The Reimagining of Quotations

I’m a collector of quotes. Sometimes I search for quotes of a certain theme, other times I come across them serendipitously. I began compiling them in a small notebook, just writing them in as I found them, in no particular order or category. They are mostly quotes about photography, and art in general. A lot of people collect quotes because they are inspiring. Most quotes collected are probably from someone who is admired or respected and what they’ve said strikes a certain chord within us; we can relate to it in some way. That’s how I started. But, along the way I discovered something else about the quotes in my notebook. Sometimes the quote would lead me to new information. Rather than simply stuffing quotes into a book like trophy heads on a wall or names on a birding life list, I’d search their name online and do a bit of a ‘background check’ to find out more about them, what they do/did, and also to confirm the quote actually belonged to that person. Sometimes, attribution is difficult to determine or is for the wrong person, yet the quote continues to persist, passed around forever in the aetherspace. More often than not, when I research a quote I meet a new person I didn’t know about before, learn a bit of history, a philosophy, a different concept, understand a bit of technology, it’s usually something interesting.

One interesting thing I uncovered, too, is what I’m going to call “quote reimagining” after the ongoing fad of reimagining older movies into newer movies, either to upgrade an aging film or topic or to completely alter the story for a new audience. After a while, I starting coming across quotes that I knew I saw before but thought it was attributed to a different person, or it just sounded really familiar. Since I don’t have my quotes in a database, I had to “scroll” through my notebook to find the “duplicate”. Sure enough, there are some quotes that appear to have been ‘reimagined’ or ‘recycled’, with a sprinkling of new words or phrases to be sure it’s not an exact copy. I do think some of these duplicates may have been coincidence. It’s not as if these concepts are proprietary, and the approach to some topics, like failure and observation/seeing, tends to breed similar sentiments.

So, here is a compilation of some reimagined quotes. The earliest (though maybe not the first) instance of the quote is listed first (1), then any similar are below (1A, 1B, etc.). You be the judge as to their similarity, coincidence, or copy.

1. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus – Mark Twain (1875 – 1910)
1A. There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept – Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984)

2. The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external name and detail, is the true reality – Aristotle (385 – 322 BC)
2A. Vision is the art of seeing things invisible – Jonathan Swift (1667 -1745)
2B. It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see – Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
2C. No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist – Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
2D. Anything that excites me for any reason I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual – Edward Weston (1886 – 1958)
2E. I didn’t want to tell the tree or weed what it was. I wanted it to tell me something and through me express its meaning in nature – Wynn Bullock (1902 – 1975)
2F. I am not interested in shooting new things; I am interested to see things new – Ernst Haas (1921 – 1986)
2G. To me, photographing is an act of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them – Elliott Erwitt (1928 – )

3. No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness – Aristotle (385 – 322 BC)
3A. Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos. Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish to the crowd – I Ching (200 BC)
3B. You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star – Friedrich Nietzche (1844 – 1900)
3C. What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848 – 1907)
3D. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric – Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)
3E. If at first an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it – Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
3F. All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning – Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)

4. Art is not to be found by touring to Egypt, China, or Peru; if you cannot find it at your own door, you will never find it – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
4A. The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his door step – Paul Strand (1890 – 1976)
4B. If you do not see what is around you every day, what will you see when you go to Tangiers? – Freeman Patterson (1937 – )
4C. When one says, ‘Look, there is nothing out there’, what we are really saying is ‘I can’t see’ – Terry Tempest Williams (1955 – )

5. Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth – Rumi (1207 – 1273)
5A. If you’re out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it – Jay Maisel (1931 – )
5B. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take – Wayne Gretzky (1961 – )

6. It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation – Herman Melville (1819 – 1891)
6A. Failure after a long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure – George Eliot (1819 – 1880)

7. One must learn by doing the thing. For though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try – Sophocles (496 – 406 BC)
7A. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle (385 – 322 BC)
7B. We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way – John Holt (1923 – 1985)
7C. One of the things about the arts that is so important is that in the arts you discover the only way to learn how to do it is by doing it. You can’t write by reading a book about it. The only way to learn how to write a book is to sit down and try to write a book – David McCullough (1933 – )

Creativity

fertilityV.jpgCreativity: So, where does it come from? Is it inherent or learned? And, if it is learned, can it be taught or is it merely discovered and nurtured through guidance? I lean toward creativity being inherent, only most of us tend not to notice we have it. Creative inspiration comes from many sources though primarily from our own experiences, past, present and future (future experience being what we hope/dream/plan. How we perceive our future impacts how we feel and what we do in the present). We’re certainly influenced by what we see others do, adapting someone’s perception to our own, sometimes outright copying or “appropriating” (what a nice word that also means “plagiarize”). Mostly, creativity seems to be an internal force, maybe a 7th sense. It’s definitely a means of communication different from sound, sight, taste or touch, yet incorporating elements of each as well as something more.

