Do The Work For The Art, Not For Fame Or Likes

Do the work. Make your art.

Not for likes. Or thumbs up. Or fame. But because you have to do it, you have no choice in the matter, the work has to exist.

New Color Paper Sticker Facebook Thumb Thumbs Up Like Internet Fun:  Amazon.co.uk: Office Products

It’s the kind of work that if you put it out and didn’t get a “Like”, you’d still do it. That’s how you know it’s art. Because YOU “Like” it. YOU made it. THEIR “Like” doesn’t validate it, YOURS does!

If your art is photography, make a print. Hang it on a wall. Display it in public. Gift it to someone. Make it tangible. That matters.

A Facebook “Like” really isn’t anything. It may just mean they like you, and c’mon, face it, they “Like” everything that you do, don’t they? But that really doesn’t mean they think the work is any good. They may not have even really looked at the work.

Their “Like”, you have to realize, may mean very little, except they like you and they want you to know they’ve seen it.

Do they even know what a good photograph is? Are they educated in photographic principles and what makes for a quality photograph? What if they “Like” your work, then turn around and “Like” some dark, blurry snapshot by someone else that would have never seen the light of day in your edit? Does their “Like” still really hold any water for you?

Is that why you’re making photographs, anyway, just for “Likes”?

Well, you’re in good company. That does seem to be the state of photography today. Rush to Instagram. Get it on Facebook. That’s the delivery gallery of choice for many shooters.

I can’t call them photographers, since they don’t make actual photographs–they are making images, images that unfortunately have a shelf-life of the time it takes to swipe past it.

Become an influencer. Numbers matter.

Stephen Shore: American Surfaces: Revised & Expanded Edition

Even famous photographers. Look at the Instagram feed of Stephen Shore. He’s a legend in the art photography circles, one of the titans of photography who started out as Andy Warhol’s personal photographer and then got a solo MOMA in 1971 show at the age of 17. Alfred Stieglitz is the only other photographer to have a solo show prior to Shore’s.

Shore’s books are among the most collected photo books, look at titles like American Surfaces and Uncommon Places. You know the work. But look at his Instagram. All his photographs have thousands of “Likes”. How many of those people who “Liked” the photo would actually buy it and hang it in their homes? Or do they just “Like” the photo because they “Like” him?

He puts out a photo a day on Instagram, shot with his phone. Is that his best work? Does it compare to his 8×10 film work of the past? Of his Leica work?

I would say, for me, it does not. But I assume he enjoys it and he may think it keeps him relevant in today’s photographic world. I hold his work to a higher level, so for me the Insta-shots don’t work, maybe even cheapen his body of work. Ok, maybe occasionally there is one I like, but overall, they seem average or banal. Again, maybe that’s still a success–exactly what he’s going for and HE likes them.

Photography is in a strange evolution at the moment. Social media has taken it over. The quantity of images being made has never been greater. While the number of prints and actual photographs has gone down considerably.

Traded for a “Like”. That’s something that just feels less than satisfying to me.

I’d much rather poke around the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. and see Irving Penn’s or Richard Avedon’s work presented in large framed prints than on social media. I’d much rather walk the halls of a photo gallery, like the Hallmark Gallery in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and see a Henri Cartier-Bresson or Sally Mann photograph in person, printed by the photographer.

I don’t have many “Likes” on social media. I have some, but they don’t mean much to me. I don’t make work for “Likes”, and anything I put online is a secondary consideration, an afterthought. I almost like that my work doesn’t have too many “Likes”. I think “Likes” can start to get in the way. They can influence the work–“Do more of that, less of this, they “Like” these more.”

Art needs visionaries. Yes, “Likes” deliver a great dopamine hit, they make you feel good. But ultimately, if they change what you create, if you find you’re working for the “Like” and not your vision, then what do you really have? What have the “Likes” really given you, versus taken away? Taken away from us, who want to see your truth, your art?

I am going to continue to make photographs. Print them and sign and frame them and gift them to people. To me, that’s my definition of art how I want it to be. For me. These four will each receive a photograph, because they’re who I made it for.

Electric Tattoo, Longmont Colorado. Guys hanging out at the shop.
Busch-Pressman 4×5, Voigtlander 150mm Heliar Lens, Kodak Tmax400 Film.

Theirs is the only “Like” I would like. And even if they didn’t like it, it’s still a win because I like it. I do. I find it to be a wonderful photograph. And that validates it for me.

Without me, it wouldn’t exist. With my taking the time, approaching them and making it, it can hopefully be around to show their great-great-grandchildren who their great-great-grandpa was.

That’s the power of art. And photographs. Real printed photographs.

Though it’s just my way. If the “Likes” are your success, who am I to say it’s not? That it’s lesser? For me it may not work at all. For you, it completely can. What matters is what matters to you. That’s the basis of art! So long as it’s true.

It’s just a very different time for photography.

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