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Thursday, 11 February 2010

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Art defined by my Mac's dictionary is: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Basically art is whatever you want it to be. I look at Michael's photos and I remember that time and even had some of the models. It brought a smile to my face. So it's art to me.

Art is anything that raises an emotion and opinion. Modelmaking is a craft but Michael Paul Smith has raised it to an art by creating in me an emotion of pleasant nostalgia. Studio Photography is a craft, and some photographers raise it to a level of art. As the models on display would have stimulated an emotion, so does that transfer with and to his excellent photographs...Fotoziv

It is certainly art--it's work made for its own sake, for the joy of doing it, by a man with considerable technical skill. I sometimes suspect that some viewers harbor a definition of art photography that goes something like "Art is that which I happen to admire."

Great questions. But oh my I seem to be the first to comment...

I loved Michael Paul Smith's stuff. Is it art? Yes as far as I'm concerned. Why? Because he communicates his ideas incredibly well. I define art as a very high quality communication of an idea. You might say that a printer (as in an inkjet) can do that. Would that make the printer an artist? No. The printer is merely a mechanical device. The artist is the one who uses whatever tools and resources are available to him to produce a high quality communication of an idea.

What is a high quality communication? Glad you asked. It is something that gets an idea across from the mind of the artist to the mind of the viewer in a way that the viewer "gets" and appreciates that he "gets". The viewer has the original idea, or a close approximation of it, and appreciates the means used to get that idea to him.

Your other questions are answered within the above. Studio or natural habitat is irrelevant. Live or inanimate doesn't matter either.

Sorry, but I disagree with your basic premise -- it IS art.
Suggest you try again.

Shit in a jar sits as art in some of the world's most esteemed art museums, and folks have written endless essays declaring this and other similar works as great art (BTW, I love the Smith model photographs). Fine, it's art.

My point is that to declare something as art these days is akin to saying that it is made up of molecules. It doesn't say anything. Imagine going to a contemporary art museum, looking at something and then declaring, "that's art." I mean, c'mon, that'd be pretty funny.

When we really like something, we generally use words other than art. We say "this is so cool" or "beautiful" or "amazing." We look for words that adequately reveal our reaction to it.

In fact, the only time I use "art" in the way we are talking about here is when I'm looking at something that few would regard as art. For instance, I was in my company's machine shop the other day and a fellow had machined a new manifold for a hydraulic system, and holding it in my hands I just said "wow, this is art."

When I close my eyes, in silence, the images that come back to inner vision are those I consider art. Much as music that doesn't leave you. I see W. E. Smith's Minamata Mother bathing her deformed child, I see some Salgado's workers in the Brazilian mud pit, I see a few Adams', Westons, Cramers plus quite a few others that have shaped my outlook on the world. I don't see any M.P. Smith, sorry.

Art is an expression of the infinite. Craft is one means of expressing that, regardless of medium. There can be art with little or no craft, as there is craft with little or no art.

Rembrandt, and James Krenov, to be widely disparate, use highly skilled "craft" to make objects that are often "transcendent", thus producing "ART".

My opinion, which is, of course, the only right one, is there should be no distinction between craft and art; only that the object express something, the infinite if you will.

Books have been written on this subject, aesthetics, I will simplify my point of view. First my premises.
• Something is either art or not art
• Something can not be both art and not art
The artist is someone that has selected themselves to say something to everyone. Not everything they produce is art, only when they declare something as art is it art. While we may adore their incomplete, unfinished, and prototypes, it seems improper to classify them as art. I read somewhere that Beethoven, after finishing an improvisation at the piano was told that what he did was so good that it was a shame he did not write it down. He immediately repeated it note for note and at the conclusion told his audience that ‘It was not good enough to write down’. It is not the artist’s responsibility that we understand them. Context is king. No one expects a novelist to publish in all possible languages, nor expects a translation to be able to fully convey. Everyone gets what they get from a work of art.

To the question, if Paul Smith says that his work is art, I take him at his word. Conversely nothing a chimpanzee produces can be art, it has no effective way to communicate to us what it does as art or not art even if it had the distinction.

In order to answer any of these questions we have to agree on a definition of "art". According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, "Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions." In photography this could amount to physically arranging elements of the composition, or perhaps more commonly, passively arranging the elements through the lens and viewfinder. Therefore, it is the photographer, and not the viewer, who determines if the product is art. Whether or not the photographer succeeds in appealing to the senses or emotions of any given viewer seems irrelevant as long as it is a deliberate effort.

Michael's work is amazing by any estimation, both his model building and his photography. I'm not sure he should be categorized one way or the other. Can craft and art not co-exist in the same work?

For me the primary criteria for art is that it must convey a meaning, emotion or idea that transcends the subject of the piece. For some, Michael's work will be little more than a brilliantly detailed 3 dimensional photocopy of a time and place that holds no meaning for them. Others will be transported through time to relive and experience something much deeper. Others may go so far as to project a metaphorical idea of the shrinking importance of history in today's culture on the models.

I can make it art or craft for myself by choosing my interpretation. Whether Michael intends it as art or craft depends on what he's trying to achieve. His intent is the truest measure of what the work is.

It looks to me like his primary interest in most of the photographs is to illustrate his amazing abilities as a model maker but he does have several photographs that seem to go beyond that to convey an emotion or idea about the era he is depicting. In those instances I do think he manages to draw a measure of art from his beautifully crafted models.

Sorry to disappoint, but I believe that what Michael does is art, for the simple reason that he chooses what to build models of and how to photograph them. In that sense, he is expressing his personal vision, if by more contorted ways than your average photographer, and in my (humble) opinion, this is what art is all about.

Just to make an analogy, take Annie Leibovitz or any other highly successful commercial photographer. On very big jobs, they will have score of assistants and will likely not touch anything on the scene, instead simply directing people as to what they should be doing. Sometimes they won't even trigger the shutter themselves. Yet (as long as the Art Director isn't too involved in the process), they will create an image that corresponds to their vision, and they will be, in the fullest meaning of the term, artists.

I'm too much of a coward to comment on whether or not something is "art", but it strikes me in that Michael's work there is a certain amount of "look, I can make X look like Y". In other words, the impact of the work is not so much dependent on the actual output as it is on the viewer's understanding of the effort that went into producing that output.

I recall listening to a Brooks Jensen podcast a few years ago where he opined that (I'm paraphrasing) a typical viewer doesn't care how much hardship was endured in order to create the image, they only tend to care about the quality and impact of the image in front of their eyes.

I'll leave the question of whether this is "art" or "not art" to bolder people than me, but this may explain why one might see a distinction between Michael's work and other studio or still-life work.

First a little background on my theories, which are basically cribbed from here and there and stitched together into a sort of Frankenstein's monster which will probably be very familiar, except for where I've made a mess of him:

A photograph exists, generally, to provoke a reaction upon viewing. A bad snapshot from grandma's birthday might exist to provoke the reaction "Oh man, that was such a fun party!" in the mind of whoever took it, or in the minds of other attendees. The intent of the snapshot is very local -- if you weren't at the party, it means nothing to you. Photojournalistic photographs are broader -- they try to invoke in the viewer some idea of what it was like to Be There, in some "true" fashion. Incidently, this is why I don't really care if someone moves a cow's skull -- the point is to provoke a "true" reaction in the viewer, to truly capture what the reality was in some useful way. If the photo makes the viewer feel in a way that's similar to the feelings they would have experienced in the place at the moment the photo was taken, it's successful photo-journalism.

Art is broader still, in that it provokes some reaction in a wide audience. Further, to my way of thinking, in order to succeed as Art qua Art, the reaction induced should be something deeper than a reaction directly to the subject: "Wow, what a pretty flower!" isn't enough, although the reaction may be mostly emotional and inexpressible in words. In fact, ideally, the reaction should be both deeper than the subject and somewhat FALSE. A photograph of an authentic homeless guy that makes you think about the human condition might be journalism, not art. (This is REALLY splitting hairs and I'm not sure I agree with it even as I write it!)

