An exercise in self-gratification

 

PHOTOGRAPHY IS ART - OH, IS IT?

Firstly, this article is written by a Structural Draughtsman with no perceivable aptitude for Art, but with a proven ability to string words together in a way which implies something entirely different to the reader than was my intention. No criticism implied by any of the words is intended of anyone other than myself.

The concept of photography as "Art" is a beguiling one, particularly to someone who cannot paint, draw, or produce any other form of what is the normal plebeian interpretation of "Art". In these terms, Art is what is "taught" at the average secondary school for 30-minutes a week (or it was when I was there) Painting; Drawing & if you were lucky, Sculpture. In its more general forms Art can be said to be in anything. In recent times we have had piles of bricks & ceramic urinals presented to us as art. More seriously, art of a type is present in such diverse things as a type style, a building, or the curve of a lacrosse racquet.

However, the "ART" which I believe we are referring to, is defined in the dictionary as "creative activity resulting in visual representation". This is a sufficiently loose form of words to enable any visual representation to be classed as Art. However, when we consider the words more literally, they tighten the classification considerably. Photography is a mixture of mechanical, chemical & creative activity, the latter being the only part included in the definition. The proportion of creative activity required to produce a photographic image ranges from zero, upwards. If we consider a landscape, what comparison is there between the creative activity required to photograph it & that required to paint it. Even considering "still-life" (whether you like that term or not), it requires immeasurably more creative activity to paint or draw, than to photograph. Does any proportion of creative activity in the production of an image (say 1%) automatically class it as "ART", if not, what proportion is required ? Is it feasible to say that the only creative activity involved in producing a visual representation is the "seeing"/"composition" & that the application of paint onto canvas, or the forming of a sculpture, is a purely mechanical skill ?

Don't get me wrong, I would very much like to be able to describe my photography as Art, but I regret that this simply seems pretentious. Am I to class my photography in the same group as a Constable landscape, a Rodin sculpture, a Van Gogh still-life, a Rembrandt portrait, or even a Joe Bloggs water-colour. (Joe, if you are out there reading this, SORRY!) The art critics amongst you will scoff at the plebeian choices, but in the immortal words, "I know what I like". It has been put to me that "if someone pays £800 to hang an image on their wall it must possess something beyond its superficial content, that perhaps is the Art", I must take exception to this, vast sums have been paid on occasion to hang the most appalling rubbish on walls, or floors, simply because of somebodys interpretation of what Art is. This does not make it Art, except in that persons mind. Perhaps if it is Art in one persons mind, that is sufficient, unfortunately, despite my predilection to accept it, it does not convince me.

I am left puzzling over the reasons for wanting to call Photography "ART". I can see why I would like it to be so, never having produced anything remotely artistic there is still a latent craving to do so. I suppose that this comes down to a need to "create" & not having the ability to do it. With photography I could pretend that I am creating, in the way that Picasso created when painting Guernica, somehow this does not ring true.

In conclusion, a photographic image can have beauty & form, or simply be evocative, if it portrays something which its viewer finds visually acceptable, then it has succeeded. Calling it Art will have no effect on this, except perhaps to increase its selling price. Why should not Photography be Photography, simply an expression of human creativity in its own right ?

Bruce Carter...........20/04/93 updated 17/03/98

Your comments would be appreciated

 

Bruce Carter, FZPS