Do photographers fear art?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by steveash, Dec 12, 2013.

  1. steveash macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #1
    In the last couple of years I have become increasingly interested in fine art. I have had exhibitions of my own work and viewed many more of others'. One thing that has really struck me is that most photographers avoid the relationship of art and photography. Take a look in any photography website and art is almost completely avoided.

    The 'craft' of photography is emphasised a lot more and most photographers seem to be a lot happier being craftsmen than artists. I'm interested why this might be. Is their only aim to be a skilled machine operator?

    Since the rise of conceptual art there has been a general fear and confusion of what art is and what has high artistic value, even among artists themselves. Creatives in other mediums though, seem a lot happier to be called artists. Few would take up oil painting for example with any other goal in mind than producing art. It seems strange to me that photographers will passionatley take up this method of artistic expression while at the same time avoiding the idea that they may be an artist.

    Perhaps it is just that mastering a craft is a lot more tangible and measurable, and therefore safe. Whereas defining what is good art is almost impossible. Or does the camera's nature as a duplication machine mean it is seen as less of a less creative tool than a pair brush?

    I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on this; I've got a bit bored of Aperture vs Lightroom. I know that this is a technology focused forum but there is a wide range of people here, some very talented and many with a creative focus as well as those addicted to gear.
     
  2. fireman32 macrumors 6502a

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    #2
    I am the opposite. I appreciate fine art a lot more since I got into photography. My dad was an artist and as a kid I resisted liking it as I was being forced to go to galleries with him. Now I love it. My Dad is happy that I now appreciate it.
     
  3. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #3
    Oh goodness, where to start? This is a big topic, and one in which I take particular interest. You make a lot of valid observations, but fine art photography has more traction these days than you may realize. It’s probably more accurate to say that there is a pretty even split between photographers with an artistic ethos and those who are more inclined towards the technical/documentary approach.

    Your mention of conceptual art is interesting because there is a huge trend right now for conceptual photography. In fact, that is the one genre of art photography that is really enjoying the limelight these days. If you look at the winners of some of the most prestigious photography awards (e.g. the MacArthur Genius Award or the Deutshe Börse), they to tend to be photographers who are working in a conceptual mode: idea-driven and typically low-tech/low-craft.
     
  4. Policar macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    What is art, man? What is craft?

    Some of the edgier early 20th century artists (Pollock and Picasso, for instance) knew how to paint naturalistically and knew their craft before diverging from naturalism. Warhol, likewise, was a talented advertisement illustrator before he began approaching the divide between art and commerce from the "art" side. Your portfolio looks great, clearly you're a talented craftsman. Only the most conceptual "good" art and "good" art created collaboratively (Duchamp and Mondrian probably couldn't draw; Citizen Kane was made by a nascent filmmaker, but he was an accomplished writer, actor, and radio performer and the movie's co-screenwriter, editor, and DP are all legendary craftsmen) is generally made with inexperienced craftsman at the helm.

    Most of the photographers on this board are terrible. They may be focusing on the wrong things (literally and figuratively), but they're trying to learn their craft well enough to express whatever artistic vision they have, I assume.

    And some photographers totally are artists. I'm getting into Gursky, but there are even commercial and landscape photographers whose work I would consider to be "art." (Then again, EVERYTHING is "art" if someone says it is.) They all shoot on view cameras, though, or used to... clearly they learned their craft first, not that it's that hard.
     
  5. r.harris1 macrumors 6502a

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    #5
    Fantastic topic! To me, part of what makes any art "art" is that it causes an emotional reaction, which can be a good or bad reaction (I hate that piece of art, I love that piece of art, etc). And the camera is definitely as much of a creative tool as any brush.

    The ubiquity of the image, though, means that there's a much better chance of becoming desensitized to this notion of a specific image as art and having that image stand out and be noticed is so much harder because every photographer is doing the same thing. Then it becomes a matter of who's photographs of Yosemite stand out more? Which image of the Pier Extending Into Lake is the best executed? It becomes a matter of craft, to some degree.

    And because, like painting, cameras are also recorders of events (news, portraits, weddings, parties, etc), some of these require more a focus on craft, I think.

    Too, when something is executed beautifully, as a top craftsman will do, is that art too? When craftsmanship as executed by Morris & Co or others from that time period is as well executed, it is hard to distinguish from art because (for me anyway) it will cause that same sort of emotional response that I get from my definition of art.

