the art of selection
On Friday I met with my photographer friend who shot the images of Scales in action. We needed to sort through them together, make editing decisions together, etc. It looks pretty beautiful. We also decided on making the project into a book which would include both photos and scans of many of the scales.
This project made me realize that my desire to faithfully capture the range of humanity in detail is something that I’m not sure I like the results of. The Identity Tapestry did a great balance of telling a personal story and making it universal, without actual writing from the participants. The Scales project was more risky in its way.
Each scale has the written response of a random person to the writing prompt they were given. Most of the responses were sincere- some simple, some incredibly beautiful or sad. Many stories of lost friends, pets, even a teddy bear. Then there were the people who had to write the most gross of shocking thing they could think of, or who wrote obvious fiction about things like “getting into Hogwarts” or about Twinkies. Many more than I was comfortable with wrote about drugs.
Part of that is the nature of the space it was in- a music festival with a lot of younger people. A musuem would have a very different, specifically self-selected crowd, and a different spectrum of writing. …and yet that is part of why I wanted to do this- to bring this out of official Art space, and to connect people to art who might otherwise not connect.
So my dilemma: this is all part of the range of human experience and reaction and I wonder if I have obligated myself to include it. .
…but then I remembered one of my basic understandings of drawing, and in a way all art: it is about selection. Even when doing representational work, you are constantly selecting what to include from the whole of what is there. At the most basic level, you select the subject, the light and time, then the framing, and then line by line you choose what is essential to the piece and what is not.
And then I realized the photographer and I were already doing just that. The images he took and the images we chose together, how we cropped them- every step of that is part of telling our story of the piece the way we want it to be seen. And yes, this is obvious to photographers, where everything is so clearly selection, but I don’t hear it explicitly said between other visual artists very often. There is a fiction that you are telling the Truth or a fiction complete. As I see it, we are all of us telling our own stories, often different every time.
And so I am starting to create a book of the Scales Project choosing a handful of Scales out of nearly a thousand, knowing full well it is a selected story. I want to get what I see as some of the most interesting, telling and beautiful snapshots of humanity out of the larger selection the project captured.
This is part of the balance between the artist and the participants in a collaborative piece. A dialog which ends with the artist… or perhaps sometimes the curator.