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Art vs Craft

Published : 14th September 2003

One of those questions that has bothered me for a long time.

As many of you know I'm often called a "technical" cameraman because I pre-plan everything.

It's more artistic to just flounder around.

Anyway, what I really want to say is that maybe we should be looking back at how craftsmen were organised to see how we should go forward.

For hundreds of years you went through a progression of apprentice, journeyman and finally, for some, master craftsman. That is in fact where masterpiece comes from, a piece made by a master.

This applied to all crafts, painters included, Rembrandt was a master craftsman not an "artist".

It seems to me that it's far too easy to say that you don't understand the technical side of cinematography because you're an artist, how can you possibly fully exploit any area of endeavour if you don't understand the limitations/possibilities fully ?

So maybe AC should stand for apprentice cinematographer, you then go to journeyman cinematographer, after a minimum of 7 years was the rule, and finally, after an unfixed period maybe you get recognised as a master, not everyone will, most will remain journeymen.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based
www.cinematography.net



>where masterpiece comes from, a piece made by a master.

I believe a masterpiece was a "graduation test" - a piece made by a journeyman in order to gain recognition/approval as a "master".

Wouldn't it be the equivalent of ASC, ACS, BSC etc accreditation?

Dominic Case
Group Technology Manager
Atlab Australia



> Wouldn't it be the equivalent of ASC, ACS, BSC etc accreditation?


If you're using that type of an analogy, then probably yes.

Working DP’s without that type of accreditation would then be considered journeymen.

In many other professions (such as medicine and law) there are state licensing examinations one must pass before one begins a practice.

I suppose the CML could start offering licensing exams for a small fee.

Jessica Gallant
Los Angeles based Director of Photography
West Coast Systems Administrator, Cinematography Mailing List



>You haven’t shot a commercial because you don’t have a commercial >reel with exactly the kind of commercial the agency is shooting on it.

Also a personal experience : "We want to see pictures of cars with bows (like big ribbons) on the top; we can't imagine them, we want to see them."

Creatives seem to have fallen to all-time lows. Always looking for the 'flavour du jour' - something to set them apart; most follow, very few lead.

All the best,

Al Satterwhite
DP/LA
"once in a far, far away place (NYC), a big time adv shooter for print"



>This applied to all crafts, painters included, Rembrandt was a master >craftsman not an "artist".

Well, obviously he was an artist too!

I just figure it this way: craft is something a person concentrates on mastering - art is something someone else might call the results. In other words, whether it's art and you're an artist is something for the critics to decide, not you. All you should worry about is mastering your craft and through that process, what results might achieve the status of art.

Certainly I don't think "craftsman" is a negative term.

In fact, these days, it's probably more of an accomplishment to be called a "master of the craft" because the word "artist" is thrown around too freely.

As for the apprenticeship route, which I did not take (I started out shooting for myself and then others, and have climbed up the ladder from low-budget to, well, slightly less low-budget films as a cinematographer) I know there are gaps in my education because I haven't been able to work on other cinematographer's projects (I learned from them through what was written on them and by them). On the other hand, the traditional ladder (loader to 2nd AC to 1st AC to operator to DP) produces its own gaps of knowledge of a different sort. Ultimately we all have to set our own course of education without the sort of apprenticeship system that Geoff describes, even if we work our way up the ladder in the industry.

I have sort of the opposite problem than Geoff's - convincing producers that I'm an artist is not the problem; convincing them that I have enough craft and experience to handle anything complex is. This is why I have yet to shoot a commercial.

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>You could be known as a features-only guy...not the worst thing IMHO.

Agreed. Although I sure wouldn't mind the income of commercials - and even the opportunities for exploring more radical concepts - I keep reminding myself that I'd rather be a features guy wishing I could do some commercials than a commercials guy wishing I could do some features. Just my preference.

Roderick
Az. D.P.
www.cinema-vista.com



David Mullen writes :

>…convincing producers that I'm an artist is not the problem; convincing >them that I have enough craft and experience to handle anything >complex is…

David,

You haven’t shot a commercial because you don’t have a commercial reel with exactly the kind of commercial the agency is shooting on it.
Personal experience : “We know you can shoot beer. But can you shoot wine?”

Second hand experience : “Yes, you do have a brown dog on your reel. But you don’t have a black dog.”

Steven Poster ASC



Steven Poster writes :

>You haven’t shot a commercial because you don’t have a commercial >reel with exactly the kind of commercial the agency is shooting on it…

I was once contacted by an ad agency asking to see my "ice cream" reel. Facetiously, I asked what flavour. The agency said they would get back to me. They did. Chocolate was the reply. I didn't have a chocolate reel only plain vanilla, but I couldn't do the job because of a conflict, but I was always curious to know if they ever found someone with a "chocolate ice cream reel".

Last fall I was shown a "steal-o-matic" containing many shots from my reel (aerial) and was asked if I could do something "just like that". I had some fun telling them that the guy who shot that stuff must have been really expensive. It just shows you that if you do this long enough, you may begin to talk about yourself and if you do enough commercials, you will certainly end up talking to yourself.

Brian " How was that for you, Brian" Heller
IA 600 DP



>Wouldn't it be the equivalent of ASC, ACS, BSC etc accreditation?

While I think that the criteria for induction into these bodies is consistent with this idea, the practice of whose names come up and whose don't is not consistent enough to consider membership as being THE indicator of someone's having achieved master status. I don't mean this in a bad way in any sense, but there are many types of cinematographic jobs where one might truly achieve "master" status but not be recognized by these august bodies.