Portraits are an interesting case, on an axis largely orthogonal to the art/not-art axis, since the viewer will almost always read something in to the image, to try to tell a little story about the subject -- He looks sad today -- or whatever. So you almost get the "deeper reaction" part for free, and also some falseness, since the story the viewer makes up for the subject is unlikely to be accurate. Portraits, in short, get a bit of a head-start on art-ness.

So an "art" photograph should be broadly accessible in the sense that many people, when they look at it, experience a significant mental response to the photo. That response should be deeper than a mere subject reaction. Finally (maybe), the reaction should be false, in the sense that it's NOT the reaction the viewer would have experienced by being there at the moment the photo was taken.

Onwards to Michael's photos:

Well, my reaction is definitely FALSE, since that's the point of the photos! I think some of the photos are art, in that they invoke a sort of wistful nostalgic emotion in me that goes beyond 'sweet car' but I'm always wavering in my reaction between that and 'sweet car.' Of course, once the curtain is pulled back and I see how he DOES it, I'm pretty much overwhelmed by the technicality of it, and re-interpreting the photos in technical terms (Ok, so the trees are.. aha! etc), so it's even harder for me to judge.

They're not GREAT art, I think, and I say that because the reactions I have are not particularly powerful, or insight-giving. I think it's fair to say that these photos have very little to say, artistically, which is to say nothing more than to repeat "I do not react strongly to them."

As for still lifes and studio photography:

Of course they can be art. They get the (still questionable) false reaction for free, the only question is whether the image provokes a mental reaction and of what kind, and in how broad of an audience.

In summary:

Art has less to do with the process by which it is made, and more to do with how it is viewed.

Arguably I should be adding in something about the artist's intent, since as it stands my discussion probably includes natural phenomena as "art" but since we're talking about photographs, which rarely occur without an photographer with an intention, I don't feel the need to address this.

Attempting to define what is and is not art is a losing proposition, but I'll wade in and say that these photographs are unquestionably art.

If he had made these amazing constructions and then casually photographed them to show how cool they are, the photographs could easily be dismissed as "not art" (the models themselves might be a different matter). But the thought and care and, shall we say, artistry he has applied to light, composition, camera angle, crop, etc., (not to mention the astonishing level of detail and verisimilitude in the models) make for a tension between reality and artifice that creates a peculiar and haunting visual poetry--one that entirely transcends the idea of an obsessive model maker documenting his nostalgic creations.

Secondly, if there's something that keeps this work from being art, then that judgment must surely extend to the photographs of Thomas Demand (http://www.thomasdemand.de/), who has enjoyed a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and who gets described in glowing artspeak like this: "Demand knowingly uses the traditional role of photography as a faithful transcriber of the world to throw his subject’s artificiality into doubt." I don't know what Mr. Smith is thinking, but his photographs do the same thing. (Yes, I know that having your work at MOMA does not prove that it is art, but it does suggest a certain consensus.)

Finally, I once heard a lecture by the great sculptor Martin Puryear in which he said this: "Art is a state of grace which things that succeed sometimes attain." While I can imagine photographs much like these that neither succeed nor attain a state of grace, my squishy assessment is that these pictures do both.

OK, Mr. C, did I plant my flag firmly enough?

If you cut off your own ear before you photograph the vase of flowers, and commit suicide after, then it's art.

OK, I'll play. I think his work is art. A workman works with his hands, a craftsman works with his mind, and an artist works with his heart. (I wish I could take credit for that thought, but I don't even remember where I read it.)

So, part of my definition is that art the result of an artist creating, and the artist's intent is in his heart. If the creation came from an intent to create art, then it's art.

It doesn't really matter if I like it or not, or even if it's "my kind of art." It's still art.

I tend to think of craft as the how, and art as the what. Craftsmanship without creative intent is craft. Art without sufficient craftsmanship may fail to achieve the artist's vision, but it's still art.

If Michael Paul Smith's work (we're talking about the photos of the models and not the models, right?) isn't art, would people consider the work of Thomas Demand to be art? (You can see his images and methods by typing his name into any internet search engine.)

For disclosure, I didn't weigh in on the original post, merely enjoyed it from a distance.

Why I would consider Michael Paul Smith's work as "art"...

If the definition of art is to include some degree of interpretation (and I personally believe that all art is interpretation, otherwise it is simply a clinical scientific explanation seeking to eschew the creators point-of-view, or a naturally forming event like the creation of hoodoos or slot canyons) then MPS's photographs are the ultimate in street photography interpretation. That these are models he is photographing is essentially irrelevant - he uses the models to construct what his idea of a 1950's era street would look like. His interpretation of that street - a combination of his own memories, nostalgia, perhaps popular culture as well - exists in how he chooses to put his models together and in his desire to document them in an authentic and almost transparent way, being nigh-indiscernible from a real photograph from that period of time. That a street photographer would spend days, week, even years finding genuine moments of authenticity to photograph does not make their work any more or less artistic than MPS's photographs. If anything, the level of craftsmanship on display would seem to indicate multiple levels of artistry - both in creating the models themselves, and in visualizing the scenes that were photographed.

Does the high level of craftsmanship negate the artistic merit of his photographs? No more than Picasso's technical skills (see his early works) negate the expression he put into his later works. To the degree that effort is required for artistic expression, the craftmanship required to achieve these specific images is significant, only lending itself to the artistic merit of his photographs.

Well, I posted the link about the folks talking snapshots of their outdoor railways.

I would say that Mr Smith's work is art compared to them since he appears to be trying to say something with his photo's besides just "Hey look, I have a really detailed model railroad!"

On Michael Paul Smith
Artists have always looked backward for inspiration and content, why not photographers? You can choose your time and event and place accordingly.
Some of the night shots are beautifully lit and as anyone who has worked in advertising knows creatively telling lies is a skill.
I once shot real people on a cruise yacht supposedly in the Mediterranean in summer but actually in Fleetwood docks
( anyone who knows the UK well will see the picture, just about as far visually from the med as you could get ) in mid February.
Unless we are shooting reportage are we all not creating an illusion which fulfils our own interpretation and anyway most things considered 'art' may just be the Emperors New Clothes.
Good on yer Mr. Smith "whatever lights your candle"

To define art! What a fool’s errand. . . .

Certainly a work of art must contain a subject of some interest! This could be a study in light, a presentation of interesting sounds, the manipulation of rocks into an interesting pattern, or any number of other things. Clearly, the answer to the subjective “do I like it?” should not be a criterion on which we should decide the existence of art! I don’t particularly like Andy Warhol, but he definitely made art.

To me, art as an over-arching descriptor of objects or experiences implies the presence of an aesthetic not present in the mundane. This doesn’t necessarily imply that the presentation is pleasant or insightful, but “art” is typically thought to be extraordinary in some way, even if the objects comprising the art are in and of themselves ordinary. I would hasten to add that my definition of "art" implies some creation on the part of the artist, either through actual creation of the artistic object or by its presentation in some way.

Case in point, Weston's famous pepper! By itself in the supermarket, I would not consider this fruit "art." Rather, the presentation afforded by an unusual view of this otherwise mundane object creates an in extraordinary artistic image. Conversely, under this definition, many would consider a photograph of a “plain" pepper to be mere documentation, lacking the proper subject for an "artistic" work since it doesn’t cross my “extraordinary” threshold. If, however, the presentation of this “plain” pepper is meant in some way to convey an idea or emotion beyond the mere pepper, then I would consider that composition art. Would Henri Matisse’s increasingly simplistic paper cuttings not be considered art even though they are quite minimalistic and are presented using the most basic of materials? For me, certainly!

To make sure that I don’t leave the impression that any captured image or creation is, by default, art, let me present a counter-example: documentary scientific photographs. Many of them serve no purpose other than to measure what exists. There is no implied aesthetic value to these images, and their purpose is to convey facts. They definitely are presented to convey the extraordinary, but there is no aesthetic which would allow me to consider them art. Can these images be presented or manipulated in such a way as to allow them to be considered artistic? Certainly! I have seen very beautiful images of microorganisms that I would gladly hang on my wall as abstract art!

