Although this post was written at the request of a friend who wanted a narrative to be used for commercial promotion of Fine Art Photography, in truth it was a long time coming and something I have been pondering for quite a while. It is also a precursor to a larger set of essays aimed at the creative photographer that is currently in the making and which I hope to offer as an e-book in the near future.
Some may claim that art is a concept that defies definition. The term had been historically used so broadly and in so many different contexts that any attempt to describe it in a meaningful and applicable way may be an exercise in futility. And surely, dictionaries and encyclopedias don’t make the task any easier. By most formal definitions, art can be a noun or an adjective (and some would even argue its use as a verb.) It can refer to aesthetics or skill, objects or concepts, representations of reality, or bare abstractions.
And yet, two common threads appear to exist among all manifestations of art: creativity and skill. Creativity is that which conceives of things that had not existed before. Skill is the ability to convert such conceptions into tangible manifestations. Art is a product of the two. One alone will not do. Skill without creativity is the realm of craftsmen, and carries its own utility and rewards. Creativity without skill, on the other hand, is a truly unfortunate fate and will surely doom a person to a life of frustration and unfulfilled desires.
Enter “Fine Art.” While relying on the concept of art as defined above, the term “fine arts” – rooted in the French “beaux arts” – is used specifically to describe those realms of art created solely for their aesthetic qualities and for the enrichment of the human experience through expressions of beauty rather than utility. It is the distinction which separates a graceful sculpture from a well-crafted ornamental column, a painting from an illustration, a temple from other works of architecture, a poem from an essay and, as it pertains to photography of natural things, it is what separates the unique expression of a photographer’s inspiration from the documentary image.
Certainly documentary images can be made that possess immense beauty — a beauty inherent in the subjects themselves. This alone does not qualify such images as examples of fine art as they lack a critical ingredient to qualify as art in the first place: creativity.
Further, all art is a product of human thought, imagination, and intuition. The fact that a naturally-occurring phenomenon by itself is perceived as beautiful does not alone make it an incarnation of art. Its unique use by a human artist, expressing beauty through a composition and/or presentation of their own making, does.
In promoting photographic images as works of fine art, implicit statements are made: the work is unique and represents the personal sensibilities of the artist and, while it may carry any degree of resemblance to real subjects and events, such documentary bindings are not its primary concern and may well not exist at all. It is to be regarded as a manufactured product of the artist’s own creation.
Along with skill and aesthetics, where it comes to placing value on works of fine art, originality should also carry a decisive weight. Copies of compositions originated by other artists, where they can be identified, should not be considered on par with unique personal work of the artist’s own making. This applies to photographs to the same degree that it applies to paintings, sculptures, writings, or other means of creating art. The ethical photographer should give credit where due when knowingly presenting an image conceived of the labors and creative gifts of another.
About the Author (Author Profile)Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Roberta Murray » A Rose Is Not A Rose | February 22, 2010
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- What Makes a Photograph Art? » Landscape Photography Blogger | February 28, 2010