My mentor as I was coming up in film had shot commercials and some features, but the body of his work was in documentary work - for TV, for feature-length release, and for special venues (read IMAX) he was a consummate craftsman and an artist...he had a real gift for creating strikingly beautiful lighting with the contents of a mini-van - his technical knowledge of camera and lighting supported his eye and enabled him to make beautiful films...but the sort of work he did was not in the public eye the way top end features and commercials are, and outside of his particular film community, I suspect his talent went largely un-recognized.

I am not sure that there would really be a good way to codify "master" status in the industry - to some degree, membership in the aforementioned societies recognizes such status (or confers it in some cases) but in other types of work or other markets, there is no real recognition - awards tend to recognize stunning visuals rather than craft knowledge - as well they should - that's what awards are about - while beautiful footage implies mastership of craft, it is no guarantee of it.

Maybe a Cinema Scouts Merit badge system?

The fact is that to some degree, the marketplace recognizes some degree of mastery of craft by hiring people, but the hiring process is capricious enough that getting a job is not necessarily proof of mastery of craft...and sitting at home is not necessarily proof of lack of mastery of craft.

Mark Weingartner
LA Based Craftsman



David Mullen wrote:

>...In fact, these days, it's probably more of an accomplishment to be >called a "master of the craft" because the word "artist" is thrown around >too freely....

Hear, hear! Everyone's an "artist", very few are craftsmen (or -ladies.) And this condition appears to be at its worst in the agencies. If those creatives, etc., had mastered what they are trying to do they wouldn't be asking to see your chocolate ice cream or black dog reels. They could size up your work overall and know what you can do. This is not to say they are not artists nor creative, just to point out their weakness in an essential part of their job.

Wade K. Ramsey, DP
Dept. of Cinema & Video Production
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC 29614



David Mullen wrote :

>Ultimately we all have to set our own course of education without the sort >of apprenticeship system that Geoff describes…

I totally agree with this, hell! I certainly wouldn't be here if I had had to rely on a traditional approach.

I meant more the time, the experience aspect.

Although commercials have some pluses, the money, the chance to play with big toys etc, the negative aspects can get a bit wearing after a while!

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based



>Yes, you do have a brown dog on your reel. But you don't have a black >dog.

Dangerously close to CML-Chat but....one of the saddest things I've seen was a group of agency "creative types" gathered around a photo stock book looking for the "look" while a great DP was doing wonderful things on the set and they weren't interested.

The happy news was the agency was fired and the company kept the production company to do their advertising directly.

Dave Marks
editor
Pennsylvania



Steven Poster ASC writes :

>Yes, you do have a brown dog on your reel. But you don't have a black >dog."

Here is my very simplistic take on Art and Craft:

Art is the idea. Craft is the execution.

The most incredible, innovative, and original idea can go no-where without know-how. Conversely, knowing every little technical detail about a film camera (or anything else) is good for impressing your film friends, but has little other value if, when you look through the eyepiece, there is nothing worth viewing.

Plus, never underestimate the "art" involved in problem solving.

Short aside.

Two short stories:

I was once denied a job as a staff shooter (mostly B-roll in support on-air sales) because I had only ever shot narrative films. This was even though everyone thought my reel was strong and that I had more experience in "production" than all the other candidates.

As a composer (many moons ago), I was not hired to do the score to a documentary because the director heard "flutes", and there were none on my demo CD.

Brent Reynolds
Dp / Filmmaker / Sometime composer
Tampa, FL



>Wouldn't it be the equivalent of ASC, ACS, BSC etc accreditation?

I have been following various topics on CML for a while now, and couldn’t help but notice some similarities with the animation world (especially this thread) I was initially a sports photographer (it paid for film school and eventually went into animation). I have worked on several Academy award nominated animation shorts (one Oscar win) and still get asked some very silly questions from advertising reps when I am being asked to submit for a commercial. Also often get a cold shoulder when I venture back into the realm of live-action shoots as a camera op. or DP...Regardless of your field, if you have a love and passion for "pictures" and your are capable of conveying a sense of "artistry" to the audience via your images, shouldn’t you be considered a master craftsmen ?

(I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for your generous sharing of knowledge that I have witnessed, it is truly impressive to see.)

Eric Neil Bolté
Animator/Cinematographer
Montreal, Canada



Al Satterwhite writes:

>"once in a far, far away place (NYC), a big time adv shooter for print"…

I certainly remember your name from the Old Days in NYC, Al. As a then-avid
reader of Popular Photography I recall seeing your name in print constantly.

Speaking of art and craft, can you say just a bit about what motivated your focus-shift from stills to film, and what the experience of shifting gears was like.?

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



Jessica Gallant writes:

>I suppose the CML could start offering licensing exams for a small fee…

Hmmm... I never felt I needed any alphabet soup after my name, but "Dan Drasin, CML" has a neat, official ring to it. Yeah... I like it.

How much of a fee? Do I need to understand exposure in lux-seconds? What's "emulsion?"

Dan "actually has no middle name" Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



>Speaking of art and craft, can you say just a bit about what motivated >your focus-shift from stills to film…

I don't know if anyone is really interested in why I left print work for film, but since you asked :

I spent 12 years getting to the top of the print advertising world in NYC in the '80s (after having spent 10+ years shooting for every magazine in print (Life, Look, Time, SI, Newsweek, etc) & over 100 magazine covers; still photographers do themselves a disservice by claiming way more then they are capable of. I had photographers I never heard of coming up to me telling me they were my competition. Not! I know who my competition is because I bid against them every week. Nobody seems to want to 'put in the time' necessary to achieve their goal.