Even if the author or presenter of the original work does not intend them to be art, the audience can convey artistic merit to a “found” non-artistic object. I would certainly consider “found” objects to be beautiful in many instances, though the lack of cognitive creation would mean that I would not consider them to be art. To clarify, a beautiful rock that I may find on the ground is definitely not art under my definition, nor is a mountain, nor a stand of trees. If one were to take a naturally beautiful rock and present it in some manner to convey its perceived beauty, whether to one’s self or to others, the presentation comprised of the rock and the intent would most assuredly become “art.” Photographs, sculpture, or even arrangement of these natural objects are all artistic expressions under my definition.

My personal definition of art would seem to "exist," then, at the intersection of a subject and its presentation. The question as to whether it is any “good”, or whether I like it never enters into the definition of art, just whether I would put in on my wall! Ctein originally framed the question of this post around many “that’s not art!” comments about model photography. Under my definition, one of several things could be true—the photographs and the models are simply meant to convey documentary evidence that the models existed, they are meant to convey something extraordinary, or that an additional aesthetic not present in mere documentary photographs exists in the opinion of the observer. If an observer merely feels the first of these to be true, then a case for “this isn’t art” could definitely be made! However, from a cursory examination of Michael’s photography, it is clear to me that his intent is to convey something extraordinary. Regardless, his work has an aesthetic value to many members of the TOP audience allowing this work to transcend mere documentary photography, even if that were the original intent! Thus, there is no question that I would consider Michael’s work art, whether you like it or not!

David

“A negative judgment gives you more satisfaction than praise, provided it smacks of jealousy.”
--Jean Baudrillard--

Wow - I missed the discussion in the comments the first time around - I just went to Michael's website and enjoyed being amazed as his work. By that, I mean that I appreciated primarily the detailed craftsmanship that went into producing such realistic models and setups. Not to mention the lighting and backgrounds that resulted in such realistic scenes in the resulting photos.

It strikes me as similar to what movie makers must do at times.

Is it art ? I'd have to say that I lean toward it not being art. A few years back, an artist by the name of Norman Rich spent time on the Sony forum on dpreview (the F717 crowd at the time), and engaged us in discussions on art appreciation. One thing I took away from those discussions is that art is often (always ?) about intent and one thing you can judge (since we all like to judge things and judging art is sort of missing the point) is how well the artist realized his intent (assuming you know what his intent was). I don't believe that intent means a preconceived notion of the result, nor do I believe it has to be very specific or even very comprehensible.

(cont'd)

But in the case of Michael's work, I can make some guesses about his intent. (He even talks about it). He's doing high quality craftsmanship to produce a realistic replication of a town from years ago. By realistic, I mean it looks "real", not necessarily accurate (which I wouldn't have known if he hadn't stated that). A lot like the sets that model railroaders build. Most of the imagination, I would guess, is in figuring out how to construct everything, not what to make it look like. On the photography side, I see parallels; figuring out how to light it to make it look like a naturally lit outdoor scene, but otherwise, just placing objects to recreate a believable scene. The photos themselves are well done, but I ask myself - if these were not photos of models, but photos of a real town, would this be art ? And there's something lacking; some cohesion, certainly the presence of people, but something that would allow them to make the leap from a collection of pictures of a town to an artists portfolio.

In my relatively short time trying to learn to appreciate art, I've learned to separate my reactions to art from my attempts to appreciate it, learned to look for what others might appreciate in art, to realize that there might just be something there that I'm missing, but in this case, it's all out in front of you (between the photos and what's written) and it all just strikes me as top notch craftsmanship. Maybe it's just that I look at it and think that anyone could do the same thing with enough experience, dedication and patience. I don't mean to trivialize it (clearly no more than a handful of people have that experience, dedication and patience); I just think there's something there that separates craftsmanship like that from art that no two people would do alike. Maybe there's something in the scenes, in the images, that I'm missing.

I liken this to other crafts, like woodworking. There are woodworkers whose work can be considered art; they typically design their own stuff. And there are those who build things, sometimes with amazing craftsmanship, sometimes intended to replicate a historical piece, maybe inspired by a historical piece, maybe "designed" from scratch, but with a practical intent, following established design principle or based on photographs or memory.

cont'd

I think these rambling thoughts extend to studio photography in general - it can be art and it can be mere "work". If your job is to show something in a "good light" then you think about how the light will strike it, what aspects of it you want to show - you previsualize the results (or chimp) and produce a stunning photograph, much in the same way workers around the world think about what they need to produce and how they're going to produce it. Anyone with sufficient competence and training could do the same thing. Outside of artists who do work in a studio, I allow for the rare studio photographer who takes a simple assignment like "I need a photograph of this person, product" and through a unique approach to the craft, produces something different from everyone else. But it falls back to intent. You can intend to make something look good, visually, and maybe do a better job at it than others, but that alone just makes you good at the craft. For it to be art, you have to intend to do something different, something unique, something more creative than what the client asks.

What about outdoor photography ? Again, it comes down to intent. I *don't* consider myself an artist because my intent is too simply stated: I shoot what catches my eye. There's more to it than that; I've become a little more introspective and could, if pressed, explain why I shoot what I shoot, but there's still no real intent to it. Maybe if I kept shooting what I shoot, and eventually put together a cohesive portfolio, it might be art. When you shoot the back of a building, are you documenting a town ? Or showing some aspect of a town that most people don't see ? Do you simply like how it looks ? Does everyone who walks down this alley with a camera or cell phone snap a picture of it because of a funny neon sign ? Or do you have some unique vision that causes that building to strike your fancy ? Do you have some project in mind that makes this building uniquely appealing to you ? Basically I want to see evidence of artistic intent (even if I don't understand the intent) to call something art. That's a circular definition, I know, but the important point is the idea of intent. I can sort out artistic intent from non-artistic intent (or no intent !) separately; what's important is the idea that the end result doesn't determine whether it's art, nor does the craftsmanship.

Sorry for the length of the post; I'm too new at art appreciation to be able to express my thoughts on it well, but I made an effort to answer your questions since you expressed curiosity about it !

- Dennis

Yes, I think still life can be art. I'll try to explain what I mean, but doubt I will do it very well.

To use a Smith photo as example, the first B&W one of the house and old car struck me. (It struck me before I knew how it was done. After I found out how it was done, I said, wow, but that may have been the techie in me reacting.) It made me want to look at it more, I think because it made me think of that place in a different way that if I was just walking down that street. Most often, photographs of similar scenes don't do this. That transformation of the scene into something I want to look at more, may be what art does. Or part of what it does.

Different techniques can cause this to happen, I suppose. Smith uses models and lighting.

Let me use an example from film to illustrate my idea. When I watch TV commercials, no matter how stupid or annoying they are, they don't seem to consciously register with me. If I go to a movie theatre and watch a movie in which the characters are in their living room watching a dumb TV commercial, the inanity of the advertisement immediately registers. I think it does the same for others in the audience, because I can hear them giggling. That added awareness, that the placement in the movie brought to the fore, that's part of the artistic value of the movie I'm watching. It made me think of the stupid TV ad in a different way.

The movie enhances an aspect of the commercial. The Smith photo enhances that scene in a way that a real estate snap shot would not.

I can't think of a better way to say it than that at the moment.

wether it is art is not the spectators decision to make. thats what the curators are doing. as a consumer you can say somthing is artful, artsy, crafty etc, but you cannot declare it art. that is up to those that put it in a gallery.
same goes with advertising. a picture of a car can be advertising, art or a snapshot. it is not the quality or anything, it is just about the context the image is put into.

I may be setting the bar pretty low here but it's how I see it.
To me art happens when an artist uses their skills to let you wander around in their head.
Sometimes it's a pretty well guided tour. W. Eugene Smith and HCB come to mind there. Other times it's like stumbling on to a very private meditation, Atget?
And if it's any good you come away enchanted and that's one of my tests of a work being art or not. In that context Michael Paul Smith makes the cut, boy does he make the cut.
This begs the question of art that leaves you horrified or sick to your stomach. Also legit but someone else will have to deal with that. At my age I would rather play with my grandkids.


