Thursday, January 27, 2011

We are all Amateurs and Photographers are not Artists (?)

Alfred Stieglitz said once, "if you're an amateur, and, of course, we are all amateurs..." A poster on Photoforum said (perhaps with a bit of shame) "she had no education in Art." How I envy her!

Here's a quote by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 - 1971), who was responsible for creating a vigorous Zen movement in America. "So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner's mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, "I know what Zen is," or "I have attained enlightenment." This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner's mind. It is the secret of Zen practice."

We sometimes are ashamed of our beginner's mind. I was writing a week ago about how hard it is to emulate the drawings of a child. Yet we recognize that the child's drawings are often more expressive than the adult's. The second we are not learners but "teachers" we cease projecting an excitement for the subject. Andy is a good model of someone who is always curious and looking for new ways to do things. He is never satisfied with what he already knows and is forever seeking out new challenges.

On another note, I wonder why people say "photography and art." To me, that would be like saying "women and human beings" (my wife would shoot me (deservedly)). Photography is a way of making art. On the other hand (to show that no two photographers agree), one of my teachers, Art Sinsabaugh, would become very defensive if anyone called him an artist. "I'm not an artist," he'd say, "I'm a photographer." I don't think he liked the special privileges that go with being an artist (artistic license, for example). He just wanted to show what he saw.

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