Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Picking Up a Pencil

Do photographers need to know how to draw?

Well, yeah! If they want to be artists they do.

That was just part of the conversation last night among a few Women's Caucus for Art board members. A watercolorist and a fiber artist were bemoaning the lack of art education among art students, who seem to be told it's ok to use computer graphics instead of picking up a pencil.

OK, I know it sounds a like a bunch of old women complaining about the kids. (Yes, that's true, but we are really COOL old women!) Don't jump to any conclusions! Each of us at the table uses all the tools at her disposal, including computers. I have some Photoshop actions that I consider family!

No, the real issue, it seems, is that students aren't being taught to truly look at an object. Older artists learned to "see" by drawing the object. Over and over and over. Some of us are gifted. Some (hand raised) struggled through it. But we learned. We learned composition, then dynamics of light, then color theory. THEN we were able to use our skills to communicate our vision and craft an unique style. We old women could be wrong, but we just don't think we would approach our art the same way without that background in drawing.

Which brings me back to photography. Since it's my primary medium, I'm a little sensitive about it.

I've had other artists say to my face that photographers aren't "real" artists because all we do is press a button. I know photographers who diminish themselves with the same description. Maybe they are right. Maybe they aren't artists.

Some photographers are. What's the difference?

It's like the difference between a snapshot and a photograph. There are lots of people with cameras. Some are very expensive and some are cheap. Doesn't matter. Point the lens and open the shutter, take what you get, move on to the next activity. That's a snapshot. Doesn't matter if you're shooting the kid's birthday party or set up an 8x10 view camera to capture the sunset. It's still a snapshot. A pretty picture.

A photograph is a piece of art that is well thought out and communicates. It's not random, it's not happenstance, it's not Lucky. It was created.

Artists who use cameras know what they are going to shoot before they do it. Some of us make sketches or word maps of the image before we shoot. I don't share my sketchbook with other people, but it's invaluable to me to get work that's in my head onto the photographic paper. An added benefit of sketching the subject before I shoot it is the abiltiy to slow down the creation process. What are other people missing because they shoot and go? What else is there. What isn't there? What is hidden in plain sight?

Sure, I spend lots of time shooting subjects I didn't envision first. That's part of the joy of this medium. An artist photographer can go anywhere and produce work that is fresh. One of the reasons artist-photographers can always find interesting subjects to shoot is that they have learned to see differently -- and most of the time it's because they first learned to draw.

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