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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Revisiting Old Work - The Debate of Altering Art

Several years ago there was a large debate over movie companies changing original movies to add new materials and update the formats of various films like Star Wars. A lot of people were angry that their classic movies had been tampered with. 

Its an intriguing argument. Face it, we humans hate change. That is a fact of life. But it is also a fact of life that nothing stays the same. Everything from our thoughts to our tastes in fashion and food changes constantly. 

For me, as an artist, I am and always will be about change. I do not want to remain static. In fact, I can say for sure that I dread a static life as an artist. The thing is, that a lot of artists become static. The definition of "moribund" fits well. We all our skills to terminally decline over time. We start out with a great concept that sells in the marketplace and that is where we remain. Over time our work begins to lack vitality and vigor because we are no longer challenging our skill level. Its all about selling our work and rarely about mastering our skills. 

This blog is testament that I've preached more than a few times about losing our vitality as artists. So what got me thinking about this today? 

About a year ago I had a catastrophic failure of a backup hard drive containing much of my work. This came shortly after the theft of a computer from my studio which contained among other things, an additional backup of much of the same work. This is life. We can't plan for everything. But the potential loss of so much material was heartbreaking to say the least. 

Now this blog contains much of what was lost. But the images on here were not high quality images. They were resized to save on space and load time. So while I had the remnants of much of my original work, the quality was not good for much more than showing the work on the blog or on someones computer. The original depth of the work was lost. So began learning about techniques for resizing. What did I need to do to recapture at least in part, some of the originals that were lost? 

Surprisingly I learned a hell of a lot over the past year and that was not limited to just resizing and re-pixelating work. It included a much broader growth of my skills as an artist which were not only handy for older works but current works being created. So gradually over the past few months I've been revisiting some of those older works. 

One of my first major series when I began as an artist was a photo series called "Walking in the City of the Dead". This was a combination of original photo work done in New Orleans cemeteries but applying techniques that brought out a much more surrealistic image. I was always proud of this series because I think it was in many ways "my coming out" as an artist. It was the point where I stopped being just a photographer and became an artist who used photography as part of his composition. 

But like any older work, my skill levels at the time were not as broad as they are now. So I began looking over the 100+ images in the series as more than just a resizing project. But should I be looking at fundamentally transforming the series using new skills also. 

Ahhh now your beginning to see why I am thinking so seriously about this subject. 

Now lets bring another element into the discussion. "Assimilation Art". Basically Assimilation Art states that no piece of art is ever static. It is always changing. That the stop point is a completely arbitrary line which the artist determines a piece of work the be "complete". But any good artist knows that a piece of work can always be improved or changed, even if we draw that line that the work is finished. 

So by this definition which I apply to my whole career, there is nothing holding me back from taking the cemetery series and turning it into something new. But should I? There is a part of me that says that this series represents who I was at that stage in my career. Should that be tampered with? 

I really don't think there is a clear answer. No more so than there was when the debate about classic films came out. In the end, the deciding factor is what the artist wants. This is precisely how I felt about the classic film debate. The decision in the Star Wars movies fell on George Lucas. If he, as the creator, felt there was merit in the evolution of the work, then that is where the debate should end. But whether a work should be changed after the artist has passed, well that is a different debate entirely. If Da Vinci were still alive and wanted to change the Mona Lisa, then that is his decision. But he's not alive and that work stands as a testament to his genius. None of us have the right to make changes to it. 

But at the same time, none of us have the right to judge an artist on whether they wish to make fundamental changes to their own work. 

As for me, my decision is to keep the original work but develop a new series which reflects the original work. This way I have the originals (even if they are in a smaller format) as a reflection of my own skills level, but the newer series as a reflection of the change in the evolution of those skills. 

And for those wondering, that original hard drive is still in my possession and it is with hope someday that perhaps some of the work can be saved from it still, but the cost of hard drive restoration is expensive and at this time I can only dream that perhaps much of the original work will one day be restored to me.


Here are examples of the first piece in the series, both the original and the revised version. 

UPDATE: If you would like to see the complete redone series click here:

Original Work

New Work

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