What comes first – Art or Artist?

September 2, 2007

What do you like most when you click on an artist website? Do you like to see the portrait of the artist first place on the homepage? No matter what the layout or design of the website might be – what impact does it have on you, the viewer?

You might say, okay wonderful, I know how s/he looks like – young or old, nice interesting looking face or rather boring features of a person you would never believe being an artist.

You realize – the psychological impact is there. Anyone judges another person unconsciously without any further intent from the first impression=view. You cannot do anything about it. In those few seconds you decide whether you like a person or not. You can always change your mind afterwards but that very first impression will always leave an imprint on your gut feeling, instinct.

So how sensitive is it to have a photo of yourself right on the very first page before the viewer had a chance to look up what you are doing?

If you are a good looking girl/boy it might help to convince the viewer immediately that what you are offering is quality, good work, interesting and worth while to show it to the public. You offer a positive image that spreads from yourself on everything you surround yourself with. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

On the other hand – what could it also say?

It could say – hey I am such a goodlooking one, no-one could refuse me – therefore no-one will ever refuse my work. I am the person who is behind the work – or rather I am the person who can do all this, I am the one who should be right in the middle of the show! The most important thing in the world is that people realize and appreciate that it is me who has done the work. I want the recognition for it. This is legitimate – isn’t it? Be honest – isn’t it easier to be “convinced” by a smart looking girl or boy when it comes to “buy” anything rather than from a person who does not emanate that aura of youth, freshness, enthusiasm, total self-consciousness and success?

Now to the other side of the coin.

If you put up a photo on your website, that just portraits you as you are, not the youngest any more, not with trendy coiffure and a face that would never be found in a crowd – what would this say to the viewer? Boring person, common, nothing extraordinary – how can this be an artist creating breathtaking works? Would you draw the connection between this person and outstanding work without any prejudice? You would probably not. Clichés are firmly planted in our heads.

So if this does not help you to be recognized, your work should speak for you. Wouldn’t it be better to place it in front, let it make the very first impression and keep your person in the background?

No matter whether you believe in some devine powers or are even deeply religious, I think creativity is a gift and not an accomplishment. You cannot teach it and you cannot learn it – it is there or not. Therefore the person itself is not the important part but what s/he is doing with the gift and the result, whether she looks good or not. Ego and vanity often play a tricky role in life and sometimes it may be an advantage not to belong to the “bold and beautiful” – so you could concentrate on your work and not on your appearance. It makes me sometimes laugh out loud when I see a sculptor or painter with long red fingernails in TV (how on earth do they manage to work with those fingernails? And male “artists” are no better by any means when it comes to appear in public and behaving like a cockerel!)

I do neither judge anyone for putting himself in front of an audience – this is sometimes necessary – nor do I judge someone for the wish to look nice and well-manicured. The above are only my thoughts about various things. But I think there is a lack of awareness in this world towards the fact that everything we do has consequences in one way or another.

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4 Responses to “What comes first – Art or Artist?”

  1. terrygrant Says:

    Interesting point of view. My feeling about posting a picture is that it makes a personal connection. Perhaps if all you want the viewer to see is your art, no picture is necessary, but if you are presenting words, ideas, sharing yourself then you must allow the reader to connect with a face. Seems silly, I know, but the human face is the most compelling image there is and when I read what a person has written and there is no photo I feel they are holding back and hiding behind anonymity. So much can be read in a person’s face, far beyond the superficialities of handsomeness or grooming. There is no sense of the person without the face. I’d love to see your face, Petra.

  2. vyala Says:

    Terry,
    thank you very much for your input. I fully agree to what you are saying. I have probably not expressed myself clearly enough. I am not against photos by all means – in my opinion a picture just does not belong on the frontpage of a website but in the section where your bio is etc.
    I must admit that I feel influenced when I click on a website and everything I see is the portrait of someone, in a typical pose of a studio.
    Btw – I have a photo on my website, even one and a half – just where it belongs: in the bio.

  3. m6fan Says:

    A good post Petra, and as most interesting posts do for me, is they make me think, as this one does.