I see the same thing in the film world; a lot of young gaffers, grips, electrics all call themselves DP's while they really aren't. Everyone wants to be a DP or a Director - NOW! They just want to be and don't seem to have the time to learn any part of their craft. The same goes for young director/producer types. They all want to shoot a movie, even if it's gotta be on some low-end DV because all they have is $1.98, and they don't need no crew either, ('cuse my grammer) but their project is gonna be that one special one that breaks out. And it just waters down the whole mix. Having spent a lot of years shooting big budget ads, I have a pretty good idea what it takes to properly execute something even for little money.

Getting back to the leaving photography part, I just got 'bored, and having shot an awful lot of interesting stuff, ranging from miniatures to airplanes (I had 8 different books- because if they want to shoot cars, they don't want to see planes or people) and since I love film, went in that direction. Of course, when you shift from one field to another, it means starting over. Since I know how to light, how to work a crew, how to produce (I owned my own production company in NY), it's been a matter of applying that and then adding that motion & talking thing that seems to make movies work. It hasn't been that difficult for me; I read a lot, I watch a lot, I learn a lot. A few people (like long time friend Steven Poster) have been very generous in allowing me to watch them work & ask questions. If you're not learning something new in this business you're not growing.

What's been difficult is finding worthwhile projects to work on. 85% of the stuff I get called on is crap with no chance of any quality coming out of it, so I turn it down. I've been around twice to all the agents, who basically say, "If we ain't heard of ya, we ain't interested in repping ya"......ah, life is good. At least it ain't boring.

Al Satterwhite
DP/LA



Geoff wrote:

>Anyway, what I really want to say is that maybe we should be looking >back at how craftsmen were organised to see how we should go >forward.

Here in France for hundreds of years there has been a tradition of this sort in woodworking, roofing, metal work etc. They are called, les Compagnons du Devoir, and in the middle ages their guild was something akin to a monastic order. Though they took no religious vows, they had a "mother superior", a woman who cooked and consoled them (they were only boys when they left home and began their apprenticeship), and they all lived together in a single house or building (and still do) for the first 4-7 years of their apprenticeship. Among their "credits" are the cathedrals and castles across the country. Not too shoddy a body of work. More recently, a lot of them were recruited to restore the Statue of Liberty just before America's bicentennial.

Now in theory, France's top camera people were supposed to follow a similar path - national film school, long apprenticeship to respected working cinematographer, graduation to DP around about the age of 40. But the system hasn't really withstood the onslaught of present day constraints on money and time. We don't make films the way they made cathedrals. Basically, service to God has been replaced by servicing debt (equipment, homes, divorces, insurance, dah-di-dah-di-dah...) or servicing the client's product ("he only does drama, he can't do comedy" or "where's his chocolate ice-cream reel") These days the ultimate reward is no longer a place in heaven but heaven on earth. It's up to you how you decide to build that little corner of paradise.

A lot of the "Compagnons" I have crossed paths with over the years have sadly become alcoholics by the time they hit 50. Very few people are interested in paying them what their craft is worth. As a society, we put very little value on faith, dedication, honesty - these are words from the sermon the "Compagnons" still recite today - sounds almost ridiculous, right?

When I was an AC years ago working on an American TV series here in Paris, the producer whispered in my ear one day after lunch, -Hey, Steve, can you operate? I said, yeah, but what about so and so, who was not far off and had already operated 5 episodes? -We've been fighting all week and I want to dump him. What an opportunity to move up a notch? Right? But if you believe in a "guild" system, you don't do that sort of thing. I felt my loyalty was to the DP (who was operating and had been teaching me some things and had a ton more experience than me, as well) So I discreetly went over to him and asked him what he thought? Stupid. He became irate, stormed off the set (in all fairness I think he had some sound reasons), called his agent right away and started wondering whether or not I wasn't going to take his job away. That is a big fear that rules this business.

It is one of the things that seems to be absent from this forum and for this reason alone, I think that what you have created, Geoff, is about as close to a "guild" system as we're going to get in these dog eat dog days.

Steven Gruen
Journeyman
Paris, France



The problem with the "guild" structure of certifying masters of craft is that, since the 18th century at least, we have been evolving toward a merit-o-cratic culture. A good illustration of this is the "blind" auditions customarily used to fill orchestra vacancies. No one cares if the musician is accredited, only if s/he can play.

Another example involves both the film craft guilds and ultimately the ASC. My understanding is that if you can demonstrate simple competence with a reel of your work, you may join Local 600 as a DP. Such was not the case when I joined. Similarly, I hear that a DP with three reasonably mainstream films to her credit-or even a body of commercials-and three persuasive sponsors, can probably be elected to membership in the ASC. Asking admission committees to judge the quality of a body of work is felt to be too subjective. Judging competence is much easier, less subjective and not as likely to be contaminated by political or personal factors.

If membership in the ASC were limited to cameramen who had been nominated for Academy Awards (to chose one simple criterion), it would be much smaller.

I personally view all "crafted" things as exhibiting artistic qualities. Most such things don't exhibit much "art" and are therefore trivial and of little interest. It is really a matter of degree. "Dumb and Dumber" is one of my favourite comedies, leading my daughters to seriously question whether they want to remain related to me. I do, however, find "Some Like It Hot" to be the superior film in most, but not all, aesthetic categories. Making something funny is an art.

