When does Photography become Art?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by John Ortt, Jun 8, 2007.

  1. But something doesn't have to be "appealing" or "pleasing to [you]" in order
    to be art. That's the common mistake that evidently underlies this whole
    photography-as-art nonsense. I've given examples earlier in this (now rather
    overlong thread) of art that is unpleasant and menacing. It's art whether
    you like it or not.

    Yes and no. Yes, as far as the art having some aesthetic merit is concerned.
    No, as far as whether it's art or not is concerned.
    I agree completely

    Neil Harrington, Jun 17, 2007
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  2. Stop being silly and obtuse, it doesn't do you well.

    I can express what Adams was thinking with a letter to
    Lange by quoting the letter. It is in text, and this is
    a text medium. I can even rephrase it with my own
    words, hoping that a change of perspective will assist
    you to understand.

    And I could indeed include an Ansel Adams photograph
    here, but I can't do one of his prints justice even
    then. And regardless of that this is *not* a binary
    group. If you want to see what Adams was expressing, I
    *can* give you a URL. I was assuming that you have seen
    his work before and didn't actually need to go study it.
    That appears to be a false assumption on my part.


    Can I express in words what Ansel Adams said with any
    one of those photographs??? You must be kidding!
    The pretension you demonstrate by saying that Ansel
    Adams was not an artist and that his photography is not
    art makes two dozen pretentious beret wearing artist
    look pale by comparison!

    Incidentally, I've only ever known one photographer who
    wore a beret. (I happen to think a beret is ugly beyond
    repair, but every time I have to turn my hat around
    backwards to use a camera I am reminded that a beret
    would solve the problem.)

    That one beret wearing photog? Well, he passed away
    recently, but Stu Rothman worked out of Fairbanks Alaska
    for decades and did wear a beret. I don't think he was
    pretentious though... (arrogant, perhaps!)

    Ahhhh. Now we get to the truth. *YOU* can't see
    anything in an Ansel Adams picture. So therefore,
    virtually everyone else (as they all seem to claim there
    *is* something there) is wrong...

    The truth is that you just do not have the particular
    talent to read what he wrote. You do have the arrogance
    to say that if you can't read it, he didn't write it.

    But of course that is absurd.

    I personally have similar lack of ability in other
    areas, and everyone I know does too, in some way. But
    we don't claim musical expression does not exist just
    because we have no musical talent, or that other
    languages are not expressive just because we do not
    understand them. We are not fatally wrapped up in such
    a super-ego that arrogance at that level can exist.

    But you are!

    Go read it again. And read how it was explained to you.
    And if that doesn't cure you, do a web search on "adams
    lange photography art" and read how other people explain
    their relationship. You've entirely missed the point
    that Adams was making.
    Pointless discussion that has nothing to do with the
    topic at hand.
    Everyone who counts.
    Need I point out what that makes you????
    You cannot accept that I have provided several examples.
    I cannot pull your hands from in front of your eyes...
    So you lack certain talents that are common. Big deal.
    I can't make music, lots of others can. I don't deny
    that they do. I can't learn languages. Others do, and
    I do not deny that it is a very useful talent to have.

    Why do you deny what others say is obviously in Adams'
    An absurd opinion.
    Because you lack the ability to find art in a
    photograph. That is *your* problem, not an inherent
    fault of photography.
    More pointless verbiage.
    Floyd L. Davidson, Jun 17, 2007
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  3. Interesting concept. It looks like you consider one the most important
    aspects of art as non-creative.

    As far as I know, for people whose skills are refined enough that their hands
    will simply do what the mind needs them to do, art is about making a
    selection among various possibilities. The artist knows what can be done,
    what has been done in past, and is looking for concepts that allow him to
    express what he has to say.

    That's the same thing a photographer is doing. It is not the actual taking of
    the pictures that matters. It is what the photographer choses to show other
    people. The same way it is usually not the individual words and sentences
    that are the most important aspect of a book, but the ideas behind it.

    The photographer tells his story by selecting among an infinite number of
    possible images. And writer or a painter selects among an infinite number of
    possible ideas.
    Philip Homburg, Jun 18, 2007
  4. Oh, I think I understood perfectly well what Adams *wrote in his letter* to
    Lange. As I just said, that was indeed expressing himself. I'd sure be
    impressed if he could express the same "thoughts and feelings" in a
    photograph. But he couldn't, and you ought to know perfectly well he
    couldn't. Nor do you seem to be able to describe even a single "thought or
    feeling" that he did "express" in a photo.
    Pretty pictures.
    Well, I know you can't. And the reason you can't is that Adams didn't *say*
    anything in those photos other than "here is a pretty picture."

