A Tool for Our Heart and Soul

I want to follow up my last posting and extend the thoughts I expressed regarding the tension between Eros and Logos. Or between the craft and the heart, where many see craft as a barrier between the heart and the art. What they tend to forget is that craft is a living exchange. By craftsmanship we breathe life into our artistic work; by craftsmanship we transmit and transfer our vision into an artistic expression. In addition craftsmanship provides a means for our own growth and development and asks for us to tunnel our mind, heart and soul through the technical possibilities and requirements of whatever artistic medium we are working with.

At the same time we should not look upon craft solely as a technical requirement of the medium. We shouldn’t just feel forced to learn about the technique of the artistic medium in order to be able to express whatever our vision is, or feel opposed to it because it hinders the same expression. And we should definitely not raise technique into an objective of its own. Technique merely represents the tools, the study of the shaping means of our work. Technique alone, without the guiding influence of the mind and heart, is sterile. While it is desirable and undeniably useful to maintain a respect and appreciation for the best tools or elegant solutions, it is important to avoid the common trap of mistaking technical excellence for the soul of creative expression.

Craft must be put into service of our vision. It comes down to using our bodies, minds and hearts and extending them through craftsmanship and our work with the physical material. As a matter of fact the craft is an extension of ourselves. It doesn’t matter which art form we are talking about. The camera is an extension of the eye, the paintbrush and pen an extension of the hand and arm, the potter’s wheel an extension of the centred presence of the human body. And so it is even with computers, for those of us who channel our work through digital tools. The computer and the action of the silicon chip, with its billions of instructions per second, is a metaphor for an extension of the human nervous system, the human brain. The child starts by painting directly with its fingers, later on we start to use tools as an extensions of ourselves. But basically and at its most simple level it’s all the same.

Thus, we shouldn’t raise technique up as god itself. Neither should we fall into the trap of seeing craftsmanship as an obstruction between our heart and our work – and to be avoided. Because by knowledge of craftsmanship we are better capable of making the transition from heart and soul to artistic expression. I find it strange that particularly in photography technical knowledge has gain a bad reputation by some artists. It’s look down upon as geeky or of interest for only those who don’t care about the art. But again the craft is only a tool – and a useful tool in the creative process. Nobody asks whether an author needs to know the grammar of his or her language. And so it should be with any artistic work. The craft has no use of its own; it is merely a tool for our heart and soul.

84 thoughts on “A Tool for Our Heart and Soul

  1. I could not agree more. The athlete, the musician, the doctor, the chef, and the artist must first learn the craft before performing great works in their chosen field. There are no shortcuts.

  2. That is so well said. You write so well. It is so important to learn a craft and be learned in it before we start calling ourselves a specialist.

  3. I had a teacher who made technically perfect paintings, but they were boring paintings. On the other hand, it seems like there are a lot of people who have passion, but never learn how to be really good at their what they do. That takes discipline and study. Nice post. I always like seeing what you have to say with the chance to admire your photos.

  4. you covered many angles though kept the importance of working from the soul.
    i always look forward to your posts.
    z (your z rock, btw, should reach you this week!)

  5. A delightful post, Otto, thank you. Art is a very personal thing, we all see something different, but we are nevertheless, attracted to it. Sometimes we have to study something before we see what the artist/photographer, is expressing., but we do see it.

  6. This is a wonderful post and I am so glad you said what I have thought for years and so eloquently Otto! I have always felt if I look at a work and see “technique” before I see anything else about it then it has lost me and lacks passion or soul. It is like a poorly framed piece of art where the frame is so elaborate that it is the first thing you notice. However, all the tools are a wonderful way to work to be used just like brushes, pencils or any other art tool. Thanks for another thoughtful insight into the world of creativity, love the photo by the way!

  7. Lovely photograph with the blurred green background. Good post on what I like to echo. Well written words that ring true. People don’t ask a painter what type of brush they used, it’s the tool. Photography folks seem to always want to know my camera type and lens when viewing my photos. It’s the first thing they ask…”what camera do you use?” I bet you get that too???

    1. I do, and isn’t it weird, as if the camera really matters! I guess some of it comes from the fact that everybody can photograph today, in the sense that they can get acceptable results thanks to modern technology. While on the other hand modern technology hasn’t helped much to making it easier to paint. Thus many think it’s the camera that does the work, and therefore ask for what camera you are using. I just bought a relatively cheap point-and-shoot camera – and think that’s all I need. Of course it has some limitations compared to my professional cameras. So what? I can still take great pictures and express my vision through this simpler camera.

