My new image in the series Urban Saga and this article on how to recognize real art are meant as a tribute to Zaha Hadid, who passed away a few days ago, and to her legacy of thinking differently, of pushing the boundaries and reinventing the world of art and architecture.
Urban Saga I – Shadows of a Soul – A Tribute to Zaha Hadid It is a photograph I shot last year in New York City, where I will be back soon and I’m looking very much forward to. It is an image that is very dear to my heart, like all the images in Urban Saga, and it is another story taken from my life. I will talk more about this image in a further article, and you can subscribe to my newsletter to receive it when I publish it. But now I would like to talk about a subject I’m thinking about very intensely lately:
HOW TO RECOGNIZE REAL ART?
A Tribute to Zaha Hadid – The most inspiring contemporary architect
Born in Iraq but living and working in the UK, Zaha Hadid was a wonderful artist and architect that has always inspired me. She was a role model for me already from my years as an architecture student. People who know me know how much I admired her and her work, how much my design style relates to the same principles as hers, and this made me very sad to hear a few days ago that she has passed away unexpectedly from heart attack while she was only 65 and at the apogee of her architectural career.
She was the first woman to win the Pritzker prize for architecture, the highest distinction in the architectural world, and is still the only woman who won it alone, and she won many other prizes among which prizes she was the first woman ever winning them.
If you don’t know the artist and architect Zaha Hadid, this is a link to her company, where you will see most of her work, buildings, projects, furniture design, fashion and other kinds of art. This is also a very good BBC documentary about her work on made when she was still alive. And a good article about her work:
Not an article about Zaha, but an article for Zaha
I’m not going to make this article a story about Zaha’s life and work, because there are already so many articles around talking about her work and her legacy. Instead, I want to make this article for her, and I want to talk about the things her passing away made me think about.
I was talking about her work in a conference I was giving a speech in Chicago a few months ago and I never thought at that moment that it would be the last time I talked publicly about her while she was still alive. At least I know I made some more people aware of her work so they can be inspired themselves in creating their own art.
The image I’ve chosen to show you if you don’t know her, is a very nice moment surprised when another great architect of our times, Frank Gehry, kisses Zaha Hadid, who was his good friend.
What I always admired in her was the way she challenged the world of architecture and how she pushed the boundaries of what can be designed and built. I’ve always believed in pushing the boundaries and I’ve always done that myself. Some understood me when I did that, some didn’t. Some admired me, some envied me, some tried to copy me, some probably even hated me for disturbing their status quo. It never stopped me.
There is only one way in art – YOU
What I’ve learned over the years is that there is only one way you can follow in your life, and especially your artistic life, and that is YOUR way.
It has no sense to try to please others, hoping they will understand you better. They won’t. If they were, you wouldn’t need to please them to do so. This is why I always say what I have to say and do what I have to do and if someone doesn’t agree with it, too bad, but it won’t make me change the way I think. Life is too short to compromise and not live it to the fullest just because the world is too afraid of thinking differently.
This is so true in art, maybe truer than anywhere else. Because there are no rules in art. But most people need rules to be able to go through life. Otherwise, they are lost, they are confused and they don’t feel at ease. This is why many don’t react to art or don’t understand it. Because they cannot find the rules in it.
The same thing happens with artists being understood and accepted. They cannot be judged by a set of rules so they are many times either ignored or misunderstood. This is why Zaha needed so many years to be able to start actually building her designs, this is why so many artists are acknowledged with such a delay, and some never acknowledged.
Magician Artists and “Self-proclaimed Artists”
Another problem in art is about recognizing authenticity, about how to recognize real art – about recognizing it early on and not accepting it after you’ve been told what is authentic and valuable and what not. This has to do with an individual sense for art and the sensitivity to what is valuable artistically. Unfortunately, not everyone has this sense, for many reasons. Either because they are not interested enough, or because they are not instructed enough in this direction, or because simply they are afraid to make a judgment of something that is as subjective as art and artists.
