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Thursday, 08 November 2007

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Definitely required reading! It was for me in Grad school and has been for every student I have taught over the years. It is also a favorite with Philosophy professors teaching aesthetics.

cheers

d

My views on art at least as it applies to photography are that every person and I do mean everyone that takes a photograph creates art.

Each photograph by its very nature is unique, has never been done exactly the same way, time and precise location before. People may be copying methods and techniques but are still creating original works of art.

Even when you are walking down a street, market etc., and swinging your camera and taking photos without looking is still creating art and in fact this may be an project and worthy of display at a gallery.

Some photos I like, some I don’t. Some I understand and some I find just weird.

The one thing I do find by looking at other photographer’s art is that I am constantly learning about the meaning of art and my views on what I find are great photos ahs evolved just because I have seem others work whether good or ( not really bad) because I find some merit in every photo. Some I just like more than others.


Niels Henriksen

I agree. Although Adams can sometimes get himself wrapped around his axle "Beauty in Photography" is one of the (few) art criticism books that I revisit frequently and have marked-up.

How's this for an excerpt:
"Why do most great pictures look uncontrived? Why do photographers bother with the deception, especially since it so often requires the hardest work of all? The answer is, I think, that the deception is necessary if the goal of art is to be reached: only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that Beauty is commonplace."

Here's my personal favorite from the book:
"I am depressed now, for example, by the sterility of much photorealism in painting. And I am worried by the amount of time spent by photographers trying to revive nineteenth-centure photographic technology. There are conceivably interesting uses to be made of almost any photographic method, but so many contemporary enthusiasts for old ways seem to place their faith simply in the value of doing the antique thing once more."

Hallelujah.

If you find yourself really digging this you might be interested in diving deeper with Adams' "Why People Photograph", also a collection of his essays. (Tip: The book's title is a come-on. The essays in the book offer no real answers.) Both "Beauty in Photography" and "Why People Photograph" are Aperture Foundation publications available on amazon.

"My views on art at least as it applies to photography are that every person and I do mean everyone that takes a photograph creates art."

And I will just say--without animosity of course--that there's nothing anybody's said here recently that I disagree with more completely than I disagree with this.

Mike J.

"My views on art at least as it applies to photography are that every person and I do mean everyone that takes a photograph creates art."

But not everybody creates AAAART! (Thank goodness).

" 'My views on art at least as it applies to photography are that every person and I do mean everyone that takes a photograph creates art.' "

"And I will just say--without animosity of course--that there's nothing anybody's said here recently that I disagree with more completely than I disagree with this."

Yes!

However, I'm still a proponent of "middle art". Art, (art) for me, is the happy confluence of medium, material, skill, etc. to produce something which rewards my repeated involvement with pleasure, be it emotional or aesthetic. Plastic or performing. As I've mentioned elsewhere, repeated is important. It needs some staying power, though performance, unless recorded, has to be remembered. Remembrance might be better.

I still contend, as elsewhere, an inherent fallacy, in a visual medium requireing a written explanation from a separate source. This does not mean that further study is not needed for a deeper understanding. Ctein mentions not getting ballet. Easy, as a shortstop ranging right, twirling and throwing to first. Not too different from the young lady going "en pointe", and twirling in time to the music. If you sit close, you can hear the grunts and see the sweat. Both activities, whether as participant or spectator, reward further study, but can probably be appreciated at a basic level by any one who has ever moved.

So there,

Bron

"My views on art at least as it applies to photography are that every person and I do mean everyone that takes a photograph creates art."

No, I cannot agree with this position either.

The production of an "artwork" is quite distinct from the simple production of a thing in the same medium. (Sidebar: This, I believe, is where many young people become confused and resentful today. They have been taught that activity = accomplishment = being a winner. But I'm digressing.)

The atom of Art's definition, in all of its forms, is intention to communicate. That is, the artist has a conscious intention to convey a concept. Simply pressing a shutter button on a camera does not qualify as art, any more than the results of simply dropping a jar of paint from a balcony qualify. There must be an intention to communicate behind either act.

