If anything, the cave art of the Neanderthals instructs us that, at the end of the day, that man’s urge to hunt, and create, stands among his most primal, consistent and earliest needs. Yet, curiously, while man as hunter, provider, has always been respected; man as an artist has seldom been revered. Man’s ability to create has rarely ever been viewed as essentially to man’s survival, propagation.
So why do so many artists continue to bang their heads against the wall when there appears to be no sense in doing so? Vanity, insanity?
Because in the end Man has always had, in short, no choice but to follow his urges, his passions, the demands of his or her soul. We shoot, write and or draw, then and now, because we must, there is no choice. It is what we do, must do.
As Donna Tartt recently write in her great novel, the Goldfinch, “We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.”
Which doesn’t explain, however, why- if the urge to create is both compulsive and plenary-why the artist has been consistently treated- throughout time and many societies as an outlier.
For while there are no number of artists who are willing to bend their talents in order to create work which comports with some nebulous sense of fashion (see, for instance, damn near anything for sale in Santa Fe); there are legions more who refuse to capitulate to chasing the flavor of the day.
Rather, countless artists toil year after year, often paying a significant price for the fidelity. They eschew more certain paths to acceptance and riches (such as riches exist in the fields of art in America in 2013) in order to create according to the dictates of their soul.
In a world of digital color photography manipulated by Photoshop, photographer Michael Wilson labors in a darkroom, developing his images from black and white film. He favors digital images and equipment for the time honored traditions of working with filters, burning and dodging in a darkroom He shoots with black and white film. Why film in a digital world? Wilson clearly and affirmatively cites several reasons for his preference.
Like most conscientious craftsman, he has both practical and definable as well as less concrete reasons for doing things his way, the old school way.
“The first is simply familiarity – I take pleasure in a process I’ve done for thirty years.” Secondly, he says, “I like that film limits the amount of possibility – that the process forces limits on the number of photographs to be taken of a given situation. Film insists on the photographer narrowing their vision. I find myself exhausted at the number of photos shot over the years. Digital says, ‘it’s all possibilities – keep choosing,’ but the more analog the system, the more you’ve got to make a decision.”
In similar fashion, Wilson prefers black and white over color film because “there is a distillation that happens when the world is drained of color- and that distillation can be important- it’s also about choices.
Wilson continues to work with black and white film, during the age of instagram and cell phone photography because he has a vision and film allows him to most accurately fulfill that vision.
This has always been the way. True artists are accountable only to the dictates of those voices inside their hearts and heads. It’s always been that way-why? Is it written in our genes from our earlier days? Could there actually be some evolutionary bias in favor of imagination?
What compelled our earliest ancestors to crawl through a long and very narrow cave, while carrying fire in order to sketch n remote cave walls? Because his soul demanded that he do so, because her heart commanded her- or because some fifteenth century bronze monk tells him so.
Ultimately, nothing is more common and natural.
Maybe in the end, the most important thing isn’t to answer these questions of desire and intent, but simply to know who we are and accept that fact, accept ourselves, while ignoring those who would question our dreams and desires. Perhaps the answer is as simple as we should do what we must. We must stand in the void, create in the face of those who would demand that we toe the line of conformity.
In the end, logic and surety are for those who fear the void, for those who lack the courage to stand in the midst of the maelstrom. Tartt again from the Goldfinch “I’ve come to realize that the only truths that matter to me are the ones I don’t, and can’t, understand. What’s mysterious, ambiguous, inexplicable.”
Know your path and walk it without apology. Ansel Adams once said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” The man knew his path, his heart and we can do no better.
For with art there is, there has always been, the hope of rising above our lot- no matter how mean or primitive- in order to share to bond, to communicate. For that has always been our only hope anyway, to merge with our destiny. Thus unity has always been the goal. Art, religion and myth have always been three separate paths leading to the very same mountaintop. And at the top of that mountain is unity, integration and amalgamation with the ultimate and the eternal. Communication with the mysteries of this world have always been man’s greatest goal, his ultimate desire.
At the end of the day we create because we wish to transcend our lives, this world, by merging with the eternal, the inexorable.
Men, women, artists and shaman have only differed in which road to take to paradise. Thus the only thing which is certain is that we, as a species, shall never stop climbing the mountain, we will never cease to create, to communicate to the best of our abilities, to express our souls, to seek unification with the inexorable and the eternal.
Because, like it or not, that’s who we are.
The last word on this subject goes to Henry Miller, from The Tropic of Capricorn, Miller that eloquent madman who was so singularly capable of capsulizing such mysteries:
Whatever this was, the Word, disease or creation, it was still running rampant; it would run on and on, outstrip time and space, outlast the angels, unseat God, unhook the universe. Any word contained all words—for him who had become detached through love or sorrow or whatever the cause. In every word the current ran back to the beginning which was lost and which would never be found again since there was neither beginning nor end but only that which expressed itself in beginning and end.