    Any "thoughts or feelings" -- and remember, that's what you claimed Adams
    was "expressing" -- can be described in words. If you can't describe a
    single thought or feeling in words after being asked to a dozen times, it's
    because no such thing was ever conveyed to you by your viewing the photo.
    Indeed, you could sit and stare at the photo for ten years and still not be
    able to say what "thoughts or feelings" Adams was "expressing," because he
    expressed none other than his recognition of a pretty scene.

    [ . . . ]
    "NOW" we get to the truth? Haven't you been following the discussion at all?

    Oh, but I do. Ansel Adams pictures are pretty pictures.

    I'm not sure who the "everyone else" is supposed to be, but whatever *you*
    claim is there you evidently cannot say. So it is apparently something like
    the emperor's new clothes.
    He wrote it, I read it, I didn't say I can't read it or he didn't write it.
    No offense, but you seem to be spiraling down into pure babbling.

    [ . . . ]
    On the contrary, you have provided nothing. Asked about a dozen times to
    give a single example, you have not and evidently cannot. You are thereby
    placing yourself in that large category of phony dilettantes who pretend to
    see profound things in art because they feel they are expected to, when in
    fact they only see pretty pictures.

    Cheer up; you are not alone by any means. I could give you examples of such
    people from my art school days. You can find such phonies at almost any

    Adjust your beret, brother, and go in peace.

    Neil Harrington, Jun 18, 2007
  5. Well, "creative" has different shades of meaning. It's possible to be
    creative in some sense without physically creating anything. Selecting place
    and time aren't creating anything.
    Art doesn't necessarily *say* anything. What does a non-objective painting
    Why "other people"? Serious artists I've known worked, often compulsively,
    for themselves -- not other people. Painters painted because they had to
    paint. What was finished would eventually be shown to other people, but it
    was not created *for* other people.

    Not really. The photographer cannot make a picture of something that isn't
    there, or doesn't exist at all, anywhere, or never existed at any time. The
    painter or draftsman can make a picture of any such thing, anything he can
    imagine. It's done all the time.

    Again, not really. The phrase "selects among" implies some set of
    pre-existing things, one or more of which are simply picked for the purpose.
    Selecting, picking, choosing -- these actions are not creating. The writer
    or painter can create something that never existed before.

    Neil Harrington, Jun 18, 2007
  6. John Ortt

    Aaron Guest

    So hold on a second. Just as I believe (and many accept) that
    discoveries can be made accidentally (penicillin jumps to mind), I
    also believe that art can be made accidentally. It may happen that
    most accidentally created art is made by artists seeking to create
    something else (I can imagine how Jackson Pollock's work could be
    accidentally created), but there is nothing stopping a person from
    taking a picture with the intent of documentation and by some chance
    of location, settings, focus, or other happenstance, creating a work
    of art.

    Let's look at this from two perspectives. First, that Coolpix person
    might take a look at the photo they'd taken and exclaim, "This is much
    more artistic than I had hoped for!" I wouldn't try to disabuse them
    of the notion that they'd created art, although I might go on at
    length about the work's shortcomings. It is not often that "great" art
    is created this way, which supports your thesis about the conscious
    intervention of the artist.

    Second, the Coolpix person might have placed the photo on Flickr
    thinking it was a nice-looking sunset, having no inclination
    whatsoever to represent it as art, and a viewer may find it artistic
    and desire to have prints of it to hang around their house. Likewise,
    I wouldn't disabuse them of their impression of that piece as art
    (though as you say, it is often difficult to defend an impression that
    something is art when the creator has no such intent), even if it
    might be terrible art.

    All I'm saying is that you set the bar at which art is created too
    high. Your description of when art becomes art suits me fine for the
    times during which "good" art is created, but as I've said before, I
    do believe that it is largely subjective and it is obtuse to exclude
    certain works from the classification of "art" for purely subjective

    Many historically significant art movements were started by works that
    were barely accepted as art by the critics of the time, and even that
    definition does little to defend the Coolpix person, but I tend to
    give a great deal more semantic leeway than critical leeway. I would
    say that my entire philosophy could be boiled down to "I agree it is
    art, now let me tell you why you should never show it to anyone."
    Aaron, Jun 18, 2007
  7. For the content of most photos, time and place are essential. Change
    the time or the place and you get a different image.

