One – Singular Sensation in Every Image You Make

Peter J. Blackburn deviates from the beaten path to briefly affirm the conceptual potential of the single, solitary image.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

Have a seat. Mr. Conceptual will be with you in a moment. Wall and Three Chairs, 2017. Tricolor gum bichromate photograph.

In a few weeks, I will have the pleasure of addressing a conference of educators on the topic of creativity in the classroom. It will come from the perspective of an artist, from my experience of creating art for thirty years. Creativity has been a garment of sorts that I have worn, and worn out, for years. I don’t contemplate it much, perhaps only as much as one thinks about buttoning a shirt or tying shoes. I just do it. For a working artist, creative thought is an everyday activity, a process, a way of life. And I’ve noted on many occasions that the creative garment can become too small, too dated, too faded, and even a bit smelly. Sometimes it goes missing, and I can’t find it anywhere no matter how hard and long I search!

Oddly enough, I’ve never found it hiding under the bed where I’m sure it goes when I’m not looking.

Now, in preparation for this address, I am examining the actual fabric and construction of this tattered, revered garment, perhaps for the first time.

I’m not sure I like the task.

In the art world, we don’t speak much about creativity. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard the word uttered in my circles. Instead, it seems that particular “c” word has been supplanted by another one, a slightly shorter, more academic four-syllable term every art school instructor religiously chants: conceptual. In every exhibition, it has become a tradition in a world where tradition is shunned that art must come in a series, a six-pack, a baker’s dozen, even a gross lot. In bulk, if you like.

And laced throughout those countless images must come a single, conceptual message. Be it politically correct, socially reformational, ecologically friendly, or philosophically pithy, the visual spread one finds hanging along many a gallery wall must be presented in a family-sized super gulp, not in a unique individual serving. And heaven forbid one lack conceptual fortitude in one’s work. Seems the entire art world is just mad about the theoretical, the abstract, and the intangible, so we are compelled, even coerced into keeping those figments and fabrications cranking along in the name of clever, creative conceptuality. It all begins to take on the Chaplinesque portrayal of self-imposed tyranny so aptly prophesized in the film, Modern Times.
If we accept the impression that creativity conveys the connotation of producing useful work which did not before exist, we have a formidable chore as artists. That nothing is new under the sun ought to bring pause to our precious production timetables.

Can’t we just turn off the pressure cookers? May we stop the conveyor belts? Whatever happened to the “less is more” mantra of our graphic design chums? Might that morsel of practical thought bring a salve of relief to our own jaded, pot-bellied portfolios?

May this simple composition encourage you, the artist, to reconsider letting the novel, liberating notion of the single idea exquisitely expressed in a solitary visual offering be enough, singularly enough..

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He is represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written.

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