Art, Photography, and the Joy of Creation

I haven’t had a chance to blog all week, but that doesn’t stop posts from rattling around in my brain.  Sometimes it’s like there is a cage match in there and I have to wait to see which topic wins before I can write it.  I know already that this one is going to be long, this is what happens when I don’t write for a few days I guess.

The subject on my mind most these days started when I read Whiskey Monday’s thoughts on Art, specifically whether or not the images we create in Second Life can be identified as such.

I have no issue calling my work at. It’s created in much the same way my best writing is created – from a place in me that feels rather than sees. While I’ve turned those feelings into words quite easily, creating a visual just takes the process a step further. I like to think that the image enriches the story I’m telling, and offers a dimension that words don’t always reach. And for me personally, there are times when the feelings I want to express are too difficult to share with words.

She captured how I feel about what I’ve been doing in Second Life this past year so much better than I ever could.  Like Whiskey, I’ve traditionally used my writing to express myself, either through roleplay or even ramblings like I do here.  When I turned my hand to using SL visuals to express myself it’s like something clicked inside me (no pun intended).  Some things are hard for me to say or talk about, and I’m learning that an image can express it better than I can, or at least, it feels like a safer medium in which I can do so.  My favorite part of what I do is when people tell me how those images make them feel “Oh she looks so sad” or “I wonder what she’s up to in that picture”.  Sometimes they see what I intended to convey, other times they see or feel something very different, but those are actually the times I’m most intrigued.

Debates about “What is Art” have been around since basket weaving and cave drawings I’m sure, and sorry to disappoint you but I’m not going to provide any insight that you haven’t thought about before.  What I wanted to delve into, and where I differ from Whiskey, is that I’m reluctant to call my work Art.

It’s possibly just a lack of confidence, or a personality trait, but I feel a bit like a faker when I call anything I’ve done in Second Life art.  I have no issue calling other people’s work art, but I’m quite aware that I’m not on the same playing field and that I have a long way yet to go.  Years ago I took some water color classes and succeeded in making mud pies with holes in the paper when I tried to rub off the masking, I told myself then that I wasn’t cut out to be an artist.  I’m fortunate that Second Life provides the venue and tools that allow someone like me, with no artistic ability, an opportunity to explore our creative sides, but there is still a significant skill level involved.

I’m constantly aware that my post processing skills are non-existent, and although I do like to play with picmonkey I do realize it’s the software and not me making the interesting effects.  I also know I need a lot of work on basics like composition, and I haven’t yet found my niche.  Looking through my Flickr account it’s really apparent that I’m still on this journey, experimenting with landscapes or editorial shots, close ups and abstracts.  If the images I do are my voice, I appear to be speaking in tongues.

My mind knows that art isn’t about quality; a child’s fingerpainting is as much Art as the greatest masters, so I need to put those nagging thoughts behind me.  I’m guessing as the world, and our language, evolves to encompass digital technology and virtual worlds I’ll be more comfortable recognizing that what I do is in fact Art.  It might not be good Art, but there will be less ambiguity or discomfort when I use the term.

Recently a friend made an unrelated comment to me about how Artists are fragile and need a lot of encouragement, and even with feedback tend to be perfectionist and their own worst critic.  I had to laugh, because if that’s true then I’ve been wrong all along and I am an Artist after all.

Cliches are cliché for a reason, and since I rambled on quite a while and you’ve likely glossed over by now, let’s prove the point that an image can be used to convey a message better than words.

Art is in the eye...

So now that the Art dispute is settled, what about words like Photography?  The conversations on these topics have continued on some of my favourite blogs, and I particularly like Honour McMillan’s wonderfully tongue in cheek take on it.

I have enough trouble reconciling the fact that the content is created by real artists and I just capture it. The fact that I can move around a 3d environment with my camera-like functionality and worry about composition, lighting, and mood makes me cringe at the idea that somehow there’s nothing of me in the result. However, I don’t want to continue pretending that I’m a “photographer”. It’s not right.

Like Whiskey, Honour goes on to describe how she feels about the word far better than I could, particularly her reluctance to call these images screen captures.  To me, screen captures are using the print screen button, or something  like snagit, to capture error messages for the IT staff or application screens for a manual.  I really, really, don’t want to call what I do screen captures and I feel that anyone who uses that term to describe what I do is being dismissive towards me and the fabulous Artists of Second Life.

Language is so fascinating isn’t it?  We, all of us, have near visceral reactions to some words, both positive and negative.  If I want people to understand that calling what I do screen captures brings up negative feelings I should be respectful of the fact that by calling it photography might have the same reaction in them.  So, ever eager to learn more and open to changing my opinion, I posed the question to SLU.

