What makes great photographs and illustrations?

What makes great photographs and illustrations?
Previously Titled: A Hunt for Empathic Exchanges through Curiosity and Imagination

There are elements of a great picture beyond composition, simplicity, light, color, texture and all that designy-crafty stuff. With some tormented thought, I’ve narrowed it down to three elements that seamlessly overlap but are also separate enough that they seem to own a category.

[Warning] This is a less concrete way of thinking about quality imagery of the 2D variety; no “how to” list found here. I prefer to stay on the softer more inquisitive side because I believe if your art stimulates curiosity, excites imagination, and induce empathy, it matters little how it’s presented; success on these are paramount, nothing else really matters.

The elements I’m presenting belong to both the artist and the spectator; presented by the artist and collected by the viewer. The extent to which the art is successful belongs to the viewer with blame placed firmly on the artist.

Curiosity:

It’s the power of the unanswered question. Nothing happens in your art without first stimulating viewer curiosity. It’s what I’d initially call the “give-a-shit” portion of our viewing experience that promptly transforms into something else.

This is where surprise lives. We can be surprised by how similar yet different the artist depicted familiar territory, or perhaps how foreign the subject is altogether while remaining relevant.

Curiosity ought to linger unsatisfied to some degree lest the spectator loses interest and leaves unaffected. If there is no need to review the artwork it’s unmemorable, and who wants that? The intensity and shape of disclosure further feeds or disposes of the viewer’s curiosity.

Imagination:

By imagination I think most of us consider the “how” of it: a works staging, basic concept, or overall presentation. Most of us intend “be imaginative” when we say “be creative”.

What I suggest by imagination in this case is as though there were such a thing as an active noun. A two dimensional image is perpetually abstract so it requires some degree of fantasizing for the artist to portray, while involving an active imagination for the viewer to perceive.

Bring me there in my mind, make me fantasize; cause the imagination to jump the chasm that is linking artist and spectator. This is how we see a moment’s capture or still picture as an event. There is a tolerance of ambiguity by the artist and viewer but we surround the still visual with a mind experience that lasts more than the split second it takes to perceive the picture.

The still picture plays as a story in our head and it changes with every new experience. Imagination is what triggers empathy in the viewer.  We project a personal narration as part of a fantasy involvement with the image.

Empathy:

It’s where passion and compassion lives. Art is an empathic exchange. What we are “Seeing-In” [from Richard Wollheim on The Art of Painting] a picture are projected personal narratives. We see art similarly as we see a cut finger on a friend; it makes us feel beyond what is offered to our senses. Call it your pictographic syntax if you will.

As a picture maker I induce empathy; I’m projecting my passion and sensibilities in a search for empathy. I want my art to make you feel what is in you to feel, but I can’t do that without using empathic abilities.

“We see something in the picture, and then become aware of an affinity with some emotion, only then to reperceive the subject which is then couloured by the emotion.” – Malcolm Budd

If artistic imagination and curiosity is used adeptly then there is room for the spectator to maneuver their empathy in the openings we’ve allowed. The door to empathy is closed by being too literal and by answering all questions in the presentation. Think of it as enigmatic empathy; it’s a response intended or unintended, appropriate or inappropriate that the art work pulls from its spectator.

I think a void of artistic empathy is the artwork epitome summarized in this definition of Artistic Narcissism found in Wikipedia:

Artistic Narcissism is the personality trait of egotistic artist denoting vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others.

The name “narcissism” is derived from Greek mythology. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who had never seen his reflection, but because of a prediction by an Oracle, looked in a pool of water and saw his reflection for the first time.

Even an artistic narcissist will find viewer empathy but without seeing a reflection in the art produced, it’s impossible the artistic narcissist to connect with their viewer.  Ultimately, isn’t that what we want as creators?

My art is my attempt to elicit empathy from you while simultaneously attempting to empathize with you.  When I make the right empathic trade I create a tribe  through my works of art – a.k.a. admirers – my tribe are those with whom I successfully induce empathy through my curiosity and imagination that I present as artwork.

Permission to Suck Manifesto Rules applied:

6.    Your creativity is about your heart, not their surface. Creativity is your world view filtered through your talent. It’s your passion, experience, expertise, inspiration and your rules that drive you to create wonderful things that you’re destined to hate because they’re not good enough, and others are open to admire because they couldn’t do it.

14.    Don’t let anyone talk you out of your passion. If you have passion for an idea, don’t lose it by asking others if they think it’s good.  They probably won’t.

16.    Imagination is hot, execution is cold. The flame is illusive; if you must obsess about something, make it a flame search. “I think part of the process of this whole thing is to get as close to the flame as you can get without being burned” – Graham Nash

17.   Imagination accelerates in the abstract and slows with tangibility.  Daydream,  maintain vulnerability, innocence and a sense of wonder so that your creativity stays vigorous.

I firmly believe, as this presentation video suggests, that empathy is the invisible hand. To truly understand art’s role in civilization, our society, and our relationships, we need to understand the profound degree to which empathy has shaped our culture.  RSA 21st Century Enlightenment and Jeremy Rifkin, author and political adviser, helps us examine empathy in this animated video.

Art, artist, Artistic Expression, Creativity, emotional, Empathy, Video

4 Responses to “What makes great photographs and illustrations?”

  1. Bruce DeBoer Says:

    For my photographically inclined friends, you will probably find a post over at Lighting-Essentials an interesting companion to these thoughts on What Makes a Great Photograph.

    Post author, Don Giannatti, breaks his discussion into the following headings:

    - Context
    - Show me something I haven’t seen before
    - A technical approach that compliments the vision
    - Emotion and Storytelling.
    - The “Wow” factor.

    Go her for more: http://www.lighting-essentials.com/what-makes-a-photograph-great/

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