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Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 14 of 16

How to Maintain Inspiration

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

14. How to Maintain Inspiration

Lesson Info

How to Maintain Inspiration

I love this, this, this body of work, simply because, it's, again, it's pushing people's imaginations, it's talking in the world of abstract art. Bear in mind, that when I first went into art school, you saw some of my paintings, they were as real as I could make it. You know, if there was a tree on the horizon, that tree was gonna be in my painting. I was one of those people that went to museums and looked at abstract art and said: Oh, I could've done that. You've heard it, you've heard it, you may have said it. But, in fact, I was too immature, I was not smart enough to really appreciate what they were trying to achieve. They're famous, world-wide artists and if you go to MoMA, every day that that gallery is open, that museum is open in New York it's filled with an international audience that is investing, most of an afternoon looking at these paintings. So they're speaking to a lot of people on an international level. It's also nice to see, in a world of stress and technology, that ...

people are flocking to places where, you know, they're being comforted by beautiful things. It's a great metaphor. People will gather around a Picasso and read about it, and hear, headsets and watch and appreciate the works of these fine artists. And we live in a time where the museums are making the work more accessible. They're allowing people to take pictures. If you can't own a Monet, and none of us can, because none of them are for sale. You can go downstairs and buy a replica of the paintings. I think that's a great thing, I think owning art and famous art, and having it in your room is kinda a really cool thing. Because I don't think that fine art should be relegated to the few that can afford to go to a museum. I think it should be opened up, and that's why I appreciated the fact that Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, their works were made for the public consumption, in spaces that they could access during the 50's of last century. So to see young people taking iPhone shots of Monet, I think is a pretty cool thing. Okay, this a shot, this is one of the few shots I ever shot intentionally to make money. Yeah, I shot that because I wanted money. And so, I found somebody that owned a white horse, and I went out and visited them and I said: can I photograph your horse? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you bathe this horse? Oh yeah. I said: when you bathe the horse, how do you dry the mane? Oh, I use a little hair dryer. What do you think it would react to with a leaf blower? (laughter) Electric leaf blower not a gas leaf ... But he said: well, we can try it. So we did, in fact, this is a big horse. This is a big male, an Aleutian horse, regal horse. Used by the French Royalty for years. And it doesn't have reins on it. When you take the reins off a horse, you have no control over the horse. So, we had very sweet carrots, we're feeding the horse carrots while we're blowing it's hair straight up in the air with a leaf blower from below. Posed right in front of a open door to a barn. Okay, I'm showing all the dirt on this photo, but it sells like every other day in New York at a gallery. People drive by, they see the horse, they stop, they buy the print. So, alright. That's not why I'm showing it to you. This is an objective piece of art. You know exactly what that is, so objective is when you recognize the subject. Where we're going with this is non-objective. This is Frank Stella, he's a non-objective artist. World-renowned, but when you look at that, there's nothing that connects you to a boat in the sea, or whatever thing that we can recognize. So, these abstract expressionists were painting pictures, it could be anything. You could be looking down a descending well, or looking up to a skyscraper. Whatever your imagination, whatever your subconscious tells you it is, could be the right answer. They just wanted to create artwork where your imagination started at the end of their painting. So Frank Stella, was a classic abstract expressionist. Okay, you're getting a lesson on art here. Frank Stella, no that's not Frank Stella. That's a house in Ethiopia out in the desert, and that's the point I want to make. Is that, just knowing of these artists, is akin to those red, blinking lights I started with, The Bubbles on the Beach. The more artists I familiarized myself, the more my visual record, locked into this coconut up here, I start to see things that I may not have seen or considered. Mark Rothko is another famous artist. He's enjoying a resurgence, he has one-man shows, he's long-gone now. But his work is now showing in fine-art museums, simultaneously. He would paint these big paintings and he would say that: these are landscapes. That these are landscapes, and the edges between the various paint represented water. And the jagged edge between the paint, is where he wanted you to stare and imagine what you're looking at. So these artists were really intent on triggering your own subconscious mind. Okay. And people are doing that, there is a big gallery in Houston, filled with giant Rothko's and people go in and sit in the middle and stare at these blank paintings of black for an hour or two. And they come out so angelic. Obviously I need more of that, right? Okay, so that's Mark Rothko. But knowing Mark Rothko's work, starts to allow me to see landscapes in a different way. I start to say, wow, that looks like a Mark Rothko. If you can say it, you see it, you shoot it. And so my archive is expanding the more I expand and open myself up to other artists. I am virtually mining the abstract expressionists of the last century to find new ways of recording the landscape. Not in the way I would historically would do, where I had an interesting foreground, and background, leading lines. These are bands of color, this is Venice Beach, California. Venice Beach, California. But it's really a Mark Rothko-inspired painting. So all these are Mark Rothko's. And I'm shooting this in Iceland last week. I said: stop the car look at that! And people in my car are going, what are you smoking? (laughter) What are you eating? Even a barrel, a metal barrel in some abandoned garage is a Mark Rothko if you have the vision, the imagination, to see it. Piet Mondrian, I know it looks like Pe-ay, but it's Pete. And he's from Holland. And his friends were architects. Mondrian painted pictures that looked like architecture, he was a fan of stained glass, his friends were architects. He would say: I want to paint pictures that look like the architecture that are hung-in. Okay, so that was his deal. I'm not a big fan of that, but, I'm aware of it. And I start to look and I find things that remind me of a Mondrian. In the neighborhoods of Buenos Aries, warren carts of fish on a dock in Morocco. If I could say it, I see it, I shoot it. And so there's a Mondrian to me. Now, whether it looks like a Mondrian is irrelevant, the point is, I'm seeing subjects that I probably wouldn't have considered a few years ago. Out there in the most miserable landscape that you saw those toxic minerals earlier? Are little villages, and if you live in a beige-baked landscape, you're painting your house to look like this. These are every house, honestly, every house in the Danakil Depression and those little villages were brightly painted, that looked like a Mark Rothko or Piet Mondrian, Frank Stella. What's up with that, that's incredible to me. I was never so shocked, but I was happy to photograph'em. They're using complementary colors, red and green, orange and blue. So I don't know where they derived at that, but, boy, if you lived in a baked-earth country you fill yourself with art and color and patterns. So all of these shots, the corrugated metal, I start to see and imagine other artists in that work. Slowly, inevitably, my mind is expanding. Jasper Johns, was a pop artist. He lived, and he still lives today, after the abstract expressionists. So his deal was to photograph, or paint these bullseye-type paintings, and to incorporate elements that were kinda like playful and not as serious as the abstract expressionists. So there's a Jasper Johns. So, you start to see things. You start to suspect things. You start to look at things that everybody walks past. Kazimir Malevich lived in the 1914, I mean, hit the height of his career was 1914. He lived in Leningrad, Russia. He was totally an abstract painter. The title of this is: Plane Taking Off. I don't see a plane taking off, but other critiques, critics would say: he was defying gravity with his paintings. There was nothing that was touching the edge, it was all floating in space. Who knows what it is, doesn't matter. This is another Malevich right here. