Art and Craft

“Art is in everything, man. I went to a museum the other day. After you come out of that museum everything looks like a piece of art…you look at the paintings and yeah they’re pretty cool, but look at this guy’s face, look at this beautiful girl here – all these walking sculptures, you know it’s just all around.” – Jeff Bridges

Photography can be art. Some of my photographic heroes, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogene Cunningham are among greatest artists ever.

But I’m under no delusions that what I do for the Record is art. The job that I do for the paper can be considered a craft not art. What’s the difference? An automotive analogy would be the difference between a sports car and a sporty car. Sports cars are built around the single purpose of performance that enhances the fun-to-drive experience of the driver. Sporty cars have some aspect of the sports car, but make some compromises for the sake of comfort, convenience and practicality.  Sometimes they can even outperform the sports car, but they just don’t have the purity of purpose that a sports car has. That’s why the sports car tends to capture the imaginations of drivers yet they make up only a small portion of the world’s car population.

Art is done for its own sake. Artists, whatever medium they use (photography, painting, sculpture, etc.), create because it’s creative imperative. There is a need to express themselves artistically. All other considerations: money, fame etc. are secondary. It is said that Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime and struggled to make a living as a painter, yet that didn’t stop him from expressing himself.

A craft can be described as art with a purpose. It can have artistic qualities, but it is done for a reason other than just the expression of creativity. It can be asethetically pleasing and artistic in nature (possibly as pleasing as art), newspaper photography is done to inform, entertain or educate the reader.  I use my photographic craft to help illustrate the stories in the paper, but there are times even on the job that I can create art for myself.

A few months ago I had an assignment at the Garlic Brothers restaurant in Stockton to shoot a Dr. Seuss-inspired dish. As I waited for manager Rodney Balbin to make a green-eggs-and-ham pizza, I scouted out a place to shoot it. The interior of the restaurant was decorated with an artistic flair. Several large large abstract paintings grace its walls. Those walls, as well as the furniture, were painted in bright primary colors. Even the bathroom walls carried the vivid paint but with heavy brush strokes like some impressionistic artwork.

Large windows surround the dinning room, providing a great view of Fourteen Mile Slough outward and some nice lighting inside. In the southeast corner of the room, unfiltered light blazed onto a table. It was too harsh for a food shot (some much nicer dappled light came through the window a couple of tables away), but the strong, contrasty lighting made the scene look like an abstract painting. Exposing for the the highlights allowed the shadows to go dark, and a table and chair became a composition of shapes and colors against a black background.  For me, the situation turned from a simple cafe scene to one of bold modern geometric art.

Some people believe that creativity is like a well: dip into it too much and it’ll run dry. But it’s more like a magical replenishing vessel. The more you use it, the more it can help keep your imagination fresh and alive.

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