Really interesting, all of this. OK, most of this.
I usually don't respond much to these types of posts, but what the hell. I'm in a philosophical mood tonight, so I'm just gonna ramble. I don't guarantee you'll get anything out of reading this.
First, I think there's a difference between a 'pretty' picture and a 'beautiful' one. 'Pretty' to me implies a surface aesthetic appeal, whereas 'beautiful' implies much more. Physically unappealing things and people can be beautiful, but you wouldn't call them pretty.
Doesn't 'pretty' just completely depend on your personal tastes? And is it shallow to appreciate something that is simply (to your taste) pretty? I don't think so. I think that a simple 'pretty' is sometimes exactly what is needed. Personally, I tend to think and analyze far, far too much. More than I should, definitely. Images that make me think are good, but I need 'pretty' to make me lift my eyes and see that there is something outside of my own head.
Abstracts..... hmmm. Yes, I do like them at times. They make my mind work, they make me ponder, and at times, they make me question (things, myself, the world, whatever.) I'll confess that I am not generally a lover of abstract imagery. It usually leaves me a bit cold. I like to think, but I love to feel. An image that makes me do both is perfect, but if I have to choose, I choose to feel. It's rare for an abstract to make me feel.
Still life can very often make me feel. Not always. But really, when I analyze that (see??!!) it's probably because I am very much a people person, and still life more often than not suggests a human presence. There was a portfolio in LensWork recently with still life images from the photographer's mother's home after she passed away. One in particular, a brush with strands of her hair still tangled in it, hit me hard. It was incredibly emotive, yet thought provoking to me. The human presence. It was a very simple image. I wouldn't say it asked a question in any way. It just showed a fact and allowed me (the viewer) to interpret it, both within the context of his other images and the range of my own experiences and emotions.
Am I saying anything so far? I think I'm probably not.
I like what John (jovo) had to say. It is easier for most people to relate to what might typically be considered a 'pretty' image. Abstract (or whatever you want to call it) can be much more difficult for many people to appreciate because it is from a tighter perspective. I did some pretty whacked-out holga images a few years back. Tree roots close-up, double exposed and toned. To me, I saw bones and skulls in the roots, and it spoke to me of the circle of birth, life, and death. It spoke to.... oh, maybe one or two other people, and that's about it. Does it really matter? Is it my responsibility to worry about speaking to the masses through my work? Or to judge what should speak to viewers? Or to interpret their responses or lack thereof? I don't think so. It's my responsibility to make what moves me, and to appreciate the work that I appreciate.
That can change pretty frequently, by the way -- what kind of images speak to me. Hourly, sometimes. Sometimes I like dark and pensive 'deep' images, and sometimes I respond more to light, lacey 'pretty' stuff. I'm glad. It would be terribly limiting to only appreciate one kind of work.
OK, that's about enough of that.