This is why you can see a quite extended confusion sometimes in what people think is valuable and what not, in which artists are authentic and which are the ones who just follow the wave or try to capitalize on others work or ideas.
Take photography for instance.
There are those who proclaim themselves artists, while all they do is doing as much PR as they can, so everybody knows their name and think they are important, while they use ideas created by others, many times wrapping them up in fancy new names, so they don’t need to give credit to the authors. Those are what I call the “Self-proclaimed Artists“ or the “Copy-pasters”, the pseudo-artists. They don’t create, they just make others think they create. They are good in using what has already been created and they may be good in presenting it with a new name to those who do not know the original.
It’s the same as with the off brands. They take a successful model, they recycle it and they present it as their own invention. They may have a certain success among those who do not know much about art or who do not know the original.
And there are those, on the other hand, who you don’t see much socializing and doing PR or intensive marketing, they don’t brag while they would have every right to do it, but they produce magic art, art that goes straight to your soul and is original because it is felt and not “borrowed”.
Those are the magicians. Those are the real artists. You can understand how much they feel by just looking at their work and it always moves you. It always makes you react and always makes you connect. They may not respect any rule, they may not even care for their audience or social image, they may be one day happy and social, and the next reclusive and antisocial, but they will always be interesting and they will always create uproar in the audience with their ideas and their work. They would always make hearts beat faster.
Those are the “magician artists” and they will always fascinate, even when they are not understood.
One of those magician artists was Zaha Hadid, for many years creating in the shadow and needing to fight the status quo to be finally acknowledged. She was one of the lucky ones despite her long struggle, since she was finally acknowledged, even by those who didn’t understand her. The recognition came in waves and it was extensive and overwhelming, but she had to fight for a long time to get there.
She was an architect but there are artists needing to fight the status quo in photography too and in all arts.
How to recognize real art and artists
Zaha’s death a few days ago made me think very intensely about what can be done for remarkable artists to be acknowledged soon enough so they can create at their entire potential and for the longest time. She left us when she was only 65, which is so soon. There are so many other examples of artists who either left us too soon and they were not enough acknowledged or even not acknowledged at all. Take the classical example of van Gogh. It’s painful to realize how much we lost as humanity, because we couldn’t understand these artists earlier and give them what they needed to create even more wonderful works of art.
I’ve always believed in genius and I’ve always believed in the power of art to change the world. The way art changes the word is much deeper than anything else, either science, for instance, or politics, or whatever else you may put in your mind. We may have the impression that politics changes the world more deeply than art but it is an illusion. Only art can reach the soul of humanity and change it. And the best is that art changes it for the better and forever.
I had to take a moment to think these days how we can change this, how we can change the fact that so many remarkable artists are ignored, while those who shout louder proclaiming themselves as artists are accepted. I’m not sure I found a solution but I think there is a solution and that is by changing the way we see the world.
Too abstract? Yes indeed, but I also have a practical solution. Read on to see what I’m thinking about.
Forget marketing tricks. Start seeing the real value
We have gotten used to advertising and we make it such an important part of our life. We are its slaves.
The classic example, so many people glorifying Apple, as if it was the best thing after sliced bread. I have nothing against Apple and I admire the way they do business but I think people considering them a value is mostly due to their smart marketing and not necessarily because an essentially better value of their products. While their products are good, there are others that are even better. But you still see so many people who think an iPhone is the best thing they can have just because it has a nice design and because it is well promoted.
So many people are charmed by advertising and they end up believing that they ”belong” to something important, to something bigger than them, just because they own an iPhone. What is happening is that they just follow a direction others suggested them to follow through marketing, and they are more impressed by the wrap-up of a product than by the essential value. In the case of Apple at least the product and the design are beautiful, but I can talk to you about cases when the product glorified is mediocre and it still gets attention.
You may say, there’s nothing bad about owning a nice device, and I agree with you, but my issue comes somewhere else. In how we get to follow that product. In what makes us do it. And that is marketing and not essence. That is my main issue and it can be applied to art too, unfortunately.
