Practicing in Public

Ivy Aside

Joel Meyerowitz, now 75, is becoming the voice of photography, the voice of the artist for me. Here’s a remarkable sit down video of him describing the lifelong journey of an artist. At about 7 minutes in he talks about moving from phase to phase as an artist. I’m taken by the idea that at some point one reaches a competency and understanding of an artistic problem followed by a choice of whether to pursue the next artistic question at hand. Meyerowitz likens it very aptly to the process of a scientist, experimenting and exploring questions- sometimes with great results and sometimes for long periods down blind alleys.

I thought about the companints I’ve heard from fine artists about how the internet has changed expectations of the speed of output. Traditionally, an artist might spend years on a project, exploring out of the public eye, generating a new body of work. The work would then be revealed as complete just like a script or musical composition would be performed when done. Now we post a photo a day to Flickr, write about process and technique in our artists blogs and otherwise experiment in public.

The truth is that artists have rarely been successful working in isolation. We have circles of friends, families, gallery owners, mentors and trusted critics who get to see the work being done and provide some outside, independent opinion on the work as it forms. While being able to edit one’s own work is a necessary skill for success, being coachable is an equally valuable skill.

oel Meyerowitz spent months on the streets shooting with Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge. He’d show proofs to John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art for feedback

When I’m actively working, I have Flickr and this weblog to serve a similar purpose with a virtual circle of artists who appreciate what I’ve been trying to do over the years. When things work well, we don’t just give each other animated GIF awards, but we point out what works in some photos and ignore the ones that don’t connect. I seek inspiration from mentors who directly teach on the web or like Meyerowitz and David Allen Harvey act as mentors to broader audiences. I’ve developed as a photographer in these online communities lacking a local photo salon and access to museum curators.

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