Introduction

This Is Not a Sawtooth Hanger is a collection of essays, paired with photographs, on photography, art and the creative process – written for art enthusiasts and aspiring artists. For art enthusiasts, I hope the essays will be interesting and thought-provoking and the images aesthetically pleasing and worthy of your time and attention. If you learn something new or smile a little, then all the better! For aspiring artists, I hope this book will help you find your “voice.” What are you trying to say? Why? Did you fail or succeed? Does the work matter?

This book is a window into what I’ve tried to do as an artist and photographer. You, of course, are on a different path but sometimes hearing about another person’s processes, goals, successes and failures can lead to your own moments of clarity. Saying to yourself “That’s interesting but it’s not my thing” can open a door to self-discovery. I hope you find these essays and photographs interesting but more importantly, I hope they inspire you to think more critically about art and the creative process in general and your own work in particular.

The title of this book, This Is Not a Sawtooth Hanger, is a play on René Magritte's famous painting The Treachery of Images – more commonly known as This Is Not a Pipe. Magritte is imploring us to be careful not to conflate the painting with the real world. The image is both less than and more than its subject. It’s less than the subject because, of course, you can’t stuff tobacco into the painted pipe and you certainly can’t smoke it. On the other hand, Magritte is reminding us that visual artists are often trying to do more than just create a realistic representation of a person, object or scene. Staying cognizant of the distinctions between image and subject is critical for both the artist and the viewer.

In my work, I want the photograph to be “eye catching” but I’m especially interested in capturing glimpses of the miracle of daily life -- how we make our way in the world, safely and sanely. Remarkably, we often do so with kindness, humor, creativity, wisdom, friendship, hard work and teamwork. I want to better understand the unique worlds that people create for themselves; to explore the paths they follow or trails they blaze; to record the footprints and artifacts they leave behind.

The title is also a bit of an inside joke. Every year there are countless juried art shows with maddeningly vague, complex and different rules for submission. Ironically, they all have one thing in common -- a clear and simple prohibition -- "NO SAWTOOTH HANGERS." I couldn't resist so a few years ago I submitted a photo of a sawtooth hanger (titled, of course, "This Is Not a Sawtooth Hanger") to a members-only exhibition at a local museum. The only acceptance criteria was membership so my photography was dutifully accepted and hung. I like to imagine that I’m the only person to sneak a "sawtooth hanger" into a museum show -- properly framed and wired of course!

The image on the front cover of this book (a framed sawtooth hanger) is also a reminder of Magritte’s insight that “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” In this case, the sawtooth hanger was literally moved from the back to the front of the frame and made visible to the viewer.

Likewise, to find your artistic voice, you have to figure out what’s really important to you. What do you really care about? What makes you happy, sad, angry, afraid? What surprises, shocks or amazes you? Being an artist is far too hard, time-consuming, frustrating and (often) lonely and expensive to fritter away your time on purposeless work. Take a drawing class. Read this book. Ask a knowledgeable friend to be your editor and start writing about your work. Good luck on your journey. I hope this book helps.


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