I think art involves exploration, the process of stepping into the unknown, and taking a journey of sorts. In this way, I think we might relate the idea of art to the idea of “icon photography” discussed earlier. Seeking out the new is a vital fragment of making art, in my opinion.
At some point, we delineate art from craft. Art, to me, involves a greater element of the unknown, while craft is more a process of refinement and control. One hones one’s craft, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case with art. Art might simply involve turning a new direction with each step (though maybe it doesn’t have to do so). We don’t have to refine anything.
On a trek through the mountains, I enjoy the exploration, the wander itself. Though I guide hikes in places I’m obviously familiar with, I make an effort to reserve at least a trip or 2 each season as an exploratory hike. This summer, for example, we’re heading to the Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of the Arctic National Park, a park I’ve visited once, my very first remote hike in Alaska (wow, what a great memory that is). Venturing into the unknown is an artful process; a game of chance. I don’t know what we’ll find on the trip, and that itself is motivation for the undertaking; to simply experience that gift of the hidden.
Jazz musicians understand this, every time they step to the mic to improvise a solo they do exactly this. That’s the beauty of jazz. That’s also the beauty of art. The other is artifact.
In this sense, it helps to understand the idea and value of ‘practice’, honing one’s basic skill set as a kind of safety net for that leap of faith. Jazz musicians know their scales, their chord harmony, develop an ear for improvisation, and off they go. Trekking, I might do the same thing; I acquire (and practice) my backcountry skills, get my gear together, a basic outline of possible routes, and step across the void into the realm of wildness.
I read an article recently that commented on the issue of photographing icons that somewhat startled me; the idea that somehow a trip to a new place to photograph might come with an added cost of not finding a worthwhile subject. I wish I could find the article again. I thought what kind of artist DOESN’T take that risk? What kind of art is yielded not by merely reducing that uncertainty, but by erasing it?
The answer, of course, is none. What we might produce via this approach moves toward craft, not art. Art is a speculative journey, not a given. So pull out your pack, strap on your boots, saddle up, and decamp. Examine all you can along the way. It’s not about what might or might not be around the corner, but what sits in front of your eyes. All we have to do is open them.