the gap

by julie posted June 4, 2008

No, not a popular clothes shop… a different kind of gap.

I’m not usually one for anecdotes, but this seems to run parallel to what I’m thinking:

When my dad was young, he loved jazz music. He bought himself a clarinet, and went to an tutor to learn how to play it. After he had the basics down, he asked the tutor to teach him to how play jazz, but the instructor said no. He said (paraphrased) “jazz is something you either have in you or you don’t – you can’t learn it” and my dad sold the clarinet, completely disheartened that he couldn’t create the music he loved so much.

That little story came back to me the other day when I was musing over the difference between what I shoot, and what I want my work to turn out like. I wondered about the difference between the technical stuff Рthe craftsmanship Рthat you can learn over time and the theory Рthe heart of what you’re doing, the meaning. Can you strive to levels that are beyond your own creative inclinations? Does anyone else find that there’s a gulf between the work you admire and the work you create – and it’s not a technical one? Is there any way to bridge that gulf, or is there a chance that it’s jazz, and you’re just able to play the scales?

I’ve been mewling on about this for months now, and I don’t seem to be able to let it go. It’s incredibly frustrating.

11 Responses to the gap

  1. Unfortunately, I think that your dad had a poor teacher. That goes back to this ‘talent’ thing. Talent comes with practice and I think that you can teach someone to play jazz. It all starts with mimicry, then it develops into your own once you stop thinking about it. I think that had your dad started listening to jazz records, he would have started playing his own version of jazz, but unfortunately, an arrogant teacher led to his demise.

    As for your own work, what do you see as missing? What artist do you see that you’d like to ‘be like’ or perhaps, emulate. Is your own art not satisfying to you? Could you explain how your want your work to look? I’m curious. I think that if you can put a definition upon it, you can come up with a solution.

    I see lots of work that I admire, but mostly what I see are the technical details that are missing. I can see a shot, look through my library of shots and see that I have similar shots, but they don’t jump off of the page, or have certain subtleties that I like. This simply means that I need to get better at the post production; however, I am very satisfied with the subjects and my portrayal of them.


  2. Two thoughts
    1, How do you know other folks don’t look at your work and think “why does mine not turn out like that”?

    2, Is there no satisfaction to be gained from the effort of trying to reach your goal? No feeling that maybe tomorrow, using what you’ve learned today, you’ll get a little closer to Jazz?

  3. […] on seeing… thinking… photographing…, a post about the gap between the art we want to make and the art we end up making […]

  4. I think the tutor did your dad a disservice. There’s plenty you can do to develop skill at improvising.

  5. i used to buy chord books for guitar songs and slavishly strum along to records. the results were crappy. then i took a break from guitar for twenty years. when i went back to it i took to just playing – as in playing games – with the music… just messing about. that’s when things started to happen. first i made their music my own, and then i started making my own music. it was more about letting go than getting ‘better’ on someone else’s terms. you’ve got to have some technical proficiency to play jazz improv well, but it’s even more important to have a ‘feel’ for the music and something to say through it. of course, not everyone is gonna be a coltrane or gillespie, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. listening to all sorts of music also helps; the more stimuli you’re familiar with, the more responses you can come out with. : )

    ditto for photography.

    ditto for any kind of art really.

  6. I advise patience.

    I read somewhere a while back that it takes 10 years of avid practice to be great. Not that everyone can be come great after ten years, but the great ones have all been working at it for at least that long. And working hard, analyzing, setting goals, examining critically.

    Message is if you keep trying to get better you will, and if you try long enough better can become darned good. (At least that’s my own hope!)

  7. If there were as many talented teachers as there are talented beginning artists, the world would be a better place. I feel entitled to be a little snarky about bad teachers having spent so many years teaching acting and hearing hundreds of horror stories like this one. Too bad your dad listened to that tutor and there was no one to tell him that maybe no tutor could make him a jazz musician, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be one.

  8. I think about this all the time. I think this video sums things up very nicely:

  9. I can relate to this frustration quite well. I know I should be content with my own vision at times, but I cannot help envy the insight I see in some other images. For me, it seems to have very little to do with the technical, but for the vision. Everyone can be taught to look at the details, look for relationships, etc. But every once in awhile, you see someone create something quite extraordinary out of the mundane.

  10. I believe that someone once said about Jazz, “the harder you try, the worse it gets”.

    I think that the point is, you can learn the mechanics well enough with study and lots and lots of practice. But then you have to let yourself go and just keep doing it (playing from an inner feeling, working off another players stret, free association). Allow serendipity to occur and not worry about the “rules”. Try things, experiment.

    And when you start enjoying photographing something, just follow it for a while. See where it takes you. Maybe a deadend, maybe not.

    I think your own SoFoBoMo book is a case in point. You may be closer than you think;- )

  11. Striving to achieve what you want is everything. The product is nothing (Slight exaggeration).

    If every time you took a photo it met your definition of perfection then photography would be boring.

    For me Jazz is just a style playable by many.

    I’ve never taken a photo in my entire life that I thought was excellent let alone perfect. If I ever do get that perfect photo I think photography will have lost something for me.

    I’ve seen a lot of photos by others that I thought were excellent but I strongly suspect that if I had taken the photo I would not consider it excellent. It’s not because I’m more critical of my own stuff. But rather for a given scene I will have an objective that I want to achieve and my photo never gets there. With someone else’s photo I have no target objective all I can see is what he gave me and that’s enough to make it excellent.

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