    Time and place exist as information in the image.

    Similarly, poetry or stories in oral traditions exist just in people's
    minds without any physical objects.

    Selecting time and place creates information. Information is not a physical
    object, but as oral traditions show, that is not required for art.
    You are saying that non-objective paintings cannot be used to express a
    You do realize that photography is different from painting? Why do you bring
    up painters when I am talking about photography? Just trolling I guess.
    Time to stop responding.
    And a writer can express all kinds of concepts that cannot be painted,
    a composer can express yet different things. And then there is ballet.

    At an abstract level there is not much difference. You seem to focus on
    the limitations on photography instead of verifying whether or not the
    set possibilities is in fact large enough to express a huge variety of

    Anyhow, given that it looks like you are just trolling this is my last
    response to you in this thread.
    Philip Homburg, Jun 18, 2007
  8. You have twice now clearly indicated that you didn't
    understand the letter. You might understand each word,
    and maybe each sentence, but you have clearly missed
    what his point was! You didn't get the *picture*...

    I was tempted to say "pretty picture", and should
    have... ;-)
    The idea that Ansel Adams was not expressing his
    "thoughts and feelings" in his photographs is patently
    absurd. You make yourself out to be a total idiot by
    maintaining that position. Ansel Adams said otherwise.
    The whole world of photography says otherwise.
    Universities teach otherwise.

    You can *say* that you know better, but it merely means
    you are a fool, and indeed you are alone in that
    There are *books* written about what Adams was saying.
    "A picture is worth a thousand words" is true, but is
    too small a number for Adams. I am not going to even
    try to write the 1,000,000 words it would take to
    explain to you what is expressed in an Ansel Adams
    picture. (Others have though, and I would suggest that
    you stop this silliness, got to a good library to read
    about it, and accept that even if you cannot see it
    others do because it *is* there.)
    Sort of like his nice letters too though, eh? I mean...
    totally over your head!
    Neil, you've been babbling from the start.
    I'll look for you at "any showing" where I want to find a phony.

    Whatever, I'll not respond again to this stupidity if you can't
    do better with logic and facts.
    Floyd L. Davidson, Jun 19, 2007
  9. They are still *selections*, not the creating of anything.
    They were created by someone at some time. Or if not -- if they are just the
    verbal transcribing of some historical event or whatever, -- then of course
    they have nothing to do with art, any more than written histories do.
    Taking "express a feeling" to mean *conveying* that feeling to someone else,
    I think it very unlikely that non-objective painting ever does that. It is
    certainly possible that people who view non-objective paintings may
    *imagine* they are seeing something they believe the artist is trying to

    At Hartford Art School (just was 50+ years ago), the first-year painting
    instructor was a fellow named George Zimmerman, who was a National Academy
    winner and therefore a painter of some repute. He was a non-objective
    painter and as far as I know didn't do any other kind of painting at that

    Zimmerman had had a one-man show, and the gallery director had required that
    every painting shown must have a title. Zimmerman said since they were
    *non-objective* no titles would be appropriate, but the director insisted:
    every painting must have a title. Zimmerman said "All right, call this one
    Number One, and this one Number Two, and so on." The director said No, they
    had to be real titles, not just numbers.

    So Zimmerman made up the most ridiculous titles he could think of, none of
    which had the remotest thing to do with the paintings. One he called "Two
    Thistles Floating Down a Stream in February." (You can see what a memorable
    story this is; I've remembered that nonsense title for over 50 years.)

    During the show he strolled around behind people (as artists always do at
    such shows) to hear what they were saying about his paintings.

    Imagine his reaction when he paused behind one pair of dowager types, and
    heard one with a sigh of enormous admiration say to the other, "Doesn't this
    painting just *perfectly capture* the *very essence* of two thistles
    floating down a stream in February?"

    So much for the artist "expressing his feelings."