Jerry Cotts
DP/LA



>I see the same thing in the film world; a lot of young gaffers, grips, >electrics all call themselves DP's while they really aren't.

I remember introducing myself to the head of the IA local in this area. He looked at my card and said, "Well, there's a lot of people who call themselves DP's but really aren't." I was a bit insulted. He hadn't even seen my work.

What you say is true...and not true. When I decided in 1992 that I was not going to take any more camera assistant jobs and that I was only going to work as an operator, many of those I told who came up through the union ranks looked down on me for my decision: I had only been out of film school five years, and in their eyes I should have spent at least ten years as a camera assistant working on union shows before I even considered taking such a drastic step. And even then it wouldn't be my decision; someone else would have to reach down and pull me up.

Nevertheless, I did it: and people hired me. None of my old contacts did, so I had to make new contacts.

Shortly thereafter it occurred to me that, in that dawning era of DP's operating their own cameras, camera operators had the highest unemployment rate. People were more interested in me as a DP than just as an operator. I wasn't terribly experienced but I leapt in anyway.

And now here I am. I've shot some high profile jobs but most of my work is fairly small potatoes. I've certainly been learning, mostly experimentation, and I think I'm coming along nicely. If I'd followed the old and respected timetable I might just be getting around to shooting my first short in preparation for my big step to DP-hood. I didn't want to wait that long. I knew what I wanted to do, and I decided to do it on my timetable rather than on somebody else's. Instead of pulling focus for the past sixteen years I did it for four or five years. The rest of that time I've been shooting exclusively.

Does that mean I was young, foolish, and woefully unprepared? Yes. Did I pull it off anyway? Yes. A year after I made my "big step" to DP-hood I shot second unit on a feature for four weeks. The footage matched perfectly. Absolutely perfectly. The first unit DP says that, to this day, he still doesn't know exactly which shots are his and which are mine.

Looking back on that situation I'm not entirely sure how I pulled it off. In retrospect I didn't know ANYTHING. I was stupid enough that I didn't know how little I knew, and I was smart enough to figure out what needed to be done. I was very lucky.

I guess I was one of those who wanted it all now. And in a way I got it. I think it all depends on the individual and whether they think they know it all or whether they've just decided to start learning on the job. I thought I was smart enough to dive in and figure it out as I went along. So far, so good.

My grandfather was an architect who designed some of the great movie palaces of the Midwest US. A number of his buildings have been named national landmarks; one of his movie theatres in Chicago has been restored and reopened, and I think another is in the works. My grandfather had been born in England, and my father asked him if he thought he'd ever have achieved all he had if he'd stayed there. His reply was, "Absolutely not!" He'd not been born into the right class. The best thing that ever happened to him was when his mother moved the family to America, where we have no class. He was able to follow his own path.

The guild idea is a good one, for those who wish to follow it. I highly endorse the idea. I just don't think it should be the only path. If there are those who wish to make their own way they should not be penalized...as long as they can do the work at whatever level they are at. The bottom line is, we aren't the ones who decide who will be DP's. The producers make that decision.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



There's a lot of merit in meritocracies. Personally, I prefer them to nepotism and aristocracies, but that's probably because I wasn't born with blue blood nor do I make friends in the "right" places easily. The problem is that what is "good" in a meritocracy is what is sanctioned by the most "objective" quantity, as Jerry points out. In this day and age, that's the bottom line. Whatever is bigger, faster, cheaper and sells more, wins the prize. That sounds like science to me. Art is about having a point of view. Craft is having what it takes to make it come across.

Steven Gruen
Steadicam/Lighting Cameraman
Paris, France



>There's a lot of merit in meritocracies.

That depends on who's deciding the merit, whether they like you, whether you've annoyed them in the past, whether you're showing them work that is too "cutting edge" for the times, whether they can appreciate your style and what you're striving for, etc.

That's both the best and the worst thing about human beings: too many variables.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



Steven wrote:

>Art is about having a point of view. Craft is having what it takes to make >it come across.


I argue that the lowliest hack making awful tchotchkes has both a point of view and the craft skills to realize some version of that point of view. He makes art, but art of little or no merit. This is not a trivial point, because the next craftsman up the aesthetic ladder may make things which are still pretty weak, but have one outstanding quality, such as his color sense, for example. ...and so on until Michelangelo. For me there is a direct continuum, when I see the one I groan, and when I see the other I swoon.

Jerry Cotts
DP/LA



Jerry Cotts wrote:

>Art is about having a point of view. Craft is having what it takes to make >it come across.

I argue that art is not so easy to come by. Art must transcend subject, meaning and context. Art can only really exist on a level of abstract feeling and is created and identified by the creative intelligence (or, in other words, the metaphysical intelligence). It can't be explained in the terms of calculated science or rational formula. The thing that moves us most shouldn't be dumbed down and processed into something explainable, because the impossibility of doing such is what makes it what it is. Like love.

Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo can both be beautiful in the same way regardless of subject, style, technique, etc.

When simplistic symbolism and manipulative contrivance are the objective, how can pure, true art be realized? It isn't, and to say that craftsmanship is superior to or more important than "art" is to make a comparison of two things that cannot be compared. True craftsmanship can be a conduit and an exercise for the creative intelligence, but can not replace or be substituted for it.

This is why a guy who forgets what film stock he is using, doesn't know where to turn the camera on or what any of the lights are called can still produce photography that makes you weep.

Not to disregard the technical side (craftsmanship), the two are friends from different universes.

