Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is it art?

I knew we'd get to this one sooner or later. An essay on art. As a photographer I am always hearing the refrain, " . . . but it isn't art."

Well photography is art, and it's craft as well. But often, especially with point and shoot cameras, a great deal of the craft is handled by the camera and this fools people into thinking there is no art. Not only is there art, but it can be almost pure art, devoid of craft.

The problem starts with the word art itself. The word means too many things. This is common in English, making one word, one group of letters, do double or triple dutymaybe even more.

You can bring cows in from the field, or field a ball, or in a similar vein, you can field a question. When you were young, you might have liked to play the field. You get the picture, uh, idea.

I'll let y0u play with the word art. The less I say here the better. It minimizes arguments.

If you hire an artist to make you some wine goblets, and give no instructions, you might get some incredibly imaginative goblets, wonderful to look at but completely useless when it comes to holding wine.

Once, I actually saw this happen when a well respected artist created a raku-fired, wine goblet collection. They were beautiful, they even moved when one walked by. The artist thought this was a neat effect; they were like the melding of mobiles and stabiles. Well, it was neat until the footsteps of a passing woman caused one to topple and break. I think Alexander Calder would have said these goblets needed more stability and less mobility.

Also, the very creative raku finish contained poisonous substances that would leach into wine. Not good. The artist made goblets that were great to admire, especially if you laid them on their sides, but they were not good to drink from.

Think of these goblets as approaching pure art.

Now, go to a craftsperson to order some wine goblets. Immediately, you will be asked about the type of wine that these goblets will hold. Will it be red or will it be white? It does make a difference.

When you pick up your goblets, you will find that the mouth is not wider than the bowl. Each goblet will have a good stem, easily held, preventing the wine from being warmed by the hand. And the foot of each delicate goblet will be fashioned such that it allows one to place the wine down without concern for it falling over.

These goblets will not surprise you; they will be just as envisioned. Dull but functional. Think of these goblets as approaching pure craft.

Let's try another example. Ask an artist to make you a lawn chair and give them no restrictions and you might get something like these, but I doubt it — these are just so creative, they are unique. Made by the Dutch artist Lisette Spee and architect Tim van den Burg these chairs can be found in het Valkenbergpark in Breda, The Netherlands.

Art is the creative thought while craft is the quality, the skill, needed to realize the art — the creative vision. Simple, right?

Most of us want a measure of both in what we simply call art. We want it to be creative and we want it to be something more than we would expect of a three-year-old. Well, take the blinders off; sometimes, even three-year-olds are on to something.

Our daughter, Ashley, when she was but 18-months sat on the floor with a piece of paper and some fine-tipped markers; she poked the colourful markers through the paper. Then, she turned the paper over and had one of those "Eureka!" moments. She discovered the back of the smooth, white paper was textured with small ragged holes, each one revealing, and reveling in, a burst of colour. The toddler toddled off looking for mom in order to share her work of art.

Creative? Yes!

Would you have thought of it? I doubt it.
To learn what craft, skill, was necessary to shoot the image of the toilette at sunset, please check out my other blog: Rockin' On: Photography.


  1. Saw your pic in the fp saturday, you and other former shooters and techies. Nice to see you socializing out there.

  2. Very Interesting! Out with the houses and in with porcelain toilets, I say! :D