    Neil Harrington, Jun 19, 2007
  10. Well, I've just now re-read it see if I missed anything. I understand each
    word, each sentence and each paragraph. I daresay I understand the whole
    thing perfectly well, including his point. I'm not at all sure that *you*
    do. You may think Adams is "expressing" something that cannot put into
    words, just as you seem to think about his photos. Who knows what you
    imagine him to be saying.

    Yet you still cannot even begin to put into words what he was "expressing."

    I'm sure.
    Yet this is a "foolishness" that you cannot point to any fault in,
    Never mind a million words. You apparently can't even write a few words on
    the subject when asked to do so, though you can fill post after post with
    vague claims about things "expressed in an Ansel Adams
    picture." In fact, your claims aren't even "vague," do they? They would have
    to contain far more substance just to rise to the level of "vague."

    Neil Harrington, Jun 19, 2007
  11. John Ortt

    dj_nme Guest

    Neil Harrington wrote:
    I believe that the titles were expressing his feelings.
    Feelings brought up by being made to give the paintings titles, anything
    else would be even wilder speculation.
    dj_nme, Jun 19, 2007
  12. John Ortt

    Bhogi Guest

    Bhogi, Jun 20, 2007
  13. John Ortt

    Aaron Guest

    Aaron, Jun 20, 2007
  14. Neil Harrington, Jun 20, 2007
  15. The titles, yes. Not the paintings.

    Neil Harrington, Jun 20, 2007
  16. John Ortt

    Aaron Guest

    Out of curiosity, are you referring to Hartford Art School in
    Hartford, Connecticut? My father got his BFA there and remembers a
    Phil Zimmerman, but not a George. Nevertheless, here's what he had to
    say about all of this:
    I title my work to make it easier for others to indicate a piece to me
    without describing it in excruciating detail, but I can see how those
    titles might inadvertantly lead them to perceive the work in a way I
    hadn't intended. That said, I'm happy with titling my stuff.
    Aaron, Jun 21, 2007
  17. Huh. I could almost swear it was George, but it's a long time ago and it's
    possible I have the first name wrong. I'll ask a friend of mine whom I met
    at the school and am still in touch with. This was in the 1953-54 school
    year. I was only there that one year.

    Interesting. . . . When was your dad at Hartford Art School?

    I ought to go back there just out of curiosity and see what's changed. The
    school's entrance used to be on a side street around the corner from the
    Atheneum, and as I recall it was actually part of the same building. I
    haven't visited there for at least 40 years, or even that part of Hartford.

    I never actually saw any of Zimmerman's work, incidentally. He was not
    usually in the first-year studio, occasionally wandered through to comment
    on what some of us were doing, or just look. On one occasion he told us that
    "Two Thistles (etc.)" story.
    Sure. Nothing wrong with titles, as long as it's not something that's purely

    Just called my friend. He remembers Zimmerman, but not his first name.
    Neither "George" nor "Phil" rings a bell with him at all. My guess is I was
    wrong about that.

    Neil Harrington, Jun 21, 2007
  18. John Ortt

    John Turco Guest

    Hello, Floyd:

    It's what's done to that excrement, in post processing, which truly
    matters. Mess it up, and there goes your hoped-for "work of art,"
    straight down the toilet! :-D

    John Turco <>
    John Turco, Jun 22, 2007
  19. John Ortt

    John Turco Guest



    Hello, David:

    Huh? If, somehow, Seung-Hui Cho thought the Virginia Tech massacre was
    a form of "art," did that make it such? Adolf Hitler was convinced of
    his own merits as an "artist," so perhaps, he decided to prove it, by
    starting World War II and orchestrating unspeakable crimes against

    (Okay, I know; he was a house painter, before becoming a ruthless

    Warped minds think alike! (No, not >yours<, David. <g>)

    John Turco <>
    John Turco, Jun 22, 2007
  20. John Ortt

    John Turco Guest

    Hello, Aaron:

    Well, certainly, it's >possible< for a photograph to become a piece of
    art. It simply isn't an automatic process, in my mind.

    Changing the subject, slightly, consider cinema. Does raw footage,
    alone, constitute an actual movie?

    Of course, not! It's the laborious post-production work, which
    transforms that mere celluloid into something of any value. Cutting,
    splicing, editing, dubbing the voices, adding the sound track, etc.,
    all require great skill and effort.

    How successfully those things are accomplished, determines whether a
    film is artistic, or just another "hack job."

    John Turco <>
    John Turco, Jun 22, 2007
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