Familiar But Different
Being weird is not the same thing as being interesting.
An inordinate percentage of the people I have crossed paths with in my life have, do, or will define me as weird. That’s just the way it is. Many even think that I am not only comfortable with being weird (I am, thank goodness – what other choice do I have?), but that I go out of my way making an effort to be so. While I understand their opinion, I passionately disagree. I do, however go out of my way to create photographs, films, books, and products that are interesting.It took me many painful years to come to the realization that weird and interesting were not always the same thing. Oh, they can borrow each others clothes and frequently do, but underneath – different. Why does it matter? Because for me, art of any kind is based in communication. Fine art, documentary, or commercial art, to be successful it has to communicate. Whether it communicates what the creator intended it to or not is a different story. Even communication of the artist intention may not be enough. It’s pretty hard to communicate if no one sticks around long enough to hear what you have to say. Usually it still has to be interesting.
Can we intentionally make something interesting, or do we have to just create and just hope interesting happens?
I’d love to increase my win average, but no matter if it is few or often, I know we can make interesting happen. But how?
I have a tool that I use. A saying. “Familiar but different.”
One of the many balancing acts involved in creating an interesting photograph, film, etc. that is not only interesting but successful is the intersection of interesting and weird. Not that weird is bad. It’s just that at some point, if you are hoping to communicate your intention, you may reach magnitude of weird that begins isolating your audience, even repelling them, rather than drawing them in. Trust me. I know this first hand, as the hordes of flaming, torch-wielding villagers marching up the road to my castle can attest.
How do I use “Familiar but Different?” It becomes the voice in my head keeping me grounded. It’s a touch of lithium to start the day with a nice half smile. To me it’s about discovery. Discovering the different in the everyday or discovering the familiar in something odd. Sometimes an idea calls for nothing more than a sprinkling of one or the other to acquire the proper impact and communicate what I am trying to say. Other times an idea must be baptized, completely submerged and shaken about by the different or the familiar in order to make it palatable. It is up to the individual artist to decide how much of each to use and then ultimately up to the audience to decide if they want to spit it out or digest your mix.
You see, the familiar puts your audience at ease, letting them feel they can sit back and feel safe, while the different locks the door so they can’t leave. Sort of a happy, comfortable, prisoner with which you can ply your influence. Of course the best of the best, a place I only dream of living, manage the mix to the point where the audience never even wiggles the door handle.
I usually have to pull back on the weirdness to reach that balance. Some have to push and search for the weird – oops, I mean different. Either way, and how ever you define the words familiar and different, it can be a helpful beacon at which to aim your ship.