Art and Its Relationship to Life

Mar 22, 2016 / Photography / Influences / artist mindset

If there is one artist that I would love to be when I äóìgrow up,äóù it’s Robert Adams. Born in 1937, he is a photographer well-known for his work during the 1970s on the American West. He was an English teacher before he became a photographer. I identify with him because he started in one career and ended up in another.

He is also an authentic writer. I just trust him. I love Robert Adams: Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews and Robert Adams: Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values.

These two books are essential reading. I love his perspective on art. It changed the way I look at artists and fine art photographers in general. Whenever I waver and wonder what the purpose of my art is, I read his work.

My work doesn’t solve real problems like disease, poverty, hunger, discrimination, violence, war, climate change, so what is the use of it really? It’s a hard question to answer. Each person just has to justify what he or she is doing.

Incidentally, I just came back from fotofest 2016 photography festival, and I discussed this topic with photography colleagues, I will post those in future blog posts.

So back to Robert Adams. He was interviewed by Art21 in 2007, and he was asked what the job of the artist is. You can find the whole interview here.

ART21: What exactly is the job of someone who makes art?
ADAMS: It seems to me that what art has historically, traditionally focused on are these moments of recognition and insight. By looking closely at specifics in life, you discover a wider view. And although we can’t speak with much assurance about how this is conveyed, it does seem to me that among the most important ways it’s conveyed by artists is through attention to form. The notable thing, it seems to me, about great pictures is that everything fits. There is nothing extraneous. There is nothing too much, too little, and everything within that frame relates. Nothing is isolated. The reason that becomes so moving is that the artist finally says that the form that he or she has found in that frame is analogous to form in life. The coherence within that frame points to a wider coherence in life as a whole. Why is that important? I think art is the sworn enemy of nihilism. And nihilism is a great downward tug that we all feel. 
Sam Johnson, a great hero from the literary world back in the 1700s, said that in life there is much to endure and little to enjoy. To the extent that that’s true, life is hard to accept. And I think that the reason people flock to museums now and did so during the twentieth century was in large measure because of their hope that art would help reconcile that very difficult truth. My fear is that we in the art world are not consistently and ardently enough addressing that old traditional job of art: to reconcile us to life. 

I tear up just reading this, and I’m not the only one (the interviewer did as well). What is causing this? Is it the sentence structure, is it because of the strength of his convictions, is it because what he is saying is true? 

Art reconciles us to life.

I love that word, reconcile. It means äóìsettleäóù in this context, as in, be comfortable with the result. For most of us, life will not be exactly what we want it to be. I think that art, in its small way, can balance out the rest of our life composition. For example, this white dot balances the rest of this composition, even if it’s not in the center and it is small. This frame is balanced and at peace.

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