Reaching for the Stairs – Of Art and Comfort

InteriorView_0098, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Sometimes, when you make art, you have to just “go for it.” Actually, I hear this a lot, but I’m not fully convinced it’s 100% true all of the time. Allow me to explain.

There are those who feel that if an artist is not taking risks, that artist is not being “true.” If an artist isn’t stretching boundaries, pushing limits, working outside of their comfort zone, then they really aren’t “growing” as an artist. While I think this is true to some extent, there is also something to be said for just executing. That is to say, or maybe more accurately to *ask* do we really have to be pushing limits each and every day? What’s wrong with pushing limits once and then working to, say, actually *move* that limit, push that line, to its new location?

What I mean by that is, isn’t it easy for a painter or photographer to always do something “shocking” and wild? Wouldn’t it be better, or equally “artistic” I should say, for that same painter or photographer to push the boundaries once and then work to create a body of work about that subject matter? To, you know, maybe push the boundaries and then languish there a little bit, maybe just a little bit, to see what else is in the neighborhood? Don’t we owe it to ourselves to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, yes, but also to work to permanently move those boundaries? What you weren’t comfortable doing yesterday, shouldn’t we work towards not just making a “one off” but to actually push and move those boundaries so that you’re living in that zone tomorrow?

A lot of what I’m talking about here centers around technique maybe. I’m thinking about somebody who maybe started doing figurative work, does it once or twice, and then kind of moves onto something else. Don’t we owe it to ourselves, rather than to try and “out shock” that limit, to push it just for the sake of pushing it, don’t we owe it to ourselves to instead maybe work along the edges of our comfort zone and really get comfortable in our new hang out? Imagine, if you will, that same person who tries out the figurative work, imagine them actually working to master it, rather than trying to move that boundary yet again. Wouldn’t that be better for us? Wouldn’t that make for better art, say, in the long run? Do we even consider the long run in any of this?

There is something to be said for working in one’s comfort zone. It allows you time to master technique. It allows you time to explore. It allows you time to fully explore and see where you can go, what you can do with something, as opposed to just jumping around, waiting to hop onto the next “big” thing. I do feel there is nothing wrong with working within one’s comfort zone, so long as the artist is progressing in some other way (either by mastering technique or future exploration of subject matter.) It doesn’t have to be “boring.” Besides, if you are good at something, why not stick to that comfort zone to see what you can actually pull out, rather than moving along to something you maybe aren’t quite as good at. Is it really better to be a jack of all trades instead of a master of one?

I think comfort zones provide us with a natural launch pad of sorts. They allow us a platform of safety from which we can go forth and explore. If the exploration doesn’t say, pan out, we can always fall back into that natural pattern, that natural rhythm our comfort zones afford us. Yes, we need to push boundaries to grow and, at some point, that makes sense to do, but that “safety net” that “cushion” of a comfort zone also serves its place in our artistic development. Maybe the whole point is to work to move, over time, the comfort zone, to push it out and expand it into areas where we currently aren’t so comfortable yes but, while we have them, that comfort zone provides us with a wonderful backdrop from which to branch out and really explore our limitations.

When I started doing photography, I did a lot of interior type shots. I’ve always been a bit of a studio photographer, more than I’ve really been a “field” photographer anyway. I’m comfortable working at home, working in my studio. I love new surroundings and exploration, yes, but I love to take these things back, return to my studio, and then re-work them into something I can explore on my terms, in the comforts of my own studio, rather than being pressured to work magic in the field. I’ve never really changed that. In some ways, my studio is my personal comfort zone. It’s my happy space, if you will.

When I first started as a photographer, I also shot a lot of windows and doors. Tons of them. In fact, I can still, to this day, smell a good window or door from fifty paces. Really I can, and so too can anybody who studied under my first photography teacher. We were trained, hard core in fact, to sniff out these sorts of photographic opportunities. Over time (I’ve been an exhibiting photographer for more than 20 years now) windows and doors have become quite popular and then, alas, fallen out of favor yet again. It’s a natural cycle and it happens with all types of photographic subjects. To be honest, I too have grown somewhat “past” the windows and doors subject, but it is very much a comfort zone for me. When I know not what else to do, I can always find a window, a doorway, a staircase of sorts, and just go for it. I think this image helps prove that, in some small way, this still works. It’s maybe not magical or special or quite as difficult as it was when I first started and, yes, I’m sure you can see hundreds, if not thousands, of images just like this one on Flickr (or some such place) but that doesn’t make it “bad” now, does it? Just because I was doing it back in 1992, back when nobody else was and now the whole wide world is doing it doesn’t necessarily make it bad now, does it? I don’t feel that way. I mean, maybe it isn’t as special, maybe it isn’t as unique, but it’s not horrible really either, right?

Yes, I will shock and push those boundaries, stretch those limits at some point. I still do that too. But, really, does each and every shot have to be doing that? Can’t I have some “comfort food for the eyes” along with my cutting edge craziness too? Isn’t there room in the big bad art world for all of that and more? I mean, sometimes doing the same can be different (or unexpected) too, right?

All questions to ponder for this, a rainy Monday morning in River City.

Until next time…



  1. Great Grandma Lin
    December 19, 2011 / 11:10 pm

    interesting thoughts, yes comfort zone vs. exploration-each have their place and time in our lives.

  2. Carol
    December 20, 2011 / 2:21 pm

    They do, don't they! I always feel like, when I'm doing one, perhaps I should be doing the other. I wonder how to get over that feeling but maybe I just need to accept that I don't really have to get over it, that it's just a natural progression. There is a place for each and maybe it's just better to learn to accept each role in their own right.

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