Best,

Anders "trying to shoot what can't be seen" Uhl



>This is not a trivial point, because the next craftsman up the aesthetic >ladder may make things which are still pretty weak, but have one >outstanding quality

We're just lucky that Michelangelo got that Vatican account, otherwise he'd still be painting indulgence cards. They'd be the most incredible indulgence cards ever seen, but we shouldn't knock his talent simply because he might not have been admitted into the Vatican Society of Ceiling Painters (VSCP) if he wasn't "discovered." He would still have been very, very talented, and his work would have reflected that, just not in as grand and vaunted a fashion as a cathedral ceiling.

Besides, ceilings are temporary. Indulgences are forever. :)

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



>I argue that the lowliest hack making awful tchotchkes has both a point >of view and the craft skills to realize some version of that point of view…

I absolutely agree. There is a continuum. The guy making tchotchkes, why is his art of "little merit"? I'd say that's because you find shelves full of them in every third store on every third street of Salzburg. You could say his point of view is pretty common - same wood-cutting troll in green lederhosen with a satyr's grin. Some are bigger than others, but basically, it's a point of view you've seen before and you're not going to discover anything by staring at it except maybe it's price.

I've heard commercials considered a "minor" art form by people. Maybe this is what irks Geoff about not getting recognition as something other than just a "technical" cameraman. Why minor? Well, I would argue that it is because their point of view never really changes. Despite all the craft that can be poured into commercials, the idea, the "point of view" behind them is always to get the product out there, make it known...make it sell. Everyone knows examples of certain craftsman in the business who have used commercials as a steppingstone for developing their craft and then applying it to a longer narrative form. Some don't make it.

This is where interest comes in. How do you hold it for an hour and a half? Craft helps, but what keeps a person coming back to a motion picture that they've already seen five times? Obviously, it has moved them. That's art. It affects your emotions AND your point of view. I don't just mean that you cry because the son is reunited with his father in the end. I mean that the picture's point of view or multiple points of view have added something to your own point of view that wasn't there before you saw it. Better yet, each time you watch it, you see something you missed the previous times, something about craft, how a scene was cut, AND something about the human condition.

This is where the teachers get in trouble. The human condition sure doesn't respond to laws the way emulsions and CCDs do. It's all gut feeling and that can be pretty intimidating. We tend to respond in patterns. I mean, when challenged to communicate, whether it be in pictures or words, something emotional, something about a scene that depicts some aspect of the human condition, we tend to use clichés. (Tchotchkes are basically wooden clichés.)

I'd argue that the ARTISTS, I mean the real ones, use their craft to either express something that has never been said (and those come at the rate of about 1 or 2 a generation) or something that has been said but in a way that no one has heard or seen before.

Steven Gruen
Too late to be anything but tired
Paris, France



Steve Gruen

>I've heard commercials considered a "minor" art form by people. Maybe >this is what irks Geoff about not getting recognition as something other >than just a "technical" cameraman.

Hell no!

I don't give a flying f whether I'm considered an artist or not, it's such a devalued word it means nothing anymore.

I want to recognised as a master craftsman.

I'm just trying to promote the idea that you need to master the craft before you can even start to think about the art, but having gone through art school in the late 60's I know that this is a totally lost hope.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based



Never forget that art is also very 'political'...it's got a lot to do with who you know and who can champion you & your work...this goes back to the 'patrons' of old. It's not art until 'they' say it's art.

Real art doesn't really 'happen' until a long period of time has elapsed so that the work can be revisited from a different point of view than the immediate one.

Al Satterwhite
DP/LA



Geoff wrote:

>I want to recognised as a master craftsman…

By whom? The Pope and the Queen just don't have the clout they used to have. Your colleagues? I'd say you've got a lot of respect in this respected forum. You want three letters after your name? I guess those guys draw the merit line in front of commercials, music videos, experimental films, documentaries etc. etc.

"I'm just trying to promote the idea that you need to master the craft before
you can even start to think about the art..."

I don't agree. As Anders said…"This is why a guy who forgets what Film stock he is using, doesn't know where to turn the camera on or what any of the lights are called can still produce photography that makes you weep."

I watched a documentary on Stanley Kubrik last night. In it, they showed the first photograph he ever had published - a sad looking newsvendor leaning over the counter of his wooden stall next to a rack of dangling newspapers whose headline read, FDR DEAD. The absolute pathos in the old man's face next to that headline told the story of what it is to be like a common man when one of the political Gods dies. A real sense of abandonment.

A great shot. Kubrik was all of 16 years old when it was published in LOOK magazine. I'll bet he knew jack all at that age about lenses, cameras, film stocks, camera placement, timing etc. etc.

Did he learn that stuff? Sure did. But the need to express something was already there. That's the birth of art. The need drives the craft. You don't think about "art". Its' need drives you.

Steven Gruen
Steadicam/Lighting Cameraman
Paris, France



David Mullen wrote :

>all I can ACTIVELY do is master my craft, thru which hopefully my artistic >nature will find expression.

David hit the nail on the head...art is in the eye of the beholder & someone else has to call it art. All you can do is keeping putting it out there.

Al Satterwhite
DP/LA



Steve Gruen wrote :

> By whom?

Ah now, there's a question, I guess I want the people that pay our fees to
pay more attention to ability and less to hype.

No hope of this I realise but shouldn't we be thinking this way?

>Kubrik was all of 16 years old when it was published in LOOK >magazine.

I wouldn't necessarily agree with you about that, as a 16 year old I had a fair grip of the technicalities of stills. But anyway, he went on to become obsessive about all the craft aspects of his films.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU based



(re Steven Gruen's comments also...)

