Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The importance of being able to explain your work

Explain your work. Verbalize it. Talk about it. Express it. What does it mean? Why did you decide to do it that way? What does this mean to you? What were you trying to express? What is your favorite part about this image? Thanks to a conversation I had last night, I now really understand the importance of these questions. I also fully understand the importance of the answers as well.

 These are words, and questions that every artist and art student has heard before. These are the things that people want to know. People being professors, other artists, gallery owners, curators or just the every day viewer. They want to know more about the art. They want a deeper connection.

Until I started art classes in college, did I really experience these questions. Or so these demands. (In the intent of this article, the word demand is used in a positive manner.) My first college art class was taught by my favorite instructor. Mr. David Holmes. That was my first experience with a whole class critiquing each students work. The first thing he would always ask me is, how do you feel about it? What do you like? What don’t you like? Those seemingly simple questions would make me hesitate before spewing out my answer. David would then add his thoughts, and asked the class their thoughts. The whole process was always nerve wracking. It would make me cringe. I think it would make me cringe due to the fact that I was putting my heart out there. When those words would come out of his mouth and would form those questions, I was not just letting those paintings (at the time I was taking a general art class that consisted of mostly creating paintings) speak I had to verbally explain things.

Fast forward to the present time…. I am in my fourth year of photography school, and this demand of explaining things has grown ten fold. The importance of being able to verbalize your work was the top of the things to learn on the lesson plan. Even being in my fourth year, the professors express that rule like it was your first year.  At first I thought that explaining your work was just because it was online classes, and you need dialog to create a learning experience. Because in that venue of learning  that is what you rely on. I didn’t think words could weigh that much.

I wasn’t too comfortable with verbalizing what I was relying on speaking for me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand that there really is a lot more behind an image. When my professors would ask about my images, I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t expecting to have to explain them. I was na├»ve. What really freaked me out, was that they didn’t want to know what the picture was of, they wanted to know the tough stuff, the stuff I wasn’t even sure of. They wanted to know if I could intellectualize my pictures into sentences. They wanted to know if I could take my work into the next level of professionalism. Thank the world for online classes, because I was lost. With online classes, I didn’t have to respond right away. There was time to think and contemplate. I didn’t know what to say or how to explain the emotions, feelings, and concepts that I created in these images. I thought the image was going to do that for me.

During class, I have seen some amazing work from other students. Those students sometimes can’t put the words to the image, and the image gets lost in the sea of my brain. You can have a strong image that gets people too look at it, but if you can’t explain it, then you might have missed the chance to have that image stick with the viewer. There is something comforting about being able to explain your image to someone, and also being a viewer of art I am comforted to hear those things about the image. There is a connection that is created. That connection can keep the image alive in someone’s memory, and to me that is one goal any artist could agree on- to be remembered.

Being able to articulate your work, is a must. You must be able to tell someone about that piece of work you did, create that connection, create that comfort, and create that memory. When I hear professors say how important that skill is, now I can fully appreciate what they are telling me. I can agree and understand that is a skill I need to master. Now when I hear professors, or other professional artists speak of their work, I get it. I understand why they must verbalize. A picture is worth a thousand words, so use them.


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  2. Actually, I don't, but it might be something to put more thought into in the coming months.


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