Respect the masterpiece. It is true reverence to man. There is no quality so great, none so much needed now. —Frank Lloyd Wright
There are 16 images to the set from which these pictures are taken. I had difficulty choosing two. While the whole set is creative, the quality isn’t there and I know why: I rushed. These images come from a point in 2010 when I was doing nothing but shooting during the week, saving all the editing until Saturday, and publishing everything on Sunday morning. Looking back, the whole schedule was a bit insane. I would hit Saturday afternoon having anywhere from six to twelve sets of pictures waiting to be processed and struggling to find both the creativity and the time to get them done. I was pounding energy drinks and coffee and making poor judgement calls in the interest of time.
If we are going to improve the state of creativity, we have to simultaneously improve the quality of what we produce. One of the mistakes we made when everything first started going digital was assuming that we could now mass-produce art of any medium. Because the production seemed easier and appeared to take less time, we mistakenly assumed that meant we could and should produce more. For photographers, that meant shooting 200-300 frames per set and then processing up to 100 of those. I remember looking at the back of a camera and thinking, “Wow, that’s not going to need any processing at all. This is great!” In hindsight, the level of our stupidity seems obvious. Unfortunately, we are still paying for those errors. Too many clients think we can turn out new material overnight, if not sooner, and do so in large volume. Doing so, however, means sacrificing quality.
More is not better. A certain rapper released a new, heavily anticipated album online last month. He allowed the album to be sold for 24 hours, then took it down. Now, he’s saying he has another new album coming out. What does that say about the quality and content of either album? Granted, I’m a bit biased in that I’m not a fan of this particular artist, which is why I’m not using his name, but I don’t know any artists who could turn around two new albums in less than a year, let alone two weeks. Quality inevitably suffers.
Fashion is making a similar mistake, constantly churning out new, cheap, inexpensive clothing so that stores can, in theory, completely turn over their inventory in eight weeks. This is the disease known as fast fashion and it has done a very good job of killing off mid-level retailers, undercutting their prices with cheaply made material. Quality is non-existent with these brands and, ultimately, one ends up spending more on their clothes than if they had purchased high-quality luxury brands once.
Are we killing off the masterpiece? Not everything an artist does, even the most creative of artist, is a masterpiece. To count as a masterpiece, a work has to achieve not only in terms of creativity but in matters of quality as well. Imagine what would have happened had Frank Lloyd Wright built houses that fell down; it wouldn’t matter how many of them were built nor how incredibly creative they were, without quality they would be worthless. The same holds true for every genre and every medium. We do better to take our time, be diligent, and perfect the one rather than trying to take the Wal-Mart approach of profiting from volume.
By over-creating works of poor quality, we reduce the overall value of all our work. When the world is flooded with readily available photography from every possible source, then it stops valuing photography. When YouTube can deliver chains of “experts” on every conceivable topic, we stop valuing experts. When iTunes makes it possible for anyone to release a new album, we stop valuing new music. When it comes to matters of artistic content, the volume approach simply does not work.
Our culture needs a creative revolution to be sure, but we must be careful that in doing so we do not overpopulate the earth with that which is too hastily produced and manufactured in such volume that we sacrifice quality. Creativity and quality must go hand in hand. Anything less is just landfill fodder.