The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls
— Pablo Picasso

Lots of us are spending more time at home.  Many are entertaining/teaching children who are home from school.  Plans and social get togethers have been canceled leaving us with time to ourselves.  For some, the corona virus not only upends plans and social life, it is also a source of anxiety and fear. For others, it is lost income, lost business and lost employment.  The next little while is going to be a tough slog for all of us on many fronts.

It’s okay to be wondering or worried about what we face— that sense of urgency is what is going to get everyone through this pandemic. But it’s also important to take a break, to not let those concerns consume us. That is where art comes into play. Taking the time to enjoy and appreciate art can be the respite we need. In times of uncertainty, like this, art can be a steadying force. It can also be good for you.

When we marvel at something, whether it is a painting, a photograph, a turn of phrase or a piece of music, we are reminded of the human capacity to create and endure. When we engage in art, it is not always about escapism. It is also a practice in patience, such as figuring out the meaning of a poem or a novel, and an exercise in appreciating beauty.

Did you know that looking at art makes us feel good, improves perception skills and helps us process information in a way that we can better understand the world around us?

  • Art helps us understand the world around us: Neurological researchers at the University of Toronto showed painted art to 330 participants in 7 countries while they underwent MRI scans. The study’s results  showed that looking at art led to increased activity in the brain systems that ‘underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning. In other words, looking at art helps us understand the world around us better.
  • Art makes us feel good: Another study found that “when you look at art there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.” The blood flow to the brain increased when looking at a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. This tells us “art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”
  • Looking at art improves perception skills: Art is unique in unlocking multiple perception skills at once. Research suggests that more engagement with the arts is linked to a “higher level of subjective well being.”
  • Art helps our bodies re-balance.  Looking at art is a proven way of helping us de-stress and improve our brain function and thinking patterns. It can also improve our physical wellbeing, with studies identifying a link between looking at art and the normalisation of heart rate, blood pressure and even cortisol levels. Gazing at art – even for a minute a day – represents a chance to switch off and to give our brains and bodies a moment to pause, reflect and refresh.
  • Art enhances children’s education: Research shows that children who are involved with the arts make greater achievements in their education

Sources and more info: https://www.littlevangogh.co.uk/blog/2016/3/16/lkguq03frjfr5viqhw8lomf65lmlzm
https://www.shenarttherapy.com/single-post/2016/04/14/Viewing-Art-Rewards-the-Brain

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time
― Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Enjoy Some Art…here are some starters

While museums, galleries, Broadway shows, concerts and other arts and cultural facilities and events are canceled, we have seen the people of Italy singing on their balconies together.  Musicians, from their homes, and orchestras, from empty concert halls, have streamed mini-concerts online.  The Broadway veteran Laura Benanti, a Tony Award-winning actress and singer who found herself sidelined, thought about the young people facing their own canceled shows and she created the hashtag #sunshinesongs where kids whose shows have been canceled could share their personal video performances.  As we social distance, these are just a few of the new and interesting ways artists are sharing work. So, if you have some time, look around and take some art in…or order a good book and dive in.

And don’t forget, as you check out art online, many arts organizations have closed and artists are small businesses too–so if you see something you like or want to donate to a local arts organization, this is a good time to support the arts and artists to help them get through this too.

Here are some links that might be fun starting points for some adventures and time with art:

Here us a great collection of Youtube videos about great photographers put together by Andy Adams.  Or check out my Flipboard magazine for some interesting reads about photography.

From CNN, just a few options in a virtual sea of things to do. Explore, or look up your favorite local cultural landmark to see what online offerings they have.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers The Met 360, an immersive video series exploring the Met’s art and architecture. It offers virtual tours of the Great Hall, the Temple of Dendur and the Arms and Armor Galleries, as well as the Cloisters museum and the Met Breuer. The Whitney has its Watch and Listen page online to offer discussions with artists, and other presentations related to the collection.

Google Arts and Culture offers online access to 500 cultural organizations around the world, from museums to historic sites, all viewable without ever leaving your living room. The virtual platform features some of the most prestigious institutions on the planet, as well as an opportunity to explore smaller, more obscure institutions that you might never have discovered otherwise, such as  National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.  TED talks about art can be found here.

With venues & bars shut down from coast-to-coast, here’s your guide from Billboard to the best live-streamed music content.

