I had a thought driving down the road somewhere between Miami and Tampa last week. It occurred to me that there are several different kinds of artwork that people gravitate towards. Each type reinforces positive thought patterns in the viewer, which is why folks buy art in the first place. (I don’t know of many people who buy art that they hate!) And since I’m a photographer, I’m going to talk about three of them, in photographic terms. You can feel free to apply them to your favorite medium as you wish. I’ll get to the fourth in a minute.
Aspirational work — places you’d like to go, things you’d like to do. This type of work is often inspirational as well, providing some incentive to complete a task, or reach a goal. Climbing Mt. Robson, for example, or going to Italy. One of the reasons that the Tuscan photographers do so well on the art show circuit is that many people have strong desires to visit the places that the Italian guys photograph. Images of tall mountain peaks likewise inspire the armchair mountaineer in us all. We may never get to Katmandu, but we enjoy the view all the same. While hanging a picture on the wall is a poor substitute for visiting faraway places, it can provide a strong incentive to save those shekels and go.
Emotional work — by far, this is the largest category, and the strongest reason for buying a particular piece of artwork. Images that reach out and grab us by the heartstrings, or remind us of a life-changing event. Wedding pictures fall into this group, of course, but so do subtler images of places we’ve been. Conceptual images are also a contender in this arena, and often those pictures that don’t recall a specific place work better than those that do. These images tend to provoke a feeling, as well as recalling memories, and can be very effective as a reminder of those good times. I often tell people “There’s no better image than the one you shoot yourself.” While my images may be better, if you were there and took the picture, that’s the one that will speak the loudest to you.
Images like “Freedom of the Hills“, on the other hand, don’t speak to a specific place or time, but remind us all of those moments where we were on top of the world, celebrating the joy of living, or the joy of being up high in the mountains.
Meditative artwork goes one step further, and is often abstract in nature. Patterns of natural elements, color fields, motion blurs — these can all conjure up peaceful feelings in the viewer. Sometimes a meditative piece works very well as a focal point in your living room. The non-specific nature of a meditative work can accent a color mood, or enhance a less traditional point of view. Sometimes you just don’t want a picture of the Grand Tetons hovering over your couch!
Functional art is the last category, and while photography falls outside of this boundary, many people like artwork that serves a purpose. Ceramics, glass vessels, wearables, jewelry — these are all examples of functional artwork. I know I like my everyday items to be designed well and to be beautiful to look at as well as serving the purpose for which they were designed. While you can’t hang functional work on the wall, it falls into a whole ‘nother category.
Personally, I produce all three kinds of work, for different reasons. I started my photographic career shooting pictures of landmarks in national parks, and have since moved away from what I call “drive by shootings”. Drive-bys are easy to do, common viewpoints that everyone sees, and everyone shoots — not too emotionally involving. I love pictures that tell a story without being “place specific”: my recent ghost town images work on two levels, that of collective memory, as well as documentary of places in slow decay. I’ve recently started working on some abstract color fields that intrigue me and push me in a whole different direction. How about you? What kinds of artwork do you prefer? Drop me a line or leave me a comment.