My last post was on the importance of story telling in photography. This one takes that theme and asks what is art? I believe the two are related.
Occasionally I’ll take a topic for a workshop then push myself to come up with content. That may sound backward, but I’ve found that it helps me get in and study topics in more detail. My latest workshop for next month is “Creating Art”. Late last year I did a basic session on getting to know your camera and getting technically great shots. This workshop is about moving beyond technical perfection.
As I’ve read and thought about the current topic I’ve distilled it down to the simple statement that visual art is about creating an emotional reaction in the viewer. Webster defines art as, “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. While true, there is a lot of redundancy in that statement. Imagination and skill are givens. The artist without imagination and skill will rarely elicit the emotional response he or she desires, except by accident. Beauty is one form that elicits an emotional response. There is art though that does not rely on traditional forms of beauty. I would argue strongly that a lot of journalistic photography, done well, is art. The core of the definition is that true art MUST express and cause the viewer to experience feeling and ideas.
How does this tie in with my previous post on story telling? The story behind the picture is it’s message. What is it telling us? How does that make us feel? Stories are not simple narratives with beginnings and endings. They’re descriptors “about” something, not “of” something. For example a landscape photo “of” mountains, should be “about”more than mountains if it is to rise to the level of art. If the photographer doesn’t feel anything taking that picture of mountains, then it will turn out to be a simple “snapshot” of mountains. If the photographer is awed by the experience and consciously attempts to communicate that feeling in the image, he or she stands a much better chance of creating art from that image. The bottom line is, as a photographer, allow yourself to feel something, and make a conscious choice to express that feeling in your work. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll produce art, but not doing that guarantees you’ll fail.