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Thread: Craft vs. Art

  1. #1

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    Craft vs. Art

    Forgive the iconic title, I wanted to get people's attention

    I'm about to give all my old view camera magazines to another APUGer. Slow process, as I find myself rereading them all before they go...

    In the Jan/Feb 1997 issue (the famous one with the Huchings/Davis discussion about pyro) there is an interview with Richard M.A. Benson, then Dean of the Yale School of Art. To my mind he seems to disparage the craft aspects of print making, notable since he seems to be a fairly technical photographer.

    Says Benson in the interview with John Paul Caponigro:
    "I have a lot of ideas about craft. I think nothing is more boring than to spend your time figuring out how to makd a thing absolutely beautifully. I think you shoudl make a thing as well as you need to make it to make it carry across the thing you're trying to make clear and no better. And that means you have to be careful because you can get really interested in the thing you make. If you get interested in making more than the thing you're making does then you're becoming a craftsman. And a craftsman is fine but an artist is a different creature.
    The worst possible thing you can do is to waste your energy trying to get all the little bits and pieces right because when you get all those right the important things are wrong. So when ever I make something, I just try to get the big issues roughly correct. I have no interest in getting the little things all precise... So my notion is that it's a total waste of time to be chasing some notion of perfection when what we should be making is a roughly made object that serves its purpose well."

    Its difficult to quote an article, without stating things out of context, but his "get the big stuff right", i.e. compose correctly, get the print exposure and contrast close enough and don't worry about the details seems to give the craft aspects short shrift. But there is also something that resonates after seeing many large format prints that are technically excellent without seeming to say much...
    Take care,
    Tom

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    I agree in that "The Big Picture" is the priority. But to me Benson sounds like a lazy person in so far as the following: if he already knows he has got the Big Picture issue down pat why not go all the way and make it perfect. Sometimes a beautiful photo becomes a classic with this extra effort, which is why I always go back to old negatives/prints with the view to reprinting them if I feel that I can make it "better" so to speak. Just like in other fields of arts and sciences, I am always keeping one eye open for new developments that can help make something I have made much better than all previous versions of it.

    Finallly, I am in no way a photo-teckie (heck, I do not even have a darkroom or measuring scale or denistometer, etc.) BUT this is does not hamper my efforts to strive beyond the "close enough". SO CLOSE...and yet SO FAR.
    Francesco

  3. #3
    papagene's Avatar
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    In my (very) humble opinion, the craft aspect part of your art should be something you don't have to think or worry about. The Big Picture is what you strive for and the craft is how you get there. This does not mean that you shouldn't try to make your skills better, but that you should be skilled enough to get your point/idea across.
    And of course we should always try to make our photographs as good as we can or even surpass our skills.
    I guess what I am saying is that if one has to worry about all the little things, not to have confidence in one's abilities, the Big Picture will get away.
    gene LaFord


    Long live Ed "Big Daddy" Roth!!
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    Quote Originally Posted by papagene
    In my (very) humble opinion, the craft aspect part of your art should be something you don't have to think or worry about. The Big Picture is what you strive for and the craft is how you get there. This does not mean that you shouldn't try to make your skills better, but that you should be skilled enough to get your point/idea across.
    And of course we should always try to make our photographs as good as we can or even surpass our skills.
    I guess what I am saying is that if one has to worry about all the little things, not to have confidence in one's abilities, the Big Picture will get away.
    exactly... the problem with striving for perfection is that perfection is unachievable, and it is so in part because as imperfect beings, we have no true concept of perfection (just as we have no clear concept of eternity, etc..). And if we consider perfect to be flawless (possibly a misconception), we have already solved the issue: a photograph that fails to get its point across is no longer perfect, regardless of sharpness, tone, etc...

    But we can back-track a bit, and ask this: How many of us have a clear, solid, and immutable idea of what the photograph should be before we compose it, meter, and shoot? Without a clear, solid, and immutable concept, a perfect print is impossible (for we will have no reference to base it's perfection upon).

    To make matters worse, a perfect print is only perfect as long as its audience agrees with the photographer's concept of the image, and idea of perfection. Given the variations between each individual's concept of perfection, the possibility of a perfect photograph decreases as its audience increases.

    Not to sound like a (insert insult here), a debate like this cannot go anywhere. We are unable to solve it, only to come up with examples that support our point of view (e.g. Ansel's photos were well printed, but boring... Yeah!? most PJ carries messages, but wouldn't make it to anyone's wall!!!)

    Perhaps Benson was merely trying to stay on the Aristotelian (sp?) mean with regards to the issue. Get it good enough to transmit the message.

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    I believe that an awareness that something is good enough is also an awareness that it can be made better, somehow.
    Francesco

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    Well, perhaps I read it the way I want it to be read, but I feel more that he's addressing perfectionism rather than great craftsmanship. Perfectionism is a different thing entirely. Ed posted that great quote on the subject from "The Artist's Way". The refusal to allow something to be good enough, to obsess and fuss about the tiniest little nitpicks (in the craftmanship) can be a great excuse to not push on and create (the art.) I think he intentionally overstated his point in order to make sure it stuck.

    I'm certain he's not advocating sloppy, half-baked prints. I think he's just warning that obsessing about miniscule flaws can distract you from why you made the print in the first place.

    Personally, I prefer the print to get out of the way, so to speak. I'm happiest when people comment on a print itself as a second thought, or not at all. I want them to see the emotion in the image and to understand why I made it. I don't want technique, either great or terrible, to ever be the first thing people see when they look at my work.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. #7
    lee
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    I think Cheryl got it right.

    lee\c

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    I also feel that a great deal depends on the subject matter. Some subjects lend itself to detachment (or excused) from technique much easier than others. Then there are those subjects where vision and technique have equal importance, whereby one without the other lessens the image.
    Francesco

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    I usually end up reading things and miss some significant point that everyone else sees, and I end up going off on an tagent about something completely unrelated. That said, here is what comes to my mind.

    Creating a better image is entirely different from trying to create the perfect image. Often times, creating the perfect image means creating something that everyone will agree on, but that's not possible. Isn't art more about the creator than the viewer in some respect? I know the biggest setback for me as an artist is that I expect too much of myself and when I'm not satisfied with a project I dismiss it. I don't even share it. In the end the work was all for nothing. Getting back to photography, what I have seen on many of the online forums is everyone trying to achieve a standard color for the sky, a standard for contrast, a standard for all the other colors, etc. It is almost as if no photo is good until your reach these set of standards. But doesn't every photo essentially become the same when they all share the exact same level of contrast and the colors are all the same from one photo to the next? Where is the art in that? That is the sort of perfection I see people trying to achieve. Tweaking your photos to improve colors and contrast is one thing but to make it the exact same as everyone else, all in the name of creating the perfect photo seems too much.

    If I'm way off base just pretend I was never here.

  10. #10

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    I totally agree with Cheryl. The print is not the final goal, the image is.

    Anne Marieke

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