A few excerpts from an interview with photographer Clifford Ross, conducted by novelist A. M. Homes:

A.M.H. I would love to hear you talk a bit about what music does for you, what literature does for you, and how they affect your process and your work.

C.R. Music and literature serve to rough me up, to shake loose any preconceived notions I have about the medium I’m working in. My favorite book is Moby Dick. It is rough, flawed, and almost fails. But Melville’s wild ambition and his uncanny ability to move from the particular to the fantastic enabled him to succeed. Through his clever use of realism, we are brought into contact with a dream world. It’s an amazing feat.


A.M.H. Do you feel that it’s an artist’s job to create their own vocabulary? What about the need to be able to communicate in a way that can be understood?

C.R. Well, I think good artists see the world in a new way. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be adding to our store of knowledge. And in order to express their perception, good artists have to expand on existing vocabularies. Good art means new vision, which necessitates new language. But it can’t be so radical that it can’t be understood at all, by anybody, or the artist would have no capacity to communicate. But let’s face it, the best art is always extremely challenging to understand when it first appears. The vocabulary, the form art takes, is tied to its content. If making art was just about the neutral presentation of a subject, and not about new perspectives and insights into the subject, the issue wouldn’t exist. One artist would have painted one apple, just once, and that would have been it for apple paintings. No need for Cézanne. Poof! It would have been done before. Developing a vocabulary unique to your own needs as an artist is critical. And if the content is important enough, people will learn the vocabulary.