of a fine art photograph lies somewhere else, more deeply than in aesthetic consideration or rules, and this is what I explore in this article The images from the Urban Saga series can be acquired as limited edition prints and I can tell you that they look amazing printed large.
Part of my (en)Visionography theory, I’m trying to answer a difficult question in this article: How to create original art. I’ve been preoccupied all my life with how to do things in a different way, in a personal way, how to go off the beaten path, with manifestations in everything I’ve done art related, be it drawing, writing, architecture or photography, and these are some of my thoughts about how one can do it. I hope they will help those who are also preoccupied by creating originality in art. I’m not referring here only to photography, actually I’ve always seen photography as an art and not as a technique. Everything I say applies to all kinds of art so, in case you happen to be a painter, or even a writer, you will discover that these things might apply to you too.
Now let me present you my ideas about originality in art, summarized in what I consider the top 5 tips (plus a bonus tip) for creating original fine art photography.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR CREATING ORIGINAL FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
TIP 1: Incorporate the subject in your own life experiences to create art
The big secret of creating original art, and fine art photography by extension, is to is to move the weight in your photography from documenting the subject to using the subject to express your artistic vision. To move from general to personal. To move from observing the world to interpreting the world. To move from being a spectator of life to being the “leading actor” in life.
This idea may seem very abstract at a first glance but if you think more about it you will see that when you use photography as a tool for creating art, you do not rely so much on the subject to create the image, but you rather focus on how to make the subject convey your vision.
This is why I talk about (en)Visionography instead of photography, when I talk about a new way of creating fine art photography. I need to delimit classical photography from photography as art, photography as a need for the artist to express himself. If you start thinking like this, you will see that, little by little, you will become independent from your subject and start showing more of yourself in the images you create instead of showing more of the subject.
How to do it?
By using your experiences as an inspiration source and not limiting yourself to using what you see outside, thus creating a combination between your experiences and the subject you have in front of you. Just like a performance artist creates a mix between his emotions and the plot of the performing act. Both photographer and the performing artist incorporate the subject in their creation, but they do not rely on the subject but on their interaction with it, that creates unique results, since every artist is unique.
As a photographer, you will use, in order to create this interaction, your camera and the editing software as physical tools, but you will mainly use the vision and intention that start from your mind and soul, which is what triggers the need to create the photograph in the first place.
This means in essence to show yourself in the art you make and this takes courage as you may feel vulnerable when doing this, but in my opinion, without honesty there can be no art and in this respect it is worth to leave yourself be vulnerable in order to create meaningful art, as i argue in this article about being vulnerable in art.
TIP 2: Live your photography like a performance artist lives his act on stage
When I think about the interaction between the subject and the artist, and by extension the interaction of both subject and artist with the viewer, my mind goes almost in an automatic way to the performance artists who not only interpret a role in their performance act, but they actually live them. Everything happening in an performance act is real and even if the artist uses a initial idea to create a plot through which he or she will interact with the viewer, the show takes off in its own way and acquires its own life while happening, with both the artist and the viewer participating in a direct way to it and interacting with each other, while experimenting the energy and emotion it releases.
I cannot help not associating the work a fine photographer does with the work a performing artist does, in the sense that the artist photographer is living inside his images just like a performing artist is living inside his performances. It all needs to be true and real, it all needs to be personal, for the emotion to be authentic and create a strong impression on the viewer.
If you’re not familiar with the notion of performance art, here is some documentation about it that will help you understand . Performance Art – History, Ideas, Styles In essence, performance art is an unconventional form of art that flourished in the 1960s, after the movements of Modernism and Abstract Expressionism faded in intensity, but is still widespread to this day, where the artist is present in the object of art he creates, the object of art being the performance he makes in front of the audience. It is a form of art that cannot be preserved but it has to be lived when it is happening. But even if there is no physical result that can be kept for the future in a material form, the emotion and intensity of the creative act and the intensity of the interaction between the artist and the viewer during this performances is so intense, that in many ways it exceeds the intensity one may feel in front of a physical object of art.