Check out the Library of Congress digital collections for everything from the Farm Security Administration dust bowl photos to Aaron Copland music archives.

The Way I See It is an art podcast dream-team: the BBC and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York partnered late last year to create The Way I See It. In each of the 30 episodes a person of note discusses a favourite work from the museum’s collection. Hosted by the art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke, accompanied by MoMA’s curators, the guests include the actor and comedian Steve Martin, the Minimalist composer Steve Reich, and the artist Richard Serra. Also, check out the Modern Arts Notes Podcast — a weekly, roughly hour-long interview program featuring artists, historians, authors, curators and conservators.

For something completely different, Comic book writers and artists are rallying online to offer activities for those staying at home. They are offering scripting lessons, art activities and even posting some of their own public service announcements.

So, here is to hoping you all manage your way through and stay well in these unusual times.  Also hoping a little art along the way brings you some joy and some benefits

This is an excerpt from my monthly newsletter, where I write about photography and share some news.  You can get a feel for the previous newsletters and sign up for the mailing list here.

Every photograph tells a literal story.  The image itself is a story.  Then there is the story behind why the photographer took it — what was included in the image or left out, why it was taken, the lighting and mood.  And then, there is the story that is told because of the viewers’ response or what it means to someone looking at it.

In Henry Carroll’s book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,”  I was struck by this quote from Jason Fulford:

“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken,
they will always think of themselves” 

Henry Carroll in his commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much more personal meaning. The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control.  For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”

There is an image on my website whose owner told me it touches her deeply to the point of tears when she reflects on it. Another image has been described by its owner as “art that stirs the soul.”  For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness.  It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into art that means something to you. That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.

It is personal reflections like these that I value in delivering Limited and Personal Exclusive editions to you.  For example, these two images, “No More General Store” and “Guard to History”, became fine art Limited Edition prints as a result of direct discussions about the photographs with people who had seen them and wanted prints for their own reasons.  In the case of “Guard to History,” the backstory is this photograph is of the guard booth on the grounds of Mount Vernon near George Washington’s tomb. It is empty and even a little weathered. It was taken in the winter months…but there is a little light reflection on the bushes.  Perhaps the title should have a question mark after it?

“When you look at a photograph that is printed, you are free of distraction allowing you to really engage and experience all that it has to offer. The experience triggers an emotional response very different from simply seeing an image for a fleeting moment on a screen. The print is a finished product that engages the viewer. People want to move closer and even touch a print. Viewing a print encourages the viewer to travel into the frame imagining the experience of being in that place.” – Seth Resnick

Whether it is the social feeds and stories on Instagram or Facebook, the unorganized photo album on our phones, flipping a page in a magazine or book or the onslaught of visually enticing advertisements that we see every day, we are awash in a world of images.

However, photographic prints are not the same kind of fleeting and temporary experiences. Prints are tangible.  Prints bring scale to the image. A small print forces us to look more closely and a large print creates an immersive experience.  Prints bring details in the photograph to life.  Prints encourage us to view images in different ways — to reflect and to see more.

Photographers make lots of photographs. But we print the ones we think are best and most important. Prints bring our work out of the camera and digital work flow or dark room into the world where the image can be shared and experienced in a more complete way.

Prints are a demanding part of the process that take a photographer’s vision and bring it to completion.  Determining what kind of print to make is one part of the complexity. For example, prints can be made using processes like dye-sublimation on aluminum or pigment ink printing on archival paper or in traditional dark room processes or by making a negative of a digital photo in order to make platinum/palladium print.  Take a look at all the options.

Whatever process and size of print is chosen, the photographer then works hard to ensure that the light, tone, color and composition are coming to life the way they want.  For example, a print I wanted to do on clear aluminum did not work and so I had to change the media it was printed on.  Ansel Adams worked on printing “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” for 40 years making adjustments along the way.  Making prints is a complex part of bringing the vision of an image to realization.

Prints offer viewers the chance to consider not only what the photographers saw and how they saw it, but also the way it has been printed to be shared. The final print is the object and the carrier of the story.

 “A print is much more than a mere reproduction of an image.  It is the culmination of the inspiration and vision of the photographer.  It is the clearest, most direct and powerful form of the image and has the ability to move beyond words, ideas and concepts to touch and move the viewer”  — Christopher Burkett

or, as noted here, just start printing

“Our country is made for long trips”
American photographer Stephen Shore

Road trips are part of the fabric of America.  They inform, inspire and invigorate.