This is why, for example, there has been controversy over that Asian elephant who "paints". Yes, when given paintbrushes he slathers paint onto canvas with his trunk. Yes, he seems to enjoy himself. Yes, his owners recognize that there's a market for his "work" and exploit it. But is this really art? Of course not.

So, no, everyone who takes a photograph is not a de facto artist and does not produce art in any conventional definition of these terms.

I've read this book and found it inspiring. I'm currently reading a history of modern art that quotes Kandinsky. To paraphrase, Kandinsky says that art is about two things, the first being emotion. If you don't feel emotion when you make the work then the viewer won't respond with emotion.
I can appreciate early 20th century modern art because even for the most abstract works I can see the emotion/truth/beauty in the composition (as long as I put aside my preconceptions about what a picture should be). However when I look at a lot of current "contemporary" photography I'm left stone cold by it and I wonder if its because much of it is driven by intellectual concerns rather than emotional ones?
If you go to a fancy gallery to look at a fancy show of contemporary photography the artists statements usually read something like "...the work explores issues surrounding the interplay between post-feminist doctrine within an essentially ecumenical society..." or some such.
Having read Kandinsky's words these artists statements make me think that the artists are too concerned with the intellectual, with the process of making art and with the sociology of art rather than the art object (the picture) itself and so don't put any emotion into their product.
It might also be worth saying that I enjoyed Greg Heins' work, because I could appreciate the "truth and beauty" in the compositions.
Anthony

I found the excerpt to be intruiging and if it is representative of the bulk of the book, it sounds worth reading to be sure. It seems most things worth reading illuminate some sort of truth.

Which leads me to the role of truth in photography. I find it interesting (and slightly disturbing) that a good photograph is a kind of deception.

"the deception is necessary if the goal of art is to be reached: only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that Beauty is commonplace."

But one could argue beauty is not commonplace, although beauty is a very subjective thing. But it has always bothered me that making a good photograph seems to involve trickery of some kind. Maybe it a simply a special way of seeing the inherent beauty in objects that some of us attain only infrequently, especially me.

I TOTALLY AGREE with Mike. Art has nothing to do with snapshots captured by chance or drawings made with eyes shut (at least without a contextualized purpose). There's no need to judge all photographs, all paintings, all music, etc, under the prism of art. Some are art, but the majority are simply what they are - photographs, paintings, music, but not art at all. And there's nothing wrong about that!

Allow me to also recommend Adams' "Why People Photograph."

I've turned to a particular passage in "Beauty in Photography" time and time again. From the chapter "Photographing Evil":

...photography as art does address evil, but it does so broadly as it works to convince us of life's value; the darkness that art combats is the ultimate one, the conclusion that life is without worth and finally better off ended...Perhaps this is what William Carlos Williams meant when he wrote that "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack of/what is found there."

Mike,

Why would I buy that book for $10.17 when I can purchase a slightly used copy for $196.26 from that same site? The latter must be 19 times as good, eh?

though I've disagreed vehemently with Mike on choices of "good" pictures, I've been almost robotic in following his book recommendations and have never been disappointed.

So often I find myself saying 'Yes!' to the books you recommend on here Mike that I wonder if our bookshelves are clones.
This - in fact, any of the books by Adams - should be required reading by anyone involved in photography. I return to this often - and also to 'Why People Photograph' by Adams and to 'On Being a Photographer' by Bill Jay and David Hurn. Timeless classics every one of them.

"The atom of Art's definition, in all of its forms, is intention to communicate. That is, the artist has a conscious intention to convey a concept."

So I can't make something that I think is cool, just for myself, and keep it in my drawer and not show it to anybody? Who am I communicating with, myself? Paul Outerbridge never showed anyone his carbro fetish prints. He kept them locked in a trunk. (And, unfortunately, when he died, his wife discovered them and threw most of them away, in a middlebrow, bourgeois attempt to safeguard his "reputation.") William Blake made many drawings he never showed anybody. Didn't Emily Dickinson write most of her poems without showing them to anyone? But she kept writing them nonetheless. What about people who create art and then destroy it again? Can none of it BE art by your definition?

