Avoid imitating a cliché – is the oft loudly exclaimed cry from art teachers, creativity lecturers and judges at photographic competitions. So why should I buck the combined wisdom of teachers and mentors with far greater stature than me?
It was a reluctant first-time visit to the Musée Rodin in Paris that did it for me. I certainly have no difficulty in recognising that Auguste Rodin was an artist held in the highest regard, but my reluctance to visit it was based on the anticipation of feelings of intense déjà vu.
How could I not be impressed with the image of sculptures as well known as The Thinker or The Kiss?
When I realised I was comparing the shape of my hand with that of Rodin’s sculptured artwork, I knew that I was hooked and engaged with the artist’s masterpiece. No catalogue, no wikipedia entry, no poster, was ever going to illustrate the power and emotion that he had crafted into each piece. And whilst I had never sculpted in my life, I realised that I had photographically mimicked the poses and hand gestures from both pieces without much regard from whence these concepts had come.
After looking first hand at examples of photographs by Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon I started to understand the power contained within the images. I had always thought that the landscapes of Adams were a case of hard hiking and early mornings, but to my horror I found a conscious thought process underlying his many images.
In the case of Avedon, my cavalier response had been that anyone with a few lucky breaks and access to ‘big’ names as subjects could produce great shots. How wrong was I? Avedon had a wonderful knack of reproducing and inserting the soul of his sitter into a photograph. Neither photographer had lucked onto a quick fix. They had learnt their craft, worked hard within their genre, and consequently produced images that appeared to be effortless when viewed.
Clichéd – almost!
In case there is a misconception out there in reader-land that a rush trip to Paris or New York is required to look at cliché driven images to promote one’s own creativity, examples are happening all around.
My respected fellow f11 correspondent Tony Bridge has been leading a workshop at the prestigious 27th Wanaka Autumn Art School in New Zealand and he was goaded by some of his friends to lead his group of students to that well-known location, The Wanaka Tree. Tony’s response was to give his students a master class in landscape creation with a totally new interpretation. I trust they were impressed, because I certainly was.
A further opportunity exists for some Australian readers to visit the National Gallery of Victoria and view James McNeill Whistler’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871 (more commonly referred to as Whistler’s Mother). This work is currently on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris. The portrait painted in a stoic palette of grey and black, portrays a character vastly different to that of the artist – who was noted for his flamboyant dress and outgoing social personality. The painting, having been mocked and parodied for decades, is still a powerful depiction of personality and emotional representation.
Having viewed photographic interpretations of these (and many other art works) frequently in my career, I am now of the opinion that a greater knowledge of so-called clichéd images is valuable in the extension of one’s creative development. Studying why such pieces have become so hackneyed, even banal, is a step further in creating a personal style.
Maybe the clichéd road is the road to creativity.