The last few weeks have been difficult. As an artist, you are never supposed to think about what people might think of your work. You’re supposed to work for yourself, and magic will happen. Nor are you supposed to be bothered by what other artists are doing.
This was difficult to maintain while walking around Art Basel Hong Kong. There is a lot of fantastic art there, but the overall effect is one of distortion. At first glance everything seems great, because the good work lifts everything else along with it. In a rather soulless, neutral place like a giant convention center, filled entirely with art solely in the context of more art, everything suddenly looks better than it should. But a second look reveals that much of it is crap. Yet I couldn’t help think that I’d like my work shown there some day soon. And some of the more complex work made me question some of my creative choices. I was – in effect – comparing myself to “the competition”. But I took a lot of inspiration from my competitive analysis and realized that an idea I’ve been working on is exactly the right direction to go. I am energized in this new direction, and I can’t wait to execute it. It’s about the way I physically display the images, and how I will choose to high-light distinct aspects of the image.
Another moment that was initially difficult was a few days ago. The gallery that represents me in Berlin opened a group show, which included an image by an artist they recently signed.
It looked like something I could have created as part of my Sacred & Profane series.
That got to me. At first, it really disheartened me. I felt betrayed by my gallery because they know what I’m working on, and the conflict irked me. But that passed quickly. I am an emerging artist who is currently building up my name, and the artist in question is a successful commercial big-name photographer, someone whose work I respect. The gallery is in the business of selling art, as they should be. It only makes sense that they represent someone with a built-in audience.
Another concern I had was the possible confusion. When I first signed with the gallery, the focus was set on my Hopper’s American series, though I was told that some images would not be part of the initial selection… because they included neon signs. This was a recognizable feature of yet another contemporary photographer’s style who is represented by the gallery. But my work is selling well, and the parallels are minimal. My work evokes more emotion, and is timeless… and frankly, is more sophisticated than the commercial shooter’s fine art efforts. Over a very short time, concerns about two artists using urban elements such as lit signs at night disappeared.
So I was pissed that I am now facing the same issue again… here is a new artist to the gallery – with a more recognizable name than my own – doing work that looks at first glance much like mine. And although I’ve been working on my Sacred and Profane series for over a year, suddenly his work is being shown, and now someone who doesn’t know better might assume I was influenced by him.
But in thinking about it, I see a number of major differences, and I know my work is better. I must say that I really admire his sets and his styling. The way he processes his images is less impressive to me, but that is a creative choice. What matters is that his narrative images are technically masterful, but they lack emotion. I also find the physical presentation to be wrong, and have a good guess as to why the choice was made… one I consider lazy, cheap and ultimately a detriment. I’m going in a direction with my work that is much more emotional in its subject, much more physical in the presentation, and and a lot more conceptual. So I welcome the opportunity to be directly compared to someone whom I respect, because I know my work will “win”… and that motivates the competitive cultural entrepreneur in me greatly.