Why can't the urge to create just be the urge to create, without also being the urge to communicate?

Mike J.

Darn, my girlfriend just placed an Amazon order before I read this post.

My take on Mike's question:

"Why can't the urge to create just be the urge to create, without also being the urge to communicate?"

I think "communicate" could be substituted by "express". At a certain level, all these artists were in a way "communicating with themselves", in the sense that they had to put their feelings into some form, be it writing, painting, etc.

"Why can't the urge to create just be the urge to create, without also being the urge to communicate?"

Ah, indeed. But the act of actually showing your work to affect that "communication" is a very separate, and perhaps more complex, act. That is, creating something (i.e. a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, a mobile, a video, etc.) that expresses your ideas and concepts is all that's required of "Art". That those objects may remain entombed out of sight for centuries and never "communicate" their creator's concepts does not negate their classification as "Art". They're just unappreciated.

(Just my opinion. ;-} )

Agreed, both these books rock... I read them long ago, you reminded me--I need to read them again! :)

It's not "art" unless it starts or perpetuates a revolution.

Why connect art to beauty?

It's a good thing to find out about these books, we have been ordering all of them (through Amazon) since we started reading TOP several months ago!

Marco wrote: "Why connect art to beauty?"

Beauty doesn't have to mean pretty, its more about truth in Adams' book. And truth doesn't have to mean journalistically factual either. Its about capturing the essence of something so that the viewer can relate to whatever it is your trying to say (even if the picture is entirely abstract).

Anthony

All these arguments about whether something is "art" or not and the related struggle to define "art" are, to me, inconsequential. Because deciding that any particular photograph or score or painting is, indeed, "art" (or not) has no significant meaning (except perhaps in the marketing sense of . . . "this is art, that's why it costs so much," or in the political sense of "that's not art because it's obscene and bad for children and should be banned!"). Not only is labelling a work as "art" or "not art" insignificant, it is uninteresting because of the impossibility of defining art in any way that everybody or even many agree upon. It's like any act of categorization or labelling: it is ultimately circular and subjective.

It is very interesting, on the other hand, to talk about the specific emotional, aesthetic or intellectual impact of a particular work on a viewer (me). That discussion has elements of both subjective reaction (e.g., "this picture hits me in my gut or my subconscious and I don't even know why" or "this thing evokes memories that I find powerful if unpleasant", etc) and objective appreciation arising out of art history, the current political climate, the relationship of technique to substance, etc.

The latter topics, albeit partially subjective, and subject to endless debate, are interesting and consequential, at least for any viewer interested in art (notice that I can use the word without defining it and . . . it's ok!) and these discussions fruitfully avoid the whole silly process of deciding whether it's art or not. In my opinion, if it provokes the kind of discussions I described in the last paragraph, it's art enough for me or anyone else and defining art further is just pointless intellectual masturbation or, worse, marketing, or, worst of all, (bad) politics. If the maker says it's art, okay, good enough for me, let's go from there and discuss whether it's good or bad work based on the subjective and objective criteria used to judge such things.

I suspect that these discussions about whether it's art or not have more to do with the status of the maker ("he's an artist therefore he can wear a beret and act like an ass" or "he's no artist, he's an errand boy for grocery clerks")than they do with the value of the work.

Very enjoyable discussions here. I love this site. Thanks, Mike and all.


Jeff Glass

Thanks for bringing these books to our attention. I just ordered both.

Does anyone here participate at http://www.onexposure.net/ ? I am a member, but have mixed feeling as to the quality of the pictures selected. On the whole they seem to me to lean towards the "gimmicky" rather than the more sublime. Just curious if anyone else participates.

It's surprising to see the same people that dismiss the art elite speak as being arrogant praising, at the same time, the words of people like Robert Adams or David Hurn whom I find equally pretentious (Yes, I've read their books).

Let's not forget "Along Some Rivers, Photographs and Conversations", a collection of interviews with Adams. More importantly, let's not forget the many books of great photographs. Adams has to be one of the most prolific of artists when it comes to the photographic monograph.

Cheers,
Gary

Great post!

Love the work

Neo

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