Knowing the Artist

For the last 9 months, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing toy photographers from around the world for over 30 episodes (and counting!) of the podcast. When first pitching the show to Shelly and Brett, I hoped it could be an extension of the “Why?” posts we do here on the blog. I didn’t just want to chat with photographers I admire (which is, of course, a major bonus) but I wanted to understand why they chose toy photography as a hobby, what their process was like, and what they hoped to achieve through our cool little art form.

I bring this up because it’s lead to a question I’m now asking myself about art in general: How much do we need to know about an artist to truly appreciate their work? 

If I didn’t understand how much He-Man means to IntangibleDandy, would I still appreciate the adventures he gives the Masters of the Universe? Now that I know that he’s acting out his own version of fan-fiction, extending the stories he loved as a kid, don’t I look at those photos in a new light? Knowing how closely Janan relates to Spider-Man, do I not look at his photos of the wall-crawler with a new, more informed, perspective?

I don’t think I have an answer to this question. On one hand, yes, I absolutely appreciate an artist’s work when I know more about them. In some ways, I’ve formed a sort of kinship with the people I’ve interviewed. After chatting on the show, I look at their photos understanding the creative drive behind them, the techniques that went into capturing the image, and why the photographer may have chosen a particular subject.

From a certain point of view…

The best example of this would likely be my relationship with Kristina. We hardly knew each other before we began co-hosting the monthly themed episodes of the podcast. I’d always liked her work, but I don’t think I truly appreciated it until I began learning more about her. I love recording with her every month and hearing the story and intent behind each photograph, straight from the artist. It doesn’t mean that my own interpretation is invalid – in fact the podcast is specifically designed to provide both perspectives. We can have our cake and eat it too.

There are, of course, countless artists I know nothing about but whose work I love and appreciate. But I can’t help but wonder what I might think of a particular painting, song, movie, sculpture, or photograph if I had the chance to chat with the artist about it.

-James

What do you think? Do you find yourself appreciating an artist’s work if you know more about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! While you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post, and subscribe to our podcast!

LEGO artist minifigure toy photography James Garcia
Blank Canvas

11 Comments

  1. Janan

    Personally, I would say “Yes,” I do appreciate an artist more if I know more about them. That corresponds to my interest in reading image captions (when they are there) and behind the scenes stories which may give a glimpse into someone’s inspiration and deeper thoughts to the photo.

    The podcast interviews have been fantastic in sharing the thoughts (and voice) of the artist. I heard somewhere recently that communication consists of ~50% body language, ~35% tone of voice and the rest is content, hence, listening to the tone of the artist has allowed me to better understand them at another level.

    There are a few real life meeting examples I can think of which made me appreciate the images more – Tony with his preference for SOOC and Sunny showing me his sketch book of ideas which makes me chuckle when I see a new image materialised from that book.

    This is probably an opportune time to say, great work James on the podcast and shoutout to Kristina as co-host. Her laughter is quite infectious! 😀

    • Thanks Janan! That really means a lot.

      I agree on loving to see the BTS of a shot. I’ve always been that way with art. I buy movies to watch the making-of segments and listen to commentaries, I listen to podcasts to hear an artist’s story… That’s why I even started my own podcast, so that I could talk to photographers I liked and get inside their heads. And you’re right about the real-life element as well. There’s something really powerful about watching a photographer work, it’s one of my favorite things about toy safaris!

  2. Hi James. Great piece. I’m good with either. I’ve never met most of my favorite artists on the planet — whether that’s Mozart or choreographer Pina Bausch or visual artists Gerhard Richter and Kara Walker, etc. Then again I have met many of my favorite contemporary toy photographers! To me, it’s fun to know the person as it adds some insight and giggles about their work. Then again, in the case of seemingly hateful people who are accomplished artists (Wagner is an easy example, Matthew McConaughey perhaps less so for some), I sometimes wish I could “unsee” what I’ve found out about them. In the toy photography world, it has for sure been fun and inspiring to meet people. So there… I’ve said nothing conclusive. But I do appreciate the post and question. Thanks!

    • Thanks Doug! I definitely agree about wishing to “unsee” some facts about artists whose work I admire. Like you, I’m good with either knowing an artist or not, and think it just depends. Though I do find that when I really respond to a piece of work, I want to know more about it. I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes material, director commentaries, etc.

  3. brett_wilson

    I think this is a two way street.
    Some I like more because I know them more. And other I want to know more because I like their work. The more I know, the more I like, and the more I like, the more I want to know!

  4. Great question James. Ive met a lot of toy photographers, other artists and some of my favorite writers over the years. It doesn’t matter if I end of liking them or not, I always appreciate their work all the more. After hearing Salman Rushdie read from his own work I could “hear’ the humor in his prose better. When I say David Foster Wallace on a panel of young talented writers I thought he was a jerk – but later I had so much more respect for him because he had no patience for bullshit. He is still one of my all time favorite authors. So yeah, whenever I can meet someone or see an artist in person I will, because I always understand their work more. Thanks for creating these podcasts that help me achieve the same goal, because in our world wide community, Im not sure I would be able to ‘meet’ some of these artists any other way. Cheers and keep being awesome!

    • Aw thanks Shelly! I’m just happy to have a platform to be able to talk to artists and ask them about their process. I’m glad that other people enjoy the show too! I need to get out more and try to meet more artists in person or attend readings/galleries/etc.

  5. Mary Wardell

    For the most part I enjoy knowing more about an artist how they work. I love meeting people in person and seeing what they do which is why Mark & I met with many of you however briefly at the Oregon Toy Safari. Over the years I can safely say I’ve enjoyed meeting folks and spending time with them. It helps me understand why they shoot the things they shoot. And maybe it helps people understand me a bit more too. 🙂 I hope the podcast continues for a very long time, James.

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