Anders Uhl wrote:

>This is why a guy who forgets what film stock he is using, doesn't know >where to turn the camera on or what any of the lights are called can still >produce photography that makes you weep.

Anders, do you agree there are moments, or series of moments, when one forgets what film stock, what the lights are called, all those things - even if you're invested in knowing them - and something *else* happens, something beyond any strategy ?

When the analytical side of the brain just hands over the reins ?

It can be the hardest thing of all to get there, though.

(Of course, before you put the technical side of the brain in standby it helps if you've charged its battery in the first place)

Sam Wells



Geoff Boyle wrote :

>the people that pay our fees to pay more attention to ability and less to >hype.

So would I, but that takes a certain education and definitely an independence of mind that are in far to small supply for my taste. People go with what is safe, hence the sort of stories Steven Poster and Brian Heller had about dark dogs and chocolate ice cream.

Geoff Boyle wrote :

>>as a 16 year old I had a fair grip of the technicalities of stills…

Some are just more advanced than others, I guess, but were you attentive to what was going on around you emotionally in a way akin to Kubrik’ s photograph? That's getting back to the Art vs. Craft dichotomy again. They really need to evolve in parallel. The accidents of life often lead to one becoming more developed than the other.

Geoff Boyle wrote :

>But anyway, he went on to become obsessive about all the craft aspects >of his films…

Yes, he certainly did. This docco was excellent in illustrating his obsession with craft and artistry, by the way. It was done by his brother-in-law, retraces his entire career, is narrated by Tom Cruise, includes excellent vintage "making of" shots (Garret Brown running around with a Steadicam II on The Shining set was a personal favourite - damn he was good with that beast), and has ITV’s of Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen, Peter Ustinov, Malcolm McDowell, Sydney Pollock, Allen Daviau, Doug Trumbull ... the list is too long.

Steven Gruen
Steadicam/Lighting Cameraman
Paris, France



Sam Wells wrote:

> Anders, do you agree there are moments, or series of moments, when >one forgets what film stock, what the lights are called, all those things…

Hi Sam,

I hope so! And of course ignorance is only a limitation. As I said, I think that the technical and creative can not be mistaken for or substituted for one another. There are different forms of intelligence just as there are different forms of genius.

Wynton Marsalis, for instance, is considered to be a great Jazz musician (certainly popular), but many musicians dislike him because, they say, he is only a musical technician, and doesn't have "soul" - well, what the hell does "soul" mean? Can you define it? I can't, but they are right. Gotta have soul.

Anders "bend the stops" Uhl
DP NY

P.S. Still working on that DI test!



Geoff Boyle wrote:

>I'm just trying to promote the idea that you need to master the craft >before you can even start to think about the art…

But even artists who appear to do "easy" stuff, like, say, Warhol, had serious technical skills, even if they often chose not to use them.

There are a lot of interesting artists (including outsider artists) who lack any serious technical skills, but produce good work. True with photographers, too. There are even some filmmakers who lack technical skills but make interesting films -- films where you overlook the technical flaws because of content and artistry (if not craft).

I like invisible craft....always nice when an editor or cinematographer praises something that's invisible to a general audience.

Jeff "collects outsider art" Kreines



I've been arguing that "art IS craft" and vice versa, although one can evaluate them separately. All of the things we refer to as art must, by definition, exhibit craft skills and a crafted "thing" (opera, building, painting, gee-gaw) must in fact, be designed, even if it is a poster for a missing cat, to use an absurdly "unartistic" example. One of the qualities of better art is that it exhibits "human regional values," that is, elements which we identify with and which move us.

Thus most commercials are high in craft elements and low in meaningful content, although they are most certainly "art" of a rather undistinguished form.

On another sub-topic:

2. Another practical problem for those of us over 40 is "grey-listing." You know who you are and what I mean.

Jerry Cotts
DP/LA



>Well, what the hell does "soul" mean? Can you define it? I can't, but they >are right. Gotta have soul…

But can you teach it? Can you learn it? Or can you only learn to find it within yourself? Gordon Willis once said that you can learn everything but good taste. I sort of agree with Geoff -- all you can really do is concentrate on mastering your craft. Art comes out of the ideas being expressed by the work and out of who you are as a person. Whether I am an artist or not is almost beyond me - all I can ACTIVELY do is master my craft, thru which hopefully my artistic nature will find expression. I'll leave it to others to judge my work as being art or not. All I can do is express my ideas through my craft and hope the results are art.

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



Al Satterwhite writes:

>David hit the nail on the head...art is in the eye of the beholder & >someone else has to call it art. All you can do is keeping putting it out >there.

I dunno. I think there have been many artists who knew they were creating great art and really didn't care what people thought or what people called it.

There are others who knew they were creating art and never promoted themselves or their art. Emily Dickenson, for example.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



This is getting interesting.

Jerry Cotts wrote:

>I've been arguing that "art IS craft" and vice versa, although one can >evaluate them separately.

Definition, of course, is the problem.

Poetry does not, necessarily, require a "craft skill", and is certainly more pure artistry than "missing cat".

>most commercials are high in craft elements and low in meaningful >content, although they are most certainly "art" of a rather >undistinguished form.

If they touch your soul somehow, regardless of content, they can be art, and one form is no less distinguished than another. Every slob with a TV set has access to that honest beauty that exists in some commercials, that real art, something transcendent. How great is that!?

