Sometimes I stand in some beautiful place, amazed by what’s around around me. And I want to capture the scene in the best possible way so I can later show it to you. But anyone that has tried to just this knows it’s a bit more challenging than that. As good as our cameras have gotten, they still fail to catch the experience with just the single push of a button: it takes the push of many buttons, actually, starting with the ones on your camera and later with many many more on a mouse or graphics tablet. But the question that always arises as I’m tinkering: when’s it done?
Every artist goes through a decision making process when deciding at what to show their artwork to others. At some point I’m finally willing to stand up and proudly say “See! See what I did! See! See!”. Somehow, it was a lot easier in Kindergarten: everything was appreciated and “ooh”s and “ah”s flowed like the Mississippi (which I couldn’t even spell in Kindergarten). But something happens as we get older: Self-doubt creeps in. That’s a good thing when it’s kept at the right level so we can use it as a check-and-balance system. It forces us to require a certain level of perfectionism in our work. But it can also be harmful, for that “See what I did” stage begins to take on a form of “I’m scared because I think this is good but not so sure any more”.
The trick to finding the right balance between posting everything and posting nothing is to first realize that art does not need to have an ending point. The trick is to realize now that in the future your skills will be even better, and it’s ok to come back and revisit a past piece of work and improve upon it. Even Ansel Adams knew this about himself:
We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium. — Ansel Adams
So, let me reveal to you an image that I know that I’ll never be done editing. I know this because I can’t seem to stop tinkering with it. In fact, I just opened the un-altered raw file (files [plural] actually) and started tinkering with it again. Starting completely from scratch. The results of this round of tinkering produced the version below. Am I happy with it now? Yes. Will I tinkering further as time goes on? Yes! But I’m ok with that.
Ha! I just lied to you above! Since I wrote that last paragraph I’ve edited it “yet again”! And to reveal myself and my habits entirely to you (because at this point, why not…): I took this image in the summer of 2014. Let’s just say… I’ve been tinkering with it for a while now. And now, it’s finally time to show it to you I think.
A year ago, I had this printed on metal for a show. So this version isn’t even the same version that I had printed, which hangs on a wall that I just love walking by. I love walking by it because I loved the version “then” but walking by it always gets me to thinking about my work, my art, and ways to improve it even further so it also leads me to the “future version”.
Students of mine have asked me:
“Do you ever get used to walking by an image and finding a problem within it?”.
“No,” I tell them, “but the resulting emotion begins to change from ‘regret’ to ‘excitement'”
Don’t trap yourself into thinking that your art is permanent. Let it flow over time, and be prepared to revisit and recreate your works.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it. –Ansel Adams
The image is one of my personal favorites because it resonates with me. As I stood on a rock outcropping and watched as the light fell on this mountain while the storm clouds rolled by, my breath was stolen from me. The light was just amazing. The storm was amazing. I stood. I watched. I took a few shots when the timing seemed perfect. And I’ll remember this moment forever, because of this capture. And because I’ll open it every now and then, and let myself continue to “make the moment again”. And I’ll continue to show the future versions to you as well.
If you’re an artist too: let yourself be open to the notion that time isn’t static, and your artwork doesn’t need to be either.
[PS: I already know what I’ll mess with next. It’s only 17 layers in Photoshop today, but it’ll be 18 soon.]