Integrity is About the Heart


As I write this, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Pastorale, played on piano. If you’re familiar with Beethoven symphonies, you’ll know that they are grand orchestral pieces. Hearing them live played by an orchestra is extraordinary.

The piano rendition I’m listening to was transcribed by Franz Liszt and performed by Glenn Gould—both very respected in the musical community.

Hearing this piece on solo piano is definitely different from hearing it played by orchestra, but it’s beautiful and compelling in its own way.

I wonder if Beethoven were alive today what he would say about this. Would he call this a violation of his artistic integrity and refuse to have it recorded and played? Maybe he’d say, “Hey, I’m deaf. If the music captures and transforms you, who am I to argue.”

It’s easy to see analogies when they’re taken out of the immediate context which here is visual art, specifically photography.

A designer recently asked me to modify one of my images to make the mountains and reflections more gold and less orange for their client. I looked at the image and I immediately agreed without a second thought. It’s going to be in an executive’s office. If my photograph uplifts him and brings him joy, who am I to argue. Isn’t that what I want my images to do, uplift you and bring you joy. As an artist, what more can I ask for?

Would I do that in every case; probably not, but I can’t say.

I mention this because I’ve seen some postings online about integrity as an artist that I find disturbing and egotistical. The creative experience of making the image is all ours, but once we present it to the world, it’s the world’s for how they want to appreciate it. Do we show our art for just the ego gratification and validation, or do we show our art hoping that the joy that we had creating it is also transferred to those appreciating it?

There’s an Ansel Adams exhibit going around that I hope makes it to a place where you can see it. It’s of Ansel’s early work which consisted of mostly contact prints. Later on Ansel started enlarging these images and working on them more. I fully expected to find the exhibit boring, preferring Ansel’s enlarged and more dramatic interpretations.

I was shocked to find the opposite. The images are small, mostly less than 8×10, so you have to walk up to them and look at them carefully. However, they are so intimate and stunning, I was completely blown away. Did Ansel violate his artistic-integrity to be able to bring his images to a wider audience? Do you care? Most of us Ansel fans only know his work from these enlargements.

Integrity is about the heart, not the mind.

~ by danbaumbach on February 15, 2019.

5 Responses to “Integrity is About the Heart”

  1. Beethoven was always one to argue. It may have been “ego” for him but perhaps not. Some artists of our acquaintance would be actually insulted and turn ugly at a request to modify their work. You can probably guess who I have in mind here. I understand wanting to take the opposite approach so as not to be like him yet, minus the ugliness, I tend to take his side on this issue.

    If you’re selling a product and the customer wants some customization, why not make them happy? Especially if you can mass produce as many variations as you like, what does it cost you? Does it sully the brand? Do you want your name on the product or will you add that of the modifier or have their name replace yours? Is your name “ego?” What would Andy Warhol do?

    • Hi JIm, It’s encouraging to know that you read my blog. I don’t believe that my response is predicated by our dad. It’s more about not wanting to take myself too seriously. I’m always going back and modifying images or thinking about modifying them. The present version may not necessarily be the best. If someone has a valid idea, I’m up for considering it if I think it makes the photograph better.

      With the image in question, it was not one I was particularly fond of, and I can’t even say if my original working is better. I was just happy to sell an image that was otherwise just sitting on my hard drive. With other images my reaction would be different, depending on how much modification is required. Sometimes it’s just slight cropping. Some I sign and some I don’t.

      We were all witness to how much joy our dad’s integrity gave him…

      • This is my first day on your blog. Sometimes serious is appropriate. Your blog is serious. Harold’s integrity, in so far as it wasn’t an excuse for cruelty or posturing, wasn’t really his problem. And, yes,for me not being like him is often a shortcut to knowing what to do.

      • I am serious. Serious about not letting my ego get in the way of my being an artist and serious about not indulging in narcissism. This is, however, getting to be more personal rather than blog related. I suggest that you and Liz visit us where I’ll be glad to talk about this further. We might come back east for Annettte’s memorial. We could get together then.

  2. It’s hard to get us to go anywhere. Last week, we managed to leave the city for someplace warm. I took these (unedited and barely competent) pictures.

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