Best,

Anders Uhl
cinematographer
ICG, New York



David Mullen wrote:

>But can you teach it? Can you learn it? Or can you only learn to find it >within yourself? Gordon Willis once said that you can learn everything

Can you teach someone to be intelligent? No, but you can teach them to use their intelligence and cultivate it. Same applies to creative intelligence. You should absolutely try to master your craft, but you should also master your creative intelligence, exercise it.

David Mullen

>Art comes out of the ideas being expressed by the work and out of who >you are as a person.

I agree with the second part - you as a person, but I still say that art has nothing to do with ideas as such. I could have the idea to sketch the ankle of a horse, but that wouldn't put me on the level of Leonardo Da Vinci who's sketches of horses legs and ankles would be as beautiful even if there were no such thing as horses or legs or ankles (abstraction). Likewise, "conceptual art" that is based on a concept (idea) and is meaningless without that concept or pretext, is itself the antithesis of art because it is rooted in reference and not creation. An idea may be a spark for inspiration, but the art must transcend that idea.

Best,

Anders Uhl
cinematographer
ICG, New York



Brian Heller wrote:

>I think there have been many artists who knew they were creating great >art and really didn't care what people thought or what people called it…

Nicely put. Often the true pioneers are ignored, and those who imitate their work get the attention.

Probably helps explain the term "artist's artist."

Jeff Kreines



>Poetry does not, necessarily, require a "craft skill", and is certainly more >pure artistry than "missing cat".

Tell that to Schroedinger!

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_122.html

Jessica Gallant
Los Angeles based Director of Photography
West Coast Systems Administrator, Cinematography Mailing List



Now THIS is a true artist.

http://www.aberrantart.com/

I have several of his prints. I don't think he realizes he makes art. I think he just tries to make money.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"
http://www.artadams.net/



Art Adams wrote:

>Now THIS is a true artist.

It's all in the eye of the beholder.

Get thee to an optometrist asap!

Jeff Kreines



>It's all in the eye of the beholder. Get thee to an optometrist asap!

Heathens to the left of me, heathens to the right... ah, for the good old days of surrealism, when Rene Magritte and I would walk down to the boulangerie, and I'd say, "Rene, old chap, I had a dream about a really large comb in a small blue room," and suddenly his eyes would light up with dollar signs... (Belgian dollars, of course.)

http://www.humanitiesweb.org/cgi-bin/human.cgi?s=g&p=c&a=p&ID=1063

(Yes, I really love this kind of stuff.)

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



Jeff Kreines wrote ;

>But even artists who appear to do "easy" stuff, like, say, Warhol, had >serious technical skills, even if they often chose not to use them…

I should have been clearer, I went through art school when "conceptual art" was big, this didn't mean that you did anything simply, it meant that you didn't do anything. You wrote about what you might do but actually did fall.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based



Jerry Cotts wrote :

>2. Another practical problem for those of us over 40 is "grey-listing."

Ah but there is a point where, if you've survived 40+, some would say 35+, you get to a GOM status, Grand Old Man, and suddenly you're popular again because "gosh! you shot that!" kinda nostalgia factor…

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based



>ah, for the good old days of surrealism, when Rene Magritte and I would >walk down to the boulangerie, and I'd say, "Rene, old chap, I had a >dream about a really large comb in a small blue room,"

Art (Adams that is)! You're my new personal hero!

Roderick
Az. D.P.



Geoff Boyle wrote:

>I should have been clearer, I went through art school when "conceptual >art" was big, this didn't mean that you did anything simply, it meant that >you didn't do anything.

Ah, you poor soul...my time at art school was just before those awful days.

Jeff Kreines



AL Satterwhite wrote :

>Real art doesn't really 'happen' until a long period of time has elapsed…

Time, the best anti-hype filter available.

Steven Gruen
Staedicam/Lighting Cameraman
Paris, France



Geoff Boyle wrote:

>Ah but there is a point where, if you've survived 40+, some would say >35+, you get to a GOM status, Grand Old Man,

I hadn't realised I was so close to venerability!

I've only been half following this thread, it's got 'Art' in the title - big turn off ya know

Yours,

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.



Anders Uhl wrote:

>Poetry does not, necessarily, require a "craft skill"…

Aren't reading and writing skills. There are many writing craftspeople who are not artists nor do they aspire to be. The people who write instruction manuals for instance.

There are also many poets and novelists who must take writing "jobs" in order to make a living to continue there expressive work.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



I think different DP's have different things to offer, kind of like the analogy that different guitarists have their own individual sound. What good would a world of robotic clones be anyway?

The art and craft...there are varying degrees from person to person, I guess. Some people are more artistic, others more technical, but perhaps you can't be a shooter without the artistic aspect. What about personality? I heard comments today about the strong personality to be a Director and/or DP...Not attitude, but confidence, and it's nice to meet modest accomplished people.

I had made it a point to learn as much as possible, camera and filmmaking (technical and broad knowledge) but at times I've also had to hold back-you end up looking like Mr. Know it all, even if you're not trying to be arrogant. We have to carry around a lot of this accumulated knowledge and experience.

Again, I make the musical analogy-theory must be scales that are memorized, harmony (hey, what's a G7#11?), and rhythms. They are languages that you have to learn and live with. Of course much learning is also accomplished right here on CML, and from time to time you wake up and ask yourself "what the hell am I doing???" LOL...And to complicate matters, I really enjoyed directing and shooting at the same time- but right now I'm still like a little boat in the ocean (ready to sink, lol)

Every next job solidifies your existence as a cinematographer-but I hear from an accomplished DP that it still feels like shaky ground (and you have to stay on top of it)

My random thoughts...

