Creative Freedom

There is no way I can support the premise that these latter years of my life are supportive of major production as an artist. At 74 I still keep my hand in as I derive immense satisfaction in the making of a good photograph, made with intent and responsive to my surroundings, sensitive to an undercurrent of intelligence, with wit, candor, and beauty to boot.

Nantucket 1980

But my major years are behind me, no doubt. That being said, as you age if you retain your mind, you look back more, reflect on the past that contains both mistakes and accomplishments.

If you are a career artist as I am, that reflection tends to focus on bodies of work that struck out in new directions or that took risk, perhaps where I went astray, was sidetracked or succumbed to a false prophet. In contrast, as a positive, those bodies of work that contained clarity, a sense of purpose and extended the meaning of my work to others look pretty good to these old eyes and therefore fill me with a sense of fulfillment I never knew as a younger man.

Portland, ME 1996

Now, looking back over so very many years I can finally see things with some perspective. I welcome that. There is a tremendous benefit to have whole scores of past works right here at my fingertips on the site, available in a click of the mouse to open up and show work in sequence laid out in a narrative form. So cool, that.

Silos, WA 2012 

At any rate, the purpose of writing here in this post is to bring up the idea of creative freedom and what it means. 

I can only do that by citing my own personal journey as an artist. Mine was specifically defined within the context of being a teacher, a professor in a university on a tenure track. What this did was to both restrict personal freedom and expand creative freedom. 

Bluff, UT 1998

I have often described the manner in which one is coached, mentored and advised in academia as being benign. My own creative freedom was that all the university system cared about was the critical acclaim and praise of my work that would reflect positively on the institution. The freedom of that was powerful because the department chairs, committees, provosts, and presidents of NU couldn't have cared less what it was that I actually DID, just that it was successful.  Odd, right?

Imagine! The freedom to create what you wanted, to go off on a tangent, to explore, experiment, put down something, pick up something else. By 1987, when coming up for tenure review,  I was under big-time pressure to show, to publish, to bring my work to a larger audience with absolutley no one telling me what that work should be. 

So, if you could map a career that had creative freedom such as this, where you were required to make work, indeed, were supported through grants and sabbaticals to produce work, what would you do? To some extant that system  of critical review of the body of work I made kept me on my toes, although I can see now that it was fundamentally an academic system. What I did stands in review in the lower section of the gallery page of this site, for all to see. 

The tenure and promotion committees would always send out a dossier of work and supporting materials for peers to revue. In my case this was often museum curators. Popularity or sales weren't so much a requirement, although having a book or two was good. I actually was tenured without a book, as I was given some slack as I was an exhibiting photographer. In those earlier years I did learn to show my work and this served me well later as I have had so many shows throughout my career. I wast taught that you really needed to try to get your work out and I did. 

I'll close here but imagine having the absolute freedom to make your art as you        choose. All I needed to do was make first rate work and then seek to get it exposure. That's just what I did. And, as I have been retired from academia for now almost 10 years, I have continued  within that same system. Make work. and seek to show it, publish it, expose it. Simple, really.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 8, 2021