As I suspected, the word art is a non issue.  I don’t think there is anyone in the world who feels art can be defined, but there are some interesting thoughts on the word photography.  I think the ship that housed the actual film vs. digital camera argument sailed long ago, so that argument doesn’t sway me much.  Post processing can’t be the bar because many real world photographers edit their shots now.  I’m not convinced by the argument that photography requires RL subject matter either.  The fact that there is no physical camera is a pretty valid point though.

If we stop to consider what the camera does, since that seems to be the deciding factor here, I do feel there are similarities in Second Life.  First, you have to frame the shot as you would in a view finder.  Trust me, this one I’m well aware of as I sometimes spend hours setting up the shots.  Next comes lighting, and where the mechanisms to create the right lighting differ with a RL camera and in Second Life, they are both equally important.  Choosing the subject and then staging the subject both apply, though which is more difficult is again debateable.  True, you can’t tell a RL animal to move, nor a tree, but with a model you can.  In Second Life, you might be able to move that animal or tree, but the limitation of poses is a big issue, at least for me.  I realize there are thousands of poses in Second Life, and without those pose makers we couldn’t do a fraction of what we do, but even still there are times I wish I could move my subject just a teeeny bit, tilt her chin, bend her elbow, things that are far easier to control and direct in the real world.

So while I’m still uncertain exactly why using the word photography for our Second Life creations would be insulting or offensive to RL photographers, I  accept the fact that for some it diminishes or detracts from how they identify themselves as much as terms like screen captures or snapshots does to me.  So where does that leave us?

New terms have been proposed, machinography or pixography for example, awkward mouthfuls to be sure but I’d use it if that was the actual term.  It’s not though, we don’t have  a term, language hasn’t caught up to what we do.  I’m perfectly willing to use Virtual Photography, but in all honesty I bet there will be times where I forget and shorten it “Check out this photo I took”.  Do I need to constantly self edit, to be sure there isn’t someone somewhere who is offended by what I call my hobby?  The parts of me that are sensitive to others feelings, empathetic even, tell me that I should, but I have to say in practice I don’t know if I can do this at all times.  I by no means want to negate the skill and talents of RL photographers, but knowing that similar skills and talent goes into virtual photography, I don’t see how or why the comparison would be an insult.

My favourite quote from that discussion comes from Chip Midnight.

Artists of all stripes can be an insecure lot, quick to dismiss what others do in the name of their own self-aggrandizement. In the end, who really cares? The joy is in the creating. If other people like and accept or are moved by what you do, that’s just a nice bonus.

I already have a well known tendency to over think just about everything, but I’m not going to let a term like photography, one I certainly don’t use as an insult to another’s work, be the barrier to finding joy in what I create or keep me from pursuing this newly born passion.

I took up virtual photography in Second Life for purely practical purposes, to add images to my blog.  I quickly learned that I enjoy it, I even enjoy the struggles I’ve gone through as I learn various techniques and practice my skills.  I discovered that I might very well be a creative or even artistic person after all, something that I never would have considered until this.  My attempts here have even given me the confidence to register in a very basic introduction to Digital Arts class at my community college this fall.  It’s just one little class, but it’s far more than I’d ever have considered a year ago.  My images have become an ever present companion to my words, the left hand to my right, an integral part of not only my online experience, but how I identify myself.

Felicity Francois – Dorky Second Life Explorer, Retired Roleplayer, Artist and Virtual Photographer – or for simplicity sake, just a pancake.

Perspective

When I started contemplating this post, I knew I needed visuals, and I wanted to play off the “Art is in the eye of the beholder” phrase with the word Art actually in my eye.  I thought this would be a good project to learn to build so I spent two days trying to create letters.  I managed to make a T, yay me, but the rest was a mess.  As I often do when I’m stuck I asked SLU for advice on making letters, or places to buy letters, and was quickly met with offers to custom make something for me.  The mesh letters and pose in the first image are courtesy of The Laverne Unit of Hello Spacegirl .

Fellow SLU’er Soen Eber whipped up a set of prim letters for me, the ones shown in the second picture, before I even really had a chance to explain what I was thinking.  When I saw them I knew they would work perfectly with the pose and camera from Del May.  I’m constantly amazed at the skill level, talent, and generosity of the Second Life community.  Thank you all for helping me with this, I couldn’t do any of what I do, regardless of the term, without you.

4 comments on “Art, Photography, and the Joy of Creation

  1. Good post Pancake. I don’t have anything further to add to what you have already said so well, except that I totally relate. I used to call all my images “screenshots” until a couple of friends gave me heck for it because I was dismissing the time and effort I put into them.

    I think it’s GREAT that you will be taking a Digital Arts class! I would love to take a photography course one day, maybe when my kids are a bit older. Good luck!

    • Thank you Carrie. I really enjoyed your thoughts on those topics as well. I especially think your visual comparison of a screenshot vs a photograph really nailed it. See you soon at the PhotoHunt, um snapshot hunt, um virtual imagery hunt… well, LOL, you know what I mean.

  2. Pingback: A Photographer’s Greatest Tool « Whiskey Shots

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