"After all, what is art? It is the mode by which the solitary heart of any one man bridges the gap which separates him from all of his brothers, mankind in general." Clifton Fadiman (1941)
Asking your pardon for quoting the 1941 male gender words of Mr. Fadiman, I am struck by his statement about art. He writes about a gap that separates any one artist from others in the world. More importantly, he writes about ‘bridging’ that gap.
How does one gain the validation that the gap has been bridged? I thought of several ideas that work for me.
In this commercial world of ours today, I think money is a form of validation. You create a piece of art, display it, and maybe someone buys it. If they see it and make that bridge Clifton talks about, that is true validation for me. However, if they buy it because colours in it match the decor of their living room, I’m not sure there is any validation of my art. Will I be pleased if I sell ten of them because they work so well in people’s living rooms? Of course—all the way to the bank. But does it validate my art? I’m not so sure.
I remember an image I sold to a man who was excited to obtain it. My mind was full of art thoughts and my ‘art ego’ was bolstered. However, when he came to pick it up after the exhibit, his comment to me was, “I love that photograph. I’m going to hang it in my den in the basement. Do you know that green is the same colour as the jerseys of my favourite football team, the Seattle Seahawks.” Oh great, I thought. Another one of my photographs is going to be decor for a room.
Another type of validation I get is via a comment from another person viewing my art. Both positive and negative comments let me know that someone has taken the time to at least look. The negative ones might be because the person didn’t like the image or because they didn’t ‘connect’ with the image. However, the positive or neutral ones do validate that I’ve ‘bridged the gap’ and that is good enough for me.
I had an image of mine in a gallery exhibit that provided me with a poignant moment of ‘bridging the gap’ with my art. On the opening night I gave a presentation, then stayed around so viewers could ask questions. I noticed two women, probably in their 50’s, standing for an abnormally long time in front of one of my pieces called ‘The Crossing’. They had their heads together, talking, and from time to time, pointed to the image. I wandered over and introduced myself. I told them I was glad to see that they were enjoying my photography.
They told me that the image was a reminder of their childhood. They said that they were remembering how much it looked like a railway crossing behind their house when they were kids. They could look at my image and remember seeing their father head off, over the crossing, in his wagon every morning on his way to working their family’s fields. We connected in a wonderful way at that moment. I’ll never forget it. That day I thought my art was validated, significantly.
Finally, an important validation, one that probably should have been mentioned first. My own validation of my art. This can apply to both my photography and my writing. In Bayles and Orland’s Book, Art and Fear, they talk about all others only being interested in your final product, whereas, the artist cares about that as well as the process of making the art. In some cases, the process of making the art, be it photography or writing, is validation enough. Validation that you got on with the work and finished it. If it goes on to others and they validate it with comments or money, that is a good thing. However, in the artist’s purview, there are two steps of validation—process or execution validation and product validation. Finishing a piece of work can, in itself, validate the time and effort involved in learning a new process or just being creative, even though the artist may not want the product to go any further.
I have taken a few years to learn that, sometimes, my own validation, in the context of what I’m trying to create, might be good enough. I might even imagine that I don’t care about what others think of my creations, but that would be wrong. It does matter what other people think. If I paid no attention to that, I would never be able to validate if I’ve ‘bridged the gap’ that Mr. Fadiman thinks is so critical to art.