It's been a great couple weeks to go wandering; predictably unpredictable rainy Oregon weather, some alarmingly early signs of spring, and the company of fine fellows. The inspiration to get out comes often, knocking on my very wet door. And then there appeared in my Feed of Interesting Articles no less than three (hopefully) inspiring posts wherein two contemporary photographers were heralded as "artists", and the third where the writer, himself a photographer, described in a few brief, perky paragraphs how you, too, could be an artist. Who, me? Obviously it got me to thinking.
First of all.... really? As someone who was quite literally raised in the arts, I reflected upon a few of my life's odd realities, one of which was that, in all those years, and all those skilled painters, sculptors, and printers, I couldn't recall a one of them ever actually referring to themselves as an "artist". My own dad, an accomplished watercolorist, used that word to describe everyone else in his gallery, but never himself. And I think I know why.
Painting may not be as technical a craft as photography, but craft it is nonetheless, with its own burdens of theory, technology, and innovation. Its finest practitioners work and study their asses off. The goal was always and forever a mastery of their craft to the point where we mere mortals could rightly see their work as the art it truly is. It's no different for photographers. The great practitioners in our field, many of them so inspirational and instructive to this dumb kid, worked with the same fervor and motivation; they experimented, innovated, and created a body of work that we could all look upon legitimately as art. But they are photographs, and the giants who made them were photographers. I'm damn proud of that heritage, and try to live up to it.
Bottom line, it's probably not the labels that count, anyway. Call yourself whatever you like, I'm not qualified to judge anyone's self-expression. The world is tough enough on us as it is. All I know is that I love galleries and museums; I adore looking at paintings and photographs modern and old, and am happy to share my own to an unsuspecting public. But then too, I also love reading novels and poetry. And listening to music (my tastes are eclectic but run a little to jazz). And I tend to think of all their creators as artists, even if they don't themselves.
The gifted Garrison Keillor ends his "Writer's Almanac" with a little benediction that I believe is the best and maybe only advice for all of us who call ourselves painters, photographers, poets -- or artists: Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
It's all that matters.