A S C R A P B O O K O F S O L U T I O N S F O R T H E P H O T O G R A P H E R
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14 February 2017
David duChemin has written an unusual book and Rocky Nook has had the courage to publish it. The Canadian photographer has put down his camera, picked up his pen and captured his thoughts on the creative process.
"This is a book about the freedom to create -- to live a life of unapologetic, passionate, daring creation -- in whatever arena resonates best for you," he writes on page 1.
But it takes him 28 chapters to make his point and, frankly, we felt more captive than captivated as we made our way through them.
Here, to give you an idea of what it's like, are the chapter titles: A Beautiful Anarchy, Life Is Short, Ex Nihilo, The Artist's Journey, An Act of Creativity, This Might Not Work, Choosing Your Risk, Living Above the 45, Pretending to Be Brave, Listening to Voices, Inspiration, Incubation, Begin, Embracing the Constraints, Process vs. Product, More Bad Ideas, The Starving Artist, The Art of Exclusion, Waiting for the Knock, Know Your Rhythm, The Myth of Originality, Ruts & Grooves, Winning at Yoga, Art As Gift, Now, Toward Mastery, I Will and Ripples.
You may be able to tell from that list that the book is aimed at the weekend creative, the Sunday diver (not driver), so to speak, and not the wizened practitioner of any particular art. Someone who is a bit confused, maybe even guilty, about pursuing creative work. What it is, when to do it, how to do it, what it isn't.
And for them, duChemin will seem like something between a cheerleader and an evangelist. That may be just what you need.
But we grew weary of that approach about page 100 when we stopped reading the ebook version for a few weeks.
Then we had an inspiring thought. What if we just read the first sentence and last paragraph of the remaining chapters?
In fact, duChemin's method is to state the problem right away, beat it to death (often with aid of references and quotes) before summing it all up in the final paragraph.
So this trick works quite well. Here, for example, is how Winning at Yoga plays out:
My immediate world, the world of photography, has a strange obsession with competition.
Make your art and allow yourself to be inspired by theirs [others, that is]. Life is too short to worry about how you stack up: it's not a race. The reward is in the work itself and the discovery in that work of the person you're becoming.
You miss a Bruce Cockburn lyric but it's a short one.
We can't argue with duChemin's riff against competition as way of measuring the value of the arts but it isn't particularly insightful. Competition does draw attention to the arts and particular works as the Grammy's, Emmy's and Oscars prove. But plenty of winners have proven to be less able to stand the test of time than their fellow nominees.
That chapter echoes what duChemin covered just a few chapters before in The Myth of Originality. "Our highest art is making a life that aligns with who we are, real and whole, if not messy and a little rough around the edges." Not, it follows, to win prizes.
It takes him a bit longer to get there, quoting Ansel Adams and enlisting Herman Melville, M.C. Escher, Ezra Pound and C.S. Lewis in an imaginary scene before uttering, "Authenticity is about one thing: honesty. Is it you? Tough question, I know."
Well, no, it's not a tough question.
You are either authentic or you are not. If you are not, you wonder if what you've just done is in character. If you are authentic, the question doesn't come up. People just think you're a jerk.
We are neither one nor the other all the time, though. When we are challenged -- say, some policy at work which we find abhorrent -- we determine who we are. We may protest the policy, be called a jerk and feel our moral muscles growing or we may merely submit to it with everyone else and feel our spine sink into the seat of our chair when we sit back down.
And this is why if you hope to avoid allegiance to the false god of originality in your art, the best approach to take is to be honest. If you try to be honest you will inevitably appear original. Because, you know, most practitioners are looking for a pat on the back or a sale.
Cowards tend to have very little to contribute. Decent people can give you a lot to chew on with nothing more than their example.
And speaking of courage, bravo to Rocky Nook for publishing this book. It's not a step-by-step how to. It's not illustrated. At all.
It may have been a little too repetitive and self-helpy for our taste but look at the nice discussion it just inspired. It might be your ticket to some of the more rigorous discussions on these topics.
Like Aristotle or Benedetto Croce or Meyer Schapiro who can help refine your appreciation for the work of art that knows no laws but commits no crimes.
A Beautiful Anarchy by David duChemin, published by Rocky Nook Press, 184 pages, available as a printed book, ebook or bundle from Rocky Nook.