Errors and Art

May 29, 2018 / Photography / artist mindset / Influences

Admitting that you are wrong is hard. That happened at my day job this week. I was working on an analysis, finalized, and circulated it. A week later, someone pointed out an error. A huge error.

My analysis was reviewed by multiple people, but the error still got through. I felt really really bad for a few days. I had to re-circulate the analysis again with a notification of the previous error.

The interesting thing about the whole experience was that my feelings of failure were not as acute as I would have felt if I weren’t an artist.

Which brings me to art (as it always does, as this journal is about connecting the dots through art).

Errors Are Welcome

In art, errors are ok. In fact, errors are encouraged as it may be a way to find an artist’s signature style.

This concept of errors was running through my mind as I was walking through Sally Mann’s Retrospective, A Thousand Crossings, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Sally Mann is one of my influences. I love how personal her work is. She photographed her three children growing up and her husband when he was healthy and when he became sick. She also photographed the world around her, mostly the South, with expressively dark captures using an old and cumbersome 8x10 view camera (how photography used to be).

One of her projects on view was her landscape series, where she photographed locations where great battles were fought during the American Civil War. She used her 8x10 view camera and a historical process called wet collodion to create the images. While other photographers would want a perfect capture with all details sharp, Sally Mann goes the other way, and invites the “Angel of Uncertainty” (a phrase she borrows from Proust) to visit her images. And what she creates are images where you don’t know what is landscape, what is heaven, and what is emotion.

Battlefields, Antietam (Starry Night)
Battlefields, Antietam (Starry Night)Sally Mann. Gelatin Silver Print. National Gallery of Art Exhibition

Now a perfectionist photographer would say, this is sloppy technique. How could she intentionally do that? But she does. In a room full of this work, you simply surrender to her vision. You’re speechless and in awe. I love work that can do that.

I went with a friend of mine, who is not an artist and who’s never heard of Sally Mann, and he was mesmerized by the same thing. He kept on asking what the prints were made out of. Sally Mann’s prints were large, maybe 48 inches on the short side, and they were silver gelatin prints–so normal black and white prints. But there was something magical about them. The images transcended their material. Joseph Campbell talks about art that is “transparent to transcendence.” I would put Sally Mann’s work in that group.

So going back to earth: errors are ok, sometimes they are amazing.

I think that is why I got over the error at work quickly. My attitude towards errors has changed over the years, especially after I became an artist. As long as nobody dies or gets hurt, I view errors as a stepping stone to something great.

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