Not so fast Ctein! First define what you mean by art and then I'll answer your question.


Isn't art a personal thing? Whether I consider Michael Paul Smith's work art or not is not important. If he does is what is important. I know it is a cliche, but art is in the eye of the beholder. Inside or outside, posed or unposed, set up or a random occurrence, in a studio or happenstance are not important. It is art if it brings that person joy. If it evokes a similar reaction in others, that is only a plus.

In other words, you can like Smith's work or not, but if he finds personal satisfaction in it, it is art to him.

Unfortunately, is melds into the same age-old arguments: Is photography art? I'm sure some believe only ancient oil paints are the true foundation of art. Not acrylics, not chalk, not pen and ink, not watercolors, not photography, and, oh my God, not digital. What we use to create "our" art is meaningless. If it's made out of mud, or cow dung, and brings me pleasure, so be it.

Smith's art isn't in the photography. A lot of people could produce such pictures. Smith's work is in the construction of the models, mastering small pieces of wood and fiberglass and whatever into realistic scenes. Guy must have a fantastic workshop. And work habit.

Reminds me of a friend who produced a book of his underwater photography feats. All beautiful pictures of brightly colored fish. It brings him great joy to share his work with others. Is it art to me? No. Anyone who wanted to invest in the right equipment (he has the money) and the right access (in other words, SCUBA training), he could produce similar work.

If it brings him a sense of accomplishment, fine. To others? Who cares?

You can't say the question is hard until you define "art" and "craft". So please give us your definitions then we'll see how hard it is.

W/o definitions one can make any statements whatsoever, even call the same thing to be both art and craft or neither and be correct.

For me the differentiating factor is that the result is intentional.
He's gone to some trouble to set up the scene (the fact that it's tiny only serves to heighten this component) and he's presumably chosen his equipment settings deliberately (either directly, or implicitly through shoot-lots-and-choose-afterwards).

Requesting a clarification. Are you asking about his photography as art, or his modeling as art? Both?

The difference may be important to people as some may not consider his modeling to be art, but the treatment and illusion of the photography may rise to that level.

Louis,

Your comments:
"The artist is someone that has selected themselves to say something to everyone. Not everything they produce is art, only when they declare something as art is it art.

To the question, if Paul Smith says that his work is art, I take him at his word."

resonate most closely with what I've come to believe, except for the frauds (intentional and unintentional). I believe there are people with nothing to say, but some degree of craftsmanship who call themselves artists in order to sell stuff, to get attention, whatever. And I believe there are plenty of people out there doing crafts and calling themselves artists who simply don't know better.

But I agree with your second comment. I wrote up a long response to Ctein that explains why I think Michael's work isn't art based on what *I* know, but I, too, would take him at his word. He titles the page: "Photos of my models", states that an exercise in modelling turned to a reconstruction project and he believes it is visually "heading towards the realm of ART". I don't think he's claiming to be an artist and that fed into my take on it.

Tim, isn't the result of every craft intentional ?

@ Dennis - Well said.

You do realize that many of our esteemed Renaissance painters used the camera obscura, right?

((When I wrote this there were no comments here yet, but now that I read the comments I find that other people have already said what I am saying. Still, I want to add my voice to the chorus))

This response may seem a little trite, but I believe 'art' exists ultimately within a relationship. I believe there are two relationships where art can come into being: creator-creation and creation-viewer* (*viewer could be listener if it's music, etc). I believe if someone is creating something and they feel like/believe that they are creating art, then they are. If there is no creation-viewer relationship that seconds this belief/feeling then I would personally say that it is not effective art, but I don't believe that a lack of a receptive audience negates the creator's intent. Conversely I believe that if someone sees* a thing and feels like/believes it is art then it is. Even if the creator did not intend it as such (so the creator-creation relationship doesn't exists: ie - an accidental creation) the thing is still art because it is experienced as such. To be precise, I believe that either relationship is enough to define a thing as art. Ultimately I am stating here that the term art is entirely subjective in my opinion, and subject to two different circumstances.

I think a more productive conversation might be "What comprises effective art?" - which is still subjective, but focuses on the creation-viewer relationship.

To focus on one of Ctein's questions (can still life photos be art) I try to look at this and the lines blur. Where does one draw the line for calling a thing a still life? Allow me to elaborate with three examples: (1) The photographer places a table into an empty room, adds a bowl, places fruit in the bowl, places two lights in different places, sets up his tripod and camera, and takes a picture; (2) the photographer walks along a beach and sees a scene with a starfish in the sand and a rock out in the surf is being battered by waves and the sun is at just the right angle and he quickly drops to one knee and snaps the shot; (3) The photographer sees the same scene as #2 but takes a moment to setup a flash on its own tripod to side-light the starfish. #1 is a still life but is #2? What about #3 which has elements of both (some spontaneity, some planning/controlling the elements). What if in #3 the photographer collects a couple additional shells and some seaweed and arranges them near the starfish? My point with these examples is that there are circumstances where a situation might easily fall into a category but there are also circumstances that blur the lines of the categories and make it difficult to classify a thing precisely. It's because of these latter cases that I believe the attempt to decry something as not-art due to its ability to be placed into a category (such as still-life) is tenuous and ultimately useless.

This brings me back to my point in my first paragraph: if viewer-creation relationship calls it art then it is art regardless of how the creator made the thing (whether it be planned and arragned or spontaneous, whether it be created with intent or created accidentally).

Ok, that was a long-winded attempt to define terms. Time to tackle the "why." Do I feel like Michael Paul Smith's work is art? Yes. Why? Because he felt like it was art when he made it. Why else? Because it communicates feeling. Why else? Because regardless of the creator's intent, it has its own relationship with the viewer. For me it is not particularly effective art - it does not conjure within me the things that I look for in my viewer-creation relationship when I define art for myself. Part of what indicates to me that the creator in this case considers his creation art is the method of presentation. A constructed model might not resound with the chorus of "the person who made me was making art when he/she did so" but what is presented to us in this case are photographs of the models that transform the content from "photographs of a model" to "photographs of a real scene" and the fact that the goal of the presentation is different than the goal of the model (the presentation, the photo, attempts to transform the model into reality) is now establishing a creation-viewer relationship between the photo and the viewer that is ultimately inherently different than a literal photo of the scene would have done. Seeing that goal from the creator indicates to me that the final product (plausible reality scene created by tricky photographing of model scene) was intended to be art by the creator, thus establishing the creator-creation relationship that I believe means "he was making art, therefore it is art."

I realize I am terrible at being concise, but I hope I am at least understandible.

Action + Intent = ART

A friend of mine, who holds an MFA, once gave me some good advice about arguing whether something is art or not; don't.

I liked Michael's work, I thought it was very good, and I was amazed with what he accomplished. If someone else thinks it is art, or not, doesn't really matter to me.

Art is subjective; all the semi-reasonable definitions I remember, here and elsewhere, have an element of impact on the viewer. Many of them have an element of communication. And people don't all respond the same way to...much of anything.

I don't see much utility in ejecting something from the category -- declaring, generally rather smugly, "that is not art!"

On the other hand, it can be useful to say "That was not intended as art, so judging it as art and then declaring it a failure is missing the point."

Much of modern academic art doesn't seem to communicate anything to anybody I've discussed it with; but that's a tiny portion of the world population, and it may well be communicating to a different audience that I don't discuss art with.

Is it possible, though, that "art" isn't actually a useful category at all?

These pictures of models are clearly art to me. That is, I would buy them as art, and I would display them as art. Art is like beauty in that it lies in the eye of the beholder and in the mind of the creator.

I have never seen any shit-in-a-jar that I would call art. This does not mean that the creator and other observers will not call it art. By my way of seeing, it can be art to them but not to me at the same time.

There are several examples of bodies of work that were produced for documentary purposes that are collected as art and displayed at museums as art.

Looking to carpentry as another example, there are collections of rather mundane stuff treated and considered as art, and there are beautiful unique pieces created to be works of art that are used as bed stands, covered with crosswords and dust.

