Friday, July 27, 2007

Of striking a balance on the road.

One of the things that I was very conscious of in Chicago was wanting to make sure that it didn't feel altogether like a "work" trip. Ever since I started taking my photography seriously (i.e. when I began to exhibit and sell it) I have been compelled to make travel first and foremost about taking images home with me. Taking that approach has (at times) had a substantial payoff, both in practical terms and in lending an extra dimension of depth to my experience. I'm glad I've been involved in that type of "work". But it can become obsessive and intrusive as well.

Truthfully, I have always felt the need to run around and see as much as I can whenever I visit a new place. I get a nagging sense that I might never return, and I don't want to "miss out". At times this has been an issue for my companions on such trips. Having researched a place to come up with an itinerary, I get frustrated if I encounter competing agendas. This isn't generally a problem with M., as she understands and respects my priorities. She's perfectly happy for us to go our own ways whenever we disagree about what we individually desire. But others have interpreted my vacation-approach as a slight against their own values, or a commentary on my friendship with them. I've become more diligent about explaining this issue beforehand, and trying to monitor situations that might elicit inner or outer conflict. I feel like I negotiated that well this summer, in both NYC and Chicago. Of course you'd probably have to consult L. or JM to get the whole story.

L. and I actually had an interesting, protracted discussion about individual strategies for engaging art museums. He told me that he had been affected by a suggestion he read in a Jeanette Winterson book. Her contention is that so many people file through the halls of great art collections, and give cursory glances at so many great works of art. They have only a set amount of time to spend, and so they move quickly through, and often get overwhelmed and overstimulated long before they have seen everything. Winterson suggests finding one work that is particularly interesting, and sitting down in front of it for a long time- perhaps even an hour. She says that, in this way, one can have a deep fulfilling experience, and therefore get closer to the true spirit and intention of art appreciation. After all the artist took hours and/or days to create the work... is it so much to ask that we invest a substantial amount in considering its values and meaning?

My initial reaction was that this approach didn't seem like a particularly useful way to manage the finite resource of time. If I am in a new city, I want to get a broad range of experiences in order to synthesize my thoughts and feelings about the place. I can't imagine traveling for many hours for a single shot at seeing what the Metropolitan Museum (or MOMA or the Smithsonian, etc.) has to offer, only to spend the bulk of my visit contemplating a single image. There's no way I could keep myself from feeling some vague sense of dissatisfaction and regret because of a perception of missed opportunity.

Yet at the same time, I think it's important for me to give fair consideration to Winterson's idea. I do see how it could be useful to devote one's attention to certain works that appear particularly appealing (for whatever subjective reason). This seems like the natural way humans process information anyway. I have no problem making choices about what I believe I can pass up, and what things I should invest time in. I do think it's important to empower ourselves to make such discriminations. There is no rational way we can give equal time to each and every piece we encounter. And in order to reach any true measure of depth with something, we have to be willing to pause and give into an interactive introspection.

Somewhere there is an ideal balance of quantity and quality. If we confine ourselves to committing all of our resources to the things that already appeal to us, then we risk the repression of our own growth and evolution. But on the other hand, if we try to pack too much in- we face the danger of shutting off completely to the very meaningful ways in which it is possible to experience an individual piece of art (or anything else for that matter).

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