Is it Art?

excerpt from: Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

loggerhead_turtlesIn the world of the arts, the word ‘art’ is used in different ways. Only a century ago, it was used to mean anything crafted by hand. Today, the definition is less clear. Of course, the word is still used to identify an art object as such, but it can also be used as a label, a measure of competence, skill, and expertise on the part of the artist; a term intended to elevate the status of an image to the level of being artistic.

The artist’s job ends when processing is completed or framed. The observer then forms an opinion. To declare that a photograph is a work of art would be to suggest that the person evaluating the work is capable of analyzing it objectively, that he or she has a standard, and that he or she can apply judgments based on familiarity with the subject matter and/or the processes used to make the image.

This does not suggest that one must have a complete understanding of an image in order to label it as art. Art is often identified through emotion and feeling rather than against a set of rules. Through deeper understanding, however, a heightened appreciation for the piece can be experienced. This can result in an experience that might raise the status of the piece to the level of art, at least in the mind of one viewer.

Educated art critics can raise a work to superstar status or rip it to shreds. Our families, friends, and non-photographer acquaintances can also offer their evaluations. Their lack of photographic training and art education may or may not diminish the weight of their judgments. There are many things that can move you or touch your soul; it would be impossible to adapt a generally accepted convention or set of rules against which a photograph would be measured and then labeled a work of art.

Following this logic, it makes sense that there is no person who is unable to deem a work a piece of art for everyone. It’s true that some art critics have studied art for many years and are qualified to identify and critique art, but it does not follow that those with a lesser understanding or education are unqualified to have a different opinion.

Photography struggled for only a short time for recognition as a legitimate art, and today the arguments fly about as to whether photography is a fine art. It should be remembered that language is a living thing and that the meanings and definitions of descriptive words such as ‘art’ and ‘beautiful’ change over time. What some consider a masterpiece may, in time, reputations aside, be deemed as kitsch: an inferior form of art, a tasteless copy of a style of art, or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value.

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excerpt from: Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers
Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins, All Rights Reserved