On Specialization in Art

Feb 29, 2016 / Photography / Influences

For the next couple of blog posts, I will highlight articles and books that have influenced my artistic practice. I’m putting them all in the blog tag called “Influences.” I read Mark Hobson’s article, Just Do It in 2006–way before I had any idea that photography would become a very large commitment in my life. This article’s influence is pervasive in my work. It explains for example, why I stay devoted to the cyanotype process. The author makes a claim for specialization. Accountants have specializations (like audit, corporate or personal tax, international tax) and artists should have the same.

The article is worth a read, but unfortunately, I can no longer find it online. Below was an excerpt I saved in my journal:

In the fine art photography world, all successful artists invariably practice a “specialization” similar to their commercial brethren. Obvious examples include Ansel Adams’ B&W photography of the American West, Joyce Tenneson’s flowers, Irving Penn’s still lifes, and Richard Avedon’s portraits. Some argue that if you’ve seen one photograph by Adams, Tenneson, et al, you’ve seen them all. Their vision and subject are unwavering and unmistakable.

To put it all in a convenient nutshell, they repeat themselves over and over and over again. And yet, the photography rarely seems repetitive. To the contrary, the very repetition itself creates and strengthens the vision and voice. The obsessive devotion to subject pursued with a singular vision also produces the “greatest hits” photographs that we all know so well by these photographers. Without the body of work produced by relentless repetition, these “masterpieces” would not exist.

Mark Hobson, Just Do It article 2006

I got into the cyanotype process because of many reasons including the emotional quality of the color blue. I gravitated to this process because it made me feel connected to my work. With only basic materials of paper, chemistry, water, and light, I get to produce these introspective prints that remind me of my life goals. However, I’m staying with the cyanotype process because of specialization. I want to repeat myself over and over again (as the article points out) because I believe that it is through repetition and sticking with it, that my best work will emerge.

One can set limits in multiple ways. I’ve set mine in terms of process, but I’ve also done it in terms of subject. My work always revolves around identity and making a choice. Am I an accountant or an artist? Should I go this way or that way? I know…just make a choice already. But most people agonize over choices, and my work dramatizes that or at least puts it front and center for the viewer. My work is a tool for remembering.

So the ideas and themes in the image above repeat themselves in an image one year later.

About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, and I create cyanotype art that makes you think and feeds the soul. I also blog about the quest for a meaningful life using art and positivity.

When not shooting photos or writing, I teach myself piano and recommend Josh Wright’s Propractice tutorials (affiliate link).

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