Should, Shouldn't



If ever there are two terms that can drive me bonkers when someone is commenting on my work, it is use of should, and shouldn’t.

If someone likes my work, great! If someone hates it, that is fine too as I’d never believe that any artist can achieve universal acceptance. But don’t just tell me I need to do something different to make it fit into your view of what is acceptable.

A Man Inspecting Art

“You should(n’t)…
     … have obeyed the rule of thirds.”
     … have shot this in color.”
     … have printed this high key.”
     … wait until people press their cheeks together and smile.”
     … have taken this image with that camera instead.”

When I hear any such statements, I can’t help but wonder what they really are saying.

“I know I’m better than you because…
     …I own the latest digital camera, and use fancy words like ‘bokeh.'”
     …I’ve religiously read Ansel Adams.”
     …my arrogant nature demands it.”
     …I have a BA in art.”
     …I’ve sold more prints than you.”
     …know how to read MTF charts.”

I feel that to tell an artist they need to do something different, is to assert that the artist is completely inexperienced and is in need of guidance. I’ve been to art openings where I thought that the work was absolute amateur crap and walked away looking like a zombie since the blood rushed out of my face due to the sheer fright I just experience knowing that what I had just seen could be taken seriously. Even in such a situation I would have found it horribly out of place and disrespectful to have approached the artist and say “You should paint with more realism. [Then maybe I’ll like your work]” They appeared to happy as a pig in mud over their work. Who am I to take that away from them?

And now to risk being a hypocrite, I do believe that artists shouldn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks of their work. If my choices aren’t good enough for someone else, too bad, that is their hang up, not mine.

Being a non-religious sort of person, I often feel that photography is my replacement spirituality. Instead of hoping that my soul will live on forever in heaven, I hope that it’ll live forever through the imagery that I’ll leave behind. My fear is that if I ever cared too much about what other people’s expectations for art are, and follow all of the Shoulds and Shouldn’ts out there, that I’ll end up doing nothing but selling long exposure photos of waterfall at local arts & craft fairs. At that point, I feel my soul truly would be lost.