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch for me to even appreciate that. But, I challenged myself, I'm off in a couple of weeks, not now, but when I started shooting, I'm heading off to Bangkok, I'm going to Delhi. Can I find Malevichs in the landscape before me? Yes, I could find them, if I looked. If I had the clarity of vision. I could find and amass a bunch of photos that reminded me of that Russian artist. And the more I saw, looked, the more I found and I could take it off in all sorts of directions. So in those banded seats, streets, Havana, Cuba is a old city, falling into disrepair. And in those abandoned buildings are beauty, art, textures, colors waiting to be discovered. Now what a great metaphor, birth and renewal. That's a great metaphor for finding subjects. And look at those legs. (laughter) yeah, look at those legs, and after you've got beyond the legs and that garbage. (laughter) So, walkin around, under the freeway passes, in those old, abandoned areas of the city, where indigents live. There's things waiting to be discovered. I once went to Johannesburg ... This is in Addis Ababa, by the way. And I asked the concierge at a nice hotel I was staying at, I wanna go where you would never, ever consider taking a tourist. They say: we know where that is, but we're not taking you there. And they did, eventually, and I spent eight hours, on the street, photographing subjects. Because, when you shoot somethin like that, within that frame is my own copyright. There's a beauty in that, if you care to look. There's the bridge, each support to a freeway, has that blue and red stamp, numbering the support. Somebody's come along and scratched some sort of design below it, in the middle people have put up posters and the posters are long-gone. And the glue that bound the poster to the cement is left behind. That's a beautiful texture. And somebody on the right has done something else. And the collective is a piece of art. Nobody that put anything on that cement were working in conjunction with the other one. They never knew each other, this is like a message left behind, not unlike the stone art, the graphic details in rock canyons throughout the world. Just a different era. And you come along, I come along, and I photograph it in a way that I know no other human on the planet has shot that very shot. And you go: and so what? And I would argue that that could be framed and printed beautifully on an Epson printer. Framed and hung in a gallery and sold, and it can. Because if you go to a hotel, they're not generally showing pretty pictures of a sunset over a mountain. They're usually showing abstract work. And people, universally, are drawn towards these textures. So here, in the backstreets of Delhi, India, you see these little red squares I'm putting up? Do you see'em? Yeah, and it's detaching whatever I'm shooting from scale and place. So whatever lies within that composition, that I choose to shoot, becomes a standalone piece of art. I love nothing more than to take people in old cement bunkers left over from World War Two, where you can see the mildew, this pungent smell. Of people that had urinated on the walls, it's, in short, kinda a messy, dirty, grimy environment. But within that are amazing little gems to be discovered, if you care to look, if you have the imagination to look. So I loved teaching that workshop out in Astoria, because people come ... I had a couple came in from London, and they have never taken a workshop from me, and I took'em out to these cement bunkers, and they go: what, are we doing here? In the second day, they appreciated the fact that they were there and now they've signed up on three or four more because it's opened up their imagination, to a different world out there. So all of these things, unintended art, are waiting to be discovered. And it's in every city around the globe. A barge along the Amazon has the marks, from tires, along the docks, the rust. All of that can contribute to a piece of art if you have the imagination, to look. I'm in Astoria, late in January. And it's about 40 degrees but with the close proximity of the North Pacific, it is bone-chilling cold, so I've got my gloves on. But what really warms me, is thinking I can get some great shots here today. Those that believe they know my work would make it an association with nature and wildlife and cultures. And yet, I love nothing more to explore the discarded of society. The old rusting, metal factories. The old machinery. They are virtually treasure troves of art waiting to be discovered. And how I usually go about it, is I use a tripod, I'm using a cable-release. I'm going to set my camera on a very low ISO. I'm going to be methodically exploring the old cars, the bunkers, the rusted metal. And try to find and photograph it in a way that could actually adorn, beautiful images could adorn the foyers of law offices and homes throughout the country. So now we're on our way looking for subjects. And there's a lot of'em around here, just waiting to be discovered. I really love the hunt. I mean I love to find things, that most simply walk by. I have found a great subject, an old, metal drum with a lid that's so rusted that it's caved in to the interior of this barrel. It's all frayed, it's all rusted, it's all corroded. It really is abstract now, so it's got textures, it's got line, and it's got color and it's got me wanting to shoot it. (camera clicks) The mirror just clicked up and now I shoot the shot, very stable, verify in the back to the camera. Voila, beautiful. Just that simple. Nobody would ever see this, nobody would care about it. But once it's printed and presented nicely, people will go: oh, where did you find this thing? It's what it's all about. Next. I found this old railroad car a couple of year ago and I've always had fun coming back with classes. It's a treasure trove of abstract art. With it's beautiful fractures of rust and color. It can really occupy the better part of an afternoon, providing and yielding amazing compositions. (camera beeps) (camera clicks) (beeps and clicks) So this was shot in Raykyavik, Iceland. It's a boarded-up pizza restaurant. And, of course, I'm there training my camera to it, people are walking by. Honey, don't get too close to that man. (laughter) He's like, not, like us. Yeah, and in that soaped window, if you care to look, there's beautiful lines and textures and patterns and movement. Not unlike a Jackson Pollock. Right there, but most people are not going to see it, most people are not going to consider it. The person that did it, subconsciously did it, he was just soaping a window. So all the movement is unrestrained freedom, because, once you become self-conscious about drawing a line, that stiltedness of us becomes paramount. But if you're just doing this, whatever's within comes free.