    You’ve posed an interesting observation about several elements at once, all going to the heart of the matter, which is …….why are we here.
    Well, for many, it’s recognition about who they are, what they are all about, their lifestyle, philosophy, perhaps helping to market their work, whether it’s purely as a pursuit of their lifestyle, as a business, or trying to convey the masses to ones own beliefs (political, religious, etc) and or agenda (hooking up with a soulmate, finding friends, someone to share ideas with, perhaps just to belong somewhere. Many blog to receive feedback to ones own thoughts, work, philosophy, which provides added dimension and knowledge of the world.
    Some, just to keep a diary for themselves for posterity and don’t really give a damn if anyone visits, comments, cares, or anything. Just that WordPress gives them a convenient easy to use “diary book” (becareful if WordPress crashes!).

    I’m sure I missed a bunch more motives and reasons but be that as it may, we all have an agenda.

    As part of any agenda (other then the diary keeper), we all want people to connect with us in some way and I think TerryGrant said it rather well, in that a picture of a person in any shape or form helps to connect with that person, a part of their charater (you can read so much in someones face).
    I look at even a avatar and there is meaning and information that I perceive in one shape or form. Now it may not be a true and or a complete “read” on someone, but it’s part of the overall perception of that person. An anchor point if you will.
    For me, I use my thumbnail face as a signature if you will………but think about that….you know so much about me from that simple thumbnail…..relative age, somewhat facial character, I love old leica rangefinder camera, I dress simply (well maybe, if you saw the larger version, hole in my sweater!), it’s a statement of my work.
    btw, the shot wasn’t posed, it’s actually someone else took the picture as I was composing on them and just so happens when using the cam I usually keep both eyes open using the rangefinder. Most people think I shot myself in a mirror, not so.

    In closing I’m not sure if everyone has the same motive for adding prominantly or even low key pic of themselves .
    I imagine for some (like in advertising), they feel if they are good looking person, and people see that, they will be more apt to visit.

    Look at all the avatars…………….

  4. vyala Says:

    Alan, thank you for that wonderful comment. Overall I fully agree to what you were saying, especially in regard of people having much more motives than just the ones I stated of course. The world is not black and white, it is black and white with lots – really lots – of greys. I am very well aware of it.

    Still I think a picture can deceive and does not show the essence of a person – it shows only one layer of a mask. Only in situations where a person is fully unaware of being photographed you might get a glimpse of the true person. At the very moment when a person realizes somone is going to take a shot
    the shutter goes down just the same way as the shutter opens for a split second in the camera – in most cases even unintentionally. I think this is some archival way to protect yourself, your soul. Not without reason many indigenous people do not accept being photographed for fear of losing their soul. Is this only a coincidence? I don’t think so.

    Regarding the avatars you really made an interesting point. Would be an interesting study to see what makes people use the avatar they have chosen. Again – seen superficially – anyone who uses an avatar identifies himself with a certain character, person or idol and potentially reveals secret dreams and
    wishful thinking with the avatar they have chosen. And those who chose not to use one? Well, either they cannot decide which one to use or simply don’t care about one, or do not want to reveal something hidden or simply do not know how to use one…did I forget something?

    The reason why I am blogging is as multicoloured as everything – first I wanted to have a means to bring order into my own thoughts – writing them down creates order – not so very much simply a diary – I am very bad at that. Second I wanted to increase my chance get in touch with other interesting people who share the same interests – it is never bad to learn from other opinions and thoughts. The internet is a perfect tool for this because written words are not ignored as easily as words that are spoken. Also you can go back and check your own opinions – if they have changed or not.

    Of course I also wanted to have a bigger audience for my work without investing too much money at the moment even if images on the web do not do any justice to the real work. But it can function as a teaser.

    This is the most important part for an artist anyway – how could you possibly prosper without an audience? And I also wanted to have some fun – simply to see what happens when you put “yourself” out there and read and answer other blogs – it’s a great community and you can easily choose with whom you want to communicate and whom not. This is not always possible in real life – isn’t it?

    And finally the reason for my avatar? I define myself over my work. I always have and that was not always appreciated in the past. It is the head of my favourite wooden sculpture, which represents “Putri Dedes” or Prajnaparamita, the goddess of transcendental wisdom. Not that I have reached that plane yet by any means – LOL – but SHE symbolizes for me the perfect balance and reveals that in her face. Till today I do not know how I managed to carve that face but something inside of me did. This figure simply contains my heartblood (and many real drops of blood from the carving knife) and will always be with me.


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