When I first started getting serious about photography, my mode of thinking was like most everyone else in that same situation. I read several articles and books that differed in their response to the question “where do I get my inspiration from?”. Many of them recommended looking at what others were doing and either to emulate them or take their vision and modify it. Very few said “do what comes natural” which is what I really wanted to do. After more thought I decided that doing what came natural to me would be both more personally satisfying and open up more avenues to be truly creative rather than just mimicking what was already out there. I have to say that I’m not there yet, it’s possibly a longer road than emulation, and along the way I’ve probably copied several artist’s works without realizing it. mystery.jpg I used to not read art books or look at what others were doing, just so I wouldn’t be unduly influenced. By not looking at other stuff, I could be assured that what I was coming up with was not based on something I’d seen, but on my own creativity, my own vision. Eventually, though, I started looking at magazines, books, the internet, not so much to get ideas but now to compare what I was doing with what was out there. I saw, and still see, quite a bit of work that blows me away. Dedication has a lot to do with creativity. Time and effort spent experimenting, technical knowledge, life experiences, simple contemplation, all come together like a recipe made from scratch, sometimes appearing easily, other times being forced out or dragged out then hammered into shape. 6681.jpg

Creativity has everything to do with how we see, perceive, and experience the world around us. Our vision, a biological process involving photons of light energy refracted and focused onto nerve endings then decoded by our brain, is selective. Millennia of evolutionary change has not completely dulled our visual perceptions, but our lifestyle has. Our brain is more or less hardwired to respond to situations that might either pose a danger or benefit to ourselves.

Back in the day, our simple lives were centered around eating or being eaten. We tended to be more aware of our surroundings, paying attention to subtle clues and cues, always vigilant for predators, prey, or food. Our current lifestyle (at least in developed countries) does not necessarily require us to take advantage of any situation. We are not always looking for food or running away from being food. We have jobs, supermarkets, traffic lights, fences, policemen and military, government, tailors and seamstresses, butchers and bakers, auto repairmen, plumbers, pilots, and preachers all taking care of us, helping us cope, doing some of the work needed for our individual selves to survive. That leaves us to daydream, worry about relatively insignificant things, listen to music, get into a routine. That routine, traveling the same path day after day, passing the same buildings, driving the same streets, encountering the same people, becomes familiar. Familiarity leads to complacency. We stop noticing what’s going on. nevadayellow.jpg

In the present day, we tend to only notice (or be aware of) those things that are a holdover from the tundra, those events that effect us directly in terms of food or being food (or personal danger). Lights and sirens, smoke, loud bangs or shouts, bright colors, someone standing too close or staring, certain smells, certain types of touching, certain movements of things, like trains, cars, airplanes. The rest of the environment is ignored. Common things, cars, people, buildings, weather, all meld into the background noise of our routine. Our senses are dulled, our awareness is stifled. Consider the nightly news and other television entertainment. Shocking stories, outrageous acts get our attention. The Discovery Channel used to be about education and learning, now it’s about celebrity and extremism. Creativity can be stifled by too much information, too much going on. We are inundated by new technology, iPods, Tivo, cell phones, email, the internet, natural disasters, the economy, digital photography, Photoshop, instant gratification, short attention spans, terrorism, urban growth, the list goes on.

Sean Kernan, in the January/February 2006 issue [Vol. 47 No. 8] of Communication Arts says “Right now we are all like seasick passnegers on an ocean liner who just want the damned boat to stop rocking. There is too much that is new in our lives, and little of it is good. Stiil, instinctively, we know that the only way out is forward. And this stasis will end thanks to something new that stands out against the field of the familiar…the way to move forward is to be new ourselves, to free up our seeing and thinking so we will not miss the turn on a new road forward.” BPI201.jpg

Creativity can be learned, I believe. It’s the individual that needs to make the first move, to regain awareness of yourself as well as the environment around you, and how you fit into, relate to, and move around in it. Doing that requires some amount of work and effort. Look at the bottom of this post for a short list of good books. Take a workshop not on technical aspects of photography or art, but purely on creativity. Take a workshop for an artform you don’t currently do, like acting or painting or pottery. Expand your horizons. Read, fiction, non-fiction, trade magazines, popular magazines, comic books. Go to museums. Visit your state capitol and other historic buildings and actually look at the architecture. Listen to your family. Go to the mall and just sit and watch people interact with one another, watch their behaviors and gestures. Go to the woods, desert, ocean and just sit quietly alone, listening, opening up your senses to your surroundings. Imagine.

Photography (art in general) can be a limitation to awareness. When you’ve been looking at the world in snapshots (“That would make a great picture”, “That’s the painting I’ll do next”) we, like the camera, eliminate what is going on around us. Sometimes it’s helpful to put down the artist tools, put away the artist. And just be.

References:

Phillipe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro. 2001. The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing. Ten Speed Press

David Bayles and Ted Orland. 1993. Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. Image Continuum Press

Andreas Feininger. 1973. Principles of Composition. Amphoto Press

Ansel Adams. 1983. Examples: The making of 40 photographs. Little, Brown & Company