To summarize; I think art is art in a given situation if you can convince people that it is art.

More often than not, I find "art" as something created by someone who simply does not think as I do. Unlike a craft that is an assembly, albeit a creative assembly, of materials. What I allow as art is the stuff that comes from an undefinable source in the completion. So, Art is everywhere, "fine" art makes me come back to it over and over and over again and when I leave, I make a note for a return trip.

Hey Ctein!
Let's reverse it. Do you think that *your* images are art? Or "just" craft?

The question is dumb. The answer does not exist. Only the argument. Art is about that argument. But it's a dumb argument.

Tolstoy in his essay, "What is Art?",
relates art to religion. I suppose that makes me art-less.

I lean toward the idea that it's not art, because I reject the idea that anything can be art, if somebody says it is. That's like the idea that anything can be science, if somebody says it is - like, for example, the creationists.

There's a photograph by a famous photographer (but I can't remember who) of a line of boots on fence posts out west somewhere. I could have taken the photograph - in fact, if I'd seen the boots, I would have, because it's a curious and interesting thing. But is that art? If it is, it seems to me that the artist is the guy who put the boots on the post, not the person who took a fairly routine photograph of an odd subject.

The same thing with these photos by Michael Smith. The photos are technically excellent, but I'd suggest to you that almost any good, competent commercial photographer could have taken them, given the models. So is the art in the photo? Probably not. Is the art in the models? Possibly, but it looks more like craft to me. One quality of really good art is that it is fairly universal, and also timeless. We can therefore appreciate ancient Egyptian art, and also art from China; and Van Gogh can be influenced by the Japanese, and the japanese can collect Van Gogh. What would these models mean to a Chinese, who didn't recognize either the car or the architectural styles? Not much, I think - they might respect the craftsmanship of the model construction, but similar and better work has been done for centuries.

So, I think Mr. Smith is practicing a craft. If he didn't bother to photograph it, I don't think most people would consider it an art form. But the photograph, it seems to me, is the least aspect of what he does...

By the way, I collect craft, pottery in particular, and have a lot of respect for it. I just don't think it's art.

JC

I just have more questions...no answers!

Here is one question:

If I have a unique vision, manage to capture that vision (perfectly) with a camera, make an exquisite print of that image, then, while viewing it I have an intense emotional response to that printed image, but, I never show it to anyone...is it "art"?

Cheers! Jay

Dear Bill,

I think you're the one who needs to try again, by reading a bit more carefully:

I wrote: "Some of you considered Michael Paul Smith's work to be less than art—not good art versus bad art, just not art. I'd like to know why."

That's a statement of fact (go read the earlier article). I made no premise to the effect that I agreed with that sentiment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Chuck, Paul, and Igor (among others),

I'm asking what people who expressed the above sentiment think and why. It's their sentiment-- they get to define their terms and scope.

I'm asking a question, not lecturing on an answer.

How you define art, or not, is up to you, in the context of your answer. One doesn't even need to define it to address my questions.You can if you want to; you don't have to to write meaningful thoughts on your reactions and reasoning. As I said, the "why" is more interesting to me than the "what."

pax / Ctein

Of course it's art.

A few months back, I decided to try B&W photography because everyone told me that it would teach me about light. And so it has been.

I'm still very much working at it, but B&W has taught me something else, too: a working definition of art. It started when I took a picture of my daughter (two years old) standing in front of some vertical blinds. It's not the greatest shot ever, but she was standing on a brightly-colored booster seat.

In color--and in real life--the light streaming in from the window took a back seat to the blue, red and green of the chair. In B&W, the chair gave up its hold on the eye and let the light play center stage.

Not that kiddie snaps are art, but the image was so different from the reality that it made me realize that art--all art--is really looking at the world a little differently.

Michael Paul Smith definitely forces you to look at the world differently. So, in my book, it's art.

I feel that Mr. Smith's photographs are art. When I first saw the lead picture I was swept away into a sort of longing reverie for the innocence and simplicity of a decade long gone by. I imagined myself sitting on that porch sipping a beer, just kicking back. Life was good, and I felt good, but the important point is that I felt something, so as far as I'm concerned that qualifies the photograph as art.

After discovering that the image was setup in a studio using models, I was impressed. It got me thinking about what photography is about. It seems to me that photography is about capturing and preserving the past, but the photographs of Mr. Smith don't capture an actual scene from the past but rather a recreation of a scene from the past. This aspect of the photographs represents to me craft, but the most startling aspect is that when you first see the photograph you don't think you are looking at a still-life but a scene from real life. It seems like a radical approach to photography since it undermines what I always thought photography was about. A measure of genius, illusion, art and craft, all at once.

Dennis (and Charlie) - Isn't the end result what matters more than intent? If we discovered that da Vinci didn't really intend for the Mona Lisa to be any good and was just trying out some new paints, would it suddenly cease to be art?

An image needs a subtext to be art. It helps if there is tension between the subtext and the image. The subtext cannot solely read what is exactly in the image. Michael's images are of models, but the subtext is our idea of nostalgia and memory. The tension is between the scale and artificiality of the models and the idea of nostalgia and memory.

Tch! Tch! Ctein!

There you go again striking sparks in a powder keg filled with pins and angels. . . .


Dave

Dear Ctein,

I absolutely agree that trying to define what is 'Art' and what not is an impossible venture. Insofar, my comment in the thread following N.Wright's post (on the TIME cover he unknowingly contributed through AP) was a mistake.

You ask why .. and I think you already give the answer yourself. The individual perception of 'Art' is based on a personal 'internal value system', whatever that might be. My 'Art' might be your 'Kitsch', and together we might completely overlook something that is of significant value to millions of people on this planet -- in ways we might not even understand.

I actually considered adding this afterthought to my old comment two days ago, but the discussion seemed to be dead asleep anyways. So, thanks for waking it up again.

While we are in this newly awoken discussion, I do have some questions myself -- actually motivated by comments in the thread mentioned above.

- Why should Time magazine (or any publication) be obliged to use 'Art' for its title? (Whose 'Art'?) Should a title illustration be more expensive if a certain number of people (chosen from which group?) consider it 'Art'?

- Why is a world in which most people look at 'Art' (and pay for the 'Artist' in some way) better than a world in which most people have access to devices that give them the opportunity to find their own 'Artistic' voice?
Who judges whether or not the realization of this voice in the individual case really is 'Artistic' or not?

- If one person receives a regular income from a company for making chairs, and the other receives a regular income from a company for making photographs -- why should one of them have more rights in the results of their 'Art' than the other?

- Do 'Professional Artists' (whatever that is) deserve protection from competition through 'Hobby Artists'? Where to draw the line, and who draws it?
What if one 'Art' (e.g. photography) massively erodes the livelihoods of 'Artists' of another 'Art' (e.g. painting)?

In other words, if we cannot define something as not being 'Art' (which we probably can't, since (almost) everything can be 'Art' to somebody), what general status should 'Art' and 'Artists' deserve, and who decides?

I am a photographer and a painter, mainly a photographer who dabbles in art. As a result I sometimes end up painting my photographs.

My take on the debate is that art is created by an individual brain and transferred via the hands to paper, lumps of clay or whatever. In this respect creation is the important factor in that it expresses an individual view. Skill and practice with the artists tools are also required to produce the finished artwork. We have all seen photographs that do this and many that do not.

Replicating an object in another medium does not necessarily constitute art even though the craftsmanship of the copy may be excellent and something to be admired. An example could be a photographic print that is pin sharp with beautiful colours but of a mundane subject matter. Unlike photography, paintings are not exact copies and the artists eye replaces the camera lens to allow free range of expression.

If a photograph is to be regarded as art it should express some of the creators personal feelings and emotions and be an individual view. As someone said, the best photographers see thing that others do not and the same applies to artists. The tricky bit is to pass this on to someone else.

But, is Smith's work art only if you know it is model work? Do the images stand on their own?

Art is art if the concepts and ideas behind the artwork are at least as important as the final physical piece itself. Art is more than just aesthetics, more than just a beautiful object, which tends to become a dead-end. No further thought required or new ones generated, just appreciation. Art is an idea expressed in a physical or visual form.

