Photography as artistic expression

Discussion in 'Photographic Aesthetics and Composition' started by Donald Miller, Jun 7, 2007.

  1. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Before I begin let me say that anything that I am about to say is as applicable to me a photographer, working in traditional photography, as it is of any of us. My thoughts, that follow, have been well considered and are the true and honest expression of one who struggles with artistic expression as a condition of my passion with photography.

    Perhaps it is a condition of my thirty years involvement in photography...perhaps is is a condition of my advancing years...perhaps it is the ruminations of an overactive mind...I will own all of those as being true of me and my station in life.

    What about photography for that matter is it truly artistic? Is most of what I produce and observe in photography simply illustration? Is the illustrative output of any value to either myself or to a prospective viewer? What defines artistic output?

    Before we get into another "what is art" discussion...which quite honestly have risen to the level of gross and flagrant over intellectualization of a subject that most are ill prepared to discuss, let us agree that artistic expression has certain qualities that have held true since the beginning. The first of these is that it is an original creation of something heretofore unknown and heretofore unproduced and second that it engages both the senses and the emotions of the artist and a portion of those who may view the original work.

    Taken those conditions into consideration, what then is artistic about that which we (you and I) produce? Since most of us are human beings at the very core of our condition...that furthermore our work is not singular in point of address, what conditions of human experience are we addressing in the production of our photographs? Does the record of the existence of a tree, a stream, clouds in a sky, the interior of a temple, address anything about the conditions that human beings experience? How does illustration of these "known objects" lead to any universal acceptance by others and how does the illustration of these "known objects" speak to the matters of hope, fear, despair, lonliness, joy, sorrow, hunger, plenty, peace, or unrest within the soul of man?

    I have no answers for these questions. I have only questions...but they are damned important questions to me as a human being first and foremost and subsequently of one who aspires to artistic expression.

    Your thoughts are appreciated. I would hope that this fosters a constructive dialogue...I have no interest in contentions that seek only to fortify the constructs of our egos.
     
  2. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    So then by your standards music is the only true art form, as it doesn't visually represent anything?

    The medium isn't the problem, it's the quality of the message being conveyed through it.

    Good luck with this navel gazing session...just by asking these kinds of questions means you're willing to learn and grow, which is the only way to improve as an artist.

    Murray
     
  3. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Murray,

    I could not agree more.

    We are all born artists. Levels of innate talent vary. So does the amount of work that we are willing to put in. So does our flexibility of mind, about what is and isn't art.

    And that's about it, really.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  4. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Murray, Thanks for your response. Perhaps we are misunderstanding the questions that I posed and what I was saying. I did not intend and don't think that I did say that the "visual" is a poor handmaiden of artistic expression...I think that you and I are in basic agreement when you say the "quality of the message"...just didn't want this to go far afield at the outset.
     
  5. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    A small portion of what you wrote, I know, but it forms a base for your questions. Music is the only thing which meets this criteria.

    Off to work I go :smile:

    Murray
     
  6. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    I think that by including the terms "heretofore unknown" you're getting yourself in to trouble. Any visual medium must have a referent in the known world to convey any sense of meaning. With post-modern abstract artwork, that referent is other artwork. With music, although it does not have a visual referent, it has an auditory referent to sound. While it would be possible, I suppose, to compose a piece of music that had no auditory referent to any known or recognizable sound, it would be utterly unintelligible. It sounds to me like you're just suffering from that age-old photographer's angst - "is what I do 'ART'?". Photos of rocks and trees and even other manmade objects remain at the level of representational records when no effort is exerted to structure that representation in such a way as to ADD meaning to the image. It may be simply a matter of composing the image to emphasize pattern, form, or texture, or it may be viewing the subject from a distinctly unexpected viewpoint. It may be photographing the subject in such a way as to most closely mimic the actual way the human eye sees the subject, and as such, raises questions about the human experience of interacting with the subject.