    Still pondering the question and will pop back in...
     
  6. themumu macrumors 6502a

    themumu

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    #6
    I think the technology bias has a lot to do with your perception of what photographers do, think and care about. The truth is, photography is such a big part of our lives that it diverged into a tremendous amount of different directions, and each of them have a legitimate reason to exist, and you are free to pick whatever you prefer and let the others be.

    Some people shoot landscapes. It involves lots of work location scouting and mastering the technical aspects of their cameras, but most of all, in relies on effective and unique seeing of the world around.

    Some people shoot still life or portraits in their studios under strictly controlled conditions. Instead of scouting for locations like a nature photographer does, they imagine the photograph in their mind's eye, and then set it up and shoot it.

    Some take studio shots and create elaborate collages that would be impossible to obtain with a single shot. These are actually some of my favourite to view, especially those done in a surrealist style (though with sufficient skill and ingenuity one can make mind bending surrealist photographs in a single exposure). I'll go ahead and plug one of my favourite artists of that kind: http://www.belkina.pro/art/not-a-mans-world/bluebeard-belkina

    And some shoot photos as a way of documenting a story. These are photos that are not really meant to be viewed outside of their context so perhaps the "artistry" is the least of the above.

    So I wouldn't say that most photographers avoid art. It's just a selection bias. More people take photos for reasons other than to create art, but I wouldn't say they are photographers any more than preparing yourself a dinner makes you a chef.
     
  7. steveash thread starter macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #7
    I'm pleased that this has got people interested. It was intentionally provocative!

    I wasn't so much thinking that photographers were lacking artistic ability but more that they rarely embrace that they are in fact artists. Most people seem to consider there is some difference between a photographer and an artist.

    Looking up the Deutshe Börse Prize you mentioned took me the Photographers Gallery in London where the second sentence reads "It is one of the largest art prizes in the UK, proving a pivotal point in many artist and photographers’ careers." Even they seem to be unsure of whether they should be the same thing or not.

    I think that is an easy one. Art is human creative expression whereas craft is skill. The real and unanswerable question is what is 'good' art.

    Thank you, but I think you are a bit too kind to put me between Warhol and Duchamp!

    Conceptual and post-conceptual work can seem very alien to many with all the value in the artist's vision. Gursky is interesting because his technical ability and equipment are important to his work (the huge detailed prints) but it is purely his artistic vision that is so highly valued in the art world. Others such as Sherman have purposely distanced themselves from the craft of photography altogether.

    Their visions are profound but I don't think that stops lesser photographers from producing art albeit at a lower level.
     
  8. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #8
    I'm not sure if you're mistakenly replying to me about "ability," which I did not mention or imply. I was discussing ethos and intention, not ability.

    As for people who consider that there is a difference between an "artist" and a "photographer": There are people who actually believe that these two terms are mutually exclusive; I've had conversations with some of them, so yeah, they do exist. But "most people"?? Surely that's an exaggeration.
     
  9. steveash thread starter macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #9
    Sorry, didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I meant to say that some of those with artistic ethos do not necessarily consider themselves to be artists.

    To put this into context I spoke to a stranger at a private view. I asked him if he was an artist and he replied that "No, I'm just a photographer". I looked at his work later and found it to be very good. At the same event were many people of a wide range of abilities but even a dreadful (in my opinion) watercolorist considered themselves an artist. It got me thinking and I found that many photographers I come across struggled with the identity of being an artist. Perhaps not 'most' photographers but it seems a large number from my experience. Maybe I keep strange company.
     
  10. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #10
    I think you're right that it's a pervasive attitude--it is certainly not hard to find people who think of photography as a science that occasionally gets pressed into service for artistic goals. Your point about the Photographer's Gallery in London is a good one too; even in some corners of the art world, photography still gets singled out as the oddball/misfit. It's a hangover from the early days of the medium, when it was initially rejected by the art world and gained credibility very gradually as artists found ways to impress upon critics that photography was not just a cheap method of imitating painting. Photography is still sort of the stepchild of the arts because of its relatively short history, but it has come a long way.
     
  11. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502

    kingalexthe1st

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    #11
    This a great topic, well done OP!

