What makes it art?

By: Darrell Klein

Mar 02 2007

Category: Art, photography


Photo:  Seven Years Bad Luck – Unionville, TN

What makes it art?  First of all, I cannot believe I am trying to tackle such a sticky issue like the question of art but here goes nothing.

It seems that some artists, and photographers are no exception to this, believe that what makes their work art, is the process by which it is produced.  This process seems to not only include the steps taken to produce their work but the equipment and materials used as well.  The reason I say this is because I have heard several photographers say that they shoot digital for all but their fine art stuff.  I am not even going to attempt to split the hair of fine art as opposed to just plain art.  I’ll leave that to an art critic.  The statement above about shooting digital for all but fine art implies that these photographers use film for their artistic photography.  They sometimes refer to the type of camera they use in much the same manner.  To me this indicates that they believe the process by which their fine art photographs are produced (in this case shooting film) are what makes them art.

I am not sure I understand this line of thinking.  Does this mean that the exact same shot taken in the same spot with a digital camera is not art?  I can see how the process can allow a photographer to get a great deal of enjoyment out of creating their art but is that really what makes it art?

Is it largely up to the audience to decide whether or not it is art?  I am not sure what my answer to this would be but I think it happens this way a lot of the time.  For my own photography, I just try to find subjects that stir something inside of me and then do my best to cause the same reaction in the people that I share my work with.  If that makes it art, that is fine by me.  If not, I will still keep on doing what I am doing because all I know is that it brings a lot of enjoyment to me.


8 comments on “What makes it art?”

  1. Hi Darrell, I’m Clare. You commented on my daughter’s photo in my blog a little while ago. I’ve just discovered your photo blog and I’m adding it to my blogroll. You’re tackling the question of what is art, huh? You’re a brave soul…


    I do agree with your perspective on stirring the audience and being moved and inspired yourself with subjects. I think the best art is art that communicates and doesn’t drum into or leap over people’s heads, but speaks with power and in an effective, heightened language, visual or otherwise. That doesn’t mean that if it is over the audience that it is not good art, but if it is good art it should inspire the audience to rise. At least that is what I try to do in my “art” which would include writing and (novice-level) visual art. I think of myself as an “artist” because I am creating. I am actively involved in the creative process in many mediums and at different levels.

    I think too that I am sometimes turned off by language and visual art that is technically precise but emotionally vacant. I want to be accessed by and be able to access the heart of the work, as well as appreciate the fineness and craft. The true innovators are the artists that carve their own paths and who break into the minds of their audience. That can happen with the most expert, clinical executions, yes, but the ones who are earth-shakers to me, get me in the gut too.

    I’ll pass along your comments to my girl. She’s asleep now.

    Good night!

  2. Thanks for the comment Clare. Very well said and I think I agree with all of it. I especially liked the sentence:

    “I think too that I am sometimes turned off by language and visual art that is technically precise but emotionally vacant.”

    This is exactly how I feel and I think this can happen when an artist hasn’t balanced the focus between content and process.

  3. I hope you don’t mind that I added your site to my “blogroll”. I’m loving the photos…very, very well done!

  4. […] March 3rd, 2007 at 10:36 am (Self, Lifestuff, Creativity, Photography, The Blogosphere, Art) Darrell, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to share in my blog, my response to your question “What Makes it Art?”   […]

  5. Joseph, thanks for the complimnet and for adding me to your blogroll. I will return the favor.

  6. Hey Darrell. I’ve had some time to look through more of your blogs. I enjoyed them all. What I appreciate a lot in addition to your great photos, is your fine sense of humour. The titles add to the appreciation.

    Clare (above) has an elegant way of saying just what I would like to express about what art is. Or rather, whether one image is art or not.
    I’d like to add that, for me, art is a process – a combo of a thought process that synthesizes and creates something with an essence of what that object is (talking of representational work, here); and at the same time, it’s a physical, mechanical process that translates the thought into an art form, be it photo, painting, sculpture or other realization of the idea. Both have to work.
    Now, when I was teaching, I felt I had to be super sensitive to people’s spirit. I developed a philosphy for myself that we are all on a continuum of learning and expressing ourselves through art. The work of those at the beginning that do not have great technique but are striving to express themselves through whatever media they chose, must be respected for their will and desire to create.
    If their work is not up to the same calibre of a practiced and passionate artist, they can only get there if they continue on their learning path. It would be, for me, a grave error to criticize their effort. Too much damage has been done by insensitive, arrogant teachers who criticize too quickly. It was a sacred duty for me to foster and encourage their development. “Criticism” of their work, if you could call it that, takes the shape of asking them to consider an abstract idea in relation to what they have produced. That’s what teaching is about.
    My favorite example is when someone makes an image right in the centre of the page and then does nothing with the background, or the background is one single colour or texture. The discussion of their work would centre on how one could lead the eye around the picture so that the eye continues to be absorbed by what is there. A discussion of composition might ensue; or how texture can be varied in a background to imply movement or shapes; negative space might be talked about, etc. etc.
    So there is good art and there is beginning art that I am very careful and passionate about fostering
    Bad art on the other hand, for me, is that which is created without vision, without passion, without the thought process synthesizing a visual idea. In this category, for me, are those who continually reproduce the same type of image by formula (factory painting, commercial painters that deem themselves artists – commercial galleries are full of them). Unfortunately, I think, it’s often what sells. Galleries foster image making that is instantly recognizable for that artist. Stray off the path and soon the gallery no longer wants you in its “stable” of artists!
    One very successful artist (monetarily) that I know produces painting after painting of two women in hats in a field of flowers in a 19th century impressionist style. Sells like hotcakes. Another does paintings of pairs. His career has soared in a short few months. It blows me away!
    I can trash bad art anytime.
    Keep shooting. I like your work. It rings true.

  7. Wow “lookingforbeauty”, thank you for the kind words. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying my images. It was also good to hear you take on this post since you bring a unique perspective to the discussion. Thank you for sharing that perspective. I don’t think I can disagree with anything you said here. Thank you for checking in here. I appreciate the time you took to add to this discussion.

    P.S. – About my sense of humor…In everything I do, I try to not take myself too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I am serious about what I do, I just don’t want to get too full of myslef while doing it. :)

  8. Hey! The humour is essential, I say. The world is too dull without it. It’s a sign of good intelligence.
    I call my blog “Looking for Beauty” especially since I think the norm for “beauty” is so limited by advertising norms and by dull thinking that we don’t see the marvels out there that are right before our eyes.
    Also, there is so much violence and ugliness pumped to us through television that we need to counteract that with positive life and laughter.
    Sorry, I’m getting preachy instead of peachy.
    Love your work

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