    In short, to me the distinction between art and photomechanical representation is purely one of intent - if you have the intent to do more than create a photomechanical representation, it is art. This says nothing at all about how SUCCESSFUL the artistic endeavor is.
     
  7. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Murray...I can think of many other artistic expressions than music.
     
  8. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Whether it is original or not seems to be a qualifier of plagiarism.
     
  9. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    As someone who was a music major in college, a union performing musician for 20-years and a photographic diddler for 40 or so, I've always thought my music and photography were the same thing.
    juan
     
  10. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    "...gross and flagrant over intellectualization of a subject that most are ill prepared to discuss..."

    This I feel recuses me from comment. Perhaps most of us. Maybe all?
     
  11. Poco

    Poco Member

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    <Does the record of the existence of a tree, a stream, clouds in a sky, the interior of a temple, address anything about the conditions that human beings experience?>

    No, but the choice of HOW to record it does. Compositional and relational decisions made in photographing allow us to reorder the world in a distinctly human way. The fact that the result isn't "wholly new" diminishes nothing and only shows that as an art -- as an act of re-creation rather than creation -- it's just more firmly bounded by the human condition than other forms of expression (maybe even uniquely suited to exploring it?)
     
  12. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    There's a line in the otherwise jumbled and dreary movie Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle where Dotty opines something like: "I just cant see the word 'artist' as very flexible. If I did I'm sure I'd be much better company."
     
  13. Mike Richards

    Mike Richards Member

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    I once visited the caves at Altimira, Spain and wondered why some cave man did the famous paintings there some 30,000 years ago. I don't know the answer, but I'm reasonably sure we share the motivation.
     
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  15. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    With nothing better to do they discovered by accident that things in the environment make marks on other things. Then they found that the things they made marks of looked like things in the environment.

    It took 30,000 years to get to the stuff that looks like things that make marks on things that don't look like things in the environment. We call that Art.
     
  16. ilya1963

    ilya1963 Subscriber

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    Art is a piece of work that you HATE to part with , the rest of work is what gets you to that piece...

    ILYA
     
  17. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    Very little music lasts very long without being part of some lineage or another. Even the serialists maintained traditional instruments (for the most part) when they departed from tonality. And that entire era will most likely end up as a footnote a hundred years hence because it strayed too far from what the listener could agreeably appreciate or even comprehend.

    For the most part I agree, but I think, if 'art' is made at all, it becomes so because the photographer experiences an emotional resonance and connection with the subject whatever it is, and in whatever style it is photographed. It becomes something even more significant when the viewer senses that emotional energy. I am highly dubious about whether or not 'meaning' has much to do with it, hence the uniqueness of musical, or visual work on its own terms.
     
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  18. Doyle Thomas

    Doyle Thomas Member

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    How does illustration of these "known objects" lead to any universal acceptance by others and how does the illustration of these "known objects" speak to the matters of hope, fear, despair, lonliness, joy, sorrow, hunger, plenty, peace, or unrest within the soul of man?
    __________________

    I just had a look at your work on the website. It seems that of the above list the only item you address is joy as it is a joy to view them. Photography is about vision and Vision. The eye sees but Vision is in the Mind. The camera only records. You may already have your answer:

    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.


    There can only be emotional risk to acheive what you seek. You must see a starving child before you can speak of that Vision.

    Doyle
     
  19. Daniel_OB

    Daniel_OB Member

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    Roger Hicks:
    We are all born artists.

    Roger, think twice.


    D. Miller
    … working in traditional photography.

    This statement disqualify you as an artist. The way of thinking is in question. (There is no traditional photography, I think you are pointing on art…).

    What defines artistic output?

    Artist.
    Artist is a guy that makes nearly perfect work with a great easiness (to other it takes very long time). What is very important (today) as a part of his (artist's) work to emphase is also his deep concentration while work, concentration by instinct not command. Connect this statement with my fist (... disqualify ...) statement.

    We are different than trees or whatever in Nature. Human as a clone can be compared to events in Nature.