So for Michael Paul Smith’s work, it seems more akin to painting than photography. Like painters, he has created the scene from scratch, following his own aesthetics and choices, not hampered by the real world like regular photographers are. He is able to select every element that goes into each image and has complete control over the final product.

But are there ideas expressed through his photographs of his models? The answer seems to be, “Yes.” The models wouldn’t be as effective on their own as sculptures, but when rendered as photographs, they become an illusion of another reality. The reality found in Smith’s mind and memories from his childhood. In a way, these images represent an idealized and romanticized version of the world that perhaps never existed, but in turn comments on the world as we experience it now. Smith’s images spark a conversation inside of me and cause me to think past the images and look both inside and outside myself. This is what art is supposed to do, so this makes it art.

As for the other questions, art is not determined by subject matter, whether it’s still life or portraits or landscapes or whatever. The same goes for artistic mediums. Being an oil painting or a platinum print doesn’t guarantee anything is art. As with gifts, it’s the thought that counts.

To Me:
Photography is a craft. Painting is a craft. Writing music is a craft.
But resulting performance of the music or the production of the image with the resultant emotional effect on the audience is what defines art vs just a technical result of a craft.
So in the end art must be the ability to raise emotion and admiration for the artists ability to generate that communication with the senses of the audience.
When "Wow" feelings are raised in me, viewing an image or listening to music then I feel that I have experienced art.

Ctein, you're a wise man, and you know how to ask the right questions, but I don't think you're going to get a satisfying answer to this one. A person would have to ignore that art is whatever we say it is, which is a tautology, and always has been.

Sven said in his relevant and elegant comment:

"...what general status should 'Art' and 'Artists' deserve, and who decides?..."

The answer is the market, the willingness the purchasing or commissioning public (elite?) to consider something as art and attach a suitable number of of zeros to the end of the price. As it always was. Thus Richard Prince is art, and so is van Gogh.

As Sven and anonymous (with the comment about "mu") have indicated, "is it art" is an entirely unanswerable, uninteresting and irrelevant question that adds nothing to the experience of the photographs themselves. People will go on making works that interest them, and many of the makers will want other people to find them interesting too. So the interesting question is actually "is this interesting?". Things can be interesting for many reasons, many of them personal but some of them shareable.

There are lots of interesting things to be said about these photographs. I happen to find them lovely, mysterious, a glimpse of a tiny mythical world. I also enjoy the artisanship that went into creating them, and I'm amused by the visual trick even after repeated viewings. This suggests to me that these are multilayered, rewarding photographs and I will get something out of each viewing. Which, so far, I have.

To speculate whether they are or are not art instead of contemplating them and thinking about them as they are detaches the meaning from them, and bears the same relationship to genuine appreciation as stamp-collecting does to writing letters (I was going to use a more basic analogy, but you can make it up for yourselves). It's a lovely cop-out from actually engaging with them for what they are.

Sadly no longer in print, the scholar and critic Frank Kermode wrote a wonderful essay on "The patience of Shakespeare" in which he defined a classic as a work which would endure repeated viewings, interpretations and performances over many generations: one that is "patient". MPS's work seems to have some patience; not as much as that of a Manet or a Poussin, but much more than (say) almost all photographs of Antelope Canyon (or Buchaille Etive Mor if you're British). Patience creates real value; art creates financial value. The two frequently run on diverging tracks.

As a maker, I'm a serious photographer. I try to make my photographs patient. I'd like to be considered an artist as that will mean at some point someone has given me money under the impression they are buying art.

All of which raises in my mind the question as to why the hell I've bothered to reply. But I have, probably because there are certain levels of irritation where scratching the spot really is a relief.

Your servant aye.

I don't know why I wander into these rhetorical quagmires, but I can't help myself.

That said, here goes:

It is well established that there is no single, agreed-upon, all-fulfilling definition of art. There are, however, a number of somewhat agreed-upon, partially-fulfilling defintions that are lorded over by the various authorities on the subject (academics, gallery owners, and other arbiters of taste). While those can be very useful, the idea of relying upon such authorities for something as slippery as this is its own quagmire full of trap doors and tripwires.

Therefore, one can only be happy when one has come up with one's own definition. (And this definition really should be based on careful consideration, study, and reading, and not just a knee-jerk "I knows what I likes!" kind of thing.)

For me, it all comes down to intention and execution. If the artist sets out to actually say something -- beyond "hey, look at the pretty picture I made! -- that counts for a lot. The complexity of that message (the intention) is proportional to the likelihood that I will consider the work to be "art."

Execution is important too, as you can have all the intentions in the world, but if you are incapable of rendering the intention in a way that actually matches the intention, then you're just blowing smoke.

With regard to still life work, of course it can be art. If the intention is to illustrate an idea, or a thing in a certain context, or to bring about a different way of seeing or thinking about the thing, then that's an artful intention. If your intention is to simply show or illustrate the thing (for example, a snapshot of an apple or a box of mac & cheese for a catalog) then the artistic intention is very low. It can be redeemed somewhat by highly skilled execution, but it probably won't go over the line.

That said, it should be noted that intention isn't always noticeable in a single image. Sometimes the intention is only apparent when you see a number of images, or a whole body of work. This is usually the case with very abstract work, but it can also be the case with work that is too quickly labeled as "craft." Sometimes when you look at a whole series of crafty work by a single artist, some intentions emerge. You see that the person had a whole new way (perhaps quite subtle) of crafting the thing, or you may find some recurring themes that take the work out of the craft category and into the "art" one.

I could go on, but this far into a comment stream, and with a comment this long, I'm pretty sure that no one will actually read this comment. :-)

For me, art is the act of revealing the world to our senses in a way we haven't experienced before.
The real participant in the artistic process is the 'experiencee' not the artist
The shock of the new, to the experiencee, is the hair prickling on the back of the neck, the awe and wonder of the world, from its grand riches to its meanist details.
Michael Paul Smith's delightful vision of his world is a revealation when we realise that we have seen something for the first time. Initially fooled into thinking it commonplace, we then feel a rush of joy and gratitude when it reveals its true miniature self.
Oh that's art alright!

Reading through the comments I'd like to add one more bit of opinion:

I don't think Michael's models are art, on the grounds that if you saw them in real life you might thing 'Wow, what great models!' but you would not have the art-like reaction I described in an earlier comment. Perhaps they're "craft" whatever that is.

The combination of the models with the photographic technique creates a new thing, a 2 dimensional image, to which I DO react in that art-like way, albeit mildly.

It seems that many other people experienced the same reaction -- a wistful nostalgic feeling -- so my criterion of invoking a reaction in wider audience appears to also be met.

I think that if we like a picture, we call it art. I think that in order for us to like it, it must have a "hook"; something that attracts us. Hooks are numerous and personal. Therefore, many differences of opinion.

Art is in the 'senses' of the beholder.
If it rings your bell, it's Art.
If it doesn't ring your bell, it's not.

That is the 'Why?' of it.

I see there are people who put emphasis on the intent of the (potential) artist, and some on the perception of the spectator (eye-of-the-beholder).

I believe they are both correct, and thus, for this apparent paradox to find a resolution, we have to define "art" more precisely.

Specifically, something can be "art to me", regardless of intent (or even if an intent existed). "Thomasons" defined by Genpei Akasegawa are art by their very being (to my eyes), even though there was absolutely zero intention on the part of their creators to make them art, not because I take photographs of them.

However, I do take photographs of them, with a strong intention to present Thomasons through my POV, in hopefully interesting manner to the viewer. The art that I create––the photograph of the Thomason––is a fundamentally different class of art from the Thomasons themselves.

With regards to Smith's work, I don't think there's any question whatsoever. Both the intent and the eyes of some beholders agree; they are works of art.

This reply might be deemed slightly off topic, but I have no objection whatsoever to call the above-mentioned photographs art. Here is how I reason:

The following has been attributed to composer John Cage (and there are lots of other quotes from him along the same line):

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."