Class Description

Photography is more than just a click of the shutter as it can create a statement or evoke a feeling and thus becomes a powerful art form. Internationally acclaimed photographer, artist and educator Art Wolfe joins CreativeLive to teach creative professionals how to see and make art in exciting new ways. 

In this class Art will share:

  • How to maximize photographic opportunities while traveling to unique and beautiful photographic destinations.
  • The best ways to take those special images efficiently. 
  • His favorite technological advances and how he uses them to enhance his creative vision. 
As a special segment, Art will preview how knowledge of art history provides a creative foundation and show students how to apply these principles to enhance their own compositions. He will also include a live critique of student images and, using Adobe® Lightroom® CC, will guide students through the editing process to transform the images into stronger artistic statements.



Thank you, Art Wolfe and Creative Live for this outstanding and astounding invitation to open my eyes and mind to a new way of thinking based on classic elements of design. This set of video lectures is a rich feast for the brain and heart willing to consider change. Art explains the elements of design such as texture, line, etc., and then shows how he has applied those basic principles. He explores metaphor, ambiguity, graphic design and negative/positive space--all with eye-popping examples. Wolfe takes us through the galleries of the Impressionists, Abstractionists, and Pop Artists to show how visiting our local art museums with a photographers eye can teach us to see in new ways. I love the way he shows, for example, a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollack or a Hokusai painting and then segues beautifully into examples of his own work inspired by those greats. Never does Art lose sight of the mission he has in this series, which is to inspire serious-hearted photographers to rise to new visual heights in their own work. He has a way of seeming to say, "Look. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are my secrets--let me break them down for you." To me, it was a privilege to take this class--my brain is exploding, and I'm itching to get out and shoot! Thank you so much, Art Wolfe and the Creative Live team--you are both amazing! Sandy Brown Jensen Eugene, Oregon

JIll C.

After watching Art Wolfe's presentation for just a short while, I have an almost irresistible urge to pick up my camera and get out into the world to look for the abstracts that can make stunning images. His body of work is simply stunning, and his verbal patter is mesmerizing. He proposes to find beauty in decay, and to train our eyes to see what others overlook. This is not a technical class, and there is no discussion of gear or camera settings. I found it very inspiring, and his ideas will surely help me to overcome the lethargy that has overcome my photography hobby.


Wonderful lecture with tips and tricks of how he shoots, what gear he uses, suggestions for comp, and samples of how he processes a RAW file in LR. Art was just as awesome as I had heard he was in person. I'm a professional photographer and definitely came away with many new tips, perspectives and inspiration to see your image differently and to look closer at the less obvious scene. Thank you Art for sharing your talent, its so very much appreciated!!