On Art and Writing

| August 7, 2014

I delight in photographs / I delight in words / I delight in mixing both / To see what happens if they bend / My pity for the pure photographer / My pity for the pure poet / Is tempered by the responsibility / I have to three media / Whereas they to only one. –Minor White

Painter Edward Hopper was known for his insistence on not discussing his work. Among his oft-quoted quips is, “If you could say it in words, there’d be no reason to paint.” What seems to have escaped him was that the opposite holds just as true: things expressible in words cannot always be painted. In a greater sense, I believe that it is fair to say that although a degree of overlap exists among all means of communication – visual, audible, inscribed or mixed – each also possesses a realm of expressions that is unique to it and that is not afforded by any other.

I freely admit that my favorite artists of any discipline are those who also articulate(d) their thoughts, motivations and philosophies in writing. Moreover, my appreciation of any art work relies to a large degree on my knowledge of the person who made it and their reasons for making it. As I stated many times, I do not believe in art for art’s sake. Likewise, I believe that those who read my writings also are better able to appreciate my photography. This is not to say that either can’t stand on its own or that they are in competition, but rather that the experience of one often is made richer by the other.

Regrettably at times I also experience the opposite effect, though thankfully not quite so often. Every now and then I may read something – a post, an article or an interview – by an artist, only to be let down by their lacking depth of thought, and from that point on I am no longer able to appreciate their other work, even if it interested me before.

Language, to me, has an aesthetic of its own – an aesthetic derived out of deliberate choice of words and the composition of sentences and paragraphs, much in the same way that the aesthetics of images are the product of visual elements and their spatial composition. In both cases it is easy to tell when their creator is aware of more than just the literal and factual information portrayed in the work, but also of the ulterior and nuanced meanings emerging from, and implied by it. As an artist this is especially important to me as I believe that art communicates most effectively in metaphors. The more the viewer knows about the artist, the more able they are to understand such metaphorical cues as intended. This by no means suggests that the artist’s intention should supplant any other impression their audience may derive from the work, but rather that such context may enhance it by introducing the viewer to ideas and concepts they may not have arrived at on their own, and to share something of the artist’s world that they found worthy – at times across boundaries of geography and time that cannot be bridged by any other means.

In reading the words of artists I am also able to see commonalities among those I admire, and that help me better myself and my own art. In particular I find value in artists articulating the challenges and rewards of living artfully and creatively – things that cannot be derived from their finished works. Without such accounts, it is dangerously easy for a budding artist to become convinced that great works of art are the inevitable result of honed skill and mastery of materials. With some experience as an artist I can say with confidence that anyone so misled also likely will arrive at creative stagnation once such trivial things are accomplished. The cognitive aspects of creative work are far more important, and the ability to benefit from the accumulated experience of others, especially as expressed in their own words, is invaluable. Knowing how to express yourself in any medium is quite worthless without also nurturing a wellspring of things worth expressing.

Photography and writing play different and complementary roles in my life and work. Photography taught me to be more attentive and mindful of the world around me. It is a means of organizing the external world and distilling important and useful essences from it. Writing, on the other hand, helps me organize my inner world – my thoughts – and to extract from them the things that are most relevant and deserving, isolating them from mundane concerns and anxieties. To be who I am, and to continue to chart a worthwhile path for myself, I need both. And for the same reasons, I delight in sharing both.



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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (4)

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  1. Again, you have found way to articulate thoughts that flicker like crystal rainbows in my head when the light shines in. Using varied creative means to express what is inside of us is similar to being multilingual and selecting the best language to say the words that need to be said…to find the best approach to conjure the imagery. I find that photography has helped me narrow down what is important to focus on, and photo editing has taught me to consider tighter croppings and to zoom in on my sketches so that the final painting will be far less busy than originally intended. Everything is stronger. Sometimes photos lead to words, words lead to painting…

  2. Misha says:

    What a fascinating topic. I’ve struggled with this issue for years. Intellectually, I’d like to think one should be able to appreciate works of art on their own merit, divorced from the attributes of the artists who created them. In practice, learning about the artist does color my perception of their work, often to the detriment of my appreciation for that same work. What a conundrum, still not sure how I come down on that. Very thought-provoking essay you’ve written here.

  3. Dan Baumbach says:

    How many times have I read a blog post or article of yours and have been so moved that I wish I could express myself in words like you do? If I rarely respond to them, it’s not because I’m not moved, it’s because in my inarticulateness, I don’t think I have anything to meaningfully add.

    So I’ll take Edward Hopper’s side and don’t asks me to explain any further!

    I like to delude myself into thinking that my images say something unique. I wouldn’t dare delude myself into thinking my words do.

  4. Dave Benson says:

    I “think” I have just reached a level of understanding where I recognize the weakness in my writing, and they need to reflect carefully and work on the ability of articulating my thoughts, so I can better understand myself…. and my photography… I spent too many years just doing without the reflection… thanks for the poke