    If I can chime in for just a short while, I don't think that photographers are deliberately distancing themselves from being labelled artists because of any ill-intentions. I think photographers and non-photographers alike see art as something that is crafted, where photography is often viewed as something that captures. Before I got in to photography I certainly had the view that it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time; that there was no craft to it at all. Since taking it up, however, I realise that's totally not true. I admit I now become slightly annoyed when I meet someone who has my old world view of photography! :)

    A side benefit of all this is that I appreciate art now more than I ever have. Would I call myself an artist though? Not until I get a beret :)

    Alex
     
  12. MCAsan macrumors 601

    MCAsan

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    #12
    Remember that photography is painting with light, and some photographers only get one style/school of painting...realism.

    In painting with pigments, there are many different styles/schools such as: realism, surrealism, impressionism, abstract, modernism, minimalism, cubism, expressionism, pointillism. primitivism,..........etc. Each of those styles are equally valid as an artistic expression.

    But when we get back to photography, some photographers believe that realism is the only type of photography and photographers are not as much artists as photojournalists. Painters on the other hand smile at such an intentionally limiting view of how to portray the world around us.

    So some photographers may indeed fear styles that are "artsy" and not straightforward realism/photojournalism.
     
  13. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #13
    Heh, yeah. Anyone who really wants to see a ruckus should go read any thread on the internet about "reality" in photography, especially when post-processing is at the forefront of the discussion. It's surely one of the most controversial topics among photographers online.

    EDIT: And by the way, I use the word "reality" as distinct from "realism" because they are two very different concepts.
     
  14. whiteonline macrumors 6502

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    #14
    Great topic of discussion.

    I think the craftsman effect has stemmed from the extremely rapid development in digital photography technology. With that, you attract the technologists, and the pixel peepers. They like to write - a lot.
    Specifications are champion to most. Product makers push the specs as representative of what the camera is capable of. People interpret this as making better pictures (which has been discussed many times on various photo boards). The pictures generally are not good. People determine this to be a lack of understanding of the camera, instead of lacking individual skill/practice (and lack of vision/purpose).
     
  15. fitshaced macrumors 68000

    fitshaced

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    #15
    My view on it is that, even though I don't describe photography as art, I don't think I under value it with that belief. Photography is often creative, often lucky, often poor as is art. But good art involves more skill and insight than good photography. Yet, both good art and good photography probably involve the same level of creativity. Art being more inclusive, photography being more exclusive. Again, thats my opinion and I am below average at both.
     
  16. MiniD3 macrumors 6502a

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    #16
    Don't agree actually,

    I see many examples of art in photography,
    Just don't think you will see a lot unless you visit a good dedicated photography site,
    IMHO, art in photography is not an exact science, as it comes in many formats,
    To name just a few,
    When art is the main object when capturing an image,
    different forms of PP like HDR,B&W etc, and
    PP, either a combination of an image or just PP alone, this can even contain video
    Just the way I see it
    Inovation is there, even with modern technology, I have seen an image captured with a P&S, shooting through a welding glass, then the PP, amazing B&W image, you could even call it art I guess! :)
    ....Gary
     
  17. MCAsan macrumors 601

    MCAsan

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    #17

    Photography is indeed art. But every painter, just like every photographer, is not an artist. ;)
     
  18. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68020

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    #18
    No matter what the form, there is craft (mastery of tools and technique) and art (what results from the application of those skills).

    It's not surprising that online discussion is dominated by craft - no matter what a photographer's goals (from family candids/vacation travel to commercial illustration, news/documentary, fine art...), we have a common need to pursue tools and technique. After that, things splinter into the photographers' various areas of endeavor.

    My personal definition of art (regardless of medium) is a takeaway I got from Adams' books (The Camera, The Negative, The Print). Art requires preconception plus the technical mastery to execute the concept. I pointedly ignore aesthetics - taste has nothing to do with the artist's concept or mastery, it's tied up with the artist's skill/luck at pleasing others.

    Then there's Fine Art - Art for Art's Sake. That's a wall upon which I've never wanted to butt my head or hang my works. Very few make a living doing it, self-esteem has to be especially strong, there's a social dynamic (patrons, critics, academics, etc.) I find uncomfortable.... Perhaps I'm not the only one that feels this way?

    Anyway, much of art criticism still boils down to analysis of technique, the "mastery" side of the equation. Technical analysis involves objective criteria, while aesthetics is a slippery snake.