I tend to think the same way about art. Just to be clear: I don't think the beauty of an object or activity is relevant for it being art or not. What I'm talking about is that if somebody wants to call something art, and I want to disagree, I always have a hard time finding consistent arguments, and eventually give up. Also, every time I try to define what I like or don't like, especially in music (which is the art form I know best), I can always come up with a counter example, something that I like that doesn't fit the rule. So my rule is more or less: if somebody calls it art, it's art. For me, any stricter definition automatically only invites to elitism, which makes nobody happy.

This relativistic philosophy of mine probably has a part in why I never became the great musician I wanted to be (or scientist, which is my current profession). I can't motivate myself to stick to one dogma long enough to excel at it - there are so many other interesting perspectives and styles.

You could of course just call me lazy too..

I think Smith's photographs are art from the perspective that he conceived an image in his head and produced a picture of the image. I don't think it matters (from an art perspective) if it was easy or hard. I also don't think it matters if he painted the scene from his imagination or fashioned scale models from his imagination and photographed the models just so.

Unlike some of the other commenters, I don't see the photography aspect separately from the creation of the models. They're all parts of the total process.

I hear the declaration that something is not art from time to time. When I think about that, I realize that I don't really know what people mean when they say that, other than they don't think it is worthy art.

I think the essential properties of art were demonstrated by Duchamp's readymades.

To my mind, there are three tests to consider:

1. Intention -- if an artist (not necessarily the same person as the creator) intends for the thing in question to be art, then it is art.

2. Context -- if the thing is displayed or distributed as art would be (such as in an art museum), then it is art.

3. Reception -- if an audience, individual viewer, or posterity has determined the thing to be art, then it is art.

The trickier proposition is to distinguish non-art from bad art, or even just to specifically identify something as non-art. If anyone is even discussing something's status as art or non-art, chances are it is art (even if it has only become art as a result of the debate).

It is art...it's just not very good art. Most things are art, I think when you start saying "this is not art, and this is" you get into some weird territory, and no one will understand what you are saying. I knew a former curator from the Tate Gallery and he said that anything without an original concept was not art. Andrew Wyeth, Imogen Cunningham, any number of artists I loved: he said, "sorry, not art".

I go for a bigger tent. Violin makers, print makers, whatever. It's all art. If it reaches me or not is whether it's good or not.

That would mean that I'm saying that pictures of cuddly cats are art, and I'm ok with that. Just that pictures of cats are terrible art, to me, because they don't reach me emotionally.

I feel bad for the guy though, I don't think he was necessarily looking for attention like this.

Actually I think all of this stuff is somewhat unexplainable.

Art and craft are synonyms, according to the three dictionaries I just checked. This generates a circular frame of reference. Does that get me a gold star, Ctein?

I have no answers. Interesting questions, though.

The post brought to mind the great B&W shot Robert Capa took on Omaha Beach, D-day, showing a blurred soldier crawling through the surf past a cross shaped beach obstacle.

http://rosenblumtv.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/capa_beach.jpg

It is probably the iconic photo of the invasion, and the war. Is it art? Does it matter that it is virtually an accidental photo? Capa's negatives were damaged in processing, turning clear, sharp photos into an impressionistic version of the chaos of battle. Would it matter if Capa had taken a couple extra exposures with an artistic motive, using a slow shutter speed?

I believe the photo is art, as perfectly expressing the hell of D-day.

If the negative wasn't damaged, it would be a fine documentary photo, but would lose the impact, and it's artistic merit.

I don't think it matters that it was an accident. Or, would it matter if it was taken by GI Joe from Pokemo?

Ask of anything 'is this art' and you've opened Schrodinger's box. The asking of the question renders the object as art. As soon as something is being contemplated as art or not art, it has envoked the primary probing response that art and near art aim for.

Art transforms the viewer, craft does not.

Art helps you transcend our context of subsistence and enter a state of mind that Schiller described by saying "man is only man when he plays".

That is, just watch yourself and you will feel if it is art.

Art cannot be defined because definition per se is non-art.

I don't agree with every comment so far.
But I do think everyone is right.

First I didn't read any of the comments because there's just too many.

I think you have to define ART. What is Art?

And there is where you open the largest can of worms ever seen.

It takes meeting one of two (or preferably both criteria) to qualify as art.

1. If you are trained for this at an expensive university by people who are experts in that particular subspecialty of art.

2. That after you are dead someone is willing to pay massive amounts of money for it. It does help to make it "shocking" as proof of your artistic skill and the ultimate desirablity of your work.

Otherwise you are a fake. Not a "real talent". ;)

Art has long since lost its meaning. It seems anything can be art as long as it is displayed as such in a gallery or a on blog site or some such place. The only real question is:

Is it good art?

If it's good it will hold interest for some time. If it's bad it'll last no longer than a politician's promise.

The craft vs. art debate made me think a little about reproductions of "original" art work. Anyone care to venture an opinion on whether a poster of a painting is "art?" How about an oil-on-canvas copy by some guy making chicken scratch overseas? Clearly, both are "crafts" that mimic original "art" by some of the definitions advocated above because they are devoid of any original creative intent, but how about we mix it up a little? Would Van Gogh be able to paint two copies of Starry Night and have both be considered works of art? One would clearly be a copy! How could the second one not be a craft since the original creativity is devoid from the copy? What is it that separates the two? How would you observe the two images and delineate the intent? Is the artistic intent truly that coupled to whether something is "art?"

To further the conundrum, would prints of photographs similarly be considered "crafts" after the first image has been created? There is an argument that dark room technique required artistic interpretation for each print, but with the advent of computers and printers where the threshold for generation of another piece of art/craft is cont+p, is the print object still "art?" According to the craft advocates out there, was a print EVER art?

I have honestly been trying to reconcile these positions within the art vs. craft debate and can't figure out how this works with images. . . .

Not getting into the art in general question- that's a fool's quest at best. As far as Michael Paul Smith- there already is a photographer (forget his name) who has been shooting miniature models for years and is already quite famous in the photo art world- think his last project was WWII scenarios. And these two are not the only "miniature photographers" around- seems the art world can effectively handle only one person per highly specialized art market niche (there aren't two "artists" photographing themselves over the decades in different guises). And MPS, no matter how good his craft, falls dangerously close to domestic kitsch, as opposed say to "outsider art." The excellence of his craft may in fact be the problem, it falls very much into the long "tradition" of photographing models as realistically as possible (as for plastic model box covers), and does not play into the art world scenario of an uneasy tension between reality and whatever else you bring to the table.

Hey, I tried...

And now for something completely different.

What do you call a man with a shovel?

Doug.

A man in a pile of leaves?

Russel.

A man in a hole?

Phil.

A man in the ocean?

Bob.

A man in a rabbit hole?

Warren.

A man with no arms or legs hanging on the wall?

Art.

Ever time I see a 'photography, is it art?' piece I am reminded of the first verse of a Rudyard Kipling poem:

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art ?"

-The Conundrum of the Workshops

If MPS painted his scenes and then photographed the paintings would we be having this discussion?
I think the discussion would center on the paintings as art.
What if Ctein made the photographs of MPS' constructions? Where does the art lie then?
If Weston's pepper is art then MPS' construction AND photograph is art.
bd

Well, Mr. Smith is an artisan as opposed to an artist.

I guess that this very distintion makes everything much easier, right?

Boy, I'm glad you got that cleared up.

Next week could you ask which is better, Canon or Nikon? That would clear that pesky little question up too.

Regarding the link to the meaning of Mu...

I'm sure Wikipedia is correct, and my memory is faulty, but I thought I remembered the koan differently. The wiki entry says that when the monk asked the master "Does a dog hava a Budda nature," the master answered "Mu." I thought he answered "Ruff."

If you have chosen to answer the question of whether or not something is art, then by definition (in my opinion) it is. If a discussion can take place, then the bar has been reached.

Beyond that, I personally believe Mr. Smith's work to be not only art, but art that moves me on many levels.

