Some introspection

This morning I see that The Dragonfly Woman- who writes one of my favorite insect blogs– has listed me as a top “Insect-Inspired Artist“. That’s quite an honor, especially considering the other talent on her list.

But, the notion I might be an artist never sat well with me. Artists project vision. Artists express personal and societal statements. Artists channel themselves through their medium. I often recall Andrew Wyeth’s 200+ paintings of his secret muse Helga, for example. That’s art.

What I do is far more mundane.

I am a collector. I collect images of insects.

Once I’ve captured a solid photograph of a particular species, my interest wanes. It’s in the bag. Time to move to the next ant on the wish list. That’s collecting, in pure form, unadulterated.

I suppose you could think of my methods as involving artistry. That doesn’t sit well with me either, though. A better word is craftsmanship. I am proud of my work, and it’s a craftsman’s pride. My collection of insect photos is, I like to think, well made. But it’s not art.

18 thoughts on “Some introspection”

  1. I have personally always had a problem with the narrow definition of “artist” that you describe. Why can’t an artist simply want to share something beautiful with the world at large? Why can’t people find their own meaning in something an artist produces? I don’t believe that there always has to be a “point” to art. I consider several things that I produce art, but they often don’t have a specific meaning. I take something that I think is amazing and translate it into an artistic medium. I simply express my awe of the natural world with the things I produce, try to make other people appreciate tiny things that they may never have seen without my help. I think that is enough meaning for an artistic work.

    Your motivations may be a bit different than someone who considers himself an artist, but the results are the same. You are also making the same decisions that an artist-photographer would when you make your images – how best to represent your subject – to produce something beautiful. At the same time, you’re telling people something about the natural world, helping them cultivate an appreciation for things that are often considered repugnant or distasteful, through your photos. And ultimately, I think that if it were really all just about collecting insect images and getting a perfect shot for yourself, you wouldn’t bother sharing them with others. The fact that you make them publicly available and allow people to admire and love them makes your photos transcend a mere collection of images and bumps them into the realm of art.

    But that’s my opinion of the matter and why I put you on my list. I love your photos! I find them inspiring and beautiful beyond words. I will always consider them works of art, whether you agree with me or not. 🙂

  2. First Professor Wild had me with his convincing rant, but then DW swung the pendulum back in her favor with the adulation

  3. Well, given what can pass for art, I can understand the reluctance, but I tend to pass on elitist definitions of art and consider it to be in the eyes-of-the-beholder. I think of art as a human creation that captures something of the ‘soul’ of the object, person, plant or animal. I suspect that anyone who considers themselves an artist is more likely a wanker and the people who produce the things that cause me to stop and ponder are probably more interested in the craft (and whatever illusion they are chasing). If your illusion is that you have to capture the perfect picture before moving on, that works for me.

  4. I’m taking this unique opportunity to point out that the above GLOBAL discussion on insect art is 67% dominated by ALBERTANS! (although both are invasives). Thank you, that is all.

  5. While there are distinctions between art and craft, the two will always be inseparable. Anyhow, I do respect your opinion and share it. It places an emphasis upon how you relate to and approach your subject. That’s important.

  6. I strongly disagree. To say you’re not an artist implies you could never fill a gallery or host a show of that sort highlighting your pictures. The delicate textures, traits, and patterns that comprise insect exoskeletons are art in themselves. Your photos are but another medium they are presented. The fact that you will photograph something 700 times over just to get maybe less than 5 usable pictures puts you well above the next idiot with a point and shoot (myself sometimes included in that)!

  7. I believe I understand Alex’s view and agree with him. Why does any one need to call his work “art.” Do his photographs become less…and with all do respect to DW, how does she know he is making the same decisions, etc. that an artist would? She’s not in his head and he says he does things differently…it is a rather dangerous thing to assume that because you know the outcome you know the mental process that got one there. Regardless, they are fantastic photos. I greatly appreciate Alex sharing his thoughts/introspection. Thanks.

    1. I didn’t mean to imply that I have any idea of what goes on in Alex’s head when he photographs things beyond what he’s said goes on in there. I don’t know what goes on in any photographer’s head apart from my own in my comparatively feeble attempts! I just meant to say that photographers have a set of decisions they have to make when capturing an image (how to frame the image, how to manipulate the light, how to set the camera to create the image the photographer wishes to make, etc) and all photographers make them. It is then the specific choices they make that determine the outcome of the final images and sets their images apart from those of everyone else. That’s what I meant by saying that Alex makes the same decisions as an artist, that he is choosing how best to represent his subject within the confines of the medium and to his own personal taste. I believe all artists do this, which is why I lump Alex with the artists. But I fully expect people to disagree with me! My definition of “art” is very broad and many people divide the world into smaller categories than I do. I do appreciate Alex’s position, but I happen to disagree with him. But really, life would be boring if we all agreed on everything, don’t you think?