    It's easier to be confident that our craftsmanship passes muster than it is to know that our work will be liked. And since all art is craft, but not all craft is art, most of the bucks go to craftsmanship at varying degrees of mastery. Hence, talk of craft trumps talk of art.
     
  19. Ubele macrumors 6502a

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    #19
    Interesting discussion. I think that there is a painting equivalent for photographers who don't consider themselves artists: hobbyists who say, "I'm just a Sunday painter," "I dabble a bit in landscape painting," "I'm just a dilettante," and so on. I personally don't know anyone who is artistically inclined who doesn't consider photography to be as much of an art form as painting, sculpting, glassblowing, etc., but those who practice any of the above distringuish themselves by how good they consider themselves to be. Some consider themselves to be good artists, some aspire to be artists but humbly state that they have a long way to go before they'd consider themselves "good," and some consider themselves to be "just craftspeople."

    I've been taking photos since I was a kid (I'm 55), and my relationship with photography has changed over the years. At first, my aim was to capture places I'd been and things that I'd seen. Starting at about age 20, I took two kinds of photos: purely documentary shots that I planned to use as inspiration for drawings and paintings later (yes, I'm a dilettante visual artist), and carefully composed shots that were intended to be good photos on their own. A few years ago, when I went through my photo collection to scan and digitize the keepers, I didn't bother with most of the documentary photos. Why bother scanning a 4" x 6" photo I'd taken of Mt. Rushmore, for example, when dozens of high-resolution digital images of that monument can be found on the Internet?

    With the advent of digital photography, I mothballed my 35 mm Minolta SLR and lens collection for a decent Nike (and, later, Canon) point-and-shoot digital camera, simply because it was smaller, lighter, and easier to travel with. Most of the photos I took were as good as what I'd taken with my SLR (i.e., pretty good). I stopped taking the "proof that I was there at this famous location" photos and started concentrating more on composition, but I didn't venture beyond my camera's automatic settings. When I got an iPhone 4, I found the camera to be almost as good as my older Canon point-and-shoot. The only advantage the Canon had was the zoom lens. My iPhone was always with me, but I still took the Canon on trips.

    Earlier this year, I started following some really good photographers on the Internet, and it inspired me to get back into photography more seriously – i.e., as an artist, rather than as an advanced snapshooter. I already knew what separates a good photo from a mediocre or bad one, but I began studying what separates a good photo from a great one.

    I also began researching what camera to buy: something that would give me the capabilities of my old Minolta SLR, but that wouldn't cost a fortune. It was during this research that I encountered the obsession with technology that so many forum posters have: Is an APS-C sensor always better than a Micro Four Thirds sensor because it's bigger? Is Nikon still the best, or is it a non-innovative dinosaur coasting on its former glory? If you want to be a serious photographer, are you going to seriously limit your potential unless you get a full-frame DSLR and a set of zoom and prime lenses, preferably Zeiss? Are Sony SLT cameras crap because the semi-translucent mirror reduces light to the sensor by a third of an f-stop, which means that some of those low-light hand-held shots will have a bit more noise? Tech head that I am, I got caught up in all of this, wishing I could afford a Nikon full-frame DSLR and a Zeiss lens or two.

    It occurs to me that the selection of expensive technological components might be one reason for the emphasis on craft when it comes to photography. On the painting forums, do people say things like, "If you're serious about painting, then you only want to buy Luciano Donetti brushes made from Tuscan boar's bristles. If you can afford it, get the Primissimo models with handles hand-carved from 100-year-old Brazilian rosewood. And only amateurs use Phthalocyanine Green from a tube. Real artists mix their own. Email me if you want to know which blue and yellow to mix, and in what proportions. As for canvases..." And so on.

    Anyway, common sense and budget prevailed, and I bought a Sony NEX 6 with kit lens. It's a great camera, and if I can't take come great pictures with it, the fault is mine, and not the camera's. I got some post-production software, and now I'm in my "experimentation" phase, playing with various filters. My aim is to create interesting (to me) images rather than to document reality, although often the realistic images I capture are interesting on their own. I'm currently enamored with HDR effects and subtly (the key is subtly) oversaturating, desaturating, or otherwise color-shifting images to make them look dream-like, for lack of a better word. I jut keep playing with filters until the image makes me think, "Hmm, there's something a bit off about that image, but I can't quite put my finger on it. It's weirdly beautiful." I have no shame about using Photoshop to remove elements that distract from the mood I'm trying to create. Of course, when I capture a piece of reality can't be improved on, I don't muck it up with filter effects just for the sake of it.

