What defines art, in your opinion?
With all the discussion about the relationships between art, nature and photography lately on several excellent blogs, I thought I would put in a word or two, or at least add some words from masters of the past, as that seems to be my emerging role.
I made a comment on each of the three blogs involved in the discussions, that were sharing recent posts about art, the nature of art, the relationship between art and nature, and how photography relates or substitutes in the discussion for the word ‘art.’ Each of the three blogs are well worth reading for their take on these subjects: Guy Tal Photography Web Journal, Paul Grecian Photography and Carl Donohue’s Skolai Images. The discussion veered in the direction of what made something “more” art or not and while this made little linguistic sense, the argument itself was solid.
Here’s my comment on Skolai Images:
As I wrote on Paul Grecian’s blog, the eminent photography critic John Szarkowski once claimed that Ansel Adams photographed entirely for his own enjoyment. Several photographers and photography critics including Philip Hyde made vehement and effective counter-arguments to John Szarkowski’s statement. Hopefully I can dig up that material and share it with you, if you are interested. It touches on what you say here and on what Paul recently said in his post. Echoing those who have gone before, I say as Paul did that the appreciation of art is part of the process that makes it such. An audience is part of what makes it art. However, the SIZE of the audience does not make it MORE or LESS art. Isn’t something either art or not, like the old adage about being pregnant. You can’t be MORE or LESS pregnant. On the other hand, I completely agree with your idea that art is certainly not limited to creation by humans, or even by what we perceive as “living” beings. Though perhaps it is easier for us to talk about art created by people. Harder to relate to birds and other wildlife, though some are friends of mine, maybe more so than some people.
There’s a lot going on around here currently, but I started rummaging around. I haven’t found the John Szarkowski rebuttal material yet, but will sooner or later. My dad, master landscape photographer Philip Hyde, talked about it some on a tape I made while interviewing him. I remember I asked him specifically about John Szarkowski’s claim in that interview. I will find that tape as well. In the meantime, I did run across a book called, Dialogue with Photography: Interviews by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. Hill and Cooper interviewed Paul Strand, Man Ray, Imogen Cunningham, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Cecil Beaton, W. Eugene Smith, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Andre Ketesz, Brett Weston, Minor White, Wynn Bullock and others. The interviews that caught my eye were Paul Strand at the beginning and Brett Weston at the end. For more on Brett Weston see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” I’ll start here with a few quotes from Paul Strand and share more in another post. Other popular posts about Paul Strand include: “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion.”
Paul Strand talked about Alfred Stieglitz and his gallery, “291.” Paul Strand said that Alfred Stieglitz welcomed and supported many of the modern art painters at the time such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Constantine Brancusi. Alfred Stieglitz liked certain modernists and their art because, “this art was being trampled on in the same way that photography was,” Paul Strand said. “Photography as an art was denied, ridiculed, attacked—especially by the academic painters, who thought that the camera might take their livelihood away. The acknowledgement of the validity of photography as a new material, as a new way of seeing life through a machine, was questioned and fundamentally denied. Well, here were these pictures by the Cubists, which were also looked upon as the work of idiots.”
This relates back to a comment on my post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Derrick Birdsall, threw out several more good thought-provoking questions: “…if you can buy a quality print from a new up and comer for less $ than from a seasoned professional – is that bad? The seasoned pro had to start somewhere and was an up and comer at some point… How does one make that transition from up and comer to seasoned professional? …other than simply putting in the time, how does that transition work? How does a photographer develop their style so that it’s clearly recognizable?”
I will address the development of style in a future post or two of interviews of photographers to come, but as far as how certain art comes to be valued higher than other art, one of the factors has to do with novelty. It has to do with the artist doing something perceived as completely new. That is one reason why an Ansel Adams print is worth so much compared to Joe the Photographer. Same idea applies to a Pablo Picasso painting.
But more from Paul Strand on the art of photography, “There was a fight going on for the integrity of a new medium and its right to exist, the right of the photographer to be an artist, as well as the right of Picasso and other artists to do the kind of work they were doing, which was a form of research and experimentation into the very fundamentals of what is, and what is not, a picture. I think it is very important for young photographers to find out about the whole development of the graphic arts, not simply come along and show photographs that could not stand up to Cezanne for a second. You cannot claim that photography is an art until your work can hang on the same wall.”
Certainly, as Derrick said, everyone starts somewhere. Most paintings are not on par with Paul Cezanne and they do not have to be. There is room for all levels of skill and talent in painting, photography and other mediums, including bird songs or beehive dances, but is it art? …And, if you claim, “It’s all art,” then what determines whether it is ‘good’ art?
See also the blog post, “Man Ray On Art And Originality.”
What defines art, in your opinion? Please share your thoughts in Comments…