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Am I an Artist?

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

The title, to photographers and probably most “other medium” artists, should be pretty clearly “tongue-in-cheek.” After all, photography IS art. Isn’t it? The idea for this blog was partly fueled by comments by two of my friends, on last week’s topic about digital medium, Kerry and Stewart. It may just be a logical extension of that topic. But coincidentally, I saw, and clicked on Canadian outdoor photographer, Darwin Wiggett’s Oopoomoo blog, “Photographers – Artists in Denial?” I have heard a number of times, recently, from numerous observers, that the general public does not think photography is “art.” Yet, many of us as photographers take for granted that what we do is “art.”

Let’s look at an ostensibly authoritative source. The Oxford Dictionary defines “art” as: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Photography is most certainly a visual expression and most certainly involves human skill. But does it involve “creative skill and imagination?” Sometimes. But is photography real art?

Many of us as photographers take for granted that what we do is “art.”

My take-away from Darwin’s blog (he is a “friend” on Facebook, so I will take the liberty of calling him by his first name, in the spirit of my own blog, which tends to be very informal – hope he won’t take offense) was that many photographers are attracted to the gear and technical aspects of the “craft” of photography, but that they often hide behind it, rendering their photography, eventually, ultimately unfulfilling. He suggests that what most photographers are really seeking (but may not admit or recognize it) is a creative outlet. I inferred from the blog that some men may think “art” is not “manly.” J I believe we observe, think, and write from our own experiences and that those experiences are probably paralleled by many of our contemporaries. So, I will follow that lead, and suggest a different view, based on my own experience over the last nearly 40 years (not to challenge Darwin’s thesis – I believe he is correct – but to suggest another view).

Leaves Floating on Water Copyright 2007  Andy Richards

Leaves Floating on Water
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

Painting, drawing and sculpting all have things in common. They are visual representations. They take skills beyond just having a creative imagination. There is as much “craft” to these arts, as there is to photography, albeit perhaps less mechanical and scientific in most instances.

Darwin is, I am sure, right about many men (and maybe a few women, though I really don’t want to go down the “Mars vs. Venus” road here). J By my reading, the main point of his blog (and indeed perhaps of the Oopoomoo site), is that photography is really about creative art and that the technical stuff, once mastered, will not satisfy the “artist” in us. It’s hard not to agree with that.

It is one thing to call yourself an “artist.” It is another thing altogether to be an “artist.”

But one of his sub-themes was almost a generalization about how some of us come to photography from other serious (“professional”?) endeavors like science, medicine, technology and IT; are attracted by the science and technology of photography as a “craft;” and try to become photography “craftsmen.” He suggests that we shy away from being an “artist,” because our view of “artists” because of our perception their unique “personality.” Note that I emphasize “our perception.” I don’t think for a minute that Wiggett is suggesting that those “traits” he lists are accurate – just that many have the perception that they are (I won’t quote him here – instead, I highly recommend you read the well-written blog). I have no doubt that what he writes is true of many photographers – but not all.

I have no problem calling myself an “artist” – not for the reasons posited in the blog, anyway

I am a self-avowed “gearhead.” My dad, and his dad were engineers (electrical and civil) and both were skilled with the use of tools for mechanics and woodworking. I inherited some of their aptitude and certainly their love for the work and perhaps more to the point – fine tools and skills. But I was not attracted to photography by “gear” or scientific technique. I was attracted by fine photographs made by other photographers. I wanted to do that – but I wanted to do it by bringing my own vision to images. So, while I agree with his end conclusion – that we need to focus on the creative process of photography in order for it to be a sustaining thing for us, In my own case, I don’t think it is a lack of attention to, or any reticence about the “art” side of photography. I have no problem calling myself an “artist” – not for the reasons posited in the blog, anyway.

Zoomed Colored Lights Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Zoomed Colored Lights
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

It is one thing to call yourself an “artist.” It is another thing altogether to be an “artist.” I think many of us who came to photography rather than being attracted by the craft, were art appreciators. I played in the band and orchestra in high school, sang in the choir and chorale in college, and took piano lessons as a kid. I love music. But I was never talented enough to call myself an artist or musician. I could play, but I couldn’t “make music.” I have always been in awe of those who can sit down with a piano or a guitar and “make” a new song. Art it very similar and one of the deep-seated fears of many of us is that we can master the “craft” and we can mimic the best. But can we create our own art? That is an area where, in my view, resources like the Oopoomoo site (which is dedicated to the creative side of photography) can be invaluable.

I think many of us who came to photography rather than being attracted by the craft, were art appreciators.

I have images that I am pretty happy with. Some of them have been purchased by others. Some of them have “won” juried selections in art galleries. Some of them hang on walls in offices and living rooms (not just my own J ). Many of my images get lots of “oohs and ahs” from my friends and acquaintances and the occasional complete stranger. But I will probably always have the nagging thought that someone else has done it and mine is just mimicking what has already been done. That it is not creative and is not art. I’ll bet this resonates with some other photographers.

Fall Color Reflection Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

I have no formal art or photographic training. I took an art appreciation course in college. I have read about art, and especially about classic composition. My brother has a college degree in art and he definitely “creates” imagery as a painter, drawing, and with computer graphics. They are unique and from within. We have both sold images and had our work “win” things (him perhaps substantially more than me – but that is what he does). Is he an artist? I think so. Am I an artist? A wise friend and talented and creative photographer recently said something like this to me (paraphrase), whether something is art is determined not by the creator, but by the appreciative viewer. In that case, I have made many a photographer an “artist.” I definitely can appreciate art. But can I create it? I guess that is up to the viewer.

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2 Responses

  1. Andy, we all know that photography isn’t art. After all, everybody has a camera and can take photographs. We just get better ones than most because we have very good cameras.

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