    What you make is a simple illustration or art no one can say now, but the best judge are your friends artists, which you will find in internet 1 of 99999999999999999999999 cases.

    www.Leica-R.com
     
  20. DrPablo

    DrPablo Member

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    Irrespective of medium, representationality, or message, art to me is about an act of creation. And I don't mean this in a religious sense.

    Creation is about ownership. It's about bringing something into being that is yours. With pure art it's about bringing something into being that is non-functional, though a gray zone exists with architecture, furniture-making, and even disciplines of entertainment.

    When at least an element of your creation is non-functional, you have made that creative choice for aesthetic (or perhaps philosophical or narrative) reasons that don't require function, or efficiency, or economy.

    To me there is an impulse in many of us to be creative. And whether the fruits of our creativity are representational or not doesn't matter so much -- they all stem from the same drive.


    Incidentally, I've done some reading about musical aesthetics, and as I understand it most music really does not have much resemblance to naturally occurring sounds. Bird songs are atonal, for instance. Pieces of classical music that evoke nature (Beethoven's Pastorale, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, etc) don't really sound much like actual nature. I suppose the second movement of Mahler's 7th Symphony sounds a bit like bird songs, but in a very stylized way.

    One exception to this is the African tama (the talking drum), which to an amazing degree mimics the inflections of the tonal languages (esp. in Nigeria).
     
  21. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    As an aside, if you want to go on a musical journey (referring to the discussion about music as an audible medium only), check out 1970's recordings from a band called Tangerine Dream. If you don't get any visual stimulation at all listening to their music, you should try again. You probably won't like it, most people don't, but they did have an idea of how to visualize art with sound.
    I'm sure that a few illegal 'additives' were ingested one way or another during the creation of this music, but it's interesting to know that the lead character Edgar Froese was a student of Salvador Dali. He is not a concert pianist, but he is an interesting musician, and an artist with a fairly unique approach.

    If you actually like this, which I don't think you will, also check out Klaus Schulze (especially 'Timewind') and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen.

    Check it out, if you don't like the music, you can send it to me.... :smile:

    - Thomas
     
  22. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Daniel,

    I didn't say we were born good artists...

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  23. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    I perhaps conflated "meaning" and "emotional response". I think the two concepts are inextricably connected as far as the creation of art is concerned - without an emotional response to a subject, it lacks sufficient meaning for me to want to capture that meaning on film, and if it means nothing to me, I don't respond emotionally, so I don't want to capture it on film. The overriding paradox here is the clash of rational and emotional responses that have to co-exist to create a work of art. The emotional tells us WHAT to photograph, and the rational tells us HOW to photograph it. Without the emotional, there is no subject, and without the rational, there is no depiction of the subject. But we must invoke the rational to create the representation of the emotional, so that we can communicate the emotional to others.

    ACK- another chicken-egg game!
     
  24. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Paul, I want to thank you for a very nice comment on one of the aspects of creation and it's application to art. Very helpful.
     
  25. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your participation in what, for me, was a very enlightening and helpful discussion. A big help...thanks.
     
  26. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    You seriously need to read the Walker Evans book "The Hungry Eye". From start to finish. I just finished going through it and I think I have advanced some in my own thinking.

    It's a lot like pain, I am in my 7th year of physical pain from an accident. It fluxuates from mild to severe. I had very hard time trying to explain it because it can't be taken out and put on a counter, looked at, qualified, quantified or measured against any other except the crude "on a scale of 1 to 10" gauge.

    My wife, who is a nurse, said to me "Pain is what you say it is". So when someone tells me what my pain is, how do they know? It's what I say it is.

    Way back when we were children and got our hands on some materials, any kind of materials, and started to make "things" we called it Art. Have you ever asked a child what they are making and they said "Art"? Art is what they say it is. We may think it is poor art, we may think it is brilliant art, or we may think that it is not art at all. It doesnt' matter, it's what the child says it is.

    Regards,
    Curt