    In summary, I consider photography to be an art form, and I consider myself to be a good photographer and a budding artist, but I know I have much to learn before I'd presume to call myself a great photographer.

    Thanks to the OP for starting a thread that goes beyond, "Which should I buy - Aperture or Lightroom?" :)
     
  20. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #20

    There are a lot of reasons why people are into Photography. 99% just want a snapshot of their kid at Disneyland and don't even think about "art".

    Quite a lot of the people in Internet forums are more into collecting photo gear than using the gear. They shoot test targets and make 1000% enlargements and argue about which lens in the best for shooting tests with.

    Of those few that are left the bulk are what I call graphic artists, those making serviceable commercial products. Wedding photographers and those doing product and adverting. Most of what I've done falls into this graphic arts category. The last thing I shot was an instructional video. I tried to make it look good, used coordinated colors some rules of composition and lighting to direct attention. But it was FAR from "fine art." I was going for attractive and workman like.

    What's left is a tiny segment called fine art photography and even people who call themselves artist all do photography for other reasons.
     
  21. sim667 macrumors 65816

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    #21
    Digital photography opened the photography world up like the mass market..... Much like the box brownie did in the 1900's, but digital gave people immediacy and the ability to share easily.

    This leads to the death of an art, as everyone can immediately take one they want, and share it immediately, regardless of the quality..... this makes ideas more hard to come by.

    The 'craft' of photography in my opinion relates to people who enjoy photography for the process more than the result, because the process in silver based photography, this is why a lot of people have gone back to it.

    I personally like to work in cameraless silver based photography, but I also have been playing around with cyanotypes. I love it because its the combination of art and science, which the immediacy of buying a camera, taking a photo and sticking it on the web doesn't offer. Its the though process more than the doing.
     
  22. themumu macrumors 6502a

    themumu

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    #22
    Pondering about the title question a little more, I think to some degree, fearing art is not just something photographers do, it's what many people do regardless of their line of work and aspirations. If you consider art in its purest form - fine art with no other motivation than to provide artistic expression - I think a lot of such art garners a love/hate response from the audience. We all have our favourite artists (across all media types, be it painting, photography, sculpture, music, etc) and at the same time each probably has some artists whose work they completely dislike, do not connect to, despite those artists being highly acclaimed by the art community.

    In that sense art can be a bit intimidating, because admitting you do not like a particular renown work of art can bring snarky remarks and accusations of lack of taste or what not. So when it comes to being the art creator yourself, sometimes the fear comes from not wanting to be judged too harshly. Ultimately, the most joy comes not from applying labels or trying to live up to them, but from doing what you love and openly accepting all the different views and expressions the world offers you.
     
  23. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #23
    I think I would argue just the opposite. The 'democratization' of photography seems to be increasing interest in the medium as an artform. As more people are exposed to images of varying quality and can try their hand at creating photos themselves, they begin to understand that it takes a lot more than just pushing a button. People see photos that do not resemble anything that they have ever created themselves and often say, "Wow, you must have a really nice camera." Then when they buy that 'magic' camera, they soon come to realize that the magic lies somewhere else.

    That's a good point. Art is often associated with elitism for a lot of reasons. Since art history is typically not a required subject in most schools of the world, most people do not have much knowledge about it. All they know is that, to them, some art looks amazing, some of it looks ridiculous, and that very little that they hear about art makes any sense. Without a real grasp of art's history, genres, theories, vocabularies, aims, etc., a person is likely to view art in the same way that many people view foreign languages: as impenetrable and superfluous.
     
  24. MCAsan macrumors 601

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    #24
    Truer words where never spoken!
     
  25. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #25

    I disagree. Think of a pyramid The "best" artists are on the top layer. When you make photography easier and cheeper you are in effect adding layers at the bottom, or widening the base.

    Gymnastics is that way to. The more little 5 years old girls who take the gym class after kindergarden them more get into the sport and the ones at the top get even better because now they are a one in a million gymnast rather than a one in a thousand gymnast.

    But fine art photography is a niche. The market is small. Most professional photographers are NOT fine artistes, they are craftsmen making a product for a client.
     

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