As long as we glorify marketing and we are willing to sacrifice our freedom of thought, just to belong to a category that was created artificially, we will not be able to recognize real value. If we care for the package more than for the essence, we will never be able to recognize art, unless it is wrapped up in a shiny cover-up and served on a golden plate together with a catchy slogan.
If we need the wrap-up to make us feel important, we will never be able to penetrate the shell of superficiality and connect with a real work of art.
We don’t even realize how much we are manipulated and how much we lose by looking more at shiny products and less at real value.
It is the same with artists.
We may have in front of us the most brilliant artist of all times, but we may not recognize him unless we are told so, because he doesn’t belong to a category we already know, he is not according to the standards we are told to have, or unless he has wrapped up himself in glitter and presented himself as “the most important and successful fine art photographer alive”, as someone like for instance Peter Lik has done to advertise himself. We have lost our capacity of discerning, I am afraid. This is what we need to regain, so we can really understand art and be able to tell real magician artistes from Self=proclaied artists and “copy-pasters”.
Where to “belong”
I’m sure many of you will not agree with me but I cannot pretend I’m expressing a mainstream opinion, but just my own opinion, be it extreme, if you think so. I was never expressing a mainstream opinion and I’m perfectly fine with that. I even prefer to have my own opinion and not follow the mainstream path. As Zaha used to say “I feel good to be on the edge”.
I apologize to all the Apple users for using this company as an example here. It could have been any other company, but they are the most well known and the most successful in doing this kind of marketing I wanted to target. I use some Apple products myself, just like I use any kind of product. But I never allowed myself to enroll to any direction just because it seemed to be the good direction or because someone else tells me to do it in a nice marketing campaign. I’m the worst customer ever. I always filter everything through my mind before deciding what is worth and what is not. I’m not faithful to brands, I’m only faithful to people and ideas. This extends to everything I do and it is how I think and why I do not agree with many mainstream ideas and why I smile when I see how people can be manipulated by the so-called influencers or by smart marketing.
I think we all need to spend some time and build some opinions of our own, without being influenced by anyone else and without trying to do something just to become popular or “belong” to a category. That is extremely important in art, to not only follow what is presented to us as art or as good artists, but strive to recognize them ourselves and admire them for their essence and not for their shiny glittery wrap-up.
And one more thing, we do not need to belong to something greater, or something smarter, more exciting, groundbreaking, and so on and so forth, as we are made believe by others.
We already belong to the best category we could belong, and that is
I think being able to think like this, to think freely, would be a big step towards being able to recognize the real artists among us and the real art they create.
There is hope for real art
Maybe one day, and I hope that sincerely, we will be able as humanity to say that we can support and encourage artists from the moment they start creating and that we give them all the possibilities to create as much as they need to create, and to offer us everything they have in their minds and their souls. We would all gain so much from this. Life would be more beautiful and more worth living then.
I have to also apologize to those who expected a more photography related article from me, and not another long reflection on art. That will come very soon but I needed to share this reflection with you because I was thinking about this aspect of recognizing great art many times the past days, after the news of Zaha Hadid’s sudden passing, and it is an issue that preoccupies me for a long time.
I needed to publish it also because this it is part of my way of thinking and I hope it can help you see the world of art in a different way and look at it with a more careful eye so you can identify real value faster.
Some of my news
As a bit of a teaser now, and to come back to more real and practical things, I am working on a surprise project these days, for which I have recently filmed in Amsterdam, with architect and photographer Diego Rosero while I was also conducting a black and white fine art workshop. I’m not going to say much about this project yet, but I will be back very soon with more details about it and I’m sure many of you will be interested because they asked for something like this.
I will be back in a new article with more details about Urban Saga VI, my new image that I presented today. It would have made this already long article even longer to add this info here, but this was one of the most interesting images I’ve ever worked on. You can subscribe to my newsletter to receive it when I publish it.
FURTHER STUDY RESOURCES
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