Ed

Art is about ideas and hopefully the artist either communicating their ideas to the viewer or causing the viewer to have their own ideas. The skill with which it is executed is a measure of the craftsmanship, but the reaction from the viewer is the test of the Art. If all it gets is "boring" or "WTF" then we might call it bad art. If the response evoked concerns the beauty (or otherwise) of the subject then there isn't much more happening. But if the viewer is starting to think "why?" or "hey!" or any other indication that their brain has unfrozen then we're probably heading towards good Art.

For me, Michael's images only work when we know that they are models. At that point it stops being an old snapshot and I start to ask myself why he has done this. I could easily read into it way more than he intended, but it is clear that he is presenting exactly what he wants us to see and not just a photo that happened to look nice.

IMHO, I'm a simple guy and "craft" is the process, technique, or method; "art" is the result. The "art" may be "good" or "bad"--I can't tell. I can tell, however, if I like it. I can also usually tell if the "craft" was done well. Good or bad (or anywhere in between), whether I like it or not, it's still "art".

I'm finally starting to get a handle on how I think about this question - is it "art". Talking only about images here, the question supposes we can somehow separate different images into two groups - art and not-art. Here's what I realized this morning. Some images are about the subject. Think about an illustration in a set of instructions. The main feature of the image is its subject. Other aspects are not important.

When I look at an image, I may think/feel/sense/intuit that other aspects of the image are as important, or more important, than the nominal subject. We know what some of these other aspects might be - composition, sharpness or lack of it, light and shadow, texture, movement, etc. When these other aspects are at least as important as the nominal subject, then we - or I - consider the work to be "art". Of course, the subjective element lies in the phrase "as important as".

Usually, this condition won't happen without an effort by the image-maker. In a painting, the painter has to put each feature into the painting by a deliberate effort. In a photo, the main subject is usually going to get into the image no matter what the photographer does, and it's much less likely that the other elements will turn out to enhance the picture - unless we have a photographer with great talent. So it's much more likely that a painting will be considered "art" than a photo.

Conversely, think of any number of oil paintings that were commisioned portraits, but just present a routine view of the person. I often don't react to them as "art", though I may recognize the skill it took to make the painting.

With respect to the photos by Michael Paul Smith, the question gets trickier because it involves an extra layer of abstraction, in fact, more than one. If we don't know the pictures are of miniature scenes - exquisite miniatures - then we rate the image by what we see. Do I see other elements that compete with the nominal subject? Not in most of them. Across the series, though, I noticed consistent elements - clarity, lighting, camera location, texture - that seemed consistent. To the extent that these elements started to stand out for me, then, the *series* began to take on the feel of an artistic effort.

Beyond that, once we learn that the scenes are miniatures, the game shifts. Each photo has a non-visible aspect (well, most of them), namely, that they are miniatures and yet they look full-sized. Once we know that, each picture automatically comes with this extra information that competes with the nominal subject. Does that extra information qualify the photo, or the series, as "art"? I don't know, and I suspect that's why there is such a divergence of opinions in the comments. The existence of the extra, non-subject, aspect has an "art-like" feel to it, yet it's not the kind of an element that we usually associate with the "artistic" aspects of images.

Here's a light-hearted view on the question "What is Art," by Creature Comforts.
What is Art?

If these photographs of models are art, then when I go to the museum and take photographs of paintings, I too am creating art.
I think it is not difficult to support the premise that the miniature buildings and cars, etc., could be a form of art. The photographs of them are just records.

"Dennis (and Charlie) - Isn't the end result what matters more than intent? If we discovered that da Vinci didn't really intend for the Mona Lisa to be any good and was just trying out some new paints, would it suddenly cease to be art?"

Hi David

I don't know, maybe? I do think you at least need an end result or product/performance to be able to call anything art. I have a pretty sweeping idea of what art can be and is, but mere thoughts or ideas don't cut the mustard on their own as Art. I mean you can't even ceremoniously destroy your work if you never made any in the first place right?

A doctor can photograph a patient's foot every week for ten years to document some abnormality, with no intention of it being Art. But if I take those same photos and display them in a way that destroys the original context and creates a new one I have created Art. Right?

I was really just presenting the notion that action is akin to context. Andy Goldsworthy makes temporary art installations using rocks and other naturally found objects. His re-contextualization ( is that a word?) is what makes it art. Before he gets to them they are just rocks. During their use, they become art if only for a short period of time.

PS The Mona Lisa is paintings version of The Sex Pistols! ;-)

Ctein: In Toronto (and in other places) is a place called 'Covenant House'. It's a no questions, few rules place for street kids. Now their operations are concentrated in one building, but back then they had several. I had supported them for some years, but finding myself in Toronto one day decided to drop in. I was quite surprised to discover the level of security there (although in retrospect it made sense). I couldn't get past the front door.

Went home and made up a 16" diameter dreamcatcher for the residence, and mailed it to Ruth daCosta, who was then the Executive Directoer. In exchange she offered me lunch and a visit to the residence. As mentioned, the place has very high security, so generally the building saw only residents, staff and some volunteers. When I showed up the kids had no idea who I was, until, one by one they associated me with the thing hanging up in their living room. Only then did they approach me, saying 'So, you're the artist'.

Artists create. What we create is art. It may also be functional, it may also be craft, but if someone puts thought and focus into creating it, it's art. I may not like it, you may not like it, but who gets to decide - for anyone but themselves - what 'art' truly is?

Mike.

Here's a definition I came up with for myself many years ago: "Art is what affects my emotions."

Since I don't feel particularly egocentric, I'd be perfectly happy with: "Art is what affects anyone's emotions."

Pat McGee

P.S. "intense dislike" is an emotion. So, to me, something that someone intensely dislikes is, by my definition, art to them. Whether they like it or not. P.M.

Thomas Demand constructs elaborate models and takes large format images of them, which are then printed very large. I will not dwell on "is it art ?", but only remark that he is considered to be a significant artist by the art establishment: major museum and gallery exhibits, several monographs, critical reviews, etc...

Let's use some ideas of representation here, since if it is art, it is representational art. What is being represented?

Non-art answer: if one believes the models are the subject matter, and the medium is the photography of the models, and the interest is the almost-convincingness of the model as photographed (plus as a side effect, perhaps, the viewer's nostalgia... though that might be equally triggered by a real photo from the depicted era) - then one concludes the photographs themselves are not artistic in intention. The idea and impulse of making the models and photographing them are still interesting, but those are a separate (biographical) question under this interpretation.

Art answer: if you believe nostalgia and affection for a specific era and place are the very subject matter, and the medium is the making and arranging and photographing of models, and our interest is a strange kind of unreality or superreality born out of our awareness of the almost-convincing technique's dissonance against the (diecast and painted) actuality: then the entire enterprise can easily be seen as artistic. More successful than the sum of its parts. Under this interpretation, a real photo from the depicted era would fail to evoke the same response; and would also feel nothing like such a labour of, let's call it, publicised love.

Au contraire! What I see is a convergence of art - skill in modeling, skill as a photographer, a clarity of vision, and skill in post-processing. It is indeed hard to believe these aren't vintage photos. I love it.

I'll play along. I read most (not all, I'm at work after all) of the comments. Most didn't get past the "what is art" to the "therefore MPS's work is (not)". I'll attempt both.

Background - I studied Engineering, which yielded a Arts degree.
Much of defining art seems to stem from determining what it isn't. My views: science is knowledge, philosophy is thought, art is craft.
By that simple token, MPS's work is art because it is the product of craft (and rather good at that).

In modern thought, art is seemingly defined as the intersection of philosophy and craft. It is work that reflects an idea. By that token MPS is also producing art, expressing the idea of nostalgic '50s Americana through models and photography.

Or how about this one. Art is to hold a mirror to nature. Although I believe that is more philosophical: it holds a mirror to our idea of the world, causing us to reflect on our views, experience, memories etc. In that regard MPS's work is art as it reflects and causes reflection upon the notion of the idyllic world of '50s America (and would work as a nice juxtaposition with Frank's Americans in that regard, I think).

So thus, three lines of argument why I think it is art. Maybe I'll go think of some counter arguments.

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