A well-know contemporary performing artist is Marina Abramovic, and many of you may know her performance “The Artist is Present” a few years ago at MoMA in New York, where the plot of the performance was for her to sit at a table, in front of everyone from the public who wanted to join her on the other side of the table, and for them to just looked into each other’s eyes for a certain period of time, creating a connection without words or other means of expression. The result was a really strong interaction between the artist and each of the “viewers”, they both becoming part of the object of art. Here is a short presentation of a documentary made based on this event. Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Present
For me this is one of the best examples of how an artist interacts with the audience, of how a photographer interacts with his viewers.
Through our creations, we all do just this: look into the eyes of our viewers and let them look into our eyes and into our souls to see the secrets hidden there, to see the emotion and our deeply rooted essence. This creates originality and authenticity, this makes a photograph more than an act of recording life, it makes it become life itself and it pushes it into the realm of art.
TIP 3: Photography as an autobiographic tool – From decoration to art
Art has to be born from the inside of the artist. It has to be personal and based on his own experience and emotion. If it is not personal, then it becomes only a decorative element.
There is nothing wrong with making a decorative element, it is just about what you decide to do. You need to decide if you want to create art or if you aim for creating entertainment, which is what a decorative creation is aimed at. Both cases are very noble and worth your effort. They are just different and based on different principles.
Art comes from introspection and the constant quest for the truth, while the decoration is born from exterior influences. The decoration is aimed at having aesthetic qualities alone, while art needs to create emotion and intensity of reaction.
As I said many times before, all my images, either independent or series, are autobiographic. They do not talk about the subjects you see but they talk about myself. You may not know the story they tell in detail, but you can tell that there is a story there and it is the authenticity of this story that makes the images authentic.
Every trace of light or shadow has a meaning in my images, just like the notes in a music score, just like the words in a poem. When the image is finished I cannot add or remove anything without destroying it.
I could write a poem, but I choose to make a photograph. It is my conscious choice, but the meaning can be the same as if I would write a poem. I am only using photography and my subjects to express my ideas. The emotion and energy are the same, only the tool I use to express them is different.
TIP 4: Choose your subject so to create a symbol
A classical photographer may not agree with me now and may say that I have no respect for my subjects since I use them as tools. He might be right, from the point of view of classical photography.
I am indeed using my subjects and I am transforming them as much as I need so they can represent what I have in mind, what I feel.
But I do have a connection with them and I always choose a subject that can convey my idea in a clear way. This is how I respect my subjects, by using each subject at the right moment, by using them as symbols and giving them a place in my life.
These subjects are telling the story of my life and they will outlive me. I could say that I will live forever through my subjects. They are now out there in the world and with them a part of me, so, in a way, I live now everywhere and not only in my physical body. I take my subjects from the outside world, I transform them and I give them back to the same world in a different form, in the form of myself. As soon as my images leave me and go back to the world, I will be there again, just like I was before through my subjects.
If you think this is too abstract to comprehend, too far from the practical aspects of photography, just remember the first ingredient of art is freedom of thought and freedom of emotion. Don’t be afraid to think differently and feel deeply. Art is one of the few things in this world that allows you, and even requires you, to do that. Everything around you can be a symbol for any emotion you felt and you want to transmit it to the viewer.
TIP 5: Do not become a “Mannerist” in art
How not to fall into the pitfall of doing what has been done before – How to not become a “mannerist”?
There are so many subjects around you to choose from. What you should shoot and how? How you should process your photographs and why? Should you choose architecture, landscape or people?
The answer is in yourself and that is the only place where you should look to find the answer. It is not in what is trendy or what sells. No matter how en vogue a subject or style is, if you don’t create following your personal vision you will not be able to create valuable fine art photography because it will not be authentic and sincere, it will only be, as it is called in art generally, manneristic.
Mannerism was a current in art that emerged in the 1500s after the Renaissance, as a reaction and more emphatic continuation to it, and later the term was used to define creating art that is based on an existing style and exaggerating its vocabulary without renewing it. It is a term used to define creating mere form, without innovating.
According to a quick search among the most well-known online English dictionaries, mannerism is, among others:
- “an excessive or self-conscious use of a distinctive style in art, literature, or music.”
- “ an overemphasis on any distinctive technique of expression, occurring when the manner of expression obscures the feeling or idea expressed in the work of art; considered by many art critics to be a sign of decadence.”