  8. First we have an idea. Second we desire to share, to communicate it to our audience. And we use the technique to make this happen. More we have the control of our technique easier is for us to share the idea. But without an idea, without an emotion the technique is only an exercise. I have seen many technically superb photos, but no emotion in them. Boring. Like a very nice girl (or boy) without soul. Nice post Otto, grazie.

  9. I have bookmarked this to read, time and time again; I have many musings about photography and its techniques by the ‘book’, and how this may be combined with ‘extending my eye’ and infusing an image with my personality. Thank you for sharing with eloquence.

  10. As you so eloquently stated, “Technique alone, without the guiding influence of the mind and heart, is sterile.”, is exactly what I was trying to convey during a conversation with a person that is so hung up on the technical aspects of her art and music. As always your words are so timely, thank you!

  11. I think good craftmanship becomes a work of art when you put your own flavour into it. I have come to admire crafts because when I attempted them found the process to be difficult. Quilting used to be considered “just” a craft but getting notice as a work of art. your blog got me thinking about art and craft, we had great debates about that in art school.

  12. I am really interested in what you share here. I so admire creative talent that is heightened with technical expertise that I find it difficult to understand that there are those who criticize. I think artists with truly creative eyes produce even more impact with their art if they have the technical skills to support their raw talent. It’s a very interesting debate…My grandchildren are tremendously creative and each has a different artistic leaning…but if over time they don’t develop technical skills to support their innate abilities, they’ll be limited in their expression. In the end everyone has to decide how much time they are willing to invest in truly crafting their art! Thank you for the conversation, Otto. Debra

    1. Yes, in the end it comes down to how much time we want to invest in our skills. Because it take time and effort to increase one’s craftsmanship. Sometimes we can live with less, but for the most part, the more skilled we are, the more impact we can make with our art – as you so eloquently state.

  13. I really enjoy reading your blog and wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Details are on my blog. 🙂

  14. This post has been a “tool for my heart and soul”! Thank you, Otto. It truly is very encouraging for me. I will be pulling out my little quick reference folder and giving myself a brushing off. Yes, this is exactly what I needed to hear. Big hug to you, my friend!

    1. Souldipper, I agree – TWICE – on this post! Every time I see a munchow post waiting in queu, I smile and look forward to whatever he has to share! z

          1. But of course! I do very much feel your appreciation – and appreciate it extremely much myself. Thanks for the encouragement.

  15. Great post, Otto. Photography, writing, painting, sculpture, singing, playing music, even cooking and baking— these are outward expressions of our multifaceted selves. Thank you!

  16. Wonderful post, Otto. The image, the words, all of it. I particularly liked, “…later on we start to use tools as and extensions of ourselves…” 🙂

  17. Thanks everybody for inspiring feedback. It’s really nice to know so many of you can relate to what I write about craft and the creative process. By saying so I don’t mean to express in any way that my argument is the only acceptable way of seeing this duality, and I would also appreciate any divergent opinions. That would only lead to an interesting discussion.

  18. Underbart foto, det är talande!!!

    Och jag fick beröm av en amerikansk fotograf för mina fotografier, det kanske är dags att satsa pà foto istället för konst…

    Ha det bra

  19. we belong to a time where short cuts are considered ‘cool’. hence taking time before declaring or presenting oneself to the world is a weakening tendency. Such a post is a timely reminder of the issues otherwise!

  20. I agree totally with the points you make and thank you for making them so clear. Two other points seem to me to be relevant. First, technical craft in photography can be, and should be improved through structured practice and experience. Whilst I agree that craft should always be the servant and not the master, I believe that our level of technical competence affects not only the quality of expression but also what we perceive as being possible. Rather like being in a foreign country – we restrict what we say according to our competence in the language. It follows that if we wish to expand our expressive capabilities we must constantly strive to improve our technical competence.
    My second point is this; I agree wholeheartedly that artistic vision/creative vision is at the heart of good photography. Craft, I think, can be taught. How far do you think it is possible to teach/foster artistic vision?

    1. I think you have two good points. To the first point: Technical competence does affect both quality of expression and what we perceive as possible. To become a great artist one needs technical mastery. But it doesn’t mean that one needs to know all there is to know about technique, only what is necessary to get the images one envisions. I think that is a third point of itself. As to whether or not it’s possible to learn artistic vision, I think it is. It goes hand in hand with technical knowledge. If you know what is possible you can better develop the artistic vision. But it goes beyond mere technique. By learning what to look for, by developing passion for what you want to express, by practising and practising I think we can all develop an artistic vision. And if we have a community that can give us feedback on our work, that is even more helpful, too.

