OSP: The Idea or the Image, Which Comes First

I read about art and other things often. The reading is usually what inspires my artwork and it is a major influence in this blog. Reading pushes my thinking and processes in new directions. I enjoy thinking about what I read, in my mind there is always a dialog. I thought I would share that dialog with you here.


I am curious to know when artist and photographers are making art, do they first have an idea or do they first make a painting or a photography. It is the age old question, which came first? The chicken or the egg. I have no idea. For those artist/photographers reading this I would love to know how you work.

I would say I have a fairly traditional background for an American in terms of how I came to make art. Perhaps I am wrong. I became interested in photography in middle school. In high school I was able to take photography classes and learn black and white analog photography. I decided photography would be my college major and never deviated from that (which is perhaps not so usual). In undergrad, I continued working with analog black and white and learned analog color. I was introduced to studio lighting, digital technology and alternative processes. My base is wide and I can easily figure out new things on my own.

During undergraduate school we would be given a loose topic to photograph and this drove the creative process. Once I finished college I was still taking classes, primarily in art history. The way I generated idea’s began to change. I would be influenced by what I read. Furthermore, many of the art history classes I was taking were on non-western art or contemporary art. Taking these art history classes definitely changed the direction of my art making in terms of process and subject matter.

During this time I became very influenced by artist like Joseph Kosuth, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, On Kawara and others. What all of these artists have in common is there love for the idea, which supersedes the object. It is with all of these artists and this art history in my brain that I entered graduate school.

Generally speaking, I always have an idea that I want to communicate. Once I have this idea I create work to say what I want to say. However, some of my fellow classmates would make photographs and bring them to class, but not really have a clear idea about what they were trying to say. If they continued the project they figured out what the work was about, but it always seemed weird to me.

Now for the funny part. I am sitting here in India and I am working on several projects at once (which is usual for me). All but one was an idea I already had. The one that did not originate as an idea I started last year. I traveled to Turkey, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Italy in 2015. After returning from Bangladesh in February I realized I was very interested in the ground. When I arrived in India in September I began photographing the ground on purpose. I limited the scope of the project to South Asia. The ground here is so much more interesting. At times it is dirty and at times it is beautiful and every shade in between. In the end, I decided to turn the photographs into postcards. It seemed fitting. The project is about the route we travel. Through our travel photographs we share our experiences with friends and family. I just decided to show them where I was stepping.

The reason behind the photographs is still influenced by reading, as I was reading a lot about travel photography last year. However, this project idea seemed to be stuck in my subconscious instead of rising to the surface before shooting. One thing is for sure, once I had the concrete idea in my head the photographs got better because I was paying more attention to what I was doing.

Now I am happily working on the project along with two others. One of the other projects is about exploring a new place through street photography. The other is an exploration of the emotions I am feeling because of my move to India.

Below are some of the photograph from the project The Path. I would also love to hear how you generate your art ideas.


By |2016-11-10T19:39:57-06:00July 1st, 2016|On the Subject of Photography|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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