In other words, mannerism means copying a style, most frequently a style that has become popular or was made popular by one or more artists who initiated and developed it, and talking this style to the extreme, without it being a manifestation of the emotion of the artist,but only applying a set of techniques and aesthetic rules.
Does this sound familiar? Of course, it does. This is what happens at this moment in a large measure in black and white fine art photography, mainly because the internet and sharing photographs online make everything so accessible and easy to study and adopt.
Mannerism is not bad in itself, as a learning method. You can learn so many things by using an artistic vocabulary that has been already invented, by inspiring yourself from other artists, by adhering to a style or movement and using its elements of expression.
The problem starts if you lose your identity and give up searching for your personal vision and stop developing your personal style.
You may think it is the easy way to use a vocabulary that was proved and was successful, rather than to search for something else that may not be so easy to be recognized, and to struggle to communicate and implement it. But in the end, if you limit yourself only to using what others created, you will fail to become a real artist and you will end up being a “Mannerist”.
This is why I encourage my students to never stop at what they learn from me or others, to always push it further, to go on different paths, to experiment and find their true style, even if this will be totally different than what they started with and different from the successful trends in photography.
I’m happy to see that many are doing that. They learn from me what they need to learn and then they go on and create something totally different, but being aware of what they do and using their vision. This is where I can help them. Not in showing them a few tricks in Photoshop. That is easy for me to do and is easy for them to learn from YouTube or the myriad of processing tutorials around. That is the first step, but there are many others till they become confident artists with personal vision and style.
My most substantial help is in showing them what to do with what they know and in pushing them to ask themselves “WHY do I need to do fine art photography?”. “What is that force that pushes me? “ “Where do I want to go?” I make them push the boundaries of their artistic expression and reach the next level in their own photography.
BONUS TIP: Follow your vision for as long as it is needed
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory – Finding Your Own Vision in Photography by Arno Rafael Minkkinen
I have found out about this theory some months ago while reading some articles by Jeff Curto and I was immediately charmed by the metaphor. As a side note, metaphors are one of the strongest tools to use in creating original art.
This is a speech photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen has given in 2006 to a class of graduation photography students in Boston. It is a short read but a very symbolic and inspiring one, and it contains a very good piece of advice about how to follow your vision and find your personal style, despite the challenges you might encounter during your artistic life.
The essence of this metaphor is that it encourages artists to keep going no matter what, to chase their dreams and insist in following their passion for photography for as long as needed, till they find their own style and vision.
It is one of the best metaphors I’ve read related to creating a personal style.
You can read this article following this link The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by Arno Rafael Minkkinen and I’m sure reading it will make you take a turn in your photography.
I hope these tips gave you some food for thought regarding how you can express in your photography in a better way, how you can follow your vision in a more effective way and how to create original art in the process. More tips on how to deal with finding and expressing your vision you can red in my Guide to Vision and Personal Style.
Expressing your viion is not an easy task, all great artists struggled with creating a style and many times their style came after years of trying, after years of struggling with ideas, struggling with a way of expression. But what all these great artists have in common is that they made art a personal issue and focused on how to express their uniqueness through the objects they created, either these objects were paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, architectural objects or even writings or music. All these kinds of art are about translating the ideas and the emotion of the artist into an object that can represent him and can communicate this emotion to the audience.
If you manage to communicate your own emotion to the audience, this means you managed to create an original object of art, because your emotion comes from your own way of interpreting life and reacting to it. If the audience will recognize the underlying emotion and react to the original form it was presented in, then you can be happy because you managed to create a connection with the viewer and to make them part of your artistic emotion.
FURTHER STUDY RESOURCES – FINE ART BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY, ARCHITECTURE, LONG EXPOSURE
You can find more tutorials on fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architectural photography in my extensive collection of photography tutorials. To receive my future tutorials directly via email you can subscribe to my website.
More about how to create fine art photography, from vision till processing and the final image you can read in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, and in my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography a hands-on tutorial accompanied by an eBook presenting my processing workflow, or attend one of my workshops.
Julia Anna Gospodarou – (en)Visionographer
Julia Anna Gospodarou is an internationally acclaimed photographer, author and educator, teaching workshops and lecturing around the world. Founder of (en)Visionography™ and Photography Drawing™, co-author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art, with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide, published internationally in numerous books and magazines, Julia is passionate about art and striving to spread it into the world.