  21. Great post.

    Great Art (whether it be pencil, paint, blowtorch or from the camera lens) also depends on the viewer. What one person perceives as ‘Great’ can be overlooked entirely by another viewer.

    I do believe you have to be passionate about your craft to continue into the future with it. You have to be inspired to create. I have painted and sketched exceptionally well in my youth, but I was never passionate about it (to follow it through in my working life).

    Now 40 years later, on buying a DSLR and taking up photography as a hobby, it has become my greatest love (despite poor eyesight). I rarely go out my front door without my camera.

    You can have all the training and experience in the world, but that does not necessarily mean you will be a Great Artist. Just as a highly trained and experienced Medical Practitioner is not necessarily a Great Healer.

    1. I am glad you have found your passion. And of course you are right, all the skills in the world is not enough if you don’t have the passion for what you are doing. But it certainly helps expressing that passion.

  22. Thank you for such an inspiring article, I enjoyed reading it! Your image is very beautiful, composition and depth of field are brilliant. Many compliments.

  23. It was a very thoughtful & inspiring post. I always get confused with the thing that, do I need to learn all the technical aspect of the creative process; It may be writing or photography. As you know, I love both these art forms. And I can tell you English is not our mother tongue. And as I was born & brought up in a small town; so it took a long time to get acquainted with this language. When I was studying computer engineering, then also grammar had very little importance in my life. And I was also not sure If one day I would love to write. So yes now also I have to work hard to be perfect in the grammar part and as you know I love clicking pictures. But most of the photographs I share with others through my blog were from my cell phone’s camera. So I hope you can guess how much technical knowledge I have about photography. But I am working on these weaknesses of mine.
    You always inspire me though your posts & comments in my blog. So a big thank you for that.

    1. Don’t make technique a problem. You are so creative that you get a long way just with that. Take your time and learn the craft along the way. Thanks for the comment.

  24. When we follow our heart and soul everything else fall into its proper places. Beautiful post my friend with a moving image to go with it. We need to do what we love and make us feel whole. There is a story to every picture we take and how we tell it matters. Happy Easter!

  25. Otto, this was just the encouragement I needed today. I still have so much to learn even about my camera, much less the accessories and editing tools. This reminded me that it’s ultimately about the art and what my heart sees and wants to express. Thank you!

  26. Your style of writing really amazes me just as your photos do. Words just flow and the ideas are beautifully expressed. Thanks for these great words of wisdom and for reminding me that craft is just the tool for our heart and soul and that ‘we shouldn’t raise technique up as god itself’.

    1. Thank you so much for awarding me. I feel very honoured. I will get back to them – as with some other awards I have been given lately.

  27. I am not sure where to start if only because this wonderful post has me asking so many questions! Along with craft, technique and passion where in the creative process do we put ego and confidence? Constructive criticism? Food photography used in advertising is the peak of mastered technique yet how many of us think of Applebee’s as the ultimate in dining experience?
    Through blogging I have met so many talented photographers, starting here, and I understand there is always a certain degree of technical skill at play but an outstanding photograph, to me, bears no trace of the technical detail if only because it grabs me from my seat and pulls me in. I have so much to learn!

    1. Where does ego and confidence come into the equation? I think ego, for one, is usually getting in the way of the creative process. Ego helps for the commercial part of being an artist, but not necessarily for the creative part. As for confidence, that is important in order to stand one’s ground and do what you believe in, rather than what most people find attractive. Constructive criticism I always find very helpful and aspiring, but again any artist needs to hold it up against their own integrity and where they stand artistically. Not all criticism – even constructive – needs to be taken in. Thanks for raising some very relevant questions.

  28. Wow over 100 “likes” and all these comments….and more awards. Congratulations Otto. You really do deserve it. I think all us who read your blog know we’re lucky to have found you because you aren’t just a good photographer, you share your knowledge with us.

    the most important line in this post:

    “Technique alone, without the guiding influence of the mind and heart, is sterile.”

    and the marvelous photo 🙂

  29. I liked what you said here, and agree with you completely. The camera is an extension of the eye… and the brush an extension of the hand. It’s much the same as with learning to drive. When you’re first learning, it is a matter of dealing with the big machine that you’re sitting in… but after a while, it seems as if your presence extends all the way to your bumper, and it is enough to desire to turn a corner, and one doesn’t have to wrestle with the steering wheel. That’s what it’s like to use any of the utensils of art after we’ve worked in art for a while, and really learned our tools well.

  30. I just happen to be going to m¥ monthly craft get together with some friends. I come back full. And, always something new in my art appears after this experience.

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