  8. So the basic question is whether to split or lump Alex with “artists”? Species are hard for taxonomy, but at least there are processes that cause distinctions: I know that humans and oaks are not the same species, as our interbreeding is rather unlikely for many good reasons. The whole art – folk art – crafts spectrum seems pretty continuous. Western taxonomists and indigenous peoples, using different species definitions, often divide nature into the same clumps: I wonder if trained art historians and people unaware of current Western definitions of art would agree at all when dividing creators into artists vs. craftspeople (I would bet that most cultures don’t even make the distinction).

    However, maybe the distinction matters to some. In that case, remember that many of the people called great artists were basically paid theological illustrators. Perhaps some of them really wanted to channel themselves through their medium, but much of their effort went into creating work that was beautiful, or realistic, or effective in communicating religious ideas — isn’t this more about improving their work (perhaps to get more commissions than the other guy) than to communicate something deep about themselves? If you want to judge art by the purity of its intentions, Alex wants to capture life’s beauty (and collect the whole set) because that’s his joy — he’s not doing it so a patron can communicate his own ideas or to make a buck. On that scale, the work should be considered art. The other way to judge is based on the work itself rather than intention of the person making it, and clearly Alex’s work is art on that scale, too.

  9. By its very definition, art is a subjective trait based on perception (the production, realm, quality or expression of something aesthetically beautiful). In that sense both Chris and Alex are correct. Personally, as others have mentioned, I find Alex’s photography to be exceptionally beautiful and, therefore, artistic. That Alex does it not for art’s sake but for personal satisfaction’s sake means only that it’s not art to him, but that doesn’t negate it being art to others. Nature doesn’t grow a rose to impress anyone or to be considered art; nevertheless…

  10. Art is like so many things that are hard to quantify and qualify, but each person knows it when they see it. I enjoy the photographs as art myself, but that in no way has a bearing on Mr. Wild’s collection of specimens via his means of documenting them.

  11. Alex, the only point I disagree on is your comment, “What I do is far more mundane.” Sure, it might feel that way sometimes but you must admit there is the thrill in pursuing a species and then getting that “just right” image to add to your collection. And when you look at your collection of images, there is nothing mundane at all about it. It is unique a body of work, one you created, and one that you kindly share for us to enjoy and learn from. Cheers.

  12. I remember stumbling on your photo gallery as I was doing some research for a project in one of my biology classes. Insects were not something in which I was interested, but, that day, I sat there for hours looking at those pictures; why had I never noticed that insects were so beautiful and complex? What were those strange eye things on top of that wasps head? How can these parasitic wasps get past the other organism’s immune systems? Hundreds of questions popped into my head; I bought insect books, I took an intro to entomology course, and I did my own exploring on the internet. Although I cannot get your Monday Night Mysteries within the few minutes it takes some of your users, I will sit and research until I think I have the answer.

    Thus, although defining “art” can be a personal task, it is also has to do with how society values and thinks of your work. You could see a tin can with a flower in some back alley and think to yourself “that is art” when the rest of the world sees it as junk. There could also be a white canvas with one black dot in the center which sells for thousands of dollars because society has labeled the painting as art but you think it is.. well, a blank canvas with a black dot. For you to blow off your photography as “non-art” because you define art in rigid ways is your right, obviously. But, for me, your photography evokes a deeper response, leading me to be more insightful about my surroundings (the insects in my environment, to be specific) and showing me details I would never notice otherwise. If you had asked me two years ago if I thought insects were beautiful or interesting, I would have laughed. Now people are laughing at me for bringing home little jumping spiders and various insects to photograph in my little “insect studio” and cringing at my hissing roaches, praying mantis, and tarantula.

    I felt the need to respond because I was completely surprised at your response to The Dragonfly Woman’s take on your photography—for me, your great craftsmanship and vision are how an ordinary insect photo is transformed into something more. Something that draws in more than just the insect people of the world. Something that is art!

  13. If you were just interested in collecting a checklist of images of species, you would have an image gallery resembling PaDIL. That you don’t, means that you at least appreciate some of the more artistic merits of insect photography. 🙂

    For what it is worth, I do believe that images of insects can be classified as art. They can convey more than what is inherent in the original subject.

  14. I appreciate all your thoughts on this question, and especially all the kind words! Obviously, I view art as a supply-side activity: the perceptions of the recipient are irrelevant.

    I used to be a musician. Not a good musician, mind you, which is why I left it behind. But in thinking about the semantics of Art I realize that as a template for defining it I have been harkening back to the creative flow of musical improvisation. I know what the spontaneous flow of improvised jazz feels like. The notes just gush out as pure expression, with hardly any thought or foresight. Music can be primal. I imagine art is, at least some times, similar.

    My photography is psychologically an entirely different phenomenon. It is planned, engineered, premeditated. So I had tended to put it in a different sort of creative box.

    Anyway. These are all just so many words, and the photos are what they are.

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