Peter J. Blackburn tries to figure out why we make images. Please leave your answer at the end of the article!
Prolegomenon: prefatory remarks ; specif: a formal essay or critical discussion serving to introduce and interpret. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
Let’s begin by setting aside our brushes, clearing the worktables, and turning off each exposure lamp. Over the course of the next few blogs I wish to invite the reader to focus upon thoughts, ideas, and concepts, some of which I see as foundational blocks within our work. I speak of the kind of issues many artists grapple with during the course of an entire career. Those who began their artistic pursuits through more formal or academic means will perhaps find these blogs as old territory. However, as I peruse our web site, it is clear we are a diverse lot populated by creative whiz kids drawn here via byways, avenues, and circumstances not connected to standard academic devices. To their credit, some have never darkened the door of any photography 101 class, let alone jump through the fire hoops of an MFA. With that in mind, let us take a walk though some introductory ideas which I believe can affect the direction, quality, and purpose of our work—ideas which I have and continue to struggle with from time to time.
The first item of business I wish to broach is the pesky, ever so slick and slimy, question of WHY. Why questions have the tendency of never being satisfied with just a face value answer. Why can be a penetrating and permeating beast lingering in our minds and driving us out of them. Why can and has paralyzed many an artist who never came to grips with satisfactory answers capable of satisfying the brute. Why tries my patience. Why is so annoying. Answers, intended to forever silence all my whys, in short order can become nothing more than trite, temporary remedies—at best, painfully ambiguous and frustratingly erratic.
Lest my readers are shaking their heads in wonder as to what I am rambling about, let me ask directly—“Why do you make images?” WHY do you make images? Why do YOU make images? Why do you make IMAGES? Over the past twenty odd years of producing prints and meeting creative spirits along the way, I have raised this question with them. Answers abound. Some noble, others are in varying states of deficiency. Here is a well-rounded sampling—
• Earn money
• Thrill of competition
• Gain recognition
• Leave a legacy
• Keeps me off the street
• Impress my girlfriend
• For the challenge
• Bring enjoyment to others
• It’s my way of being emotional
• It’s cool
• A creative way to meet other people
• A creative means to avoid other people
• It is a calling; a compulsion
• I like working with my hands
• Hearing the acclaim of others
• I enjoy the aesthetic attributes of my chosen process/art form
• My form of personal therapy
• Earn acceptance from others
• To pass my elective alternative process class
So again I ask you for your answer. Why do you make images? For that matter, why do you make alternative process images? Well, what about it? Do you know the answer to those questions? Wait a moment, do you really need to know? Is it important? Will the answer or lack of an answer make a difference? Have you ever even thought of why? Does the mere thought of why tempt you to jump off a bridge? Have you banished why from your mind or do you welcome the mental discipline of knowing exactly why you produce alternative images and use that knowledge to your advantage?
Oh, I’m constantly asking the why questions. The answers are always changing, refining, and morphing. I find myself at times agonizing over why as I brush on gum layers, as I stand over my washing trays, even as I place my signature on a print. Rarely am I at true and lasting peace with any of my conclusions. I tend to always challenge my answers—to prove them. In my career, keeping the why questions constantly in focus and in a state of revision has kept me on track, sometimes kicking and screaming.
If you’re looking for answers to your why questions, I bring none. That’s not my place. Instead, I invite the reader to make comments here in reflection upon their own journey. Why do you embrace creativity through alternative processes? Is knowing why important to you?