The American road trip has long been a signature adventure for families.  There must be thousands and thousands of family snapshots from summer vacations.  The open road and the vast land have also engaged artists.  Road trips are prominent in literature, with writings by Steinbeck and Kerouac for example, as well as in music, movies and photography.  The road trip is part of our culture.

Photography captures and shares perspectives of the landscapes, our communities and the roadside signs and symbols of American life. Photographers, including Walker Evans and Edward Weston, immortalized their travels through the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s America’s culture was documented in the famous book, The Americans, by Robert Frank (among my personal favorites).  In the 1970s Stephen Shore undertook his month long adventure resulting in the famous “American Surfaces” series.  In 2014, David Campany’s book and traveling exhibit, The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip explored the photographic road trip as a genre of its own.  He notes:

“the road trip confirmed our fascination, our horror,
our sense of possibility, of the sublime and the banal.
And forced us to confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there. I think that’s why most photographers go on the road.”

Road trips are what led to my Roadside America project which I continue to fine tune and evolve. These trips have:

  • explored the magnificent geography and desolation of West Texas;
  • made for peaceful mornings with the light of the sun and the sound of the ocean on the Outer Banks and the Eastern Shore;
  • chased the blues and the difficult history of the Mississippi Delta;
  • brought to life the awe across the western states, in the Rockies, Yellowstone and the Tetons;
  • made me think about the first pioneers (and what we now call “fly over country”) as I travel around the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains while listening to Bluegrass music; and,
  • my 2018 Americana Road Trip  featured “another time” along Route 66, while also following parts of the trail of civil rights, experiencing the gut wrenching Oklahoma memorial and listening to the vibrant roots of country, rock and roll, blues and soul music.  You can also find more from the 2019 trip here and here

My friend Geoff Livingston, who was featured here in a photography showcase, has a podcast (also available as video) called the “Show me podcast” where he chats with folks about iconic photos and why they work (or not).

We caught up to talk about Robert Frank’s book, The Americans.  And then we talked about the Roadside America project, Infrared photography and some of the thoughts behind PhotoNexus (at the 27 minute point) which I am organizing in Santa Fe, July 26 & 27.

Hope you can find the time to check out the podcast…and yes, a saxophone walks through it.

a few books about photographers, the photograph and the photographic art forum that are interesting gateways to new learnings & photographic appreciation.

Every Photograph Has a Story: The Photograph Itself, The Photographer’s and The Viewers’: Some of the prints available on the website include the story behind them.  For example,  “The Carnival Stopped” is from one of the “Roadside America” trips along Virginia’s eastern shore where I was regularly exiting the highway to check out the villages, sea marsh and fishing boats.  In Wachapreague, Virginia, population 230, the fishing boats were either all out at work or gone forever. I am not sure.  The docks and handling facilities appeared to be in a state of disrepair, worn out or shut down.  But there at the corner of Atlantic Rd. and Ice Plant Street, was the carnival. Not a soul to be seen.  But there it was…a carnival stopped – a place of fun and community gathering but a little eery and ghost-like.  Much like the fishing town itself.

In Henry Carroll’s new book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,”  I was struck by this quote:

“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken, they will always think of themselves”    Jason Fulford

Henry Carroll in is commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much personal meaning.  The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control.  For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”

There is an image on the website whose owner described it “art that stirs his soul.”  For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness. It is their views that give the images meaning and excitement.

In a related story from Artsy about Keith Haring, they note,

“The quickest way to kill your art, according to Haring, is to rigidly define it. “There is no need for definition,” he wrote. “Definition can be the most dangerous, destructive tool the artist can use when he is making art for a society of individuals.” That’s not to say an artist can’t have certain concepts or themes in mind when creating an artwork. But the “artist’s ideas are not essential to the art as seen by the viewer.…The viewer does not have to be considered during the conception of the art, but should not be told, then, what to think or how to conceive it or what it means.”
This idea went hand in hand with his belief that artists should consider more than just the art world. “The viewer should be able to look at art and respond to it without wondering whether he ‘understands’ it. It does not aim to be understood! Who ‘understands’ any art?.…Nobody knows what the ultimate meaning of my work is because there is none.…It exists to be understood only as an individual response.”
 

Bringing Images to Life with Real Meaning: It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into your art.  That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.