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An admirer of my photography recently praised my clever ability to capture the spirit of the great Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in my work. I was quite taken aback by this and without diminishing the genius of Mondrian, I felt obliged to explain to my admirer that he was putting the proverbial cart before the horse. The only relationship I can claim to Mondrian is that our work benefits from the same model, the same muse.
In one sense, Mondrian did not create Broadway Boogie Woogie, rather the boogie woogie of Broadway inspired Mondrian. Mondrian recorded and interpreted with his brush what I record and interpret with my camera: a unique energy fueled by verticals, horizontals and colors that is the visual signature of Manhattan and it’s relentless boogie woogie.
As a young man off on his first world adventures I was stunned by the revelation that many of the great artists I admired did not invent their mysterious landscapes, colors and visual signatures of China, Japan, Tuscany and Provence. Rather they were brilliantly capturing the unique moods, colors, light and shapes that nature had already chosen to create. I remember gazing over the hills of Tuscany for the first time and thinking, “Oh! So that’s where Leonardo got that.” And I remember the day I realized the Van Gogh was “photographing” (through his unusual lens) the unique palette and landscapes of Provence.
I would never question the genius of these and many other great masters, but I often wonder if art critics and museum and gallery visitors give enough credit to the subject and the powerful role it plays in the creation of the art?
Art not only tells us what the artist sees, it often tells us much about what the subject itself shows to the artist.
I can only speak for myself, but I often walk away from something I’ve just photographed in Manhattan with a sense of gratitude. How much of an artist’s talent is in his ability to create vs his ability to record; and record not just the obvious visuals but also the mood and the energy of the subject? Is great art simply a great record and is mediocre or failed art produced when the artist fails to understand and accurately represent what the subject is revealing?