Best regards,

John Babl
Evolving DP and other things.
Miami



John Babl said:

>Every next job solidifies your existence as a cinematographer - but I >hear from an accomplished DP that it still feels like shaky ground

Yes, I loved reading that Janusz was looking forward to the break between Lost World and Saving Private Ryan - but then Steven suddenly said he wanted to do another movie, Amistad. Janusz very much wanted to rest before 'Ryan' but said he didn't want another D.P. to shoot Amistad because then Steven might want to keep working with that guy.

Roderick
Az. D.P.


Steven Gruen wrote :

>Art is about having a point of view…Craft is having what it takes to make >it come across.

Wow - that's some really good writing! Heavy words, excellent point.

John Babl



For the past couple of years, in my Copious Spare Time (not!), I've been shooting a DV doc about a guy in San Francisco named Bill who creates stone sculptures...by BALANCING columns of large rocks, one on top of the other -- on their points. No rebar, glue, nuthin'. Just patience and inner calm. When he works publicly, astonished spectators venture all kinds of opinions about his work.

Is it art? Is it even craft?

Who cares? It communicates something ineffable. A kind of magic that's available to anyone who can cultivate their own balance and patience. These simple qualities are so sorely lacking in our culture that they seem almost alien. That's really what the film's about. I do hope to finish it by this summer.

Whether the film is art or not I'll leave for others to decide. I just hope it does justice to the essence of Bill's work and spirit.

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



From Sunday's New York Times Oscar article :

>The most difficult category to assess in the digital age is >cinematography. Like the movies themselves, cinematography is a >combination of Victorian-age mechanical principles and pre-Victorian >chemical discoveries, all directed toward the capture of light in its flight. >But in the digital domain, "light" is only an attribute, an effect that can be >applied and manipulated at will, rather than a physical entity with its own >rules of conduct.

Directors like Robert Zemeckis and Baz Luhrmann have been using digital technology for years to tweak the lighting of scenes - shifting tones from warm to cool and back again, inserting shadows where they were needed. Essentially, they have learned to do with the visual track what recording engineers, armed with digital technology, long ago learned to do with the soundtrack. A million little tweaks and tucks are possible, most of which go unperceived by the audience except as they contribute to the overall atmosphere and mood. Can the results still be called photography, if they are photographs of nothing that ever existed in the real world?

Kent Hughes
Director of Photography
SoCal



Ok. I’ve read a lot of these posts and thought I would make some comments.

This is a great discussion, but I think the question should be…”what separates the craftsman/woman, the artist and the dilettante?”

I’m sure some of you have heard this progression before but there is a point to it. I got interested in photography when I was ten years old. By the time I was twelve I knew that photography was going to be my life's work. I can’t tell you how I knew. Nobody in my family was anything more than a snap shooter. But I knew.

When I was fourteen I met a cinematographer and decided on that day I wanted to make movies as a cinematographer. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I knew I wanted it. He became my mentor. He was a tough teacher, and he insisted that I learn the craft of still photography before ever picking up a movie camera.

I did that. I went to three different schools for photography. Only one of them taught the real craft. And they taught it so well that after the first 6 weeks there I thought I was having a religious revelation about the craft (and the art) of seeing light and transferring that vision to film. In those six weeks I learned more craft than I had from ten years of shooting.

I came out of that experience knowing that I had not only the craft but the professionalism and discipline to deliver that craft when called on to do it.

I started shooting commercials before I got out of school by a fluke, and I bumbled along, making all of the mistakes that we make and die a little bit for each time. But somehow I always delivered.

Almost ten years after that, in my thirties, I was in my darkroom (I still continue with still photography to this day) and I had an epiphany (I think it was in the middle of the night). I had the realization that I had become a master at my craft. I was a master photographer! I think what that meant to me at the time was that I knew that given ANY imaging device I knew that with a very short learning curve (I once had to be told how to turn on a video camera while I was on a job) I could make masterful use of the tools and deliver really good images (yes, HD too).

Still to this very day I am trying to discover what my art is. And I’ve had lots of opportunity to do that. But I think that there are some of us who have an intuitive sense that allows that art to happen. No matter what the situation and the pressures it comes out in spite of what is going on around us. There is something that takes over and it just happens. It’s almost like being in a trance state while at the same time looking to everybody else like you are still there. Sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening. I can give you plenty of examples of that, but sometimes we do know it and can feel it and that’s the best that it can be. But I can’t explain it. Can you?

I don’t think Connie Hall could and he was probably the most intuitive Director of Photography that ever lived. I know it (that intuitive trance state) happened to me on Donnie Darko. In fact there are moments on most of the things we do that it happens. The real trick is to get there consistently.

But I do think that the craft is ultimately important. Without that I think that the ’artist’ is just a dilettante. Working from the heart is probably only achievable if you first know how to work from the head. But working from the heart is really where it is at...

Steven Poster ASC



Steven Poster wrote:

>You mean like the King saying to Wolfie “too many notes...”

A favourite quote.

Apropos this wonderful discussion, G.K. Chesterton wrote :

"Art is limitation; the essence of the picture is the frame."

Obstacles and challenges, patrons and producers can always be in the way.

How we deal with them is what counts.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



>You mean like the King saying to Wolfie “too many notes...”

Always puts me in mind of The Duke of Gloucester's (Brother of George III) comment on Edward Gibbon's "Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire" (vol 2).

"Another damn thick square book? Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?"

Dominic Case
Sydney Australia